The Braille Monitor                                                                                         December, 2003

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Pennsylvania Rejects Good Services for Blind People

by Barbara Pierce

Christine Boone
Christine Boone

Suppose that, after years of mediocre to poor service from the state agency serving blind consumers in your state, everything suddenly began improving? Suddenly blind vendors found their incomes up nearly 30 percent. Consumers began working constructively with the agency that served them. Agency morale began rising, and staff members who had been talking about retirement were now scrapping those plans because they were at long last able to really help consumers. Then, after three years of this kind of progress and hope for the future, suppose that the secretary of the umbrella agency controlling the blindness agency summarily fired the director who had been the catalyst making all this happen. How would you feel?

That in a nutshell is what has just happened in Pennsylvania. Christine Boone was the director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BVS) who was fired with no notice on August 14, 2003. Stephen Schmerin is the Pennsylvania secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I), the umbrella agency housing the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and, under OVR, the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services.

The head of OVR and Boone's immediate supervisor is Stephen Nasuti. State officials thwarted all efforts by consumers to persuade them to rethink this regrettable decision or even to discuss it, so on August 24 the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania ran an advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer arguing the case for reinstating Chris Boone. Here is the text of that piece:

 

Successful Blind Administrator Fired Because of Blindness
Says the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania

On August 14, 2003, Stephen Nasuti, the director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, fired Christine Boone, the blind director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. The firing was supposedly based on charges that Christine Boone was insubordinate, but the real reason is a mixture of skulduggery and bigotry.

Programs for the blind in Pennsylvania, directed by Christine Boone, have shown dramatic increases in effectiveness with a 400 percent expansion in service delivered to elderly blind Pennsylvanians and a 28 percent increase in income to blind vendors in the state. Mr. Nasuti, who directs the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the agency housing the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, was jealous of the success of Mrs. Boone, who is blind.

Furthermore, Mr. Nasuti's management of rehabilitation programs unnecessarily cost the state many thousands of dollars, and he was seeking someone to blame. He picked Christine Boone, charging her with errors he had committed himself.

Stephen Nasuti disparages employment programs for the blind and fails to promote the teaching of Braille to blind people. He decided that Pennsylvania should adopt a policy to withdraw support from blind college students who had received merit scholarships in an amount equal to the scholarships. Christine Boone informed him that such a policy is in violation of federal requirements.

Shortly before he persuaded the secretary of labor and industry to dismiss Christine Boone, Mr. Nasuti informed her that, because she is blind, she is incapable of management.

The blind of Pennsylvania are outraged at the actions of Stephen Nasuti in dismissing the blind director of services for the blind. Discrimination on the basis of blindness is a violation of the law, and the state rehabilitation program should serve as a model in preventing it. Instead, the director of vocational rehabilitation has engaged in discriminatory behavior on the basis of blindness in the very program established to serve the blind.

Last spring a so-called fact-finding investigation occurred in which Christine Boone was charged with negligent management that caused the state the loss of several thousand dollars. A statewide staff-training meeting had been planned. Two business days before the meeting, Stephen Nasuti cancelled it. This cancellation cost the state several thousand dollars. He blamed Christine Boone for the unnecessary expenditure. However, she was not given notice of the charge with an opportunity to collect evidence. She was not given the opportunity to be represented by a lawyer. She was not given the opportunity to prepare evidence for her own defense. Such rights are basic to due process.

Mr. Nasuti has repeatedly said that blind people do not need training. Creating trumped-up charges against the blind director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services is Mr. Nasuti's crude way of attempting to destroy programs for the blind in Pennsylvania.

The blind of Pennsylvania need rehabilitation services to live independent lives. The blind demand that the administrators of such programs have faith in their blind customers and have the willingness to fight discriminatory practices. Stephen Nasuti has demonstrated that he has no faith, and he himself has engaged in discrimination.

Judith Jobes, First Vice President
National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania

 

Not surprisingly, Secretary of Labor and Industry Stephen Schmerin would not return phone calls from the Braille Monitor and referred this matter to his press secretary, Barry Ciccocioppo. Mr. Ciccocioppo refused to comment on the issues involved in the Boone firing because it is a personnel matter. Since Boone has decided to bring suit against the department, she too has been circumspect in discussing the events that have unfolded. Understandably she does not wish to say much about her evidence of unfair and improper treatment, and the department is not willing to justify its actions in any but the broadest terms to the press. Moreover, recent actions of the Department of Labor and Industry officials demonstrate that employees and others close to the situation will suffer consequences if they speak for attribution to the press.

