THE STUDENT SLATE
>Edited by Karen Anderson, Domonique Lawless and Sean Whalen
The National Association of Blind Students
Arielle Silverman, President
Table of Contents
- Editor’s Introduction
- Washington Wrap-Up by Jesse Hartle
- The Thirty of 2010 by Anil Lewis
- Six Days: My Journey to the NFB by Leslie Penko
- From Nightmare to Dream Come True by Willie Black
- Connecting the Dotz: Spotlight on GABS by Isaiah Wilcox
- Blind Students and Informed Choice by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
- My Battle for Informed Choice by David Boushard
Spring break is upon us. Midterms are behind us, for better or worse, and we have a little time to sit and relax. The NFB has hosted yet another successful Washington Seminar. Now is the time to look ahead to graduation, summer vacation, and another exciting National convention.
In this, the spring 2010 issue of the Student Slate, we are focusing on our strengths, as well as looking toward the future and another exciting National convention. Anil Louis has written an article explaining the process for becoming a National scholarship winner, and Leslie Penko is living proof that those scholarships can change your life. Jesse Hartle has written to update us on the issues we fought for at Washington Seminar, and Dr. Fred Schroder has some insight on how we can work with vocational rehabilitation agencies to maximize our potential. David Bouchard, talking about his fight to get training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Willy Black, an up and coming chef, remind us that if you believe it you can achieve it.
If you have an idea for an article that you think would make a good addition to the Student Slate, please feel free to contact Karen Anderson at Kea.firstname.lastname@example.org Domonique Lawless at Dlawless86@gmail.com Or Sean Whalen at email@example.com.
We hope you enjoy this issue of the Student Slate, and we will see you again this summer.
by Jesse Hartle
From the Editor: Here is an update on the progress we have made on our legislative agenda from NFB Government Programs Specialist, Jesse Hartle. Here’s what Jesse says about our grassroots efforts in Washington last month:
The 2010 Washington Seminar is now behind us, and our work during the seminar has made a great difference on the level of support for our legislative priorities. The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act (HR 734), introduced by Representatives Towns and Stearns in the House of Representatives, now has 215 cosponsors, and S 841, the companion bill introduced by Senators Kerry and Specter in the Senate, currently has 28 cosponsors. We anticipate having a majority of the House of Representatives signed on to this legislation by next Friday March 12. The Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind (HR 4533), introduced the week before Washington Seminar by Congresswoman Schakowsky of Illinois, has gained 23 cosponsors. Lastly, the Blind Persons Return to work Act (HR 886), introduced by Congressman John Lewis in the House of Representatives, has 50 cosponsors, and the Companion bill, introduced by Senators Dodd and McCain, S 2962 has 5 cosponsors. I want to thank all of you that attended the Washington Seminar and helped to educate members of Congress on these important issues. Now we need to continue to educate members that have not signed on to our bills.
For those of you that attended the Washington Seminar, it is crucial to follow up with the Legislative Assistant that met with your delegation; Congressional aides meet with different groups every day, and our issues will get lost in the shuffle of Washington if we do not keep them on the top of the list. For those who did not attend the seminar, it is important that you make your voice heard on these issues as well by contacting your Senators and Representatives in the House and letting them know that they need to support our legislation. Working with your affiliates to set up meetings in your home district is another way to get our issues in front of members of Congress. Generally speaking, members are in their districts on most Mondays and Fridays and during Congressional recesses, and visiting members in the district offers us an increased chance to see the member. If you do not know who your Representatives or Senators are, you can look them up at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov respectively. To find out whether or not your particular member is a cosponsor of a given bill, go to Thomas.loc.gov (no www) and enter the bill number for the legislation you are interested in checking on. Bill numbers are listed above. After searching for the bill, click on the bill title on the search results page. From there, you will find a “cosponsors” link that will take you to a page which lists all current cosponsors of the bill. You can be connected to any House or Senate office by calling the capitol switch-board at 202-225-3121.
