Civil Rights Issues Facing the 
Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois

Chapter 3

Service Providers to the Blind and Visually Impaired

The State of Illinois is one of 16 States that does not have a separate agency providing services to the blind. The primary service delivery agency in the State is the Bureau of Blind Services, an agency within the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services that is charged with providing vocational training for the blind and visually impaired. The Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services is under the Illinois Department of Human Services, and its director reports to the Governor.

Similar to the director of Human Services, the Illinois Board of Education reports directly to the Governor. The Board of Education oversees public education programs for the blind and visually impaired. Also in the State, is the State of Illinois Blind Services Planning Council. Members of the council are appointed by the Governor and serve 4-year terms. Their advice, however, is limited to recommendations concerning the services provided by the Bureau of Blind Services. It is not a general advisory council on issues affecting the blind and visually impaired.

Several private agencies exist in the State and provide services to or for a clientele that is blind and visually impaired. The Chicago Lighthouse is the most comprehensive private rehabilitation and education agency in Illinois specifically serving people who are blind with vocational training, education, a vision clinic, and a store for the blind and visually impaired. Horizons for the Blind is a not-for-profit agency that works with companies and institutions to convert instruction packets, bills, newsletters, menus, exhibit displays, and other informational items into a medium accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Leonard & Young Communications does job readiness training for the blind and visually impaired, specifically assisting individuals affected by recent changes in Federal and State welfare laws. Representatives from the Chicago Lighthouse, Horizons for the Blind, and Leonard & Young Communications made statements to the Advisory Committee.1

The Illinois Bureau of Blind Services
Glen Crawford 2

Organization of the Bureau of Blind Services

The Illinois Bureau of Blind Services has followed the trend of some other States and consolidated many programs under one department. In Illinois the Bureau of Blind Services has been affected by such a consolidation. Illinois has a Department of Human Services, within which is the Office of Rehabilitation Services. The Bureau of Blind Services, once separate, is now within the Office of Rehabilitation Services.

All of the Bureau of Blind Services’ programs work with individuals who are older youth and adults. The Bureau of Blind Services does not have programs for children. One of the specialized programs is a vending position program. It is a specialized program originally set up by the Randolph-Shepard Act, and allows blind individuals and agencies for the blind to contract with the Federal Government and establish what was originally food service programs within those Federal programs. It has expanded beyond Federal buildings to State buildings and private industry. There are 145 of these businesses in Illinois.

Blind individuals frequently lose their sight in adulthood rather than being born blind. The bureau has a training facility center where the individual can go for a period of time to receive training in mobility, personal care for themselves, and daily living skills. After they return home, there are 20 rehab instructors across this State who continue to work with them.

The bureau’s major task is not only to allow these individuals to live a more comfortable life in their community, but also to get these individuals into employment. This program works in conjunction with the vocational rehabilitation program. There are offices throughout the State of Illinois that provide many services, such as training programs, college education, or trade school. In addition, individuals may return back to the previous employment because of the services provided.

The Bureau of Blind Services receives referrals from many different organizations, individual groups, and families. When these are received, agency personnel go to the individual and see them in their home and work with them there. The agency tries to get them involved with the appropriate services, whether it is with our service or somebody else. Oftentimes the agency works in conjunction with another public or private service program.

There is a greater concentration of staff in the Chicago area than in other sections of the State, but on a per capita basis there is more staff in the southern part of the State than in the northern half of the State or the Chicago area. In addition, in terms of the number of individuals who are going into competitive employment and people provided services by the Blind Services Bureau, there is a higher per capita rate of service in the southern part of the State.

Employment is the biggest barrier for the individual who is blind. Though there have been a lot of changes in recent years, the commitment for equal employment opportunity is still not there. Five years ago a Gallup Poll asked individuals what disability and/or disease would they least like to have. The first disease and/or disability that people did not want was HIV or AIDS. The second was blindness. The third was heart disease. Blindness was more feared than heart disease and was a very close second to HIV. That speaks to the attitude of society. Employers are part of that society and are part of that attitude.

