Inclusion, Independence and Economic Vitality for People with Visual Disabilities.
Short Description of Agency
The Washington State Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) serves Washington State residents of all ages who are blind, low vision or deaf blind who:
- Seek active engagement and inclusion in family, civic, and community activities;
- Want to manage home, personal and other life tasks independently; and/or
- Intend to engage in the state’s economy through meaningful, competitive and integrated employment or small business ownership that is a fit for the individual’s aptitudes and interests, and that can provide the means to reduce or eliminate a reliance on public assistance.
The agency has six offices (Vancouver; Lacey; Tacoma; Seattle; Yakima; Spokane), and provides services statewide. Many in-person services are provided in the individual’s home community, and staff often travel to the participant.
DSB serves around 3,000 individuals with visual disabilities per year across the state. Many agency participants are also experiencing additional barriers to independence and employment, including other co-occurring disabilities; poverty; English as a second language; homelessness; veteran status; rural isolation; a former history of incarceration; and/or systemic racial inequity.
Agency staff collaborate with each eligible person to identify, plan for and provide the individualized and necessary services that will assist them to participate fully in the home, community and workplace.
All agency services are provided free of charge for eligible individuals.
Agency Responsibilities and Core Services
Overview of DSB Programs
The agency provides services through three main direct-service programs:
• The Vocational Rehabilitation Program, or “VR”;
• The Independent Living Program, or “IL”; and
• The Business Enterprise Program, or “BEP”
Within the VR Program are these subset programs:
• Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for Students with Disabilities, also known as Youth Services;
• The Supported Employment (SE) Program
• The Orientation and Training Center (OTC)
The IL Program has two distinct components:
• Independent Living Older Blind (ILOB), and
• Independent Living Part B
The agency also has a Birth-through-Age 8 program that serves primarily the families of infants and young children who have visual disabilities.
Program Authorization and Funding
Both the VR and IL – Older Blind program services are authorized through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014.
Both VR and IL-OB programs are funded with lidded formula grants from the Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, which require state match dollars to bring in the full amount of the formula grant. The state match ratios are different for VR and IL. For every one state dollar, the VR grant brings four federal dollars in to the state, and the IL – Older Blind grant brings nine dollars.
The VR grant also requires a maintenance of effort obligation, where the amount of match dollars must be equivalent or more than what it was two years previous, else there is a dollar-for-dollar federal penalty. The VR grant is the only federal grant to have both a state match and a maintenance of effort requirement.
The IL Part B program is authorized under the Rehab Act of 1973, as amended, but federal oversight is through the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living, and funding locally is through collaboration with the State Plan for Independent Living.
The BEP program is authorized under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and is funded solely through vending revenues and state funding.
The Birth-through-Age 8 program is funded solely through local funding.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)
- DSB’s VR Program has a dual customer model at its core.
- People with Disabilities: DSB provides vocational readiness services to assist people with visual disabilities to prepare for, obtain, and retain employment, and/or to advance in their careers.
- Washington State Businesses: DSB provides technical assistance, consultation and training to Washington State businesses around fostering a disability-friendly workplace and providing assessment, recommendations and guidance accessibility and accommodation
- The 2019 employment rate for all Washington residents age 18 - 64 was 70.0%; For all individuals with a visual disability it was 47.2%
- In order to close the employment gap in Washington State between those with a visual disability and the population as a whole, an approximate additional 18,000 blind, low vision or deaf blind individuals would need to become employed.
- The agency serves approximately less than 10% of the potential need in any given year.
- DSB VR services specific to visual disability are provided primarily by specialized in-house staff that serve clients throughout the entire state. In-house services represent about 60% of the direct client service costs, and purchased services about 40%.
- In-house services include vocational and disability counseling and assessment and training of adaptive skills of blindness (home management; communications and Braille; cane travel training; adaptive technology; mitigating environmental issues impacting visual disability; jobsite and accessibility assessment)
- Purchased services are primarily categorized as adaptive tools and equipment; vocational education and higher educational training; and basic supports necessary to engage in the rehabilitation activities, such as transportation, child care, and interpretation needs.
