A World of Opportunity for the Visually Impaired
All too often, we take basic everyday functions of our lives for granted. Most often, it's the little things we do like the ability to see, hear, smell, touch, taste and feel. Imagine for a moment if one of those basic functions were not available to you; for example, the ability to see. Think about it for a moment -- if you were born sighted and in a short period of time you knew you were never going to see again, what would you absorb with your sight in the time left to you? According to the American Foundation for the Blind, more than 132,623 Arizonans are blind or visually impaired. They are our friends, neighbors and loved ones. Some are born blind for any number of reasons, while still others lose their sight during their life's journey. In either instance, we can join together to energize members of our community to grow, thrive and live out their own personal version of the American Dream. One of the ways DES helps persons with vision impairment is through a unique program called the Business Enterprise Program (BEP).
The Business Enterprise Program at DES offers legally blind persons the opportunity to become independent entrepreneurs capable of achieving their fullest potential through self-employment. Together, the Arizona Business Enterprise Program and Vocational Rehabilitation have a unique opportunity to contribute to the well-being of the blind community in Arizona. BEP was created by Congress following the enactment of the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936, which was designed to provide blind persons with remunerative employment, enlarge economic opportunities and encourage self-support through the operation of vending facilities in federal buildings. The law was subsequently amended in 1954 and again in 1974 to ultimately ensure persons with vision impairment receive priority in the operation of vending facilities, including cafeterias, snack bars and automatic vending machines on federal property. The program priority has broadened in most states through state laws to include state, county, municipal and private locations as well. The Mini Randolph-Sheppard Act was enacted in Arizona in 1974 and provides priority for state, county and municipal buildings throughout the state. Today, thousands of blind Americans are living proof this program works.
It works for people like Val Luttenberger, operator of the DES cafeteria, Val's Get-A-Way Café. Val has been a licensed BEP operator for 22 years and says for her, the program gave her the self-confidence, self-esteem, strength and stability to be the person she was always meant to be.
"Without the program, I would not be who I am today," she said. Born with a genetic condition called Cone-Rod Dystrophy, Val grew up in Arizona in a loving household where three of four children had the condition. But Val never let it define who she was. She felt the same as everyone else and, in fact, didn't even know what blindness was. If anything, she said, she was in denial about her own condition. She even played softball until in 8th grade when her coach felt it was unsafe to do so. Many of today's assistive aids like talking books were not available to her in high school. However, she overcame adversity then and used self-determination as a roadmap for her future.
Val married and had three children. She eventually divorced and found herself raising three children as a single mother. Knowing she was responsible for the well-being of three young lives, she looked for an opportunity to become financially stable. She went to the Arizona Industries for the Blind and found employment for several years. Although thankful for the opportunity, she was not happy or fulfilled and wanted to do more with her life for herself and her children. Her discontent led her to a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Specialist at DES. The specialist told Val she would be a good fit for the Business Enterprise Program because of her intellect, drive and determination. She went through extensive training and received her license to be a BEP operator in 1992.
"Was I scared? You bet," said Val. "It was a commitment and dedication to self. But I know that if you say, 'you can,' you will. If you say, 'you can't,' you won't. In my heart, my children are my motivators. What educated me was my journey. I am the same as everyone else. The only difference is that my eyes aren't working."
For another BEP operator, Adam Bevell, the uncertainty of providing for loved ones was also the ultimate concern. Adam's story is similar to Val's, but different in that unlike Val who lost a majority of her sight at age six, Adam had his sight until later in life. Diagnosed with a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, Adam was a school teacher until his vision declined at age 28. Although he loved working with students, he knew he should prepare for what was certain to come with his sight deteriorating rapidly. Adam and his wife Andrea have four children ages seven to fourteen. Of utmost concern was the stability and financial stability of his family. Andrea took steps to start her own business and Adam was determined to succeed as well despite losing his sight.
Not knowing his options, Adam began studying for law school and was accepted. As part of the comprehensive day program within DES Vocational Rehabilitation, Adam was enrolled in an intensive program that allowed him to learn braille, computer skills and assistance needed to prepare for a lifetime without sight. Although he began law school, he quickly decided the time commitment would take him away from his family as it was a solid five year commitment. Then he found BEP through his VR counselor and his hope and determination returned.
Mentors in the program took him under their wing in order to teach him the business.
"It's not for everyone," said Adam. "Like any business, it takes a lot of hard work, but it gives someone willing to work hard an opportunity to succeed and determine a future for themselves and their family. I am extremely grateful for BEP."
Val and Adam agree the Business Enterprise Program is "one of best kept secrets that shouldn't be." There are currently 27 active operators and 32 active facilities in operation in Arizona. For both, BEP has been the opportunity of a lifetime for themselves and their families.
"There aren't a lot of business options out there like this for blind individuals," Adam said. "BEP gives persons with vision impairment a tremendous opportunity to own their own business and establish themselves as an independent entrepreneur."
The BEP reports that Arizona is currently using only about 15 percent of all of the potential opportunities for these enterprises statewide. The Program does not receive any state funding and is solely supported through revenues generated by the Program itself.
The Program is currently working with the City of Phoenix to expand to serve eating and vending needs of the public labor force for the nation's sixth largest city. DES is pleased to have a willing local partner help in presenting opportunities to persons with vision impairment.
Do me a favor. The next time you feel that four o'clock craving and head to the vending machine, check to see if the machine has a sticker that reads "AZBEP." If so, know that the proceeds from your purchase are going to people like Val and Adam, not only to support their dreams and ambitions, but the dreams of many more who have lost their sight and have been presented with an opportunity through the Business Enterprise Program at DES.
If your office doesn't have a vending machine and would like information on how to obtain one, please contact BEP program staff at (602) 774-9100 or TTY: (855) 475-8194.
To learn more about BEP and the opportunities available, please visit: www.azdes.gov/rsa/sbvid/bep
Clarence H. Carter
Supporting veterans through DES programs and services
The sacrifices made by our men and women in the military cannot be measured. They leave behind their families, friends, homes, communities and everything familiar in order to defend our great country and protect the freedoms most of us routinely take for granted. They give up their lives, needs, wants and desires to serve their country, only to return from service unable to match their military skillset to employment in the civilian world. That's where DES can help.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly a half million veterans call Arizona home and that number continues to grow with the current military engagements around the world. That means approximately one in every 12 people you meet in Arizona has served in our country's military in some capacity, many recently returning from active duty.
Like most other states, the unemployment rate for Arizona's young veterans is higher than the general unemployment rate. In fact, the current unemployment rate for young veterans is 8.5 percent, according to the U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee. The rate is even higher for disabled veterans. These numbers are unacceptable considering the sacrifices made these brave young men and women.
DES supports Arizona veterans through two specialized programs called the Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER) and the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP). These programs are focused on providing assistance to veterans and their eligible family members to help them find and retain employment. Services can include job search assistance, training, counseling and support services. Since October 2013, DES staff members have helped to place more than 3,900 veterans in jobs right here in our state. Nearly 1,400 of those served are disabled veterans.
Serving Arizona's veterans is more than a job for the DES staff members in the DVOP and LVER programs. Many of our DES staff members are veterans themselves who understand the difficulties of transitioning back into civilian life and show tremendous empathy, compassion and love for those in need. These DES staff members are true examples of public servants. Like the veterans they serve, they go above and beyond each day to make a difference in the lives of others.
On Veterans Day, and everyday thereafter, let's give back to our veterans in honor of their service, commitment, sacrifice and dedication.
Clarence H. Carter
Taking the Human Trafficking discussion to a new level
It's a situation most find incomprehensible. Yet thousands of young women and children find themselves held captive, enslaved and forced to perform indescribable acts, over and over for the sole benefit of their captor. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports between 100,000 and 300,000 American children are at risk to become victims of human trafficking each year. Those who survive tell stories of physical and emotional abuse, submission and fear that most of us could never imagine.
Human trafficking, for a long time, has been an unspoken part of the dark underbelly of society. Those individuals and entities who participate in this activity have little value for human life and represent the worst of humankind.
It's time to take action. The silence on this issue has lasted far too long.
Fortunately, the tide is turning. There is a growing cadre of caring people and organizations, including members of critical leadership organizations, who are raising awareness by issuing a call to action.
Governor Brewer plays a large part of that movement with the creation of the Governor's Task Force on Human Trafficking. This led to the development of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council, which began meeting earlier this year. The goal of this new council is to promote greater collaboration with law enforcement, state agencies and the community-at-large as well as raise public awareness about victim services, restitution and prevention.