The Blind Services Bureau conducted a longevity study on those that had been employed, looking at employment retention rates. Overall, the retention rate in employment was really quite good. But it was troubling to find that the retention rate was higher for whites; it was 85 percent in the white population and 79 percent for minorities. The agency is studying that to determine if the disparity is a factor of the society or is a factor of the agency’s services not being adequate for some groups of the population.

Services to the Older Blind Community

Recently the bureau has expanded its services for the older blind individual. At present services for the older blind is a poorly funded program. This year at the national level, blind service agencies are requesting $52 million in Federal funding. Currently the national expenditure for such programs is $9 million for the entire Nation. The older blind population is the largest of the blind population, but it and the children’s programs are the poorest funded.

In Illinois the Bureau of Blind Services has done a few things that have enabled the agency to put together a program for the older blind population. Working through the Social Security Administration, the bureau provides vocational rehabilitation services to individuals that are receiving social security disability insurance. If the Bureau is successful in securing employment for those individuals so that they no longer receive SSDI, the Federal Government reimburses the agency’s expense. The money that is reimbursed does not have to be used for rehabilitation purposes. So the Bureau of Blind Services uses some of the reimbursement for the older blind program, thereby adding $900,000 to the $150,000 of State money for the elderly blind.

Statistics indicate that the United States will soon have a large increase in the aged blind. The Nation and Congress are unprepared for it. As the population ages, there will be an increase in blindness in this country. At one time diabetes was the leading cause of blindness. Today macular degeneration, which is associated with aging, is the leading cause, and it is a very rapidly increasing disability.

That is one reason why the Bureau of Blind Services started its program for the older blind. But there are few other such programs. Only two States, Illinois and Ohio, have even rudimentary programs; and nowhere near the scale that is necessary. Moreover, the program initiated in Illinois for the older blind, unless it expands, is not going to be enough to handle the future need.

The blind population is aware of this problem and is lobbying Congress and their State legislators to obtain increased assistance to build these programs. That is why there is the request for $52 million from the current $9 million for older blind programs.

The Importance of Braille

Many overestimate the ability of technology to replace the need for Braille proficiency. There is a popular sentiment that with the technology currently available, material can be scanned into a computer and read back to the person with a visual impairment. Hence it seems the need for Braille proficiency is no longer a critical skill.

It does not work that way. What if a quick reference to something is needed? If the blind individual is proficient in Braille, the person can look it up and read very quickly in Braille. If one is constrained to only using a computer, the individual may sit for a long time trying to access the text that has the information.

Moreover, everything does not scan. If you get into charts, charts do not scan well. There are many other things that cannot be scanned to a computer. Still, many see this technology as the panacea that will replace Braille.

Technology is a long way from replacing Braille. People need to be aware of this. There is still a need for people who are blind to learn Braille.

Programs for Individuals Who are Deaf and Blind

Deaf-blind within Illinois is not part of the Bureau of Blind Services. In Illinois the Office of Rehabilitation Services works with the deaf-blind community in terms of vocational training.  It is part of a general Federal program, and this is true in most States. In terms of education for deaf-blind persons, there are services through age 21, but that is true with blindness as well.    Still, even though the deaf-blind are not the Bureau of Blind Services’ responsibility, nearly 50 percent of the deaf-blind community in the State of Illinois is served by the Bureau of Blind Services. If individuals who are deaf and blind are referred to the agency, the bureau will work with them since they have the blindness qualification.

In addition, within the State of Illinois there is the Department of Human Services, the department administratively controlling the Bureau of Blind Services, and other services are available to the deaf-blind community through those service programs.

The Chicago Lighthouse
James Kesteloot

My name is James Kesteloot. I have been legally blind my entire life, over 50 years. Currently I am the executive director of The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.

The Chicago Lighthouse is a comprehensive service agency providing educational, clinical, and vocational programs to people who are blind and individuals who are blind with additional disabilities. Programs include an Early Intervention Program for infants and toddlers from birth to age 3, a State Board of Education-approved school program serving children who are blind with additional disabilities, a program for adults who are both deaf and blind, an adult living skills program for adults who are both blind and developmentally disabled, a low vision clinic, counseling, vocational evaluation, a job readiness and placement program, office skills training programs, an adaptive technology center, an industries program, a store providing adaptive devices for independent living, and other services.

The Lighthouse serves approximately 200 people per day, over 50 percent of whom have more than one disability. Over the past year, nearly 3,000 persons have received services at The Lighthouse, and over 13,000 have received information, referrals and community services. The Lighthouse has a staff of 115, of whom 35 to 40 percent are blind. They occupy jobs at all levels within the organization, including top management, program managers, teachers, teachers’ assistants, accountants, clerical staff, building maintenance, and other positions. The Lighthouse has a governing board of directors of 25 community leaders, including 7 individuals who are blind and 3 with family members who are blind or visually impaired.

Employment opportunities continue to be a major issue facing people who are blind. Ask any person who is blind what they want or need, and a job will be a top priority. The following are general civil rights issues facing people who are blind in Illinois and barriers to employment:

1. Attitudes of employers and the general public related to the nature of blindness; abilities of persons who are blind, and their employability remains a major cause of discrimination.

2. Disincentives to work are faced by persons who are blind and receive social security disability insurance (SSDI). Once an SSDI recipient earns one dollar over the allowed amount of $1,050 per month, the recipient faces losing all benefits. An incentive program to work should allow recipients to earn over $1,050 with some sort of shared benefit, such as retaining one dollar for every two dollars earned over the limit.

3. Manufacturing jobs have been decreasing and have been moving abroad to foreign countries. Industrial jobs suit a segment of the population both sighted and blind. Yet these kinds of jobs are becoming scarce, and as a result, there has been a reduction in job opportunities for many persons who are blind.

4. Keeping pace with computer technology and the specialized access technology needed by workers who are blind prevents or delays competitive employment for many people.

5. Funding for adequate job placement programs is needed. Funding the “real” costs of job placement programs should be the standard. If the funding does not cover costs, there is a disincentive for community agencies to initiate and maintain job placement programs. In Illinois, and probably in other States, the average cost of rehabilitating a “disabled” person is divided into the agency’s grant amount. The product determines the number of people that must be placed to meet the contract obligation. Thus there is a disincentive to place persons who are severely disabled, since the “real” cost of working with this population is greater than the average cost. Easy cases receive services. In general, it costs more to place a person who is blind than the average individual who is disabled, and it certainly costs more to place an individual who is deaf-blind than a person who is blind.

6. Many people need assistance finding a job. A trained professional staff is needed to increase job placements. Southern Illinois University, several years ago, had its training program grant for job placement staff (specializing in blindness) terminated. These Federal funds should be reinstated.

7. Persons who are blind should have a choice in pursuing job opportunities. The reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act emphasizes that individuals who are disabled should have a choice in pursuing training and placement opportunities. At the same time, it states that persons who are disabled cannot choose to work in certain environments, even though those excluded environments are funded and sponsored by other acts of Congress. Currently a placement is valid and countable only when the disabled person is placed in an employment setting where the majority of the human contact is with coworkers who are nondisabled people. This is true even when the wages exceed minimum wages and regardless of benefits provided. Yet nondisabled people are considered employed on “real” jobs when they work with the majority of workers who are blind or disabled. The Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act and the Rehabilitation Act as amended are in conflict and contradictory on this matter.

8. The State of Illinois should have a stronger State Use Act. Many agencies serving persons who are blind supply products to the Federal Government through JWOD. More jobs would be available if the State had a strong similar law. Products purchased by the State and made by persons who are disabled would create jobs. Any State use legislation should encourage, allow, or mandate that any government entity within the State (city, county, library, school districts, etc.) can purchase such products at the State-approved contract price without having to obtain any further bids.

