Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB)

 
At a Glance

 

BRIAN S. SIGMAN, Executive Director

Keith L. Maynard, Deputy Executive Director

Established – 1893

Statutory authority – Conn. Gen. Statutes, Sec. 10-293 through 10-311(a)

Office - 184 Windsor Avenue, Windsor, Connecticut, 06095 

Web address- www.besb.state.ct.us

Total employees – 110

Recurring operating expenses- $19.5 million

 

 

 

Mission

 

The Board of Education and Services for the Blind is responsible for initiating, coordinating, and implementing the education and training of Connecticut's blind and visually impaired children in order to maintain their academic, physical, emotional, and social progress at age-level, grade level, or diagnosed ability level.  BESB serves Connecticut's blind adults through ongoing educational, vocational, and living skills programs in order to empower them to achieve employment success in their chosen profession and to enhance their self-sufficiency.

 

Organizational Structure

 

    Within the Board of Education and Services for the Blind, there is an Administration Division that oversees the overall agency operation; a Fiscal Services Division that oversees purchases and payments for services and Data Processing; a Human Resources Division that coordinates all personnel matters; an Adult Services Division that serves as the central intake unit for the agency and further addresses independent living training services; a Children’s Services Division that provides direct Braille instruction and technical assistance to towns regarding the education of children who are blind or visually impaired; a Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division that assists adults who are legally blind to obtain and retain employment; and a Business Enterprises Division that offers entrepreneurial opportunities to people who are blind.

 

 

Statutory Responsibility

  

     The Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) operates under the authority of Chapter 174 of the Connecticut General Statutes and maintains a confidential registry of people who are blind in Connecticut per statutory requirements.  The agency provides, within available resources, comprehensive independent living services; adaptive aids and devices, and volunteer supports, among other rehabilitative services to adults who are legally blind or deaf-blind, and children who are visually impaired, legally blind, or deaf-blind with a goal of maximizing independence and community inclusion.  Under the provisions of Connecticut General Statute 10-295, the agency provides to any school district upon written request the services of teachers of the visually impaired to address the vision-related developmental needs of students who are blind, deaf-blind, or visually impaired.  Services to students often include the provision of large print or Braille textbooks, adaptive note taking devices, and low vision magnifying aids to facilitate participation in classroom learning.

 

      For adults who are legally blind or deaf-blind, services may include independent living instruction such as training in safe cooking techniques or community travel using a white cane.  Vocational rehabilitation services, including the sponsoring of post-secondary education and training in applicable circumstances, is available to enable eligible consumers to achieve gainful employment.  The agency works with employers in job placement activities and also to implement strategies that result in the retention of employment for consumers who are experiencing vision related impediments on the job.

 

      Entrepreneurial employment is available through the Business Enterprises Program providing eligible blind consumers with the opportunity to manage businesses in the food services industry and at newsstands and gift stores at public locations throughout the state.

 

      Public education activities on topics related to blindness are offered on an ongoing basis to senior centers, local education agencies, community rehabilitation providers, civic groups, elderly service provider networks, and employers.

 

      The agency has a Board whose current membership includes Alan Sylvestre (Chair), Eileen Akers, Christine Boisvert, M. Carolyn Dodd, Mary Brunoli, Elizabeth Woodward, and Patricia Wilson-Coker, Ex-Officio, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services.  The agency is linked with the Department of Social Services for administrative purposes only. 

 

Public Service

 

     The Board of Education and Services for the Blind is the lead state agency for the coordination and provision of services to Connecticut consumers who are legally blind.  Founded in 1893, the agency’s dedication to public service is reflected in the proud heritage of being the oldest state agency in the nation for people who are blind.

 

    For fiscal year 2005, the registry for the agency reflected 10,791 consumers.  A total of 917 newly blinded individuals were added to the registry, 69 percent of whom were over the age of 65.  Of the total number of new consumers, 114 were children, bringing the total number of children on the registry to 1,199.

 

    The agency delivers services primarily through itinerant means, going into the homes, schools, and places of employment of BESB consumers to deliver rehabilitative evaluations and training.  Given that legal blindness precludes an individual from driving and that public transportation is limited in many rural areas of the state, this method of service delivery has proven to be a valued and desired approach by consumers.

 

      For the Vocational Rehabilitation Program at the agency, effectiveness of services is assessed through a review of consumer satisfaction survey data and the level of performance on the standards and indicators established through the federal Rehabilitation Act.  State vocational rehabilitation agencies are required to achieve passing scores on at least two of the three “primary” indicators and four of the six overall indicators.  For the past fiscal year, BESB achieved all three primary indicators of performance and five out of the six overall indicators. BESB ranked second highest in the nation for agencies serving the blind in the category of employment achievement as a percentage of all program outcomes.  BESB ranked third highest in the nation for agencies serving the blind in average hourly wages for consumers achieving an employment outcome.  Survey data found that 93 percent of consumers would recommend BESB services to a friend.

