Follow by Email

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our 2016 Legislative Memorandum

(Editors’ Note:  Each year the NFB of Colorado takes its legislative concerns to the Capitol and visits the offices of each of the Colorado General Assembly’s 100 members.  This year, the Assembly opened its session on Wednesday, January 13, and the NFB was there the next day.  We didn’t have time to waste as there are two bills affecting the blind that came out of last year’s Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, and we needed to get our message to our representatives as soon as possible.  Below is President Scott LaBarre’s Memorandum to Assembly members.)


To:       The Members of the Colorado General Assembly
From:   The Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado
Date:   January 14, 2016
Re:       Legislative Concerns of Blind Citizens


The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the United States and in Colorado.  The primary mission of the Federation is to allow the blind to live the lives they want in all areas of life from ensuring basic civil rights to securing employment and education for the blind.  Founded officially in 1955, the NFB of Colorado engages in a number of programs specifically designed to create greater opportunities for the blind.  For example, the Federation is the chief sponsor of the Colorado Center for the Blind.  The Colorado Center provides training in the alternative skills blind people need to become fully participating members of society.  Additionally, NFB offers national and statewide scholarships.  We also provide a free talking newspaper called NFB-NEWSLINE® which allows the blind of our state to read the daily newspaper just as easily as their sighted peers.  We advocate for the rights of the blind in all areas ranging from education to employment.  Where positive changes are happening in the blindness field, there is a good chance that the Federation is involved.


First, we wish to express publicly our sincerest gratitude for the work performed by the 2015 Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind under the leadership of Representative Jessie Danielson (Chair), Senator David Balmer (Vice-Chair), Senator Aguilar, Senator Lundberg, Representative Primavera, and Representative Windholz.  Second, we urge this Assembly to adopt H.B. 1048, recommended by the Interim Committee and which would expand the scope of Colorado’s Randolph-Sheppard Program for blind entrepreneurs.  Third, likewise we urge passage of H.B. 1037, also forwarded by the Interim Committee, which would create tax credits for the hiring of blind employees and additional tax credits for employer- purchased assistive technology for blind employees.  Fourth, we strongly support continued state funding for NFB-NEWSLINE® which brings daily newspapers and other periodicals to the blind of Colorado in accessible formats. 

For further information contact:
Scott C. LaBarre, President
National Federation of the Blind of Colorado
Phone: 303 504-5979
Fax: 303 757-3640


Last year at this time, the NFB of Colorado called for an interim study committee to examine the most efficacious delivery of vocational rehabilitation services for the blind in our state.  Representative Pete Lee and Senator Michael Merrifield officially sponsored a request for such a committee.

Ultimately the Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Interim Study Committee (the Committee) was created pursuant to Interim Committee Letter 2015-3.  The purpose of the committee was to determine the most effective structure and delivery model for vocational rehabilitation services for the blind when Colorado's Vocational Rehabilitation Program is transferred to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) on July 1 of this year, following the passage of Senate Bill 15-239. Specifically, the interim study committee was mandated to make  recommendations based on the following: the findings and recommendations of the November 2013 legislative audit concerning oversight and accountability of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program; an evaluation of delays in the delivery of vocational rehabilitation services for the blind; an assessment of the efficacy of the application, receipt, and use of the federal Rehabilitation Act "110" funding for the blind; the consideration of any and all issues identified in the National Federation of the Blind Colorado (NFBCO) Resolution 2014-7 and Resolution 2014-4; and consideration of any other issues related to the effective delivery of vocational rehabilitation services to the blind to assist them in obtaining job skills and long-term high-paying jobs.

Comprised of Representative Jessie Danielson (Chair), Senator David Balmer (Vice-Chair), Senators Lundberg and Aguilar, and Representatives Primavera and Windholz, the Committee conducted six meetings during the interim and heard from dozens of witnesses and collected substantial aural and written testimony.  The Committee first recommended a bill to create a statutorily separate vocational rehabilitation unit for the blind but later withdrew that bill when CDLE announced that it would administratively create a separate unit for the blind effective January 1st of 2016, long before any legislation could do so.  It should be noted that the NFB of Colorado has been extremely pleased with the leadership of Executive Director Ellen Golombek and her staff from CDLE who are working vigorously to create better opportunities for the blind of Colorado.

Second, the Committee officially voted to forward a bill, H.B. 1048 that would expand the scope of Colorado’s Randolph-Sheppard Program by extending said program to state higher education and the State Fair Authority.  As described fully elsewhere in this memo, the NFBCO strongly supports this legislation and urges its passage.

Third, the Committee also forward to this Assembly a bill, H.B. 1037 that would create tax credits to employers who hire blind individuals and employers who purchase assistive technology for those employees.  As fully described elsewhere in this Memo, the Federation wholly endorses this legislation and recommends its passage.  We salute the Interim Committee and express our gratitude for its important work! 


In 1936, Congress adopted the Randolph-Sheppard Act which has led to the most successful employment program for the blind in our nation’s history.  The Act creates a priority for duly licensed blind business owners to operate vending facilities and other businesses on federal property.  Here in Colorado, the Program is managed by the Business Enterprise Program of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation soon to be housed in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE).  In addition to a priority on federal property, Colorado grants such a priority to licensed blind operators on state properties.  However, Colorado higher education and the State Fair Authority have previously been exempted from this priority.

As recommended by the Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Interim Committee and in recognition of the urgent need to create greater employment for the blind, House Bill 16-1048 removes an existing statutory exemption for property owned, leased, or occupied by higher education institutions or the State Fair Authority, thereby granting priority to persons who are blind and licensed vendors to operate vending facilities on these properties. The bill also expands the scope of the program so that persons who are blind may also operate businesses other than vending facilities on state property.  The bill requires the program changes to be implemented within existing appropriations to the CDLE.

The NFB of Colorado strongly supports H.B. 1048 and urges its adoption.  We stand ready to work with all stake holders to implement this legislation in an effective and responsible manner.  We are confident that this will greatly improve employment opportunities for tblind of our state.


Despite important societal advancements in the employment of those who are blind or otherwise disabled, the working age blind still face an unemployment rate exceeding seventy percent.  In response to this critical lack of opportunity, the 2015 Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Interim Committee has forwarded and placed before this General Assembly House Bill 16-1037 which would create certain tax credits for employers hiring and retaining blind employees.  The NFB of Colorado strongly supports this bill and urges its adoption. 

The period of the tax credit created by H.B. 1037 would apply from January 1, 2016 through January 1, 2019 and would permit taxpaying employers to receive tax credit in two different categories.  First, an employer who hires a qualified blind or visually impaired person or a worker with a Developmental Disability may receive a tax credit of: a. 50 percent of the gross wages paid to that individual for the first 3 continuous months, and b. 30 percent for the next 9 months of employment.  Second, an employer may receive a tax credit for the maintenance, repair or upgrade of assistive technology that is necessary for the qualified worker with a disability to complete their assigned job for such costs incurred between January 1, 2016 and January 1, 2019:  a. 75 percent of the costs of the first year; b. 50 percent of the costs for the second year; and c. 25 percent of the cost for the third year of employment.  Because this tax credit would only be available regarding employees referred by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, there will be minimal fiscal impact on the General Fund.

The Federation strongly supports this bill because of the great barriers the blind face in securing competitive employment.  Offering incentives to employers to hire the blind is an effective means to integrating the blind into the workforce.  Additionally, assistive technology allows the blind to participate fully in the workforce, but many employers fear that said technology will cost too much forcing employers to shy away from hiring the blind.  Offering tax credits for the purchase of such technology further incentivizes   employers to give blind persons meaningful employment.


