2016 is off to a fast start and we have had a busy month here at the Division of Blind Services. Providing the public with easy access to quality information and services is one of the top goals of the Division, and our latest endeavors are doing just that.
I am really excited to announce that we just rolled out our online application for services and online referral forms. The concept behind the online application is that it will provide consumers with the opportunity to directly apply for services through the Division. Potential clients will no longer have to wait for our respective DBS offices to open; referral information now goes directly into the Case Management System and individuals can input their information. This paperless alternative should help to expedite the turnaround time for the application and help our staff move toward determining applicant eligibility.
Thank you to everyone who worked diligently to make the Online Application launch a success.
We are actively implementing data dashboards for our team members across the state. This tool will enable staff who log into the Case Management System to see how the agency is doing in terms of meeting goals – what’s moving and what’s not. This will also help increase efficiency. The data dashboards have been implemented in the Tallahassee District Office and have been a great success. We soon plan to roll it out across the state.
In other systems-based technological advancements, we recently completed a transition to a newly upgraded vendor facility management system for our Business Enterprise Program. Because of the limitations in technology, the previous system operated slowly, experienced down time and lacked reliability. This will be beneficial not just for our staff, but also our operators. The software can also run as a client-server based system or web application. Additionally, we have the option to make enhancements to the software when program changes are required. We’re also working to advance our employment module, which will provide more opportunities for employment.
Lastly, we are in the process of wrapping up our marketing videos. We hope these videos will drive more individuals, businesses and community to become more aware of DBS’ services and enable us to move further in fulfilling our mission. To learn more about all of the great things we have going on around the state, I invite you to read the stories in this month's issue.
Robert L. Doyle III
We are proud to announce that the Florida Division of Blind Services Online Referral and Application for Services is now available. Floridians who are blind or visually impaired, or their caregivers, can easily inquire about or apply for DBS services through the self-service portal. This new system allows DBS staff to process and track applications more efficiently.
The Online Referral and Application for Services are available online or for download in English and Spanish. A Doctor Referral Form (also known as an Eye Medical Report) is also available for download by doctors referring a client to DBS.
To get started, visit https://aware.dbs.fldoe.org/ApplyForServices.
The DBS Innovative Projects Program provides funding to support projects and programs that benefit Floridians who are blind or visually impaired. This year, DBS will award up to $300,000 to not-for-profit organizations that have innovative approaches to providing services to our target population. Project applications are also open to those implementing best practices. Learn more about the program and application process here.
To have your project considered for funding, please apply by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 14.
“The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and DBS staff participated in the See Different Experience during two sessions in January. Some of the exercises included ordering food from a restaurant, navigating an unfamiliar room and identifying items on a desk -- all while blindfolded or using vision simulators. At each station, guests used adaptive technology to complete the designated task.
“The See Different Experience was superb,” said FDOE Director for Family and Community Engagement Hope Williams. “It was informative and thought provoking. I am so glad I had the opportunity to participate.”
Each station illustrated how persons with visual impairments productively live, work and play.
The See Different initiative is intended to showcase how individuals with visual disabilities, like everyone else, possess qualities and capabilities to contribute to, and succeed, in their respective communities.”
Throughout 2016, the Division plans to host forums where clients and DBS employees can directly interact with members of the community and demonstrate how they participate in everyday activities. The activities within these forums include:
- Personal testimonials and success stories;
- Assistive technology demonstrations;
- Education on service animals and the white cane;
- Simulated experiences (i.e., activities with a blind fold or vision simulator); and
- Adaptive sporting activities (e.g., goal ball, beep baseball, etc.).
By showing how blind or visually impaired individuals overcome obstacles in life, employers, teachers and other peers within the community can learn to overcome their own fears and apprehensions toward blindness through these direct experiences.
If you are interested in hosting a See Different Experience in your district or within your organization, please contact Stephanie.Lambert@dbs.fldoe.org.
Kudos on this idea!
I think it is a great opportunity for our sighted colleagues to get a small experience of how the rest of us have to deal with the world around us on a daily basis. Sometimes, people ask me what I can see or what it’s like being legally blind. And sometimes I wish I could just let them look through my eyes for a few minutes. Then they might get a better understanding of what my world is like. But that, of course, is impossible.
And even if they could spend an entire day in my place, that wouldn’t be enough to understand what it’s like when you know there’s no end to the experience or you have to live with it every day. But every little bit of understanding helps. I’m really glad we’re doing this!
Keith Flowers and dog guide Sunny
Director Robert Doyle and other DBS staff members recently had the opportunity to speak during the National Federation of the Blind of Florida’s 2016 State Convention in Tampa, Fla.
During the event, Director Doyle reminded the group of the services DBS provides and updated them on the numerous projects that are in the works, such as the online applications, dashboards and employment modules.