That said, it is still possible to establish the facts of the situation and trace a number of bureaucratic actions and decisions in order to understand what is now going on. In July of 1999 the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, familiarly referred to by blind Pennsylvanians as "the Bureau," was transferred from the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I).

DPW had not been a great home for the Bureau, but by the time Boone took the helm of the BVS in June of 2000, nothing had improved for the staff (and certainly not for the consumers) because of the shift to L&I. According to customers and staff alike, BVS was a beleaguered agency, worn down by years of neglect, isolated from the broader rehabilitation community, and permeated and hamstrung by the curse of micromanagement. In fiscal year '99 only 300 BVS cases had been successfully closed, and 55 percent of them were as homemakers, not gainfully employed at all. Consumers had pronounced the agency to be unresponsive. Staff positions were not being filled, so of course the rehabilitation needs of blind customers could not possibly be met effectively. The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) was putting pressure on BVS because the agency's statistics for serving the older blind population by providing independent living services were very poor. Moreover, the agency had failed to file necessary reports with RSA, always a danger signal for a state agency.

That was the situation when BVS was subsumed under the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Pennsylvania's general rehabilitation agency. The first problem for BVS was that blindness agencies are always much smaller but much more complex than general agencies. A general rehabilitation agency operates only one program, the Federal-State Vocational Rehabilitation Program. It employs VR counselors, support staff, and fiscal personnel. All training, education, and rehabilitative services are purchased from providers. Occasionally a general agency also houses the Disability Determination Unit.

A state agency serving the blind, on the other hand, includes the federal-state vocational rehabilitation program; the federal-state Independent Living Older Blind Program; the Business Enterprise Program (which in Pennsylvania includes federal, state, and highway programs); rehabilitation teaching; Orientation and Mobility (O&M); and children's services. The agency for the blind employs VR counselors, support staff, fiscal personnel, rehab teachers, O&M instructors, social workers, and Business Enterprise agents. All of these programs must be operated effectively, using different funding streams, filing reports appropriately, generating positive outcomes, and providing seamless services to blind and visually impaired customers.

After the firing of Christine Boone, those speaking for OVR repeatedly explained that Boone had not been responsible for the improvements in services provided by BVS during the past several years. They spoke of the synergies that they said had been created by moving BVS to the Department of Labor and Industry under the OVR. Yet much of what BVS needed to do to improve services for blind customers was totally foreign to the OVR staff. Although that agency had an entire bureau of sixty-five called Central Operations, whose job it was to support the field by reviewing grants and contracts, managing staff training and recruitment, handling Social Security reimbursement payments, and implementing statewide initiatives to enhance job placements, BVS officials were repeatedly told that these specialists knew nothing about BVS programs, so that agency would have to manage such activities independently.

BVS had a central office staff of eight. The general VR bureau, titled the Bureau of Program Operations, had six in its central office and of course sixty-five in Central Operations to provide support to it and its field staff. Moreover, before BVS joined the Department of Labor and Industry, no agency in the entire department had any programs serving either seniors or children. When BVS brought both programs under the Labor and Industry umbrella, they were the first. No expertise existed in L&I for serving either group. In short, it is difficult to understand how anyone could argue that recent improvements in services to the blind in Pennsylvania are the result of moving BVS into Secretary Schmerin's department.

Now we come to the matter of computer support and access technology. One of the advantages BVS did have in the Department of Public Welfare was an efficient computer-based case-management system. Somehow during the transfer to L&I that system and all of the information in it were lost. As a result the field staff in the Bureau had only paper files from which to work. In fact, many of the BVS staff did not even have computers, and almost none of the blind staff had any access technology.

The staff at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, on the other hand, had a computer-based case-management system, nearly every field staff member had a laptop or desktop computer, and many had portable printers. BVS had received repeated assurances from OVR that it was not a poor step-child, that it would be treated just like the rest of OVR, that times would be better now that the Bureau was out of DPW. Those were the words the BVS staff had been hearing during its first year under OVR, but the reality was much different. By the time Chris Boone took over, the agency was no closer to getting a case-management system or even enough computers. In fact the acting director of BVS actually told staff members that they could not have access technology because it was too expensive.

