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Spring 2007 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, DBS

Abstract: Commissioner Madrigal, upon the celebration of 75 years of services, reviews the history of services to Texans who are blind and anticipates future years of service.

Key Words: DARS Division for Blind Services, anniversary, Commissioner Barbara Madrigal, vocational rehabilitation, employment, blindness, News & Views

On October 17, 2006, DARS Division for Blind Services proudly celebrated 75 years of quality services to blind, visually impaired, and deafblind Texans of all ages. Joining us at this memorable event were some prominent members from various organizations, including TSBVI Superintendent Phil Hatlen.

Services for blind Texans began when the State Legislature authorized the first appropriation for home teachers for the blind. Today, we feel justifiably proud when we look back over our evolution into an organization that provides highly sophisticated vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for blind Texans of all ages and all circumstances.

It is our sincere hope that this year's important milestone will also help recognize the dedication of the many diligent staff who work in partnership with our consumers. This dedication reflects their personal belief that Texans who are blind or visually impaired should have the same opportunities as other Texans to pursue independence and employment.

Historical Perspective

The history of our organization reflects the long-term dedication of our staff as well as our continuous efforts to improve the services we offer.

1930s and 1940s: Vocational rehabilitation for blind Texans was moved from the Texas Department of Education to the new State Commission for the Blind, and the legislature appropriated funds for sight conservation and prevention of blindness in children.

1950s and 1960s: We increased our focus on employment opportunities, worked with employers to increase the types of jobs available to blind Texans, received legislative authorization to establish what we know today as the Business Enterprises of Texas program, and expanded services to blind Texas children.

1970s: The Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center opened in Austin. We were among the first state agencies to install a toll-free line to enhance consumer access, we established consumer advisory committees across the state to encourage consumer involvement in developing and improving program services, and we received one of five national grants to demonstrate a model for enhanced Independent Living services for people who are blind or visually impaired.

1980s and 1990s: The Texas Commission for the Blind adopted an agency-wide consumer as partner philosophy to enhance service delivery and improve outcomes for blind and visually impaired Texans. An innovative Transition Program was established to bridge the gap between children's services and adult services, and we received a federal grant to provide Independent Living services to older Texans with visual disabilities.

The Current Decade

In the current decade, change has been our constant companion. Consolidation and budget considerations have been primary concerns, but we are moving toward the future with full enthusiasm.

VR counselors and teachers in our Vocational Rehabilitation Program assist blind Texans to reach their independent living and employment goals, and we have initiated a comprehensive review of our employment-related services to ensure DBS continues to provide the highest possible level of effective services to Texans seeking productive, gainful employment.

Our Deafblind Program celebrated 15 successful years of a unique program to assist deafblind consumers to live independently in their own apartments and, in 2006, the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center marked 35 years of services to blind Texans while continuing to receive national recognition as a model program for comprehensive services.

Business Enterprises of Texas (BET) is nationally recognized for successful development of quality employment opportunities for blind Texans in the food service and vending industries.

Our Transition Program bridges the gap between the Blind Children's program and adult Vocational Rehabilitation services, ensures a seamless service delivery system through each stage of the young person's development, and assists Texas youth who are blind or visually impaired to make an effective transition from secondary school to adult life and the world of work.

The Blind Children's Vocational Discovery and Development Program provides a wide range of habilitation services to meet each child's unique needs and circumstances and to ensure our youngest Texans acquire independent, productive, and satisfying lives.

The Independent Living Program provides much needed services to older blind adults - a segment of our population that continues to grow as more older Texans experience vision loss -- to help them acquire the adaptive skills necessary to live independently.

Critical support functions such as Employment Assistance Services, our Vocational Diagnostic Unit, and our Braille Unit support our programs statewide. And our Blindness Training & Development Unit continues to be recognized for its outstanding training programs.

The Future

Through strong partnerships with consumer and advocacy groups as well as organizations such as the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the DARS Division for Blind Services maintains active relationships with the blind community to encourage critical input about our services and ways we can improve, and the Texas Confidence Builders philosophy remains at the heart of our service delivery system: consumer independence, competence, and self-confidence. These foundations will serve us well as we continually strive to enhance services.

As we move forward into the new century, we maintain a strong and efficient service delivery system for consumers of all ages -- children, students and young adults, working-age adults, and older Texans -- and staff members in all program areas remain career oriented and committed to providing legendary customer services. Consumer surveys rank DBS staff and DBS services very high, and our organization continues to be recognized at the national level as a premier agency for blind services.

Equally important, DBS is taking steps within our organizational structure to ensure the future continuation of quality, seamless services for blind Texans by establishing a new FUTURES initiative that offers career ladder opportunities for eligible staff while encouraging them to be forward thinking and innovative.

We are proud to celebrate 75 years of quality services to blind and visually impaired Texans, and we're looking forward to many, many more. We're already off to a great start in fiscal year 2007 -- and we're ready to start planning our future 100th celebration.