For more than a decade, the Colorado General Assembly has funded Colorado’s NFB-NEWSLINE®, providing blind Coloradans the same daily access to newspapers and magazines as their sighted neighbors and family members enjoy.  This year, we request that the General Assembly maintain its support of $60,000.00 to this project.  Continued funding to NFB-NEWSLINE® will not impact general funds because NFB-NEWSLINE® is funded through the Disabled Telephone Users Fund (DTUF), which comes from a very small fee on phone lines in Colorado and which always registers a surplus. 

Access to information from the newspapers and magazines of our nation and state play a critical role for each of us as informed and participating citizens.  Recognizing this, the National Federation of the Blind created NFB-NEWSLINE® for the blind in the mid-1990s.  With this revolutionary system, the blind are able to pick up their touch tone phone, call a toll free number, and select from nearly 400 different newspapers and magazines including the Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette, Wall Street Journal and many other national newspapers.  Today the phone-in option is still in place, but additional options include online on-demand reading, email delivery and, most impressively, mobile phone and tablet apps that deliver the two Colorado newspapers offered, national papers as well as nearly 40 magazines – everything from AARP publications to Time and Wired.  There are even accessible and locally-relevant television listings – something impossible to find in an accessible form for the blind otherwise.  Additionally, the system provides current weather conditions as well as watches and warnings.  Currently, over 1300 blind Coloradans have access to the 400 newspapers, magazines, and other publications on the system.  About every two minutes, a blind Coloradan is tapping into the vast wealth of information provided by NFB-NEWSLINE®.

With the funding, the NFB of Colorado will maintain the system and expand its reach.  We will create even greater opportunities to share NFB-NEWSLINE® on additional web based and other technological platforms; expand the number of publications available; train more blind individuals to use the system; and work with the Audio Information Network of Colorado (AIN) to provide more information to the blind of Colorado. AIN is another service funded by the DTUF providing other timely publications and information to our state’s blind and the NFB of Colorado supports continued funding for AIN as well.


In your packets, you will find brochures on the Colorado Center for the Blind and fliers for National Federation of the Blind national and local scholarships.  These and other programs are of great importance and therefore deserve a specific mention. 

Founded in 1988 by the NFB of Colorado, the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) offers world class rehabilitation and adjustment to blindness training to blind/visually impaired individuals in our state and from all over the world.  The CCB believes that with the right kind of training and a positive attitude, blindness need not be a tragedy and should not artificially limit a person’s hopes and dreams.  The program serves all ages from kids as young as elementary age to seniors.  CCB teaches cane travel/orientation and mobility, Braille, technology, independent daily living skills, employment skills, and much, much more.  The vast majority of the teaching staff is made up of blind instructors who serve as excellent role models.  Please read the CCB brochure in your packet for more information or go to Center is located in Littleton and you are always welcome and encouraged to visit.


The National Federation of the Blind offers thirty scholarships to talented blind men and women across the nation who are attending a post-secondary institution.  Over a hundred thousand dollars are awarded each year and provide real opportunity for deserving students.  On a state level, the NFB of Colorado offers up to five scholarships to blind men and women attending a post-secondary institution and scholarships range from $1,500.00 to $5,000.00.  More information on how to apply is contained in your legislative packet.  Please inform your local high schools, colleges and universities as well as any blind/visually impaired post-secondary student you know about these valuable scholarship opportunities.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Throw in with the Wild West Chapter!

Out in the western suburbs of Denver there are some rough, tough Federationists who figure on starting up a new chapter. If you're out that way, saddle up on Saturday and see which way the wind blows. You just might want to throw in with this bunch!

Who: National Federation of the Blind Wild West Chapter

What: Chapter building meeting

Why: to reach out to our blind community and family and friends of blind individuals of all ages

When: Saturday, February 6 2016 at 12 PM High Noon – 3PM

Where: Carmody Recreation Center
2200 S Kipling st., LAKEWOOD, CO 80227

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

For further information please email Brad at:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Our Day at the Capitol January 14, 2016

(Editor's Note: The 2016 session of the Colorado General Assembly begins on Wednesday, January 13 and the NFB of Colorado will be in the Capitol on Thursday. There's no time to waste as there are two critical bills for the blind to be introduced early this session. Both came out of the Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind's work in the late summer and autumn of 2015. Below is President LaBarre's Message regarding our Day at the Capitol.)

Happy New Year!

We will be conducting our state day at the capitol on Thursday, January 14.  We will begin at 8am with a briefing and should have all appointments concluded by around noon.  As always, we Will be meeting in the Old Supreme Court Chambers, located on the second floor of the capitol.

We will be concentrating on three issues. 

  • We will once again seek funding for NFB Newsline in Colorado.
  • We will support a bill that came out of the Interim Study Committee which would expand the Business Enterprise Program for blind vendors in our state. 
  • Also from the Interim Study Committee, we will support a bill that would introduce tax credits to employers who hire blind individuals or who purchase assistive technology or other accommodations for blind employees.

We encourage you to contact your senators and representatives to set up an appointment ahead of time.  If you need help identifying your elected officials, please contact my office.  I look forward to seeing everyone on the 14th.


Scott LaBarre, President

NFB of Colorado


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pueblo Chapter Christmas Party Dec. 12

(Editors’ Note: This comes from Michael Massey, President of the Pueblo Chapter. We are rather surprised to learn that President Massey is not known to dance at such gatherings. Have a great time on Saturday anyway everyone!)

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, the Nfb Pueblo chapter will have its annual Christmas party at our monthly chapter meeting location at Wesley United Methodist church, 85 Stanford Avenue. The party starts at noon. We will have penne pasta and meatballs along with salad and rolls. Those who wish to attend are requested to pay $6 to help defray the cost of the food. Also each person is requested to bring a dessert.

The entertainment will be provided by Dan Wantuck, a local blind musician and his father who goes by the name of Ski. Some of the chapter members have been known to get up and dance, and no, sorry, I’m not one of them.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thoughts and Recommendations on Next Steps for the Interim Study Committee

(Editor's Note: Below is the final presentation NFBCO President Scott C. LaBarre made to the Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind on September 16. These remarks were provided via e-mail as well as in oral presentation. Scott provides a compelling summary of the testimony in the previous hearings and of the state of DVR services for the blind in Colorado. As reported in our blog of September 25, the Committee voted to request a bill draft for a dedicated division serving the blind within DVR, rather than a separate department outside of DVR. The Committee's final meeting is October 28 when it will vote on whether it will recommend legislation to the full 2016 General Assembly.)

Chair Danielson and Members:

First, the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado (NFBCO) would like to extend our heart-felt thanks for your willingness to consider the significant issues facing services for the blind in our state. We believe the undertaking of this process will lead to better services for our community and allow Colorado to establish itself as a leader in this field.

We have essentially three areas of recommendation. First, NFB Colorado strongly believes that a separate agency for the blind under Title I of the federal Rehabilitation Act is the ideal structure through which optimum services can be delivered. Therefore, a bill to accomplish exactly that should be on the table for discussion. At the very least, a bill or strong recommendation from this Committee should encourage and direct the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to establish a separate unit of blindness services within the CDLE/DVR structure.

Second, we highly recommend that this Committee propose legislation that would encourage and fund grants targeting innovation in the areas of employment, youth/transition services, senior services, assistive technology, and health and wellness.

Third, much has been reported on DVR’s inability to capture all federal rehabilitation dollars available to it. This Committee should recommend and encourage DVR to work with JBC and CDLE to find all possible ways to maximize the capture of federal dollars both in this fiscal year and those to come.


NFBCO believes that vocational rehabilitation services for the blind delivered through a separate designated state unit for the blind under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act is the ideal structure through which to deliver services. This is so because specification and focus combined with expertise in blindness lead to better results. It is also true that the medical and rehabilitation system treat blindness differently than most other disabilities. As Dr. Edward Bell testified before you, those with other types of disabilities often receive a great deal of compensatory services through the medical and insurance systems. Thus they come to DVR in a position of greater readiness for placement into employment. With respect to blindness, it has been the vocational rehabilitation (VR) system that has been largely responsible for providing the compensatory skills in the area of adjustment to blindness services.