It took more than a year of concentrated effort, but by 2001 every Bureau staff member had a laptop or desktop computer, all staff members with disabilities had access technology, and everyone had received training tailored to meet their own needs and purchased by the Bureau. Things weren't perfect, but the agency had made a good start. Staff also got access to the OVR case management system, and OVR began adding to the system so that rehabilitation teachers, O&M instructors, and social workers could actually use it.

The Independent Living Older Blind (ILOB) Program provides an interesting illustration of BVS efforts before and after Boone took the helm. The Bureau had received federal funds in federal fiscal year 2000, which started nine months before Boone began her job. A review of BVS statistics as reported to the Rehabilitation Services Administration indicates that the agency was not spending this allocation and was applying a financial needs test to all ILOB applicants, which was illegal. The funds spent bought gadgets like liquid level indicators and bright orange tape for decorating customers' homes. Fewer than 800 customers received services during FY 2000, and many of them received a boxful of gadgets that they had not requested and did not intend to use.

In addition, customers faced the spouse in the house rule. According to this policy, if you lived with a spouse or anyone else who could see, you were not eligible to receive reader services or access technology from the BVS. Everyone presumed, apparently, that this was the role of the sighted resident in the home. That was the ILOB program when Boone arrived. The social workers were not particularly mean-spirited, and they were not lazy. It was not even because they did not believe in the abilities of blind people. They had never been told about the goals, requirements, and possibilities of the ILOB program.

The first thing Boone did was to remove the financial needs test because the ILOB is an entitlement program and all applicants who are eligible must be accepted and given services at no cost to themselves. Then she released the remaining funds to the field and asked the staff to spend them. They were told to purchase canes, Braille and talking watches, and magnifiers. Pennsylvania began receiving more federal funding, and, thanks to a gifted accountant, the BVS acquired matching funds from the state. By 2003 the Pennsylvania ILOB budget was approximately 1.5 million dollars, all of which was spent serving over 3,500 older blind people. More important, the social workers began visiting customers in their homes, explaining to them their options and possibilities now that they were blind. Rehabilitation teachers taught customers how to accomplish things without depending on gadgets and taught them self-confidence. Not surprisingly the spouse in the house rule was permanently retired.

When Boone arrived at the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services in June of 2000, over half the people reported as having attained successful employment were actually closed as independent homemakers. The expansion of the ILOB program went a long way toward solving this problem, since many of these homemakers were over age fifty-five and could now be served through the Independent Living Older Blind program. The threshold for becoming an independent homemaker in Pennsylvania, however, remained very low. All one had to do was to live independently. Boone saw that the definition for this closure was rewritten. Now, in order to choose the goal of independent homemaker on an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE), a person must have primary responsibility for caring for minor children, older individuals, or people with other disabilities in the home. Blind people who live alone must work in order to be considered a rehabilitation success in Pennsylvania. Those who stay home to fulfill the vital role of caregiver can receive the independent homemaker closure. In federal FY 2002, federal statistics indicate that less than 38 percent of BVS's successful closures were as homemakers, and this number is likely to be lower still in the fiscal year just ended.

As the Boone administration took hold, management began looking at the kinds of jobs blind customers were getting. In some districts the sky was becoming the limit, while in others the sky was still not visible. In northeast Pennsylvania a totally blind man said he wanted to be an auto mechanic, and the Bureau assisted him to achieve that goal. A number of other folks who wanted to be auto mechanics across the state, however, were told flatly that this goal was impossible for a blind person. When this inequity was discovered, Boone began bringing VR supervisors together to address and remedy such situations. The staff were beginning to expand their beliefs about the employment potential of blind people, and prospects were growing more exciting for BVS customers.

Before June of 2000 only two BVS district offices provided significant services to children, and one other office provided extremely limited services. By August of 2003, when Boone was fired, all six district offices had become responsible for providing core services to children, including facilitating opportunities to attend summer programs for children and young adults. Rehabilitation teaching, orientation and mobility services, support at Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, and family counseling were all available in every district. Boone and her staff scraped together the funding to expand the children's program because of her frequently articulated commitment to providing such services, since they would not otherwise be offered to the blind children of the state.

The Business Enterprise Program too began to thrive under the Boone administration. Like many other BE programs across the country, the Pennsylvania program had been shrinking since the mid-1980's. Recognizing that the Business Enterprise Program is one of the most lucrative employment opportunities for blind adults today, Boone began by establishing a training program for vending operators in Pennsylvania, instead of sending them to Ohio for training as had been done. One additional benefit of this effort was that the teaching staff could be trained to work toward raising the bar for BEP facility operators. The training program began in September of 2001 at the Hiram G. Andrews Center, the comprehensive adult training center and community college that operates as part of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

In Pennsylvania the highway vending machine program had been operated entirely by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. All the machines were operated by contractors, none of whom were blind. In 2002 BVS assumed operation and oversight of the entire highway vending machine program. As contracts came up for renewal, the BVS made ten sites available to blind operators, creating six new vending locations--the first to open in Pennsylvania in over ten years.

Through the three years of transition during the Boone administration, agency expectations of BEP operators have increased. They are now expected to be competent, professional business people. Operator income has risen by more than 28 percent during the past three years and now significantly exceeds the national average. The Business Enterprise report for federal fiscal year 2003 (RSA 15), which has just been filed by the Bureau, indicates that the average annual income for blind vendors in Pennsylvania currently exceeds $40,000. These same operators earned an average of less than $28,000 in FFY 2000.

The Pennsylvania blindness agency continues to employ both rehabilitation teachers and orientation and mobility instructors, rather than exclusively contracting for these services as many agencies do today. These professionals had been left alone for many years, apparently because no one in agency administration had the slightest notion of what they really did and how it should be done.

Chris Boone has worked as both rehabilitation teacher and O&M instructor, in addition to having been both a vocational rehabilitation and transition counselor. She recognized the importance of their work to the future success of customers, and she could appreciate the challenges they faced serving large territories in a predominantly rural state.

Boone met with the O&M instructors last summer, and according to observers they left the building with long, rigid canes in their hands and optimism in their steps. She was to have met with the rehabilitation teachers this fall, so this meeting never took place. However, a new handbook, jointly written by staff and management, has recently been completed for the two disciplines. It raises the bar for what the agency expects of its customers, incorporates rehabilitation teaching and O&M services much more closely into the vocational and older blind programs, and strengthens the vitally important holistic approach to success in programs for the blind.

There you have an overview of the programmatic history of the past three years at the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services and the changes made by Chris Boone or at her insistence. We must also devote a little attention to the political environment that exists in Pennsylvania's blindness community and the pressures now being exerted. Since 1974 BVS has paid over $2,000,000 annually to the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind (PAB) and another $340,000 annually to Associated Services for the Blind (ASB) to provide so-called Specialized Services. The term "Specialized Services" could be and has been defined in many ways. The PAB distributed its funding among its thirty-two member agencies across the state, and ASB provided services itself. These thirty-three contract providers held at least thirty-three different definitions of Specialized Services.

In addition, the funding was not distributed using a uniform standard. After Boone arrived, the BVS calculated the amount each contractor or sub-contractor received per hour of service provided. They discovered that one sub-contractor received just $5 per hour, and at the other end of the spectrum another received over $50 per hour. Boone and her staff spent 2001 and 2002 standardizing the funding under the contract, ensuring that every provider would receive the same amount of agency money per hour for the service it provided. The agency also defined appropriate services under these contracts. Bingo games, dart-throwing competitions, Halloween parties, and trust walks were now out. Funds were used for transportation for medical and other important appointments in the 90 percent of the state without public transportation, home-based reader or escort services for seniors, and classes at local PABs in everything from Social Security to gardening.

Everyone we talked with agreed that one of the most noticeable accomplishments in BVS during the Boone administration was the improvement in staff morale. For years BVS staffers complained at the way red tape and pointless regulations had hamstrung everyone from district managers to support staff. The district managers had to ask permission to take even minor initiatives, and only they were permitted to telephone anyone in the central office. Luckily they were permitted to make those calls because they could not spend their office budgets or even decide to send staff home during a blizzard without central office permission.

All that changed as soon as Boone took command. The result was energized, optimistic, and creative staff members across the state who were immediately invested in what was happening and excited about the future. Customers say that they noticed the change at once. Now that Boone is gone, the rule about district managers being the only people who can contact the central office has been reinstated. Sadly, no one will be surprised when the other reforms also revert to business as usual.

In the months before her firing, Chris Boone had been working to hire an assistant director. She had three candidates with appropriate credentials and one whose résumé stood out because of its lack of vocational rehabilitation experience. He had no administrative or supervisory experience, having been employed as an intake worker and a technology instructor at a PAB. Consumers are agreed that he was not an effective teacher, and he has freely admitted that, although he is blind, he has never attended a consumer convention. In his application he claimed to have been an employee of BVS in the past, a claim that proved to be untrue. He may have instructed a BVS customer or two in the mid-1990's, but that is the closest he seems to have come to working for the agency. He was, however, a veteran, and Pennsylvania requires that veterans automatically rise to the top of the list of candidates for any job for which they are qualified.

Chris Boone wrote to the Civil Service Commission to explain why he was not a qualified candidate, and they agreed, telling her that she could remove his name from her list. He then wrote to Secretary Schmerin, who, like this applicant, was a native of Pittsburgh, and the secretary returned him to the top of the list. The handwriting was clear: experience, honesty, commitment to excellence--none of these qualities were important to those in Pennsylvania who oversee services for the blind. And, as if all that were not enough, now the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Department of Labor and Industry have decreed that receipt of merit scholarships by disabled students provides a fine excuse for the state to reduce agency assistance to the student.

Over a decade ago Dr. Nell Carney, then commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, wrote a letter to all state agencies ruling that merit scholarships could not be considered similar benefits. This meant that state agencies could not reduce the amount of their allocations to students by the amount of such scholarships. Joanne Wilson, the current RSA commissioner, has reiterated this policy. Rehabilitation agencies across the nation know this, and everyone upholds the intent of the law--everyone but the folks in the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Chris Boone was working to reverse the Pennsylvania policy and had instructed counselors not to penalize students with merit scholarships. But on September 1, seventeen days after Boone's firing, BVS counselors were instructed to treat merit scholarships as similar benefits and reduce stipends accordingly.

Meanwhile things were happening with the agency's advisory committee. The Governor's Advisory Committee for the Blind is the nine-member advisory body associated with BVS. As its name suggests, the governor actually appoints the members, but the group's bylaws specify that the members should represent vendors, students, parents, service providers, consumer organizations, and the agency director. Though Chris Boone had always urged the governor to preserve all these representations and previous governors had always honored her requests, no one was surprised when after Boone's firing the governor removed the NFB representative on the GACB. After all, the NFB had protested the Boone firing and the tactics used to accomplish it.

Dr. Ed Staudt, who runs a small access-technology company that has done business with the state, is an independent businessman who has served on the advisory committee. He also protested both the Boone firing and the methods used to accomplish it. He has now been targeted for removal from the committee because, apparently, he has a conflict of interest since BVS counselors purchase equipment from his company. Of course the executive director of the PAB, which you will recall does $2,000,000 contract work with BVS, continues to serve on the GACB. No one has suggested that he has a conflict of interest. But then the PABs made no objection to Boone's removal, even though they had been vociferous in praising her for the quality of her administration.

As Judy Jobes, first vice president of the NFB of Pennsylvania, says, "First to last this whole business has been a tragedy." For two and a half years it looked as if a new day was dawning in Pennsylvania. Now not only do mediocrity and hopelessness walk the halls of government once more, but retribution seems to be abroad. Pennsylvanians, particularly those who work for the BVS, feel unable to speak on the record. One employee who wrote a letter of protest about Boone's dismissal, using her home address, received a written response at her work address. The message was clear: don't rock the boat, and don't stand up for blind people or excellence in service delivery. Surely the blind citizens of Pennsylvania deserve better than this. We close this disgraceful report with the text of the statement written by Dr. Fredric Schroeder, past RSA commissioner, which he prepared as an op-ed piece for Pennsylvania newspapers. Here it is:

The Organized Blind of Pennsylvania Call
for a Commission for the Blind

by Fredric Schroeder

On Thursday, September 4, the organized blind of Pennsylvania gathered to protest the unjustified and unceremonious firing of the director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. Consumers of Bureau services believe that her firing had nothing to do with her ability as a manager, are stunned at the dismissal of such an effective leader, and now wonder why.

