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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.

SEPARATE AGENCY FOR THE BLIND


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.

INNOVATION GRANTS


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.

CAPTURING ALL FEDERAL FUNDING


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.

CONCLUSION


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

THE MESSENGER: VOICE OF THE GRAND VALLEY CHAPTER OF THE NFBCO

(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!
VOLUME 1 ISSUE 2
FALL QUARTER 2015


Philosophy


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

Ingredients
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.

COME AND JOIN US AND HAVE FUN!

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 jessica@wefitwellness.com.

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
-Pilates
-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.

TESTIMONY OF SCOTT C. LABARRE

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

INTRODUCTION

Greetings!
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.


GENERAL BACKGROUND

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.


PERSONAL BACKGROUND

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.


DISCUSSION OF AGENCY STRUCTURES AND CORRESPONDING

RESEARCH

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?
http://www.afb.org/info/justification-of-separate-state-agencies/ncsab-position-paper-why-separate-agencies-for-the-blind/25.
THE PROBLEM
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.
www.ncsab.org/Docs/final-report-replication-study.doc.
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 http://www.ncsab.org/Docs/final-report-replication-study.doc)
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.


QUESTIONS THIS COMMITTEE SHOULD CONSIDER

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.


CONCLUSION

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Request for interim study committee regarding vocational rehabilitative services for the blind

(Editor's Note: This is the Legislative Council's final document with respect to the creation of the Interim Committee to Study Vocational Rehabilitative Services for the Blind. It is taken from the official PDF which can be found at https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/2015-3ServicesforBlindFINALRequest.pdf.)


COLORADO GENERAL ASSEMBLY
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
Sen. Bill Cadman, Chairman
Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, Vice Chairman
Sen. Morgan Carroll
Sen. Mark Scheffel
Rep. Brian DelGrosso
Rep. Crisanta Duran
STAFF
Mike Mauer, Director
Amy Zook, Deputy Director
COMMITTEE
Sen. Rollie Heath
Sen. Matt Jones
Sen. Kevin Lundberg
Sen. Vicki Marble
Sen. Ellen Roberts
Rep. Jessie Ulibarri
Rep. Perry Buck
Rep. Lois Court
Rep. Lois Landgraf
Rep. Polly Lawrence
Rep. Jovan Melton
Rep. Angela Williams
LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
ROOM 029 STATE CAPITOL
DENVER, COLORADO 80203-1784
E-mail:
lcs.ga@state.co.us
303-866-3521 FAX: 303-866-3855 TDD: 303-866-3472
This letter reflects the authorization for the committee as approved by Legislative
Council at its meeting on April 24, 2015.
Requested by: Representative Lee
With support of: Senator Merrifield
Re: Request for interim study committee regarding vocational rehabilitative
services for the blind
Date: 04/24/2015
Information Required Pursuant to Section 2-3-303.3, C.R.S.
The Legislative Council approves the creation of an interim study committee to study vocational
rehabilitative services for the blind through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR)
during the interim between the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions. The interim study
committee is named the “Interim Committee to Study Vocational Rehabilitative Services for the
Blind.”
The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) is sponsoring Senate Bill 15-239, which concerns the
transfer of vocational rehabilitation programs, including the business enterprise program, from
the Department of Human Services (DHS) to the Department of Labor and Employment
(CDLE), effective July 1, 2016. The sponsors commend the commitment, evidenced by this
move, on placing people with disabilities into competitive employment. However, in view of
concerns about DVR’s operations and delivery of vocational rehabilitative services for the blind,
the sponsors requested the interim study committee be created, as described below. The
interim study committee is to augment the quarterly reports from CDLE to the JBC, as required
by Senate Bill 15-239. The work of the interim study committee is in addition to the other
stakeholder outreach being done by the CDLE concerning the transfer of the DVR to the CDLE
Scope of the policy issues to be studied. In order to build a strong foundation for DVR in
CDLE and improve accountability and the delivery of vocational rehabilitative services for the
blind, the sponsors requested the creation of an interim committee to study the vocational
rehabilitative services for the blind is appropriate. The interim study committee will determine
the most effective structure and delivery model for vocational rehabilitative services and
supports for the blind from the DVR within CDLE. Specifically, the interim study committee is
mandated to make recommendations based on the following:
• the findings and recommendations of the November 2013 Legislative Audit, as those findings and recommendations concern the blind, including identification
of “…pervasive problems in the Program that raise questions about the Division’s oversight, system of internal controls, and culture of accountability”;