This week, DES is proud to join members of the task force and community partners at the Third Annual "Where Hope Lives Breakfast." This annual event is hosted by "Where Hope Lives," formerly The Rescue Project, which was established just five years ago and is now one of the largest service providers for victims of human trafficking in the nation.
Participants at this breakfast will address and discuss ways in which our community can come together to put an end to this unspeakable practice and help its many victims. Because many victims rely on the safety net services provided by DES to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives, DES is honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with our partner organizations to lend our voice and resources to this issue.
My hope is that these conversations will lead to more than just talk. The Arizona community must come together with its many resources that already exist to support the victims and, ultimately, put an end to this abhorrent and demeaning practice.
Every human being God created has significant value. We have to say in a loud and compelling voice we will stand strong and united against any force that tries to devalue human life.
Clarence H. Carter
Sustained Spotlight on Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is an issue that knows no boundaries. It can happen to anyone, in any home, at any time. National statistics show one in four women and one in seven men have been a victim of severe physical domestic violence. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and according to the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at least 125 people in Arizona died due to domestic violence in 2013. These are not just statistics; these are human lives. Lives we can save if we join together as a community.
The issue of domestic violence is one that has been in the national spotlight recently due to the actions of some high profile NFL players. Unfortunately, it seems a topic like this is only intensely debated if it involves a professional athlete or celebrity. The fortunate aspect, however, is that it gives us another opportunity to discuss the issue and promote ways to raise awareness year-round and join together as a community to help those in need.
The DES Domestic Violence Program works hand in hand with community partners to not only help assist and support victims of domestic violence, but also understand the changing nature of this issue to enable our service delivery system to match the changing needs of survivors. Last year in Arizona, domestic violence shelters provided more than 290,000 shelter bed nights for more than 8,000 adults and children. Times are changing and although many victims of domestic violence still need emergency shelter and support, more and more individuals also desire legal information, knowledge of other community resources, and housing assistance in order to assist them in making decisions to protect themselves and their families.
In response, DES has provided more flexibility in its domestic violence funding categories, joining with local providers to allow for both residential and non-residential services to move funding between the two categories necessary to meet local needs. While emergency shelters remain a necessity in a DV response system, we are also seeing new and different approaches like adopting the Housing First model that moves families into permanent housing and partnering with a community hotel to provide emergency placement for victims of domestic violence, for example. This innovation offers a safe environment for the victim and their family, which allows communities to provide the most cost effective and responsive means of utilizing state resources.
The cycle of domestic violence can be stopped, but it begins with individuals like you and I recognizing the need, reaching out to those who are affected and offering to help year-round, not just when the issue is discussed in the media. Help us give voice to all who are affected to promote the existence of safe, loving and supportive environments. Together, our actions can save lives.
Clarence H. Carter
Honoring Arizona's Direct Support Professionals
Like most people, I wake each morning, get dressed, go to work, participate in meetings, run errands and somehow find a few moments to exercise and eat three meals. It's a fairly regular routine and I willingly admit, like most people, I often take my ability to do these things for granted.
However, for many individuals in our community, especially those living with physical or developmental disabilities, this routine is not something they can accomplish on their own, despite the fact that many of them desire to do so. Instead, they rely on an incredible network of direct support professionals to help meet their daily needs. For example, these professionals prepare meals, help with medication, assist with bathing and dressing, and provide transportation to work or school - anything to help meet the basic necessities of everyday life. Direct support professionals play a fundamental role in caring for the more than 13 million Americans who depend on long-term care services every day.
Here in Arizona, direct support professionals serve more than 100,000 adults and children in home or community-based settings. Their services help these individuals maintain respect, hope and dignity. In fact, Arizona was recognized for the third year in a row in the Case for Inclusion report as "Best Performing" when it comes to key outcomes for citizens with developmental disabilities. Arizona's success through the Department's Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) to promote independence through home-based services for individuals living with developmental disabilities earned it the top spot overall. More than 90 percent of Arizonans with developmental disabilities receiving services are served in a home-like setting.
This week, we honor those dedicated direct support professionals. Today, I have the distinct honor of joining leaders from the Department of Economic Security's Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) to participate in the Division's Eleventh Annual Direct Support Professionals Awards ceremony to honor teams and individuals who have gone above and beyond to serve persons in need. These outstanding individuals were nominated by their peers and clients who believed their work merited special recognition.
