The National Federation of the Blind of Texas is an active participant in state and federal legislation as an advocate for parents of blind children, seniors losing vision, blind people receiving rehabilitation services, blind students and people experiencing workplace discrimination. We offer sources of information and assistance for blind people, from blind people.
We make our voice heard in several ways:
If you are a parent who is blind, a parent of a blind child pushing for better services for your son or daughter, an applicant or employee facing discrimination at work, or if you are losing your vision and looking for answers, we are here to help. Please contact us so that we can collaboaratively work together. We have helped thousands of blind people turn their dreams into realities, and we want to help you, too.
One poignant example of the success that our government advocacy has is the approved transition of Texas’ blindness services from the Health and Human Services Commission to the Texas Workforce Commission set to take place in 2016. As the gavel fell on the 84th session of the Texas Legislature, Federationists across the state celebrated the adoption of Senate Bill 208, the Sunset Bill for the Texas Workforce Commission, which transfers all vocational rehabilitation programs from the Health and Human Services Commission to the Texas Workforce Commission.
The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) currently provides rehabilitation services to blind Texans seeking gainful employment and alternative skills training. As is often the case in state agencies, those consumers who are fortunate enough to work with caring, competent rehabilitation professionals receive excellent services, while those paired with less-qualified professionals often receive inferior training and services.
This problem was exacerbated when the Texas Commission for the Blind was swallowed up by the Health and Human Services Commission. Inclusion in this mega agency further divided blind consumers from professionals providing rehabilitation services. Under the rules proposed by the Sunset Commission, DARS would have again been swallowed by the Medical and Social Services Department.
Federationists were not willing to allow further dilution of service provision. After deciding that we wanted a say in the future of our service delivery system, we urged the Sunset Commission to consider moving to a workforce investment model of rehabilitation that would allow us to partner with the Texas Workforce Commission and thus improve employment outcomes for blind and disabled Texans.
Senator Jane Nelson, Sunset Advisory Commission Chair, found merit in our suggestion, and she incorporated them into the final recommendations sent to the Texas Legislature. There were opponents to our effort; however, the legislature agreed that moving to a workforce investment model of rehabilitation made sense.
As of September 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission will be charged with providing blind and disabled Texans with quality rehabilitation services. The vocational rehabilitation program, the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center and the older blind program will move under the Texas Workforce Commission, which will serve every disabled Texan who wants to go to work and turn a good rehabilitation center into the best one in the country.
This transition will not be without its problems, but it is clear from our interaction with Larry Temple, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission, we have a partner determined to improve employment opportunities for blind and disabled Texans. He knows that if we work together, we can change the future in a positive way. He is committed to making that happen, and so are we.
We in the Federation fought, and we won. We had powerful friends helping us every step of the way, but if we hadn’t made our voices heard, blind Texans would not have the opportunities that we have now. We have the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and help Larry Temple, the 28 workforce boards and the entire staff at our new rehabilitation agency build the best and brightest future for disabled Texans that we can imagine.
Our work, however, is not done. As our Constitution states, we will continue working toward “the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted.” We want to hear your ideas, needs, and struggles, for we know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. In the end, we want to raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and their dreams. You can have the life you want!