Letter to Missouri's Governor
by Kevan C. Worley
From the Editor: The preceding article was an effective personal description of what the Colorado Center for the Blind did to rescue one Missouri citizen from a life of disappointment and failure. One might have thought that any state agency serving blind people or, in fact, any state official would have been pleased to know that such an option was available to citizens of the state. But Missouri is not just any state. (See the July, 1997, issue of the Braille Monitor for the story of Missouri's decision to stop sending residents of the state to the Colorado Center.) When he heard about the Missouri mess, long-time Missouri resident Kevan Worley wrote a letter to the governor telling his own story and urging him to intervene to protect other blind citizens who might be interested in receiving truly effective rehabilitation. Here is what Kevan Worley wrote:
Colorado Springs, Colorado
July 13, 1997
Hon. Governor Mel Carnahan
Jefferson City, Missouri
Dear Governor Carnahan:
As a former long-time Missouri resident, I was saddened to hear the other day that Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind will no longer be sending clients to the Colorado Center for the Blind for adult adjustment-to-blindness training. This prestigious training center has given Missouri tax-paying citizens value for more than seven years. I could tell you stories of dozens of blind and visually impaired Missourians who have been assisted because they chose to attend what many consider to be this country's best training center for blind individuals, but I would rather share with you my own story.
As a Missouri resident I spent much of the decade of the 80's unemployed, drawing the Missouri Blind Pension, and floundering in self-doubt, confusion, and non-productivity. I had a few part-time jobs but was never able to keep them and was never able to find myself as a blind person or to define myself as a person who happened to be blind. I had not developed the skills that would allow me to compete on terms of equality and be productive, healthy, happy, alive, and willing and able to give to my community. But I was fortunate that in 1991 I had a rehabilitation counselor who was supported by the then director of Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, Mr. David S. Vogel. They supported my wish. In fact, they urged me to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind in Denver, Colorado.
I attended the Center from June, 1991, through December, 1991. Governor Carnahan, this training program changed my life. I cannot adequately express to you the tough challenges they laid down before me, the support they offered me in order that I might meet those challenges, the insight they helped me discover, the daily living skills of blindness they taught me, and the change of attitude they inspired me to achieve. This wonderful, comprehensive program for blind people has an expert staff of caring, educated blind role models and sighted instructors to teach independent travel skills, Braille, typing, computers, the art of dressing for success, cooking, cleaning, checkbook balancing, life management, job readiness, and moredepending upon the individual needs of the client.
During the last three months of my stay at the Colorado Center for the Blind, I worked twenty-five hours a week as an intern in the Public Information Department of the Regional Transportation District, downtown Denver. That experience was an integrated part of my program and prepared me to leave the Center adjusted and ready for real employment.
I left the Center at Christmas, 1991, and I have had full-time, quality employment ever since that time. Yes, I am indeed proud that I no longer flounder in unemployment, drawing the Missouri Blind Pension. I am a hard-working, community-minded, tax-paying, contributing citizen and, regardless of what some small group of blind people may say to the Missouri Rehabilitation Service, my success and the success of dozens of blind individuals in this country is due to the progressive, well-rounded, creative, and energetic people at the Colorado Center for the Blind.
I recently came across a statistic saying that during the past year the Colorado Center for the Blind had the number one job placement record of any private agency for the disabled, not just the blind but for the entire disability community. Not having had a connection with the Colorado Center for the Blind since 1991, I was happy to read that statistic, but I wasn't surprised.
Governor Carnahan, I know that you have much to occupy your time, but I urge you to do whatever you can to make sure that the blind citizens who are clients of the Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind and want to attend a quality, progressive training center be allowed to do so. Perhaps no blind person or family member of a blind person has taken the time to appeal to you, but, as I say, I was a Missouri resident for many, many years and, in fact, met you on more than one occasion before you became governor. I believe that, if you review the situation personally, you will see quite clearly that there is no reason to keep deserving blind Missourians from being able to choose to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind.
I attempted to call Missouri Rehabilitation Services to find out what was going on, but employees there refused to speak with me about this matter, saying it was too touchy a subject for them to deal with. At least two of these folks, when I was a client a number of years ago, were very open and outspoken, but these people sounded almost scared to me. I have to wonder what is going on. I am hopeful that the Governor of Missouri will take the time to find out.
I really believe that, when any blind person is denied training, it actually hurts all blind people. If a blind guy from Springfield or a blind woman from Rolla is denied services and just sits around the house all day, they are not out there in the world with self-confidence, opening doors of opportunity and employment for all of us. You would think professionals at an agency for the blind in Missouri would understand the need to get blind people excellent training. I cannot comprehend how bureaucrats in an agency that once helped me have become so wishy-washy or bamboozled and bullied by what must be only a few in the blind community who, because of their own lack of self-worth, would keep other blind citizens of Missouri from having good training and an equal shot at success and self-respect.
When I attended the Colorado Center for the Blind in 1991, I learned to travel independently using a long white cane. I learned to travel with confidence in rural and urban settings using city buses and crossing major, complicated intersections with ease and grace. At the Center my fellow students and I prepared tasty meals for forty, fifty, and even sixty people and did it efficiently and attractively. We were expected to attend job-training classes, including outside job experiences. A variety of jobs was offered to us. We could pick from such things as receptionist and cafeteria dishwasher. On our own time we could even sell pull-tab tickets at the local National Federation of the Blind's bingo game. These real-world job experiences are simply not available to Missouri's blind citizens at any other training center that I know of. One of the most important components of my training at the Center was the classes in which we discussed our own attitudes about our blindness. We were taught and inspired to overcome our negative attitudes and the negative attitudes of others about blindness.
I know of many blind people who would say the same kinds of things to you that I am saying in this letter if they were contacted. Governor, I implore you to look into the problems at the Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind and make the necessary changes so that blind people of your state can receive information about the Colorado Center for the Blind and, if they wish, make the life-changing choice to attend it.
Although I have lived out of state for several years, I still have hundreds of family members and friends back in Missouri. I will ask them to keep me informed about the situation at Missouri Rehabilitation Services for the Blind. I feel very sure that, once you investigate the situation, positive changes will happen.
Thank you very much for your consideration of my views.
Kevan C. Worley
President, NFB of Colorado Springs