Long term data demonstrates that separate agencies for the blind outperform general and combined agencies by a significant amount. Previously, we have provided the Mississippi State study to you which examined the most recent data available through 2010. For example, in 2008, separate agencies for the blind placed 82.8 percent of legally blind consumers into competitive employment at time of closure as compared to a 57.4 percent placement rate for general/combined agencies. See Figure 7 at P. 22 of the Mississippi State Study. Granted, it appears that 2008 was a particularly successful year for separate agencies but the rest of the data from other years clearly demonstrate that separate agencies perform markedly better. Attached to the end of this memo is a summary from the Mississippi State Study regarding all categories of employment outcomes, contained at p. 25 of that study.

A general assumption is that providing service to the blind through a separate agency results in higher cost. This does not turn out to be true, however. In 2008, for example, the median cost of services to those served in separate agencies was $3,527 as compared to $3,600 for general/combined agencies. See Table 5 of the Mississippi State Study at P. 19.

Additionally, separate agencies serve their clients over a shorter time period which leads to savings of staff resources expended. For example, in 2008, the median number of days from development of the individual plan for employment (IPE) to closure for separate agencies was 511 as compared to 605 days for general/combined agencies. See again Table 5 of the Mississippi State Study at P. 19.

Dr. Bell reported to this Committee that the most recent numbers available for Colorado indicate that closures in 2010 (most recent data available) for blind consumers into competitive employment hover around twenty percent. It is true that Dr. Bell was looking at all cases opened and not just those with an IPE. With respect to legally blind consumers who developed an IPE, placement into competitive employment ends up at forty to fifty percent, far below the average maintained by separate agencies for the blind or even other general agencies nationwide. Dr. Bell also testified that in 2010, approximately fifty percent of the legally blind consumers in Colorado were closed as homemakers. Although this may be an appropriate placement for some, it is hard to imagine that fifty percent of the legally blind seeking services from DVR truly wanted to remain at home as opposed to finding competitive employment.

NFB Colorado understands that some might think we are using this data in an argumentative fashion. However, this data comes from the federal government and can be accessed by all. Each year, every VR agency, whether separate or general/combined, must report to the Rehabilitation Services Administration regarding its cases on something called Form 911. We are using the data from those reports and nothing else.

We also wish to address comments regarding the small number of blind consumers currently with DVR. Presently, the number of consumers of all disability types for DVR is drastically down. This is due to the two years plus where a giant wait list existed and applicants were being turned away. In the past, there have been in excess of one-thousand consumers who were blind and receiving services from DVR. We expect that these numbers will be achieved again once DVR does the appropriate level of marketing and it is widely known that there is no longer any wait list.

In our view, there is no doubt that services for the blind must improve dramatically in our state. We believe that a separate agency for the blind is the structure which allows for the best possible performance. This agency could be housed in CDLE and therefore share certain services with VR such as accounting, IT, outside vendors, and human resources. This would minimize any duplication. The separate agency would have its own director and therefore be much more accountable to the blind community and other stakeholders.

It is our understanding that CDLE officials may believe that separate services for the blind are warranted but perhaps offered through DVR. In our view, if this were to occur, two very important things must happen. First, the separate unit must have its own identifiable leader who reports to the Executive Director of CDLE. This unit must also have its own, identifiable budget. These reporting and budgetary requirements are essential to insure the highest level of accountability. As the DVR audit demonstrated, accountability has been a critical problem in recent times.

We strongly recommend that this Committee request a bill draft that would establish a separate agency for the blind under Section 102 of the Rehabilitation Act housed in CDLE. This would allow a full discussion of what the best approach for vocational rehabilitation services for the blind in Colorado would be. This does not mean that we are opposed to other approaches. However, we must feel comfortable that identifiable leadership at the senior level and an identifiable budget are present. Through starting with a bill draft establishing a separate agency for the blind, we can ultimately reach the solution best for Colorado.


Our second major area of recommendation is that the Committee, through legislation or otherwise, find funding to fund grants to identify innovative new programs and approaches in the areas of employment, youth transition services, senior services, assistive technology, and health and wellness. We have all heard the reports regarding the fact that it is likely that DVR will be returning millions of federal dollars. Perhaps, we can find ways to match these funds with a small amount of state funds to secure funding for these grants.

This Committee has heard the staggering and completely unacceptable employment numbers. At best, legally blind adults are employed at a rate of thirty-seven percent. This Committee heard about some new approaches like those being offered by the Blind Institute of Technology. There was discussion of finding ways to incentivize large, national corporations to work with the State to place qualified blind individuals in franchises. This kind of creativity could be encouraged and rewarded with relatively small grant programs.

This Committee heard about how critical it is to start providing transition services to blind youth so that they are ready to enter the workforce at the appropriate time. The most recent amendment to the Rehabilitation Act calls upon state VR agencies to dedicate fifteen percent of their funding to transition services. Now is the best time to encourage new and innovate approaches allowing blind youth to be much more job ready and life ready.

The senior blind are the fastest growing segment of the blindness population. As our society lives longer and longer, the number of folks encountering age related blindness steadily increases. Current programs serving the senior blind are effective but cannot meet the demand. There must be a way to identify and secure funding for this important population.

No one can deny the effect of technology on our society. If one is not technically literate to some degree, it is almost impossible to participate in the mainstream of daily life. Blind individuals face significant barriers to participating in the technological revolution. First, there is not sufficient funding to provide access to assistive technology or to have the ability to learn about the technology available. New grants in this area would be extremely helpful.

Second, other than the federal government, state governments are the next largest purchasers of information technology. Colorado already has a law requiring the State to procure information technology which is compatible with the assistive technology used by the blind. However, compliance with this law is spotty. Perhaps, this Committee should call for an audit or study of how well the State is performing in the area of purchasing accessible, information technology. Recommendations could then be made to bring the state in compliance with its own law.

Finally, although the topic of health and wellness was not directly brought up during the Committee’s first four meetings, it is becoming a very important issue within our community. The blind face much higher obesity rates and confront other health challenges at higher levels. Little emphasis has been put on the health and wellness of the blind because general low expectations bring with them low expectations about the wellness of the blindness population. Perhaps, there is a way we can find some grant funding to identify the parameters of the problem here in Colorado and then suggest solutions to tackle it.


This Committee has heard a great deal regarding the staggering level of federal funding that is being returned due to DVR’s inability to use it. The Committee should know that when states like Colorado return funding, that money is then reallocated to other states. Those states have the ability to apply for additional funding based on how much is returned. We must find a way to position Colorado so that in the future instead of returning millions each year, we apply for additional funding for new programs.

We think this Committee should find a way to issue directives or recommendations to DVR to make all efforts possible to retain its federal dollars. We should invest in new programs that are eligible for federal matching dollars. This Committee should request DVR’s plan for the next fiscal year and how it will capture all available federal funds. It is our understanding that even though DVR is not yet housed in CDLE, CDLE is already working with DVR to identify ways in which to capture more federal dollars and not return those already granted. Those efforts should be strongly encouraged and assisted by the General Assembly.


Again, we thank the Committee for its efforts and willingness to address the issues raised. We are confident by working together on all levels, we will find a way to bring Colorado from the back of the pack to a state out front leading all the others.

