Jim Phipps at a Legislative workshop

Advocacy

Comments for WIOA NPRM

June 15, 2015 - Maine’s voice heard in Washington D.C. Please take the time to read through a letter from our Executive Director, Jim Phipps, to the Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services Administration, Honorable Janet LaBreck.


Honorable Janet LaBreck
Commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave. SW, RM 5086
Washington, DC  20202

RE:      Comments for WIOA NPRM
Docket Number: ED-2015-OSERS-OOO1
RIN: 1820-AB70

Dear Commissioner LaBreck:

The Iris Network appreciates the opportunity to offer comments in the above referenced rule making process.  The Iris Network is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) vision rehabilitation agency based in Portland, Maine.  We have served people experiencing vision loss and blindness throughout the State of Maine and neighboring New England states since being founded in 1905.  As its President and Executive Director, I appreciate the opportunity to provide the following comments on the NPRM covering Parts 361, 363, and 397 of the proposed regulations. 

By way of background, early in the 20th century, the founder of The Iris Network, William J. Ryan (who was visually impaired himself), traveled across the State of Maine as an almanac salesman.  He saw others who were blind kept at home and isolated from society.  Mr. Ryan had a vision.  He articulated it as the ability of an individual who was blind to "stand up at the workbench and earn his daily bread." 

William J. Ryan worked with the Maine Fraternal Association of the Blind (now the Maine Chapter of the American Council of the Blind) to organize the Maine Institution for the Blind (now The Iris Network) as a Maine nonprofit corporation in 1905.  The purpose of the organization was to provide vocational training and jobs for people who were blind.  As a result of his determination and persistence -- with fundraising help from Helen Keller and with Joshua Chamberlain leading the Board of Directors -- the William J. Ryan ...Read More!


Letter to members of AFA & LCRED Committees

The Governor's proposed budget for the State's next two fiscal years (starting July 1, 2013) includes significant funding cuts for Maine's Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  These proposed cuts eliminate one Teacher of the Visually Impaired and one Vision Rehabilitation Therapist position.  For more information, see the letter to the members of the Appropriations and L.C.R.E.D. Committees and consider attending the Public Hearing on this part of the proposed state budget at 1:00 pm on Thursday, March 21, 2013, in Room 228 of the Statehouse in Augusta.


BIOPTIC LENSES

BIOPTIC LENSES - Legislation has been proposed in Maine in favor of using bioptic lens systems to enable drivers in Maine with less than perfect vision to continue driving. Bioptic lenses have been used for driving since the 1970's and are currently legal for driving in 39 states, including NY, CA and MA. The proposed draft legislation is available here: http://www.mainelegislature.org/LawMakerWeb/sponsors.asp?ID=280047086

Iris Network Testimony in Support of L.D. 564

Senator Edward J. Mazurek, Representative Charles Kenneth Theriault and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation 126 Maine State Legislature

Maine Statehouse, Room 126

Augusta, Maine 04333

Re:       Iris Network Testimony in Support of L.D. 564

Dear Chairmen Mazurek and Theriault and Members of the Transportation Committee:

The Iris Network is Maine's statewide vision rehabilitation provider. We employ nationally certified vision rehabilitation, orientation & mobility, low vision and employment professionals who provide primary vision rehabilitation and job training to people experiencing difficulty with their vision including low vision and legal blindness. Most of our clients have some degree of useful vision.

For many people, the threshold between poor eyesight and low vision is the point at which they no longer qualify for a driver's license. Unfortunately, in Maine, this threshold is higher than it is in 39 other states where some drivers with low vision may qualify for a license to drive if they have been trained to use bioptic glasses.

Bioptic glasses involve a small lens fitted at the top of one or both of the regular prescription lenses. A glance through the bioptic allows the driver to momentarily attain 20/40 visual acuity or better in a narrow segment of the visual field while allowing the driver to rely on his or her vision at a somewhat lower acuity in the remaining visual field to accomplish most of the visual tasks required for driving. Thirty-nine other states have determined that bioptic glasses are a reasonable accommodation for people who receive appropriate training and who have a good field of vision with moderate vision loss.