9. The State should maintain a strong affirmative action act, ensuring focus on the importance of hiring people with disabilities, especially within the State and with State contractors.

10. There is a need to improve educational services for people who are blind in the areas of Braille literacy, mobility, computer technology and training, and other academics that promote independent living. A stronger vocational component in high schools that assists students with visual impairments to transition to the work force is necessary.

Horizons for the Blind
Camille Cafferelli and Frank Zaccagnini 4

One of the things we as citizens think about in terms of our country is the rights that are enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I intend to focus on the second of those rights: liberty or freedom.

The words liberty and freedom are used loosely, but there are many freedoms for people who are blind and visually impaired which are not as free as they should be. One of those freedoms deals with finances, the freedom of executing your own finances. As close as one might be to friends or relatives, most people do not divulge all of their finances because that is a private matter. Unfortunately, people who are blind or visually impaired have not been afforded this freedom.

Horizons works with banks, utility companies, and other commercial interests to provide an addition or a supplement to the statement, allowing a blind person the opportunity to read that bill and do that without having to have another person who can read that information for them. If one has a savings or a checking account, he or she does not want to share that information with other people. It is important as we move ahead in our rights of freedom to remember that there are many blind and visually impaired people who are poor and who do not have the kind of technology that a lot of us might be fortunate enough to have. That should not mean that these people still should not be afforded these rights of freedom.

Another often abridged right is the ability to use public facilities, such as restaurants and hotels. If a blind person goes to a restaurant that does not have menus which can be read by the blind person, he or she does not know what he or she is paying for lunch. The problem is compounded if the blind person is taking a business client to dinner; he or she does not want to act cheap, but also wants to know if he or she can cover the person’s meal. In hotels, if there is no raised print and no Braille on the doors, i.e., room numbers are totally flat, a blind person has an extremely difficult time locating his/her room. When blind people go to restaurants, hotels, or other public establishments, part of their dollars pay for the printed material, so it should also be able to pay for material in an alternative format.

Another freedom the blind should have is the freedom to use or purchase food or medications. There is potential danger in the drug industry. Over-the-counter drugs have side effects printed in a form the blind cannot read.

Most modern appliances and apparatuses come with standard print and touch panels, so it is getting harder for persons who are blind to understand them. Another freedom often lost to the blind is access to phones, particularly cellular phones. This is a case where truly accessibility is not accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired, but it works better for everyone else. If there were more audio cues on the display, then not only is the product accessible to those who are blind, but it also works better for everyone else too.

Regarding television, many of the cable boxes now are devised so that there are as many as 500 channels. Soon these boxes are going to work digitally, i.e., the display on them is going to be totally visual. Furthermore, the issue of descriptive video and audio description is important. More and more of the television medium is visual, so the blind person does not know what is happening. The preview channel has absolutely no value to anyone who is blind or visually impaired because it is all visual.

Another issue related to freedom is the freedom to be able to come and go as you please, i.e., the transportation issue. This is a vital topic for those who do not drive. Regarding the vast array of cultural and recreational activities that this country affords to its citizens, how accessible are these activities to the blind and visually impaired when exhibits are behind glass or in cages or when material is strictly visual in nature?

The final pressing freedom is the freedom to be employed so that a person can make his or her own money and spend it the way he or she wants to. That is the greatest freedom the blind need to have for their well-being. Horizon has addressed this issue in two ways. First, wherever possible Horizons hires qualified blind or visually impaired people to do the access problem that is being provided. Second, Horizons provides blind individuals the information they need and in a form they can use quickly to do their job.

Freedom includes accessibility: attitudinal, architectural, and programmatic. The architectural is the one-time physical change or modification, e.g., a ramp. It is important and needs to be done, but Horizons normally works in the attitudinal or programmatic accessibility field, and this effort needs to be ongoing. Material needs to be updated for the blind and visually impaired consuming public. If a person is blind or visually impaired, they cannot simply walk into a craft and pay for a pattern to make something. They have to get it in a form that they can read. Because of the cost of transcribing such information along with the computers and the synthesizers and the 100 pound weight paper, it becomes more expensive than just printing a standard print format. Some form of subsidizing of these kinds of costs should be considered so that the blind and visually impaired community and the business community do not incur all the costs of these kinds of things. This would allow the freedoms enjoyed by the sighted community to begin to be enjoyed by the blind and visually impaired.

Leonard & Young Communications
Beatrice Leonard 5

Many times people speak and act on behalf of the blind and visually impaired without completely knowing or understanding the situation and concerns of the blind and visually impaired. This often occurs because the blind and visually impaired are not taken seriously, either with respect to their ability to independently advocate and express their goals and needs or as a group worthy of respect from the sighted community.

To some extent, this flows from the perception the public has of the blind and visually impaired as presented by the media. Although the portrayal of the blind and visually impaired by the media has improved in recent years, still the portrayal of the blind and the visually impaired in the media is predominantly negative, and the general society and employers see this portrayal as accurate and true.

Employment discrimination against the blind and visually impaired is still prevalent. Barriers to equal employment opportunity are very real. The discrimination of today, however, in contrast to that of the past, is more subtle and less overt. There is a need for diversity training in terms of instructing employers about the blind and visually impaired. It is not that persons who are blind and visually impaired are without problems, but because society is so sight-centered many employers do not understand how a blind person could do the job. As a result, barriers are established preventing the blind and visually impaired from functioning in anything but the most menial tasks.

This is even more disheartening in the present economic boom time. Even though the employment outlook is so promising for so many individuals, it is bleak for the blind and visually impaired. Moreover, it is bleakest for the blind and visually impaired. Individuals confined to wheelchairs will be employed before the blind due to the sight bias of society.

The unemployment rate for the blind and visually impaired is 70 percent. The unemployment rate for minorities who are blind and visually impaired is even higher. To address this particular problem, a focus of Leonard & Young Communications is outreach to the Latino and African American blind and visually impaired community. Most Latino and African American blind and visually impaired persons do not seek employment because they have been discouraged about their prospects. Many would just rather collect welfare payments than undergo the disheartening prospect of doing an endless and futile job search.

Moreover, the present system discourages the blind from working. Though disability payments vary according to the disability, the average payment is $600 a month. If an individual earns more than $1,050 a month, the disability payment is zero.

In this regard, the success of the State of Illinois regarding the blind and visually impaired is mixed. Under the new welfare regulations, the State wants individuals enrolled in vocational rehabilitation programs to be in school or employed within 6 months of the person entering the program. Many in the blind and visually impaired community are not able to meet that standard. The State should be more reasonable and accommodating to the blind in implementing the vocational rehabilitation program.

The most crucial element for the success of a blind or visually impaired person receiving service from the Bureau of Blind Services is the counselor. If that person is knowledgeable and committed, then the blind and visually impaired person receives excellent service. When that is not the case, the blind and visually impaired person falls through the cracks in the system and loses the opportunity for self-reliance and independence that should be afforded to everyone. In addition to individual counseling by the Bureau of Blind Services, the agency needs to provide some type of support group for people who are losing or who have just lost their sight. This is a traumatic experience for most individuals, and dealing with the trauma of the loss of sight is often ignored by service providers.

The following are general civil rights issues facing people who are blind in Illinois and barriers to employment:

1. Affirmative action is required of all Federal contractors in the employment of the disabled. Its enforcement with respect to the blind and visually impaired as well as others with disabilities needs more emphasis.

2. Federal and State Governments should give incentives to employers who hire the disabled. In the early 1970s such incentives existed in the form of tax credits. Such ideas and policies need to be reintroduced.