• evaluation of the delays in delivery of vocational rehabilitative services to the blind;
• assessment of the efficacy of the application, receipt, and use of federal 1973 Rehabilitation Act “110” funding for the blind;
• consideration of any and all issues identified in the National Federation of the Blind Colorado Resolution 2014-11-2, Resolution 2014-01 (Attachment
A); and
• consideration of any other issues related to the effective delivery of vocational rehabilitative services to the blind to assist them in obtaining job
skills and long-term high paying jobs.
list end nesting level 1
list end
Committee meeting requirements and structure. The interim study committee should meet
as determined by the interim study committee, but may hold up to 6 meetings during
July through November and report to Legislative Council by November 15, 2015. The interim
study committee should hold a meeting on the Western Slope, possibly Grand Junction, or
arrange for remote testimony. The interim study committee can refer up to 3 bills to Legislative
Council.
The interim study committee consists of 6 members:
• 3 members of the Senate, with 2 appointed by the President of the Senate and 1 appointed by the minority leader of the Senate; and
• 3 members of the House of Representatives, with 2 appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and 1 appointed by the minority leader of
the House of Representatives; and
list end
When appointing the legislative members, consideration should be given to the membership of
the committees of reference responsible for business, employment, and human services. The
appointments must be made by July 1, 2015. The chair shall be appointed by the Speaker of
the House of Representatives, and the sponsors suggest Representative Jessie Danielson be
appointed as the chair of the interim study committee. The interim study committee shall elect
a vice-chair from its members.
Nonlegislative members will not be appointed to the interim committee, but are encouraged to
provide information, testify, and work with the committee. It is critical for stakeholders and
activists in the blind community participate with the interim study committee. A task force is not
necessary because of the work being done by the CDLE pursuant to Senate Bill 15-239.
Other Information Related to the Interim Study Committee
Other agencies that may be called upon to provide assistance or information include: DHS;
CDLE; Colorado Department of Education; Colorado Department of Higher Education; National
Federation of the Blind; business advocates, such as the Colorado Association of Commerce
and Industry, National Federation of Independent Business, and various chambers of
commerce; and others entities as determined by the interim study committee.

Resolution 2014-07 Regarding a Request that the State Legislature Convene an Interim Committee to Study Services for the Blind

(Editor's Note: August 12, 2015 marks the first meeting of the Legislature's Interim Study Committee on Vocational Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. This Resolution passed in our November 2014 Convention was our first statement of resolve to improve the opportunities for blind Coloradans by striving to improve the Vocational Rehabilitation services tasked with assisting us to become integrated in the economic fabric of the state.)

WHEREAS, a robust economy and healthy tax base require the inclusion of all Colorado citizens, who are willing and able to work, to actively participate in civic life, and pay their fair share; and


WHEREAS, the opportunity to take part in the social and economic fabric of our state is no less sought after by people who are blind than any other group of citizens; and


WHEREAS, our unique Colorado culture requires equality of opportunity for all; and


WHEREAS, such a requirement demands a variety of programs and services, which exist to bring appropriate regulation, the fostering of entrepreneurship, education, training and rehabilitation, and job placement to a diverse number of Colorado citizens; and


WHEREAS, people who are blind must have effective training in a discrete and specialized skill set in order to be successfully employed and integrated into the economic fabric of the state and nation; and


WHEREAS, state vocational rehabilitation programs are mandated by Federal and state law, and designated and monitored by the United States Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration to provide such services; and


WHEREAS, effective vocational rehabilitation requires that administrators,
supervisors, and counselors providing these necessary services to the blind absolutely must have a belief in the capacity of the blind, and possess a thorough understanding of the nonvisual and low vision strategies and adaptive technologies necessary for successful rehabilitation of their clients; and


WHEREAS, Colorado's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has only a handful of counselors serving blind clients, and no distinct entity providing services to blind Coloradans nor supervisors specifically charged with providing services to the blind; and


WHEREAS, the extensive services often necessary for blind clients are rarely understood by Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation supervisors and managers despite federal and state requirements for individualized services, leading to pernicious delays and unjust, immoral, and illegal denials of legitimate services, and the exercise of federally mandated Informed Choice; and


WHEREAS, a Division of Vocational Rehabilitation working group recently created new policies in answer to a Legislative Audit recommendation regarding time limits in which services must be provided, but admitted that no consideration was given to clients who are blind or the policy's impact on those blind clients when developing these arbitrary and capricious restrictions; and


