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Winter 2005 Table of Contents
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Collaboration: A Timely Topic

By Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, Division of Blind Services

Abstract: Assistant Commissioner Madrigal discusses the importance of collaboration and reviews the various collaborations DARS has cultivated in order to establish and maintain effective services.

Key Words: News & Views, DARS, Division for Blind Services, TSBVI, collaboration, health and human service, agency.

I was glad to learn that many of the articles in this issue of See/Hear focus, in one way or another, on the topic of "collaboration." That's one of my favorite words—maybe because I've seen a lot of good things come from effective collaboration over the years.

The thesaurus offers a number of synonyms for the "C" word: "teamwork, partnership, group effort, association, alliance, relationship, and cooperation." I like these words, too. To me, they suggest community, common goals and shared visions.

This is a good time to be talking about collaboration. We are confronted with so many issues that beg for thoughtful collaboration.

For instance, the creation of DARS—by merging several distinct agencies and their respective missions and organizational cultures—has required months of collaboration at all levels of all of the affected agencies. For the most part, things have gone smoothly; but there is still a lot of work ahead of us—and a lot more opportunities for collaboration.

The same is true for DARS' relationship with other health and human services agencies that are dealing with their own consolidation issues. Many of our consumers rely heavily on these agencies for services and support beyond rehabilitation. Only with meaningful collaboration can agencies with distinct responsibilities assure that consumers will get the services they need without artificial barriers or bureaucratic red tape.

Then there's the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature—which, unbelievably, begins in January (weren't they just here??). Legislators are expected to pick up where they left off last session on government reorganization. And, the demand for services is growing right along with the population. Unfortunately, funding for services isn't keeping pace—and competition for the dollars that are available is fierce. If there was ever a time for collaboration, this is it. We can only hope that—even in these politically charged times—all of the stakeholders can put aside their special interests to work together to create solutions that will benefit all Texans.

All of these opportunities for collaboration and I haven't even mentioned what's going on at the federal level. You probably know that a Congressional conference committee has already passed new amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At the last minute, they dropped language pertaining to the VR program's role in Transition. Generally, conferees could not come to terms on process and funding concerns.

The issue will come up again—along with several other VR-defining issues—as Congress begins work on reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act and appropriations for a number of federal programs, including VR. What does that mean for the future of the program? To me, it depends on—you guessed it—the amount of time and energy we devote to collaborative efforts to create positive solutions to the programmatic and funding problems Congress is grappling with. If only it were as simple as it sounds. Effective collaboration requires having the right "players" at the table. It's not enough for people in one agency to work with one another. The work has to take place between agencies and consumers and advocates and lawmakers and the public.

Effective collaboration requires honest, straightforward communication and tolerance for different viewpoints. It requires compromise, a willingness to let go of certain self-interests—and the strength to stand up for principles that shouldn't be compromised.

I think we can all probably come up with some examples of good collaboration that has taken place over the past year. But there's always room for more (and better).

An excellent example of collaboration is the upcoming "Take Charge of Your Future" training seminar developed by TSBVI Outreach Department with the organizational support of DARS Division for Blind Services. This conference will provide training for thirty 6th - 8thgrade students with visual impairments and their families and will focus on the enhancement of skills essential in the development of independent and successful adults.

The approaching new year seems like a good time to renew our commitment to good collaboration—so I'm putting it on the top of my New Year Resolutions. How about you?

Speaking of the holidays, they are upon us! I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of all the DBS staff, to wish you and yours the very best of the holidays and a Happy New Year!

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010