Consumer Outcomes

Employment Status at Closure

* Separate agencies close a higher percentage of legally blind consumers in employment without supports in integrated settings.
o FY 2007: 65.3% vs. 52.3%
o FY 2008: 70.7% vs. 51.0%

* Separate agencies close higher percentages of legally blind consumers in self-employment.
o FY 2007: 8.4% vs. 3.5%
o FY 2008: 7.5% vs. 3.6%

* Separate agencies close a lower percentage as homemakers.
o FY 2007: 20.1% vs. 39.0%
o FY 2008: 15.9% vs. 40.8%

Patterns/trends. Current findings are consistent with analyses of RSA-911 databases from the 1980s and 1990s indicating that Separate agencies, compared with General/Combined agencies, close a higher percentage of consumers in employment in integrated settings and in self-employment (Cavenaugh & Pierce, 1998; Cavenaugh et al., 2000; NAC, 1997). Earlier analyses of databases from the 1970s showed an opposite trend (Kirchner & Peterson, 1982; JWK, 1981).

Competitive Employment

* Separate agencies close a larger percent of legally blind consumers in competitive employment.
o FY 2007: 77.5% vs. 60.2%
o FY 2008: 82.8% vs. 57.4%

* Although differences are small, Separate agencies close a larger percent of VI consumers in competitive employment.
o FY 2007: 89.1% vs. 87.6%
o FY 2008: 90.6% vs. 85.1%

Patterns/trends. Current findings are consistent with previous investigations indicating that Separate agencies, compared with General/Combined agencies, close a higher percentage of consumers in competitive employment (Cavenaugh & Pierce, 1998; Cavenaugh et al., 2000; NAC, 1997). Note that the Competitive Employment variable is somewhat different from competitive variables used in previous investigations in that with the current variable, individuals must be compensated at or above the minimum wage.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


(Editor's Note: The Grand Valley Chapter of NFBCO is only a year-and-a-half old but, as you can see from their second newsletter, these Federationists have the spirit and are putting it into action!


The ultimate purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is the complete integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. This objective involves the removal of legal, economic, and social discriminations; the education of the public to new concepts concerning blindness; and the achievement by all blind people of the right to exercise to the fullest their individual talents and capacities. It means the right of the blind to work along with their sighted neighbors in the professions, common callings, skilled trades, and regular occupations.

To contact our local Federation:

Board Members:
Nathan Hecker (President) 605-610-7959
Steve Davis (Vice President) 970-241-9638
Elaine Davis (Secretary) 970-778-7246
Cassidy Martorana (Treasurer) 970-250-4167
Margaret Williams (Member at Large) 970-314-7676

To make donations send check or money order to:

Ntl Federation of the Blind of CO
c/o Nathan Hecker
751 Glenwood Avenue
Grand Jct., Co. 81501

Your donations are greatly appreciated!"

Words from our President:

By Nathan Hecker

Greetings everyone!
We have been staying busy in Grand Junction! In the beginning of August we had a successful fundraiser at Kannah Creek Brewing Company, and would like to give them special thanks; we look forward to another Firkin fundraiser with them next year!

The work of our Grand Valley Chapter can already be seen in the lives of our members. Margaret Williams and Alice Besiack attended the Seniors in Charge program held at Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) and both have benefited from their experience at CCB. Later on in this newsletter Margaret Williams shares her interesting and exciting story and experience as a senior student of the Seniors in Charge program

I am excited to see the NFB in action. Our Vice President Steve Davis and I gave remote testimony at Colorado Mesa University to the Colorado legislature's Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind alongside other advocates and activists. We spoke about the need for separate services for the blind in Colorado! We made sure that Grand Junction was not left out and let them know the NFB is across the state! We also spoke with the local department of vocational rehabilitation services in Grand Junction, and I am excited to announce that Lorraine Hutchison will be speaking at our chapter meeting in October! We also briefly met with a member of the CMU Educational Access Services staff in order to reach out to blind students attending CMU. In our discussion, we talked about assistive technology, and let them know we are here if they run into any problems.

We are working toward holding fundraisers in the near future; follow us on Facebook to find out more information on our upcoming events. We also are excited about our upcoming state convention in Colorado Springs, and are providing some aid in funds, as needed, to those who want to attend the convention!

I'd like to give additional thanks to our members for their hard work, St. Matthews Episcopal Church for providing transportation to us, and our supporters for their encouragement. Without each and every one of you we would not be able to make the Grand Valley Chapter what it is! If anyone has any questions please do not hesitate to contact one of our board members! We all strive and work hard for a better life and encourage one another in the motto, “live the life you want”!

Appreciating our community, Flexibility is the key

By Elaine Davis

Every community presents its assets or strengths and its special and wonderful challenges. it is our work as the Federation to bring out and enhance the strengths of our communities and to overcome community challenges. We, in our efforts, work to enhance the quality of life for blind people and for all in our communities.

We would like to thank the Center for Independence for supporting us since our inception. The Center has helped us in our chapter efforts through their encouragement, their time spent with us, assistance and by their constructive ideas on building a strong and resilient chapter.

We heartily thank the Kannah Creek Brewing Company for our recent Firkin Fundraiser which was a lot of fun and a big success.

Lastly, we would like to thank St. Matthews Episcopal Church for supplying monthly transportation to our meetings. This has helped greatly in bringing in new members.

As a chapter of the Federation we as blind people can contribute to our changing communities and help bring about a better and richer life for all. In doing this, flexibility is the key for this is one of our greater keys of success and longevity as a chapter.

Our community and the NFB, becoming involved

By Steven Davis

As it has been said many times “Life is what you make it” and that is ever so true with us. Our lives then are what we make them and for all of us we must each shape and determine our own lives.

All of us are blessed or, if you will, fortunate in that we live in a great nation, state, and community where we all can make a difference. We, each, as informed and active citizens of our community, state, and nation can shape our own future determine and bring about opportunity for all of us and determine the quality of our own lives.

The National Federation of the Blind, for over seventy years, has actively been working for the greater opportunity, security, and quality of life for all blind people. We as Federationists believe that it is ourselves who must determine this greater opportunity, security, and quality of life for all of us. We, each, then as blind people can determine our own future and aid others in doing so and can positively help shape our communities and our nation and can make a difference.

How might we become even more active and greater self determined citizens as blind people? Becoming active participants in our local chapter is a very positive and effective way or means of transforming our lives, shaping our futures for the good and guaranteeing opportunity for all blind people.

How do we do this?

Become self determined.
We, each might examine our lives not necessarily in terms of our blindness, but rather in terms of what we want out of life. The National Federation of the Blind asserts that “blindness does not define us or our future” but rather it is our desires and motivation in life.
Become informed.
All influential and active members of their community must become informed. We as members of our communities and as members of the blind community must become knowledgeable about the issues, including our blindness which we now or potentially may face.
Become involved.
Those who affect their lives and shape their communities often become active within organizations and groups who represent their common interests. Becoming active in the National Federation of the Blind represents a way to significantly promote and challenge our blindness and to ensure opportunities for ourselves and others as blind people.
Become self reliant.
One who is self reliant helps shape the world in which he or she lives. But most importantly those who are self reliant may achieve their dreams and live the life they wish. The National Federation of the Blind asserts that blind people can, “given the right skills”, achieve their dreams and live their desired life.

We can contribute to and control our own lives and aid others in doing so.
Join the National Federation of the Blind and participate in the challenging of blindness. As a participant in the community, state, and national efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, you can make a difference and in doing so you will help shape the opportunity and future for us all.

Upcoming Meetings

By Elaine Davis

We here at NFBCO Grand Valley Chapter are currently changing our dates and times of our meetings. We will be meeting at the Center for Independence at 740 Gunnison. Our next meeting will be Saturday, September 12th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

In October, our meeting will be Saturday, October 3rd from 10:00 a.m. -- 12:00 p.m.

In November our meeting will be Saturday, November 7th from 10:00 a.m. -- 12:00 p.m.

Come join us in our lively discussion, WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!

Our Blindness, Our challenge

By Elaine Davis

Our local chapter of the state affiliate is active and hard at work in encouraging blind people to transform their lives to have a vision as to what is possible and to achieve their desired goals.