It is clear that we put forth an excellent grassroots advocacy effort during the Washington Seminar, but we must maintain our effort over the whole year, not just the first week in February. We need to keep our priority issues in front of members of Congress to ensure that we get legislative action. It doesn’t take long to reach out to your elected officials, and contact from constituents is one of the biggest determinants of where Members of Congress come down on issues. Let’s keep up the momentum from the Washington Seminar. Working together we can build a brighter future for blind individuals throughout the United States!
The Thirty of 2010
by Anil Lewis
From the Editor: Anil Lewis serves the National Federation of the Blind in many leadership capacities. He is the president of the NFB’s Georgia affiliate, and also serves on the NFB Board of Directors. Additionally, Mr. Lewis is the chairman of the NFB Scholarship Committee. In this article he provides information about the NFB’s scholarship program, and even offers some tips on strengthening your scholarship application. Here is what he says:
Each year the National Federation of the Blind offers scholarships to thirty outstanding blind students from across the country. The scholarship amounts range from $3,000 up to our $12,000 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship. Applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships: (1) must be legally blind in both eyes; (2) must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico, (3) must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States' institution in the fall of the 2010-2011 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time; and, (4) if chosen, applicants must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities. Each winner will be brought to convention at Federation expense. The application and related information can be found at WWW.NFB.ORG/SCHOLARSHIPS, and the deadline is March 31, 2010.
Students should submit only one application to be considered for one of the thirty scholarships. A complete application consists of the official application form, a student essay, plus these support documents: student transcripts, two letters of recommendation, proof of legal blindness, and a letter from the NFB state affiliate president from either the applicant’s state of residence or state where the applicant will be attending school. High school seniors must also include a copy of the reports on their ACT, SAT, or other similar college entrance exams.
The key component of your application is the student essay. The NFB Scholarship Committee, a dynamic group of dedicated, successful blind college graduates, reviews all applications and will select the top thirty applicants as the Scholarship Class of 2010. The only way the committee members can get to know each applicant is through the essay. You must write your essay in an effort to give the committee a sense of who you are, how you perceive yourself as a blind person, and how will it benefit the organization and the world if you are awarded an NFB scholarship. Keep in mind that the NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. Let the committee know why we should invest in you.
If you take a look at past winners, you will see that they have a wide range of academic pursuits and professional goals. They are a cross section of race, sex, and age. Winners are selected from around the country. In addition, there are applicants with a variety of academic and extra-curricular accomplishments. In as clear and concise a way as possible, let the committee know what makes you better or sets you apart from the rest.
If you are privileged to receive an NFB Scholarship, recognize that is only the beginning, and the monetary award is only a small benefit of being an NFB scholarship winner. The true prize our winners receive is the Federation, and it starts by attending our national convention. The convention is one of the most valuable gifts we give to each winner. We expect you will find, as others have before you, that the NFB national convention is a great deal of fun, offers truly beneficial networking at the highest level, answers questions you have always wanted to ask, and is as big a prize (if not bigger) as the scholarship check winners receive.
I am honored to be a member of the NFB Scholarship Class of 2002, one of “The Thirty of 2002.” If you can show why we should invest in you, and what sets you apart from the rest, then maybe you can be one of the thirty of 2010.
Six Days: My Journey to the NFB
by Leslie Penko
From the Editor: Having received her Master’s degree in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University in May of 2009, Leslie Penko is currently working in the field of mental health and resides in Madison Wisconsin. Leslie was the 2008 recipient of the Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship, and here she recounts how her NFB scholarship experience changed her life. Here is her story:
Friday, July 4th, 2008, Dallas, Texas; approximately 2,500 men women and children sat in the ballroom of the Hilton Anatole Hotel, going about their business eating, chatting and wrapping up a long week’s worth of meetings and socializing, those things which make up the bulk of the National Conventions of the NFB. Dr. Maurer spoke eloquently on the week’s activities, accomplishments and interests for the future of the Federation. While all this was going on around me, I sat, one in a sea of federationists, picking at my hardening dinner roll, feeling the conflicting weight and relief of the week’s events; uncertain what was to come for me that evening and the rest of my life. Although this sounds dramatic, it genuinely was my experience prior to being called up to the main stage with my fellow National Scholarship winners.