 

      Within the Children’s Services Division, service delivery effectiveness is most evident in the level of requested agency service from school districts that has resulted from the implementation of  Public Act 03-219.  This relatively new law offers school districts the choice of having BESB provide the services of teachers of the visually impaired to students, or the school district can choose to make their own arrangements.  In school year 2005, nine additional districts requested BESB services compared to the prior year, bringing the total number to 115 school districts served.  Effectiveness of service delivery within this division is further assessed through caseload size, as prescribed by a formula within Section 10-295 of the Statutes. The agency has actively worked to reduce caseload size during the fiscal year, achieving a 16 percent reduction from the prior year through the hiring of additional certified teachers of the visually impaired.

 

     The Business Enterprises Program’s effectiveness is assessed through the number of entrepreneurial situations that are available to consumers of the agency.  In fiscal year 2005, seven new locations were added, bringing the total number to 44 managerial opportunities. In addition, eight consumers were trained and placed into food service management opportunities, bringing the year-end total number of blind vendors to 37.  The Business Enterprises Program is completely self-funded, with income derived from commissions generated through vending machine sales at state, federal, and municipal locations in Connecticut.

 

      Within the Adult Services Division, program effectiveness is assessed through the direct provision of services that enhance the quality of life for people who are blind. In fiscal year 2005, orientation and mobility services to teach safe travel techniques were completed for 627 consumers. In addition, rehabilitation-teaching services that address independence in daily living tasks such as cooking were completed in 369 situations. Beyond the completed intakes for 917 new consumers, Adult Services staff also processed 245 follow up activities for consumers whose life circumstances brought about additional requests for assistance.

 

Improvements/Achievements 2004-05

 

·            Through the provision of services by the Vocational Rehabilitation Division, consumers earned a combined total of $1.9 million in annual salaries and wages during the past fiscal year, with an average hourly wage of $15.04 per hour.

 

·            The agency provided adaptive technology devices such as speech to text software, large print magnifying software, and Braille note-takers to 425 consumers.

 

·            Specialized low vision services to maximize the use of remaining vision was provided to 1,115 consumers.

 

·            Through the BESB Low Vision Center, 374 consumer assessment and training sessions were provided in the use of devices that enhance residual vision.

 

·            An additional 237 vending machines were installed into towns served by BESB, bringing the total number to 1,588 machines. BESB now has a presence in 137 towns in the state, providing services that are rated high in consumer satisfaction, averaging 4.33 out of five points.

 

·            The agency provided group independent living and self-advocacy training to seniors with low vision, serving 128 older adults during the fiscal year.  These Independent Living Groups were provided through a cooperative effort with senior centers or assisted living facilities in West Hartford, South Windsor, Mansfield, Enfield, Stamford, Norwalk, Bloomfield, Milford, New Haven, Manchester, and Waterbury. 

 

·            “Eye-Openers—Helping Older Adults with Severe Vision Loss” conferences were organized and co-sponsored by BESB and the area agencies on aging in East Hartford and North Haven. These conferences provided staff and volunteers of regional elderly service provider networks with information on how to identify signs of vision loss in senior citizens and provided the participants with resource information regarding access to services.

 

·            Through continued collaboration with the Department of Corrections, 50 inmates, 30 of whom are certified in Braille transcription, generated 96 Braille books at an estimated savings of $38,000 to the state.

 

·            The agency purchased 467 Braille books and 992 large print books for children and loaned through the agency library an additional 133 Braille and 308 large print schoolbooks to students to enable full participation in classroom learning.

 

·            The agency Business Office generated over 6,000 purchase orders for services, adaptive equipment, low vision devices, eye examinations, vocational training and other services or commodities to assist the blind constituents of the State of Connecticut to achieve greater levels of independence.

 

·            BESB expanded summer transition school-to-work programs offering a new internship experience at Business Enterprise locations to seven students and a new residential mentoring camp to seven participants.  In total, through summer independent living and transition school-to-work programs, 51 training opportunities resulted.

 

·            The agency organized and conducted seven full days of training throughout the year for classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, and other service providers who work with children who are blind or visually impaired in schools.

 

·            Parent Education Training was provided to over 40 parents.

 

·            A newly developed training seminar for low vision doctors was offered, with 29 eye doctors attending.

 

·            Increased stakeholder involvement through the development of a Low Vision Committee to review and update guidelines for low vision care sponsored through the agency.

 

·           Strategic planning implementation continues with the participation of the Board of Directors, State Rehabilitation Council, BESB Monitoring Council, Agency Consumer Advisory Committee, and the Statewide Committee of Blind Vendors, with efforts this year focusing on the development of a consumer needs assessment survey instrument.

 

Information Reported as Required by State Statute

 

     The Board of Education and Services for the Blind’s Affirmative Action Plan for 2005 was approved and granted an annual filing status by the Commission on Humans Rights and Opportunities.  BESB continues in its strong commitment to the policies, principles, and practices that promote equal employment 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.