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A2008-04: State Services for the Blind Staff Training and Qualifications

Adopted in: 2008

Topics: State Services for the Blind, Adjustment-to-Blindness Training

WHEREAS, Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) is a separate and identifiable agency within state government with primary responsibility to provide rehabilitation services to blind persons, and is therefore an essential first step on the road to independence and competitive employment through its counselors and other staff members and through its financial support of adjustment-to-blindness training and other services; and

WHEREAS, SSB’s success and the success of its customers is heavily dependent upon its staff having a complete and thorough understanding of the importance of adjustment to blindness training and the techniques used by blind persons to live and work independently; and

WHEREAS, the current entry-level requirement for SSB counselors includes very little specific knowledge of blindness; and

WHEREAS, experienced counselors and supervisors who leave SSB are frequently replaced by counselors having little or no experience with the very services that their customers need; and

WHEREAS, one method of dealing with the lack of staff experience with the training and techniques used by blind persons was to provide eight weeks of exposure to adjustment to blindness training, but this component of counselor orientation training was completely eliminated for several years by the previous director of SSB and then restarted by the current director at a much lower and less effective level; and

WHEREAS, the rate of counselor replacement has increased during this decade and will likely occur at an even higher rate as the workforce ages, making more blindness-specific staff training imperative for the delivery of high-quality rehabilitation services; and

WHEREAS, we know of blind persons who have qualified for counselor positions within the general vocational rehabilitation agency but who cannot qualify at SSB, even with their specific experience with blindness, because of more restrictive requirements; and

WHEREAS, we have been hearing increasingly unsettling stories from SSB customers and have been directly involved with several cases where the priority seems to be closing the case with as little money spent as possible, even when the closure does not result in employment; and

WHEREAS, we note a disturbing trend to provide technology and other "quick-fix" solutions in cases where comprehensive training in the skills and alternative techniques of blindness would be far more appropriate, illustrating a lack of understanding of the importance of blindness skills; and

WHEREAS, thirty-six of SSB's customers toured Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) and Vision Loss Resources last year in preparation for adjustment to blindness training (a number similar to previous years), but only six have taken tours through the first ten months of this fiscal year—a drastic decrease that cannot be explained by a changing population or trends; and

WHEREAS, not only has the number of successful case closures decreased steadily over the past five years, but an unusually large number of cases are being closed because customers were said to "refuse services" or to be "uncooperative"; and

WHEREAS, these quick fixes and quick closures are natural outcomes of a lack of understanding of the value of adjustment to blindness training and are not conducive to true independence or competitive employment; and

WHEREAS, a reorganization of counselor case loads in 2002 has not resulted in improvement in the number or quality of cases being closed and has resulted in more time spent in traveling by counselors in greater Minnesota; and

WHEREAS, the number of blind persons hired as counselors and in management has decreased during this decade; and

WHEREAS, the major reason for the need for an identifiable and separate agency providing rehabilitation services to blind people is so that it can bring to bear the qualifications and experience with aspects of rehabilitation that are unique to blindness-qualifications and experience which are currently lacking in much of SSB's staff;  Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this fifth day of October, 2008, in the city of Rochester, Minnesota, that this organization call upon the director of State Services for the blind to develop a plan to improve the blindness-specific training of SSB's staff in direct contact with customers, as well as supervisors and managers, by significantly increasing the number of hours and quality of exposure to adjustment to blindness training using nonvisual techniques and sleepshades; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the director of SSB to change the requirements for new staff having direct contact with customers as well as supervisors and managers, by favoring those with specific blindness-related experience, and by aggressively seeking out persons who meet such requirements; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the director of SSB to increase the direct participation of consumer organizations in staff training activities, and to emphasize the quality of case closures over the quantity or speed; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Commissioner of the department of Employment and Economic development to support and assist the implementation of these changes; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization both assist in this process and also pursue other avenues to see that these changes are brought about with all due speed.

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