ACB and Rehabilitation: What We Stand For
by Mitch Pomerantz

It's December and another year has come and gone. 2010 has proven to be an extremely successful year for the American Council of the Blind relative to both our legal and legislative advocacy efforts. As we approach 2011 and the possible reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act, I thought that this would be the appropriate time to outline ACB's current thinking regarding the issue of the provision of quality rehabilitation services.

Last month as you read this, I spoke at the fall conference of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB) addressing ACB's perspective on the blind consumer's relationship to the vocational rehabilitation system and to VR professionals, including offering our recommendations for ways to enhance or improve this relationship. Most of that presentation was based on "talking points" derived from ACB's 2006 "White Paper On Rehabilitation and Training," drafted by our Rehabilitation Issues Task Force. Keep in mind that the white paper itself was drawn from previous ACB resolutions and policies.

The remainder of this column will put forward those talking points (principles).

1. Services should be delivered to blind people by state agencies which are categorical, have discrete budgetary authority, and operate with a rehabilitation council which is separate from that of the general rehabilitation agency.

2. ACB affirms its belief that informed choice is a key component of the rehabilitation process. Every blind person being served by any agency has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and that such client shall always be deemed an essential partner in the rehabilitation process, with the ability -- at all stages of the process -- to make informed choices.

3. Both public and private agencies providing rehabilitation services to people who are blind must be models of accessibility. This includes insuring that their programs and services must be fully and, where possible, independently accessible, and that all information regarding the rehabilitation program, consumer rights, service options, and individual plans for employment must be made available to blind people in formats which they can access independently.

4. Individuals who have residual vision at the time of their entry into a rehabilitation program have the right to expect training that will optimize their ability to make use of what sight still remains available to them. Agencies must develop and implement low vision evaluation programs and incorporate low vision technologies and techniques into their training programs.

5. This organization believes that no agency should be permitted to implement policies which deny people with visual impairments access to programs based on the individual's refusal to enter into programs that provide training using only non-visual techniques.

6. A core component of every adjustment to blindness training program must be an exploration of the impact that blindness has on the individual adjusting to vision loss. Such training must incorporate an acceptance of partial vision, as well as acceptance of total vision loss, and must include discussion of a broad range of philosophical notions, rather than reliance on any particular set of values.

7. Any person working in a professional capacity for agencies serving the blind should be specifically trained to serve blind people.

8. Training in the use of access technology should be a key component of all adjustment to blindness training programs.

9. The use of blindfolds or sleep shades in the rehabilitation of people who are visually impaired, but not completely blind, may have value, but we categorically assert that their use must be negotiated by the agency with the client and that they should only be used after the client has been taught to optimize his or her use of residual vision.

10. The use of a guide dog as an effective mobility aid is a legitimate choice for a person who is blind or visually impaired. Training facilities run by rehabilitation agencies must be willing to remove barriers that discourage individuals who have chosen to use guide dogs from participating in their rehabilitation programs, including the stigmatizing of guide dog handlers. Except during orientation and mobility lessons that are specifically aimed at improving cane technique, the dog and handler should be trained and treated as a team.

11. Rehabilitation agencies should encourage all of their employees to participate in consumer organizations of blind people, and should require that all professionals attend meetings and conventions of consumer organizations of the blind.

12. All agencies, whether public or private, must hold meetings with the major consumer organizations of the blind at least twice per year, so that there will be a regular exchange of ideas and information between agencies and consumers.

13. Every state should develop and implement a blindness caucus which will include legislators, consumers, professionals and family members of people who are blind, the purpose of this caucus being to insure an ongoing comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of all blind people in the state, especially older people with vision loss, and blind people with additional disabilities, who are woefully underserved at this time.

14. Every state should have an early intervention program designed to serve babies and children with visual impairments. Such programs must serve children up to the point where they can be seamlessly integrated into the vocational rehabilitation program.

15. We believe that the agencies operated under the auspices of National Industries for the Blind play an invaluable role in the rehabilitation of people who are blind, and the regulations implemented by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to limit employment closures for individuals served by such agencies must be reviewed and repealed.

16. We believe that the Randolph-Sheppard program remains an effective and appropriate career option for people who are blind. The RSA, state agencies, and state rehabilitation councils should seek to expand the number of available locations throughout the country, and should encourage blind people to consider this career option.

That's what ACB believes. Under the able leadership of its new chair, Charlie Crawford, the Rehab Issues Task Force is expanding upon these principles. You will be hearing much more from this task force over the next year and beyond.

Donna and I wish everyone a joyous and uplifting holiday season and an even better 2011.

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