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 authorityCGS Sec. 10-293 through 10-311(a)

Central office - 184 Windsor Avenue,

             Windsor, Connecticut, 06095 

Web address - www.ct.gov/besb

Total employees – 123

Recurring operating expenses - $19.6 million

Organizational structure - Within the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB), there is an Administrative Division that oversees the overall agency operation; an Adult Services Division that serves as the central intake for clients of the agency and provides independent living training services to adults; a Children’s Services Division that provides Braille instruction and support to children who are blind or visually impaired and technical assistance to school districts; a Vocational Rehabilitation Division that helps adults who are legally blind obtain and retain employment; and a Business Enterprises Division that offers entrepreneurial opportunities to people who are blind.

    

 

 

Mission

The Board of Education and Services for the Blind is responsible for initiating, coordinating and implementing the education and training of Connecticut's children with blindness and visual impairment in order to maintain their academic, physical, emotional and social progress at age level, grade level or diagnosed ability level.  BESB also serves Connecticut's adults with blindness 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 independence and self-sufficiency.

 

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 as required by statute. The agency provides comprehensive independent living services, adaptive aids and devices and volunteer supports, among other rehabilitative services, to adults who are legally blind or deafblind and children who are visually impaired, legally blind or deafblind, with a goal of maximizing independence and community inclusion.  Under the provisions of Connecticut General Statutes Section 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, deafblind 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. The agency also provides reimbursement to school districts for the costs of hiring Teachers of the Visually Impaired on their own.

     For adults who are legally blind or deafblind, services include independent living instruction such as training in safe cooking techniques or community travel using a long white cane or white support cane.  Vocational rehabilitation services, including the sponsoring of post-secondary education and training where applicable, are available to enable eligible clients 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 clients who are experiencing vision-related impediments on the job.

    Entrepreneurial opportunities are available through the Business Enterprise Program, providing eligible clients who are blind with the ability to operate businesses in the food services industry and at newsstands and gift stores at government locations throughout the state.

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

    The agency has a Board that is appointed by the Governor and the leaders of the General Assembly. Its members are Alan Sylvestre (Chair), Eileen Akers, Christine Boisvert, William DeMaio, M. Carolyn Dodd, Carol Gillispie, Patrick Johnson, Jay Kronfeld, Dr. Chris Kuell, Randa Utter, Betty Woodward and Michael Starkowski who, as the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, serves ex-officio. 

 

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 residents who are legally blind.  Founded in 1893, BESB is the oldest state agency in the nation for people who are blind and that proud heritage is reflected in the agency’s dedication to public service.

 

 

    For fiscal year 2009, the registry for the agency grew to 12,166 clients. A total of 821 newly blind individuals were added to the registry, 572 of whom, or 70 percent, were age 65 or older.  Of that total number of new clients, 106 were children, bringing the total number of children on the registry to 1,071.

 

    The agency primarily delivers services through itinerant means, going into the homes, schools and places of employment of BESB clients to deliver rehabilitative evaluations and training.  In total, nearly 27,000 hours of direct rehabilitative services were provided to clients of the agency in fiscal year 2009, reflecting an increase of 10.4 percent over fiscal year 2008. Additionally, over 6,600 hours of outreach, consultation and public education services were provided to educators, community providers, employers and vending locations in fiscal year 2009, an increase of 6.8 percent from the prior year.

 

     In fiscal year 2009, the agency provided over 3,700 hours of direct Orientation and Mobility services to teach safe travel techniques to children and adults, an increase of over 23 percent from the prior year. In addition, the agency provided over 2,000 hours of Rehabilitation Teaching services to increase safety and independence in daily living tasks, representing an increase of nearly 16 percent over the prior year. BESB Social Workers provided more than 1,800 hours of independent living services, including adjustment to blindness counseling and referrals to community providers, an increase of 6 percent from the previous year. In collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut (NFB-CT) and the Connecticut Radio Information System (CRIS), services through NFB Newsline grew to 984 subscribers who gained access to state and national newspapers through touchtone telephones. Those subscribers accessed NFB Newsline more than 21,000 times during the year, with a total of 6,500 hours of news information delivered. Over 37,000 electronic newsletters were also sent to these same subscribers during the year.

 

     Opportunities for entrepreneurial employment in food service and retail operations at locations such as courthouses, government office buildings, community colleges, postal sorting facilities and such popular tourist locations as Hammonasset Beach, Rocky Neck Beach and Gillette’s Castle are provided through the agency Business Enterprise Program (BEP). This program is administered under both the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act and Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-303.  The Business Enterprise Program is completely self-funded, with income derived from commissions on vending machine sales at state, federal and municipal buildings and properties throughout Connecticut.  Through these commissions, the program funds the opening of new locations and renovations to existing locations. In addition, funding from vending machine commissions is utilized to cover the cost of medical benefits for these entrepreneurs who are blind. Participants of the program also receive training and support services through Field Representatives from the agency. In total, almost 7,000 hours of training and support were provided during fiscal year 2009, a 2.3 percent increase over the previous year.  Forty-six entrepreneurs participated in the program during the past federal fiscal year. These entrepreneurs employed an additional 75 workers within their operations, 17 percent of whom also had disabilities.   Combined gross sales for these business ventures grew to over $5.2 million.  The combined total earnings of these 46 entrepreneurs also grew, approaching $1.4 million. 