WHEREAS, unlike almost every other single state in the nation, the Colorado Department of Human Services, which houses the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has time and time, and time again submitted a budget, which does not allow the state to take full advantage of significant Federal “110” dollars, which can be drawn down in direct support of adjustment, training, and job placement for people who are blind; and


WHEREAS, the blind of Colorado can no longer stand by while inadequate services are delivered through the current administrative structure; and

WHEREAS, there is irrefutable evidence from the many states which have separate identifiable services for the blind that greater outcomes and reduced costs result from a separate state agency model: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado in Convention assembled, this second day of November, 2014, in the City of Lone Tree, Colorado, that this organization calls upon the President of the Colorado Senate and the Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives to convene a special interim committee of the General Assembly to consider how best to address the woeful service delivery system of the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this committee be instructed to give strong consideration to the establishment of a separate, dedicated unit within state government to provide the targeted expertise necessary to enhance quality of life and improve employment outcomes for Colorado’s blind citizens.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

No time to rest for NFBCO after #NFB15

Editor's Note: Many of us have just returned from our historic #NFB15 75th Anniversary convention in Orlando, where we broke the Guinness World Record for an umbrella mosaic as a way of celebrating. More than one hundred Colorado Federationists helped make up the 2480 record-breaking participants that spelled out our tag line, "Live the life you want." There's no time for rest though. Already two successful BELL Camps were held last week - in the north Metro area and in Colorado Springs - bringing Braille enrichment and fun to Colorado''s blind kids. Here are some events coming up in the next week.

Student Division


Hey there everybody -


Get ready. Colorado Association of Blind Students (CABS) will be having a meeting on Sunday July 19 at 8 pm (mountain time).  We will be discussing the upcoming student
seminar, Colorado's state convention and fundraisers. We want lots of input so come join and tell your friends to do the same.  The conference call number
is:



1 (832) 551-5900

enter the pin number: 140017#<




Hope to see you there!


Anna E Givens


Sports & Rec Division

Monthly Conference Call


Hi everyone,  The NFB of Colorado Sports and Rec division is having a conference call on Monday July 20 at 7:30 for anyone who wants to join us. 


The number to call is 712-432-1500 and the access code is 564151#. 


Talk to you then.


Monique Melton, Secretary



Mile High Chapter


The Mile High Chapter of the NFBCO moved our July meeting from 15 July to 22 July 2015.  The meeting will be at 5:45 p.m. at our usual location, 1020 Fifteenth Street, Recreation Room, Denver, CO 80202


Gary Van Dorn

President, Mile High NFBCO


Denver Chapter Picnic


July 25 will be the Denver Chapter picnic, with a short meeting at 10 a.m. There will be games on the lawn, chili dogs and a lot of fun! Picnic ends at 2 p.m.


Join us at the Colorado Center for the Blind next Saturday; 2233 W. Shepperd Avenue, Littleton.


North Metro Chapter Fundraiser


Join the North Metro Chapter for their annual wine-tasting on Saturday, July 25, 2015 from 6:00 PM  until  9:00 PM at



Spero Winery

3316 W 64th Avenue
Denver, CO 80221


Contact/RSVP: Jon Deden 

303.507.7677


We are hosting an National Federation of the Blind NFB Fundraiser to taste 22 different types of wine, enjoy fabulous food, decadent chocolate and desserts.


$55 at the door


North Metro Chapter meetings are held every third Saturday of the month, please visit
www.nfbco.org for more information.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Interim Study Committee Members Soon To Be Appointed

By: Kevan Worley

As readers of this Blind Coloradan blog are aware, prior to the adjournment of the recent session of the Colorado General Assembly, State Representative Pete Lee, with the support of Senator Michael Merrifield, requested that an interim committee to study services for the blind of Colorado be appointed. The committee appointment is subject to Joint Rule 24A, which governs interim committee requirements, voting requirements, and electronic requirements. Representative Lee’s request was approved. General Assembly leadership must appoint members to the committee by July 1, 2015. Public hearings will be scheduled around the state through the summer and fall. A report of the committee must be submitted to the Legislative Council by November 15. This committee will permit the voice of the blind of Colorado to be heard. Below, please find the text contained in Representative Lee’s request. --K.W.

I hereby request that an interim study committee be formed to study vocational rehabilitative services for the blind through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) during the interim between the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions.  The interim study committee would be named the "Interim Committee to Study Vocational Rehabilitative Services for the Blind.”



