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					                              THE VISIONARY
                              (Blind Services Newsletter)

Summer 2008
From the Editors

Welcome to the summer 2008 issue of The Visionary, the newsletter of the Department of
Rehabilitation’s Blind Services units. We trust that it continues to be informative and provides
what you seek from such a publication. The response from our readership has been great. As
with past issues, this one will cover a wide variety of topics and we thank all who have helped us
to bring this issue to “press.”

This issue comes to you early in the season so you can have it for your summer vacation reading
pleasure. Based on feedback, we are adding two regular features in this issue: one on the
Business Enterprises Program (BEP) and another on the Orientation Center for the Blind (OCB).

The “Editors’ Impressions” feature: observations about a pertinent issue in blindness, education
or rehabilitation) has morphed into a “reflections” section. This issue’s submission is by
Georgeta Tanase.

Speaking of editors, we hereby invite anyone in the Blind Services units to apply for the editorial
board position vacated a few months ago by long-time training specialist, Alice Hackney upon
her retirement. Please contact the Editor if you are interested. Qualifications include a good
“ear” or “eye” for typos and grammatical errors, a sense of what is interesting, and a willingness
to take an hour or so every few months to carefully read through draft versions of The Visionary
before it goes to press.

We encourage you to send us articles, your impressions, and useful resource ideas. If you do not
wish to write, send the “raw material” and we’ll do the work! Your submissions are essential to
the continued vitality of The Visionary. We try to publish everything we receive, editing only
for clarity, brevity, and to make sure articles are in accordance with our editorial policies.


Editor, Mary Calloway - e-mail

Tony Candela
Catharine Bailes
Veronica Graff

                                   Deputy Director’s Message
                                          By Tony Candela

We are in difficult times. As I write, the battle of the budget, in its prelude, is already causing
collateral damage. Specialized services are not the only ones that are vulnerable, but perhaps
they are more so because they tend to be more expensive than generic services are. Already we
have seen a change in DOR’s contracting methodology that has upset a few apple carts. In the
long run, given that DOR and its contractors arrive at “livable” solutions and most of the
problems caused by the changes are worked out, with fewer dollars and only so many
efficiencies available, it is hard to envision a future that does not include either decreased amount
or quality of service to our consumer base. These are the challenges we face. How we deal with
them will be a test of our character and imagination.

Perhaps too it will be a test of our skill. It is important to understand how budgets are made,
including the fact that assumptions underlie all of them. The first assumption is how much
money is actually available. The next assumption is how the money should be spent. Equally
across all disability groups? A differential for the more expensive ones? Divided by
organizational districts without regard for any particular disability group?

 What is the role of the Specialized Services Division in all this? It is, foremost, to execute the
programs in its charge as best as it can, given the benefits, limits, and constraints of the system.
It is also to advocate in behalf of specialized services within the organization and without.
Finally, the Division must not only carry the passion, but also the skill to bend and stretch the
system as far as it either can or is willing to go. We are working hard to do all of the above.

Message from the BFS Program Manager

By Catharine Bailes

A Sense of Excitement and Hope

A new fiscal year has begun, and as with the beginning of any new year, whether in January or
July, I find myself filled with a sense of excitement and hope. You may be thinking otherwise,
due to the serious budget crisis that all Californians are facing this year, but I’d like to focus on
more than the budget crisis.

First of all and most important, I want to thank the BFS staff for the hard work to develop
creative Individual Plans for Employment and facilitate successful Closures during the past fiscal

Two weeks ago, with the assistance of our Rehabilitation Administrator Joe Smith, I provided
the Blind Advisory Committee the following information about our productivity for the first
eleven months of the current fiscal year:

There were 345 competitive closures for the first eleven months of the current fiscal year,
somewhat down from last year, but we are doing well in a difficult economy. (Note: 72 of these
closures were from EPS, a typical portion.) Also, for the same period there were 655
Homemaker closures of which 16 were from EPS. The percentage of homemaker to total
closures is about the same this year as last. Finally, our consumers’ Average weekly income at
closure through May was $546, and of this total BFS was $577 and EPS was $428. I’m looking
forward to seeing the final statistics for the full fiscal year.