- For those participants who exited the program with employment outcomes in FFY2019, the average participant age at closure was 45.6 years old.
- The eldest participant with an employment outcome in that time period was age 91 (Self-employed Psychologist)
- The youngest participant with an employment outcome in that time period was age 20 (Electromechanical Equipment Assembler).
- DSB Youth Services Specialists facilitate and manage age-appropriate pre-employment transition career exploration and transition workshops, activities and experiences for students with a disability.
- The activities provide an opportunity to introduce the skills to gain hands-on exposure to the world of work by connecting students to business professionals in a range of job fields; and to learn adapted methods for interacting within the workplace itself.
- Agency staff organize tours of businesses, job shadows, internships and work experience opportunities for students with visual disabilities.
- DSB staff develop relationships with businesses, and identify needs of the business in order to match an appropriate level of youth experience activity; in the case of a work experience, the DSB staff and business owner interviews students for best match and fit with business needs.
- DSB has infrastructure to pay for student work and to cover L&I responsibilities to lower risk to businesses in participation with student activities
- The agency prepares students who are college-bound with training, supports and experiences to transition from the K-12 accommodations that are managed for the student to the higher education accommodation needs managed solely by the student themselves.
- DSB offers technical consultative services to families, schools, Birth-through-3 centers and other community organizations who have or work with blind or low vision infants and children
- The Supported Employment grant supplements agency VR work for worksite needs for participants who require long term supports to maintain employment. A co-occurring intellectual, neurodiversity or mental health disability most often drives the need for long term supports. Employment outcomes for participants requiring long term supports represent around six percent of all agency employment outcomes
Orientation and Training Center (OTC)
- Adaptive skills of blindness are typically provided in a participant’s local community by in-house staff.
- However, an individual who is newly experiencing vision loss often has need for more intensive daily training. A residential training program for adults, the Seattle-based Orientation and Training Center, exists for those intensive training needs that can often require nine months or more.
- The agency’s training center and training staff are often the catalyst for an individual’s trajectory for self-belief, learning and testing new-found skills in a structured and safe environment with daily peer and staff supports.
- The alumni of the OTC hold strong ownership of the successes that continue to happen through the workings of the center.
Business Enterprise Program (BEP)
- The Randolph-Sheppard Act requires the BEP Program be offered first priority for food service and vending operations in government buildings. DSB prepares individuals who are legally blind to become business-owning entrepreneurs in the food service industry by providing:
- Classroom and work-based financial, business management and practical training to become a BEP licensee for operating and managing a food-service facility.
- Essential pieces of food service equipment, initial stock and small wares for each BEP facility.
- Onsite training and coaching to the new operator in opening up the facility.
- Ongoing management assistance, technical guidance
- BEP vendors who receive DSB services become successfully self-employed business owners moving toward self-sufficiency, tax paying citizens, and contribute to the productivity and resilience of the economy.
- DSB’s IL Program provides specialized skills that allow individuals who are blind or losing their vision to re-engage in their community, live in their own homes, gain the confidence to consider returning to the workforce, and allow family members to step back from a care giving role allowing them to more fully engage in the state’s workforce and economy.
- Visual disability is predominantly an acquired disability as we age - the average age of the Independent Living program participants is 82 years old.
- Providing the skills that allow people to live in their own homes is especially critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
DSB has 95 employees.
- 22% of DSB employees have disabilities
- 17% have visual disabilities; and
- 4% have hearing disabilities
- Six of DSB’s positions are Exempt, and eight are WMS employees;
- 81 of DSB’s employees are represented by the WFSE, including 11 on-call part-time Reader/Drivers who provide reasonable accommodation for our staff with visual and hearing impairments.
- All DSB employees take part in annual periodic reviews with their supervisors, and give direct feedback regarding goals they would like to include in their Development Plan for the next year.
- Individual performance expectations support agency and Results Washington performance measures.
- In addition, DSB staff have the opportunity to shape agency strategic initiatives by taking part in surveys, focus groups, and work groups to improve agency efforts around communication, retention, and succession.