DBS Sets New Record
I am pleased to announce that we did it again! Through partnerships with our Community Rehabilitation Programs, the Division of Blind Services provided career assistance to more than 5,000 individuals and helped 854 clients to gain, maintain or advance in employment. The triumphs of this past fiscal year exceed the record set in the prior fiscal year.
These successes represent great progress for our agency and our community. Our accomplishments are due to the hard work of the entire team of providers, advocates and staff. Congratulations to each of you for making a difference. Each number represents a real person, and our combined achievements mean that our blind and visually impaired clients are in a better position to meet their individualized and family based financial needs.
As we embark upon this new fiscal year, our focus and strategy remain clear: DBS is committed to deliver on its purpose – to assist persons who are blind and visually impaired achieve success. We need to ensure that we have the right people in the right positions to help further our goals. We must keep our focus on delivering quality services, putting our consumers first. We will look at our structure for service delivery, review compliance needs in light of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and engage with our stakeholders to set new targets to help more clients achieve success.
The Family Café Offers Resources and Support to Thousands During Annual Conference
This year's 19th Annual Family Café was held June 16-18 in Orlando. For 8-year old Jacques Williams of Tampa, it was a chance to learn about the latest gadgets that can help him in school and at home. Williams, who was joined by his mom, Telicia Washington, enjoyed several breakout sessions throughout the three-day conference.
Since 1998, The Annual Family Café has brought together thousands of individuals with disabilities and their family members for information, training and networking.
DBS Director Robert L. Doyle III, spoke during the Governors’ Summit on Disabilities at the Family Café. He was joined by Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Bill Galvano, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer, Vocational Rehabilitation Director Aleisa McKinlay and others.
“This event creates power through advocacy,” Sen. Galvano told the audience. “When we are able to interact with the people on the front lines, the government is able to do what it is supposed to do. Remember while you are here, you are creating your message. I will continue to join you in your advocacy. I am going to continue to fight for you.”
Director Palmer agreed. “This is your opportunity to influence change.”
The Annual Family Café exposes families to a wide range of public and private resources, opportunities to find support by networking with other families, and unprecedented access to policy-making officials.
DBS had an exhibit table that offered literature on DBS’ programs and services. Brian and Michelle Walker said they were happy they attended the Family Café this year.
“We’ve had a chance to see everything and learn what we have access to in our area,” Brian Walker said.
The Bureau of Business Enterprise Wants You!
Are you visually impaired and interested in operating your own business? Are you someone who is willing to invest time in a business to make it grow? The Florida Division of Blind Services Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) is looking for individuals who are ready to take a chance and make the most of an opportunity.
The BBE trains qualified visually impaired persons to be managers of their own food service or vending operations. Once a trainee finishes training and is licensed, he or she is qualified to apply for business opportunities. Licensed vendors are under contract with the State of Florida to operate their own food service or vending businesses. The BBE program will provide them with a location, equipment, startup capital and support.
Applicants to the program must be legally blind, citizens of the United States, high school graduates and at least 18 years old. Some management, restaurant or vending experience is preferred, but not required. All applicants must first apply for DBS services through their local DBS office.
Interested applicants can get more information at their local DBS offices or online at www.dbs.fldoe.org/BBE.
Students Learn Life Skills at Camp VISTA
Last month, the DBS Tampa office hosted Camp Vista (Visually Impaired Students Taking Action) at the Hillsborough County UF/IFAS Extension office.
The 11 campers were able to practice daily living skills by preparing meals and cleaning up after themselves; recreation and leisure skills by creating their own bird houses and bird feeders; and orientation and mobility skills by taking trips to the Tampa Bay History Center, the Discovery Garden at the Extension office, the Crystal Bay Café in the Hillsborough County Courthouse, and a trip along the Hillsborough River in a Pirate Water Taxi.
The children met Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) vendor Debbie Hietala at the Crystal Bay Café. Hietala and her team donated food during the week of camp. The children got a chance to make their own lunches and learned about how the BBE program can help them achieve their life goals.
Camp ended with a day of fun at the Lake Eva Aquatic Center in Haines City, where the children and their families had fun in the pool and splash playground. Teachers and children alike had a blast!
Celebrating the Library’s Stars
In April, the Braille and Talking Books Library held its 43rd Annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, sponsored by the non-profit Friends of Library Access, Inc. The event honored its volunteer staff who help in all areas of operations. The more than 100 volunteers of all ages work in circulation, inspection, clerical, machine maintenance, production, public relations, and the recording studio.
