Our Communities Are Stronger When Everyone Lives Up to His or Her Full Potential
Welcome to the latest edition of the Visionary newsletter. This issue brings in news from around the state, with stories on Helen Keller Day, the Family Café, Professional Development Classes in Orlando and the 75th Anniversary Regional Ceremony and Expo.
As Florida’s community of consumer organizations, service providers, agency staff and advocates continue to recognize our Diamond celebration, July 26 also gave us the opportunity to pause and recognize the 26th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the past, many presumed that having a disability meant a life of dependence. The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities and assures equal opportunity to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications. It’s all about equal access and opportunity.
Today, we recognize that people with disabilities can and are leading independent lives. DBS is pleased to be part of the work that helps put people to work! Our communities are stronger when everyone is able to live up to his or her full potential. I believe that successful businesses recognize that incorporating disability in all diversity and inclusion practices positively impacts their organizational goals. DBS is working with the Department of Management Services (DMS), Department of Education, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and a host of others in order to create a platform to recognize and incentivize businesses that do just that.
DBS is also pleased to be part of a workgroup, led by DMS, to increase the employment of persons with disabilities in state jobs. This new initiative is the result of legislation passed earlier this year. We are excited about the impact that it will have on helping more people actively engage and in workforce.
Last year, we set a 10-year record with 761 successful closures. This year, we far exceeded that standard. Through partnerships with our Community Rehabilitation Programs, the Division of Blind Services provided employment services to 5,237 customers and helped 841 individuals gain, maintain or advance in their vocational goals. These are new records for our agency and represent great progress for our consumers. These accomplishments are due to the hard work of the entire community.
Thankfully, with legislation such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), public and private organizations have a broader awareness of how we can all work together to expand employment for all. DBS is partnering with CareerSource Florida locations throughout the state to put together collaborative agreements to ensure that our resources and efforts are maximized so that even more clients are able to lead independent lives.
I believe our successes were evident during the 75th anniversary celebration in Fort Myers. I had the opportunity to hear numerous stories of triumph, perseverance and success. From Mr. John DiMarco, an entrepreneur who is making a difference for the blind community in the Fort Myers area, to Florida SouthWestern State College student Crystle Fliss, whose emotional testimonial of being hired left many guests in tears -- we were challenged, inspired and motivated to continue this great mission.
We do great things here. And with this team of advocates, we will continue to be a model agency for the blind and visually impaired.
Robert L. Doyle, III
State and Local Leaders Celebrate DBS’ 75th Anniversary in Fort Myers
DBS continued its commemoration of fostering independence to the blind and visually impaired on July 28 during the regional ceremony and expo in Fort Myers.
“As a state and nation, we have come a long way over the last 75 years in terms of how individuals with disabilities are treated, a fact in which all Floridians can take great pride,” Commissioner Stewart said. “I am honored that the Department of Education has been able to increase accessibility and inclusion for Floridians in the blind and visually impaired community, and we are committed to ensuring that progress continues so everyone who touches our system has the greatest chance at a successful future.”
The ceremony and expo featured educational sessions, sensory activities for children, business networking opportunities and a community and technology showcase. Organizations and companies from around the region also attended, and a business luncheon, presented by Hands on Educational Services, Inc., provided companies with information regarding training programs and discussed the benefits of hiring individuals with visual impairments and other disabilities.
The event welcomed more than 150 guests, and featured several community members who have played an important role throughout DBS history, including Commissioner Stewart, former president for the American Council of the Blind Paul Edwards, and current and past members of consumer organizations and direct service providers.
Entrepreneur and former DBS client John DiMarco served as the keynote speaker. DiMarco lost his vision more than a decade ago to a retinal detachment, transitioning him from blurry vision to total blindness. He has made it his mission to help others by designing tools for assisted mobility and special apps, and he offers one-on-one training for individuals who need assistance in learning how to use these products.
DiMarco, who received his training from the Lighthouse of Collier in Naples and DBS’ Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Daytona Beach, told the audience that persons with visual disabilities are just as capable as any fully sighted person.
“I am grateful for the outreach, training and assistance DBS provided to me as a client,” said DiMarco, a Naples resident. “Through the division and other community advocacy groups, I now have better access to opportunities for employment.”
