by Eric Duffy
Those of you who know me at all probably know I am an Elvis fan. You probably also know I like to sing karaoke every now and then. It might not surprise you to learn that I very often sing Elvis songs. One of the songs I sing is called “In the Ghetto.” It begins something like this: “On a cold and gray Chicago morn/ Another little baby child is born/ In the ghetto.”
I think of that song because it really was a cold and gray Columbus morning when I went to a meeting sponsored by Disability Rights Ohio to discuss the proposed state budget and the effect it might have on people with disabilities. The idea that Ohio needs a State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) to advise the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Agency (OOD) was not exactly born on that cold and gray Columbus morn. It is an idea that has been discussed for a long time, but it is one that began to take serious shape that day.
Within a week or two of that meeting, I convened a special meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio to discuss whether or not we should support the idea of creating a State Rehabilitation Council in Ohio, and, if so, whether we should take the lead in making it happen. The answer to both questions, we decided, was yes. So in mid March I began to build a single-focus coalition whose purpose is to bring about the creation of a state Rehabilitation Council. We believe that an SRC will give people with disabilities a broader representation in conducting OOD’s business and a stronger voice than does the current OOD Commission.
Brief Notes about a State Rehabilitation Council
Ohio has the opportunity to enhance the ability of Ohioans with disabilities actually to participate in the provision of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services by OOD. Currently OOD is nominally run by a Commission with seven members, when all appointments are made, and also has a Consumer Advisory Committee. Changes in federal law have caused almost all other states to create State Rehabilitation Councils that advise the VR agencies (OOD in Ohio). An SRC would be able to advise OOD and provide a significant voice for people with disabilities, not just by providing feedback, but also by actually commenting on and affecting policies and procedures that the VR agency uses in the delivery of services. The Commission and CAC, as they now exist, each perform some but not all of the functions of an SRC. As a result disabled people often find it difficult for them to get information or have meaningful influence in how OOD helps people with disabilities. The SRC proposal would change that.
Under federal law there would be at least fifteen members on the SRC, all appointed by the governor. The governor has to consider input from people with disabilities and organizations interested in them, and he must consider the inclusion of minority populations. This could result in more members with disabilities than the Commission and CAC currently have, allowing room for disability and geographic diversity to grow. The law also provides categories for members of the SRC to ensure that a variety of viewpoints are represented and that OOD can get more input from the SRC than it does from the current Commission or the CAC.
In a new opportunity for Ohio, business would be represented on the SRC. The stipulated categories ensure that four members represent business and industry, delivering their viewpoint. OOD has developed valuable business relationships, and this is a way to expand those relationships to aid people with disabilities.
The Statewide Independent Living Council, the Client Assistance Program, the Workforce Investment Board, a parent training and information center, and the state Department of Education would also be represented, along with other disability-related entities. A qualified VR counselor with experience in VR field work must be a member, to ensure that experience in the actual provision of services is present, as well as the OOD director or his designee as a non-voting member to represent OOD itself. With these groups the SRC brings a wide spectrum of ideas to the table and also ensures that what the SRC (and OOD) does is accessible to everyone.
People with disabilities who do not work for OOD, representing a cross section of disabilities and including those who have difficulty representing themselves, must make up a majority of the members of the SRC. This ensures the SRC is a voice for disabled people and their organizations in the most direct way possible—to ensure that, even if there are differences of opinion, the overall SRC provides representative input for OOD.
The proposed SRC will consolidate the Commission and the CAC as they now exist, allowing for organizational efficiencies but also ensuring that input of the type those groups provide is present in the composition of the SRC and shared with OOD. The SRC approach allows OOD to enhance its ability to gather more types of input from more people with disabilities and more groups with interest in the provision of VR services.
The process of establishing the SRC allows people with disabilities to establish contact with the governor’s office and General Assembly and promotes their broader engagement in public policy discussions. We have had a lot of support as we moved forward with the idea of creating an SRC, and I believe we are going to make positive changes for people with disabilities in Ohio. I especially want to thank OOD Director Kevin Miller for his willingness to discuss this idea openly and help us make progress.
In the months ahead I am certain we will call you to action. We may ask you to make phone calls, write letters, or both. I know that, when the call comes, we will be able to count on you. That’s how it is in the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio.