By Mark Adreon, Department of Services for the Blind (DSB)
You and your fellow Physician Connection associates have begun to refer patients to Department of Services for the Blind (DSB). We are currently assisting a Policy Analyst, a Special Education Teacher, Medical Technologist, and School Administrator, just to name a few occupations from the patients you have referred to us for job retention services.
We have tracked 45 patient referrals from the Connection to DSB. Of the 45 referrals, 24 were for employment services, 11 of which were still employed and taking advantage of our retention services to stay employed.
Employment Services (a part of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program) is one of the federally mandated programs DSB must provide and these referrals receive the full range of employment services available. Patients that are currently working or are of working age have been the initial focus of the Physician Connection project. We can certainly provide the maximum impact with this group.
From the patient referrals we have received, many Eye Physicians have chosen to utilize our online referral form (https://fortress.wa.gov/dsb/referralform/default.aspx). Other patients have called us at 800-552-7103, indicating their doctor has referred them to DSB for services.
Dear Members of the Physician Connection,
Thank you so much to those of you who have already sent us referrals and for informing us about your clients who may be interested in our employment services for people who are blind or have low vision. We’re excited to see this community grow and to hear more from you. Despite the continuing difficulties in the economy, we help people find or keep their jobs and I want to share with you the most recent results of our services for the 2011 State Fiscal Year (July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011):
- 147 customers went to work in competitive jobs at an average wage of nearly $20 per hour.
- Our increased emphasis on employer outreach enabled us to identify individuals who were in jeopardy of losing their current jobs due to vision loss. We were able to help 82 people adjust to their blindness, gain alternative skills and assistive technology, and keep their existing jobs.
- With a boost from Recovery Act dollars we ramped up our employment efforts through a number of special initiatives:
- Out of the 18 internships we arranged this past year, 7 customers secured permanent employment, and the others gained valuable work experience.
- We assisted 13 customers set up small businesses.
- We conducted several intensive Job Search Boot Camps across the state to assist customers in seeking and securing employment.
- Our total numbers served in the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program this past year increased by 110 (1226 last year to 1336 this year).
Again, thank you, members of the Physician Connection, for your continuing interest in our services by sending us referrals, connecting your patients to our services. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season.
Lou Oma Durand, Executive Director
Yakima Herald-Republic, November 5, 2011
SEATTLE, Wash. -- He has blind faith -- faith in his teachers and classmates, faith that he can do anything.
Even if the world around him is almost completely black. Because for Tracy "Dino" Sanchez of Wapato, believing is seeing.
Sanchez is legally blind and rapidly losing any remaining eyesight.
The 45 year old was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa nearly 20 years ago, a genetic disorder that leads to incurable blindness.
Because it's a progressive condition, Sanchez is preparing for the day -- "the doctor says it could be tomorrow, a year or 20 years" -- when he won't be able to see at all.
And that has brought him to Seattle, where he's enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program at the state Department of Services for the Blind. He's memorizing Braille, mastering computer skills, typing 25 words a minute and learning to maneuver around the kitchen. He's even wielded a 9-inch radial arm saw.
And in the process, he's envisioning a brighter future.
For years Sanchez was able to make do, not giving in to the disability that was inevitably going to catch up with him.
An enrolled Yakama tribal member, after graduating from Wapato High School, he dabbled in a variety of careers, starting with sailing on a crab boat in Alaska, then working in sales, casinos and construction. It was during one of his building jobs that he realized he could no longer discern objects outdoors in sunlight.
"I started to notice that my vision was getting worse," he recalls. "My enemy became those yellow signs that say 'wet floor.' I would always knock into them. But I was in denial for years."
As it became increasingly more difficult to work, Sanchez qualified for Social Security disability payments.
In many ways, that made him more pessimistic. "I felt hopeless and helpless," he says.
However, Social Security personnel referred him to the Yakima office of the Department of Services for the Blind, and that was the beginning of his renaissance. Although skeptical, he decided to enroll in the training center run by the blind services in Seattle. He realized he needed to learn how to function if and when he becomes totally blind.
That didn't make the transition any smoother, though.
"When I first came, I was broken and angry. I couldn't drive," he says. "I thought, 'What am I going to do now?'"
And then he saw the light.
"I got my hopes up," he says, after finding out that the center helps develop skills to live independently and be successfully employed.