Attendees included library staff and volunteers, DBS personnel and invited guests. Friends of Library Access President Sheila Young welcomed the group, Bureau Chief Jim Woolyhand provided a library update and DBS Director Robert L. Doyle III, thanked the volunteers for their services.
“Volunteerism is an amazing deed” Director Doyle told the audience. “Whether it’s through your job, school, community center or church, by providing extra sets of hands helps us build upon our goals. Any given day you could find excuses to not engage in service, but you all have remained focused and committed to help the Library and DBS succeed.”
Certificates were presented to volunteers in recognition of their hours of service, including three persons who have logged more than 4,000 hours and one person who has given 6,000 hours of service. One volunteer had just completed 32 years with the Library and eight others have volunteered more than 25 years. President Young also received special recognition for her two consecutive terms of service as president of the Board of Directors of the Friends of Library Access.
The Braille and Talking Book Library has more than 2.4 million items (audio books, Braille, large print, etc.) available. There are nearly 32,000 patrons (individuals and institutions) around the state enrolled in the Florida Talking Books network.
BBE Vendor Makes the Most of her Opportunity
Heather Saunders’ career started at the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind in West Virginia. She interned at the association and was hired as an administrative assistant right out of college and six years later, Saunders and her husband moved to Florida. While in the Sunshine State, she elected to take on a bigger challenge – being a stay-at-home mother to their daughter.
Saunders returned to the workforce when her daughter became a teenager. She met vendors in the Bureau of Business Enterprise (BBE) program while working for the Association of the Blind in West Virginia. Heather didn’t want to return to administrative work and decided to apply to the program. She started with work experience with a local vendor in June 2015, and was licensed in December of that same year.
During her training, she was a dream student and a natural for food service. Heather was well on her way to a successful career as a BBE vendor. A location came available in her area in May of 2016. Saunders now operates the vending at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities regional office in Gainesville along with a small vending route in Lake City.
She considers her career in the BBE full of opportunities. It is an opportunity to run her own business and an opportunity to expand that business. Saunders works with BBE staff members to find new locations to add to her current facilities. She looks forward to expanding her prospects in the BBE program, taking on the challenge of a larger facility or even going into food service. The future is bright for Saunders and she is ready to make the most of this opportunity.
DBS Announces Final Inductees of ‘Successful 75’
DBS recently honored its final 12 “Successful 75” award recipients. This award was presented to individuals, organizations and businesses that represent and/or are committed to fostering independence in blind and visually impaired Floridians. Throughout the anniversary celebration, 75 honorees were bestowed with the honor.
Community Advocate: Mary Ann Grignon
Mary Ann Grignon currently serves as president of the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind (FCB) and serves on several FCB committees. Mary Ann has advocated before political entities, organized and hosted advocacy events regarding accessible voting, adaptive transportation and life skills for persons with vision loss. She has written numerous articles advocating for accessibility, dignity and equality for persons with vision loss.
Community Advocate: Lisa Kretschmer
Lesa Kretschmer, president of Florida Reading and Vision Technology, is a dedicated professional who remains an advocate for the blind and visually impaired. Through her organization, she has worked extensively with individuals, occupational therapists, low vision doctors and others to provide adaptive technology in the hands of the end user. Kretschmer has conducted hundreds of seminars, workshops and vision fairs around the state. She has also been a guest on national and local television and radio programs.
Community Advocate: Jim Kracht
A retired assistant county attorney from Miami-Dade County, Jim Kracht is an advocate for making life better for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. He has served on the Florida Council of the Blind for more than 25 years and is currently the organization’s president. Through his organization, Kracht works to provide resources, educational, social, and economic opportunities to the blind and visually impaired community.
Community Advocate: Paul Martinez
Paul Martinez, 27, is passionate about learning different policies and procedures that will help the blind and visually impaired community. A resident of Tampa, Martinez is currently majoring in social work. He has proudly held several positions within the National Federation of the Blind of Florida since 2011. He currently serves as first vice president of the state board of directors, president of the Florida Association of Blind Students, and president of the Florida State Wide Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida.
DBS Client: Erica Turner
Erica Turner has lived her entire life with Albinism, hearing loss and eventually total blindness. She earned a bachelor's degree in English and creative writing in May 2014. After significant visual deterioration, Turner was referred to the Vision Education & Rehabilitation Center (VERC) in 2012. She excelled in virtually all training classes and now volunteers with VERC and the Foundation Fighting Blindness. She has worked as a tutor with Florida State College at Jacksonville since 2013. Erica is a true role model, not because of what she has overcome, but because of her ceaseless energy and enthusiasm for life. She maintains a sense of gratitude and never stops learning and achieving.