The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) is sponsoring Senate Bill 15-239, which concerns the transfer of vocational rehabilitation programs, including the business enterprise program, from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), effective July 1, 2016.  I commend the commitment, evidenced by this move, on placing people with disabilities into competitive employment. However, in view of concerns about DVR’s operations and delivery of vocational rehabilitative services for the blind, I believe an interim study committee is necessary as described below.  The interim study committee would augment the quarterly reports from CDLE to the JBC, as required by Senate Bill 15-239.  The work of the interim study committee would be in addition to the other stakeholder outreach being done by the CDLE concerning the transfer of the DVR to the CDLE.



Scope of the policy issues to be studied.  In order to build a strong foundation for DVR in CDLE and improve accountability and the delivery of vocational rehabilitative services for the blind, I believe that an interim committee to study the vocational rehabilitative services for the blind is appropriate.  The interim study committee would determine the most effective structure and delivery model for vocational rehabilitative services and supports for the blind from the DVR within CDLE.  Specifically, the interim study committee should be mandated to make recommendations based on the following:
  • the findings and recommendations of the November 2013 Legislative Audit, as those findings and recommendations concern the blind, including identification of “…pervasive problems in the Program that raise questions about the Division’s oversight, system of internal controls, and culture of accountability”;
  • evaluation of the delays in delivery of vocational rehabilitative services to the blind;
  • assessment of the efficacy of the application, receipt, and use of federal 1973 Rehabilitation Act “110” funding for the blind;
  • consideration of any and all issues identified in the National Federation of the Blind Colorado Resolution 2014-11-2, Resolution 2014-01 (Attachment A); and
  • consideration of any other issues related to the effective delivery of vocational rehabilitative services to the blind to assist them in obtaining job skills and long-term high paying jobs.

Committee meeting requirements and structure.  The interim study committee should meet as determined by the interim study committee, but should hold at least six meetings during July through November and report to Legislative Council by November 15, 2015.  The interim study committee should hold a meeting on the Western Slope, possibly Grand Junction, or arrange for remote testimony.  The interim study committee can refer up to three bills to Legislative Council. 



I suggest the interim study committee should consist of eleven members: four members of the Senate, with two appointed by the President of the Senate and two appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate; four members of the House of Representatives, with two appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and two appointed by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives; and three nonlegislative members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives from statewide organizations representing the blind, independent living, and the State Rehabilitation Council.  When appointing the legislative members, consideration should be given to the membership of the committees of reference responsible for business, employment, and human services.  The appointments must be made by July 1, 2015.   The chair shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and I suggest Representative Jessie Danielson be appointed as the chair of the interim study committee.  The interim study committee shall elect a vice-chair from its members.   



It is critical for stakeholders and activists in the blind community participate with the interim study committee, as outlined above.



Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Lifelong Habit of the Sunday Denver Post Enabled by NFB Newsline®

by Dan Burke
(Editor's Note: NFB Newsline® is an accessible newspaper and magazine delivery service open to blind and others with barriers to reading print. Developed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), it also receives support for some publications from the National Library Service for the Blind and is free to all its eligible subscribers. The NFB of Colorado sponsors the service here, and Jon Deden handles calls for information. You can call him at 303-778-1130, extension 303, or visit the NFB of Colorado's NFB Newsline® page. I want to give a shout out also to Ryan Osentowski who takes care of technical matters for Colorado's NFB Newsline® service, such as uploading blog posts from The Blind Coloradan to the local channel.)

One of my guilty pleasures is reading the Sunday Denver Post. It's a nearly-lifelong indulgence that is now enabled by NFB Newsline®.



Though I lived in Montana for over 30 years and joined the Federation there, I grew up in Loveland, Colorado. That's where the Sunday habit of the Denver Post began with my Dad's dramatized reading of the funnies - the excitingly colored comics that came in their own dedicated section as though just for my siblings and I as we piled on and around him on the couch after church. In a modulated voicing perhaps influenced by the radio-only entertainment of his own growing-up years in Depression-era South Dakota, he read and riffed on Beetle Bailey, Blondie and Dagwood, Dick "The Stick" Tracy (in his rendition), and Snuffy Smith.



I was able to struggle through the paper into my late teens, so before long I didn't have to wait till my Dad could be corraled on the couch to read to us, but I could read them for myself. The Sunday funny papers were the gateway drug to reading the Post on Sunday.



Next came the other special Sunday sections - the TV listings in the Roundup, Empire magazine, and ultimately the hard stuff - Oliphant's political cartoons , the front pages and the op-ed pages. I became a fifth grade news junkie. I was, for example, the only 11-year-old in my class in early 1968 that knew that Richard Nixon, then seeking the Republican nomination for President, had run against JFK in 1960 and, with the entry that spring of Bobby Kennedy into the Democratic primaries, an historic rematch of sorts might be in the offing for the November election.



Not long after, I actually delivered the Denver Post for a time, and the Sunday delivery was truly epic. Sunday-only subscribers more than doubled the number of papers to deliver (the Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald had no Sunday edition in those days), and the physical size of the paper was enormous - the size of a healthy Yule log and almost as dense. It was delivered to news carriers in three separate bundles - first the Classified section Saturday afternoon, and then the funnies and other special Sunday magazines and ads, and finally the Sunday news and sports sections. These all had to be inserted one into another before rolling the paper in half and rubber-banding it.

The route was large - too large - and would soon be split as the subdivision north of 29th Street continued to sprout new houses monthly. Kneeling on the garage floor to stuff the three sections into one and roll them, my hands and the thighs of my jeans would soon be plack with newsprint, and the stack of Sunday papers approaching the size of a half cord of firewood when I finished.



In those days, paperboys usually delivered from a bike or on foot, their papers loaded in a large canvas carrier's bag. Sunday was just too big for that. I could only carry about a dozen to twenty Sunday Denver Posts in my delivery bag, compared to the entire route of 60 or so papers of the daily run. The one time I tried this with the bag wound around the handlebars of my hand-painted one-speed, it took me hours as I returned home time and again to refill the bag and head out to resume deliveries.



From then on I loaded the papers into the trunk of our '62 Rambler Classic, which Dad backed into the driveway Saturday night. When the trunk filled I stacked them on the back seat and floor of the 4-door. I hired both of my younger brothers, and with Dad driving slowly through the sleepy streets, we trotted back and forth to the car for reloads and then worked our way up and down street after street.



By the time I was in college the print was too small for me to read much of the paper. Later I moved to Montana and sometimes read portions of the Sunday papers using a CCTV, but that was a dwindling return for my investment, and the pleasure of the Sunday paper became just a nagging void each week.



But we are the National Federation of the Blind, and it isn't our way to dwell on the things that blindness prevents us from doing or enjoying - we figure out ways to do and enjoy those things that our sighted peers do and enjoy. Enter NFB Newsline®.



When Newsline finally came to Montana in 2002 the newspaper famine for the blind ended. Yes, there were the two Montana papers, including the Missoulian, but also soon other treats - the New Yorker and the Denver Post. It would prove to be the end of the LAN line era, true, but I still bought a ten-dollar speaker phone at one of the sprawling mega-stores for the sole purpose of sitting beside it with a cup of coffee and reading the papers on Newsline. It wasn't long before the Sunday Denver Post became part of my regular reading list again.



I guess it just proves that an addict is always one hit away from relapse.

Nowadays the Sunday Denver Post isn't nearly as large as in the old days ... or maybe that's just the diffference in perspectives between childhood and adulthood. Nonetheless, it's still substantial and the the Sunday paper is still a shared thing at our house. I like to read Newsline on my laptop, using the clean web interface. Often Julie and I read things together, sports articles on the Broncos or Rockies, Ask Amy (like folksinger John Prine I regularly read Dear Abby) and any other items of interest.



I have a routine with the Sunday Post. There's no more Empire Magazine, though NFB Newsline does feature the weekly Sunday supplement Parade, but I have never found it interesting. Instead, I go right to the Book section, which is where I first read about the late Denver writer, Gary Reilly and the launching of his Asphalt Warrior series of comic novels. (The first book of the series was recorded by the Colorado Talking Book Library, and was its first book to be accepted on BARD - DBC00656).

Next, I read the Arts section. From there, what I read and in what order is more a matter of whimsy - I might start on the front page and Local sections, or the sports section. Finally, I might poke through some of the other sections for anything of interest.



Of course, it's the year 2015, so I am alerted to a good deal of the news I consume via social media. I follow a couple of reporters for the Denver Post and public radio, and still follow reporters and bloggers from Montana. But you know, for fast and efficient access to the news, nothing beats NFB Newsline's web interface or the nimble mobile apps for getting my news fix. In fact, I love the iPhone app on workday mornings, when my newspaper reading is understandably more rushed.



Sunday though, that's a lock. I'll be logging in on NFB Newsline® to read the Denver Post!