Transition Outreach: We have also increased the number of transition-age youth on our
caseloads. You have worked hard to conduct outreach to youth. With special thanks to Richard
Rueda, our Transition Coordinator, and the Transition Task Force Team, we currently have
approximately 540 Consumers between the ages of 16 and 22, a significant increase over last
year’s total. If you have questions about transition services, please contact Richard. We serve
youth from ages 16-22. Richard and the Transition Task Force have a wealth of information to
share. Remember, BFS is committed to opening cases when youths reach 16 years of age and
not waiting until they graduate high school.

BFS Staff: The New Year will certainly present us with new challenges, but I believe we are up
to them. We have recently added five SVRC QRPs to our staff and are in the process of hiring
three more. Last fiscal year, we hired three new Rehabilitation Supervisors and we will be
recruiting more as Norma Shannon has announced her retirement in August. We will greatly
miss her and we thank her for her many years of service. Norma was one of BFS’s nine original

In addition, Alice Hackney, our Training Coordinator/Rehabilitation Specialist, also retired. She
will be equally missed. We will be filling this position in the coming months.

I’m excited about what the newcomers will bring to BFS and how the experience you will share
with them will make our team even better.

Our staff continues to improve its skills. Five of our Counselors graduated and earned their
Masters degrees in Rehabilitation Counseling. Congratulations go to Therese Gardner, Brian
Hall, Sandra Mitchell, Karen Shrawder, and Michael Work. Both Sandra and Michael were
Interns with BFS as they completed their degree requirements. Several of our Counselors are
currently enrolled in Masters Degree programs and I congratulate each of them for making the
effort to acquire new skills and knowledge. Their endeavor will be of great benefit to BFS and
the people we serve.

Assistive Technology Advancements: I’m also excited about assistive technology research and
development. As many of you, I read articles about technology for people with disabilities,
especially those who are blind or visually impaired. It is amazing how quickly technology
changes provide greater opportunities for them to achieve their employment goals. It’s exciting
to hear from Consumers and learn how much technology has changed their lives so they can live
more independently and compete for employment on a level playing field.

Community Rehabilitation Providers (CRPs): We are very fortunate to have excellent
professionals in the field of rehabilitation for people who are blind or visually impaired as our
partners. We are an extension of them and them of us. Our community providers enable us to
serve many more Consumers than we can on our own. Please continue to refer your Consumers
to the CRP that most effectively serves them. The new Contract Re-structuring may be
somewhat confusing, but don’t let that stop you from making appropriate referrals. If you have a
question about how to make an authorization, please talk with your Supervisor or our contract
managers, Veronica Graff in the south and Lilia Fernandez in the north. They will be very happy
to assist you. We need our partners, so refer, refer, and refer!

These are just a few of the reasons I’m excited about the possibilities for 2008/09. Thank you
again for all that you do to make Blind Field Services the outstanding District it has become.

                               OCB Looks At Nearly A Full House

                                  By Mike Cole, Administrator

A year ago OCB put on an “Olympic games” activity completely organized by the students and
there were lots of people involved in beanbag tosses, and the neatest variation on Musical Chairs
you ever saw. There were fewer people then, (20); however, this Summer OCB is fully loaded
with students (27). We’ll have fun this summer while working hard to provide quality
rehabilitation training. There will be a talent show and a job seeking seminar featuring employed
people with vision disabilities, pizza and lots of focused discussion. OCB will be the site for a
BFS Northern California Unit meeting. We are happy to host such meetings; we have the space
and we are centrally located.

So this year it's talent to replace the three-legged race. Oh and here's the musical chairs game:
Two teams of six each. Each person represents a dot in the Braille cell. They wait for the call of
the Braille symbol they must form by racing to and then sitting in two groups of six chairs, each
arranged to form a Braille cell. The caller says Y! The teams move filling all the seats except the
one for dot 2. What with blindfolding and a wide variation in the level of Braille knowledge
resulting in the need for leadership, it's pretty wild.

