From the Editor's Desk
Elaine McHugh

Welcome to the Spring 2014 edition of the Consumer's Voice.

Mary Esther Rohman retired from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) after 16 years. Girard Plante has written an in-depth article on Mary Esther, her time here at MRC, and her life before. Good luck Mary Esther we will miss you!

Peter Gefteas returns to the Consumer's Voice with an article celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Assistive Technology Program (AT) at Easter Seals Massachusetts.  Peter is a recipient of their AT program.

New England Eye is now open to all individuals served by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS).  As many of you may know, it is very difficult to find an eye doctor/optometrist who takes Mass Health.  Please see our article for more information.

We are looking for articles for the Consumer's Voice and images for the featured artist section.  If you are interested in writing for the Consumer's Voice, or you are an artist with an image to share, please contact me by email at elaine.mchugh@mrc.state.ma.us or call me at 617-204-3665.

Announcement-Daniela Trammell, Marketing Director
Commissioner Carr

I'm pleased to announce that Daniela Trammell is now MRC's Communications and Marketing director. She has played a leadership role in launching our One MRC campaign and facilitated the management strategy team that has produced new agency branding, updated brochures, a VR consumer orientation video, and other important projects.

Daniela will be responsible for internal and external communication with state agencies including EOHHS and external stakeholders to ensure the MRC is positioned to support programs and initiatives that empower people with disabilities to live independently in the community and go to work.

In addition, Daniela will be marketing the agency through social media and other traditional venues. She will be the single point of entry for communication and marketing and will coordinate these activities to ensure the MRC is a well-known and respected state agency that is an important and consistent presence in the disability community.

Daniela holds a Bachelors degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a graduate degree from Suffolk University, and a professional communications certificate from Emerson College. She has worked for MRC since 2008 initially as the Executive Assistant to the Commissioner. Please welcome Daniela into her expanded role.

Mary Esther Rohman to Retire
Girard Plante

Upon meeting her vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), Mary Esther Rohman never knew she'd be working for MRC for 16 years, let alone retire from the agency that she gleefully claims gave her a new chance at life.

She grew up in Linden, New Jersey, a small industrial city 13 miles from Manhattan, New York.  While in the eighth grade, she and her mother spiraled into homelessness.  Soon after graduating high school, Mary Esther decided to leave New Jersey for Colorado to live with her godmother.

Mary Esther enrolled in the University of Colorado, where she earned a BA in Sociology and Anthropology in 1969. After working for two years in Colorado, she moved to Boston in 1971. As the years slipped away, Mary Esther grew distant from her mother.  She lost touch with certain friends, too, as her sudden bout with depression and ensuing treatments robbed her of rich recollections of that precious time of her young life.

Mary Esther's mental health proved incapacitating and required Electro Convulsive Therapy that would wipe-out part of her memory. “It was quite terrible. I never knew anybody who claimed that ECT helped them.” She struggled to regain some semblance of normalcy as her psychiatrist worked to keep her permanently in an institution.

Suddenly, her mother returned to her life and intervened. She located another psychiatrist who treated her daughter with a combination of drugs that returned her to stable health. “He kept me safe,” explains Mary Esther. “And that allowed me to work on myself after being in a black hole for years. He helped me reach a level where I began to thrive.” 

As a result of her returning slowly albeit surely on the road to recovery, Mary Esther's relationship with her mother grew more meaningful.  “At the end of my mother's life, we grew close and our newfound togetherness became a blessing for everybody.”

Enter MRC. “Through my recovery, my friends mentioned the MRC as a place to assist me in returning to work. I wondered if I would ever have a life after earning my Ph.D.,” says Mary Esther.  Soon after receiving services from the MRC, Mary Esther learned about the Individual Consumer Program and worked as an Individual Consumer Consultant (ICC) in the MRC Research Department for two years.

From that ICC stint, Emeka Nwokeji introduced Mary Esther to MPOWER, which is an organization that assists people with psychiatric disabilities get connected and train to become advocates and leaders.

At that time, administrators at MPOWER were looking for people with disabilities to go on a trip to a conference on diversity in Washington, D.C.  “While there, my cohorts and I crashed a mental health symposium to educate the attendees about how best to treat different types of people with respect.  We spoke about how to deal with people with mental disabilities. They listened. We enlightened them. That experience set me free.”