“The Division believes in high standards and quality services,” he said. “Our numbers in terms of 'application to eligibility' exceed the standards. Not only do they exceed the standards that have actually been put in the new Workforce Innovative and Opportunity Act, but also our own even more rigid standards. And though we are doing well, we believe firmly in continuous improvement.”
The activity-packed weekend consisted of general sessions, seminars and special interest discussions that ranged from division meetings to tutorials focusing on the latest in electronics and new products for the blind.
“It is the people of this organization who make us powerful,” National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono said during the convention. “There is still work to be done and our role in society is important. Blind people should live fully and equally in this world.”
Florida Braille and Talking Book Library Bureau Chief Jim Woolyhand reminded attendees that the Library and DBS are there to assist.
“We know that you all have your goals, and we are here to help you achieve those goals,” he said.
Other representatives from DBS who spoke on behalf of the division were Conflict Resolution Program Consultant Walter Blackmon and Florida Division of Blind Services Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Bureau Chief Ed Hudson.
The NFB of Florida is the state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind with local chapters throughout Florida.
The Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) will award seven scholarships to deserving students for the 2016-2017 academic year. BVA, a national non-profit organization concerned with the welfare of blind veterans has been providing service to veterans for more than 70 years.
Six scholarships, for $2,000 each, are available through the Kathern F. Gruber Scholarship Program. The seventh, for $1,000, is being offered through the Thomas H. Miller Scholarship Program. The scholarship committee will select seven recipients and two alternates.
The scholarships are intended to defray a student’s educational expenses, including tuition, books and other academic fees.
Dependent children, grandchildren and spouses of blinded veterans, to include active duty blinded service members of the U.S. Armed Forces, are eligible for the scholarships. Additionally, applicants must have been accepted for admission, or already enrolled, as a full-time student in an accredited institution of higher education, or business, secretarial or vocational training school.
Applications may be obtained by visiting www.bva.org/services.html. You may also mail your request to: Blinded Veterans Association, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314.
Completed applications and supporting material must be submitted no later than Friday, April 15. For more information, visit www.bva.org or contact Chelsey Dumond, scholarship coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-371-8880, Ext. 313.
DBS District 2 staffers Rashad Morgan, Bertha Hyche and Gunjan Bhatnager recently represented the office at Touchdown to Transition. This event was intended to assist middle and high school students who are receiving special education services, as well as families and professionals that provide those services. Information about transition services were shared among other agencies and families at the event.
In December, Rashad and Steve Adams also gave an exciting presentation and showcased a DBS exhibition table at a health fair in Lee, Fla. The staff made many new contacts from other health care and non-profit organizations from surrounding towns.
Upcoming Events for District 2:
- February 17: Florida State Hospital Health Fair, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
- February 18: Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the State Capitol, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
- February 23: Taylor County Senior Day In-Service
- March 11: Advent Christian Village Health Fair
For more information, please contact Ana Saint-Fort at Ana.Saint-Fort@dbs.fldoe.org.
Attending 'Touchdown to Transition' Left me feeling inspired, encouraged and determined to accomplish my goals
By Rashad Morgan, Sr. Rehabilitation Specialist, Tallahassee District Office
On Wednesday January 27, I had the privilege attending Touchdown to Transition, which was sponsored by the Big Bend Transition Coalition. This was an amazing event where dozens of transition students from Leon, Wakulla and Gadsden counties met to obtain information on various agencies and community resources. Students learned about resources and agencies such as Division of Blind Services, Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Florida A&M University Center for Disability Access and Resources and the Tallahassee Community College (TCC) EagleNet program. Students were able to meet with staff, ask questions and build lasting relationships with peers.
The event’s theme was football, and students served as the quarterbacks. Students were provided with blank sheets of paper and had to add resource information to their team. For instance, if a student had a bilateral visual impairment and wanted to attend FAMU, he or she would add DBS and the FAMU CeDAR office to his or her team. It was a joy seeing DBS Transition students, along with their Lighthouse transition specialists in attendance.
At the end of the event, students were able to listen to some of their peers speak about present and past successes. One student spoke about her amazing experience at TCC and her plans to become a physical therapist.
Students also watched a video telling the story of Tim Harris, who was the owner of a restaurant called, “Tim’s Place” in Albuquerque, N.M. Tim was the first restaurant owner in the U.S. with Down Syndrome. His story was truly inspiring and gave testament to the value of love and customer service.
Students were encouraged to never let their disability hold them back from accomplishing their goals and dreams. Ironically, although this event was for students, I left feeling inspired, encouraged and determined to accomplish my own goals and dreams.
DBS Director Robert Doyle and K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons read “The Secret Code” by Dana Meachen Rau to first grade students at Kate Sullivan Elementary School in Tallahassee, Fla. in honor of Braille Literacy Month.