OCB is again hosting blind Social Security employees-in-training, five of them preparing to
become Teleservice representatives. We would like to especially mention the cooperative efforts
of BFS at all levels as we go into our third such venture lodging these Social Security trainees.
We are all pulling together to make this one as successful as the two previous ones.

   Come visit. Send your consumers for a tour. OCB finds ways to smile through all kinds of
                             weather, with and without a budget.

                                        BEP Is on the Rise

                                        By Tony Candela

According to the web site, the Business Enterprises Program (BEP) “provides Department
consumers who are legally blind opportunities to be trained in the operation of cafeterias,
vending stands, and snack bars, with the ultimate goal of becoming independent food service
professionals in California.” These “facilities” can generally be found in state or federal office
buildings, but can also be found on military bases, post offices, courthouses, state prisons,
roadside rest stops, and other locations. The BEP was created through federal legislation, the
Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936 and its subsequent amendments. The BEP provides blind
persons with “remunerative employment, enlarging the economic opportunities of the blind, and
stimulating the blind to greater efforts in striving to make themselves self-supporting," The BEP
conducts training for blind consumers in various aspects of food service and vending machine
businesses as well as bookkeeping, accounting, and program and other governmental regulations.
Formal training is conducted in the training room in DOR headquarters and consists of classroom
and on-the-job training. Students are referred to the BEP by Blind Field Services counselors and
are accepted into the training program after a rigorous screening process. Successful candidates
must possess computer skills and be strongly motivated to run a business. Prior business
experience appears to be the norm among candidates, but is not required. The course of study is
difficult; training officer Bill Shira likens it to the equivalent of earning a community college
degree in 8 months. Good concentration and memory, discipline, and relatively good physical
and mental health are predictors of success.

Those who complete all training requirements “graduate” in a special way. They receive a
license to operate any type of facility in the BEP. Thus, in BEP terminology, DOR is the State
Licensing Agency (SLA). As with all graduations, having a license is only the first step. New-
fledged vendors must compete against other vendors for a facility. Facilities become available
on a regular basis. BEP central office staff prepares a formal announcement and disseminates it
to all licensed vendors. The announcement describes the facility, its earnings potential, and
requirements for successful operation. Prospective operators compete in an interview process
before a selection committee of community businesspersons and representatives of the building
in which the facility resides. BEP’s location development officer manages the selection process.

The program is partially self-supporting. Approximately 78% of the funding comes from federal
VR dollars and a 22% match comes from fees submitted by vendors representing a small
percentage of their monthly profits. Funds go toward purchase of new facilities (refrigerators,
counter-tops, stoves, product display cases and racks, vending machines, and more). Funds are
also devoted to repairs within existing facilities and more global refurbishment. BEP staff called
Business Enterprises Consultants (BECs) and their supervisors provides field-based assistance to
vendors. Their business advisement service helps vendors run their facilities as profitably as
possible, provide good customer service, and make sure their customers receive excellent
products in line with regional taste and, of course, healthy choices. BECs work with vendors to
deal with various bureaucracies, assure monthly operating reports and fees are submitted to BEP,
assist with relations with host building managers, and more.

BEP has a new Program Manager. Debra K. Meyer who came aboard on June 23, returned to
DOR from the Department of Consumer Affairs where she worked as a Staff Information
Systems Analyst. She has a degree in Business Administration. Deb has worked as an auditor
for DOR and has provided accounting assistance to the BEP and assisted in BEP’s training
program with presentations on accounting standards, IRS expectations, bookkeeping and
regulations. She looks forward to increasing the number of well-producing facilities in the
program and improving its overall stature through good management and a vision for a BEP that
is responsive to the demands of modern business and the type of competition never envisioned
by the creators of the Randolph-Sheppard Act 72 years ago.

     For more information on the Business Enterprises Program, go to the DOR web site at:
                           Or write to the following e-mail address:

                  “Transition to Independence and Success is a Team Effort”.
                 Reflections on the BFS Transition Workshop on April 25, 2008

                                       By Georgeta Tanase

The words Richard Rueda sent to us in Sacramento after the Workshop was over were
encouraging: “You all should be very proud for a top notch job today. Hats off to each of you. I
am hearing that we had terrific feedback. This type of collaboration and community outreach
makes BFS a great unit to represent and work for.” After that I realized that this event was really
a team effort, as much as our work with blind and visually impaired teens and young adults is a
team effort.

Our District Administrator, Catharine Bailes also send us an email on the morning of this event:
“Hi Everyone -- you are all doing a terrific job with the workshop! I'm so proud of all of you!!
My very best wishes for today's workshop!”

Words such as these are powerful and meant a lot to me and I am sure to all who received the

The presenters from the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired (LSC), the Orientation
Center for the Blind (OCB), The Society for the Blind, and the Braille and Talking Book Library
were appreciative and acknowledged the need for such an event. My supervisor, Linda
Paravagna was definitely great with the introductory remarks, despite, due to a scheduling glitch,
having to quickly come up with a speech. Her comments were genuine and greatly appreciated.

Patti from the LSC stated: “Thank you again for arranging the transition conference and for
inviting us. What a wonderful turnout! … The speakers, the set-up and the food were all top
notch. I know how much effort it takes to pull something like this off and it's always nice when it
goes so well.”

There were many teachers in the audience, as well as Workability coordinators, parents and
professionals. All of them, and especially our young consumers, were encouraged and
empowered by the presentations and wealth of information presented by Richard Rueda, LSC,
OCB, the Society for the Blind, and a representative from the Braille and Talking Book Library.
We had in the audience teachers of the Visually Impaired, transition specialists and independent
living skills teachers from the San Juan, Placer and Sacramento special education programs; and
the Mt. Diablo, Grant and Rocklin unified school districts. A Workability Counselor from Grant,
teachers and Para-educators from Yuba and Elk Grove and employers from the Assistive
Technology Center of Sacramento (ATC) and the ARC also attended.

The wonderful students who made themselves available for a college panel brought me to tears.
I was especially touched when I heard that one of the students has a disease which other than
causing blindness is also life threatening. I asked permission to share answers to a question
Richard Rueda asked them: “If you had a word of wisdom for another young visually impaired
or blind consumer in transition to college and employment, what would you tell them?” This is a
short version of their answers:

“Finish what you started” (Trina); “Keep working! Stay diligent!” (Anthony) “It is easier with
assistive technology. Make use of it and learn more about what is available.” (Paul) “Take the
services offered! You might not get a second chance!”(Joanne) “Have a good reason for services
requested and strive to become independent. Ask a lot of questions.”(Kate).

One of the students was accompanied by her employer, Anita Kuharski from the office for
visually impaired at the American River College. Anita also offered an answer to Richard’s
question: “Believe in your abilities! As an employer I learned not to judge my potential
employees.” Anita also stated that her employee is a valuable resource in the office and on

The motto for the conference was: “Transition to Independence and Success is a Team Effort”.
This one surely was. We had invaluable help from Deborah Mortensen who worked above and
beyond her normal duties to take care of important logistics and details critical to the success of
this event, and we will be sure to personally thank our other partners who made this event a
success: employers such as Tony’s Fine Foods, Safeway, Longs Drugs, ATC, IRTI, Society for
the Blind, Office Max, the Braille and Talking Book Library, and especially SETA which
donated time, space and materials for the conference. Josh Woodson was the liaison from
SETA, our partner to this event. He provided excellent service and awesome words of

I hope this type of activity will happen again! We are responsible for helping our youngsters to
start life better equipped than previous generations. The blind and visually impaired professional
community has a tough job ahead and a great mission: to help as many blind and visually
impaired students as possible find employment, and, in the process, educate employers and the
population in general, regarding blind and visually impaired citizens, the most dedicated,
capable, and reliable employees, any employer could wish for!

Editor’s Notes: We are delighted that our colleagues support each other and that supervisors not
only pitch in and help with the work, they express their pride and appreciation to staff.

agency of the City and County of Sacramento, was formed in 1978. From its inception, SETA
has been an effective force in connecting people to jobs, business owners to quality employees,
education and nutrition to children, assistance to refugees, and hope to many Sacramento area
residents. Annually, SETA serves over 45,000 customers. Visit the web site at:

Earle Baum Center is the Bomb!