It had only been 6 days of my then 23 years of life. Six days in the grand scheme of things may seem minute but these were six of the most pivotal and influential days for me to this point. I had only applied for the NFB National Scholarship 6 months prior, and here I sat, after 6 days of convention events, introductions and new friendships, feeling the weight of the significant changes that took place in those six days.
I reflected on my first experience talking with the president of my state’s chapter of the NFB, answering questions about my philosophy on blindness, what technology I use and if I was a cane or guide dog user. Already, despite my complete and utter naiveté, I was learning about the power that comes with involvement in the NFB. I simply spoke candidly about myself, explained that I was an occasional cane user and listed off the litany of adaptive hard and software that keeps me on the same level as my peers in graduate school. This was my first interaction with the Federation and, until the sixth day of the National Convention, I would not fully realize the magnitude of such a seemingly simple conversation.
The next conversation I had with a Federationist came when I received the call informing me that I was a National Scholarship finalist and I would have the opportunity to attend the National Convention to accept my award. I was a combination of thrilled and terrified as the reality of the situation settled in. My protective mind, one which I had spent a lifetime honing, began working in overtime trying to prepare me for experiences which I would need to devise a plan to cope with. Firstly, I had never traveled by myself and never interacted with many blind individuals at all. I knew I would be presented with situations where my cunning and clever tricks to mask my blindness may not work as well as I thought they had in other environments. I did not know at the time but can say candidly now that I truly believed myself to be an expert actress; faking it until I made myself appear as sighted as possible, never admitting my blindness. I was extremely against using my cane even if it was unsafe for me to fumble about, expecting my friends and family to protect me from the hazards of the world. It was not until my first National Convention where I learned the complete and utter foolishness of this philosophy on life, which brings me to my reflection on the convention experience.
As I arrived at the massive Hilton Anatole Hotel, I was instantly inundated with sights and sounds, fears and wonderment as I saw the masses of blind children and adults that attended the convention. I fumbled about for the first few days, grasping at companionship and cherishing my mentors, both those provided for me and those I encountered randomly. I began seeing the normalcy in cane or dog usage, the grace of blind independent travel through the cavernous atriums of the hotel and the confidence that seeped out of the majority of the attendees. I absorbed every piece of wisdom provided to me even if the provider was simply going about his or her daily life. The fact of the matter was that I was seeing a world that I never knew existed.
I learned, in that week of early mornings, fascinating people and endless support that I was allowed to be a young blind female in a sighted world, and that I actually could fit in. I took, sincerely, the failures and successes of those I met and held them close, allowing the inspiration of belonging to reshape my entire opinion of myself. It was then, as I sat at one of many round tables within the banquet hall, that I felt this world open up to me. In a blur, Anil Lewis requested that all 30 scholarship finalists report to the main stage in order to accept their awards. I traveled through the labyrinth to the herd of my anxious peers and waited while the dream-like situation passed me by. I was in a pool of incredible individuals, most of whom had significantly more knowledge and experience with the NFB than I, and certainly wonderful talents and gifts whereby they would deservingly receive a larger amount of money than I. At that very moment, I knew that the monetary value of the scholarship was the catalyst that got me to the convention, but it was the least valuable award I would take from the experience.