DBS Employee: Ed Hudson
Edward Hudson is the bureau chief of the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Daytona Beach and is responsible for the overall operation of the center as well as the maintenance and security of all DBS facilities on the Daytona campus. He has been with the division since 1992. Hudson was instrumental in working with the Florida Legislature in establishing Blind Services as a division under the Florida Department of Education.
DBS Employee: Dolores Hanley McDiarmid
Dolores Hanley McDiarmid worked for the Division of Blind Services in the Fort Lauderdale office as an orientation and mobility specialist. Since 2010, she has been the public awareness project manager at Lighthouse of Broward in Fort Lauderdale. McDiarmid recently wrote the book, “Moved by the Spirit; A Call to Work with People Living with Blindness and Visual Impairments,” which educates medical professionals and the sighted population about living with vision loss and how people can live productive lives if they receive rehabilitation training from an agency serving the blind.
DOTZ (Direct Occupational Training Zone) is a public self-service coffee and snack bar that currently serves as a place for blind and visually impaired volunteers and employees to learn various aspects of running a business. Located in St. Augustine, individuals who are blind or visually impaired gain job skills in a hands-on environment. DOTZ has partnered with the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) by supporting their Career Development and Experience Program. Some of the skills learned are customer service, inventory control, money math and marketing strategy.
Building upon its diversity and inclusion success, Wal-Mart has broadened its efforts to embed diversity and inclusion across the company to drive exceptional business results. Wal-Mart has hired more than 130 DBS clients, which showcases the company’s commitment to fostering a trust-based inclusive environment where associates are provided with unlimited opportunity to develop and grow.
Business: Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut understands that diversity and inclusion are critical to the long-term success of their business. They believe that diverse teams yield better and more creative solutions, and inclusion is a business priority. Statewide, Pizza Hut has provided employment to 64 DBS consumers.
Convergys, a marketing company, provides room for careers to grow and evolve at an individual pace. Convergys promotes active inclusion of minorities, women, small disadvantage, HUBZone and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses (MWSDVBE) in its procurement processes. Convergys has hired more than 60 DBS clients with one client working with the company for more than 17 years. Convergys’ work-from-home positions allow clients to use Zoom text and JAWS to complete their daily tasks.
Business: Home Depot
The foundation of Home Depot’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was established more than 35 years ago. The company is committed to creating a work environment where there are no limits on achieving personal and professional goals. In addition, the organization advocates for full access to social, recreational and employment opportunities for associates and customers with challenges or disabilities. The Home Depot has also actively sought a diverse set of suppliers in its sourcing and procurement process. Statewide, the company has hired 36 of the Division of Blind Services’ clients.
Lighthouse of Big Bend Partners with Tallahassee Youth Leadership for Shark Tank Challenge
The fish were ready to take on the sharks during the Lighthouse of the Big Bend’s Shark Tank themed challenge.
The Lighthouse of the Big Bend recently partnered with Leadership Tallahassee to bring its Youth Leadership Tallahassee curriculum to Lighthouse clients. Transition students worked to develop a business plan and then presented it to the panel of judges or “sharks.”
“We wanted (the students) to have an experience of what entrepreneurship would be like and the art of a business idea,” said Kim Galban-Countryman, executive director of the Lighthouse of the Big Bend.
The participants were given a week to brainstorm plans, which required them to call upon their strategic planning and critical thinking skills.
“This was an experience they can add onto their repertoire,” said Galban-Countryman, who hopes to work with the Tallahassee Youth Leadership Program on future projects. “I hope they got the confidence knowing that they can do this.”
The event was a great success, and the participants left the challenge better prepared for the business world. The Lighthouse’s Youth Leadership program is supported through the DBS Innovative Projects Grant.
Lighthouse Learning Center for Children Graduation Ceremony
Proud parents and teachers looked on as six adorable four-year olds, both sighted and visually impaired, paraded into the room to receive their pre-kindergarten certificates of achievement. The Lighthouse Learning Center for Children is the only fully inclusive Pre-K program for visually impaired students and their sighted peers in the nation.
The graduation ceremony for the first class of the Lighthouse Learning Center for Children Pre-K inclusion program can be viewed by clicking this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtiKcZYHRXc&feature=youtu.be.