The Iris Network supports L.D. 564 because we believe that accommodating certain qualified drivers with low vision on a case-by-case basis by allowing them to use bioptic glasses after receiving appropriate training will promote more rigorous eye testing for all drivers and make

...Read More!

National Federation of the Blind Files Complaint Against State Department

Seeks to Stop Distribution of Inaccessible Kindles Abroad

Baltimore, Maryland (June 27, 2012): The National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the United States and a leader in the struggle for civil and human rights for blind people all over the world, today filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights for the United States Department of State, alleging that the State Department’s plan to purchase and deploy 35,000 Amazon Kindles throughout the world violates federal law because blind people cannot independently access and use the devices or their content.  Four international organizations representing the blind and dedicated to equal access to books and digital information­the World Blind Union, the South African National Council for the Blind, the DAISY Consortium, and the DAISY Forum of India­are also named complainants.  The State Department has announced plans to purchase 35,000 of Amazon’s dedicated e-reading devices under a sole-source contract, at a cost of $16.5 million, as part of an international learning program being referred to as the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative.  The aim of this program is to create a global e-reader program that introduces aspects of U.S. society and culture directly to young people, students, and international audiences and to expand English- language learning opportunities abroad.  The plan will involve deploying the Kindles to embassies, libraries, and other entities around the world.  The complaint also alleges that a previous deployment of six thousand Kindles to State Department facilities throughout the world violates the law. 
 
Of the Kindles currently available, not all are capable of speaking the content of books.  While the State Department proposal specifically calls for the inclusion of this feature, the contract makes no reference to the department’s obligation to purchase accessible technology under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act or otherwise ...Read More!


ALERT! Senate Passes Accessible Drug Label Bill!

ALERT! Senate Passes Accessible Drug Label Bill!

For further information, contact:

Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB
(202) 469-6833
MRichert@afb.net


Yesterday, by a vote of 96 to 1, the U.S. Senate passed a massive package of policy updates known as the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. Read more about the legislation at:

http://www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=c042aa0f-5056-9502-5d26-7103b0fba398

The Senate-passed version of this bill includes provisions that would establish national best practices for retail and other pharmacies to use in providing accessible prescription drug labeling to their customers with vision loss. Once these best practices are promulgated, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study will assess the extent to which pharmacies are employing such best practices and improving access. Once enacted, these provisions will serve as a valuable supplement to existing requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state laws imposing obligations on pharmacies to ensure effective communication and barrier removal for people with disabilities.

While the House's treatment of this legislation is less certain, observers seem to think that action on the Senate bill or on the House's companion legislation this year has an excellent chance in spite of the contentious political environment. While the House version does not yet include the drug label accessibility language, the Chair of the House committee with jurisdiction over the bill, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), affirmed at a recent hearing on the measure that he is committed to working on inclusion of the drug label language during the conference process, meaning that if the House acts on its own bill, House Republican leadership seem willing to advocate for drug label access language as the House and Senate work to resolve their differences.

Stay tuned to AFB-DC for updates on next steps for advocates to take in the House as this ...Read More!


Important Legislation Pending

American Council of the Blind Applauds U.S. Senate for Including Accessible Prescription Drug Labeling Legislation in User Fee Authorization 

ARLINGTON, Va., May 24, 2012 – Today blind and visually impaired citizens came one step closer to gaining independent and private access to the information contained on their prescription drug labels as the United States Senate passed S.3187, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. 

"Knowing what medication you are taking and the quantity is something that most individuals without vision loss take for granted," said Mitch Pomerantz, president of the American Council of the Blind. "We are grateful that the Senate, through the staunch leadership of Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), has passed legislation that will allow for a greater level of privacy and independence for blind and visually impaired Americans of all ages who take prescription medications." 

More than 21.5 million Americans experience vision loss that renders them unable to read prescription drug labels or other medication information independently. With the incidence of vision loss expected to increase with the rapidly aging American population, the consequences of being unable to read prescription information pose a significant public health challenge. People who are blind or visually impaired can mistakenly consume the wrong medication, the incorrect dose, or an expired drug because they are unable to read the label or to distinguish between medicine containers. Some patients have reported being victims of pharmacy errors due to the inability to verify the accuracy of a prescription label. Many with vision loss are forced to become dependent either on sighted companions, pharmacists, or even complete strangers to read them their prescription information.