Then, as my peers passed me by one by one, I began thinking that I had surely been forgotten. I watched as the crowd became smaller and the awards were growing in value. Then, before I knew it, I was standing with one fellow finalist, and I realized that I very well may have actually won the coveted Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship; a true honor. I also realized that I may have to address every single individual in the room and I had not prepared a speech, even though we were advised to do so. As I stood, time almost standing still, I was overcome with a sense of calm as my peer won the $10,000 scholarship, leaving me with the final prize. I knew that the experiences I had all week, the people I met and the strength I found within myself would guide me to make the best of this incredible opportunity. At this point, I was able to truly enjoy the moment and listen to the wonderful introduction that was being made in my honor. I realized that, had this been in any other capacity, I would have spent that moment worrying about where I walk, who’s hand I shake first, where the podium is and the location of the steps to get off the stage. Now, those concerns were an afterthought because I had my cane, no one cared that I might go the wrong way and many would not see my missteps, even if they did occur. I walked to the podium and felt this sense of calm and knew that I just needed to speak from my heart and tell everyone what the week had done for me.
It is now one year and eight months after my pivotal first rendezvous with the National Federation of the Blind. I am one year and eight months older but a lifetime wiser, and certainly more comfortable in my own skin that I have ever been. I see the changes in myself every day, and have had the immeasurable benefits of support and resources available to me through the Federation. Moreover, the contributions I have made thus far, as well as the opportunities I will have in the future provide me great joy knowing that I may facilitate another’s life changing experience. I am certain that every individual has the potential to not only work hard academically, but internally as well, in order to become the best he or she can be. It is often not until we are placed in a new and uncomfortable situation that we grow the most; we use emotions and muscles never exercised in order to grow leaps and bounds. So, whether it takes six days to earn $12,000 or a lifetime to make positive changes that are worth their weight in gold, for all of us, it is worth the effort to make this life count.
From Nightmare to Dream Come True
by Willie Black
From the Editor: Willie black currently runs a Randolph-Sheppard enterprise in Utah and does catering on the side. In this article Willie describes his passion for food and talks about being able to do what he loves. He also relates the story of his journey toward becoming a chef. Bon appétit!
I always say food and people are a lot alike; if you know all the amazing secrets you can create a masterpiece. I have always loved food, and preparing food that others will love to eat. Before attending my first Utah State Convention in 2006 I thought that my dream of becoming a chef was impossible. I met people at this convention that told me that I could do great things if I believed I could. Six months later I found myself in Culinary School getting a degree in Culinary Management.
At first the school did not believe in me as much as I did. I had a chef over my shoulder at every turn in the kitchen. I thought that Chef Becky, one of my instructors, was going to pass out the first time I picked up my knife kit and headed for the cutting board with a bowl of uncut carrots and potatoes. I thought, “What is the big deal? I have been using knives for years.” I suppose in their minds they believed I was a risk and might chop off a finger or two. The thing was though that the techniques they were teaching us, such as using your knuckles as a guide with the knife slanted away from them, and touching the meat to see if it’s done rather than using a probe, were techniques I had been using for years. This is not to say that I did everything right the first time, but that given a chance I could learn like the other students.
They thought I was amazing! This wasn’t due to my skill though, I wanted to learn and they were not allowing me to. I could have given them burned food and they would have passed me. I had to have a meeting with the Dean and the chefs to let them know I would be dropping out if they did not stop treating me like a poor blind guy. I asked that they treat me like any other student, and that if I needed help, I would ask for it like any other student. They were all shocked at first, but then they complied with my request and for the first time I enjoyed going to school, because my classes were finally challenging.
I still had the usual issues with getting books on time. Nevertheless, I am doing well in my classes. When the chefs have trouble making a taste observation or can’t tell what spice or herb was used they will ask me to help out. I got to decide some of my peer’s grades by tasting their food and offering an opinion to the chef as they graded a project. They tried to set me as an example to the other students who were not taking the classes seriously. That was a bit flattering but I had to ask them not to make that example about being blind but just being a good chef and student.
Due to matters out of my control, like family and business needs I have slowed down in school and I am only taking a class here and there but I will finish my degree and I am proud to say that blindness has been nothing more than a nuisance on one hand and maybe an advantage on the other. I encourage my peers to follow their dreams and reach out and grab what they want. You have to learn to be assertive and let people know you can do it. I had to treat my instructors with respect but at the same time let them know I was just as capable as any other student in class. I am now a successful Randolph Sheppard Vendor and I love to cater on the side. I turned my nightmare in to a dream come true, I am doing what makes me happy and I think every one should have that opportunity as well, because life without something you love is simply a nightmare.
Connecting the Dotz: Spotlight on GABS
by Isaiah Wilcox
From the Editor: Isaiah Wilcox, a junior at Morehouse College, is the president of the Georgia Association of Blind Students, and also holds a position on the NABS Board. In this article he outlines how he and likeminded students in Georgia were able to build the powerhouse affiliate of the National Association of Blind Students that is GABS. Here’s an update on what Georgia has been up to as well as some insights on building and maintaining a successful student division:
Peter Drucker, the father of modern day management, once stated that, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” Drucker’s idea is that an organization’s structure is not comprised of geniuses and supermen, but rather a dedicated group of individuals who work together to achieve a greater good. This is widely evident throughout the NFB and its many affiliates and divisions.
One prime example of this theory is the Georgia Association of Blind Students. GABS reemerged in 2008 at the NFB of Georgia’s state convention with only ten students, no money, and no plans. The only thing that GABS had was a vision, and passion that encompassed the philosophy of the NFB on a high school and collegiate level. Just a year and a half later, the GABS Board of Directors has managed to raise the membership up to about fifty students and made our vision a reality by having a successful regional seminar, as well as a successful first student convention where the former NABS president, Terri Rupp, was our guest speaker. Please remember, however, that success requires hard work. There are four key concepts that contribute to the success of GABS: excellent communication among the board and membership, frequent consultation with the state affiliate, personal sacrifice and, most importantly, having fun.
A few other recent milestones for GABS include building our own website, maintaining our own finances, and distributing The Connecting the Dotz quarterly newsletter. In addition to working to provide mutual support, changing public and personal perceptions about blindness, and advocating for the rights of blind students to receive a quality education, GABS has been engaged in public service. In January, GABS undertook charitable efforts to collect canned food for the Atlanta Community Food Bank and to raise funds for Yele Haiti, which is a grassroots movement helping to coordinate delivery of emergency services and materials needed by victims of the recent Haitian earthquake. . So often, Blind people are thought to be the beneficiaries of the public good will. This is why it is important for us to work in volunteer capacities; to show that we too can give back and be contributing members of our communities. Furthermore, engaging in public service creates great opportunities for outreach and recruiting new members.
Looking forward into the future, GABS plans to start its “Stalk a College Student Program” in the spring wherein high school juniors and seniors will be paired with students from various colleges and universities in Georgia in order to gain first hand knowledge of college life and to help them to determine what postsecondary institution they would like to attend. We are also in the process of planning our second annual student state convention, which will be held on April 17, 2010, in the Atlanta, Georgia area.
As GABS continues to grow as a division, we feel that it is imperative that we reach out and assist in helping other student divisions grow and develop. GABS has been able to grow because of a strong passionate board of directors, a dedicated group of members, and an extremely supportive affiliate. The size of your division is irrelevant compared to the quality of work that the division is able to accomplish. It is my hope that this article has given you some insight as to how to grow and expand your student divisions to help them reach their maximum potential.
Blind Students and Informed Choice
by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.