3. Blindness and visual impairment is a unique disability based on this being such a sight-centered society. Government service provision to the blind and visually impaired needs to be implemented by an agency devoted exclusively to the blind and visually impaired.

4. Manufacturers need to make the effort to make their products accessible to the blind and visually impaired. This applies not only to computer manufacturers, but also to the producers of consumer and business appliances.

5. Advisory committees for the blind and visually impaired should not be exclusively composed of blind “superstars,” e.g., Stevie Wonders. Instead, such committees and panels need to include an array of blind and visually impaired individuals, particularly individuals immersed in the day-to-day struggle to be independent and productive.

6. Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and other elected officials should have blind persons on their staffs.

7. Too much isolation for the blind and visually impaired becomes a security blanket for these individuals that ultimately retards their ability to be independent and productive. Programs providing services to the blind and visually impaired, whether they are job training, education, or independent living, need to regularly mainstream the blind and visually impaired with the sighted community as part of the program.

Illinois Blind Services Planning Council
Edwin Zebelski 6

Five years ago, according to a Gallup Poll, the American public’s fear of becoming blind was second only to contracting AIDS. Most people cannot conceive of having a visual impairment themselves and having to adjust to that blindness in working, traveling, or being happy as a blind person. Consequently, they project those insecurities on the blind person with whom they interact. They become judgmental and are reluctant to accept the blind individual as an employee, coworker, peer, or life mate.

Blind stereotypes abound and barriers exist for people with blindness. Employers, landlords, and government agencies look for ways to avoid dealing with the blind and visually impaired, thus discriminating. Many times the barriers that exist are very subtle.

To the sighted public I ask: What are your experiences with the blind and visually impaired? What preconceived ideas do you have of people who are blind? Can you focus on their abilities and blackout their obvious disability? Would you employ or rent an apartment to a blind or visually impaired person? Befriend a blind or visually impaired individual?  What if your son or daughter married a blind person?

Negative attitudes are the most pervasive barrier to equal opportunity facing the blind and visually impaired population.

During the last 4 years as a member, and now chair, of the Blind Services Planning Council for the State of Illinois, I have pushed to expand the influence of the council. Advances come hard.

I believe the Illinois Bureau of Blind Services should become the repository agency of expertise to all of State government. The Bureau of Blind Services is a State-created agency that presently administers rehabilitation services.  So, in my opinion, that bureau should become a repository of expertise for all State government agencies, including State human service and education agencies. Specialized services for the blind and visually impaired must be integrated. Too often, many program designers for the blind and visually impaired are generalists and design programs towards the largest number of end users in the most cost-efficient way.

The Need for a Separate Service Provider

If I were the designer of the State’s service delivery program for the blind and visually impaired, here is what I would do. First, I would establish the disabilities-specific service delivery system for the blind, administered by a separate and identifiable agency recognized by government itself as the repository of expertise.  It would be staffed by personnel qualified and experienced to work with visually impaired toddlers, adults, children, and seniors. Continual specialized services are essential in designing programs to enhance the productivity and independence of people who are blind and visually impaired.

In an age of cost cutting and budget slashing, blind and visually impaired people are increasingly concerned that services that best serve their needs will be eliminated, and that the only option will be a large, all-purpose disability health service organization where many times the blind fall through the cracks. For example, in the Manpower Redevelopment Act, the educational philosophy of full inclusion and the bottom line mentality of the government have threatened the viability of specializing programs.

Shockingly, the National Council on Disability, in its May 18, 1997, report, issued a policy statement recommending that the United States Congress eliminate vocational rehabilitation grants to State agencies that only serve people with visual impairments, and that independent living service programs for senior blind customers be replaced with programs serving persons with cross disabilities.

Early Intervention Programs

My proposed system would begin at birth, or at the inception of blindness, and terminate at death. It would be a continuing stream of supportive services administered by a disability-specific expert familiar with the full continuum of vocational and rehabilitative services offered to the blind or visually impaired. Service providers would partner with educators and other existing service providers. This specialized service delivery system of partnering rehabilitation with other agencies would be a departure from the mega-agency generalist approach.

