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Spring 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

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

Abstract: This article discusses DARS' five-year anniversary and the accomplishments and opportunities from consolidation.

Key Words: blind, visually impaired, Division for Blind Services (DBS), Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), House Bill 2292, consolidation, collaboration, Health and Human Services (HHSC), Early Childhood Intervention (ECI).

On March 1, 2004, a new state health and human services agency was born in Texas. It was created by merging four agencies into one, as mandated by the state legislature in 2002. That new agency is now striving to provide world-class services to more consumers as it advances with increasing dynamism into the future. Of course, I'm talking about the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.

To refresh your memory, DARS was created by House Bill 2292, which consolidated 12 state agencies into five departments under the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). In March DARS celebrated five years of partnership with Texans with disabilities and their families. Whether you've known us since the legacy days of the Texas Commission for the Blind or you have just been introduced, we hope that your encounters with us have made a difference in your life.

For the Division for Blind Services, finding our niche within DARS and within the larger HHSC umbrella was an adjustment. And, as all of you are no doubt aware, adjusting to change is not always easy! But over the past five years, as we have developed new partnerships and discovered new resources, we have found that being a part of something larger brings many opportunities for mutual support and collaboration. The theme of DARS anniversary celebration is Together We Do More. I would like to share with you ways that we have done more, things that you might not observe when you interact with DBS staff, but which contribute to an effective and responsive service delivery team.

The starting point for our accomplishments is a culture of excellence that is focused on our mission to partner with our consumers to support their efforts to participate fully in society. The DARS culture encourages management practices based on open communication, mutual respect, and meaningful rewards for top-performing employees. We believe that a work environment characterized by respect, trust, and open communication will create an environment in which employees provide world class services to our consumers. Based on my visits in offices across the state, I'd say we've created a work environment that brings out the best in all of us.

There are several DARS initiatives that focus on improving the skills and abilities of the staff members in our organization. It is no secret that an effective organization requires top-notch skills of all their employees, and our organizational programs provide learning and development opportunities for management, mid-level and support staff.

For several years, DBS has invested in a FUTURES Program. FUTURES is a systematic approach to career development that provides opportunities for staff to gain leadership experience, develop specialized skills and gain a better understanding of other roles and departments in DBS and the DARS network. The purpose of this program is to develop a well-trained staff that will ensure a strong and effective partnership with consumers and other stakeholders. It produces and maintains a supply of qualified, competent workers throughout the organization who are really, willing and qualified to step into leadership positions.

DBS has always emphasized the partnership of the counselors and specialists with their professional support staff. And in April, DBS rolled out the first charter class of The Academy, a comprehensive training program for DBS support staff. The Academy offers this career development tool that will develop their leadership qualities, enhance their knowledge and job performance, and provide an expanded view of the agency.

So, in addition to our culture, what has been achieved in the last five years? Listing every accomplishment would take all day, so let me just touch on the highlights.

Two years ago, the Blind Children's Program began a process that would have resulted in a waiting list for services. As a result of compelling and passionate input from families, consumer groups and stakeholders, we received guidance and support from the Center for Consumer and External Affairs, an entity that was created during DARS consolidation, as well as DARS management and HHSC in seeking and obtaining emergency funding for ten new Children's Specialist positions. Many of you are working with our new Specialists and have provided invaluable assistance as they learn their new jobs.

Two of the agencies merged during the DARS consolidation were agencies that work with children with disabilities. We're talking about the DBS Blind Children's Program and Early Childhood Intervention State Office. Because blind children from ages 0 - 3 receive services from both the Children's Program and a local Early Childhood Intervention program, these two agencies have a long history of working together. Now that these two agencies are located within the same organizational structure, there are increased opportunities for collaboration and increased resources for developing mutually supportive services for our shared consumers.

During our collaboration meetings, we shared information about our respective programs and have provided avenues for cross-training opportunities. We also conducted a field survey to identify areas that need attention in our continuing collaboration. As a result of this partnership, we developed a state-wide videoconference to share collaboration strategies with our programs in the field.

In addition, Early Childhood Intervention state office and the Blind Children's Program are working together on a statewide conference for professionals and parents. This conference, Together We Can, is on June 25-26 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in San Marcos, Texas. Experts in the field of blindness and vision loss will be presenting, including Tanni Anthony, Sandra Fox, Susan LaVenture, Ginny Bishop, and many more.

This year, while we celebrate DARS 5th birthday, we also commit to keeping DARS moving forward by providing Excellent Service to Every Consumer, Every Time. It's time to begin the next five years of DARS success!