From the Editor: Dr. Fredric Schroeder currently serves as the First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, and is also the president of the NFB’s Virginia affiliate. Dr. Schroeder was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in 1994 and served in that capacity until 2001. Dr. Schroeder’s expertise in the field of rehabilitation is most evident in this informative and easy to understand article about the role of “informed choice” in the rehabilitation process. Here is what he has to say:
In 1992 the National Federation of the Blind pressed for amendments to the Rehabilitation Act introducing the words “Informed Choice” throughout the Act. This gave rehabilitation consumers the explicit right to be active participants in the rehabilitation process. In 1998 further amendments to the Act expanded and strengthened the right of consumers to exercise choice throughout the rehabilitation process. But what does it mean to have the right to exercise Informed Choice? There are a number of principles underpinning the concept of choice:
First, choice is not one-sided. In the past all decision-making was vested in the rehabilitation agency; however the concept of informed choice did not grant unilateral decision-making to the consumer. Rather the idea of choice means a give and take, a negotiation, a partnership. For example if an individual needs a piece of specialized technology such as an electronic notetaker, the consumer has the right to research the various available options and indicate which piece of technology the consumer believes will best meet his or her needs. If the consumer makes a reasonable case, the rehabilitation agency may not simply ignore the consumer’s choice. For example if the individual prefers a particular notetaker because it is the one most commonly used by other students at his or her university and, therefore, there are many people available to help provide informal training and other support, that may well be sufficient justification. Another student may select a different piece of technology because it is a newer generation of the technology he or she previously used and, therefore, the student will not require much training to become proficient with the new technology. In other words the student needs to have a cogent reason and be able to articulate that reason to substantiate his or her choice. If the agency disagrees, it falls to the agency to offer a reasonable explanation for its objection. That means that the better job the student does of explaining his or her reason for making a particular selection, the more likely it is that the rehabilitation agency will honor the student’s choice.
Before getting into the specific application of choice as it relates to a student’s need for technology and other services, I believe it is helpful to understand that all services are linked to the student’s employment goal. We tend to think of the rehabilitation process as linear. First the individual is determined eligible, next assessments are used to identify an employment goal, and then needed services are provided, culminating in a good job. In practice, however, I suggest you think of the process as beginning with the setting of the employment goal. For this reason I recommend that you be prepared to articulate an employment goal when applying for rehabilitation services. Do not worry if you do not know precisely what kind of work you want to do in the future. If you are uncertain, you should choose the most ambitious goal consistent with your general interests. For example if you have an interest in working with children, I suggest that you state that you would like to be a teacher, not an instructional assistant or childcare worker. The reason is that your counselor has to show a direct relationship between the services you want and need and the employment goal you have selected. With a goal of becoming a teacher, it is reasonable to ask the agency to assist you in obtaining a college education. It is also reasonable to ask the agency to provide you with a computer and other technology. On the other hand, if you have set a goal of becoming a childcare worker, the counselor may well say that you do not need a college education or a computer to find a job as a childcare worker. Perhaps you have an interest in the law. Again I recommend that you set your employment goal at a high level. You should state that you wish to be a judge or practicing attorney, not a legal secretary or legal assistant. In that way you can reasonably ask for help in going to law school. You can always change your employment goal down the road.
Another reason I suggest you start by thinking of an expansive employment goal is that it is one of the best places to exercise Informed Choice. Unless the rehabilitation counselor can show that your selection of an employment goal is unreasonable, the consumer has great latitude in choosing the kind of employment outcome he or she wishes to pursue. If you state that you want to be an attorney, the agency should support your choice unless there is convincing evidence to show that the goal is unreasonable. That is a fairly high bar, and the agency will be hard-pressed to explain why it is unreasonable. Past academic performance is not necessarily an indicator of future performance. The fact that a student did not do well in the past does not mean that he or she does not have the ability to succeed in the future. At the same time there is no benefit in saying that you want to be a brain surgeon if you have no aptitude for the hard sciences and no real interest in the medical field. Choose a high goal but one that fits your interests and potential career ambition.
In my view a blind student should strongly consider getting good training in the skills of blindness before beginning specific training in the field or occupation he or she wishes to pursue. The best way to get those skills is by attending a residential training program for a period of at least six months. Many states have programs operated by the rehabilitation agency and some contract residential training services from private agencies for the blind in that state. The quality of residential training varies widely, and it is important that you obtain training from the best program you can find. States that have their own training centers or contract with training programs in state may encourage you to attend the in-state program. This may be a reasonable option, however you need to make sure that the in-state option meets your needs and expectations.