Currently the Illinois versions of disability programs is being criticized by the blind and visually impaired. They are also under attack by the Federal Government and local court systems. Recently the State Board of Education was sued over refusing to provide early intervention services to the categorically eligible babies. Last fall this State was further cited by the Federal Government regarding early intervention programs.

The main issue is that Illinois only provides early intervention services to the at-risk children. The State maintained that it would not provide services to anyone not determined to be developmentally delayed.

Recently the Chicago Board of Education was found to warehouse many of its disabled students. As an example, last year frustrated parents of a blind girl enrolled in an educational preschool program sought my advice regarding educational options. The girl, who is blind and with no other disabilities, was being educated in a self-contained classroom with several mentally challenged students and a deaf girl. Many times the homework assignments involved learning sign language.

The importance of this example is that visual impairments change the way children and adults obtain information about the world in which they grow and function. This means that in addition to their regular classroom studies, children who are blind or visually impaired need to learn specialized skills from disability-specific experts who is trained to teach these skills.

Specialized Skills of the Blind/Visually Impaired

Specialized skills of the blind and visually impaired must include: access to technology; computer proficiency; adaptation of telecommunication equipment and software adapted for the blind; literacy, and reading and writing with Braille; use of large print and optical devices or range finding for the effective use of available visual products; safe and independent mobility skills, using specific orientation mobility techniques, long canes, or other mobility tools; and social interaction skills. There are also personnel management and independent living skills, learning specialized technology, personal grooming, food preparation, and money management. The current school system fails at every one of those.

In the United States today there are approximately 4 million working-aged adults who report some form of uncorrectable vision. Among those working-aged adults who are totally blind or who have severe visual impairment, 74 percent are not employed.

Specialized services that provide specific employment-related skills make a critical difference in the blind or visually impaired adult to create success for jobs, maintain employment, and advance in the workplace.

One in 6, over 4.9 million Americans age 65 or older, are blind or severely visually impaired. The blind and visually impaired population is expected to more than double in the next 30 years as the last generation of baby boomers reach age 65. Each year only a fraction of those older adults experiencing age-related vision loss receive the vision-related rehabilitation services for which they are eligible.

Enforcement of Civil Rights Laws

Once the blind and visually impaired are finally liberated from government service provider programs, i.e., the blind person has been fully prepared for employment and independent living, there still exists discrimination. Hence the blind and the visually impaired person still needs effective and aggressive enforcement of the existing civil rights legislation and statutes. Programs run by generalist disability agencies are sometimes the most insensitive.

I will conclude by reflecting on a song written by Neil Diamond. The song’s name is “Coming to America,” and it talks about the opportunity of the immigrants that came to America. It talked about how the difficulties in the past were going to be forgotten and the opportunities in the promised land would be offered. So, the real question is, “Where is America for the blind?”


1 The Guild for the Blind was also invited to attend the conference, but declined to make a formal statement. The Guild for the Blind was active, however, in providing background assistance to the Advisory Committee on civil rights issues facing the blind and visually impaired in Illinois.

2 Statement by Glen Crawford to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Glen Crawford is the director of the Illinois Bureau of Blind Services.

3 Statement by James Kesteloot to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. James Kesteloot is the executive director of The Chicago Lighthouse.

4 Statement by Camille Cafferelli and Frank Zaccagnini to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Camille Cafferelli is founder and president of Horizons for the Blind. Frank Zaccagnini is marketing director for Horizons for the Blind.

5 Statement by Beatrice Leonard to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Beatrice Leonard is president of Leonard & Young Communications.

6 Statement by Edwin Zebelski to the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, conference on “Civil Rights Issues Facing the Blind and Visually Impaired in Illinois,” Chicago, IL, May 29, 1998. Edwin Zebelski is chair of the Blind Services Planning Council of the State of Illinois.