DBS Celebrates 75 Years of Fostering Independence for Blind and Visually Impaired Floridians
On April 22, the Florida Division of Blind Services (DBS) will commemorate its diamond anniversary. This year’s theme, “Celebrating 75 Years of Fostering Independence for Blind and Visually Impaired Floridians,” asks us to reflect on our past and proudly recognize the accomplishments and individuals who have made DBS a success.
Seventy-five years ago, our community came to life when the Florida Legislature established the Florida Council for the Blind. Since then, DBS has provided new opportunities for the blind and visually impaired community, fostered significant partnerships and established programs and services to ensure stronger outcomes for the blind. During the past 75 years, countless blind Floridians have benefited from the educational, vocational, medical, social and recreational services the Division provided.
To our clients, I want to say that it’s our privilege to serve you. This agency exists for you, and we are committed to your success. To DBS staff across the state, it is an honor to work with you. Your dedication is commendable. To our partners, thank you for working with us to ensure we consistently advocate for consumers and find ways to exceed our goals.
This year’s anniversary serves as a reminder that we still have work to do in fulfilling our mission. Since 1941, we have made vast strides in attacking the attitudinal barriers and lack of technology access that have hindered clients from fully participating in our society and our workforce, yet we recognize there is still quite a ways to go. Looking to the future, we continue to charge toward our goal of Florida being a barrier-free environment for residents with visual disabilities. With recent developments, such as connecting more transition-aged students to meaningful work experiences, enhancing our outreach to employers and implementing a new job readiness program at the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, we are well on our way.
Together, we continue to shine as a national model in education, employment and other services that foster independence for blind and visually impaired Floridians. As we recommit to fulfilling the mission of the division – ensuring that clients have the tools, support and opportunities necessary to achieve success – we look forward to the continued advancement of programs designed to strengthen the success of our clients in our classrooms, in the competitive job market and in our communities.
As we commemorate 75 years of services, we plan to kick off our year-long celebration at our Daytona campus. We will honor our staff, clients – past and present – and others. Along with many outreach opportunities throughout the year, we will host regional celebrations and technology expos for the community, as well as launch our “Successful 75” program, which will recognize 75 individuals, organizations and businesses who represent and/or are committed to fostering independence to blind and visually impaired Floridians.
Happy 75th anniversary, DBS!
Robert L. Doyle, III
The Florida Division of Blind Services will celebrate 75 years of providing services to the blind and visually impaired community during its kick-off Anniversary Ceremony and Expo, April 27 from 2-6:30 p.m.
Hosted on the DBS Daytona campus, the event will include educational sessions, business networking opportunities and a technology expo, featuring displays and informative demonstrations. The 75th Anniversary Ceremony will begin promptly at 4 p.m., and feature guest speakers who have been influential throughout the progression of the agency. During the program, DBS administrators will also recognize individuals, organizations and businesses who have remained steadfast in the advancement of independence for persons who are blind and visually impaired.
DBS Client Rachel McCullough, an associate at Landis Graham French law firm in DeLand, will serve as the keynote speaker. At 17, Rachel was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, where she immediately plugged into the Division of Blind Services and began learning to live as a person with low vision. She attended the University of Florida and Liberty University School of Law, after which she began her legal career as a criminal prosecutor for the 7th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.
Exhibits and pre-ceremony educational sessions will begin at 2 p.m. Session topics to include:
- Getting To Know You — Gain a brief overview of the Division of Blind Services' programs and services. Hear from Division Director Robert L. Doyle, III as he discusses his goals for moving the agency forward;
- Table Talk with Employment Experts — Hear from DBS employment experts about the benefits of hiring our job-ready clients, the services DBS offers for employers, and how the Division can help your company meet 503 Compliance and other hiring goals.
- See Different — An interactive forum to showcase how individuals with visual impairments, like everyone else, possess qualities and capabilities to contribute to and successfully live, work and play in their communities;
- The Real Stories of The Business Enterprise — Learn ways of becoming a successful business owner and financially independent through the BBE program, which provides training, vending and food service opportunities, start-up capital, and support to blind vendors; and
- Peer Panel — A panel discussion with DBS clients, staff, parents and others sharing their personal journeys of overcoming barriers and striving towards self-sufficiency.
This free family-friendly experience will also feature a Kids Zone, where children, ages 5-12, can participate in fun sensory activities.
The 75th Anniversary Ceremony and Expo will be the first of several outreach opportunities the Division will host throughout the year. For more information, to RSVP or to request exhibit space, contact DBS75@dbs.fldoe.org or call 850-245-7858.
