[nfbmi-talk] speaks for itself

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Sat Dec 25 18:20:48 UTC 2010

Disability agency has clients helping others


Saturday, December 25, 2010  02:53 AM



Rita Price



Nate Fernandes, who is blind, went from client to customer-service advocate at the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission this fall.


Nate Fernandes, who is blind, went from client to customer-service advocate at the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission this fall.


He's a 25-year-old college graduate, blind since birth and wickedly funny.


Nate Fernandes also is a customer-service solution for the sprawling, and occasionally frustrating, Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission.


"People told us they want a more welcoming front-door experience," said spokeswoman Beth Ruth. "They wanted folks who are able to relate."


That was one of the biggest messages officials heard this summer from a series of cafe-style meetings with more than 1,400 people, Ruth said.


So the agency used federal stimulus money to create 32 consumer-support advocate positions, all of which were filled this fall with current commission customers.


Like the Ohioans they are working to help, the advocates have varying disabilities that led them to the commission for assistance with jobs, independent

living or Social Security.


Fernandes understands that any one of the processes - let alone all three - can be confusing and intimidating. But he tries to make sure it doesn't stay

that way.


"I adapt everything I do for each consumer," he said. "I've never had a typical day."


Fernandes keeps a Braille copy of the RSC Consumer Handbook on his desk, a thick tome that's "great coffee-table material," he deadpanned.


He uses JAWS (job access with speech) software on his computer; it reads aloud the material on the screen as he works on cases.


Fernandes also bones up on other programs and resources so that he can make appropriate referrals when the commission can't help.


Other tools for the job are more personal.


"You pretty much have to have a sense of humor here," Fernandes said. "I try to remain professional, but my goal is to get them to laugh at some point."


He doesn't need to see to know whether the session is helpful. Fernandes said he has always been able to hear a smile.


Nancy Beu, a North Side parent who has tried to get the commission's Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation to better serve young people with neurological

conditions such as autism, said the advocate positions seem like a good idea.


Next, she said, she hopes the agency can be as innovative in training its staff to help young people with disabilities find "motivated employers" offering



Fernandes, who grew up in Steubenville and graduated from the University of Dayton, is among those happy to have a job.


"My parents were thrilled," he said. "My dad always said his goal is that I will pay lots and lots of taxes."


The part-time positions are funded through September; their future is uncertain after that, Ruth said.


Fernandes said he'd like to stay. The people he has helped, including a man who recently applied for Medicaid, are grateful.


"Even if I didn't get everything right the first time, it didn't matter," Fernandes said. "He was just happy that I was reaching my hand out."


rprice at dispatch.com

Disability agency has clients helping others | The Columbus Dispatch


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