2013 Richmond Seminar (Sun. Jan. 27 - Mon. Jan. 28, 2013)
This is our annual visit to Virginia's Capitol to meet with Senators and Delegates from the General Assembly to educate them about issues impacting the blind.
There will be an orientation meeting for those wishing to participate on Sunday afternoon during the Board of Directors meeting. All are welcome to attend. The location and agenda are now available. We will be focusing on two key issues this year during our legislative appointments.
Issue #1: Blind Students Deserve a High-Quality Education Equal to Their Non-disabled Peers
Even though federal law requires that schools provide their blind students with high-quality instruction, many Virginia schools do not have the teachers needed to provide Braille reading and writing instruction or independent travel training. The teachers who are in place have so many students to serve that the children only learn to read Braille or to travel independently for 30 minutes per week. The lack of classroom materials available in Braille or audible formats also creates a significant academic barrier. Virginia's blind students are struggling to receive the high-quality education that they deserve.
Problem: Virginia's blind students are excluded from the Standards of Quality, resulting in excessive caseloads and reduced literacy rates among the blind.
For all disabilities except blindness, the Standards of Quality (SOQ) prescribe teacher-student ratios and provide partial salary support to school divisions for special education teachers. The student-teacher ratio set forth under the SOQ ensures that special education teachers have sufficient time to provide instruction to each student with the goal of providing special educations students with a high-quality education; however, there are no caseload standards for teachers of blind students. With no SOQ funding and no caseload standard, there is a disincentive for school divisions to hire teachers of the blind. While some divisions fund teachers of the blind out of their own budgets, it is not uncommon to find that these teachers work with more than 30-40 students per week. As a result, blind students' education is not equal to their peers.
Solution: Support the Governor's proposed budget to close the funding gap.
Since 2007, the General Assembly directed the Board of Education to include blind students in the Standards of Quality, but it has not provided the funding. In November 2012, the Board of Education again recommended inclusion of teachers of the blind in Virginia's SOQ formula.
To serve 1,000 blind and low-vision students, the Commonwealth currently provides $0.5 million. The Governor proposes $4.9 million.
We urge your support of the Governor's proposed budget to provide the funding to include blind and low-vision students under the SOQ. The Governor's budget would make available needed funds for teachers of the blind. Parents of blind students eagerly ask for your support so that their children may receive a high-quality education and become self-sufficient employed adults.
Issue #2: Blind Virginians Are Most Cost-Effectively Served by a Separate Agency Already In Existence
If you or a close family member were to go blind tomorrow, your adjustment to life would be very different from any other medical condition. Medical devices or implants are not the cure-all for blindness. Instead, intensive training in the use of non-visual techniques of cooking, using computers, traveling, and reading would ready you for professional success.
Problem: We regularly encounter proposals from delegates and senators seeking cost savings where none can be achieved by merging the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired with other disability-related agencies.
Blind people are best served through an adequately funded agency that concentrates on the unique methods of teaching non-visual skills. This is the essence of the DBVI's approach to serving blind Virginians. It is important to note that the DBVI's back office administrative, procurement, and personnel functions were consolidated with other disability agencies several years ago. However, further consolidation could only dilute program service delivery to blind Virginians.
Researchers continue to show that the minimal administrative savings achieved by consolidation of blindness agencies are offset by less effective, less well-organized, and less efficient services under a generalist's model. In the late 1990s, Cavenaugh, Giesen, and Pierce at Mississippi State University conducted an analysis of national data. They found that separate blindness agencies:
- are nearly twice as likely to see their clients be self-supporting when their cases were closed than blind people served by a consolidated vocational rehabilitation agency;
- serve a higher percentage of consumers with demographic/disability characteristics associated with lower labor force participation rates; and
- close a higher percentage of blind people into competitive, integrated employment.
Solution: Oppose any efforts, at any level, to bring the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) under another agency.
Training and employment opportunities for the blind are provided here in Virginia by DBVI. Blind people learn the non-visual skills of reading, using computers, traveling, and living independently at residential training programs. Blind entrepreneurs have opened their own small businesses, in areas as diverse as consulting to food service, because DBVI provides technology, training and start-up capital (e.g. printers, stoves, and vending machines). Counselors help clients explore vocational opportunities, from part-time summer jobs to government contracts, so that blind people can compete in the workforce.
We recognize that, on paper, DBVI seems very similar to other agencies serving people with disabilities. We urge you, however, to maintain DBVI's separate status so that blind Virginians are better prepared to be tax-paying employees, managers, and owners of businesses here in the Commonwealth.