LD 765 Press Release

*For Immediate Release

March 16, 2011
Contact: Michael Barndollar
The Iris Network

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.

“The investment is needed now,” said Jim Phipps, executive director for The Iris Network. “This bill will restore funds lost in recent budget cuts and help avoid costly special education litigation. Rather than spending scarce state resources to fight legal battles with parents of blind students who are entitled to appropriate educational services, we must invest in educational services for students who are blind or visually impaired. The Legislature should act now to fund vision rehabilitation and job training so Mainers who are visually impaired or blind can live independently, obtain meaningful work and contribute to the tax base.”

The inadequacy of, and serious lack of funding for, educational and rehabilitation services for Mainers who are visually impaired or blind is documented in two reports issued in 2010. The first from a public and private stakeholder working group, including consumers, led by the Maine Department of Labor's Division for the Blind, established at the direction of the Legislature to review current and future needs. The second, from recommendations of the Maine Department of Education's corrective action plan work group in regards to Disability Rights Center v. Maine Department of Education dated July 28, 2010. The full reports may be found on The Iris Network's website: http://www.theiris.org/getinvolved/advocacy/dbvi-resolve-report

The Iris Network serves approximately 1000 people dealing with vision loss each year in communities spread across the entire state of Maine. The services provided by The Iris Network, at an average cost of $1,350 per client, allow people coping with vision loss to continue to live independently and avoid or delay unnecessary and costly long-term nursing home care. The low cost of these services is a sound investment for Maine and saves tens of thousands of dollars that would otherwise be wasted on unnecessary institutional care.

According to Georgiana Peacher, who has received services from The Iris Network, “The services are vital for people like me who have experienced a loss of vision. Without The Iris Network, my ability to live independently and continue to create my artist’s books, which is so important to me, would be in jeopardy. I hope the legislature does what’s right and finds more funding for services like those I received so that thousands of other people, who can no longer see well, can have a much better quality of life.”

The maturing of Maine's population is causing a rapidly expanding need for vision rehabilitation services. That, coupled with the growing prevalence of age-related eye diseases that cause vision loss, makes this funding even more important.

The Iris Network is a state-wide, community-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with a vision of building a world where no person is limited by visual impairment or blindness and everyone is an advocate for eye health and the needs of people who are visually impaired or blind. Based in Portland, The Iris Network has field-offices in Saco, Lewiston, Bangor, Brewer and Houlton. For more information about any vision-related issue, visit The Iris Network at www.theiris.org

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