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Slide 1: Partnerships for Change: How Texans Have Collaborated for Legislative Successes

Cyral Miller, Rona Pogrund, Nancy Allen, Susie Welch, Nancy Toelle
AER International Conference- San Antonio – August 1, 2014

Slide 2: Why Advocacy?

  1. Advocacy is a change agent to improve services, communication, laws, policies, and rights.
  2. Unless there is a crisis occurring, most people do not act. Better to be proactive rather than reactive.
  3. There is a direct connection between state and federal laws, policies, and funding and what happens in education, rehabilitation, and in social services on a daily basis.

Slide 3: Ways to Be an Advocate

  • One-on-one advocate
  • Advocate for a group of individuals
  • Advocating as part of a membership organization
  • Working in a coalition within the field of visual impairment
  • Working in a coalition with other groups outside field of visual impairment

Slide 4: Introduction

There has been a long history of partnerships between consumer groups, vision professional organizations, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Education Service Centers, the Division of Blind Services, and family organizations in Texas. AVIT, the Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans, a coalition of 28 organizations, has led these efforts. 

Slide 5: How AVIT Started

How AVIT got started in 1992, based on Joint Action Committee (JAC), a California Coalition that was started in 1981

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows the logo for AVIT.  The logo has the words Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans brailled across the top.  There is a Texas flag in the center of the logo.  Below the flag are the print words Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans.

Slide 6: “In a big world where an organization serving a low-incidence disability has a small voice, joint action works.”

Slide 7: Overview of Successes: What have we accomplished?

  • Increased visibility - we started right after getting   the Texas Braille Bill passed in 1991 with lots of enthusiasm
  • TEA's 1995 proposed rules changes averted; 
  • AVIT coordinated alert actions for Federal issues such as the Telecommunications Act of 1995, the Job Training Consolidation Act of 1995 and the Workforce Preparation and Development Act

Slide 8: Overview of Successes: What have we accomplished?

  • AVIT presented testimony in 1996 on ECI proposed changes for serving infants with visual impairments
  • 1997 electronic textbook access committee  

Slide 9: Overview of Successes: What have we accomplished?

  • 2009-2011 TVI Certification rule change
  • Took two legislative sessions to pass
  • TVIs in Texas can no longer be certified by exam, as previously allowed. They now have to successfully complete an approved personnel preparation program as well as pass two state exams (braille and VI).

Slide 10: Overview of Successes: What have we accomplished?

Deafblind Intervener Career Ladder and adding children to the Medicaid Waiver

Slide 11: Heading to the Capitol to speak with legislators

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows 8 women and 2 men standing in the rotunda of the Capitol. 

Slide 12: DBMAT Legislative Agenda 2008

Expand the scope of age in the Deafblind waiver: Rationale and Fiscal Impact

Changing the Definition and Qualifications of Intervener: Rationale and Fiscal Impact

Slide 13: MANY trips to the Capitol!

This slide contains a picture.  This picture shows 5 women and 1 man standing side by side in a row.  They are standing behind 4 students with visual impairments.

Slide 14: DBMAT Advocates in Austin

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows 5 women and 3 men standing in front of the Capitol.  Their names are included on the picture: Left to right: Laura Sotiropoulos, Jaceson Welch, Paul and Susie Welch, Vivecca Hartman, Melanie Knapp, Gina Sotriopoulos

Slide 15: Jaceson’s story…..

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows a young man and his mother standing together and communicating with their hands.  Also, the picture includes a written description of Jaceson and his story.  The words are: “I love my son Jaceson!  Thanks to the Medicaid Waiver Services he has been able to receive, he has learned to an active member in our community.  The good support services received through the Deaf-Blind with Multiple Disabilities (DBMD) Waiver, he has the opportunity to have a meaningful life in the community.  He is good-natured, easy going, and happy.  He loves to be around people; all of which make him very enjoyable for others to be around.  He is also an affectionate person that makes him easy to love.  He loves to be busy which is why we are so grateful to the DBMD Waiver program!  His intervener takes him to work in the community. 

Thirty-three years ago, Jaceson was born with Retina Blastomas Bilateral (malignant tumors in both eyes).  He had radiation on the both eyes and received”

Slide 16: The folder we gave to legislators with stories of our kids and a white paper justification of what we were asking for.

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows the fold given to legislators.  The folder says


We Have a Voice

See Us!

Hear Us!

DBMAT Family Stories

Slide 17: Changes needed to SB 7…2013 & asking for more slots for the DBMD waiver

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows a picture of the DBMAT logo and the following words: “We represent hundreds of families in this GREAT state of Texas.  For that reason we are asking questions with regard to SB7.  We, The Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (“DBMAT”), understand the need to improve efficiencies with regard to the administrative processing to providing the Medicaid services; however, we need to ensure the integrity of services directly received and the lives that our loved ones are living.”

Slide 18: The Format Used by DBMAT

This was a proposal of the things we asked DADS to change on our DBMD Waiver. This is all that we finally got passed in 2009.  This was presented to DADS and HHSC  in Sept. 2007.

