Braille Monitor February 2008
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Note from the President: I have asked Dan Frye to do much of the editing
for this issue of the Monitor under the direction of Barbara Pierce.
During the past few months Dan has written a number of pieces for the Monitor
and edited others. Most of the time he serves as a manager of programs in the
affiliate action department, where he played a significant role in planning
the conference reported about in this issue. He is an effective writer, and
he likes to express interesting concepts involving the Federation. I will undoubtedly
call upon him from time to time to do further writing for the Monitor.
Because he has been responsible for much of the editorial work in this issue,
his name appears frequently.
by Daniel B. Frye
“Dare to Be Remarkable” was the title and theme of the national conference for residential rehabilitation training centers for the blind held at the National Center for the Blind from Wednesday, December 5, to Friday, December 7, 2007. Jointly sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind and the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB), this training event featured two and a half days of instruction in a wide array of topics in both plenary sessions and interactive, concurrent workshops of particular interest to administrators and teachers working at residential rehabilitation training centers for the blind across the country.
Over one hundred and fifty professionals working in the field of blindness rehabilitation and education from thirty-two states attended the conference. They represented twenty state rehabilitation agencies, ten private rehabilitation organizations, five residential schools for the blind, and one university.
The idea of holding a training conference catering to the unique programmatic needs of staff members in residential rehabilitation centers for the blind was first conceived in 2002 under the leadership of then Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner Joanne Wilson. Two such conferences were subsequently held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Nashville, Tennessee, in 2002 and 2004. Since then, however, the commitment of influential RSA leaders has waned. They have abandoned even the most modest pretense of supporting the quality delivery of categorical rehabilitation services to blind recipients, as manifested by RSA’s decision to close all ten of its regional offices; dismantle the Office for the Blind; abdicate its ethical (if not statutory) obligation to preserve and promote the priority of the Randolph-Sheppard vending program for the blind in military dining and general program maintenance; and wage an unofficial war of morale and opportunity against existing and would-be agency employees—particularly blind professionals—who understand, appreciate, and champion the value of targeted disability-specific rehabilitation services. In light of the inhospitable climate currently prevailing at the RSA for blindness-specific rehabilitation initiatives, NFB and NCSAB leaders determined to convene a third national training conference for staff of residential rehabilitation centers for the blind. By all accounts this third national conference compared favorably with its predecessors in size, program, and participation.
During the three plenary conference sessions, participants heard from sixteen presenters. Notable among these presentations were addresses by NFB President Marc Maurer; Dr. Fredric Schroeder, research professor at San Diego State University and former RSA commissioner; Ed Kunz, Dr. Deana Graham, and Lea Grupen, managers at the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin, Texas, and Ho`opono Services for the Blind in Honolulu, Hawaii; the executive directors of the NFB-operated residential training centers for the blind in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota; Dr. Edward Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University; five graduates of state and privately administered residential rehabilitation centers for the blind; and Allen Harris, executive director of the Iowa Department for the Blind.
An innovative programming feature of this conference was the facilitation of seven different discipline-specific breakout meetings for managers and administrators of residential rehabilitation centers and for teachers of Braille, adaptive technology, orientation and mobility, home management and independent living, industrial arts, and employment and career counseling. During these discipline-specific sessions, those working in common professions were able to share ideas and strategies for enhancing their teaching or management duties. The concurrent afternoon sessions addressed employment preparation in a center-based environment, legal affairs and consumer empowerment, blindness philosophy, research issues, transition and follow-up matters, teaching strategies, challenge activities and self-confidence discussions, personnel development and training, special populations and medical issues, and approaches to operating summer programs for blind youth. Finally, the Dare to Be Remarkable conference included two formal luncheons with keynote speakers and an evening reception encouraging informal networking among participants.
This edition of the Braille Monitor reprints the principal addresses delivered during the plenary sessions of the conference and highlights selected breakout session topics of special interest. Space limitations prohibit our including every presentation offered during the conference, but what follows will give Braille Monitor readers a sense of the spirit and flavor of this early December assembly.
It is significant that the National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s oldest and largest consumer organization of the blind, and leaders of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the recognized organization of rehabilitation professionals specially committed to serving blind people, have over the last decade or so forged a partnership. This shift in the historical pattern of professional and consumer relationship promises to be of tremendous benefit to all blind people in America and may in time revolutionize opportunities for our community. It is heartening to observe the dawning of a day when both consumers and professionals are coming to realize that our mutual efforts may yield untapped hope and levels of independence for blind people everywhere. Focusing, then, on the development of this partnership in general and the topic of rehabilitation in particular, in this special edition of the Braille Monitor seems appropriate and timely.