Board of Education and Services for the Blind
DR. DONNA BALASKI, Executive Director
Established - 1893
Statutory authority - CGS Chapter 174
Oldest continually running agency for people
who are blind in the United States.
Central office - 184 Windsor Avenue,
Windsor, CT 06095
Total employees - 89
Recurring operating expenses - $13,906,220
The Board of Education and Services for the Blind is dedicated to providing quality educational and rehabilitative services to all Connecticut adults who are legally blind or deaf-blind, and all Connecticut children who are legally blind or visually impaired. The Board of Education and Services for the Blind envisions a society in which all people who are legally blind, deaf-blind and children who are visually impaired have equal opportunities and benefits within schools, communities and workplaces.
The Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) recently completed its 110th year of comprehensive statewide services to Connecticut’s visually impaired residents. Under CGS Chapter 174, BESB is responsible for the confidential Registry of Persons who are blind in Connecticut, and provides, within available resources, comprehensive services, supports, and adaptive equipment to people of all ages who are legally blind, and to children who are visually impaired. Board members for fiscal year 2002-2003 were Dr. Richard Fairbanks (Chairperson), Mary Brunoli, Salvatore D’Amico, Kenneth Olson, Eileen Akers, Caroline Dodd, and Patricia Wilson-Coker, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, who serves ex officio. The agency is attached to the Department of Social Services for administrative purposes only. Agency administration is the responsibility of the Executive Director, Dr. Donna Balaski, who was appointed by Governor John G. Rowland.
The Connecticut Board of Education and Services for the Blind is the lead state agency in serving adults who are blind and children who are blind or visually impaired. The agency’s primary goal is to help adults and children achieve or maintain their independence and self-sufficiency as fully contributing members of an integrated society. BESB provides (1) certification of legal blindness; (2) social work and referrals for people who are blind; (3) low-vision evaluations and aids to adults who are blind and children who are blind or visually impaired; (4) employment training, job placement, worker retention support, and adaptive technology/equipment to adults who are blind; (5) educational support and transitional school-to-career services to children and adolescents who are blind or visually impaired; (6) financial and technical training and support to women and men who own or want to own their own business; (7) safety, independent travel, and activities of daily living for adults and children.
Services, Equipment, and Books to Increased Number of Clients
The leading causes of blindness are age-related, and as more people live longer, more people call upon services from BESB. As required by law, BESB maintains a registry of residents who are legally blind. In 1990, BESB’s registry contained the names of about 10,100 blind residents. By the end of fiscal year 2003, the registry contained the names of 14,000 blind residents, many of whom required, at one time or another, specialized services, supports, and equipment from BESB.
§ Increased Outreach to and Advocacy Training for Seniors and Minority Populations: The agency has continued expanding upon its outreach and advocacy training for seniors and minority populations, including people who speak Spanish. We also increased the number and sites of our “Hope When Vision Fails” seminars, in which we help newly-blind residents overcome the new challenges in their lives. In FY 2003, we offered these seminars in Manchester, New Haven, Manchester, Waterbury and Torrington.
· We updated our policies and procedures regarding reimbursement to local school districts for educational services provided to children who are blind and visually impaired, and provided associated training to school district staff.
· Through our own internal and external processes, we continued working with various private and public stakeholders to identify ways to improve the current state-local system intended to deliver educational and life-skills support and training to children who are blind or visually impaired. This stakeholders’ group developed a solution to providing equity in the delivery of services to children with vision loss. This led to the enactment of Public Act 03-219.
· We organized and held various summer skills development opportunities for children with vision loss. This programming included four training camps in adaptive technology, job-shadowing experiences with legally blind adults in employment, participation in a summer Upward Bound experience at the Adirondack Leadership Challenge Camp, attendance at the Perkins Transition Program and Youth Leadership Forum Camp, and two independent-living programs for adolescents, focusing on the development of daily living skills (such as shopping, meal preparation, and independent travel), as well as community experiences designed to enhance socialization opportunities.
· We supported the development and implementation of a long-distance learning program for Teachers of the Visually Impaired, allowing for certification through an interagency cooperative with UMASS-Boston.
§ Increased Employer Recruitment: Over the course of the year, we increased our outreach efforts to potential employers, partnering with groups such as the Rehabilitation Advisory Council.
§ We implemented a paperless process for business operations and accounts payable.
§ We increased by 12 percent the number of adults who achieved competitive employment outcomes (compared to the prior year), resulting in $1.8 million in total wages earned by these participants.
§ We received more than $93,000 in additional federal funding for our vocational rehabilitation services. This additional money came to us because we helped Social Security recipients win gainful employment.
§ We conducted a “Meet the Mentors” event on National Mentoring Day, offering job shadowing opportunities and family participation.
§ We provided funding for six clients to establish small business ventures.
§ We updated our vocational rehabilitation policies to introduce further cost efficiencies. These changes allowed us to continue serving all eligible clients within existing resources.
§ We reviewed the layouts and efficiencies operated by our Business Enterprise Entrepreneurs. A plan to renovate and enhance the facilities has been implemented. The improvements will benefit the current and future entrepreneurs and their customers for years to come. Additionally, four new business opportunities were opened this year.
§ We worked with deaf-blind clients and their parents or guardians, to identify changes in program practices and policies to improve services to adults who are blind and deaf and who experience significant cognitive impairments as a consequence of congenital complications.
§ We leveraged support from community-based organizations, expanding our Independent Living Skills program for senior citizens into New Britain, Torrington, Fairfield, Norwich, Bloomfield, Manchester and Hamden. These programs bring together people over the age of 55 who have recently lost vision, primarily due to the aging process. The program teaches basic skills for continuing to maintain home and community living despite vision loss. It provides a mechanism for building natural support for each person as they share a common experience and are better able to help one another overcome the emotional and physical reactions to vision loss while remaining connected to their own communities.
§ Workshop: During this past fiscal year, the Industries program was discontinued as an agency-supported program. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 provides for meaningful and effective participation for individuals with disabilities in activities carried out under the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. Through the provision of independent living services, supported employment services, and meaningful opportunities for employment in integrated work settings through the provision of reasonable accommodations people are only considered to have viable employment; the BESB Industries Program did not allow for these opportunities. In 2000, Dr. Frederick Schrader of the Rehabilitation Services Administration set forth a policy that sheltered workshops such as the Connecticut Industries Program were no longer considered to be an acceptable or viable employment outcome for consumers receiving services through Public Vocational Rehabilitation. Because of these federal policies and regulations, BESB could no longer continue to support the sheltered environment program.
§ Increased vending incomes: In FY 2003, working under our agreement with an outside contractor, we placed additional vending machines on approximately 60 new federal, state, and local public sites across the state.
The Board of Education and Services for the Blind’s Affirmative Action Plan for 2002 was approved and granted an annual filing status by the Commission on Human Right and Opportunities. BESB continues in its strong commitment to the policies, principles and practices that promote equal employment and opportunity in contracts, programs and policies, including affirmative action. The agency has developed and implemented hiring and contracting goals to maintain a diversified work and contracting force, which includes individuals who are blind. All BESB policies and procedures are consistent with state and federal reporting procedures.