During the 14 years as Management Analyst III at the MRC, Mary Esther worked on research and quality assurance. She conducted essential consumer satisfaction surveys.  She did needs assessments for the Learning Disability and Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactivity Disorder (LDADD/HD) population.

She also instituted labor market studies for the MRC, which allowed vocational rehabilitation counselors to know exactly where to help consumers secure employment.  And she prepared statutory reports for the MRC's funding agency on its year-to-year performance progress.

Mary Esther's success in academics is remarkable considering her conflicts with mental illness and physical disability. She earned a Ph.D. at Brandeis University's Heller School of Social Research in 1984; and prior to that achievement, she earned a graduate degree from Boston
University in 1979.  Her myriad work experiences over the past 43 years include Harvard Medical School, Harvard School for Public Health, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. 

Mary Esther developed spinal degeneration soon after working for the MRC.  Her progressive medical situation eventually brought her to the decision to retire in 2014, a difficult decision after working so hard to make a success of her life and return to work after being cut down by a psychiatric disability at the height of her career.

She heaps credit on the MRC and her Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Dr. Galina Gittens for giving her back a life equally passionate about her specialty in employment and socializing with friends and colleagues. “They gave me my life back. I'm really amazed that I'm alive.” 

The 66-year-old Mary Esther lives in Belmont with her husband and is eager to begin the next chapter of a life filled with achievements as well as its inevitable challenges. “I'm really looking forward to this stage of my life.”

Commissioner's Diversity Award
A thank you from Orlando Espinal, MRC Brockton Area Office

I want to share some thoughts from this year's Annual Diversity Meeting and express my gratitude for such a memorable award and recognition. The kind words and wonderful gesture went beyond anything I could have imagined.

I want to thank Commissioner Carr, Assistant Commissioner Joan Phillips, the MRC Diversity Committee and everyone who supported me in receiving this award. Especially Jorge Messmer, who I understand, made the initial nomination. I am also grateful to Ken Nicosia, Daniela Trammell and Angel Nazario, for making sure I was present for the surprise recognition and their hard work helping put together this event.

I also want to thank my co-workers and friends, Lori Knight and Ludwige Desrosiers, for their invaluable support.

I believe diversity is a path to celebrating our uniqueness whether it is our skin color, cultural, ethnic or linguistic background, abilities, sexual orientation or religious beleifs.  It is acceptance, a way to our heart, soul and a measure of our character. It leads us I believe, to a genuine human encounter.

In the past months, I have been blessed to experience this encounter many times over with my colleagues at the MRC. Starting with the wonderful people I work with at the MRC Brockton area office who have demonstrated their care and compassion in many ways.

The Statewide Bilingual Group (SBG) is the reason for my award. We are celebrating our 20th year anniversary. Our meetings are full of passion and enthusiasm. Our members are exceptional professionals and excellent human beings that are committed to improving the quality of service they provide to their bilingual/bicultural clients in their communities. Members give each other support and share resources. We are blessed to have such gifted, skilled and fine people in our group. I am proud to be a part of the SBG. It has been an important part of my career at the MRC. I share this award with all our members.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the MRC's Senior Management Team for their effort in making our agency a more diverse and inclusive workplace. In my 23 years working for the agency I have witnessed how people from diverse backgrounds have been promoted and hired to managerial positions. I realize there is still work to be done, but I feel confident that with Commissioner Carr's leadership and the effort of MRC's Senior Management Team and the Diversity Committee, this goal will be accomplished.

This past September the Statewide Bilingual Group had an opportunity to meet with Commissioner Carr. We were left with a favorable impression that his experience with diversity goes beyond theory. It is first hand and genuine.

I want to thank you all again. Your support has given me renewed hope and energy to continue pursuing my passion. Muchas Gracias!

25th Anniversary of the Assistive Technology Program (ATP) Managed by Easter Seals Massachusetts
Peter Gefteas

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the assistive technology (ATP) program managed by Easter Seals Massachusetts. This innovative program has provided life-altering AT training to many individuals living with disabilities in Massachusetts. As a former client of Easter Seals Massachusetts, I have first-hand insight into the monumental benefits that come from receiving services from this exemplary program.

