CODI: Cornucopia of Disability Information

Texas Commission for the Blind

CONSUMER NEWS
Texas Commission for the Blind
May 1, 1995 Vol. III, No. 8

In Washington, advocates for people who are blind say the next two weeks
will shape the future of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services.
Congressional committees will consider Senate Bill 143 (S.143) and House
Bill 511 (H.R.511).  These two bills contain proposals to consolidate VR
services for people who are blind with all other federal employment
assistance programs.  Last week Senator Nancy Kassebaum released a
"Discussion Draft" of S.143.  Advocates at the state and national level are
alarmed by the bill.  They listed the following concerns:
 
S.143 abolishes Title I (one) of the Rehabilitation Act that guarantees
access to specialized employment services for people who are blind.
Individuals who are blind will have no choice but to go to "one stop" job
assistance centers and take their place in line with all unemployed workers.

The proposal only requires the "one stop" centers to provide "information"
regarding job opportunities and education or training programs.  Each state
would decide whether or not to offer vocational rehabilitation services.
Although the bill intends for VR services to be incorporated into the "one
stop" centers, advocates say there is no written guarantee or mention of
specialized services for people who are blind, like those provided in Title
I of the Rehab Act.

S.143 would allow the federal government to appropriate separate money for
VR services.  However, counselors in the "one stop" centers would evaluate
and decide whether an individual with a disability needs any services above
and beyond the costs of the "average client."  Counselors would be required
to work with all "clients," not just people who are blind or who have
disabilties.

Advocates fear that counselors who do not have special training on issues of
blindness and work will either fail to recognize the abilities of
individuals who are blind or comprehend the need for specialized services.
They point out that individuals who are blind are typically overlooked by
the one-stop employment assistance programs that currently exist in other
states.

The draft does not guarantee that people who are blind will have access to
specialized services like low vision aids, medical restoration, or
orientation and mobility training such as use of a long cane or public
transportation.  Instruction in independent living skills such as braille,
cooking, grooming, recreation, and household care may be eliminated.  It is
uncertain where services such as those provided by the Criss Cole
Rehabilitation Center would fit into the new employment assistance program.
Advocates also fear that evaluation and training in the use of adaptive
technology such as synthetic speech output for computers, closed circuit
television systems, braille computer terminals, reading machines, scanners,
and adaptive computer software will be eliminated.

Those who apply and receive VR money would do so on a "first-come, first-
served" basis _ priority would no longer be given to people with the most
severe disabilities like blindness.  Advocates fear that limited VR funds
would lead to long waiting lists.

The new system of "one stop" centers would go into effect in 2 years.
However, a "waiver" in the bill would allow states to divert VR money from
the current programs during 1996 and 1997 to develop the new system.
Advocates say that diverting funds from current programs will weaken the
very same services that are to be incorporated into the new system and
create a backlog of individuals with disabilities seeking VR services.

Advocates are alarmed that the bill contains no opportunity for consumers to
have a say in the planning or policy of the new system.  There are no
advisory councils, task forces, or other opportunities for people who are
blind or otherwise severely disabled to represent their specific needs.

In summary, advocates say it is imperative that members of Congress hear
from people who are blind or visually impaired.  Consumer groups like the
Texas Federation of the Blind, American Council of the Blind, National
Federation of the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Lighthouses for
the Blind of Texas, and National Industries for the Blind fear that
consolidation means the end of specific services for people who are blind or
severely visually impaired.  Advocates in Washington say that Senate and
House staff members feel people want these changes, because they have only
heard complaints about the current VR program.  Congressional leaders say
they want all the facts before they make any decisions and encourage all
interested persons to express their views.


Texas advocates urge people who are blind to contact the following Senators 
and Representatives about the need to:
  keep Title I of the Rehabilitation Act and
  continue to provide specific services to meet the needs of people who are 
blind or severely visually impaired.


Write to Senators at:
Hon. (Senator's name)
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Nancy Kassebaum, Chairman
Labor and Human Resources Committee
(202) 224-4774 (voice)
(202) 224-3514 (fax)


Bill Frist, Chairman
Subcommittee on Disability Policy
(202) 224-3344 (voice)
(202) 224-1264 (fax)

Kay Bailey Hutchinson
(202) 224-5922 (voice)
(202) 224-0776 (fax)
senator@hutchinson.senate.gov

Phil Gramm
(202) 224-2934 (voice)

Write to Representatives at:
Hon. (Representative's name)
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Howard P. "Buck" McKeon 
Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training and Life-long Learning 
Chairman
(202) 225-1956 (voice)
(202) 226-0683 (fax)
tellbuck@hr.house.gov

Sam Johnson
(202) 225-4201 (voice)
(202) 225-1485 (fax)
samtx03@hr.house.gov

Henry Bonilla
(202) 225-4511 (voice)
(202) 225-2237(fax)

Charles Wilson
(202) 225-2401 (voice)
(202) 225-1764 (fax)
cwilson@hr.house.gov

Thomas DeLay
(202) 225-5951 (voice)
(202) 225-5241 (fax)

Gene Green
(202) 225-1688 (voice)
(202) 225-9903 (fax)