The 2014 Direct Support Professional Award Winners include:
- Pat Beery, Hozhoni, 20+ years
- Melissa Blaylock, Rise Family Services, 4+ years
- Wendy Buchberger, Arion, 6+ years
- Jovita Chauvin, DDD, 12+ years
- Glenda Clayton, AASK, 13 years
- Rose Gonzales, Gompers Habilitation Center, 5+ years
- Dimetri Gudino, Project PPEP Encompass, 6 years
- Dana Lyons, DDD, 10 years
- Mario Olivarez, Project PPEP Encompass, 6 years
- Kristen Rausch, Family Partners, 4 years
- Dan Vick, The Tungland Corporation, 16 years
- Fernando Walker, Aires, 12 years
These awards are the result of collaboration between DES and our many community partners, including Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, the Arizona Autism Coalition, the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities, the Arizona University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, the Arizona Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities, Raising Special Kids and the provider community for Direct Support Professionals. I want to personally thank each of these community partners for their help in organizing and coordinating this special event.
As you're getting dressed in the morning or running errands on your lunch break, please take a moment to remember those who need assistance with those tasks and recognize, honor and express appreciation to all those who play a vital role in assisting individuals with disabilities and their families.
Clarence H. Carter
Highlighting the Unique Skills People with Disabilities Bring to the Workforce
There are few times in life when you are blessed with a chance encounter that alters your view of the world, and as a result, your perspective is forever changed. That happened to me a few months ago when I had the pleasure of meeting an outstanding young gentleman who has spent his entire life overcoming the odds. At the time of our meeting, he was completing an internship in the DES Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and today I'm proud to say he is now a member of the DES employee family. The internship was the last thing Steven "Pv" Jantz needed to complete his Master's Degree. Newly transplanted from Oregon, Pv joined the RSA team for the spring semester in hopes of obtaining a hands-on view of rehabilitation services for the individuals we serve.
If until this point Pv's story sounds pretty normal for a young guy just getting started in life, this is where the story changes. You see, Pv is profoundly deaf. While he can voice for himself and did so during our entire conversation, he prefers to communicate through American Sign Language (ASL). In the course of our extended dialogue, Pv, at my promptings, relayed to me his story of growing up in a family that did not see his full potential. He revealed the struggles he encountered as a young child in proving to everyone around him his perceived disability would not hold him back. At one point during the conversation, he said when he was young teachers told him he was intellectually disabled. But, truly, nothing could be further from the truth. He described growing up in a broken home. He then told me how he turned his life around, after being adopted by a loving, supportive family, receiving help from a rehabilitation counselor and finally going back to school.
I share this story with you for two reasons: one, this is the time of year we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness; and two, people like Pv inspire me. Here is an individual, who seemingly had all the cards stacked against him, but he not only overcame those circumstances, he shattered all of the expectations set before him. This unique quality, this perseverance and stick-to-it-ness, is something we see often in people with disabilities and one of the reasons why they make such incredible employees and inspirational human beings.
At DES, we offer many services to help persons with disabilities enter the workforce. RSA, where Pv now works as a Rehabilitation Counselor, offers vocational guidance and counseling, job specific training, rehabilitative technology assistive devices, job development and placement services. RSA also educates and trains employers about the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities and how to meet the needs of this employee population.It is important employers understand providing accommodations is an investment that promises an immediate return - an investment in a qualified worker who happens to have a disability and is, or could become, a valuable asset to a business. Moreover, accommodations are often times not expensive. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free and confidential service from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy that provides individualized accommodation solutions, two-thirds of accommodations cost less than $500, with nearly a quarter costing nothing at all. Yet, more than half of the employers surveyed said that each accommodation benefited their organization an average of $5,000.
In addition to these services, RSA often works in connection with the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), which can provide further supports for individuals with developmental disabilities. These extra supports are based on a person's needs and interests and can include individual supported employment where they are provided basic job development and assistance; employment support aides, where an individual receives one-on-one coaching and support so they can retain employment; group supported employment, which provides an on-site supervised work environment in an integrated community employment setting; center-based employment, in which a vendor engages participants in a paid work or work-related activities; or transition to employment services, which is a curriculum-based service to help individuals obtain the instruction and training needed to stay competitive.
