by Bob Hachey
Every one of the 50 states that make up our union has an agency that provides vocational rehabilitation (VR) and social rehabilitation (SR) services. Whether your state’s agency is a commission whose commissioner is appointed by the governor or whether it’s a bureau within a larger agency serving people with other disabilities, all of these agencies have at least one thing in common. They all have a rehabilitation council (RC). The RC is made up of a broad range of stakeholders ranging from consumers and parents of people with disabilities to provider agencies and representatives of business and labor.
It is the rehab council’s mission to review and provide input into agency policies and procedures. The council usually meets once per quarter and submits an annual report to the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
Since 1994, I have served on the rehab council of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) twice under three different commissioners. Our council has term limits — a person must leave the RC after serving three consecutive two-year terms. Serving on the council has allowed me to become familiar with our agency’s budget and funding streams. This information has helped me to be a more effective advocate for funding of agency services. It has also allowed me to give my opinion on a broad range of VR and SR policies. For example, one of my favorite complaints about VR for students was that there were few summer job and internship opportunities when I was in high school and college. I believe that this helped to create a less than desirable resume when I began searching for employment in earnest after graduating from college in 1984. I argued that my sighted counterparts had all sorts of work experience that I lacked. Today, our students have much better opportunities, especially given the many internship programs that have sprung up throughout the nation. Serving on the RC also allowed me to become more familiar with agency personnel and procedures. Such knowledge comes in handy when you’re advocating for yourself or for other VR consumers. I also became more familiar with how an organization is run, which was very helpful to me when I began serving on the board of directors of the Bay State Council of the Blind and other non-profit organizations.
Bruce Howell is the current chairman of the RC here in Massachusetts, representing provider agencies. “Your participation on the rehabilitation council provides an opportunity for you to express your ideas and opinions about how MCB provides vocational rehabilitation services, as well as to express the interests and concerns of the entire Massachusetts blindness community that you represent,” Howell stated. “You are part of an essential advisory body helping to ensure that MCB follows the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) rules and regulations in a manner that enables MCB to best meet the needs of blind consumers who want to remain, or become, employed.”
I would encourage each and every one of you to at least consider becoming a member of your state’s rehabilitation council. Given that our agencies are likely to be fighting for scarce funding in the next few years, it is crucial that members of ACB and the blind in general become effective advocates for agency funding. Some of you may have creative ideas that have not yet been tried that could help to improve the employment situation for we who are blind and visually impaired. By joining an RC, you can share these ideas with your agencies and perhaps be a part of their implementation.
You may also want to join ACB’s Rehabilitation Stakeholders list; to do so, go to www.acblists.org/mailman/listinfo/rehab-stakeholders and fill out the subscription form. If you have questions about joining your state’s RC, feel free to phone me at (781) 893-6251 or email me at [email protected].