During the upcoming fall semester, the Miami Lighthouse will open its new Lighthouse Learning Center for Children™ facility. There are 40 students enrolled, with 50 percent visually impaired and 50 percent typically developing sighted students.
Did You Know
ADA Celebrates 27 Years of Providing Civil Rights to People with Disabilities
The American with Disabilities Act was first signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush, to ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities. The law has helped people with disabilities live their lives through physical accessibility, public services and working against discrimination.
Before the ADA, people in wheelchairs weren’t guaranteed access to public spaces. The blind were not guaranteed a voting ballot in Braille, or access to their ballots by other electronic assistance. And landlords could deny potential renters based on the additional needs they may have. Modern accommodations help those with disabilities to be included in the public sphere, and more able to fully exercise their rights.
In the News
Visually Impaired Children and Their Dads Enjoy Close Shave at Lighthouse Center
A fancy shave is a fail-safe idea for a Father’s Day gift, but add a mini barber and you got yourself a winner.
The Lighthouse Learning Center for Children and The Art of Shaving recently joined forces to create a fun, tactile experience for their sighted and visually impaired preschoolers – and their fathers – in celebration of the center’s first graduating class and Father’s Day.
“It seemed fitting to have the Art of Shaving come here and give a nice straight-edged shave to any dad that wanted one,” said Virginia Jacko, CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. “Blind people learn by tactile experience, so having the children touch and put on the shaving cream makes them learn better.”
To read the full story, visit http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article155957389.html.
DBS Staff Member Featured in Tallahassee Democrat for Toastmaster’s Competition
When glaucoma stole Walter Blackmon's eyesight at 5 years old, it also stole some of his dreams. That day, he was at his babysitter's house, sitting at a table and drawing cartoons from the newspaper. Then he heard the woman's chickens outside in the backyard.
He ran over to watch them, but his vision kept blurring. The chickens suddenly looked hazy. Elusive images flitted about the yard. At first, his babysitter didn't believe him; when he told her he couldn't see, she thought Blackmon was being a trickster, playing a bad joke. He pleaded and pleaded and finally started to cry. That was the start of when he lost his vision.
As a kid, Blackmon yearned to play in the National Football League, to enlist in the military, be a Marine, to be a champion basketball player. But his life took a detour. He had to relinquish those dreams and replace them with new ones. He remembers his mother telling him “anything is possible.” Mother and son held on to a sliver of hope that his eyesight would, somehow, return. It didn’t.
"I stopped praying for eyesight a long time ago,” he said.
Blackmon, who recently won first place at a Toastmaster competition in Orlando, will head to Vancouver this fall to compete in an international competition.
To read the full article, visit http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2017/07/05/local/361526001/.
The Price of ‘Disability Denial’
New York Times Op-Ed columnist Catherine Kudlick is a professor of history and the director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University.
I have nystagmus, a condition in which involuntary, jumpy movement of my eye muscles makes it difficult to focus, a chore that constantly challenges my brain as it frantically tries to keep up. As a child, my thick bifocal glasses and lack of confidence made me the brunt of cruel names and pranks, like being surrounded by kids who threw things on the ground and forced me to look for them. Later there were awkward, sometimes hostile encounters with potential landlords, dates and employers who I tried to brush off as a few gross kids who never grew up.
Though I am not fully blind, my vision impairment, and the challenges it presents, has made me particularly attuned to how others perceive blind people. Our words equate blindness with being out of control and clueless – phrases like “love is blind,” “blind rage,” “blind to the possibilities,” to “blindly carry on.” Such ideas slip quietly into our souls. They find their way onto playgrounds and into news stories, and before long, they're floating inside and outside of doctor’s offices, in sports competitions, film studios, policy debates – and in job interviews.
To read the full story, visit https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/opinion/disability-denial.html.
Morgan’s Wonderland Makes Splash with Fully Accessible Water Park
On a blazing hot summer Tuesday afternoon, officials welcomed special-needs children and parents into the long-anticipated “oasis of inclusion” that is Morgan’s Inspiration Island, a new water park that opened June 17 in San Antonio, Texas. A group of guests provided park workers a test run June 14 through the $17 million, tropical-themed island paradise specially designed to accommodate children with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Soon enough, the universal appeal of kids and water gave rise to wide grins, squeals and laughter – and a summer day to remember. Inspiration Island was more than three years in the making. Construction on Inspiration Island, which overlooks the theme park’s eight-acre catch-and-release fishing lake, began in January 2016.
