Main content

Alert message

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

By Edgenie Bellah, Deafblind Family Support, TSBVI Outreach

Abstract: The author discusses legislation that benefits individuals with visual impairments, including deafblindness, passed during the recent 81st Legislative Session in Texas, as well as a recent presidential visit in honor of Helen Keller Deafblind Awareness Week.

Keywords: , Legislation, Blind, Deafblind, Medicaid Waiver Programs, pedestrian safety, state agency supports.

June proved to be a big month in Texas for families who have children with visual impairments, including deafblindness. On June 21, Governor Perry finished signing all the bills passed during the 81st Legislative Session. While the smoke clears from a busy session, individuals with visual impairments, their families, and the advocates that work tirelessly beside them, paused long enough to celebrate what may prove to be the most exciting Texas legislative session for the VI community to date. The 81st Legislative Session saw the passage of important bills that will benefit children with disabilities, such as the establishment of the Medicaid buy-in program for children with disabilities and directives to expand the number of children served by Medicaid Waiver programs. As importantly, the Legislature also considered a record number of bills specific to services for children and adults with visual impairments. These bills included:

  • House Bill 37 – makes children eligible for the Deafblind Medicaid Waiver;
  • House Bill 63 – creates a career ladder for interveners in the same Waiver;
  • Senate Bill 2082 (amended to be part of HB 1343) – would have ensured all children who are blind or visually impaired receive an evaluation in orientation and mobility (O&M) as part of the initial evaluation upon referral to special education; and
  • Senate Bill 2249 – would have changed the certification process for teachers of the visually impaired (TVI), eliminating the ability to be certified by exam only.

House Bill 37 and House Bill 63 were signed by the Governor shortly after the legislature adjourned. While SB 2082 and SB 2249 did not make it through the process, great progress was made. This included, among other successes, increasing awareness to the unique educational needs for students with visual impairments.

The success of these bills is due primarily to the efforts of the family organizations DBMAT, TAPVI, Texas CHARGERS, Inc., and the Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans (AVIT), which is a partnership of these and other organizations. To learn more about DBMAT’s experiences, please check out their Legislation Celebration newsletter that can be found at . In addition to the bills sponsored by families, three other bills that passed will benefit the VI community:

  • HB 1343 – increases penalties for failure of the operator of a motor vehicle to yield the right-of-way to blind and disabled pedestrians;
  • Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Legislative Appropriations Request, Rider 3 – increases funding for the Teacher Prep Programs;
  • Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division for Blind Services Legislative Appropriations Request – continues funding for the Blind Children’s Program at its current level, which includes and secures the expansion that resulted from Fiscal Year 2009 emergency funding request; and
  • In addition, the legislature approved the DARS-DBS growth request that provides funding for two new Blind Children’s specialist positions.

June is also the month that the nation annually celebrates Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week. On Friday, June 26th, 2009, five young adults who are deafblind met with President Obama. Among these was Crystal Morales from Austin, TX. To learn more about that historic visit, you may wish to read “Still Thriving and Excelling Long After Helen Keller,” which is in the section of this edition. That article, as well as Crystal Morales’ personal account, can also be accessed online on the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness home page, .