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Summer 2003 Table of Contents
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Transition Services: Starting Sooner!

By Terrell I. Murphy, Executive Director, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) is taking the next important step to improve vocational outcomes for Texans who are blind. Effective September 1 the Commission is lowering the age at which its Vocational Rehabilitation Program becomes involved with blind students by three years to age 10. We have no doubt that earlier, positive vocational involvement with young people via TCB's knowledgeable transition specialists is appropriate and necessary in today's economic and social environment to reduce the high unemployment rates still prevalent among the blind population. The earlier young people who are blind experience empowering skills, the better prepared they are for the various transitions between youth and life as an adult.

Thirteen years ago, TCB became the first state agency in the country to develop an active VR transition program with adolescents who are blind to help them successfully plot a course from school to work, or from secondary school to college or vocational school. This partnership between state vocational rehabilitation agencies and education is one of the most effective programs formed in legislation during my years with the Commission. Together we promote high expectations for student achievement and learning to ensure that future postsecondary education and employment opportunities truly reflect the student's capabilities.

TCB's Transition Program has historically served students 13 years old and older. Starting sooner at age 10 will give a boost to families and young people who are blind as they adjust to adolescence. The teen years are full of their own difficult transitions, regardless of whether the young people have disabilities. Young people approaching adolescence who have a stronger foundation of high expectations and solid vocational expectations already in place will have an easier time adapting to their changing teen years than those with low self-esteem and a weaker sense of identity.

TCB has been building a unified service system of high expectations for several years to obtain better results in all our programs. Experience shows that higher expectations on our behalf translate into higher expectations in consumers, regardless of their age. This environment is then reinforced with empowering vocational rehabilitation services whereby individuals learn to be confident in their own ability to problem-solve and be fully involved, contributing members of society.

TCB's Blind Children's Vocational Discovery and Development Program will continue to be Texas's first responder to the condition of low expectations for young blind children. Our trained blind children's specialists are often the first people to share information about successful, independent, well-functioning blind individuals with confused and despairing parents. The sooner blindness and a vocational future are mentioned together, the better. Our goal is to immediately create an environment of higher expectations.

We know in advance that some young people will need to receive their services from the children's program past the age of 10 because of varying circumstances. However, the vast majority of students age 10 and older will be transferred to a VR transition counselor as soon as possible, because the bottom line of earlier intervention with transition services will be better future vocational outcomes.

Graham Greene, a British author, once wrote, "There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in." We think that making transition services available at age 10 will open a lot of doors to a much brighter future for this generation of youths who are blind. If you have any questions about these changes, I hope you'll contact one of our local offices.

Following up on my last SEE/HEAR article, we've been getting a lot of calls this month voicing concerns about the Texas Legislature's decision to abolish the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) after its long and distinguished history of more than 70 years as an independent agency and to consolidate its functions under the Health and Human Services Commission within a new Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.

There's not much I can say about the upcoming changes at this point because we simply do not know when or exactly how the changes will take place. The Governor signed House Bill 2292, the bill that reorganizes all health and human service agencies, on June 11. The transfer of TCB's powers, duties, functions, programs, and activities will be accomplished in accordance with a schedule included in a transition plan to be developed by the Executive Commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission and submitted to the Governor and the Legislative Budget Board not later than December 1, 2003. Not later than November 1, 2003, the Health and Human Services Commission must hold a public hearing and accept public comment regarding the transition plan.

That's all I know at the time I'm writing this article on June 13. By the time you read this, I'm confident that the HHSC Commissioner will have announced more about the future of services to Texans who are blind, so keep in touch.

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Last Revision: August 19, 2003