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Labor and Economic Opportunity

Commission Newsletter

May 2001


Eddie Timanus, a blind sportswriter for USA Today who gained national attention as a winner on the television show “Jeopardy,” will be in Michigan in June to make presentations to MCB clients participating in the agency’s college-prep program as well as to meet with blind consumers.

Timanus, who covers the college sports desk for the national daily publication, will make remarks on his approach to seeking and securing appropriate accommodations in education and work settings. He will also make comments on his views on job-seeking strategies and explain how he approaches, as a blind professional, his sports-writing duties.


Pat Cannon and Sherry Gordon, Supervisor in MCB’s Kalamazoo Office, attended the spring conference of the National Council on State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB). The three-day event, which was held in Bethesda, Maryland, April 25-27, was attended by agency directors, managers, supervisors and other public rehabilitation personnel from agencies throughout the country. Issues addressed at the conference included new concepts in job placement, implementing new federal legislation calling for a “Ticket to Work,” services for the older blind and Randolph-Sheppard Programs for blind operators of food service facilities.

The NCSAB Technology and Alternative Techniques Committee, Chaired by Cannon, met to consider new approaches in evaluating the competencies of individuals who teach assistive technologies. The committee also discussed various practices at residential rehabilitation training centers as well as shared practices in teaching the skills of blindness.


The Michigan Commission for the Blind’s Commissioners and staff will meet together in DeWitt, June 11, to review the agency’s progress on its Vision 2020 Initiative. The full day meeting will provide an opportunity for everyone to be involved in the process and to identify action steps to help mesh MCB’s visioning initiative with short-term and long-range planning efforts and quality management principles.

Members of MCB’s Vision 2020 Process Design Team met with agency administrators, managers and supervisors on April 23-24, to review progress on the Vision 2020 initiative during the past year and to continue strategic visioning and to develop two, three and five-year plans. The group recommended that all Commissioners and staff needed to meet jointly to assist the agency in moving forward.

The original charge to the group, which is representative of Commissioners and staff, is to develop a process that will enable all staff members, Commissioners and other identified stakeholders to participate in strategic visioning which will guide the agency through the next 20 years and beyond. The Vision 2020 initiative has been introduced to different components of the agency through various means, and activities are being planned to facilitate additional stakeholder input.

The Design Team process has enabled those interested in its work to be kept informed via the MCB website, a listserve, the agency's e-mail system and “The Tilt,” a newsletter highlighting Vision 2020 activities.


Nearly 50 MCB clients will participate in a weeklong Mini-Adjustment Workshop in Jackson, May 20-25, one of six such programs scheduled for this year. Participants will be introduced to a variety of skills of blindness, such as cane travel, braille, managing time and money, adaptive kitchen skills and other skills to enhance independence. An estimated 250 consumers are expected to be served by the Mini Adjustment Workshops to be held in 2001, with the next workshop scheduled, July15-20, in Gaylord.


Progress continues on MCB’s large computer applications but not as fast as preferred. The same can be said for several specific BEP issues which involve multiple actors and priorities.

It should be noted that MCB’s budget woes are catching the attention of MCB consumers and over twenty individuals reportedly attended the recent House Budget Subcommittee in Grand Rapids. It is hoped that their efforts will produce additional funds for the agency’s services to clients.


The Vocational Rehabilitation Program got a recent reprieve that has allowed some clients to attend summer school. Originally, there was insufficient funding to provide summer school. Further exploration will examine the feasibility of increasing MCB’s cash-match funding during the next fiscal year. This might alleviate some funding problems. There is some indication that MCB’s federal partners do not frown on this activity as much as they did previously. MCB’s sister agency, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, relies heavily on this concept of funding. The question remains as to whether the agency will fund fall tuition out of fiscal year 2001 or 2002 funds. A decision will have to be made in the next month or two. Staff directly involved with job placement will be participating in a three-day program conducted by Gilmore and Associates from Toronto, Canada. Two staff have already had some exposure to the program and have given very favorable reviews. Several states are currently experiencing the training and have given the program high marks. Since the program is very expensive and funding is very tight, a technical assistance grant has been applied for with the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Although not final, the preliminary indication is that it will be partially funded. Dave Adams has agreed to pick up a portion of the remaining costs. Therefore, this should be a fairly comprehensive program for minimal cost to the agency. If this is beneficial, additional staff could receive the training, as funds become available.

