The Braille Monitor                                                                                                  March 2005

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Commissioner Resigns

by Marc Maurer

Joanne Wilson
Joanne Wilson

On February 8, 2005, Dr. Joanne Wilson resigned from her position as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration effective March 1, 2005. Her term in this office began shortly after the inauguration of George Bush in 2001, and her service to the disability community in the office of the commissioner of rehabilitation in the United States might have continued into the future. However, upon sober reflection Dr. Wilson felt that the demands of service required her resignation. Why should this be so?

In the early part of the 1990's a scheme was hatched to eliminate the rehabilitation service from government by creating an entity within the executive branch supposedly capable of serving all people seeking employment. The legislative proposal to create this massive bureaucracy was called the Careers Bill, which would have eliminated specialized rehabilitative programs, establishing instead a one-stop agency that would control all programs for those seeking employment. In the employment arena the disabled are an identifiable minority. Within the disabled community the blind are yet another identifiable minority. Rehabilitation programs were established in 1920 with the avowed purpose to offer specialized service and training to severely handicapped people.

If everyone seeking employment is placed in one pool, the most severely disabled will be served last, because the placements for these people are expensive and difficult. If an abundance of work exists, the placement of handicapped people will almost never occur, because the counselors serving nondisabled people will never have time or expertise to place the handicapped. Furthermore, the specialized training and attention essential for quality rehabilitation will disappear. Instruction in the techniques to use a white cane, to read Braille, and to acquire and use computers that operate with nonvisual commands will no longer be available. Because of the danger that all rehabilitation will be lost, the National Federation of the Blind immediately led the way to remove programs for the disabled from the Careers Bill. The rehabilitation program established in 1920 was maintained in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended.

Some of the people who led the effort to eliminate the rehabilitation program are now among the officials working with the Department of Education in the White House on redesigning the government. Once again the rehabilitation program appears to be on the list for elimination. Dr. Wilson concluded that she could not be a party to the destruction of this enormously valuable program. If she stayed in the Department of Education, she would be prohibited from speaking her mind to members of Congress about the urgent need to preserve this vital part of the government. She resigned from her office as commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to assist in the fight on Capitol Hill to preserve rehabilitation for the disabled of the United States.

Dr. Wilson will also be leading initiatives at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. She will be devising new types of training programs for teachers of the blind, and she will be developing research partnerships with the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and other entities throughout the United States and in other lands.

During her time at RSA, Dr. Wilson inspired tens of thousands of our country's most severely disabled people. Her imaginative guiding hand will be greatly missed in the programs she deeply loved. Working with those who are promoting rehabilitation of people who have disabilities has been a joyous work for Dr. Wilson. Her resignation letter tells of her regret at leaving the committed staff in the rehabilitation effort. Here is what Dr. Wilson says:

Good afternoon,

It has been my distinct pleasure to work with all of you as the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. The time has come, however, for me to submit my resignation effective March 1, 2005.

I want to express my sincere gratitude for your support and commitment on behalf of our nation's citizens with disabilities. I look forward to continuing the journey to change the lives of individuals with disabilities through new avenues in the future. I feel so very fortunate to have worked with such dedicated, loyal, and hard-working individuals who share my passion for the empowerment of persons with disabilities.

Again, thank you for the privilege and the opportunity to work with all of you.

With best regards and affection,

Joanne Wilson

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