Triathlete Rachel Weeks also gave a testimonial during the ceremony. There was a time when Weeks believed that having Usher Syndrome, a condition affecting both vision and hearing, meant certain goals were outside the realm of possibility. Through education and athletics, she discovered that is not the case. Weeks, who has been participating in triathlons all over the country, told the audience her mission is centered on cultivating paths and moving toward possibilities.
“What I have learned is that conditions do not determine our reality,” Rachel said. “Our reality is determined by our focus. Once we decide we can do it, we persevere.”
To view more photos, visit the DBS Facebook page.
Michael Hunt is one of the many clients with the Division on Blind Services (DBS) in Orlando. In the past, Michael was a professional wrestler. Today, he is looking to change his career and is seeking employment in the area of access technology.
Like many DBS clients, Hunt has worked with his counselor and employment specialist to develop a positive resume that will communicate to an employer what a valuable employee they could have working in their organization.
The Orlando office is now working to go a step further to present a polished image in the interview process. Hunt and several other clients have taken part in a training that helps them improve their presentation skills. During this process, they explore how to talk openly with an employer about their visual impairments, provide demonstrations on how they will complete their tasks in the office, learn how to present positive body language, how to dress professionally, ensure that they have a positive attitude during the interview, and most importantly, communicate that they are the best person for their employment opening to the employer.
Hunt and many others are benefitting from the information in this mock-interview process. The counselors are seeing marked differences in their clients, including improved self-esteem and a renewed excitement as they work to accomplish their vocational goals.
To learn more about the professional development courses, visit the following YouTube page: https://youtu.be/mJ3i6e0R9FQ
DBS Director Robert L. Doyle, III, read “I Am Helen Keller” by Brad Meltzer to summer campers at Gilchrist Elementary School in celebration of Helen Keller Day. During the reading, Vocational Rehabilitation Interpreter Stefanie Fenton used sign language for the children to see how the words appear in sign language.
Following the reading, the students and camp counselors participated in a few sensory activities. Students were asked to identify familiar scents while blindfolded, such as coffee grounds, popcorn, garlic and onions.
Born in Tuscumbia, Ala. in 1880, Helen Keller developed a fever at 18 months that left her blind and deaf. With the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan of the Perkins School for the Blind, Helen learned sign language and Braille. A few years later, she learned to speak. As an adult, she became a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a presidential proclamation designating the last week of June as “Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Week.”
In 1929, Keller appeared before the Florida Legislature to speak on behalf of a bill increasing the appropriation for work among the blind in Florida. In her speech, she said, “…all over the country the work of the blind is increasing and an appreciation of their problems is becoming more widespread. There are now 25 states in which there is some department that has to do with aiding of the blind. The blind have the same ambitions as those who see. They want the same things. They do not want charity, but want some useful occupations and also some of the sweet satisfactions of life."
Keller was well received, but the bill did not pass. She visited again in 1941. This time the bill passed, being the catalyst for what is now the Florida Division of Blind Services.
Since 1998, The Annual Family Café has brought together thousands of individuals with disabilities and their family members for three days of information, training and networking. This year's 18th Annual Family Cafe once again included more than 160 breakout sessions on relevant topics, a series of engaging keynote events, an exhibit hall with dozens of booths and plenty of opportunities for connecting with other families.
This was the second year 14-year-old Z’Leah Liburd attended the event. A student at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Liburd enjoyed walking through the multi-sensory room hosted by The Morgan Project.
Her cousin, Marie Morton Williams, said she was pleased with the assortment of information and resources available for families. “There are a lot of networking opportunities at the Family Café,” she said. “This conference is also great for the kids because they are comfortable knowing there are other children out there like them.”
The Family Café is intended to help policy makers understand what daily life is like for the people with disabilities and families they serve, and to giving attendees a chance to better understand the policy making process by hearing from the governor, legislators and state agency representatives directly.
Director Robert L. Doyle hosted a breakout session where attendees were given a brief overview of DBS, its programs and services, and program trends and updates.
Governor Rick Scott spoke during the Governor’s Summit on Disabilities. He told the audience he remains committed to ensuring all Floridians have the opportunity to live independently.
“We want all Floridians to have the opportunity to get a great job,” he said. “We will continue to do all we can to ensure the Agency for Persons with Disabilities has the resources to help them to offer their important services.”
Senator Andy Gardner, R-Orlando, also spoke during the event and provided an update on the Legislature's work on behalf of Floridians with disabilities. He encouraged all the parents to stay positive and remember how special their children are.
