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Spring/ Summer 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

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

Abstract: this article discusses the most recent activity relating to policy and programmatic changes for Texas children who are blind or visually impaired

Key Words: blind, permanent severe visual impairment, wait list, stakeholders, Blind Children’s Program, Division for Blind Services (DBS), Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Health and Human Services, Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans (AVIT), Texas Association for Parents with Visually Impaired Children (TAPVI), Texas CHARGERS, Texas Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TAER), Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT)

In the past six months, parents, families, and DBS partners from across the state have expressed great interest in services available in the Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program. They have attended stakeholder meetings and contacted legislators regarding pending changes in program policy that would have directly impacted services to young Texans who are blind or visually impaired. I am happy to bring you an update on the status of the Children’s Program.

As you know, the Children’s Program historically has faced resource constraints and high caseload sizes. In the fall, we implemented purchase restrictions in the Blind Children’s Program and I discussed those restrictions in the fall issue of Texas SenseAbilities. Although these restrictions partially addressed the resource constraints, it did not provide relief to our Specialists with large caseloads. To address this concern, we began working on a rule change proposal to present to the DARS Council that would allow the Children’s Program to develop procedures for a Wait List.

It was this proposal that generated the most feedback from our stakeholders. During a public forum in November, our consumers and stakeholders challenged us to identify alternatives that would not impact parents of newly-diagnosed children. In December and January, we teamed up with stakeholder representatives to develop a sound methodology for determining optimum caseload size and to identify options to address resource and caseload size issues. The participants of these workgroups identified several Wait List options but, following consumer and stakeholder feedback during another public meeting on January 29, 2008, it was determined that none of these options would be selected at this time.

Instead, DBS management submitted an emergency request for increased funding. In addition to the funding of purchased services for our consumers, our request included ten new specialist positions in order that we could achieve optimum caseload size and improve the quality of services. Our emergency funding request was presented to Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins in February, and we were notified on May 30 that the request was approved!

Let me say, the Blind Children’s Program has been buzzing with activity this summer. We have never before had this many new Specialists start at once, and we have been very busy making preparations! The ten new specialist positions have been posted, interviews held, office space created, supplies and equipment ordered, training plans developed, and travel preparations made. We are eager to welcome our new staff on board and introduce them to our consumers and families as quickly as possible!

But also let me say: our commitment to the Blind Children’s Program does not stop here. We will continue to analyze current and future needs, and to plan for those needs through the LAR process. You can continue to obtain updated information in the stakeholders section of the DARS website , and please feel free to contact Ignacio Madera, DARS Stakeholder Relations Specialist, at or at 512-377-0596.

And last (but not least), I would like to express our gratitude to our consumers and stakeholders who have worked with us during this process, including the Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans (AVIT), Texas Association for Parents with Visually Impaired Children (TAPVI), Texas CHARGERS, Texas Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TAER), Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association (DBMAT), and the ARC of Texas. And a particular shoutout to TAER representative Edgenie Bellah, Texas CHARGERS president Cathy Springer, and AVIT president Marty Murrell for the time and energy they invested in this process. And my heartfelt thanks to the many parents and stakeholders who came to our public meetings, some of them driving through the night and dealing with Austin morning traffic to get here. Your interest, your support, and your passion have inspired us, and I assure you that we will work diligently to continue to earn your support and collaboration.