In honor of DBS’ 75th anniversary, the Division has launched its “Successful 75” program, which will recognize and honor the contributions of individuals, organizations and businesses that represent and/or are committed to fostering independence to blind and visually impaired Floridians.
Each month, up to seven honorees will be presented with a medallion emblazoned with the 75th anniversary logo, and highlighted in the DBS newsletter and social media pages.
To nominate an individual, organization or business for the “Successful 75” award, please see the following criteria:
- “Successful 75” Business Award — Business must demonstrate a sincere investment in working with and providing opportunities for persons who are blind or visually impaired, via recruitment and hiring practices, reasonable work accommodations and the creation of an inclusive workplace. To nominate, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DBS75_businesspartner_nomination
- “Successful 75” Client Award — Individual must demonstrate a high level of leadership, perseverance, independence and determination to be successful. To nominate, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DBS75_client_nomination
- “Successful 75” Community Advocate — Individual or organization must be committed to the betterment of persons with visual disabilities. Nominees should be model individuals and/or organizations whose actions provide(d) inspiration and a lasting impact towards the advancement of the blind and visually impaired community. To nominate, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DBS75_communityadvocate_nomination
- “Successful 75” Community Partner — Through selfless advocacy on behalf of blind and visually impaired Floridians, nominee(s) should demonstrate a commitment to quality services, collaborative efforts with DBS and other partnering agencies, and high ethical standards of operation. To nominate, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DBS75_communitypartner_nomination
- “Successful 75” DBS Employee — This individual must demonstrate instances of high level job performance, impeccable customer service, promotion of company values and confidence in the abilities of those living with visual disabilities. To nominate, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DBS75_employee_nomination
For more information, contact DBS75@dbs.fldoe.org or 850-245-7858.
The Division’s professional attire drive, “Suit Up!,” was a huge success. During the month-long initiative, DBS collected nearly 1,500 high-quality items statewide. The donations included men’s and women’s suits, ties, blazers, shirts, pants, belts and shoes.
Volunteer Florida and Uber, who hosted a first-of-its-kind #SuitsForSession service project March 1, also donated more than 900 items that had been collected from Florida’s state agencies. Combined, we have almost 2,400 items to make available to clients.
Items will be provided to clients who are in need of professional wear for job training courses, entering or re-entering the workforce, or looking to advance their careers. A priority for the agency is to assist persons who are blind or visually impaired in obtaining and maintaining employment. For many, these donated items will serve as a step toward independence.
“As those we serve seek employment, the items we are making available today may lead to a greater opportunity tomorrow,” DBS Director Robert Doyle said. “Jobseekers can go into an interview with confidence and be better prepared. ‘Suit Up!’ was a necessary initiative that will help position our clients who want or need these items to achieve success.”
Director Doyle also expressed his appreciation to all those who participated in this event, including those who made donations, our community rehabilitation partners and district offices that served as collection sites.
In the last year, the Division provided employment services to 5,203 clients, and assisted 761 individuals gain, maintain or advance in successful employment.
More than 45 students recently participated in the Northeast Florida Braille Challenge, which was held at the main library in Jacksonville. This competition is focused solely on visually impaired students and their fluency in Braille. For a visually impaired person, Braille is integral to accessing the world.
“This event provided a platform for families to come together and bridge that gap,” said Jacksonville area Independent Living/Children’s Program Counselor Kristen Robinson. “Not only did the families have a chance to meet and build friendships, the students were also given the chance to shine.”
For many of the students who attend this event, it is the highlight of their year. This academic stage allows the students to test and showcase their skills.
One of the students, Savannah Lindberg, voiced how she looked forward to this event all year long. Her excitement for the competition was visible as she kept bouncing with anticipation. Another student, Kyah Palmisano, was extremely excited to surpass her previous year’s third place win—which she did!
Kyah left the Braille Challenge as the first place winner. Once the event was over, both she and her mother met with Kristen to discuss her win. Kyah’s mother pointed out how much of a self-esteem boost the Braille Challenge was for her daughter.
Seth Persful was another student who attended the competition this year. He struggles with accepting his vision and tends to shy away from anything that would draw attention to his eye condition. Attending this event was a great feat for Seth; and while he did not win the competition, his mother felt that he won much more. She mentioned how happy she was seeing Seth interact with other students who are working to overcome similar obstacles.