  • What DBMAT is requesting
  • Reasons given by DADS for not lowering age and DBMAT  response.
  • DBMAT questions the “Stakeholder Process” now in practice at DADS.

Slide 19: Our kids with the Governor on Bill Signing Day August 2008

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows Governor Rick Perry holding a child on his right arm, standing with his left hand on another child’s shoulder, and standing behind a group of 3 young ladies and 1 young man in wheelchairs.  There are two other young men standing on either side of the Governor.

Slide 20: Overview of Successes: What have we accomplished?

O&M Evaluation Bill

O&M Evaluation bill began in 2009: it was introduced and passed in both Education Committees and then got stopped behind the voter ID bill on the House floor (chubbing) and died, and then finally passed in 2013.

Slide 21:  Overview of Successes: What have we accomplished?

ECC Bill

Introduced in 2013 session and passed

ECC areas are now listed in Texas law as curriculum areas that need to be evaluated, and instruction is to be provided when needs are identified for all students with visual impairments.

Slide 22: Mother and Daughter Giving Testimony

This slide contains two pictures.  The first picture shows a mother standing a podium in front of a subcommittee.  The second picture shows the mother holding her daughter up to the microphone on the podium in front of the subcommittee.

Slide 23: ….for the House O&M Bill Sponsored by Elliott Naishtat

This slide contains a picture.  There is a woman kneeling behind a little girl.  Elliott Naishtat is kneeling beside the woman and the little girl.

Slide 24: Testifying for the O&M Bill sponsored by Senator Judith Zaffirini

This slide contains a picture.  There are 6 women and 2 men standing side by side.  There is one young man standing in front of them holding a long white cane.  One of the women is communicating with a young lady using hand-in-hand sign language.  There are 2 young girls standing in front of two of the women, and both are holding long white canes. 

Slide 25:  Parents, consumers, and professionals working together

This slide contains two pictures.  The first picture shows three women talking to each other in the lobby of the Capitol.  The second picture shows a young man and a young woman, both holding long white canes, talking to a woman in the lobby of the Capitol.

Slide 26:  Never missing an opportunity to drop in on legislators and their aides.

This slide contains a picture.  There is a woman standing halfway down a long hallway waving at the camera, and many other people are walking out of the far end of the hallway. 

Slide 27: More Successes: What have we accomplished?

Money for VI services –Getting state money for Teacher Preparation Funds (initially ESC 11 and now to TSBVI)

Saved the DARS-DBS Children's Program

2012 Blindness Summit with the adult community

Slide 28: Our latest advocacy opportunity

This slide contains one picture. The picture shows a brochure with the following words on it: 

Student Advisory Commission

Staff Report

Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services

May 2014

Under the words is a picture of the Capitol in Austin, Texas.

Slide 29:  AVIT IS….

The Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans is an inter-organizational coalition committed to speak on behalf of Texas’ children and adults with visual impairments.   AVIT is organized for charitable and educational purposes as provided for in the Internal Revenue Code. 

Slide 30:  Purposes of AVIT

AVIT works to accomplish the following for individuals with visual impairments:

  • the advancement and protection of their human and civil rights,
  • the improvement of their social welfare and economic conditions,
  • the education of the public with respect to their special concerns, and
  • the promotion of inter-organizational cooperation, support, and communication on issues impacting them


Provide a forum of discussion for individuals with diverse backgrounds who have a common interest in the quality of life for children and adults with visual impairments.

  • Maintain a communication “Network Alert System.”
  • Collect and distribute information to member organizations and individuals regarding legislative and other issues.
  • Provide information to public policymakers concerning important issues related to improving the quality of life of persons with visual impairments.
  • Promote growth and awareness among member organizations.
  • Prepare and distribute a Master Calendar listing meetings, conferences, hearings, seminars, and special events that are sponsored by or are of interest to AVIT members.

Slide 32:  AVIT MEMBERS:

28 Membership Organizations

American Council of the Blind of Texas (ACBT)

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

Austin Council of the Blind

Austin Junior Women’s Federation

Austin Lighthouse (TAB)

Blind Ambitions Group

Braille and Cane Club –SFASU


Central Texas Professionals for the Visually Impaired

C.L. Productions

Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc.

Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT)

East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind

Helen Keller National Center (HKNC)

Houston Council of the Blind( HCB)


Learning Ally

Lighthouse for the Blind of Ft. Worth

Lighthouse of Houston

North Texas Professionals in Visual Impairment

Reading and Radio Resource

Texas Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TAER)

Texas Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired- O&M Division


Texas Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (TAPVI)

Texas Chargers, Inc.

Texas Ophthalmological Association

Texas Optometric Association

Texas University Professors in Visual Impairment (TUPVI)

San Antonio Lighthouse

West Texas Professionals

Slide 36: Our Framework

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows the following words:  “A member can be any Texas organization of and for persons who are blind or visually impaired.  Participating organizations include private agencies, membership organizations, and companies which operate in Texas.  New members are added by 2/3 vote of the membership.  Dues are $50 a year.