Many articles about assistive technology focus on specific devices, but it's also important to highlight ATP programs that provide invaluable training services to people with disabilities. The Easter Seals Massachusetts AT Program is a notable example.

The Easter Seals Massachusetts ATP program has provided me with computer services that have enabled me to operate a computer proficiently. Also, my assistive technology skills have allowed me to work as an Individual Consumer Consultant for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.  I am also the Outreach Coordinator for the Massachusetts Assistive Technology School Share (ATSS) Program.

My Easter Seals AT specialist, Eric Oddleifson, has given me extensive computer training, ranging from basic
tasks, such as how to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking software to dictate in Microsoft Word, to specific disability-related tasks, such as how to obtain a book in digital format on Bookshare.org and use screen reading software to read it out loud. The latter training helped me to resume my college education after a 25-year medical leave of absence.

Eric has a positive approach to computer training that incorporates the use of workarounds and has completely reshaped my opinion of computer technology. The previous three companies that gave me training frequently told me, "You can't do that because you're disabled." Eric, on the other hand, has always said: "Let's create a workaround so you can do that." I had never even heard of the term "workaround" until he introduced me to it. He has created so many successful workarounds for me that I now look upon any computer technology problem as a challenge I can overcome, rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

Assistive technology has played an essential role in my successful training. Eric has installed an assortment of AT hardware and software to meet my disability needs. For example, since I am physically unable to restart my computer, he installed a SmartNav Head Tracking Mouse by NaturalPoint so I have a hands-free method of restarting my computer whenever the Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software freezes.

Much of the training I have received from Eric has focused on Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional Edition by Nuance, which is a vital assistive technology device for someone with mobility issues. I completely rely on this versatile voice recognition software to operate my computer.

Eric has taught me how to fully utilize Dragon's wide range of features such as standard voice commands for typing, Internet navigation, and mouse movement. He has also created numerous custom voice commands for my specific disability needs and has showed me how to create custom voice-commands by myself.

This Dragon training has immensely expanded my computer capabilities so I can now operate a computer almost as well as any other person. Having such high computer proficiency has afforded me numerous opportunities to undertake productive endeavors, including a variety of employment opportunities. For instance, I have worked for my family's restaurant designing menus and flyers.

One of the most prominent examples of the lasting positive impact the training has had on my life centers on my vocational aspirations. The astonishing level of independence I have derived from my Easter Seals training has instilled in me a vibrant enthusiasm for assistive technology, which, in turn, has given me a specific vocational direction. I noticed that Eric dramatically improved my life by sharing his assistive technology knowledge and I wanted to do the same for other people living with disabilities. That's why I have dedicated my life to promoting assistive technology awareness.

I have pursued this objective in a variety of ways such as writing magazine articles about assistive technology. I have worked on AT projects as an Individual Consumer Consultant for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. For the past several years, I have served as a member of the Massachusetts Assistive Technology Advisory Council. I also created a YouTube channel for the state's AT Program and currently work as the Outreach Coordinator for the Massachusetts Assistive Technology School Share Program.

My success story mirrors a plethora of stories about other Easter Seals Massachusetts clients. Like me, these clients have benefited from an AT Program staff member who has displayed an impressive knowledge of assistive technology and has incorporated workarounds into the training.

As the Easter Seals Massachusetts AT Program celebrates its 25th anniversary, I am keenly aware that my success story would not have been possible without the AT training from this praiseworthy program. I am appreciative of just how much this AT training has improved my life. I now approach my daily activities with confidence because I know the computer skills and Dragon expertise I have attained through Easter Seals have given me the ability to do almost anything that others can do. Thanks to this outstanding Assistive Technology Program, I'm proud to say I'm now a productive member of society.

I'm truly grateful that Easter Seals Massachusetts has lived up to its motto: "To provide services to ensure that children and adults with disabilities have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play."

NOTE: This article was originally published, in its entirety, in the December 2013 issue of: Closing the Gap Magazine.

The Ride Fare Settlement

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) board unanimously approved the $1 cut to fares detailed below.

The Massachusetts Senior Action Council, the Boston Center for Independent Living, Bay State Council of the Blind, the Public Transit Public Good Coalition, the Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA and the MBTA jointly state:

The MBTA's decision to recommend that the Mass DOT Board vote on December 11, 2013 to reduce the RIDE/ADA fares from $4.00 to $3.00 is a positive and significant step.  This fare reduction will mitigate the impact of the July 1, 2012 fare increase for those dependent on The RIDE for their transportation needs.