Braille is the foundation of these students’ academic careers and future endeavors, but less than 10 percent of visually impaired individuals are Braille readers. Providing these students with an opportunity to take pride in their abilities was such an honor for DBS, as well as other sponsors.
“Knowing that we all played a part in preparing these students to be successfully employed and independent adults who contribute and participate in society,” Kristen said, “is the best reward.”
The Division of Blind Services Florida Rehabilitation Council Quarterly Meeting and Public Forum is scheduled for May 11-13 in St. Augustine.
- May 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (207 San Marco Ave, St. Augustine, Florida 32084)
- May 13 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. – Hampton Inn & Suites Vilano Beach (95 Vilano Road, St. Augustine, Florida 32084 )
Public Forum to which all interested individuals are invited
- May 12, 2016 from 5 to 6 p.m. – Hampton Inn & Suites Vilano Beach
The Florida Division of Blind Services helps individuals with visual impairments achieve employment and independence under Title 1 of the Rehabilitation Act.
For more information, contact Selena.Sickler@dbs.fldoe.org.
Regular physical activity is good for everyone’s health, and people of all ages and body types can be physically active. Activities that engage people in becoming happier, healthier and more energetic at work can be beneficial and fun.
Workplace wellness programs have been shown to lower levels of stress; increase well-being, self-image and self-esteem; improve physical fitness; reduce weight and raise health awareness.
May is Employee Health & Fitness Month. Challenge your colleagues to get healthy — mentally and physically— by making a game of it. Set up an award or point system that encourages camaraderie and healthy lifestyles.
Sample challenges could include:
- A minimum of seven hours of sleep – get one point every day that you sleep for a minimum of seven hours.
- Physical exam or health screening to understand your current health condition – two points if you take the exam during the Challenge.
- Drink 32 oz. of water during the work day to stay hydrated and avoid fatigue – earn one point each work day that you drink 32 oz. of water on the job.
- Exercise for 30 minutes – every 30 minutes counts for one point.
- Avoid the elevator – get a point every time that you take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Eat five servings per day of fruits and/or vegetables – get one point for each serving of fruit or vegetables.
- Prepare healthy meals – earn one point for each healthy meal that you eat, two points if you share a healthy snack with a colleague.
- Express sincere gratitude to someone – Earn a point each time you express sincere gratitude to someone – up to three points per day.
- Volunteer at a community organization – discover the needs of others in your community and put your talents and skills to work. Earn two points per hour.
- Read a fun book – relax and lose yourself in a good book. Earn two points per book you finish.
- Sign up for something that you have always wanted to do or learn. Three points for each activity.
When in doubt, check it out
If you are unsure of your health status, have health problems or are pregnant, speak with your doctor before starting a new diet or exercise program. Working with your doctor ahead of time can help you plan the diet and exercise program that's right for you. And that's a good first step on your path to physical fitness.
Volunteer recognition and appreciation are important elements of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) Volunteer Service Program. Accordingly, the BVA National Board of Directors established the David L. Schnair Volunteer Service Award. David L. Schnair was one of the early members of the Blinded Veterans Association and served as a BVA volunteer for 47 years.
The award may be given to any BVA member or auxiliary member who has provided at least one year of consistent and outstanding service as a BVA volunteer.
Regional group presidents should submit a letter to the BVA Field Service Representative and the National Field Service Director, by traditional mail service or email, of volunteers recommended for the award.
Nominations should be mailed to the attention of the national field director at the BVA National Headquarters, 125 N. West Street, 3rd Floor, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314.
Nominations must be submitted no later than Friday, April 15. For more information, visit www.bva.org.
Many people living with a disability struggle to find the resources they need to make financial decisions. The following guides are intended to reach those by providing awareness about the extensive financial assistance available for persons with disabilities:
Scholarships Guide for Students with Disabilities: Scholarship Guide for Students with Disabilities/
Independent Living Guide: Home Modification for Disability/
Employment Placement Specialist Spotlight
Kesha M. Royster — District 1 Pensacola/Panama City
I often tell my clients to consider me as their “who you know.” Whether you agree or not, we live in a society that thrives on connections. This tapestry of association is necessary for networking, business development and even growth. This is made possible through countless social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook. And let’s not forget the various civic and social groups to which we belong, either personally or professionally.
One of the key pieces of advice that I received was that connecting with my local Chamber of Commerce was going to be beneficial as I matured in this new role. At the time, I was very green and I didn’t realize that of the 10 counties that I served, five different Chambers existed. How do you eat an elephant? Well, one bite —and in my case, one Chamber —at a time.