Description of the Legislation

Under S.3187, representatives of the blind and aging communities along with pharmacies and the U.S. Access Board will convene a ...Read More!


Funding in Budget Bill Replaces L.D. 765

Thanks to Senator Rosen, Representative Flood and all of the members of the 125th Maine Legislature's Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs: 

In response to communications from concerned consumers, the Appropriations Committee has chosen to include funding for 2.5 positions identified in L.D. 765 for inclusion in Section 1 of Part FFF of the FY2013 supplemental budget bill.  Section 2 of Part FFF also directs the Commissioners of Maine's Department of Labor and Department of Education to develop a plan to save $287,541 dollars through cost savings and efficiencies in order to fund four additional positions identified in L.D. 765.  Section 3 of Part FFF of the budget bill directs the Commissioner of Labor and the Commissioner of Education to present their plan to the Legislature's committees on Appropriations, Labor and Education by September 15, 2012.  

The positions funded in the FY2013 supplemental budget are for one contracted position for a Teacher of the Visually Impaired ("TVI") and 1.5 Orientation & Mobility ("O&M") Instructors at the Department of Labor's Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  The four additional positions to be funded through future cost savings and efficiencies include one more contracted TVI, one Blindness Rehabilitation Specialist ("BRS") at DBVI and two contracted positions for Vision Rehabilitation Therapists ("VRT").  The TVI positions are currently contracted through Catholic Charities Maine and the VRT positions are contracted through The Iris Network and other private contractors. 

A copy of Part FFF of the supplemental budget bill is here.  It has been unanimously voted out of the Appropriations Committee with an "ought to pass" recommendation to the floor of the legislature.  

While L.D. 765 is still on the Special Appropriations Table, we have been told by Representative Webster, (a member of the Appropriations Committee who lead the group of Legislators who worked out this solution ...Read More!


L.D. 765 April 9th Update

For more information on L.D. 765, please see the message forwarded below and the Linked letter to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Joint Rules.

We are continuing to ask the Appropriations Committee both:

  1. To strike Section 1 of L.D. 765 as amended; and
  2. To fund the positions listed in the funding initiatives of L.D. 765 as amended.

L.D. 765 Impact Statement

John McMahon, Director of Maine’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, has provided an Impact Statement that summarizes the loss of federal matching funds that the proposed change to DBVI’s enabling act will have if it becomes law.  Click here for a copy of the Impact Statement.


April 3rd 2012 L.D. 765 Update

The linked memo indicates that Maine’s DOE intends to solve its special ed. Compliance problem by reallocating funds from vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for blind adults.  As you know, if this effort succeeds, it would have a devastating impact on vocational rehabilitation services for transition-age students and adults as well as independent living services due to the loss of federal matching funds that will result along with penalties for failure to meet the federal maintenance of effort requirements.

It is necessary either to strike the proposed change to the DBVI enabling act now included in L.D. 765 as amended, or to revert to the language proposed by Representative Paul Davis at the L.C.R.E.D. work session on February 10th which would have included the (so called) “children first” language in the Memorandum Of Understanding (“MOU”) between DOE and DBVI.  There is no problem including the children first language in the Memorandum Of Understanding as Representative Paul Davis proposed.  In fact, the language Representative Davis proposed was carefully crafted by DOL staff with input from DOE in advance of the February 10th work
session.

For Maine’s DOE to work behind the scenes to change this carefully crafted language after the February 10th work session shows a reckless disregard by Maine’s Commissioner of Education for the loss of federal matching funds which would have a disastrous impact on vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for blind and visually impaired adults and transition-age students.  Furthermore, this behind the scenes change in the language of L.D. 765 has resulted in a potential change to the DBVI enabling act without the benefit of any public hearing or public discussion at a work session.  This is not the way Maine’s law making process is supposed to work and it is not designed to work this way because it leads to bad public policy.

It is more important than ever to let ...Read More!