The MBTA and the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, the Boston Center for Independent Living, the Bay State Council of the Blind, the Public Transit Public Good Coalition and the Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA agree to continue to work collaboratively toward long-term solutions that address the affordability and sustainability of The RIDE service, including examination of means-testing to create a tiered fare structure and examination of approaches to meet the transportation needs of RIDE customers at all income levels. Additionally, each of the parties commits to continuing to address the issues identified by the Governor's Executive Order 530.

New England Index has moved

New England Index has moved from Waltham to Worcester.  Below is their new contact information.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center,
University of Massachusetts Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North, S3-301
Worcester, MA 01655

Our toll-free number will remain the same at 800-642-0249

Our new phone number will be: 774-455-4056

New Vision Clinic Opens

New England Eye (NEE) Southeastern Massachusetts is now open to all individuals served by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS).  Individuals living throughout the Commonwealth are welcome to schedule an appointment.  The Clinic is open each Wednesday from 9am to 5pm. 

Eye examinations at the Clinic are provided to determine a person's eye health, to better understand how each person uses his or her vision, and to maximize visual function.  Each appointment is scheduled for one hour, allowing time for the exam, and to ensure all questions are answered.  

Because we are a teaching Clinic, Dr. Christine Sacco, and an optometry intern will work together to provide the eye exam.  During the visit, eyeglasses and/or vision aids may be prescribed, appropriate therapies developed, and/or advice offered on rehabilitation or educational considerations.

In addition, recommendations/referrals may be made to other specialists for in-depth testing of visual field, to ophthalmologists as needed and/or to opticians for the selection and fitting of eyeglasses.  Before leaving, any needed paperwork will be filled out.  A full eye report will be written and mailed to each person at home.

Dr. Christine Sacco received her optometry degree from New England College of Optometry and completed a residency at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Brockton, MA. An attending optometrist at NEE, she has clinical experience in providing primary eye care to diverse populations, including as a consultant with a multidisciplinary group caring for people in long term and assisted care facilities.  Dr. Sacco has a special interest in providing optometric services to individuals with cognitive and/or physical impairments.

Insurance information is required to schedule an exam

Referrals: MassHealth and Medicare do not require referrals for eye care appointments. If a referral is needed, we will contact you. 

Co-Pays: Any needed co-payments will be billed to you after your appointment. To schedule an appointment please call:  617-680-8447 or email: JonesS@neco.edu

Go Green, Save a Tree
Have the Consumer's Voice sent by e-mail. If you are interested please e-mail your request to: Consumer.involvement@mrc.state.ma.us

Becoming an Individual Consumer Consultant (ICC)
Leslie Wish

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission's Consumer Involvement Program makes a special effort to form cooperative relationships with those individuals who are known as consumers or recipients of services.

We are interested in applicants for the ICC program that have skills and experiences valuable to the needs of the MRC.  The program is open to both MRC consumers and their immediate family members.

This program is for MRC clients to gain work experience and as such, they are encouraged to apply to gain meaningful employment skills working on projects as an ICC.  This is not considered full time work, it is a step on the road to employment.

These projects are usually very short term, one to three days in length, and there is no guarantee there will be consistent work.  Every effort is made to accommodate all ICC's with regard to their limitations and abilities.

If you are interested in becoming an ICC, please contact Leslie Wish, Program Coordinator for Consumer Involvement, at 617-204-3771 or via e-mail: Leslie.Wish@MRC.State.Ma.Us.

Featured Artist: Barry Sumner is a Cape Cod area artist who specializes in wood carvings.  He has been working on his carvings since the late 1960's.  He plans to make art as well as advocacy for people with disabilities his full-time career.

 

This newsletter is an independent publication sponsored by the MRC State Rehabilitation Council. The opinions expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily reflect the policy and practices of the MRC. They are solely the opinions of consumers of MRC programs and services.

For further information contact Emeka Nwokeji, Director of the Consumer Involvement Program, at 617-204-3665.

To receive the newsletter electronically, e-mail consumer.involvement@mrc.state.ma.us

 


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.