As a job developer, having the ability to keep my finger on the pulse of the business community is so important. The Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce has given me the tools and connections necessary for me to be successful in my position. One thing you learn as a job developer is that people do business with whom they “know,” “like” and “trust.” As a result, I’ve had two clients hired and another placed in a work experience. These are the types of connections that are possible when there is a thriving commerce present.
Also, on several occasions, I have been provided the opportunity to educate businesses on the mission of DBS and the services that we offer. I can’t express the positive exposure that the Division of Blind Services is receiving because of the membership.
I’m grateful to everyone who was a part of getting the entire Employment Placement Specialists team a membership to our local chambers.
When her career as a skincare specialist was not working out as planned, Kinesha Cole began to look into the Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) program. Her training had taught her how to run a business, but in chilly Missouri, there wasn’t enough demand for her services.
She began researching BBE programs, and soon after, packed up, relocated to Jacksonville and applied to the Florida BBE program. She moved in April 2014 and was in the BBE training class at the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired by August of that same year.
Kinesha finished her on-the-job training in Tallahassee, Fla. and was licensed in February 2015. She signed into her first facility, a snack bar in the Collins Building, only three months after she was licensed. From the start, Kinesha hit-the-ground-running. She dealt with the challenges of her facility efficiently and with a professional attitude. Issues like limited resources, problem employees and challenging customers were quickly dealt with. In less than a year, she has established a customer loyalty program, purchased uniform shirts for herself and her staff and has had a website developed for her business.
For now, she is committed to her snack bar, but it’s clear that she is destined for bigger things.
Alex Coleman Showcases His Knowledge of Braille to the WUFT News Network
DBS Client Alex Coleman was recently featured in an article for Braille Literacy Month for North Central Florida’s WUFT news network. Alex’s new job as a systems analyst and programmer at Gainesville Regional Utilities has once again proven Braille technology’s utility. Although Alex is totally blind, with the usage of a Focus 80 Refreshable Brailler, he has the ability to write code that is oftentimes minimally 80 characters long and sometimes as many as 200 characters per line.
“When I have my screen reader reading code to me, it’s a good overview,” Coleman said. “But to get down to the nitty gritty details, I need Braille. A misplaced comma can throw off an entire program.”
Coleman started learning Braille at the age of five — before there were as many of the resources available today. Although he uses the screen reader 80 percent of the time, he wouldn’t encourage the blind community to use that as an excuse not to learn Braille.
“With the knowledge of Braille, it opens so many doors for those who are blind in terms of access to higher paying and higher skilled jobs,” said Senior Rehabilitation Specialist Mary Ann Hastings.
To see the full article, visit http://bit.ly/1n8cHs0.
In the News
Music icon Stevie Wonder recently used his platform at the Grammy’s to bring to light the importance of accessibility. While opening the envelope to announce the winner in the “Song of the Year” category, he revealed that the recipient’s name was written in Braille.
"I just want to say before saying the winner — we need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability."
To view the clip, click here: Stevie Wonder Video Clip
Department of Labor’s New Tool Helps Employers, Recruiters Ensure Accessibility of Online Applications and Recruiting Systems for Jobseekers with Disabilities
In March, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) announced the launch of “TalentWorks” – a free online tool that helps employers and human resources professionals ensure accessibility in their web-based job applications and other recruiting technologies for job seekers with disabilities.
Created by ODEP’s Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), TalentWorks provides general background on accessibility and e-Recruiting, as well as practical tip sheets for making online job applications, digital interviews, pre-employment tests and resume upload programs accessible.
PEAT created the tool after its national survey of people with disabilities found 46 percent of respondents rated their last experience applying for a job online as “difficult to impossible.”
TalentWorks synthesizes ideas and solutions that PEAT has gathered from employers, advocacy organizations, job applicants and technology providers. It is the latest enhancement to a suite of tools and resources PEAT offers to improve the employment, retention, and career advancement of people with disabilities through the promotion of accessible technology.
For more information, visit PEATworks.org.
To better reflect the diversity of students it serves and how it has evolved over the years, The Hadley School for the Blind has changed its name to Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Founded in 1920, Hadley remains the largest provider of distance education for people who are blind and visually impaired worldwide.
“Nearly a century after our founding, Hadley serves a broad spectrum of individuals with vision loss, including those with low vision. Although we will always support people who are blind, there is an ever-growing population of older adults experiencing age-related vision loss who may never become fully blind. As part of our evolution, we are expanding our programs and services to meet their needs,” said Hadley President Chuck Young.