“I always say that my child doesn’t have a disability, he has a unique ability,” the legislator said.
The quarterly new employee orientation was held May 10-12 at the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Daytona. The purpose of the training is to give an overall view and promote awareness and understanding of the role the Division of Blind Services (DBS) plays in the implementation of rehabilitation services for visually impaired and blind individuals.
This was accomplished by providing hands-on activities and presentations. Presenters from the Rehabilitation Center included Ed Hudson, Holly Ryan and Steven Perry. Kathy Acevedo gave a presentation and tour of the Talking Book Library. Executive Director of the Conklin Center Robert Kelly spoke to the new employees regarding the referral process for the center.
DBS District Administrator Phyllis Heath presented an overview of VR policy while Shelanda Shaw highlighted the importance of good customer service with the "Give 'em the Pickle" training. During the segment, the group heard examples of how excellent customer service can bring the “customer” back and discover how staff can value add to DBS’ services (giving customers the pickle).
Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott invited Florida K-12 students to participate in the 2016 Hispanic Heritage Month essay and art contests. This year’s theme, “Honoring Hispanic American Heroes: Veterans, Military, Law Enforcement and First Responders,” focuses on the brave men and women who have and continue to protect the state and country.
The Hispanic Heritage Month art contest is open to all Florida students in grades K-3; two winners will be selected. The Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest is open to all Florida students in grades 4 through 12. Three winners will be selected: one elementary student (grades 4-5), one middle school student (grades 6-8) and one high school student (grades 9-12). Winners will receive a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.
Parents, students, teachers and principals are also encouraged to nominate outstanding Hispanic educators for the Hispanic Heritage Month Excellence in Education Award. This award is open to all Hispanic, full-time educators in a Florida elementary, middle or high school. Three winners will be selected: one elementary school (grades K-5) teacher, one middle school (grades 6-8) teacher and one high school (grades 9-12) teacher.
All entry forms and guidelines for the contests, as well as additional information about Florida’s Hispanic Heritage Month and other related events, can be found at www.FloridaHispanicHeritage.com.
Completed forms must be mailed to Volunteer Florida, Hispanic Heritage Month Committee, 3800 Esplanade Way, Suite 180, Tallahassee, Florida 32311; faxed to 850-921-5146 or emailed to HHM@VolunteerFlorida.org.
All entries must be receivedno later than 5 p.m. (EDT) on September 9.
Florida Department of Education’s leadership team hosted a Public Service Appreciation Breakfast to say “thank you” to staff for their hard work throughout the year. Public Service Recognition Week honors the men and women who serve as federal, state, county and local government employees. First Florida Credit Union sponsored the celebration.
In 1966, Jim Parkman had to make a major decision. He could open and operate a cabinet shop or he could go back to school with the ultimate goal of getting a law degree. He had been approached about DBS’ Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) program in Georgia and Florida, but initially turned it down. After further consideration, he entered the Florida BBE program.
He began his career as an assistant operator in the Vehicle Assembly Building in the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The program was run differently than it is today. Training consisted of only eight weeks of on-the-job training and the operators were treated more like employees than business managers. They turned the monies and expenses into the State of Florida, which would pay the vendor.
Parkman operated his facilities in this manner for nearly 30 years. Today, operators are contracted by the program to operate a facility. They manage the facility and are responsible for all aspects of the business, including hiring staff, purchasing product and filing a monthly business report.
After two years as an assistant operator, Parkman was the first operator in a new facility in the Headquarters Building at KSC. Parkman spent 30 years at KSC before moving to another new facility, the I-10 Welcome Center in Escambia County, west of Pensacola. Two years later, Parkman took on the challenge of being the first operator in a third new facility, the I-95 Welcome Center in Nassau County, north of Jacksonville. The two facilities were almost 400 miles apart, but Parkman agreed to operate both until a new operator was found for the Escambia County location.
Parkman has operated the Nassau County Welcome Center for 17 years, which gives him a record breaking 50 years in the Florida BBE program. Parkman says that he plans to run his operation for least another 20 years.
By David Darm
In the 1990s, I attended St. Johns Country Day Lower School in Orange Park. Being a school that prides itself in providing a superior college-preparatory program, I was one of the few students who had a disability. Not knowing at the time how to articulate the way my visual impairment impacted my learning needs, I had to rely on my family and teachers to be my advocates. One of these exceptional individuals was Christy Comer, my first grade teacher. Ms. Comer, who now teaches second grade, invited me to speak to her students recently about my experience growing up with a visual disability. My mother, sister and guide dog, Ranger accompanied me.
