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                  Wayne Shevlin

	Merger Madness

	by Wayne E. Shevlin


	From the Editor: In recent years legislatures and governors 

in state after state have decided that multiplying the layers of 

bureaucracy thereby creating huge agencies will increase 

efficiency in delivering rehabilitation services while at the 

same time saving money. They argue that lumping accounting and 

other administrative services together will automatically and 

inevitably provide economy of scale. Sometimes they even argue 

that counselors, who after all know everything about 

rehabilitation, can be more efficient if they deal with a number 

of different disabilities in a small geographic area rather than 

specializing in one or a very few disabilities and traveling some 

distance to cover the case load.
	But anyone who has ever tried to make his or her perplexed 

way through layers of the rehabilitation bureaucratic maze knows 

that such arguments benefit no one but the empire builders at the 

very top, where power and influence are available to a very few. 

Clients with specific needs are not served. Counselors only 

become discouraged trying to understand the access-equipment, 

mobility, and Braille needs of blind consumers; learn American 

Sign Language and other communicative skills to help deaf 

clients; and meet the specific needs of those with brain injury, 

orthopedic limitations of all kinds, or mental retardation. It 

can't be done effectively, but since the only people losing out 

are those requiring rehabilitation and the dedicated 

professionals trying to serve them, the disadvantages of such 

merger plans are frequently discounted.
	The legislative battles that result when these consolidation 

plans surface are messy and unpleasant. The members of the 

disability community resisting the legislative juggernaut have 

little money, power, or influence; so why should legislators 

listen to us? We are frequently told that we don't really 

understand the situation, that no one intends to damage the 

rehabilitation delivery system, that we will experience no 

diminution in the quality of the services delivered. They dismiss 

the fact that we are the ones who have been on the receiving end 

of whatever rehabilitation has been available, and we know what 

works and what doesn't. We have learned the hard way that long 

chains of command, budget dispersal, and paperwork create chaos 

and confusion. We have all heard the stories of what happens when 

a counselor doesn't know enough about a disability to insure that 

proper services are procured for a client. And many of us can 

name the states in which services for the blind have been buried 

in much larger agencies for so long that the notion of effective 

service delivery would be a joke if human lives weren't being 

destroyed by the system.
	Despite our best efforts we lost the most recent round of 

the separate-agency battle in Texas in early May. Happily, in 

North Carolina the blind are still up and fighting and appear to 

be holding their own against determined opposition. Wayne Shevlin 

chairs the NFB of North Carolina's Legislative Committee. Here is 

the way he tells the story of the latest confrontation in North 



	I returned home from National Convention in July of 1998 to 

find that someone in our state legislature had introduced a bill 

to merge our Division of Services for the Blind, Services for the 

Deaf, and Vocational Rehabilitation into one generic agency 

called the Division of Rehabilitation Services. As Legislative 

Chairman of the NFB of North Carolina, I immediately went to work 

making calls to people in the organization, encouraging them to 

make calls and to write to their legislators, particularly those 

on the committee which had introduced this idea. I went as far as 

to get a permit to demonstrate in front of the Legislative 

Building if necessary.
	At that time it turned out not to be necessary. (See Herman 

Gruber's article, "North Carolina Agency Survives Surprise from 

Legislature" in the November, 1998, issue of the Braille 

Monitor.) The bill was passed on from the committee to our State 

House of Representatives, and the bill to merge was voted down 

fifty-seven to fifty-five. But unfortunately it didn't end there; 

in fact, it was just getting started.
	While the merger was voted down, a provision was passed to 

establish a study commission to look at the feasibility of 

merging the Division of Services for the Blind, Services for the 

Deaf, and Vocational Rehabilitation. The accounting firm of Price 

Waterhouse-Coopers--who better to work with the Blind than an 

accounting firm--were hired to do the study. Consumers were to be 

included in the study. However, we were told that the merger was 

a done deal, and what we thought didn't really matter. 

Nevertheless, our state president, Herman Gruber, was asked to 

participate in the merger study.
	In March of this year the issue began to heat up. I began to 

hear all kinds of rumors, including more talk that the merger was 

already a done deal. A done deal, eh--I guess they forgot to 

consider the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina. 