The name change also better informs the public that Hadley’s programs and services are geared to individuals ages 14 and up.
In late 2015, a small group of blind students from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB) took a field trip to their local Beach 105.5 radio station. There, students learned about the Beach 105.5 “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign and a concept called “permission marketing,” Students learned that permission marketing is a process where customer consent is obtained at every step of the scripted sales pitch.
Students pre-recorded 1.45 second ads for the company incorporating the “Don’t Text and Drive” theme, and then placed the actual sales calls with the assistance of Beach 105.5 radio staff assistance. Students made calls to local businesses and interested companies had the opportunity to buy air-time. Students learned valuable skills during this off-campus job exploration experiences and it represented an exhilarating new partnership for the Career Education Department. The project was coordinated through Director Andrea Armstrong.
After the initial December meeting, students contemplated whether they were interested, and two intrepid individuals finally stepped up to the plate. One of those students was Trent Ferguson. Trent is an amateur radio historian whose love of radio began in the cradle. Trent’s grandfather learned he could soothe Trent’s crying fits with Roy Orbison songs. By the time Trent was seven years old, he was regularly calling Sirius XM live radio shows with requests for his favorite 60’s tunes. A mature and polite young man, Ferguson supports the “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign on a personal level. If he is riding in a vehicle and suspects the driver is texting, he insists that the driver pulls over to the side of the road.
Student Iesha Thompson immediately showed a knack for sales. Thompson typically demonstrates a calm and composed manner, but her Beach 105.5 helper, station disc jockey JT, agreed that during the sales calls, Iesha sounds “almost bubbly.” Iesha enjoys herself so much that she believes telemarketing might be in her occupational future.
Both of these enterprising and talented students were successfully marketing by mid-January, and radio station staff are thrilled with their work.
“We simply came up with the ‘Don’t Text and Drive’ telemarketing campaign to see what would happen,” said Station Manager David Ayres. “It was a sell-out! The kids who called local businesses were always upbeat and positive, even when their sales pitch was rejected. They also participated in the radio production with their voices on-air. Their keen sense of ‘sight through sound’ is a talent we capitalized on and the kids got paychecks as well.”
He also noted that their programming and sales departments are working on more ideas for career partnerships with FSDB.
- Ashley Barron, Pensacola
- Selena Sickler, State Office
- Rachel Weeks, Palmetto
- John Henderson, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Mark Steinman, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Jennifer Phaneuf, State Office
- Katie Starling, Gainesville
- Jeffrey Molzow, Rehab Center
- Kathryn Hood, Rehab Center
- Keisha Willis, State Office
- Mitchell Clark, State Office
- Shanique Baker, State Office
- Mary Grant, Daytona
- Hilda Zapata, Orlando
- Shelby Radford, Rehab Center
- Donna West, General Services
- LaToya Mitchell, State Office
- Pamela Ortiz, Miami
- Margaret Mills, Braille and Talking Book Library
During the Rehabilitation Council of the Blind Quarterly Meeting, Lynn Ritter was recognized for a 36-year career with the Florida Division of Blind Services. Her final day will be May 31.
In 1980, Lynn began her career with DBS as a secretary I. In 1989, she was promoted to a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and two years later, she was promoted to a rehabilitation supervisor. In 1998, she was promoted to a rehabilitation services district administrator, and later promoted to her current position as a program administrator —where she has served for the past seven years. In this position, her focus is quality assurance and policy.
Through quality assurance site reviews, Lynn has directed a team of field staff comprised of district administrators and supervisors in conducting case reviews to determine compliance rates with the rehabilitation services administration. As a result, our agency compliance rate is currently set at an impressive 90 percent.
Lynn also heads up the policy team of state office staff focusing on policy making and review to ensure DBS’ policies align with the Code of Federal Regulations, and that the work supports the mission of ensuring that blind and visually impaired Floridians have the tools, support and opportunities to achieve success.
She has been instrumental in maintaining current policy manuals and procedures, providing technical assistance to the field and training staff across the state to ensure seamless provision of services to clients.
These are just some examples of the remarkable contributions Lynn has made to DBS and to the field of vocational rehabilitation. Her career has been a model of loyalty and commitment to excellence. Through her work over the years, she has touched the lives of her colleagues and clients in immeasurable ways.
Lynn will surely be missed and her colleagues wish her the best as she begins her new journey.
- C. Boortz
- Janet Chernoff
- Mary Ann Hastings
- Stephanie Lambert
- Kristen Robinson
- Kesha M. Royster
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