An associate member is a nonvoting membership category open to any interested individual.  Associate members receive the Alliance minutes and other pertinent mailings and are welcome to participate in Alliance activities.  Membership dues are $10 annually.”

Slide 37: Our Framework

This slide contains a picture.  The picture shows the following words: “The proposal process is used by the Alliance to formally initiate, support, or oppose an issue related to specific legislation, commission appointments, state board action, or any formal action the Alliance would deem necessary.

A unanimous agreement by all members voting is necessary for the Alliance to act on any proposal.

Officers (chair, vice-chair, secretary, and treasurer) are elected from the authorized representatives of the member organizations or any one belonging to a member organization as an officially endorsed representative of their organization.”

Slide 38: Advocacy Processes Used

  • Organizing, working outside the VI community
  • Texas Parent to Parent
  • Coalition of Texans with Disabilities
  • Finding leaders to head up committees or take responsibility for key actions
  • Find many people to go visit legislators and their aides by asking for suggestions and calling to explain the need.
  • Bring children and adult consumers to testify – they are the magic ingredient to getting lawmakers’ attention!

Slide 39: Organize your efforts to seek help from parents and individuals

This slide contains one picture.  The picture shows the AVIT Parent List set up in a spreadsheet.

Slide 40: Remember to say “thank you” to legislators….

This slide contains one two pictures on a certificate.  The certificate says, “Certificate of Appreciation Awarded to: Representative Elliott Naishtat In appreciate of his sponsorship of HB590 To benefit children who are blind or visually impaired in Texas.”

The first picture show 2 women and a young lady standing in front of the Capitol.  The caption for this picture reads, “Megan, Morgan, and Mom stop for a photo on the Capitol grounds after sharing Megan’s O&M experiences with the members of the House Public Education Committee.”  The second picture shows Elliott Naishtat kneeling next to a woman and a child holding a long white cane.  The caption for the photo reads, “Our littlest advocate, Meghan, and her mom exchange “thank you’s” with Representative Elliott Naishtat.  (at the public hearing before the House Public Education Committee supporting Rep. Naishtat’s HB590 – O&M)

Marty Merrill: AVIT Legislative Liaison
Nancy Toelle: AVIT Chairperson
March 19, 2013

Slide 41: And to those who testify….

This slide contains three pictures on a certificate.  The certificate reads, “Certificate of Appreciation Awarded to: Peter Nguyen In appreciation of his testimony on behalf of SB38 To benefit children who are blind or visually impaired in Texas Awarded by the Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans.”  The first picture is the logo of AVIT.  The second picture is a logo that reads, “O&M” over a gold star.  The third picture shows twelve people in a subcommittee chamber.  The caption for the picture reads, “Pictured, left to right, with Senator Zaffirini after testimony for SB38: Karen and Christopher Witte, Marjie Wood, Senator Zaffirini, Peter Nguyen, Nancy and Minnie Allen, Kristen and Meghan McKay, Caitlin and Jiliana Holt-Reuter.

Slide 42: It’s great to get a “thank you” from your sponsoring legislators and others

This slide contains two pictures. The first picture is a thank-you letter from Judith Zaffirini.  The letter reads, “Dear Friends, Thank you for the framed Certificate of Appreciation for my authorizing and passing Senate Bill (SB) 38 relating to determining a child’s eligibility for a school district’s special education program on the basis of a visual impairment, and SB 39, relating to the evaluation and instruction of public school students with visual impairments.  I appreciate this meaningful and generous gesture, especially because I value and admire the Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texas and am honored to work with you and for you. 

Count on me to continue to champion legislation benefiting Texas children who are blind or visually impaired.  Feel free to contact me or my staff whenever we may be of assistance. 

May God bless you.
Very truly yours,
Judith Zaffirini

The second picture is a thank-you letter from Justin Rodriguez.  The letter reads, “Dear Ms. Toelle, Thank you for contacting my office regarding HB 590, authorized by Rep. Elliott Naishtat.  My office has reviewed the information you provided and I have directed a staff member to continue to monitor these issues and any related legislation. Supporting our students with disabilities is essential, and I believe Rep. Naishtat’s bill addresses the needs of our visually impaired children.  It is necessary that our special education providers tailor services to the individual needs of visually impaired or blind children through the inclusion of an O&M evaluation.  As a member of the Public Education Committee, you can rest assured that I will carefully research each piece of legislation and maintain an open mind.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.  If either my staff or I may be of further assistance, please feel free to contact my office at (512)463-0669.

Justin Rodriguez
State Representative
District 125

Slide 43: For Advocacy Efforts to Pay Off

  • Need to believe deeply in whatever you are advocating for – need passion and commitment
  • Need a focus
  • Need more coalitions with consumers, families, and professionals and with other disability groups, when appropriate
  • Need persistence, skills of negotiation, and follow-through

Slide 44: Contact Information

Cyral Miller- AVIT Secretary-

Rona Pogrund- TUPVI representative to AVIT

Susie Welch- parent- DBMAT-

Nancy Allen- parent-

Nancy Toelle- AVIT Chair-