Every Inspiration Island element is wheelchair-accessible, and waterproof wristbands with radio-frequency identification technology are available so parents can keep track of their children and other members of their party. At Rainbow Reef, one of the park’s water play areas, the water can be conditioned to a warmer temperature so guests with sensitivity to cold can still splash and play. Spacious private dressing areas allow guests to transfer out of their wheelchairs and into waterproof wheelchairs provided by the park.
To read the full story, visit https://therivardreport.com/morgans-wonderland-set-to-make-splash-with-fully-accessible-water-park/.
Woman's Act of Kindness for Blind Cubs Fan Goes Viral
For several minutes, Ryan Hamilton watched as a blind man tried to hail a cab while Chicago Cubs fans poured out of Wrigley Field. The Chicago resident was on a rooftop across the street when he noticed thousands of people passing the man, who was holding a walking stick and waving his hand in an attempt to stop a taxi. Not one car stopped – but luckily a pedestrian did.
Casey Spelman, of Indianapolis, was visiting friends in the area and spotted the blind man, who was identified as Yusef Dale, an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, as she walked out of a Wrigleyville restaurant. Without a word, Spelman split from her friends, walked over to Dale and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Do you want some help getting a cab?" Spelman asked.
"He said, 'Yeah, you sound pretty, so cabs will probably stop for you before me,'" Spelman recalled Dale joking.
They chatted about baseball and how crowded the area was after a Saturday afternoon game as Spelman stepped out into the street to flag down a cab. Within minutes, a taxi pulled up and Spelman helped Dale inside, giving him a hug goodbye in the process.
"We laughed and exchanged goodbyes and went our separate ways," Spelman told CBS News. The 26-year-old didn't think anything of her encounter with Dale. But Hamilton, who was watching from above, was so touched by the kind gesture he posted pictures of the pair on Facebook, praising the woman for lending a helping hand.
To read the full story, visit http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/womans-act-of-kindness-for-blind-cubs-fan-goes-viral/.
Couple Recreates Wedding 15 Years Later as Blind Groom Gets Glasses That Allow Him to See
While most weddings tend to focus on the first look, the emotional moment didn't come for this New Hampshire couple until 15 years after their ceremony. Andrew Airey, 37, of Conway, is legally blind, but was able to see his wife clearly for the first time during a restaging of his wedding to Kelli Airey on their 15th anniversary.
“We take our vision for granted,” Andrew said in a video by eSight, the company that gave the couple electronic glasses that allowed him to see clearly for the first time in 20 years.
To read the full story, visit http://bit.ly/2tcxamP.
- Allison Flannigan – State Office
- Monica Moye – State Office
- Joseph Wohlrab, Braille and Talking Book Library
- Bridget Giles – State Office
- Shamara McCall – Rehabilitation Center
- Clarinely Reyes – Fort Myers
- Laura Civetta – Fort Myers
- Kathleen Belton – Palmetto
- Gabrielle Pierini – Jacksonville
- Cylenthia Baldwin – Sunrise
- Genevieve English-Charles – Pensacola
- June Kazmar-Koster – Braille and Talking Book Library
- Shelby Fink – Tallahassee
- Kelly Gilstrap Simmons – Tallahassee
- Bobby Woodard – Pensacola
- Donald Risavy – Rehabilitation Center
- Annah Wolf – West Palm Beach
- Sumner Abraham – Daytona Beach
- Margaret Wilson – Rehabilitation Center
- Katie Starling - Gainesville
- Stael Exantus – West Palm Beach
- Alvin Olige – Gainesville
- Mary Lopez – Orlando
Al Olige Always Went Above and Beyond for DBS Clients
Alvin Olige, a diligent and dedicated counselor for the Division of Blind Services’ Gainesville office, recently retired after many years of service. During his time in the Gainesville office, he helped the staff grow, stretch and learn more each day about the world of vocational rehabilitation. Described by his colleagues as thoughtful and unflappable, Olige constantly went above and beyond expectations for his clients and community partners.
In addition, he remained steady and calm through some difficult times with various clients. His even temperament, intelligence and kind heart have well served the DBS participants on his caseload. As a co-worker, Olige was a team player all the way! He would readily help anyone with various needs such as moving furniture, carrying equipment and brainstorming a challenging case.
Olige has worked hard in his career and his retirement is well deserved. We wish him fun and ease as he moves on to what is next for him.
- Kathy Acevedo
- Kayla Carter
- Janet Chernoff
- Madeline C. Davidson
- Keith Flowers
- Amanda Honingford
- Stephanie Lambert
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