Braille Monitor                                                                                March 1986


Attempted Merger of Services for the Blind and Deaf in the State of Washington

The first of the following articles appeared in the January 22, 1986, Portland Oregonian. The second appeared in the same paper January 30, 1986. They were written by Don Jepsen, a staff writer for the paper. They emphasize an unfortunate trend which is gaining momentum throughout the country. During the 1800's and the early years of the present century it was not at all uncommon for schools for the blind and schools for the deaf to be merged into a single entity. Since there were relatively few services for these groups except education, there was no merger in other areas. However, one must presume that if there had been rehabilitation or other programs for the blind and deaf, they would also have been combined.

As the twentieth century progressed, it became clear that it was neither cost effective nor educationally feasible to combine schools for the blind and deaf, so the practice ceased to be followed. By the late 1950's there were almost no combined schools left.

Now, under the pressures of dwindling funds and burgeoning management consulting firms, the old discredited system is being revived. Throughout the country we are hearing talk of improving efficiency by merging the education of the deaf and blind. It has recently been suggested in Iowa and a number of other states. Now, apparently it is Washington's turn. As might be expected, the National Federation of the Blind is doing what it can to protect the integrity of the school for the blind.

The task is complicated by the fact that the nature of the residential schools has radically altered during the past few decades. Enrollment has dropped in favor of mainstreaming in the public schools, and many of those who do attend the residential schools are severely multiply handicapped. In fact, it is sometimes hard to tell whether these institutions are more educational or custodial. Nevertheless, no good purpose can be served by combining the training of the deaf and the blind. The trend is counterproductive and must be resisted. In the present instance in the state of Washington Federation efforts were decisive and effective. Apparently we have stemmed the tide--at least, for the moment. Here are the articles from the Portland Oregonian.


Blind, Deaf Services to Merge

OLYMPIA--Governor Booth Gardner announced Tuesday he was expanding his reorganization proposal to bring the state School for the Deaf and Blind in Vancouver under a single agency.

But a spokesman for the Washington chapter of the National Federation of the Blind said his board already had gone on record against the recommendation. Mike Freeman of Vancouver said creating a single agency for the sensory impaired "is detrimental to all handicapped people."

"We are dead set opposed," he said. Freeman said the Federation board adopted a resolution to that effect shortly after the governor's office informed it of the plan to bring the campuses under a single agency.

No spokesman for the school for the deaf could be contacted Tuesday.

The Legislature approved a bill last year that took the two schools out of the Department of Social and Health Services and made them independent. However, Freeman noted, the legislative reorganization doesn't take effect until July 1, so the schools have not had a chance to prove themselves.

"One reason we wanted out of DSHS is, we were so low in the bureaucratic hierarchy no one cared about us," said Freeman, who testified last year.

Gardner's reorganization would expand the current Department of Services for the Blind in Olympia to include administration of the two Vancouver campuses. The school for the blind currently enrolls about 60; some 200 attend classes at the school for the deaf.

Policy and curriculum decisions at the two schools would continue to be made by the respective superintendents. Gardner would appoint the superintendents from a list of candidates submitted by the board.

"Also, I think it's important for the schools to have a headquarters--and a stronger voice--here in Olympia, which they will under the Department of Services for the Blind and Deaf," Gardner said.

He acknowledged that the blind and deaf community was not necessarily supporting his reorganization.


Gardner Proposal for Blind and Deaf Schools Fizzles

OLYMPIA--Governor Booth Gardner's proposal to put the Schools for the Blind and Deaf under the Department of Services for the Blind crashed Wednesday after nearly unanimous opposition from the blind and deaf community.

"Without your blessings we can't do it, and we don't want to do it," Senator Al Bauer, D-Vancouver, said after meeting with the handicapped Wednesday. Bauer said a scheduled hearing on Gardner's plan Monday probably will be canceled.

Gardner last week added the two Vancouver campuses to his reorganization proposal by announcing he wanted them under the department, headquartered in Olympia. The short notice, and the fact that many blind and deaf groups were not contacted, generated a storm of opposition.

In 1985 the two schools were successful in severing themselves from the Department of Social and Health Services, effective July 1, 1986. They are to operate as independent entities, with the Superintendent of Public Instruction's office to serve as the pass-through agency for appropriations.

Gardner signed the bill, then proposed the realignment as an addendum to his overall reorganization of state government submitted earlier.

The informal meeting in a Capitol hearing room Wednesday was called by Representative Joe Tanne, D-Vancouver, to test the waters for Gardner's idea. It quickly became apparent there was little support, given the fact the two campuses have not yet had the chance to operate as independent agencies.

Tanner, who is sponsoring the re-organization bid on the House side, also admitted defeat for the proposal. "You can rely on the fact the Legislature isn't going to pass something that has this strong of opposition." he said.

"This was a very valuable night. The governor no doubt will receive the message," said Tanner.

The major issue appeared to be the possibility that lumping the two schools under a single agency would lead to one program for the sensory impaired.

Patty Hughes, Seattle, said through a sign language interpreter that her first concern was that the deaf people would lose their identity by being in the same agency with the blind.

"We have entirely different needs," she said.

Gary Mackenstadt, Bothell, a member of the National Federation of the Blind, also opposed the reorganization as did Mike Freeman, Vancouver, legislative chairman of the Federation's Washington chapter.

Mackenstadt said many blind people felt the move was a forerunner to combining programs for the deaf and blind. "I really feel we have some bad legislation. Too bad it can't die a natural death."

Added Freeman, "This is paving the way for a department for the sensory impaired. When that happens, services go downhill fast."

Kathy Sullivan, Gardner's staff person for social services, and Paul Dziedzic, head of the blind services department, tried to assure the gathering of some 50 persons that the reorganization would not affect the independence of the two schools.

"The governor has no hidden intent," said Sullivan. "He merely wants reorganization for the purposes of administrative efficiency. She stressed that an Olympia presence would be beneficial for personnel, administrative and adult purposes.

The proposal must pass either a Senate or House committee by next Thursday, the cutoff deadline for clearing bills of original origin, of it dies.