In my experience the three orientation centers operated by the National Federation of the Blind are the gold standard. As you look at various options you should measure them against the training offered by one of the Federation’s programs. I recommend that you talk with graduates of Federation centers and with participants and graduates of in-state programs to decide which program best fits your training needs.
Under the law the rehabilitation agency may not restrict its support to an in-state program. It may, however, limit what it is willing to pay to the cost of in-state programs. This is called a “fee schedule,” and it applies to other services as well.
So what is reasonable to expect from the state rehabilitation agency? The following is a list of commonly asked questions and my response:
- Q. Do I have the right to insist on receiving orientation center training from an NFB center even if it is located outside the state in which I live?
- A. Once it is determined that you need orientation center training, the agency may not limit you to training in-state. The agency may, however, establish a fee schedule, that is, limit what it is willing to pay for training to the cost of in-state training. In the case of Federation training centers, the cost is generally far below what it would cost a rehabilitation agency to provide residential training from a state-operated program. The cost of Federation centers is also generally far lower than the cost of other private residential programs. For this reason cost should not be a factor.
- Q. What justification will I need to convince the rehabilitation agency to support training from an NFB center?
- A. There is no specific justification that must be met. It is reasonable for the agency to ask why you prefer training at an out-of-state program. It is also reasonable for the agency to make sure that you know enough about the in-state program to be making a truly informed choice. The more research you do, the better able you will be to make a good choice and to be able to explain your choice. If you can, I recommend you visit the in-state program and the NFB center you wish to attend. If a visit is not practicable, I recommend you talk with current and former students of both programs before making your decision.
- Q. What about university training? May the rehabilitation agency restrict payment of college tuition to an in-state university?
- A. As with orientation center training, the rehabilitation agency may set a fee schedule limiting what it will pay to the cost of in-state tuition at a state supported school. If you choose to attend an out-of-state university and can find the resources to pay the excess cost of tuition, the agency must honor your choice and must pay the amount toward your out-of-state tuition it would pay if you attended an in-state university.
- Q. Are there ever situations in which the rehabilitation agency will pay the full cost of an out-of-state university even if it is more expensive than an in-state program?
- A. Yes. If an out-of-state university offers a program that is necessary to the achievement of your employment goal, and if that program is not offered at an in-state institution, the agency is required to pay the out-of-state tuition.
- Q. Can I insist that the agency buy me a computer for use at home and a notetaker for on-campus use?
- A. The issue is not whether you can or cannot insist on both a notetaker and a home computer. It is a negotiation. The agency may not arbitrarily limit you to only one computer; however it may feel that a laptop computer will meet your needs for a computer at home as well as functioning as a notetaker. If you are able to show why both a home computer and a notetaker are needed, the agency has the responsibility to consider your request and honor it unless it can offer a good reason why it will not. Depending on the nature of the degree program you are pursuing, you may be able to show that a notetaker alone is not powerful enough to enable you to complete the assignments required by your academic program. This will vary from program to program and from student to student. The important thing to remember is that the agency may not limit services simply based on cost. At the same time it is not required to buy whatever you want without some reasonable justification.
Students frequently have questions about how Informed Choice applies to services and equipment needs. The most important thing to remember is that the process is intended to be a collaboration between the consumer and the agency. The more reasonable and thorough you are in making your needs known, the better chance you will have in getting the support you are after.
Finally, remember that your most valuable resource is the National Federation of the Blind. Learn from the experience of other students and do not hesitate to press for the services you truly believe will best prepare you for a lifetime of employment.
Stay involved in the Federation. Go to local chapter meetings, attend state and national conventions and work as hard as you can. The Federation is behind you. Your success is our collective success and your Federation family will be there to support and encourage you at every step along the way.