(Excerpted from the Newsletter for the Earle Baum Center, Serving the Blind and Visually
Impaired, Spring 2008 Volume 8          Issue 1)

As a high school student, Kennedy Dodd's prospects seemed unlimited. Looking forward to his
high school graduation and a college football scholarship, the Dumas, Arkansas native saw a
bright future when tragedy struck.
"After losing my sight in December of 1991 to spinal-meningitis, my life was turned upside
down." Kennedy spent 2 months in a coma and an additional four months in the hospital
recovering. Once back on his feet, Kennedy was determined to make up for lost time." I
remained to keep the faith. I enrolled at the Arkansas School for the Blind for my senior year.
There I was introduced to Braille, mobility, & adaptive technology to give me the necessary
skills to function in society. It was a great experience and I learned a lot, but it also felt more like
a whirlwind experience because I had to learn so much in a short period of time." Seeking better
training, Kennedy moved to Texas and enrolled in Austin Community College. After two
successful years, he transferred to Oral Roberts University where he made the Dean's List.
Unfortunately, his funds ran out and Kennedy went to work at Lion's World Services in
Charlotte. Knowing that his future success depended on more education, he moved to California.
"Life does not slow down because of trials & tribulations. I often thought to myself that if I only
had enough time to learn more about the computer, it would give me the necessary skills to be
more assertive individually as well as professionally. Little did I know that I would cross path
with an excellent organization like the Earle Baum Center."

Kennedy's quick wit, bright and positive attitude and commitment to learning have made him a
source of inspiration to his teachers, other students and our volunteers. With many weeks of
technology training under his belt, Kennedy is now ready for his next move. "The experience
here is second to none. I have more confidence now than I ever had in my life. The EBC has
given me the necessary hope, skills, and encouragement to take it to the next level. Now I'm
looking forward to attending the Lion's World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, Arkansas to
obtain a certificate as an Adaptive Technology Instructor. Because of the training that I received
here, I have been able to enroll to finish my four-year degree from West
Texas A&M University. After completing my program at Lion's World Services, as well as
completing my degree, I plan to get a job as an Adaptive Technology Instructor and continue my
education to acquire a Licensed Professional Counselor Master's Degree, possibly at Sonoma
State University."

"I'd like to thank all the staff, volunteers, and everyone else at the Earle Baum Center for their
instruction and all the wonderful words of encouragement."
Riverside fundraiser shows life in the dark to sighted
10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, March 20, 2008
By AMANDA STRINDBERG The Press-Enterprise

It was an eye-opening experience, or rather, eye closing. About 270 people on Thursday
abandoned their sight, taking a trip into inky darkness where they wined and dined in a pitch-
black room. Blind and visually impaired wait staff served dinner and guided attendees into the
abyss, taking them on a two-hour journey into their world. Many of the servers were local,
specifically trained for the event. Laughter, excitement and confusion filled the cave-dark room,
as people fuddled with silverware attempting to eat. Glasses clanked, food spilled and silverware
dropped. Some gave up and dug in with their hands. This was utter darkness, so dark the eyes
don’t adjust and diamonds don’t sparkle. Prejudices disappeared.

The Dining in the Dark event, at the Riverside Convention Center, raised money for Blindness
Support Services, which provides resources for blind and visually impaired residents in
Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In the Inland area, 87,000 people are blind or have
severe vision loss, said Allison Alejo, director of resource development for the nonprofit
organization. The evening is expected to raise more than $50,000.

Alejo said she hoped the experience gave people a glimpse of what it’s like to be without sight.
"I want them to understand what they face and come away with an understanding that although
there are challenges, things can still be done," she said. "Blind people get up for work, kiss their
kids, eat and shop. It’s just harder."

The dark dining concept originated in Europe at the Blindekuh Restaurant in Zurich,
Switzerland, which opened in 1999. It’s become a global trend generating wait lists up to two
months to get into the sans-light eateries. Opaque, which put on the Riverside event, is the first
company to offer the true dark experience in the United States with restaurants in Los Angeles
and San Diego, said owner Ben Uphues.