Two of our senior members, Alice Besiack and Margaret Williams, attended the Senior’s in Charge program at the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) this last month.

Margaret Williams who is visually impaired is a capable and active member of the community and our local affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and is an inspiration to many here.

Margaret learned a variety of skills in challenging and taking control of her blindness. Margaret gained confidence in her reading Braille and was able to read some words. She feels that the techniques that she learned in reading Braille were very useful. Margaret also discovered the use of the long white cane which she proudly employs now in her traveling with greater confidence. In her wanting to attend the Senior’s in Charge program, she expressed an interest in baking and decorating a cake which she learned to do while at CCB. She also learned how to thread a standard sewing needle having a small eye which she hasn’t been able to do since losing much of her vision.

Margaret tells us that someone who is newly blind can also take these classes. They teach you how to use mobility skills, Braille classes, Daily living skills, cooking, woodworking, technology just to name a few. She has expressed that attending CCB has increased her confidence and desire to challenge her blindness and pursue even more her interests. She has also expressed the idea that all of one’s senses may be employed in life’s adventure and that blindness is only a characteristic and not a barrier. Margaret is planning to continue her effort in tackling Braille and wants to be a fluent Braille user.

Margaret feels that attending CCB’s Seniors in Charge program is for her a life changing experience and has given her a different outlook on what it means to be blind. She would recommend this program to all blind seniors.

Come one, come all and rally with us, its state convention time again!

By Elaine Davis

Come and join us at this year’s state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. here you will see us in action in carrying forward the work of the Federation. It is expected that a large attendance of enthusiastic Colorado Federationists and others will attend, learn, and help shape our continuing work as we march toward greater equality and opportunity for all blind people.

This year’s convention will be held at the Antlers Hilton which is located at 4 S. Cascade Avenue in Colorado Springs. The convention will be held from Thursday, October 29th through Sunday, November 1st. Hotel rooms will be $89 per night excluding taxes.

Registration before October 19th:
Registration - $20
Friday and Saturday lunch - $20 each
Saturday banquet - $35

Registration after October 19th:
Registration - $25
Friday and Saturday lunch - $25 each
Saturday banquet - $40

Come join us in the hard work and fun, and help us make this year even better.

Margaret’s Corner

By Margaret Williams

This month Margaret has given a cool treat to try Watermelon pie

¼ c. boiling water
1 package 3 oz. watermelon jello
1 1/2 containers cool whip
2 c diced watermelon
2 ready-made graham cracker pie crusts (either 8 or 9 inch)
Directions for pie
Pour water over jello in large bowl

Stir until well dissolved

Let cool for 5 minutes

Mix ½ container of cool whip in bowl

Fold in rest of cool whip with 2 cups diced watermelon

Pour mixture in pie crust

(Makes 2 pies)

Enjoy it!

A glimpse of fall, Upcoming events

By Elaine Davis

It is beginning to get cooler and the leaves are falling from the trees. And even now this fall finds us, the Grand Valley Chapter, hard at work.

We the Grand Valley Chapter are looking ahead to several possible fundraisers and other events:

We will be having a cookie sale October 9th.
Where: City Market 200 Rood Avenue
When: October 9th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.


We are also looking forward to White Cane Day on Thursday, October 15th when we will promote the progress made by blind people in determining their own lives. We are also excited about the state convention held in Colorado Springs from October 29th through November 1st. We expect a good representative membership from the Grand Valley Chapter to attend.

Our chapter this fall will be doing some tandem bicycling with Colorado Discoverability. Further information will be given as details become available.

This fall will indeed be a busy final quarter of the year for us.

Where do we go from here?

The Grand Valley Board

The Grand Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado (NFBCO) is just over one and a half years since its formation in February 2014. We have overcome many challenges and look forward to continued growth and a meaningful and vibrant chapter.

It is often daunting to form a new organization in a community. This challenge is often compounded by the lack of knowledge of members and potential members as to the nature of the new organization. A major challenge for any new organization is the welding of its diverse membership into a cohesive and vibrant whole.

The Grand Valley Chapter is vibrant and forward looking and although our meetings may become somewhat disorderly at times the excitement can be felt in the air. Even though members may be unsure in how things are going to be accomplished nevertheless a “can do” attitude is shown in chapter enthusiasm.

We, as a chapter, are beginning to address the issues as possibly plaguing many chapters and are also addressing common challenges based by us all as blind people. As a chapter, we are beginning to make small inroads in contacting various businesses throughout the community and are striving to form meaningful relationships with key organizations within our local area.

This newsletter, in its purpose to inform our chapter members and others as to blindness and to promote and engage our members in the work of the National Federation of the Blind, will be presenting informative and meaningful articles on blindness, the work of the Federation in its effort toward security, opportunity, and equality for blind people. This newsletter will also present challenges of blindness based by our community and how such challenges may be overcome.

We as a chapter are looking forward to a fruitful year and are hoping to meaningfully promote self reliance and to carry forward the work of the Federation.

Come and join the Grand Valley Chapter in challenging blindness. Come, live, grow, and learn—“LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT”.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Interim Study Committee Votes 3-2 to Draft a bill for a Separate Division for the Blind in DVR

We didn't get a touchdown, but had to settle for a field goal on Wednesday, September 16. That was at the Colorado General Assembly's Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind's fifth of six allotted meetings.

The outcome of Wednesday's hearing was a vote to have a bill drafted, with fiscal note, to create a division within DVR dedicated to serve blind clients. The motion passed 3-2 on party lines; Rep. Windholtz, a Republican, was excused. Republican Sen. Lundberg, who hadn’t attended any previous hearings, voted no. All three Democrats, including Chairman Jessie Danielson, voted for the motion

We very much wish to thank Reps. Danielson, Primavera, Windholtz and Senator Balmer for their devoted attendance and engaged questioning. Also, Senator Aguilar joined the Committee after the first meeting as a replacement, and we thank her as well.

Our goal was to have a bill drafted to create a separate Vocational Rehabilitation unit to serve blind clients, one that would be parallel to, but not part of DVR's general program. So that's why the football analogy seems the best way to describe things. By coincidence, the next night, a Thursday, came the Denver Broncos remarkable come-from-behind victory in Kansas City. Keep that in mind!

For the past six weeks or so, the Interim Study Committee has been meeting at the Capitol, taking testimony, receiving e-mails, reading policy and documents and more on the matter of DVR's poor performance with respect to serving blind Coloradans.

The Interim Study, of course, came into being because of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, and the bulk of the testimony was provided by us. In the first meeting of the Interim Study Committee, our President Scott LaBarre gave an excellent summary of the present state of services for the blind, along with strong evidence that separate agencies across the U.S. provide consistently better results - all backed by solid research.

Dr. Fred Schroeder, Executive Director of the National Rehabilitation Association and former Commissioner of the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration came to Colorado for the second hearing to present more powerful evidence that separate services produce more and superior employment results than do combined agencies with respect to the blind. Dr. Eddie Bell, Director of Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindnessat Louisiana Tech, was present on September 3 to present Colorado DVR's specific performance with respect to its blind clients. Based on his own research, Dr. Bell presented data drawn from the federal reporting program known as the "911." No surprise to the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, it showed that DVR performs near the bottom of all states in placing blind clients in jobs, and well below the national average.

It should be noted here that DVR was also asked to provide testimony and updates. At the opening hearing on August 12, VR Counselor Laverne Dell, who is the lead person for fellow Counselors serving blind clients, laid the facts out simply and without defensiveness. It turns out that only one counselor in Colorado has a caseload made up entirely of blind clients.

Others providing testimony were Diane McGeorge, Julie Deden, Duncan Larsen on services to blind seniors, Brent Batron with Colorado Dept. of Education's Tanni Anthony on transition of blind high school students, Kevan Worley on BEP and entrepreneurship, James Gashel on assistive technology and its importance for hopeful blind workers and numerous blind Coloradans who have applied or are being served by DVR.