The agency will be represented at the Region V and Region VII Field Administrators and Directors Meeting during the first week in June in Kansas City. High on the list of topics will be Ticket-to-Work and Medicaid Buy-in.

The agency has been informed that Paul Ponchilla, former Commissioner, has been appointed as the Chairperson for the Department of Visual Impairment and Low Vision at Western Michigan University. Preliminary meetings indicate that the agency will have a strong working relationship with the program. To start, there is preliminary agreement on using their Rehabilitation Services Administration continuing grant money for MCB clients participating in their rehabilitation programs. Previously, MCB clients were not provided with the funds because of the availability of funding from the Michigan Commission for the Blind. These programs continue to produce graduates that have minimal difficulty obtaining employment if they are willing to move out-of-state. Graduates are very much in demand.

A letter has been sent to Michigan State University in response to information that their College of Education was considering the discontinuation of all of their undergraduate programs related to teaching blind students and deaf/blind students. This activity occurred only a few years ago. Since that time, MCB has supported a Rehabilitation Services Administration Grant to assist in providing this training. In 1999 the program was touted as being valuable and highly desirable. The need for these graduates is still at a high level as indicated in relationship to the Western Michigan Program.

In the Independent Living Program, a Client Satisfaction Survey is being developed for use when a case is being closed. It will be piloted in portions with each teacher providing a test question. There will likely be only four or five questions totally. Because of the two funding sources for Independent Living funding, there will be significant paperwork to close out this fiscal year. Bob Utrup is working on the Statewide Independent Living Program State Plan that is due July 1, 2001 to be effective October 1, 2001. Roberta McCall and Bob Utrup are designing a VIVA (Visually Impaired Volunteer Assistants) Training Program for Monroe County on June 4, 2001. The Frenchtown Senior Center will be an active partner in this planning activity and in the implementation of the program. Shig Toda will be meeting with Cass County Seniors, Ray Llorens, Sr., VIVA Volunteer from South Haven and the local State Representative, Mary Ann Middaugh, to begin developing a VIVA Program in that area.


Plans have been finalized for the FOCUS (Focus on Creating Ultimate Success) Program, which has been created to help address the issue of the waiting list for services at the Center. Students will arrive on June 17, and the final day of the program will be June 29. The goal of the FOCUS Program will be to provide basic training in the skills of blindness to consumers who would only be in the Training Center program for a couple of weeks. Most of these individuals have been from the senior population, but there may also be others who would benefit from this training.

The FOCUS Program will be housed entirely at Western Michigan University. Additionally, during the time of the FOCUS Program, WMU will have approximately 20 to 30 distance-education students on campus who will need practicum experiences in teaching blind consumers. The FOCUS Program will provide the perfect opportunity for this. Also, some MCB field staff and a couple of the staff from the Center have requested to teach in the program. The response from the field has been overwhelmingly positive.

At the MCB Technology Committee meeting in March, which was held at MCBTC, a funding group was formed to explore ways of securing funding for the types of technology services that need to be included at the Training Center. The committee has met 3 times, and a plan is slowly emerging to pursue funding opportunities and to form community partnerships with non-profit agencies and consumer organizations. The members of this group include Karla Hudson, Gerry Such, Fred Wurtzel and Melody Lindsey.

On May 6, a meeting was held at the Training Center with John Tagle and Associates to discuss timelines for the various components of the roofing project. The anticipated date for beginning is August 6, and the architects expect to have the project substantially completed by September 30.

On April 21, STAR Commonwealth, a program for at-risk teens from Albion, helped with cleanup activities on the Center grounds. Their work was greatly appreciated and was a tremendous help to Dick Linihan who is the sole maintenance person at the Center at this time. A special thanks goes out to Linda Cochran who made changes to her weekend plans and came to the Center that Saturday to give guidance to the people doing this project.

Also, three Mormon missionaries have met with Melody Lindsey and Dick Linihan to indicate their interest in volunteering in various activities around the Center. They would like to offer their services on an ongoing basis, even after they have completed their church responsibilities. Both of these opportunities have allowed the Center to educate the public about blindness.