"People who lose their vision have to learn to do things differently," explains Keiko Namekata, training center program manager. "Our world is defined by what we see, so people who don't function visually have to learn to compensate and fill in the gaps."
Training takes between 25-30 weeks. Students attend classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week. Of the seven instructors, three are blind or visually impaired. An average of 20 students attend at a time.
The program is free to the students, funded through state and federal monies. The cost of fully training a student is about $11,000.
Namekata, who lost her sight as a youngster due to a degenerative disease, says, "We focus on matching each person with a job that utilizes their skills, interests and talents, so they'll be successful for the long term."
A divorced father with three children and three grandchildren, Sanchez started at the training center last spring.
"Everything I do here boosts my confidence," he notes.
One recent day, Sanchez was getting ready for a test in his mobility class. (Instructor Mary
Lorenz calls it "How to get there and back.")
Sanchez's homework was to research the location of the neighborhood library and telephone to ask about steps and the entry way.
With that complete, he grabs his cane and dons dark, light-blocking glasses and begins walking down a hill three blocks to the library.
Lorenz follows a discreet distance behind.
He stops at a crosswalk, ears cocked. "I listen for traffic. I know when it stops and goes, and I go with it," he says.
He rotates his cane over the width of the sidewalk, feeling for the curb. He's doing well, but there is treachery ahead: cracks and bumps in the cement.
He negotiates those successfully, but he's fooled by a side path that veers from the main sidewalk into a park. He follows briefly, then pauses.
"He realizes the traffic sounds are gone," his teacher says, sotto voce.
Once Sanchez figures out his mistake, he rights himself and easily makes it to the library.
He's especially pleased that he wasn't fooled by a nearby parking lot that he has mistakenly strayed into on four previous trips.
"I beat the parking lot!" he cheers.
Later, he reflects, "It doesn't matter if you wander off. What matters is if you get out of it." Lorenz gives him high marks. "You have good problem-solving skills. You're curious and alert."
With that successful foray, Sanchez will be readying himself for the final exam, which involves traveling in a bus to downtown Seattle, entering a building through a revolving door, riding an escalator and returning to the school.
He's already cooked an eight-course meal from scratch, including ribs, baked beans and potato salad -- all the while wearing his dark eye coverings.
That was in his home economics class, where he also mastered sewing, house cleaning, ironing and doing laundry. Again, without being able to see what he was doing.
Instructor Donna Lawrence points out, "Our whole goal is independence."
She adds, "(Sanchez) got so excited to cook; he'd never done it before. He's so inspiring, a stellar person."
Lawrence isn't the only one who finds Sanchez's enthusiasm infectious. Classmate Tim Brown notes, "Dino is one of those guys who draws people in. He's very gifted."
Sanchez's final class of the day is wood shop, where he's making a headboard for his bed. Relying on instinct and instructor Bronson Goo's guidance, he uses a router to carve a notch along an oak board.
Sanchez has taken on a leadership role during his training, serving as president of the student body. He works closely on school projects with another Lower Valley resident, Monica Salazar, from Granger.
Also legally blind, Salazar eventually hopes to become a massage therapist or work in a preschool.
Sanchez plans next to pursue a degree in business management. Ultimately, he hopes to own his own business.
He's not sure what yet, but he's sure of one thing: "I could have been one of those guys who took social security disability and done nothing else. But," he emphasizes, "I want to live.
"I think I make the guy standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign look bad because I'm doing something for myself."
That doesn't mean he's immune to down times, yearning for enough vision to choose any job he wants.
"I wouldn't wish this on anybody. I really enjoyed construction jobs, working outside and getting dirty. I wish I still could do that."
Yet most people who know Sanchez remark on his determination and charm, rather than his waning eyesight.
"He's a wonderful person, such a great personality," says Anna Marrs, a rehabilitation tech in the Yakima office of the services for the blind.
She points out that when Sanchez settles on a career, he'll be joining many other visually impaired people employed in the state. She notes that 147 people with low vision found jobs in Washington last year.
Sanchez fully intends to boost that number.
"Life is always going to bring you down. But it's your choice to get up and do something about it."
I wanted to take a moment and wish you and all the patients you make a difference for a very happy holiday season. We at DSB appreciate your partnership with us and our mutual goal to improve or enhance the quality of life for people with vision loss. Look forward to talking with you in the 2012 New Year.
Mark Adreon, Your DSB Connection