Testimony to the Committee also included e-mails and, when remote testimony from Grand Junction was made available for September 3, two of the three who testified were Nathan Hecker and Steven Davis, our President and Vice-president respectively of the NFB of Colorado's Grand Valley Chapter.

In addition to the request to draft a bill to create a division within DVR to serve blind clients, the Committee also voted 3-2 to draft a bill that would expand opportunities on state sites for the Business Enterprise Program.

Other matters were considered, such as the sorry state of transition of blind high school students, but did not result in specific action.

Though we scored a field goal, the game is far from over. The Committee meets for its final time on October 28 to vote on the drafted bills. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that the draft bills are recommended to the full General Assembly in its 2016 Session, and then we must usher any bills through that body to win the game.

So, get on your game faces and huddle up team!

Monday, September 7, 2015

YouTube Star Expert Advocate Joins WE Fit Wellness Team

Colorado Springs, Colorado (September 1, 2015). Today, WE Fit Wellness announced the addition of Maureen Neitfeld to their team of expert advocates. Neitfeld stars on her own YouTube channel, Breaking Blind, which has nearly 10,000 subscribers and climbing. WE Fit Wellness is launching a multimedia initiative, which will include podcasts, community radio, WE Can Culture workshops, and the Breaking Blind YouTube channel.

In January of 2015, WE Fit Wellness launched its programs to bring exercise and nutrition options to underserved communities. These programs have been greeted with great enthusiasm, particularly by individuals with disabilities.

WE Fit Wellness Executive Director, Jessica Beecham said, “It has been absolutely wonderful to play in this space. We are building and connecting a community around total fitness education and the motivation to re-create one’s self. We have offered solutions, beta tested products, and conducted numerous workshops and seminars.” Jessica continued, “Maureen Neitfeld’s Breaking Blind YouTube channel will help us increase our reach.
She brings unparalleled expertise, passion, and an extraordinary story of perseverance and success.”

On Breaking Blind, soon to be rebranded, WE Fit Wellness Breaking Blind, Maureen confronts stereotypes about blindness, breaks through misconceptions, and motivates others with her approach to health and wellness. Maureen lives a full, rewarding life, teaching home management to blind and vision-impaired students at the Colorado Center for the Blind. She is a living example of the Center’s “take charge with confidence” approach to training. Maureen has undergone more than 30 surgeries as a result of Von Hippel-Lindau disease. Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL) is a hereditary condition associated with hemangioblastomas, which are blood vessel tumors of the brain, spinal cord, and eye. The eye tumors are also called retinal angiomas. VHL took Maureen’s sight at the age of 16.

Maureen explained, “I persevere through willpower, love from family, a commitment to diet, exercise, yoga, and by maintaining a positive attitude. Joining the WE Fit Wellness team is an honor and a tremendous opportunity to encourage everyone to find their fit. The Breaking Blind YouTube channel will continue to personify the right of all people to live in the world on terms of equality. Or as the National Federation of the Blind exclaims, ‘to live the life you want.’ We will break barriers, inspire, and have a lot of fun doing it!” Maureen continued, “Breaking Blind on YouTube will also offer us the opportunity to feature inspiring stories of Paralympians working with the United States Association of Blind Athletes.”

For more information, contact Jessica Beecham by phone at (866) 543-6808 ext. 15 or by email at

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sports & Rec Division Offers "Yoga Body" Seminar

Join the National Federation of the Blind Sports and Recreation Division for a fun day of health and wellness designed for YOU!

Based on popular demand from our Find Your Fit seminar we are offering an opportunity to participate in different types of yoga and body work at our first Yoga Body Workshop.

Come participate in
-high energy flow yoga
-kundalini yoga
-body analysis and nutrition consultation

When: September 19 from 12:30pm-5:00pm
Where: Colorado Center for the Blind
2233 W Shepperd Ave
Littleton, CO 80120
Cost: 15.00 per person

Please send $15 cash or check made out to NFBCO sports and Rec to reserve your spot.

Attention: Maureen Nietfeld
2233 W Shepperd Ave
Littleton CO 80120

Space is limited to 45 participants. When we receive your payment, your spot will be reserved.

The Yoga Body workshop is more than an opportunity to exercise. You will leave with tools to improve your mind, body, and spirit including nutrition advice, new workouts, and more. You will also have the opportunity to purchase delicious and nutritious artisan snacks by Frosted Lotus Bakery!

This is an opportunity you will not want to miss. If you have questions contact Jessica Beecham at 615-497-0435.

Best Wishes

Jessica Beecham

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

LaBarre Sets the Stage for Interim Study Committee
(Editor's Note: Last Wednesday, August 12 was the opening meeting of the 2015 Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. NFB of Colorado President Scott LaBarre led off the agenda and with his testimony set the stage for the Committee's work. Below is his revised testimony, which was submitted to the Committee for the official record.


Before the Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Interim Study Committee

Delivered in Person Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Testimony Submitted to Record August 18, 2015


I am Scott LaBarre, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. I wish to begin by thanking Representative Danielson, Representative Primavera, Representative Windholz, Senator Balmer, Senator Aguilar, and Senator Lundberg for this tremendous opportunity to offer testimony before what we believe to be a very important committee and process, the result of which has the potential to usher in a new era of services to the blind in our state, a model that could be emulated all over the world. I would be remiss if I did not offer special thanks and extend our gratitude to Representative Pete Lee and Senator Michael Merrifield for originally sponsoring the legislative request which led to this Committee and this process. Originally, I had prepared this testimony prior to the hearing on the 12th, but given the extra time, I have revised my comments to incorporate thoughts and questions voiced by the Committee and to respond to some items covered by other witnesses on the 12th.
In way of background, The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the United States and in Colorado. The primary mission of the Federation is to allow the blind to live the lives they want in all areas of life from insuring basic civil rights to securing employment and education for the blind. Founded officially in 1955, the NFB of Colorado engages in a number of programs specifically designed to create greater opportunities for the blind. For example, the Federation is the chief sponsor of the Colorado Center for the Blind. The Colorado Center provides training in the alternative skills blind people need to become fully participating members of society. Additionally, NFB offers national and statewide academic scholarships. We provide a free talking newspaper called NFB-NEWSLINE® which allows the blind of our state to read the daily newspaper just as easily as their sighted peers. We advocate for the rights of the blind in all areas ranging from education to employment. Where positive changes are happening in the blindness field, there is a good chance that the Federation is involved.