 

     The agency provided the services of its own Teachers of the Visually Impaired to 114 school districts across the state, at no cost to cities and towns, for direct instruction and consultation services to maximize the participation of children who are blind or visually impaired in public education.  Over 8,500 hours of educational assistance, with over half of those hours in Braille assessment and training, were provided to students served by the agency in fiscal year 2009, an increase of 11.8 percent over 2008. For the 21 school districts that directly hired or contracted for their own Teachers of the Visually Impaired, the agency provided over $1.6 million in funding reimbursements. Pursuant to Section 10-295 of the Connecticut General Statutes, the agency disbursed an additional $650,000 across 132 school districts at the completion of the fiscal year, based upon each district’s enrollment of the statewide total of 101 Braille learning students and 728 non-Braille learning students.

 

     Through the provision of Vocational Rehabilitation services, authorized under Title I and Title 6, Part B of the federal Rehabilitation Act, as amended, the past federal fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, saw the total number of individuals who achieved successful employment outcomes increase to 130. Cumulative annualized earnings for all vocational rehabilitation clients reached $3.28 million, reflecting a 26 percent increase over the prior federal fiscal year. The program served 972 participants, with 164 new applicants for services during the year.  Vocational Rehabilitation staff delivered over 1,700 hours of employer outreach and education services in state fiscal year 2009, an increase of 24 percent over 2008.  In addition, the Vocational Rehabilitation division provided over 1,700 hours of direct vocational counseling services to clients served in the program. Transition school-to-work initiatives to prepare high school students for employment and post-secondary education included seven summer programs in state fiscal year 2009, providing 75 opportunities in activities such as career exposure, mentoring, independent living skill development and leadership training.

 

Improvements and Achievements 2008-09

  • With a goal of providing timely and integrated services to clients and reducing staff travel time, the agency launched a pilot model for centralized service delivery in December of 2006, providing clients with an option to receive low vision examinations, rehabilitation teaching, mobility instruction and social work services at the agency all in one visit. Since its inception, this initiative to grow the agency’s efficiency and, more importantly, provide greater convenience to our clients has proven increasingly successful.  The results have been very encouraging, with 444 services provided since the program’s launch, including 144 such services during last fiscal year alone.  In addition, 176 adaptive devices were provided to clients in FY 2009 for a total of 534 devices dispensed since the inception of this model.    

 

  • Specialized services to children increased considerably in fiscal year 2009.  Orientation and Mobility instruction grew from approximately 1,150 hours provided in 2008 to almost 1,700 hours in 2009, an increase of 46 percent.  A 16 percent increase was seen in the area of adaptive technology services, from 561 hours in 2008 to 653 hours in 2009. The agency also provided 361 hours of specialized Rehabilitation Teaching to help legally blind and visually impaired children achieve greater independence in daily activities.

 

  • The Children's Services division provided two parent education events in fiscal year 2009, in recognition of the crucial roles parents play in their child’s educational development.   A November event was presented by Mike May, a successful business executive and sports enthusiast blinded at the age of 3.  He provided an inspirational presentation to 25 parents and 17 students.  In June, a second event attracted 40 family members.  The workshop was presented by BESB pre-school and special services staff and focused on the needs of children with multiple impairments including vision loss as well as deafblindness.  Cortical Visual Impairment was the major topic of instruction.

 

  • In addition to the parent education events, Children's Services launched a new parent newsletter, which was published in the fall and again in the spring.  It highlighted BESB services and upcoming events, as well as providing information on a variety of topics of interest to families of children who are blind or visually impaired.  It has been distributed to nearly 1,100 families statewide.

 

  • Working with the Department of Transportation, town planners, and traffic engineers, BESB Orientation & Mobility specialists provided intersection design recommendations to increase the safety of pedestrians who are blind. In concert with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency successfully pursued a change in Connecticut law that enables people who are blind to utilize BESB Certificates of Legal Blindness to obtain handicapped parking permits.    

 

  • Eleven group training events were held for children during the school year, with a total of 90 participants.  Among this past year’s activities was the formation of a Student Advisory Council that has elevated the role of the students to active participants in the development, planning and implementation of these training programs.

 

  • The agency designed and implemented a new residential independent living training program for transition-age students to experience college life at Southern Connecticut State University.  The program provided the students with opportunities to live in a dormitory, prepare meals, travel independently on the campus and explore career options.  

 

  • BESB achieved a new level of equality for agency clients by supporting a regulation change through the legislature that now allows people who are blind to own the equipment provided by this agency for their rehabilitation needs. While individuals with other disabilities have historically owned rehabilitative equipment provided to them by state agencies, this had not been true for people with blindness until the regulatory change occurred. 