Following the reading, with assistance from DBS staff member Adam Gaffney, each of the students and teachers were presented with copies of their names written in Braille. Based on their smiles, the kids enjoyed seeing and feeling their names in the dotted format.
Today, in virtually every language throughout the world, Braille is the standard form of writing and reading used by visually impaired persons.
For decades, the number of Braille users has been on the decline. While there are many reasons for the decline of Braille, technology that converts text to speech has been identified as a major factor. However, more than 150 million people continue to use Braille around the world today for a variety of reasons.
Through the Florida Department of Education’s Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, students with visual disabilities work with teachers who are trained specifically in visual impairments to learn important skills such as reading Braille and how to navigate a classroom using a cane or a guide dog.
Persons with a disability often face unique challenges when trying to save for future needs. Due to restrictions on holdings, assets and net worth, traditional savings options for persons with a disability may have compromised the continued receipt of federal or state benefits in past years.
The Florida ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Program will offer savings accounts to individuals with disabilities. These tax-free savings accounts can be used to save for disability-related expenditures without jeopardizing the eligibility for Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicaid benefits.
The expected program start date will be on or before July 1.
For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1O2GEo6
Every vendor in the Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) program has a respective story of how he or she lost their vision. The stories are varied and the reasons are many. Some tell of accidents, disease or heredity, but few may be as dramatic as the story of Sead Bekric.
Born in Bosnia, Sead lost his sight at age 14 when a shell hit the field while he was playing soccer with friends. He was evacuated and relocated to Los Angeles, Calif., but doctors were unable to save his sight. More than 20 years later, the determination that helped him and his family survive a war zone is now assisting him on the start of a new career path.
Sead, who earned his undergraduate degree in international relations and a master’s in international studies, has operated a restaurant and owned his own company for three years. In December 2014, he decided to apply his skills to the Florida Bureau of Business Enterprise program. He began his training in January 2015 and was licensed in May 2015.
In July 2015, he was awarded and accepted a demanding vending route in Orlando. Sead admits it wasn’t an easy transition. He would have to move, purchase a vehicle and hire staff. However, he proved to be up to the challenge and is well on his way to a successful career as a vendor in a BBE facility.
District 2 Administrator Ana Saint-Fort, Children’s Counselor La’ Verne Scott and Employment Placement Specialist Steve Adams participated in the Children’s Day at the Capitol, sponsored by United Way of Florida, on January 26. The State Capitol Rotunda and Courtyard had more than 1,000 children and parents. There were approximately 77 organizations that participated in this year’s event. The State Capitol Rotunda was lined with paper cut-outs of children’s hands, which displayed the children’s artwork.
The event was full of educational and interactive activities for all children, parent, advocates, community leaders and policy makers. The activities ranged from a Storybook Village, to guided tours and a town hall meeting.
The day’s activities were presented in a fun and informative atmosphere of learning.
Many children went all out and dressed as a character from one of their favorite storybooks. Steve read in the Storybook Village, an interactive reading arena for children to explore stories and characters from various books. All of the children received a free book from the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region.
Lighthouse of the Big Bend (LBB) also participated in the 2016 Florida’s Children’s Week Storybook Village. The Storybook Village brought together more than 100 partners who gathered to host interactive reading booths for children.
With the help of Lighthouse Specialists Lindsay Stratton, Jennifer Crowder and the Lighthouse’s Development Director Yolanda Robles Hue, the LBB read to many groups of children who visited Storybook Village. The LBB’s interactive booth included a braille version of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,” with tactical elements for the children to feel. Each child left with his or her name typed out in braille. Not only was this event an opportunity for the LBB to promote literacy amongst children, but also to demonstrate how some children with vision impairments read and experience the same book as their sighted peers.
Lighthouse of the Big Bend is proud to be a Children’s Week partner and will continue to participate in Storybook Village in the years to come. Storybook Village allows LBB to raise awareness and give back all at once, two things that LBB is committed to doing in the communities it serves.
- Douglas Tatro, Lakeland
- Dale Durham, Orlando
- Meghan Althafer, Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
- Melissa Finley, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Ashley Barron, Pensacola
- Tricia Bauer, Client Services
- Nadia Hercules, Sunrise
- Doreen Minott, Sunrise
- Regina White, Gainesville
- LaDenise Ramski, Daytona
- Janet Chernoff
- Keith Flowers
- Stephanie Lambert
- Rashad Morgan
- Ana Saint-Fort
- La’ Verne Scott
325 West Gaines Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
To request a Braille version of this edition of The Visionary, contact the Braille and Talking Book Library: Maureen.Dorosinski@dbs.fldoe.org or call 800-226-6075