In part, the reason we are all gathered here today is that the NFB of Colorado passed a resolution in early November of 2014 calling upon the General Assembly to study the delivery of vocational rehabilitation services to the blind in our state. The Committee already has that Resolution in its materials, Resolution 2014-07. The reason why we adopted such a resolution is that we had observed a long term degradation of services to the blind in our state. Then, the circumstances giving rise to the 2013 legislative audit of the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) under the Department of Human Services (CDHS) evolved which only brought greater turmoil to programs affecting the blind. Not only did new blind clients of Colorado DVR have to wait for years to even be deemed eligible, the services received once accepted into the program were diluted and disorganized.
After we adopted our resolution and began to implement our 2015 legislative priorities, we learned of this Assembly’s consideration of moving DVR from CDHS into the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). This is a transfer that we applaud and favor along with its corresponding process of gaining input from stakeholders. Nevertheless, we still believe it is critically important that this Committee study the unique barriers faced by the blind and seize the opportunity to fashion recommendations that could become the envy of the world.
Blindness is not well understood and greatly feared. Polls taken in recent times still suggest that people fear going blind more than anything else except contracting potentially lethal diseases. This fear has led to low expectations and misunderstanding regarding the true capacity of and barriers faced by the blind. When we use the word blind, we mean a wide spectrum of those having some form of visual disability. Legal blindness is regarded as essentially ten percent of normal vision or less either in visual acuity or visual field and often both. Most blind people possess some level of residual vision but their vision is sufficiently impaired that the use of alternative, nonvisual techniques are required to address daily tasks.
The problems of blindness lead to lack of access to appropriate training to adjust to blindness, good education, and employment. For example, the working age blind face an unemployment rate of seventy-five percent in some studies and sixty-three percent by the most optimistic study out there. Pause for a moment and think about that. The general public seems to panic any time unemployment exceeds six or seven percent. Imagine if our society faced a sixty-five to seventy-five percent unemployment rate. We called the unemployment rate of the 1930’s of twenty-five to thirty percent the Great Depression and declared a national emergency. Yet the blind of our state and nation face an unemployment rate over two times the worst ever faced by the general society and we complacently stand by and permit this to occur.
The governmental response to the situation faced by the blind and others with disabilities has largely been focused through the vocational rehabilitation system. This system is funded mostly by the federal government through the United States Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). RSA provides approximately eighty percent of the funding to the states in order to operate vocational rehabilitation agencies. The states are required to provide about twenty percent of the funding. A state can only receive all available federal dollars if it puts up the full approximated twenty percent of matching funds according to a formula set in statute and largely based on population and other demographic factors. Unfortunately, over the last few years, Colorado has not been receiving the maximum amount of federal funds. We learned on the 12th that DVR would be returning some eight million dollars to RSA for this fiscal year. This is absolutely unacceptable and constitutes a great waste of opportunity! If nothing else, this Committee and the General Assembly should work with CDLE/DVR going forward to make sure we capture the maximum level of federal funding possible and put that money into client services.
Overall, the focus of this Committee is essentially to determine the best way or manner in which to deliver vocational rehabilitation services to the blind in our state. There are several models and possibilities. Here in Colorado, we have no specialized services for the blind under our current DVR structure. By this I mean that we do not have a separate agency, division, or unit of vocational rehabilitation designed to address the unique barriers faced by the blind. Title I of the federal Rehabilitation Act allows for states to establish a separate designated state unit serving the blind. Twenty-four states have such separate agencies. In other states that have one general vocational rehabilitation agency, there is often a separate unit or division within that agency focused on the blind. The research and anecdotal evidence suggest that more focused and targeted services for the blind lead to a higher level of successful outcomes.


Let me digress for a moment with a bit of my personal story. I began my journey into the world of blindness at age ten due to a childhood virus which had the nasty habit of destroying key components of my eyes. At first and for a number of years, I thought my life had come to a very tragic and premature end. I believed wholeheartedly that there was no meaningful path to success for someone who was blind. All my childhood dreams were crushed, never to be realized. This occurred because everything that I had learned about blindness in my brief life was negative, pictures of the blind begging on the street and TV shows suggesting that we should pity the blind.
Thank God that my original picture of blindness turned out not to be true. I am an attorney running my own law practice. I have a wonderful family, a wife, Anahit, who originally hails from Armenia and my children, Alex who began seventh grade on the 13th at West Middle School in the Cherry Creek School District and my daughter, Emily, starting fifth grade at Heritage Elementary at the same time and in the same school district. We own two homes, one in which we live and one which we rent out. We are healthy and deeply involved in our community. In other words, we are living the life we want. Otherwise put and as some might say, we are living the American dream.
I credit my family for insisting that I receive a quality education and insisting that I receive the adaptive skills of blindness. Then, the NFB entered my life and provided the philosophy and positive blind role models which gave me the belief and self-confidence that I need to live the life I want. However, this amazing system of support and belief could have only translate into success if I had the ability to receive the training, education, and other resources necessary. These were provided for me largely by Minnesota State Services for the Blind. Minnesota is in fact one of the twenty-four states with a separate agency for the blind with highly focused programs and well trained staff. Without the services I received in Minnesota, I don’t know that I would be before you with the track record of success and accomplishment that I fortunately possess.



In the National Federation of the Blind we believe in the capacity of blind people, but we know that the blind require a unique set of Vocational Rehabilitation services to be successful. In Colorado blind clients are often served by vocational rehabilitation (VR) Counselors who, though otherwise qualified in serving general rehabilitation clients, may only have one or two blind clients and no specific training in how to serve them. Thus, they may never gain the necessary skill set to provide the high quality of specific services their clients require for success. They may not receive the support they need from their supervisors either, because there is no supervisor in Colorado's DVR who is tasked with coordinating and supervising VR Counselors who are serving blind clients. We learned on the 12th that there are only fifteen counselors statewide who have a caseload including blind clients, only one having a caseload comprised entirely of blind clients. DVR has a “statewide coordinator” for blind service, but that individual is not at the supervisory level nor involved in senior management of DVR.
We know that separate agencies for the blind perform better than combined agencies. The data suggests that separate agencies serve more significantly disabled clients, achieve more successful closures into competitive employment, acquire fewer “homemaker” closures, and possess fewer placements in sheltered, segregated, subminimum wage, employment.
Within the list of general/combined agencies there is a continuum of organization and dedication of highly trained personnel to providing services for the blind. Colorado's current lack of structure is at the lower end of that spectrum, with essentially no specialized services inherent in the structure. Other states with general agencies have separate units or offices dedicated specifically to blindness services which have senior management and identifiable budgets. We believe that this level of specification leads to better, more effective service. This in turn leads to a higher success rate of placing the blind into competitive employment, the end result of which is more blind tax payers and fewer relying on government benefits. On the 12th, Interim Director Anton of DVR agreed that higher levels of specification and focus lead to better results.
We believe that services for the blind in this state must become more highly focused and delivered with greater specificity. The lack of focus and specification is impairing the ability to move blind vocational rehabilitation clients out of unemployment, often poverty, into meaningful employment. This can be achieved in a number of ways, at least three. First, Colorado could create an entirely separate agency for the blind which would report directly to the Governor. Second, a division could be created under the CDLE reporting directly to the Executive Director of that Department. Third, a separate office or unit could be established within DVR with its own specialized staff and senior management along with a separate, identifiable budget.

Of course, one of the questions that always rises when these alternatives are considered is that of higher cost. The data referenced below suggests that separate agencies for the blind provide services at a similar cost as compared to those same services provided by a general agency. In the long run, investment in separate services lead to tax savings because of the higher rates of employment and independence.
We believe that DVR has been doing its best in recent times to serve its blind clients, but its current structure and level of staffing do not come close to providing optimal and more effective services. Only one person is responsible for training all other counselors in the state regarding the special needs and barriers faced by the blind. That person is Laverne Dell who testified before you on the 12th, and we know she does an excellent job. Her task, however, is overwhelming and unfairly placed on one individual.
Additionally, studies suggest that one of the barriers faced by blind clients who are on a general caseload is that the general counselor is so overwhelmed by the size of the caseload and thus do not give enough attention to the blind clients. Oftentimes decisions by general counselors are fueled by lower expectations for blind clients. We expect that you will hear public testimony from blind individuals here in Colorado who have encountered these low expectations from DVR staff. This is not a design calculated to lead to higher levels of success in placing blind people into competitive employment or otherwise allowing the blind to lead independent lives.
Immediately below are excerpts and a synopsis from research that has been conducted by the National Council of State Agencies Serving the Blind (NCSAB). We believe same is instructive.
National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB)
NCSAB Position Paper: Why Separate Agencies for the Blind?
Because of the myths and stereotypes of blindness, rehabilitation agencies for blind persons must take a different approach than agencies that serve persons with other disabilities. Agencies serving the blind must deal with two problems. Of course, they must address the physical loss of vision by teaching specialized skills and techniques. But, they must also address the misconceptions. The second aspect involves creating attitudinal changes in their clientele and in society. This requires that rehabilitation professionals working with blind persons possess in- depth knowledge about the abilities of blind people. In addition, they must possess the ability to teach blind persons how to deal positively with public attitudes, and must be prepared to deal with those attitudes themselves.
Here is a report from NCSAB on separate services for the blind, updated March 2010.  It was conducted using RSA 911 reporting form data from 2007 and 2008, and is a study that has been periodically updated since 1971.  Thus, it gives something of a longitudinal look at specialized services for the blind.
First, at the time of the study in 2010, there were 24 states that have separate agencies for the blind.  This does not include a model like Montana’s, which has a separate division for services to blind citizens under the VR umbrella, making it a “combined agency” and which is a higher level of organization than we have in Colorado currently.
The conclusions are summarized in the bullet-points below:

