Services For Blind "Are A Disgrace
To The State Of Arizona," Group Says

Copyright © 1995, 2010
National Federation of the Blind

          From the Editor: The following article by Enric Volante appeared in the November 25, 1991, Arizona Daily Star. It underscores the fact that some state agencies for the blind still do more apologizing and defending than performing. Arizona has the reputation of being one of the worst. As the saying goes, "If you have to be blind, you had better make certain that you don't live in Arizona."

          The David Wayne Smith who is quoted in the article is no stranger to the blind of Arizona. He has a constant chip on his shoulder, always tries to divert attention from the shortcomings of the state agency by attacking the organized blind, and demonstrates by almost every pronouncement he makes his profound lack of information. As is usual in such cases, this does not seem to trouble him.

          It should be kept in mind that Arizona probably has more groups accredited by NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped) than any other state, a fact that is not without significance. Good programs and NAC accreditation rarely co-exist.

          But Arizona is changing. The blind are increasingly finding strength and exerting themselves. They have had enough of promises and poor services and are determined to bring reform to the agencies. As is understandable, the agencies don't like it and are resisting. It seems likely that major changes will be coming in Arizona soon.

          All of this should be kept in mind as Monitor readers consider the implications of Mr. Volante's article. Here it is:

          In one week early last year, Jim Matise turned 60, was declared legally blind, and lost his job.

          "Needless to say, I was devastated," the former hotel manager recalled later. "My wife and I simply didn't know what we would or could do."

          To get help in finding a new job, Matise went to the Tucson office of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, part of the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

          But the rehabilitation supervisor who took his application told Matise to forget about work and just consider himself retired, Matise alleged in a letter of complaint to federal officials.

          "He said, `We can't even get jobs for people who are 21 years old. We certainly can't get jobs for someone like you,'" Matise wrote.

          Nearly two years after he applied for state help, Matise remains unemployed. Some advocates of the blind cite his case as an example of what they call insensitive and ineffective state services.

          DES officials have denied Matise's account of what happened. They say the agency tried to help, but that Matise did not fully cooperate.

          Jim Omvig, a member of the advisory Governor's Council on Blindness and Visual Impairment, does not buy that explanation.

          "I have never seen an agency for the blind as bad as this one," Omvig said.

          "You go to a state agency for the blind that says, `Sorry, we're not going to help you because you're old and blind.' That's bad, and it is, in fact, absolutely illegal."

          Matise, Omvig, and other members of the National Federation of the Blind in Arizona, a private non-profit organization with about 450 dues-paying members, say the state agency needs a major shake-up to make it more responsive.

          In a resolution passed at the group's convention last month in Tucson, the Federation said services "are a disgrace to the state of Arizona and, even more, are causing irreparable harm to those blind adults who are in need of and qualify for good rehabilitation services to enable them to lead normal, independent, self-sufficient, and productive lives."

          Karen Ortega, president of the Federation's Tucson chapter, said the state service supports the fallacy that the blind have nothing more to look forward to "than working in a sheltered workshop."

          But David Wayne Smith, chairman of the Governor's Council on the Blind and Visually Impaired and a defender of state services, said the Federation does not speak for many blind people.

          "They represent a very small proportion of the blind in Arizona," Smith said. "They have a history of complaining about service in every state."

          Nationally and statewide, more than 70 percent of the blind fail to find work because of "tremendous prejudice" and a failure by industry to recognize that the blind are "an extremely capable population," Smith said.

          A state DES spokesman, who referred inquiries about state services to Smith, said Arizona statistics show 9,341 people who are legally blind and 43,109 who are severely visually impaired.

          Three months after Matise applied for job help, Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired office supervisor George Mayo wrote that he was closing Matise's case "as I do not believe that I can assist you in securing meaningful employment due to the combination of loss of vision and age," records show.

          Mayo and a DES spokesman declined to comment Friday, citing the confidentiality of client cases.

          Manuel F. Mejia, assistant director of DES's Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services, defended Mayo and the agency in a September 10 letter responding to Matise's complaints.

          "Dr. Mayo stated it was you that told him, 'nobody will want to hire me because of my age,'" the letter says.

          Mejia also wrote that Mayo said he advised Matise "that he had recently placed several clients in jobs that didn't require any skills for $4 to $6 per hour. You stated you would not work for such low wages."

          Matise, whose case has since been reopened, calls the official account nonsense, except that he did say he would not work for only a few dollars an hour in a workshop for the blind. He said that's a matter of personal dignity.

          "With a little (secretarial) help, I can do anything. I can still run an office building. I can still run a big project. There isn't anything I can't do, but nobody's gonna give me the chance," Matise said.

          "I don't want them to get me a job. I just want them to get me the entree. Because I can't just call somebody and talk with them. I've tried this and the moment that they know that you're legally blind, they don't even want to see you."

          "But they're in a position where they should be able to talk and get me an entree, and I can get in there and sell myself, because I know my profession and I know my field... but nothing's happening."

Separator image: page links follow.

[ General Information | A Philosophy Of Blindness | Alternative Techniques ]
[ Civil Rights | Resources | Education | Rehabilitation | Employment ]
[ Products For The Blind | The Blind Who Lead The Blind ]
[ Organizations OF and FOR The Blind | Home Page ]
[ Site Text Map | Our Awards | Support Blind Net ]

Separator image: contact and copyright links follow.
Send your questions or comments .
Copyright © 1995, 2010, all rights reserved.
Click here to save money with Web Pad Hosting. This web site is hosted
at Web Hosting Pad

Site design by Web Zero Point O Design.
Separator image: end web page.