The Braille Monitor                                                                                       May 2003

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A Federationist Speaks Out
by Chris Kuell

Chris Kuell
Chris Kuell

From the Editor: The Friday, March 28, 2003, edition of the Danbury News-Times carried an op-ed column by NFB of Connecticut second vice president Chris Kuell. The blind of Connecticut are once again struggling to improve state vocational services. This time the plan was to dismantle the entire program and shuffle the blind off to another agency. The sheltered shop run by the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) was to be summarily shut down.

At a hearing conducted by a committee of the legislature, Federationists Allen Harris, Fred Schroeder, Jason Ewell, and many others testified. Though blind people were doubtful about how seriously this testimony was taken, it apparently did some good. It is still too early to tell for certain, but apparently BESB will not be dismantled, and some managerial changes such as the method of appointing the agency director will be made. Here is Chris Kuell's article:

Rowland Plan Will Dismantle Agency for Blind

The State of Connecticut is in a dire fiscal mess. Everyone (theoretically) is going to have to tighten their belts a little to help bail us out. But what about the folks that don't even have a belt? Did I hear someone asking, "John, what did you do with the money?"

We ordinary people don't know what the governor did with all the surplus. He did send out checks to all the taxpayers in the state, distracting the voting public long enough to assure his re‑election. After that, he gave himself a raise and sharpened his axe.

How will our elected officials deal with the mess? The plan appears to be to sacrifice the neediest of our citizens: the poor, children from non-English speaking families, the aged, unwed mothers, battered women, the deaf, and the blind (like me). We will lose because the programs we depend on will be dismantled or lose significant funding. The neediest among us are being treated like society's bottom dwellers, as persons of unnecessary expense.

On March 10 I sat waiting to testify at a public hearing regarding a proposed bill to consolidate the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB). The hearing room and an overflow room were full, with more than seventy concerned citizens anxious to be heard. When my turn finally came, a sighted friend told me there were only three committee members present, and one of them was asleep. The pleas of the mother with her two-year-old blind daughter, the industries worker who lost his job along with 132 other blind and multihandicapped workers, the man who spoke on behalf of all the blind vending operators--all went essentially unheard by those that are sworn to care.

The director of BESB, Donna Balaski, a Rowland appointee, wasn't there to defend the agency or the clients whom she is paid to represent. Why was she absent? I think it serves her career interests not to appear contrary to the wishes of Governor Rowland. Her absence from this most important hearing sickens me.

The blind in our state face a greater than 70 percent unemployment rate. By dismantling BESB and throwing it to the Department of Social Services (DSS), the governor and legislature guarantee that figure will approach 100 percent. Sure, they sleep at night by telling themselves DSS will take care of things just fine.

But, they are not kidding anyone. How can an overworked, understaffed, largely bureaucratic and administrative agency, facing deep cuts itself, absorb 13,355 new clients? New clients that need instruction in Braille, low-vision aids, mobility and orientation, independent living, specialized technology, and a host of other services DSS is unprepared to provide? Obviously, DSS can't, and our elected officials don't seem to care. After all, we can't even vote independently yet. Perhaps they will pass the legislation to allow for accessible voting machines this session, but I'm not holding my breath.

The politicians will also defend their actions by claiming that BESB is a scandalous agency that does little to help its consumers. Unfortunately this assessment is largely correct. Yet Rowland created the mess at BESB by the abuse of his executive appointment abilities. Rather than appointing executive directors that are capable and competent to revitalize the agency, Rowland has used his power for political payback.

Take a look at the last three executive directors. Balaski, the current director, didn't lift a finger to stop the closing of the Blind Industries program, even though National Industries for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind presented her with multiple alternatives.

Her predecessor, Larry Alizobek, is on his way to jail for accepting bribes and awarding contracts to the governor's friends. Before Alizobek's brief term was Ken Tripp, who was recommended for prosecution by the attorney general for multiple counts of on-the-job sexual harassment and various other abuses. All three of these so-called leaders of the blind were Rowland appointees. While they collected their fat paychecks, the have-nots got shoved aside.

I don't have a summer home or gold doubloons to bribe the necessary people. All I have is a surplus of bile and anger in my gut resulting from the way the governor has treated his non-wealthy constituents. Unemployment rates rise, literacy rates fall, and hope for the bottom dwellers is exchanged for a one-way ticket out of a mess created by Rowland himself.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." How will the governor and the 2003 General Assembly be judged?

A deferred charitable gift annuity is a way for donors to save taxes and make significant donations to the National Federation of the Blind. (The amounts here are illustrative, not precise.) It works like this:

James Johnson, age fifty, has decided to set up a deferred charitable gift annuity. He transfers $10,000 to the NFB. In return, when he reaches sixty-five, the NFB will pay James a lifetime annuity of $1,710 per year, of which $179 is tax free. In addition, James can claim a charitable tax deduction of $6,387 of the $10,000 gift in the year the donation is made.

For more information about deferred gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.

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