Although almost 80% of the funds available to rehabilitate disabled people come from the federal government through the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), the individual states manage and spend these funds by providing money themselves that draws down the federal money. In Ohio the agency that does this job is the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission (ORSC or just RSC). Every dollar that the legislature devotes to rehabilitation from the state budget results in receipt of almost $4 in federal funding for rehabilitating Ohioans.
Mostly this funding is used for vocational rehabilitation—getting disabled people to work or back to work. Before disabled Ohioans finish high school, schools and the State Department of Education are responsible for educating and training them to go to work or to go to post-secondary institutions for further education. Those who are beyond their working life when disability enters their lives are eligible for rehab services, but not very much funding is available to meet their needs. What has been said thus far is true for people with all sorts of disabilities. From here on we will discuss only blindness and visual impairment. For information about RSC services generally go to Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission.
The bureau in the ORSC charged with addressing the rehabilitation needs of Ohioans losing vision is the Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired (BSVI). People with 10% of full vision are considered to be blind or, more accurately, legally blind. Therefore only a very small part of the blind population has no vision at all or even no useable vision. Many people with significantly limited vision have more than 10% of full vision and are therefore considered to be visually impaired. BSVI is obligated to provide vocational rehabilitation (VR) services first to those with the most significant impairments. To learn more about BSVI services and to find the office that serves your county, go to BSVI.
Anyone beyond school age interested in rehabilitation services should first contact his or her local BSVI office to learn what is available from BSVI in the area and what local private agencies may be working with those losing vision. The BSVI staff will certainly know about local resources that you can contact. A number of private agencies and BSVI itself in some parts of the state provide elementary rehabilitation services and simple technology to blind people of retirement age. Funds are scarce, but if you need such training after retirement and the services exist in your area, you would do well to learn about them and investigate whether or not you can receive these services.
Unfortunately, even though those working with Ohioans losing vision or already blind are called BSVI counselors, they do not have the time necessary to do real counseling. So people often find themselves being asked what services they need or what work they would like to do when they have no idea at all what is possible for them in their new reality. This is true both for those hoping to return to work and for those hoping only to continue living independently in their own homes. They ask questions like what kind of jobs can blind people do? Can blind people like alone safely? What transportation and reader resources are available to blind people? BSVI counselors mostly do not have answers to such questions. We encourage you to contact the nearest chapter of the NFB of Ohio to learn what blind people themselves can tell you about living with blindness and holding down a job.
In Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, and some other communities, local private agencies offer activities, classes, and some services to blind and low-vision people in the area. They also contract with BSVI to provide instruction in some of the skills of blindness, particularly to those intending to return to work. If this level of rehabilitation is what you are interested in, contact BSVI in your area to learn what may be available to you and then call the agency to get involved.
If you are interested in more complete training in order to return to your life and community as a fully participating member, you should seriously consider the range of rehabilitation options available in the U.S. If you are determined and seem to be interested in stepping out to learn new skills, BSVI may well be supportive in arranging and paying for training at one of the larger agencies in Ohio. Even if you picture yourself ultimately working with a guide dog, you should learn to use a long white cane efficiently and competently. Dogs get sick and die, and there are some situations in which you would prefer to leave your dog at home even when the animal is well trained and biddable. Besides, using a cane is the best way to learn orientation, which is a large part of successful dog use.
You should also learn the techniques of daily living: cooking, cleaning, taking care of clothing and personal grooming, household repair and yard maintenance, managing money, shopping, etc. In this day and age most of us want to learn to use the computer even when we can no longer see the monitor at maximum enlargement and contrast, so computer classes are very useful. Those who can no longer see to use print should investigate learning Braille. Even a little Braille can be a real help for labeling, making lists, and jotting down notes. Memorizing the Braille code and training fingers to identify the dot patterns is very good exercise for the aging brain. The problem is that a lot of blindness professionals don’t believe mature adults can learn Braille. They are wrong, but this is what they often tell people who express interest in learning Braille. If you are interested, don’t let your BSVI counselor or other professional discourage you. Contact the NFB of Ohio’s NAPUB (National Association to Promote the Use of Braille) or the Hadley School which offers many Braille correspondence courses free of charge.
The 1998 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act protect the consumer’s right of choice in rehabilitation services. In theory this means that a blind person should be able to tell a BSVI counselor which rehab program he or she wishes to choose and attend. However, since rehab funding is very scarce these days, this kind of consumer choice is not available. The choice amendment does mean that a determined and educated person stands a chance of getting truly fine services if he or she is prepared to fight for them and persuade knowledgeable people to help in that fight.
What are the Cadillac rehab services for the blind today? They are the adult residential programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Colorado. You can read more about these programs at the following links. The Braille Monitor magazine did in-depth reports on each center, complete with photos. Here are the links. The Braille Monitor, May, 2008, the Braille Monitor, October, 2008, and the Braille Monitor, February, 2009.
To visit the Websites for these centers, go to Louisiana Center for the Blind, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions in Minneapolis, and the Colorado Center for the Blind.
If you or someone you love is in need of rehabilitation services, contact your closest NFB of Ohio chapter. We can provide information and advice. We can even share tips with you about how we do things. This is not training, but it is confidence boosting. Just to know that blind people are doing the things you have feared that you would never be able to do again is encouraging. You are not alone, or at least you don’t have to be if you will contact us. We can help.