L.D. 765 Letter

Dear Senator Rector, Representative Prescott, members of the L.C.R.E.D. Committee
and Sponsors of L.D. 765:

The Iris Network and Catholic Charities Maine, administrator of DBVI’s Education Services for Blind Children program, both have significant concerns regarding certain language now included in L.D. 765 as amended.  That is, the second sentence of the proposed change to DBVI’s enabling act has substituted a legislative mandate in DBVI’s enabling act instead of a simple change in the existing Memorandum of Understanding between Maine’s DOE and DBVI as originally proposed by Representative Davis at the Work Session on February 10th.

Consequently, it is now necessary to delete the following sentence from L.D. 765 as amended:

Educational services that are required by federal law to be provided to blind or visually impaired children from birth to 20 years of age must take precedence over services provided to blind or visually impaired adults.

The shift away from Representative Davis’s approach that focused on requiring children to be served first in the MOU, to the approach now included in L.D. 765 as amended which mandates that children be served first in DBVI’s enabling act, changes the (so called) “children first” principal originally intended to be managed administratively through the MOU, to a statutory requirement.  If enacted, this change in DBVI’s enabling act will require DBVI to reallocate funds from critical adult services in order to provide services to students whenever there are inadequate resources to meet all of the educational and rehabilitation needs of students and adults.  This reallocation will result in the loss of federal matching funds for DBVI’s vocational rehabilitation services for transition-age students and adults as well as for independent living services for older adults; thus, further exacerbating the critical funding shortages that now exist.

For more information, please see the attached letter which ...Read More!


L.C.R.E.D. Committee Letter

Following the February 10th work session, the L.C.R.E.D. Committee wrote a strong letter of support to the Appropriations Committee (click here for the letter) stating that L.D. 765 is the L.C.R.E.D. Committee’s only funding priority on the Special Appropriations Table this year.


Proposed Amendment to L.D. 765

On February 10th, 2012, Representative Paul Davis proposed a carefully crafted amendment to L.D. 765 at a work session held by the Legislature’s Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.  The proposed amendment had been crafted by staff at the Department of Labor with input from the Department of Education In an effort to minimize the cost of the funding initiatives contained in L.D. 765 and to eliminate waiting lists of blind and severely visually impaired students needing specialized services from Teachers of the Visually Impaired and Orientation and Mobility Instructors.  The L.C.R.E.D. Committee worked with the proposed amendment making a few changes and voted unanimously that L.D. 765 as amended ought to pass.  The text of the amendment as Representative Davis proposed it is here:


LD 765 is Back

During the last session LD 765 was not passed but is being discussed again during this session. 

This bill effects service provision in Maine for people who are blind and visually impaired. Attached you will find information about what LD 765 means for you and how to get involved. 

The anticipated date for this LCRED Committee is Wednesday, January 18th. This date is not finalized yet. 

Please contact The Iris Network if you are interested in further information or attending this hearing to testify or hear more about what is happening with the bill. www.thiris.org or (207) 774-6273. 

What is LD765 and What It Means To You

LD 765 is a bill that simply proposes filling staffing positions in the Maine Vocational Rehabilitation system that are currently unfilled. These positions are positions that have remained unfilled as a result of hiring freezes within the State or are documented shortages. Rehabilitation services in Maine are paid for through a combination of State and Federal tax dollars. Although recipients of these professional services are often not required to pay for them at the time the service is required or needed, they have been paid for through all of our tax contributions over the years. These documented shortages currently affect the amount of time consumers must wait for services to be delivered, or the scope of services available through the Iris Network, Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI), and Catholic Charities. If you have received these services in the past, you already recognize their value.

You can participate by:

• 1. Locate your local State Representative ASAP at http://www.maine.gov/legis/house/townlist.htm and call, email, or write your support for this bill. To reach your Representative by phone call
1-800-423-2900 TTY number is 207-287-4469.

To reach your Senator: 1-800-423-6900 TTY number is 207-287-1583

If you wish to speak to a member of the staff, you may call the Clerk of the House at 207-287-1400 or the Office ...Read More!


Plan for state VRS Program

State Plan for the State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program
and State Plan Supplement for the State Supported Employment Services Program

Maine Division for the Blind & Visually Impaired (DBVI) State Plan Fiscal Year 2012 (submitted FY 2011)

Attachment 4.2(c) Input of State Rehabilitation Council
Required annually by all agencies except those agencies that are independent consumer-controlled commissions.

Identify the Input provided by the state rehabilitation council, including recommendations from the council’s annual report, the review and analysis of consumer satisfaction, and other council reports. Be sure to also include:

  • the Designated State Unit's response to the input and recommendations; and

  • explanations for the Designated State Unit's rejection of any input      or recommendation of the council.

The State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) works closely with DBVI leadership and staff on many aspects of our service delivery system. The primary objective of the SRC is to be a direct influence for improving the responsiveness of VR services in Maine. During the past year, the SRC has been involved in many activities with DBVI.

A statewide public hearing was held on June 15, 2011 using the ‘Polycom’ system which connected Career Center sites in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, Presque Isle and Augusta. These locations were advertised in a number of newspapers as well as on a statewide Radio Reading Service (Maine AIRS), the Blind Forum and the DOL website. This time was used to review, answer any questions and address concerns of the 2012 draft State Plan. The full SRC was provided a copy of the 2012 draft state plan and given an opportunity to make comments.   SRC comments:

Click here for the full documentVRS


Advocacy Workshop 2

The Iris Network presented the second Advocacy Workshop in Augusta Maine on May 16, 2011 featuring Executive Director Jim Phipps with an update on LD 765.  Some topics suggested include ADA guidelines surrounding service dogs; self-advocacy for services; what services consumers are entitled to under the VR Act, etc.

Kathy Despres, from C.A.R.E.S. Inc. who administers the Client Assistance Program (CAP) gave an informative presentation about the work CAP does and how it interfaces with the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In this video (http://youtu.be/OUZiYGNRnsg) Ms. Despres explained how CAP met with DBVI to explore solutions to staff shortages resulting in a temporary wait list for services in the Portland office. 

Click here to download the complete audio of the May 16 Advocacy Workshop, including Kathy Despres’ presentation.


LD765-Status Rport

Status Report on L.D. 765 - April 16, 2011 

L.D. 765 Ought to Pass 

I’m pleased to report that the Maine State Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development (known as the “LCRED Committee”) held its Work Session on LD765 on Friday morning, April 15, and they voted the bill out of the Committee “ought to pass.”  They did not make any changes to the bill, so the amounts of funding we requested are unchanged so far.  Now the bill goes to the Appropriations Committee where its fate is uncertain. 

Given the state’s budget situation, the bill could easily die on the Appropriations Table, but with good attention and constant monitoring, we may be able to get some or all of the funds requested in the bill.  It will likely not be until the eve of the adjournment of the Legislature that we will know if they “found” any money to fund the bill.  The Legislature is not likely to adjourn until the latter half of May at the earliest and it could run until late June (or even early July) depending on how difficult it is for them to arrive on a budget compromise. 

Click here for the full Status Update


L.D. 765 Press Release

LD765 Funding Critical to Mainers  Who Are Visually Impaired or Blind

Portland, Maine – As funding priorities are debated in Augusta, The Iris Network has thrown its support behind a bill which would assure funding to improve the deplorable inadequacy of educational and rehabilitation services for the blind and visually impaired here in Maine.

LD765, An Act to Address the Documented Educational and Rehabilitation Needs of Persons Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, would secure $468,678 in FY2012 and $511,987 in FY2013 to fund seven FTE professional staff. Positions include two teachers of the visually impaired at Catholic Charities Maine, one mobility instructor and one blindness rehabilitation specialist at Maine’s Division for the Blind, as well as two vision rehabilitation therapists and one program design and evaluation specialist at The Iris Network.

Click here for the full Press Release


L.D. 765 Testimony

Senator Christopher W. Rector, Representative Kerri L. Prescott and Members of The Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development
Burton M. Cross State Office Building, Room 208
111 Sewall Street
Augusta, Maine

Re:      Testimony in Support of L.D. 765
Dear Senator Rector, Representative Prescott and members of the LCRED Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to present information in support of L.D. 765.  L.D. 765 has been introduced as a result of two groundbreaking reports discussed below.

These reports document the fact that an immediate crisis exists due to the deplorable inadequacy of funding for educational and rehabilitation services for Maine children, students and adults who are visually impaired or blind.

Click here for the full Testimony Report


 
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