Besides providing a culinary adventure where taste, smell and touch work in overdrive, the dark
dining restaurants create work opportunities for the blind, a group that faces a 75 percent
unemployment rate. Uphues said he couldn’t run his business without blind servers, whose
disabilities become abilities as they shepherd people to tables and calm nerves.

Alicia Campos, 26, who is completely blind and served at the fundraiser, said it was refreshing to
help the guests. "It’s empowering," the Riverside resident said. "Some other person is depending
on me."

Rusty Perez, 39, also totally blind, said he hoped attendees gained an appreciation for their sight
and realized blind people aren’t helpless. "If they found they can trust us, I hope they can see that
we are trustworthy in job situations as well," said the blind Riverside Community College
English teacher, who teaches at the Norco campus.
Reactions to the velvety darkness varied.

"I like this," someone called out. "I can say anything I want and no one will know who I am."

"I just ate a whole tab of butter," another person said giggling.

A few panicked. Uphues said that isn’t unusual.

"It’s something that touches people on different levels," he said. "It can be an overwhelming
feeling of being out of control."

Peter Benavidez, CEO of Blind Support Services, who has 20 percent of his vision, said even if
the experience is uncomfortable, he hopes it’s memorable. "When they leave here I hope they
have a memory that will last a lifetime," he said.

Woodland Hills businessman, Jim Flavin called the temporary loss of sight humbling. "We are
going to walk out of here and others will still be blind," he said. "That’s where the sensitivity
comes in."

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Peter Benavides, Executive Director, Blindness
Support Services, Riverside, CA

Blind student earns medical degree, sees no limits

(Excerpted from USA Today)

Picture: Tim Cordes works in a lab at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison. Cordes, who is blind,
graduated near the top of his med-school class. By Andy Manis, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The young medical student was nervous as he slid the soft, thin tube
down into the patient's windpipe. It was a delicate maneuver - and he knew he had to get it right.
Tim Cordes leaned over the patient as his professor and a team of others closely monitored his
every step. Carefully, he positioned the tube, waiting for the special signal that oxygen was
flowing. The anesthesia machine was set to emit musical tones to confirm the tube was in the
trachea and carbon dioxide was present. Soon, Cordes heard the sounds. He double-checked with
a stethoscope. All was OK. He had completed the intubation.

 Several times over two weeks, Cordes performed this difficult task at the University of
Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. His professor, Dr. George Arndt, marveled at his student's
skills. "He was 100%," the doctor says. "He did it better than the people who could see." Tim
Cordes is blind.
 He has mastered much in his 28 years: Jujitsu. Biochemistry. Water-skiing. Musical
composition. Any one of these accomplishments would be impressive. Together, they're
dazzling. And now, there's more
 Luster for his gold-plated resume with a new title: Doctor. Cordes has earned his M.D.

 In a world where skeptics always seem to be saying, stop, this isn’t something a blind person
should be doing, it was one more barrier overcome. There are only a handful of blind doctors in
this country. But Cordes makes it clear he could not have joined this elite club alone. "I signed
on with a bunch of real team players who decided that things
 Are only impossible until they're done," he says.

Success Story

By Louis Mestas, BFS Counselor

C. Completed Cal State University San Bernardino and was about to embark in job search efforts
in that area when her mother moved out of state to take a new job. C. Was not discouraged nor
dissuaded by this unexpected event. Thinking it over, despite considering staying in California to
fend for herself, she chose to move out of state with her mother. C. Did not sit on her hands but
immediately commenced a frenetic job search in her new state…. She secured employment
within 3 months as a customer service reservations representative with Alaska Airlines at their
call center….

We assisted her with technology (JAWS) to enable her to utilize her computer at the worksite
and provided her with a Braille display and other needed adaptive software on the company's
computers and phones. We are now ready to claim our successful “26 closure.” True, hers was a
lengthy and expensive case. However, it was well worth it!

Don't shortchange the blind

By Kirk Adams Special to The Times

Reprinted from the Seattle Times
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
When David Paterson stepped into his new role as New York's governor last month, blind people
across the nation experienced a moment of pride. Paterson is legally blind. He's also proof of
what blind people already know, that we are capable of ascending to the highest levels of office;
that, with technological advances and training, we are capable of successfully performing any
job, with the exception of those involving driving a car. Paterson is not alone. Blind people are
increasingly rising to the top ranks of employment and succeeding in jobs as diverse as
machinists, teachers and CEOs. I am personally acquainted with blind people in Washington
state in a wide variety of positions: judge, attorney, middle-school math teacher, clinical
psychologist, network-systems administrator and food-service entrepreneur, to name a few.
But the fact remains: Seven out of 10 of the 10 million visually impaired Americans are
unemployed. Why is that, when people like Gov. Paterson and many others have demonstrated
that blind people are not only employable, but also employable at the highest levels of society?
Why does the blind community face an unemployment rate that's on average 65 percentage
points higher than the national average? The general public assumes that the biggest barrier to
employment blind
People face is their blindness. In actuality, the biggest barrier is assumptions employers make
about what blind people can or cannot do. A blind friend of mine interviewed for a job for which
she was highly qualified, perhaps overqualified. After she presented her skills and experience to
demonstrate her ability to fulfill the functions of the job, the interviewer asked, "Yes, but how
will you find the bathroom?" To a blind person, trained and experienced in traveling
independently, this type of question is beyond silly. We all see the world through the lens of our
own experience. Employers see a blind candidate and think to themselves, if I woke up blind
tomorrow, I couldn't find the bathroom, let alone operate a computer or machinery.

Their subjective lens fails to account for blind people's years of learning how to successfully
navigate the world. Many blind people, by necessity, have developed superior memory,
organization and listening skills, but employers often don't recognize them. It also shows a lack
of knowledge about the technological advances that enable blind people to perform a full range
of job functions. Assistive computer technology, including screen-reading software, refreshable
Displays, GPS devices and many more have leveled the playing field for blind employees.
Employers may be hesitant to hire blind candidates because of the potential cost of making their
workplace accessible. They don't know about the tax
Credits, employee training and, in some cases, financial assistance available through the
Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.

New technologies are expensive, but the vast majority of visually impaired Americans don't need
them. Making a workplace accessible might be as easy as providing an employee with a bigger
monitor or downloading screen-magnification software.

Not all blind kids are receiving the level of specialized blindness-skills training they need
growing up. If young blind people are to fulfill their real potential and take full advantage of the
employment opportunities open to them, they need comprehensive blindness skills - not just
high-tech computer skills but Braille literacy, and orientation and mobility skills, like how to
travel safely and independently using a white cane or a guide dog.

The employment gap between sighted and blind adults often starts in the teenage years. Blind
kids are at a disadvantage when applying for typical first jobs, which often involve manual labor
(flipping burgers, mowing lawns, waiting tables). The gap widens as these young people move
through to adulthood. We need more transition programs to assist blind young adults in getting a
solid start to their careers. Given the right resources, there will be many more David Patersons.
One day, the conversation Americans will be having around the dinner table will not be whether
a woman or an African American is qualified to be president, but if a blind person is capable of
holding the highest office in this land. And the answer, just like the answer to our present day's
question, will be a resounding yes.

Kirk Adams is president of Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind,

The Visionary on the Web and Telephone

You can find The Visionary on the California Department of Rehabilitation’s web site. Just go
to and find the links to this newsletter there.

While in the site, read about the variety of services the Department’s Rehabilitation Counselors
of the Blind offer to blind Californians who seek vocational rehabilitation services. You also can
read the on line version of the Blind Field Services brochure and a brochure on Transition
services for blind and visually impaired youths.

Don’t forget to dive into the links on:
*Orientation Center for the Blind
*Business Enterprises Program
*Title VII, Chapter 2 Grants for service to Older Blind Individuals

The Visionary can also be found on NFB Newsline in California where its articles are read aloud
using synthetic speech. For general information and assistance, call NFB Newsline at (866) 504-
7300. When calling Newsline, use a local number if available. To get the local number for your
area, call Tim Ford at 916-440-7822.