[NFBOK-Talk] HB 1861 Blind Push Back

Jeannie Massay jmassay1 at cox.net
Sat Mar 11 23:09:15 UTC 2017

The following letter was sent to Representative Osborne with copy to the
entire House of Representatives regarding HB 1861 and the Older Blind
program today. HB 1861 is on the House Agenda for a full house vote on
Monday, March 13. Please make a final push back using the hash tag
#BlindPushBack. Send e-mails, leave messages, post and share on social
media. We cannot let this legislation pass! You have done a great job so
far, let's give a great big push back over the weekend!






March 10, 2017


Dear Representative Osborn:


As noted in correspondence dated February 26, 2017 to you and the members of
the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, the National Federation of
the Blind of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Rehabilitation Association, and the Oklahoma
State Rehabilitation Council were shocked and dismayed by the introduction
of HB 1861, a bill establishing the "Rehabilitation Services Disbursing
Fund." This bill would diminish services to older blind Oklahomans due to
geographic limitations for services, limit capacity, and expose the state to
undue financial risk. It is important that you hear the voices of Oklahoma's
blind citizens before making a final decision on this matter, since we will
be directly affected by your vote.


Currently, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services Division of
Visual Services assigns experts; many of them blind themselves, to work with
clients in their homes anywhere in the state. The current approach has many
advantages that may be compromised if the program is entirely implemented by
a private contractor. It will be a time consuming and costly process for
another entity to replicate the breadth and depth of services offered by
Visual Services. For example, Visual Services already has access technology,
Braille, orientation and mobility, and customized independent living
classes. These customized classes are based on years and years of experience
working with older blind Oklahomans, and indeed, the entire blind community.


HB 1861 proposes that funds for the older blind program be entirely granted
to private entities certified by the National Accreditation Council for
Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC). While a network of regional service
providers is possible, this is an unproven service model and will certainly
result in diminished services during the transition period. Moving this work
to private entities with only regional services will result in diminished
services for clients outside their service area, especially in rural parts
of the state. 


Furthermore, the requirement of NAC accreditation is problematic for several
reasons. There is currently only one NAC accredited entity in the state,
which means that this legislation will have the unintended consequence of
eliminating competition for contracts to provide these services. We can find
no information about NAC, its accreditation criteria, or who else it
certifies via the internet, and we have concerns about requiring contractors
to be accredited by an entity whose commitment to transparency is
questionable at best. Although NAC makes little information public, years of
sad experience tell us that NAC accredited entities do not meet the needs of
blind people because NAC'S expectations and standards have historically been
very low.


Rehabilitation services are overseen at the federal level by the
Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). The RSA is charged with
ensuring that state rehabilitation plans are submitted yearly, monitoring
their implementation, and disbursing federal funds to state rehabilitation
agencies to carry out these plans. If the RSA determines that a
rehabilitation plan has not been properly implemented, it can assess
substantial financial penalties against the state rehabilitation department
in order to recoup the federal funds received to implement the plan. It is
important to note that such assessments would be levied against the state of
Oklahoma, not against the private entities. In other words, if a private
entity fails to provide adequate services to older blind Oklahomans, tax
payers will be left on the hook.






In summary, this bill will have the unintended consequences of diminishing
services for older blind Oklahomans, limiting consumer choice, requiring
accreditation from a nontransparent accrediting body with a poor track
record, and exposing the state to uncertain financial penalties for services
not directly performed by the state. In good faith, we, the blind, have made
efforts to meet with you, have communicated our thoughts based on experience
and expertise to you and the members of the House Appropriations and Budget
Committee regarding our opposition to HB 1861. More than 40 blind persons,
their friends and families attended the Appropriations and Budget Committee
meeting, have sent e-mails, made phone calls and have posted on social
media. While we do not feel that our voices have been heard, it is not too
late to listen to us now. We oppose this bill and urge you to vote against




Jeannie Massay, President

National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma


cc: Oklahoma House of Representatives




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