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Labor and Economic Opportunity

A Brief History of Services in Michigan for Individuals who are Blind and Visually Impaired

1903 to present

For the first half of the twentieth century, services for the blind consisted of a sheltered workshop in Saginaw and the blind concession program. In the 1950s, the Michigan Department of Social Services (DSS) assigned a few caseworkers to a "blind-only" caseload to provide financial and employment assistance. A few years later, the DSS combined the workshop, blind concessions, and these caseworkers into a Division of Services for the Blind. 

In the mid 1960s, a group of state legislators recognized that the broom-making workshop in Saginaw presented the wrong image of blind workers and should be closed. After studying other state programs, they decided that a new facility should be constructed that emphasized independence rather than sheltered work. As a result, the Michigan Rehabilitation Center for the Blind was opened in Kalamazoo, in 1970, for purposes of teaching blind persons the skills necessary for independence.

In the mid 1970s, organized blind consumers initiated legislation to create an agency structure where blind persons would play a major role in planning and policy making. This initiative led to the passage of Public Act 260 of 1978 on October 1, 1978, creating the Michigan Commission for the Blind (MCB), a five-member, governor-appointed commission, and requiring that at least three commissioners be legally blind. The act also transferred the agency from DSS to the Department of Labor, and made the Commission a partner with the federal government in providing employment services and vending facilities for blind persons. It also established a broad range of teaching and counseling roles and responsibilities.   

In the early 1980s, MCB gained state and federal funds to establish independent living services for older blind individuals, and state funds to establish low vision services for blind and visually impaired youth. In addition, the vending program was expanded to include cafeterias and highway vending locations at welcome centers and rest stops, the center in Kalamazoo was renamed the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center, a statewide DeafBlind service was established, and formal strategic planning began with the production of a mission statement. In 2000, MCB launched its Vision 2020 Initiative looking toward the year 2020 to design customer responsive service systems. The mission of the Commission is to assist blind persons to achieve independence and employment.

The 1990s have been highlighted by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a major anti-discrimination statute designed to remove barriers in employment, government services and public accommodations; and, the 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act which calls for greater attention to client choice and independent living services.  In 1996, MCB was transferred from the abolished Department of Labor to the Department of Consumer and Industry Services and then to the Family Independence Agency (FIA). In 1997, the Client Assistance Program was privatized. In 1998, the Workforce Investment Act was enacted, incorporating the newly-amended Rehabilitation Act, calling for greater interaction between rehabilitation agencies and local Workforce Boards. 

In 2003, the Michigan Commission for the Blind moved into the newly created Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, later renamed the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG). On October 1, 2009, Executive Order No. 2009-36 abolished the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries and transferred that department's Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (SBPH) to the Michigan Commission for the Blind. On October 1, 2010, SBPH was renamed the MCB Braille and Talking Book Library.  

On April 24, 2011, DELEG (the department including the Michigan Commission for the Blind) became the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). 

Today, programs and services include the Braille and Talking Book Library, the Training Center in Kalamazoo, vocational rehabilitation services, independent living services for Michigan' s older blind population, low-vision services for the state's youth, DeafBlind services, entrepreneurial opportunities for blind persons through the Business Enterprise Program, and business services for employers with employees who are blind or visually impaired. A staff of approximately 110 in offices throughout the state serve Michigan residents who are blind and visually impaired.

Effective October 1, 2012, Governor Rick Snyder's Executive Order 2012-10  established a new bureau, the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons.