Braille Monitor                                                                  July 1985


Illinois Students Speak Out

Under date of April 17, 1985, the following letter was sent to Sue Suter, Director of the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, by Peter Knezevich, President of the Student Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. In the climate of our times some will regard the letter as constructive and hopeful, others as uppity and militant, and still others as nothing but a waste of time. One of the things that makes life interesting is the fact that the final pattern is often not apparent in the beginning actions. However, the survival rate of the actors is likely to be directly proportional to their capacity for accurate and long range predictions:

Chicago, Illinois
April 17, 1985

Dear Director Suter:

On September 7, 1984, at its sixteenth annual convention, the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois organized a Student Chapter. The purpose of this organization is to act as a vehicle for sharing of common concerns, dissemination of information, and collective action on the part of blind students throughout Illinois.

At a meeting held December 29, 1984, members of the Student Chapter discussed several policies of the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), as they affect blind students.

It has been DORS' practice to grant up to $80 per semester for the purchase of textbooks. In most instances a blind student must supply print textbooks to volunteer groups who will transcribe them either into Braille or onto tape. In many cases, the blind student will be required to pay these volunteer groups for the cost of materials. Eighty dollars is generally insufficient to cover the cost of printing books, not to mention transcription costs. Another of DORS' practices has been to deny funding to blind students who wish to seek a graduate degree. This has been particularly true of those blind persons who are employed and wish to enter a graduate program in order to seek greater career opportunities. This has the effect of limiting blind persons to careers which do not require a graduate degree.

While most high schools in the State of Illinois have an organized program of college counseling and preparation, the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI) does not provide such assistance. Furthermore, the Chapter has received reports regarding ISVI students who were asked to undergo a special evaluation at the Elm City Rehabilitation Center for the Blind to determine whether they were "college material." This lack of support, along with evaluations to which sighted students are not generally subjected, clearly implies that only the "exceptional" ISVI student can expect to succeed in a college environment.

The availability of Braille textbook materials for blind college students in Illinois ranges from sparse to nonexistent. While some materials are available from the network of libraries for the blind, the main state resource for such materials is the Illinois Department of Education, State Services for the Visually Impaired. Not only do these two agencies not coordinate their activities, but the resource center has no library facilities and generally cannot make materials available to a second student after the first one has completed using them. We regard the activities of this resource center as more properly functions of the Illinois Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Therefore, it would be more efficient, both from a student and an administrative perspective, for the library to take on responsibilities for these programs. We hope that DORS will work with us to accomplish this objective.

The National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, Student Chapter, requests that these concerns be brought before the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services for the Blind Task Force for consideration and urges that you act upon these recommendations.

Peter Knezevich, President
National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, Student Chapter