Braille Monitor August-September 1986
by Ronald Matias
(This article appears in the April-May, 1986, Watchword, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. Ron Matias is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. It will be observed that in this article he says that Alan Seifert called "the National Federation of the Blind." Some may think that he meant to say "the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana," but the more knowledgeable will recognize that that is exactly what he did say.)
Last spring Alan Seifert, a South Bend resident, called the National Federation of the Blind and asked our assistance in a problem regarding Indiana Rehabilitation Services. Mr. Seifert was trained as a television repair person. He had some vision remaining, and he could continue to work if he had the use of a closed circuit television camera to view the small electrical connections. His counselor disagreed with Mr. Seifert in his employment goals. His counselor thought he needed special training, so on her suggestion Mr. Seifert went to a two-week rehabilitation training program. After this training the officials at the training site recommended that he be provided with a closed circuit television system for use in continuing his previous work as a television repair person. Once again his counselor thought she knew better. She next told Mr. Seifert that he should go to the Veteran's Administration Training and Rehabilitation Center in Chicago. Mr. Seifert didn't want to do so, preferring to start working as quickly as possible. But his counselor was persistent. She suggested that if he didn't go for further rehabilitation, then she wasn't sure that he could get a closed circuit television system. Now, this comment by the counselor might be considered to be a threat by a client, and certainly sounded that way to Mr. Seifert!
Months went on. The summer came and still no closed circuit t.v. system, just continued demands by the counselor that Mr. Seifert consider going to the V.A. and Mr. Seifert becoming more and more aware that the agency representative supposed to be helping him was, in fact, making demands upon him. Of course, this counselor was "just looking out for his best interests," since he didn't seem to understand what he needed. Thus, she decided and then insisted that he "do what was best" for him, as she determined it.
The situation showed no signs of improvement until Mr. Seifert came to our state convention in September. There he met Ms. Jean Merritt, Director of Indiana Rehabilitation Services, and briefly told her his story. Ms. Merritt gave Mr. Seifert her card and told him to write her personally and tell her the details. Mr. Seifert did just that. He wrote a letter telling of his negative experience with his rehabilitation counselor and sent documents to support what he said. And what happened?
Within weeks his rehabilitation counselor sent him a letter stating that his request for a closed circuit television system had been approved. All it took was writing the Director of the entire agency. That's right. In order to get the rehabilitation counselor to do her job properly, Mr. Seifert had to write the head of the agency. That's both good and bad news for present and future clients of Indiana Rehabilitation Services. It's good news in the sense that Ms. Merritt is concerned enough to take personal action to correct something that should not have been a problem in the first place. It's good because Ms. Merritt obviously took action to do what was right. But it's also bad news, in that it shows the terrible extent of the problems within Indiana Rehabilitation Services. Ms. Merritt doesn't have the time to hear from every client who is not being served properly. Clients shouldn't have to wait for months in order to receive assistance that could have been given within weeks. And most clients don't even think of writing to the director of the agency. Clients who have received little or no service from the agency, or clients who have been told that the agency won't help them unless they do what the agency wants usually believe that the agency has all the power and that the client either does what the counselor wants, or no service will be provided. So for every client with courage to speak up like Alan Seifert, there are hundreds of others who either submit meekly to what the rehabilitation counselor "suggests" or they go away receiving no services.
This story shows that working with the National federation of the Blind and attending conventions where agency administrators are present and can be talked to about problems makes solving those problems more likely than merely working alone and being frustrated and helpless. Mr. Seifert worked closely with the NFB and was advised throughout his problem as to his rights and the possible remedies.
We are happy for Mr. Seifert. But for many others the prescription for getting help from Indiana Rehabilitation Services needs to be made clear. Here it is! Rx: First, contact your local or state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. Second, tell them your story. Third, work with them and know that the Federation will help you, not make demands of you.