My Battle for Informed Choice
by David Bouchard
From the Editor: David Bouchard is a recent high school graduate who knew early on that he wanted to attend an NFB training center. Here is what he has to say about his fight to realize that goal:
In the summer before my sixth grade year, I was certain that I was going to attend an NFB training center immediately after graduating from high school, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind was my top choice. I had attended the Buddy Program for two years, which is a summer program for children ages 9-14, and the Teen Empowerment Academy in the summer of 2008 which was a training program for blind teens based in Baltimore. My councilors were inspiring, as were the people I met who were attending or had attended LCB, and I intended to be a part of that.
As a Mississippian, I knew that if I wished to receive out-of-state training, I was going to have to win a major battle. I made the first move in July of 2009, and was told that if I wanted to attend LCB, I could. All I had to do was come up with $3600 a month to pay for the tuition. I expected them to say something similar to that, so I was not surprised when I heard this. The state's argument was that I could receive the same training at the Reach Center for the Blind in Tupelo, which has twisted the Structured Discovery method employed at NFB training centers beyond recognition. I was also told that it cost the state nothing to send me to an in-state facility. I knew that was just a manipulation of money, nothing more because in the end, nothing is truly free. I knew that further meetings and strong perseverance would be required to achieve a positive outcome in my favor.
Several months later, in November, I sat down with my councilor to discuss the matter further. An Individualized Plan for Employment was even drawn up, and in that IPE, it stated that I would be responsible for the main part of the tuition, except for some miscellaneous activity fees. Naturally, I refused to sign the offending document, so no progress was made. I was feeling the beginnings of frustration caused by the state agency.
I decided that the only way to resolve my dilemma was in the form of a hearing. I knew that the regional supervisor and the director were going to deny my request, and the mediation was going to be a waste of time, especially if I lost. So, a hearing it was. Fortunately, I had an excellent attorney, Scott Labarre, to represent me. The hearing was set for February 4, and I had a plan of action which I felt would win the case.
On the morning of February 4, everyone met at the Addy McBryde Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, and my attorney joined us via speaker phone. After the opening statements were made, it was time for me to be called upon to testify.
I was extremely nervous before giving my testimony, worrying that I would stumble and ramble my way through, but felt remarkably calm once I began. My attorney asked me questions concerning my vocational goals, and I said that I planned to major in music education and/or trumpet performance. I wanted to be able to take a class at Louisiana Tech University, and I did not feel that I could accomplish this at the Reach Center. I also argued that the lack of apartment-style living would severely hinder my progress and not give me the confidence I needed in order to be successful in life. Also, there are many more blind instructors at LCB than at Reach. After I was finished with my testimony, I was relieved. Pam Allen, the director of LCB, was also called as a witness in my defense. She confirmed everything I said about the training program, and emphasized the possibility of taking a college course while I was there. So far, everything was going quite well.
It was finally time for the agency to blow their smoke. The Director of Blind Services for the state was the only witness. He read from a prepared document about how, by receiving out-of-state training, I would be taking away many opportunities for blind Mississippians in my area of the state. He also said that if I were successful in getting the agency to pay for out-of-state training, there just might not be enough money for college tuition. I could tell that they were desperate when two videos were shown as evidence, one a promotional video on the Addy McBryde Rehabilitation Center, and the other an incomplete news story on the Reach Center. The pathetic nature of those videos lifted my spirits somewhat.
Eventually, the director stopped droning on, and closing statements were made. In the agency's closing remarks, I was chided for changing my vocational goal from Audio Production to Music Education, but as I pointed out, there had been no changed since officially, there had never been an IPE to change. The hearing lasted for around four hours, and I was thankful to be leaving the building.
On Monday morning, I received the news in my Inbox. The hearing officer had ruled in my favor! I could hardly believe it, but there it was. I signed a revised IPE later that week, and I began my training at LCB on March 8.
I feel grateful that that particular battle has been won, and I will certainly make the most of my time in Ruston. I have learned that we should never take an opportunity such as this for granted, even though it is our right under informed choice. There are states who will try to misinterpret the law, and intimidate you in various ways into changing your mind, but if you have the determination and the will, victory is yours. Never give up, for the law is on our side.