by Brian Dulude
From the Editor: Dr. Brian Dulude is a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind who currently serves as the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. He can boast of a number of educational accomplishments including a PhD, CRC, LVRC, and NOMC. Before leaving Utah to work as the assistant director for BLIND Inc. he worked as the vocational rehabilitation coordinator for the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Utah. Here is what he says about trying to improve the state agency and the efforts of other like-minded men and women, many of whom are a part of the NFB:
In 1991 Dr. Marc Maurer gave a banquet speech entitled “Reflecting the Flame.” In this speech, Dr. Maurer pointed out that three things are needed for an idea to move forward and not die: it requires an idea, a leader to promote that idea and defend it, and it finally requires others with the same idea to reflect the flame so that it continues to burn. I listened to this speech recently, and I felt I needed to tell my story of working in blind rehabilitation here in the state of Utah and how the blind of our state have endeavored to reflect the flame.
Our blind rehabilitation program is a combined agency under the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation. Our title is the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We have a blindness training center, low vision services, deaf/blind services, an older blind program, vision screening for young children, and, until recently, vocational rehabilitation services.
I started working for the Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DSBVI) in May of 2010 in the blindness training center as a cane travel instructor. I had previously worked for the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston for over five years. Ray Martin is a long-time Federationist and had the dream of developing a training center that had the same philosophy as the NFB training centers. This philosophy centered around teaching the structured discovery method of training.
As director, Ray experienced strong staff resistance to training under sleep shades, using the long white cane, and using the word blind. As director of the center, however, he hired many qualified blind instructors who had the same philosophy and dream that he had.
When I started working at DSBVI, Ray had already hired Deja Powell as a cane travel instructor. He experienced staff criticism and hostility for hiring a person who is blind to teach cane travel. He also hired Brook Sexton as a cane travel instructor. Brook is a longtime Federationist, and she, as well as Deja, had been trained at Louisiana Tech University’s master’s degree program. Previously Brook had been working in Hawaii in the training center there and had seen a training center change its philosophy of blindness.
Fellow Federationist Everette Bacon was an employee in Assistive Technology Services. At that time he was chapter president of the Salt Lake Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. Later he became president of the affiliate. Adam Rushforth was also working in the training center when I started. Adam was chapter president of the Utah Valley Chapter. He was also treasurer of the affiliate and director of our Project Strive program.
So, as you can see, Ray had a dream of developing an effective training center that would change the lives of the blind of the state. He was a leader who promoted that dream along with Everette Bacon, me, and others that I have mentioned and many whom I have not mentioned.
I feel it is important that I point out here that I have not mentioned the division director at the time as one of the leaders who held the same dream as Ray. The director at the time was Bill Gibson. Ray received no support from Mr. Gibson. In fact, he went so far as to remove Ray from being director for a period of four months in the later part of 2010. It was only the intervention of the National Federation of the Blind to the state administrators that made them reverse their decision.
As I stated earlier, Ray and those of us who believed in structured discovery training were resisted at almost every turn from staff who did not believe in sleep shades, using the long white cane, or using the word blind. We would develop policies regarding these topics but were never fully supported by Bill or his supervisor, Don Uchita.
I finished my doctorate in rehabilitation education from the University of Arkansas in 2011. I was certified as a rehabilitation counselor in the fall of that year. In 2012 DSBVI had an opening for a transition vocational rehabilitation counselor. I applied for the job and was hired. Later that year the vocational rehabilitation coordinator resigned, and I was asked to fill the position. I directed vocational rehabilitation for the blind for four years.
During this time Ray still had the dream and continued to hire qualified employees who had the right philosophy of blindness. Some of these included Marla Palmer, a longtime Federationist in the Parents of Blind Children Division for the state of Utah. Amber and Chase Holiday were hired from Louisiana. Mike Harvey and Jim Reed were also hired.
For the first two years as rehabilitation coordinator I had the privilege of being part of a management team alongside Ray, and I listened to him and supported his dreams for an effective training center. One of Ray’s triumphs was incorporating cross-training or immersion training for newly hired employees of the training center. This was met with resistance by Bill and Don, but we were allowed to train our staff for those in the training center. Ray was permitted to have his staff trained for over three months. New vocational rehabilitation counselors and low vision specialists could train for only six weeks, and support staff could train for only two weeks.
For those two years we battled regularly with staff who did not share our philosophy. Everette Bacon became a member of the management team near the end of that two-year period. Ray Martin retired at the end of my second year as supervisor. He felt he had fought the good fight, and he passed the torch to Everette and me to continue the dream. He had hope that we would receive more support from his supervisor than he had received.
What did Ray accomplish in his tenure at the training center as director? He had hired enough staff with the right philosophy that the dream would not die with his retirement. Adam Rushforth was hired as the new blindness training center director. We now had three members of the management committee who had a good philosophy of blindness. We continued to try to be the leaders that Ray was and continued to hire counselors and training center staff who had the proper philosophy. These staff were reflecting the flame to their students.
Jennifer Kennedy from Virginia was hired as a cane travel instructor. She is a former national scholarship winner and another graduate of Louisiana Tech. We also hired Barbara Elliott as home management instructor. When she was a blind homemaker, she was elected as chapter president of our Weber Davis chapter.
Although Everette, Adam, and I were on the management team and could express our opinions on critical hiring and administrative policy, we were never fully supported by Bill Gibson or his supervisors. In November of 2014 the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation (USOR) realized that they had mismanaged the budget and needed to make drastic changes. One significant change was for vocational rehabilitation to go on an order of selection. This included vocational rehabilitation for the blind as well.
Federation membership and leadership represented themselves well in public meetings that were held by USOR. Although it was pointed out that DSBVI was not the cause of the shortfall, because we are a combined agency, we were lumped together with the general agency. The director of USOR resigned during the legislative session in which USOR had to ask for six million dollars to cover the shortfall. Bill Gibson retired in the middle of that year.
During the first six months of the implementation of the order of selection no clients were removed from the waiting list. Word spread among the blindness community that there was an order of selection, and applications for services declined. As a result, caseloads for the blind declined. As part of conditions from the legislature for the six-million-dollar bailout the legislature required USOR to be audited. DSBVI was specially targeted for this audit based on reports from angry clients or staff who left messages on a recently developed hotline for the agency where individuals could report fraud, misuse, and abuse of public funds. Many of the targeted client files which were audited for DSBVI were found to be out of compliance with USOR policy. In nearly every instance Bill Gibson was involved in the rehabilitation decisions that were out of compliance or an exception to policy. Some were due to counselor error, for which I take responsibility.
Based on the results of the audit, USOR decided to consolidate blind vocational rehabilitation into general rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation counselors who were under the supervision of DSBVI would now be supervised by a general rehabilitation supervisor in their geographic area. I was reassigned from being a supervisor to working as a rehabilitation counselor for a general caseload.
Public meetings were held at DSBVI explaining the decision. Members and leaders of the NFB of Utah gave public comment expressing their displeasure over the decision and the effect this would have on blind services. They also wrote a resolution which was passed by its state convention.
Ray Martin had the dream of good rehabilitation for the blind of Utah. As a leader he hired us to reflect that flame. Although Ray has retired, I have been reassigned, and vocational rehabilitation for the blind has been consolidated into general rehabilitation, we who have the right philosophy will continue to reflect the flame. As members of the National Federation of the Blind, we can do nothing less. Rehabilitation for the blind here in Utah has had some setbacks, but there are still many employees who will continue to reflect that flame and change the lives of the blind of Utah.