Because the path to employment is very important for individuals with disabilities, it's important to begin these services at a young age. The team-based services offered by the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP) prioritize teaching children from birth to age three the basic skills they will eventually need to succeed at school, live independently and join the workforce.
DES will be hosting several disability employment awareness activities beginning later this month. Individuals with disabilities are invited to participate in a series of workshops to learn how to write a resume, participate in a job interview and much more. These workshops will be followed by a series of job fairs around the state where individuals with disabilities will be able to meet face-to-face with employers who are looking to hire. Information on these workshops is available here (522 KB PDF).
Next time you run into someone with a disability, whether it's in the workforce or in your community, do me a favor and remember Pv. It is individuals like him that makes what we do here at DES the most rewarding experiences of our lives.
Clarence H. Carter
Leaving no stone unturned: How DES locates parents who fail to pay child support
When a parent fails to provide financial support to a child, it not only affects their material needs, but most importantly, their spiritual, emotional and physical ones as well. If you've ever looked into the eyes of a child whose parent is absent from their life and seen the despair, sadness and sense of abandonment in their gaze, you know how vitally important meeting child support obligations is to ensuring their long-term happiness and success as an adult.
Earlier this year, I took an in-depth look at how our system operates, including outreach to both custodial and noncustodial parents and the court system that facilitates the process. What I saw were real children and real families whose lives had been changed by difficult circumstances. With the Division of Child Support Services' (DCSS) concentrated focus on providing outreach to both custodial and non-custodial parents, our hope is that we can make the process of providing financial support a little easier for children and families who need our help.
There are many non-custodial parents who provide for their children on a consistent basis and are diligent and dedicated to the process no matter what their circumstances may be. However, there are also those who do not fulfill their obligations. It's a reasonable deduction that when someone fails to meet their child support obligation for a temporary period of time, it could be for any number of reasons. It may be due to extenuating circumstances such as a job loss or caring for a sick relative, perhaps. Or, quite simply, it may have been a tight month financially. But when someone chronically fails to meet their child support obligation month after month, year after year, it's less likely there is a reasonable justification for doing so. No matter how good the collection and enforcement systems are, there will always be those who seek to evade responsibility to their children and society.
According to Department data, more than 40 percent of non-custodial parents who have a current support order chronically pay less than 20 percent of their child support obligation each month. That breaks down to more than 36,000 non-custodial parents who pay an average of only $32 per month in child support.
The DES Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) has two units solely dedicated to tracking down nonpayers: the Parent Locate Unit and the Child Support Evader Program. Investigators assigned to the Parent Locate Unit utilize local, state and federal information to identify the residence or workplace of a non-custodial parent who has failed to meet their obligation. Through intensive research and investigation, they can identify assets of the parent such as real estate holdings, bank accounts, expensive vehicles, businesses, etc. The process is similar to putting together a puzzle. A locator will look for clues to identify the parent, which includes searching the web and accessing social media sites, contacting landlords, neighbors, family members and known friends. Investigators can also search for utility records, driver's licenses, motor vehicles and property and prison records. Every lead is explored.
The DCSS Child Support Evader program requests tips from the public to locate parents who owe more than $5,000 in child support. Required by state law, the Child Support Evader program posts pictures and information of at least ten nonpayers of child support to the internet each quarter. In order to be considered for the program, the parent must have an arrest warrant issued, their location must be unknown and they have not made any payments in the last six months. The custodial parent must also agree to have the nonpayer's information posted.
Through person-centric and service-oriented programs at the Department of Economic Security, we are helping more Arizona families and children. For example, in the past year, attorneys working with our staff have responded to an increased number of modification requests by non-custodial parents to modify their child support obligations to meet their current circumstances the State proactively files modifications of child support orders when notified that a non-custodial parent is incarcerated so that the parent does not continue to accrue arrears while behind bars ; and the attorneys and DCSS staff have invited parents to "Come to Court" events to make payments and to discuss their legal issues one on one with an attorney.
As we bring Child Support Awareness Month to a close, it's important to remember Arizona children and families need support on a consistent basis. I want to thank our staff for the tremendous outreach during the month of August and throughout the year. Together, we are making a difference today, tomorrow and for the future for Arizona.
Clarence H. Carter