Herman and I had already been keeping in touch regularly; now it 

became daily. We also began having regular meetings with the 

North Carolina Council of the Blind, North Carolina Association 

of Workers for the Blind, and other groups and people who had no 

blindness-field affiliation at all.
	On March 24 we held a meeting in Raleigh to plan and inform 

people about what was happening. People were also encouraged to 

visit their legislators as long as they were in town for the 

meeting. We decided to schedule a demonstration in front of the 

Legislative Building on April 6. I was asked to set up the 

demonstration. I had participated in NAC-Tracking and in a number 

of demonstrations held at Washington Seminars through the years, 

but I had never organized one before.
	I learned very quickly just how many details are involved in 

organizing a demonstration, especially one which turned out to be 

as big as this one was. We needed to obtain permits from 

Legislative Security and the Raleigh Police Department. We had to 

find a place for people to gather and for them to park cars and 

vans. There were press releases to write and send, slogans and 

signs to invent and make, people to notify, and on and on. Peggy 

Elliott, Second Vice President of the National Federation of the 

Blind, and her secretary Darla Hamilton arrived the day before 

the demonstration to help and give us moral support. We met with 

them the night they arrived to cover last-minute details.
	The big day arrived. The demonstration was to be held at 

noon. We were all to gather at the Holiday Inn and walk about 

five blocks to the Legislative Building. Only as people began 

arriving did we realize the size of the group we were going to 

have. By all counts, ours and the media's, we had between four 

and five hundred people in attendance. We had people from all 

parts of the state: agency employees; AER, NFB, and ACB members; 

deaf-blind people, folks in wheel chairs, and members of the 

Lions Club in their orange vests. The media were well represented 

by our four major local TV stations, reporters from the Raleigh 

and Charlotte papers, and several other papers from across the 

state. We marched up and down in front of the Legislative 

Building for almost two hours with Mrs. Elliott in the thick of 

things helping to organize and leading the chanting. A number of 

legislators came out to watch and talk to us.
	After the smoke had cleared, several of us who had been 

recognized as organizers of the opposition movement received 

phone calls inviting us to a meeting of the joint Senate and 

House Appropriations Committee the next week. Now was the time to 

let those with the real power know how we felt, as if the 

demonstration hadn't. The first folks in line to speak to the 

committee were representatives of the Department of Health and 

Human Services (DHHS), the parent agency of the state agency 

serving the blind. They presented their study results and their 

recommendations, which were--surprise, surprise--that Services 

for the Blind, Services for the Deaf, and Vocational 

Rehabilitation be merged into a Department of Rehabilitation. 

Some of the more interesting things said by the Secretary of DHHS 

were "they were trying to help the blind and that we ought to be 

grateful" and that "the blind were the only consumers who opposed 

the merger." We were also told that a few of the blind had 

stirred the rest up.
	The next day the consumers had our say. The first people to 

speak were two advocates from the deaf community. They were very 

much opposed to the merger. Hmmm, what was that about the blind 

being the only group opposed? Then we had our chance. Mr. Gruber 

was the spokesman for blind consumers and was eloquent. He was 

asked whether the blind would be satisfied if we were guaranteed 

a voice in deciding the way the merger would be done. Mr. 

Gruber's response was, "If the input on planning the merger was 

as significant as it had been on the Study Commission, it wasn't 

worth much."
	Since the committee meeting we have heard many rumors about 

what may happen: everything from "it's a done deal" to "the 

legislature will wait until the consumers forget and then try to 

slip it through." In the end I think they are likely to combine 

our school for the blind with the three schools for the deaf but 

leave our agency alone. The Secretary of DHHS can merge the 

agencies without the backing of the legislature, but I don't 

think it is likely. We are continuing to keep in touch and build 

support with our legislators to let them know we have not 

forgotten and are continuing to keep our plans current. It's not 

over yet, and blind North Carolinians are in no danger of 

forgetting or of ceasing to keep a watchful eye on those who 

think that bigger bureaucracy is better.
	I want to extend thanks to all who participated and who have 

expressed their support. Thanks especially to our National 

Office. Peggy Elliott and Herman Gruber provided excellent advice 

and leadership. Thank you to the members of the NFB of North 

Carolina, who by their hard work have made my job as legislative 

chairman easier. If anyone still wonders why the National 

Federation of the Blind, our experience in North Carolina is an 

eloquent illustration. Without the commitment, experience, and 

momentum of the Federation, we would never have come as far as we