For seven years, beginning in 1994, I served as the U.S. Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. President Clinton appointed me to oversee the nation's job training programs for people with all types of disabilities, including blindness. I administered a $2.5 billion budget, funding state and territorial programs, providing the training needed to enable blind people and others with disabilities to prepare for and obtain high-quality employment to live normal, productive lives.

Today blind people face an unemployment rate of over 70 percent nationally. Blind people in Pennsylvania have long suffered under a sluggish, bureaucratic rehabilitation program, making a bleak national situation even worse for blind people in the Commonwealth. Blind people cheered when Christine Boone was named director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. Consumers knew she brought to the job an impressive résumé of professional accomplishments and authority as a blind person who has herself met the challenges facing the Bureau's clients.

While she was director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, Christine Boone built credibility and strong relationships with the blind of the state. In three years she dramatically increased the number of blind people who secured employment annually, established strong ties with the blind community, and created an environment of trust. She developed innovative staff training techniques for Bureau employees, raised staff morale, and fostered commitment to helping blind people find good jobs. Her record speaks for itself. It is one of accomplishment, integrity, and commitment to the blind of Pennsylvania.

As the facts unfolded, the firing emerged as petty jealousy, exhibited by ineffective, insecure bureaucrats. Steve Nasuti, executive director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, was threatened by Boone's effectiveness; threatened by the unprecedented support she enjoyed from staff, blind consumers, and the community at large; and threatened by having a blind member of his executive team know more, do more, and have more respect than he did. He suggested that Boone was too close to her constituents to be objective. Why? Because she was blind! This is discrimination. It is like the suggestion that a previously battered woman would be unsuited to direct a battered women's shelter.

So what do the blind of Pennsylvania believe is needed? Boone must be immediately exonerated and reinstated. But that will solve only one problem within an ineffective structure. To solve the overall problem of removing employment barriers for blind Pennsylvanians, a permanent reform of blind services in the Commonwealth is required. Such a reform is available.

According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, states with separate commissions for the blind outperform states that bury such programs in large umbrella agencies. The effectiveness of separate commissions as job preparedness agencies is not hard to understand. Separate commissions for the blind have a single focus. They have experience and expertise and know the most effective ways of preparing blind people for high-quality employment. They are responsive to the clients they serve, and, most important, they cannot sidestep accountability by hiding within the larger bureaucracy.

The blind of Pennsylvania call on the governor and the legislature to reorganize blindness services to ensure that such an unwarranted attack never happens again. They want blindness services moved out from under the Department of Labor and Industry; out from under the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation; out from under the paternalistic, unimaginative, heavy-handed control of bureaucrats who think "good enough" is good enough for the blind. The blind of the state want services moved into a separate commission for the blind run by a board appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate, made up of blind people and others who understand how best to prepare blind people for good jobs in their communities.

Separate programs for the blind save money in spite of what state bureaucrats say because they develop expertise and knowledge about how best to invest available funds. Other programs waste tax money by poorly preparing blind people for jobs. The end result is rapid and repeated loss of employment, causing the blind person to return to dependence on tax-supported disability insurance and to undertake frequent, ineffectual retraining.

An example of just such a false economy is Nasuti's proposal to cut tuition support for blind college students. This policy change will reduce college tuition support by more than half. Yet the completion of a postsecondary degree is well documented to be the most effective way to prepare blind people for high-quality, permanent employment. Nasuti would have you believe that the cuts are needed and harmless even though they will severely limit badly needed job opportunities for blind people.

One of the issues leading to Christine Boone's dismissal was a complaint by Nasuti that the Bureau was taking too long to prepare blind people for employment. He believes that a newly blind person can be placed in a job with only three or four weeks of instruction in use of the white cane. This demonstrates his total lack of understanding of the needs of blind people and his callousness toward the challenges blind people face in seeking reentry into the workforce.

In 1994 the Pennsylvania legislature sent the governor a bill to create a separate program for the blind in the Commonwealth. Unfortunately the bill was never signed. This year the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania will ask the legislature again to pass a bill establishing a commission for the blind. The blind need effective, specialized services that will move them out of poverty, out of dependence on public benefits, out of hopelessness, and into good jobs, which will enable them to live normal lives, support their families, and contribute to their communities.

Please support the blind of the Commonwealth in their efforts to establish a separate commission for the blind, not as an act of charity, but as a recognition that, given the right kinds of services and support, blind people can work--and deserve the chance to do so.

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