Throughout the school year, Ms. Comer’s students learned about the qualities of a “superhero” and how they overcome challenges in life, such as tackling difficult math problems, learning to read and resolving challenges with friends.
Working off this theme, I shared with the class that one of my favorite superheroes is Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men Comics. I picked this person because he fights for individuals who, like him, have unique abilities and advocates for their peaceful coexistence with the human race. I used this analogy to explain how I needed advocates, like Ms. Comer, to help me overcome barriers related to my disability in order to learn alongside my sighted peers.
As a student, Ms. Comer would enlarge my math tests and tape the pages together in order to make the numbers really big. I recalled how day-to-day schoolwork was hard because it took me twice as long to read; however, Ms. Comer encouraged me to never give up.
As I look back, I realize these experiences instilled in me the qualities to become my own advocate. One of these traits was perseverance. I joined JROTC in high school simply to prove that I could do the marching and running despite being visually impaired. This helped prepare me for the physical challenges of working with a guide dog and to eventually become an active runner in my community.
I told the students that I could be a “Professor Xavier” for others with disabilities to help them overcome their own challenges and become successful in life. This would not have been possible without heroes in my life, like Ms. Comer, who believed in my abilities and paved the way for my growth, learning and eventual independence as an adult.
Though considered legally blind, former DBS client Ronald Adams is the author of 10 books and is planning to write more. He was recently featured in the Daytona Beach News Journal for his memoir, “No Mountain Too High to Climb.” The book covers 56 years of his life, beginning with his birth into a family of migrant workers. It recounts the cruelty he endured in school because of his race, the victories and failures of his youth and his perseverance in the face of a brutal illness.
When Adams moved to Palm Coast in 2005, his vision was failing in both eyes. Glaucoma eventually claimed the sight in his right eye. He said he also lost most of his teeth and had trouble with fluid building up in his body. He battled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, potential heart problems and failing kidneys. On June 12, 2007, he lost both his right eye and the use of his kidneys. Dialysis kept him alive. The following February, he began to write and illustrate a children’s book, “The Adventures of Junior and Mousey in the Land of Puttin Pow—Don’t Talk To Strangers.” He managed this with the aid of high-powered reading glasses and a magnifying lens. He wrote three books this way.
“The only relief I had was to go home and write,” he said. “And that’s when my computer broke down.”
DBS stepped in and bought him a new computer. Terri Titus, DBS senior rehabilitation specialist, said she's impressed with Adams’ self-motivation.
“You’ve got a prosthetic eye, you’ve had a double transplant, you’re trying to work with diabetic retinopathy, being legally blind — these are all extreme challenges,” she said. “You know, a lot of people would just give up.”
To read more about Adams’ story, visit http://www.news-journalonline.com/article/20160327/NEWS/160329581
In the News
Terezinha Guilhermina’s vision loss is slowly advancing. The Brazilian sprinter was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that causes gradual vision impairment.
When she first thought about pursuing her dream of competitive running some 20 years ago, her vision was already diminishing, but it was the lack of money — a problem with which many Brazilians are familiar—that caused her the most trouble.
In order to compete in athletic events, proper running shoes were necessary, a luxury that from the 1990s to the early 2000s Guilhermina couldn’t afford. She started swimming — it wasn’t her first choice, but, she reasoned, she already had a bathing suit. It was Guilhermina’s sister who, for the good of Brazilian sports and the history of the Paralympics, was able to find shoes for the fleet-footed sprinter.
Heading into this summer’s games, Guilhermina is without a doubt one of the biggest favorites to capture the hearts and minds of the Brazilian public. After breaking the world record for the 100-meter race on her way to earning two gold medals in the 2012 London Paralympics, Guilhermina entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest blind woman in the world.
To read more, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/terezinha-guilhermina-brazil_us_573f36f9e4b0613b512a1551?Impact+skin=Impact&
- Carla Craver, Fort Myers
- Myra Hamrick, Tampa
- Cesar Vigo, Miami
- Antonishia Hendricks, Miami
- Persell Scott, State Office
- Ana Saint-Fort, Tallahassee
- Janet Chernoff
- David Darm
- Keith Flowers
- Stephanie Lambert
- Shelanda Shaw
- Jeff Whitehead
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