 

  • Individuals and organizations provided over 27,000 volunteer service hours to the agency and its clients during fiscal year 2009. BESB clients were directly assisted by volunteers with such daily living activities as grocery shopping and reading mail.  Volunteers also assisted the agency with transcribing books and materials into Braille.  The estimated value of these volunteer hours to clients and the agency itself exceeded $550,000.

 

  • Combined efforts from agency volunteers, including the continued collaboration with the Department of Correction for inmate volunteers, resulted in a total of 175 textbooks being transcribed into Braille for use by school children who are blind, an increase of 22 percent from the prior year. These volunteer transcriptions enabled the agency and the state to save over $81,000 in book purchases.

 

  • BESB collaborated with the Commission on the Deaf and Hearing Impaired to design and produce an Emergency Communicator for hospital staff to utilize when persons with deafblindness seek emergency room care.  These tactile booklets will help these patients overcome significant communication barriers with medical staff at times of urgent medical need. The Communicators have been distributed to hospitals across the state.

 

  • The agency’s Strategic Planning Committee is an ongoing source of initiatives to expand upon the traditional assistance BESB offers its clients and the broader community.  Under one initiative, the agency, in collaboration with the Department of Administrative Services, created and produced a large print calendar for clients with reduced vision to keep track of medical appointments and upcoming activities.  Since this calendar was produced in-house, it cost far less than commercially available versions, and it was tailored specifically to BESB clients.  The agency also produced an Emergency Planning and Safety Manual to help people who are blind or visually impaired to prepare for fire emergencies and natural disasters.  This manual was produced in large print, Braille, audio cassette, compact diskette in both English and Spanish.

 

  • The agency undertook a public information radio campaign last year which educated Connecticut residents on the availability of BESB services for persons age 55 and over who are experiencing the later onset of blindness.  In addition, the awareness effort alerted motorists to the presence of pedestrians with blindness and the need for driver caution and also included outreach for potential agency volunteers.

 

  • The number of vending machines which support entrepreneurial employment for clients of the agency rose to 864 locations during fiscal year 2009, with a total of 1847 vending machines, reflecting a 3.3 percent increase over the previous year.  Overall customer satisfaction with the level of vending services and support remains high. With over 350 site surveys conducted, there was an increased average customer satisfaction rate of 4.5 out of 5, or 90 percent.

 

  • Results of an independent client satisfaction survey conducted by the University of Connecticut show that Vocational Rehabilitation clients remain very satisfied with agency services, with an overall rating of 8.02 on a scale of 1 to 10. Eighty-six percent of those asked reported a positive experience working with their counselor. Satisfaction levels with Rehabilitation Technology and Adaptive Equipment Services, crucial to vocational success, were the highest ever reported, with 84 percent of those that utilize these services being very satisfied. Overall satisfaction with services arranged by counselors, at 87 percent, is also the highest ever reported.   Finally, the survey also showed that 89 percent of respondents would recommend BESB’s Vocational Rehabilitation services to a friend.

 

  • The agency purchased 339 Braille books and 746 large print books for school children and loaned an additional 98 Braille and 312 large print books through the agency library to students to enable them to fully participate in classroom learning.  The agency also added over 3,000 volumes to its lending library during the year.  There are now just under 50,000 catalogued volumes in one central location available at no cost to Connecticut’s students who are blind or visually impaired.

 

  • The agency organized and conducted seven full days of training throughout the year for non-BESB classroom teachers, paraprofessionals and other service providers who work with students who are blind, visually impaired or deafblind.  The training sessions provided information on instructing children who read Braille, children who read large print and children who are nonverbal due to additional disabilities.  Ongoing Braille instruction classes were also taught, with 18 paraprofessionals regularly participating at four conveniently located sites across the state.  

 

  • BESB’s success in meeting the performance benchmarks set by the former BESB Monitoring Council, achieving all 21 measures, led the Board of Directors to retire many of those targets.  This year, the agency and the board have been actively redesigning and updating the benchmarks to meet the agency’s strategic priorities for timely and effective service delivery.

 

  • BESB was awarded nearly $183,000 in reimbursement funds from the Social Security Administration as a result of clients served by the agency achieving gainful employment and transitioning off of disability benefits.  

 

Information Reported as Required by State Statute

     The Board of Education and Services for the Blind remains committed to the achievement of workforce diversity.  The Board of Education and Services for the Blind’s Affirmative Action Plan dated October 15, 2008, received Full Approval from the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). One new hire occurred within the reporting period, in the specialized service category of certified teacher of the visually impaired. The agency provides a diverse and inclusive work setting. Members of traditional minority groups represent nearly one out of five employees and 64 percent of all employees are female.

 

     BESB also prides itself as a model of opportunity for persons with disabilities and strives, by example, to eradicate historical and mistaken prejudices. BESB employs 11 persons with blindness, comprising nearly one out of every ten employees. In addition, last year the agency created its first-ever Diversity Committee.  The Committee assembles a diverse group of employees from throughout the agency, facilitating a free exchange of ideas and initiatives to educate the entire agency on issues of cultural sensitivity and diversity.  BESB continues in its strong commitment to 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. All BESB policies and procedures are consistent with state and federal reporting procedures.