Appendix Nine THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SERVICES FOR THE BLIND (DSB)

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1 Michael Noonan Appendix Nine THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF SERVICES FOR THE BLIND (DSB) The Washington State Department of Services for the Blind is a one front door for people of all ages with vision loss throughout the State. It provides specialised expertise to about 3,500 people per year to assist them to reach the highest level of personal and economic independence. It strives to get people in work in good jobs with benefits. Approximately 150 customers a year achieve successful employment. DSB acts in the following ways: works with employers to help them retain valued employees who are experiencing vision loss; assists customers in developing self-employment plans and small business start-ups; has an Orientation and Training Center that provides comprehensive training in skills of blindness, career courses and challenge and community-building activities for their customers; provides assistive technology and low vision specialists to assist client/customer to attain technology skills and to access information that enables them to compete successfully in the job market; and supports academic and vocational training, job search and job placement. DSB has a Business Enterprise Program, which provides opportunities for their customers to operate successful food service businesses in Federal and State government buildings. 1

2 Michael MacKillop, Deputy Director of DSB explains: Under the Randolph- Sheppard Act, legally blind people are given preference in food services in federal buildings. We have 26 sites and they make very good money, some of the cafeterias are large businesses (personal communication, 14 July 2014). DSB operates in the same manner as Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR): We have the same rules and regulations, but different eligibility; you must have a visual impairment to be our customer. We have specialized needs and specialized services that we provide to help the customers rehabilitation towards employment. Many States have one vocational rehabilitation agency but research shows that when there is only one agency blind and deaf-blind aren t served so well. DBS have 80 staff. Like DVR the client stays on the DSB the 90 days until they become stable in the job. All the positions DSB look at are fully integrated and competitive, at the minimum wage or more. Most of our customers are looking for professional, skilled types of work, often at entry level. They have the education, they have the skills but they need help to get a work history (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). Michael explains that one of the challenges for the visually impaired is accessible electronic systems: So you have an employer who is willing to take on a blind employee but many of their data systems are not coded to be accessible to a screen reader or a screen magnifier. We have a team who, if there is a job offer, go out and work with the I.T. crew in that business and test their system for accessibility and adaptability and try and figure a way to tweak it to make it work. If it s a small business, we are willing to fund costs for JAWS scripting or something that will result in the customer being able to work there (personal communication, 14 July 2014). At present DSB is having a conversation with the State that accessibility 2

3 should be mandatory: We are such a high tech State we need accessibility standards as a primary criteria in procurement (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). Michael sees self-advocacy as an incredibly important and huge part of the relationship between the employment counsellor and the customer: How are you going to ask for an accommodation for what you need to work? There is a huge area around the part of adjusting to your blindness and be able to just believe in yourself personal communication, 14 July 2014). The customer gets a counsellor, an Adaptive Technology (A.T.) specialist, a rehab. teacher and a rehab. technician. The rehab. technician does a lot of pre-vocational work, working with the customer to make sure their resumé is looking good, working with the customer to make sure the interview skills are there. The counselor orchestrates all the works that need to be done and obviously does the deep counseling work that needs to be done for adjustment to blindness and movement towards the vocational goal. The rehab. teacher goes in at the early stage of a customer s eligibility and does an assessment of all the adaptive skills the customer needs to be job ready. That includes in the home; are you able to do laundry? Are you able to care for yourself? Do you have transportation? Do you have contingency plans for public transportation? What is your orientation ability? They also do low vision assessment and work with the low-tech adaptive aids. The A.T. specialist does an assessment for technology; often it is a couple of assessments. If the customer is new to blindness, they open them up to the world of technology and the possibilities it brings. There are needs assessments, braille lessons, help with home activities and some challenge activities. A student 3

4 typically attends anywhere from three to nine terms depending on their level of need (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). DSB has a residential training centre, serving 70 to 85 customers a year for intensive blindness adaptive skills training. This includes blindness seminars, peer discussions and workshops about being blind in a world that is sighted. These all help a customer build the ability to ask for what they need. Residents stay in modern apartments about a mile from the Centre. Those who have orientation skills take the light rail and there is a van for those who do not have mobility skills. The training Centre is multidiscipline. We want the training center to be connected with the vocational rehabilitation; we don t want it to stop at the end. So there are career classes and some career experiences (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). As the DSB is a small organisation they do not do the same amount of School To Work transition plans as DDA, but work more with families and teachers on the customers Individualised Education Plan and help the teachers and the families know what skills need to be taught and that it is the school s responsibility to get that instruction. DSB runs workshops called Skills Summer Camp to increase independent living skills. The Seattle camp concentrates on children 9 to 13. It is a day camp, where kids come to the sorority house and learn to clean house and do household chores, have fun things to do like audio construction. Often kids have never interacted with other blind kids, they have never been expected to be part of family labor, to make a sandwich, clean a toilet. A child needs to have responsibilities (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). For vocational rehabilitation DSB take applications at 14, (younger than children with other disabilities): They undertake summer work experience. They do 4

5 job shadowing, they do career exploration, and they do vocational testing. We get them paid employment at the aquarium, the flight museum, in horticulture, the library; different jobs in different types of places depending where their interests lie. We get them a placement and we pay their wages. During this time they live in the at sorority house for six weeks, buy their own food, do their own laundry make their own beds, and live independently (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). DSB provides a bridge programme for college-bound people who have just graduated. We get them classes at Eastern Washington University, a real class, but some also training before hand: how to work with the disability services, how to be advocating for what you need. We give them the notion that college is a [much] different place than high school. lt s a real course and they get a credit or not depending on whether they pass. These are the things we do for transition (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). Self-Employment DSB is well established in encouraging self-employment. They hold two-week entrepreneurial workshops for customers to discover if they have the right qualities, the drive, the motivation, and an understanding of the responsibilities of business. They then help them develop their ideas, do some market research, have them work with vendors and get together a business proposal that goes to the self-employment panel. The board may not pass everything, but if they believe it will work, we will fund it. We have funded quite a few successful outcomes. One was a business providing horse massage. It was hugely successful (M. MacKillop, personal communication, 14 July 2014). 5

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