?  Separate blindness agencies continue to serve a higher percentage of consumers with demographic/disability characteristics associated with lower labor force participation rates.
o Applicants have more severe visual impairments (blindness vs. other visual impairments).
o Blind and visually impaired applicants have lower educational levels (not high school graduates).
o Visually impaired applicants are more likely to have secondary disabilities. 
?  Separate and General/Combined agencies provide similar number of services to blind and VI consumers at similar costs (suggesting that separate agencies for the blind do not lead to greater expense).
?  Separate blindness agencies continue to close a higher percentage of legally blind consumers into competitive employment.
o Separate blindness agencies close a higher percentage of legally blind consumers into employment without supports in integrated work settings.
o Separate blindness agencies close a higher percentage of legally blind consumers into self-employment.
o Separate blindness agencies close a lower percentage of legally blind consumers as homemakers.

Findings are based on analyses of two RSA-911 databases: FY 2007 and FY 2008 RSA-911. Comparisons are made with findings from analyses of 1996, 1994, 1989, 1977, and 1971 RSA data. Our conclusions are corroborated with previous studies which also reported that Separate blindness agencies serve consumers who are more likely to be legally blind and to have less education (Cavenaugh & Pierce, 1998; Cavenaugh, 1999; Cavenaugh et al., 2000; Kirchner & Peterson, 1982).Findings are also consistent with earlier studies indicating that consumers in Separate agencies with less severe visual impairments (visually impaired but not legally blind) are more likely than those in General/Combined agencies to have secondary disabilities (Cavenaugh & Pierce; Cavenaugh et al.; NAC, 1997).


(Cavenaugh, 2010, found at
National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, “An Update on Services and Outcomes of Blind and Visually Impaired Consumers Served in Separate and General/Combined VR Agencies, Prepared by Brenda Cavenaugh, Ph.D., CRC
March 2010
This research was conducted by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Blindness and Low Vision under a contract from the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, Inc., 4733 Bethesda Avenue, Suite 330, Bethesda, MD 20814.
Mississippi State University

So, there you have some data from the national association representing state agencies for the blind and from Mississippi State. There is also data from Louisiana Tech which suggests that specialized training in comprehensive blindness skills leads to an employment rate of seventy-five percent for the blind, entirely reversing the tragic numbers I shared with you earlier. An employment rate of seventy-five percent is still unacceptable but a trend in the right direction.

Over the next couple of months, we hope to provide to you an overview of services to the blind over the last few decades. There was a time, for example, when Colorado DVR had a separate unit for the blind with a separate budget. Witnesses from whom you will hear will tell you how this system led to better outcomes. We intend upon providing to you information about access technology for the blind, youth transition services, services to the elder blind, employment programs for the blind, and adjustment to blindness training. We will suggest how these programs can best be delivered and thereby allow Colorado to start leading the way.
I also want to take a moment to reflect upon some very insightful questions and comments posed by the Committee on the 12th. We agree that we must find ways to encourage blind Coloradans to establish and operate their own businesses. Some work is being done on this front but not nearly enough. This issue of entrepreneurial opportunity for the blind touches in part the Business Enterprise Program operated by DVR. Although blind business managers under this program are realizing their highest level of average salary ever, many more blind people could be placed in this program and enjoy the same level of success.
We also appreciate comments about the independent living program. The Older Individuals for the Blind Program under Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act provides critical funding for blind seniors all over the state. Although this program is administered through independent living centers, the experts in blindness and thus independent living for the blind, reside or should reside within DVR. Consequently, we believe it is imperative that the OIB program be housed with blindness services, however they are structured.
Everyone knows that information technology continues to change our world radically. It provides great opportunity to the blind but significant barriers as well. The provision of access technology and creating the proper environment for same is critical to placing the blind into competitive employment. We must bolster our ability to provide such technology and target same in the employment setting.
The issue of services for blind veterans was addressed. We agree that this is another area of critical importance. Although DVR appears to work with the federal Veterans Administration to some degree, we think there must be a higher level of coordination. We are not satisfied that we are doing enough for blind individuals who have served their country.
We believe that Committee members were correct to raise the issue of transition services for blind youth. The handoff from the special education system for blind children to the VR system is a critical one. In several states, that transition starts at age fourteen but not here. We must find a way to transition our blind youth much more effectively. Long term this leads to higher rates of success in placing younger blind people into employment and less time spent as clients of VR.


Some questions that we suggest you might consider are:

o What is the best structure through which to deliver vocational rehabilitation services to the blind in Colorado: through a separate agency reporting directly to the Governor; through a separate agency reporting directly to the Executive Director of CDLE; or through a separate unit within DVR with its own staff and identifiable budget?
o How many vocational rehabilitation counselors are there in total working for Colorado DVR?
o How many of these counselors have blind or visually impaired clients on their caseload - a viewed through a snapshot of one day or some period of time?
o How many of DVR's Counselors have caseloads specifically dedicated to serving blind or visually impaired clients?
o How many caseloads are comprised of 50 percent or more, blind and visually impaired clients?
o How many counselors are serving blind and visually impaired clients whose caseloads are under 50 percent blind/visually impaired cases?
o Of these latter caseloads, what is the average on the snapshot day of blind and visually impaired persons per caseload?
o Are there supervisors to whom counselors serving blind and visually impaired counselors report? For caseloads of 50 percent or more blind cases, or dedicated caseloads?
o How many management staff are dedicated to coordinating services and counselors serving blind and visually impaired caseloads?
o What specific training is there for working with blind and visually impaired clients and what resources exist?
o What new innovative services can be attempted to turn the blind and low vision of this state into tax payers rather than the recipient of tax dollars?
o How can we promote greater opportunity for blind persons to establish and own their own businesses: though tax credits; low cost loans; more specialized training?
o How can we better coordinate services for blind veterans and maximize opportunities for those who have been blinded in service to their country?
o How can we integrate services for blind seniors leading to greater independence and the ability to return to the workforce if desired? Should services for older individuals who are blind remain within CDHS or transfer also to CDLE?
o Are we maximizing opportunities for blind Coloradans in the state’s Randolph-Sheppard Program also known as the Business Enterprises Program?
o What can we do to augment transition services for blind youth leaving the secondary education system transitioning into vocational rehabilitation? Should we lower the age at which VR serves blind youth to fourteen as several other states have done?
o How can we augment placement of blind VR clients into competitive employment? What new innovative approaches and strategies exist?
o How do we provide the most meaningful and effective access technology to blind persons and how can we work with employers to create environments where that technology can be best put to use?

Certainly there are other questions that should be asked, and the Committee process will undoubtedly unearth these. However, we feel the above is a good place to start.


Finally, I want to thank this Committee for an historic opportunity to tackle the barriers faced by the blind. We are emerging from a very difficult period for vocational rehabilitation services in our state. However, as often is true, periods of great struggle provide opportunity for meaningful change. Let us seize this moment and fashion programs for the blind which all the world will wish to replicate! We look forward to working with you on this exciting project and stand ready to provide whatever assistance we can.

Respectfully submitted,

Scott C. LaBarre

President, NFB Colorado