From the Editor's Desk
In this edition of the Consumer's Voice we welcome Joan Phillips, the new Deputy Commissioner for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission's Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program. Please read below the letter from Commissioner Charles Carr announcing Ms. Phillips' appointment.
The Consumer Conference has returned! Because of the hard work of the Annual Consumer Conference Planning Committee headed by Ann Marie Paulson, the Consumer Conference is again a reality. Ms Paulson's article appears below in this edition of the Consumer's Voice.
Please join us at the Annual Consumer Conference on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at Northeastern University in Boston. There may be a limited number of spaces available. Please call (617) 204-3665 if you are interested in attending.
We are still looking for people to write for the Consumer's Voice. If you don't believe you have the skills please read the article below by James Middleton, Overcome the Fear of Writing. If you would like to write for the Consumer's Voice and be paid, you must be an Individual Consumer Consultant (I.C.C.). For more information on becoming an I.C.C. please contact Leslie Wish at 617-204-3771.
An Announcement from Commissioner Carr
March 21, 2008
I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Joan Phillips to be the Deputy Commissioner for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission's Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program. Her proven leadership and excellence in the field make her the clear choice to assume this key senior position.
Joan was born in a small town in Jamaica, West Indies. Although raised with economic disadvantages, Ms. Phillips boasts of a family rich in love, faith and hope for a better future. She immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of 12 and enrolled in the Boston Public School system, where she distinguished herself as a dedicated student.
The first in her family to attend college, Joan holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Boston University and a Masters Degree in Rehabilitation Services from Springfield College.
With more than 10 years of management experience in non profit and for profit organizations, Ms. Phillips has developed an understanding of how companies can undermine themselves through un-addressed inefficiencies, cross-purposes and miscommunication; all of which underscore the importance of retooling for an efficient and strategically focused organization.
Ms. Phillips' most recent work experience is that of Area Director of the Roxbury Area Office of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. Her creative planning and strategic approach to managing the Roxbury office has resulted in significant improvements in staff productivity, community involvement, delivery of services to students transitioning from school to work, stronger relationships with employers through the development of an Employer Advisory Board, improved staff morale, expansion of services to consumers and, above all, enhanced service outcomes for consumers.
Ms. Phillips' other career experiences include work with non-profit organizations such as the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation where she worked as the Director of Employment Initiatives, overseeing the operations of workforce development programs and the Boston Center for Independent Living where she was promoted from Project Assistant to Director of Employment Initiatives and administered vocational services for the expansion of employment opportunities for individuals with severe physical disabilities. In addition, she lent her energy and skills to Jewish Vocational Services as coordinator of a transition program for Boston public school students with disabilities.
Her experience in the private sector includes employment as a Claims Specialist with Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and for United Health Care where she was promoted from Disability Examiner to Account Manager, managing and retaining major contracts. She received several Key Contributor Awards for her outstanding work while at United Health Care, and is widely recognized as an innovative and caring professional.
Please join me in welcoming Joan to the MRC leadership team.
Charles Carr, Commissioner
The 2008 Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) Annual Consumer Conference
Ann Marie Paulson
On Thursday, June 12, 2008 the MRC's Annual Consumer Conference will be held in the Curry Student Center at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. This is an exciting new venture for us as we enter the arena of collaboration and partnership with Northeastern University.
Due to the MRC budget shortfalls, there was no funding for a 2007 Consumer Conference. The Consumer Conference Planning Committee, the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) and the SRC Executive Board expressed a desire to continue planning for future conferences, pending adequate funding. At the Spring 2007 SRC meeting, I suggested we explore the idea of locating the conference at a college or university. During the lunch break, Dr. Susan Ventura, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Northeastern University, approached Emeka Nwokeji, Director of Consumer Involvement, and stated "I would like to work with you to see if we can hold the conference at Northeastern University." This was the beginning of a new life for the Conference.
The Consumer Conference Planning Committee was given the charge to go forward. Other possible sites included the University of Massachusetts in Boston, Assumption College in Worcester and Holy Cross College in Worcester.
Lisa Weber, MRC Consumer Conference Coordinator, Emeka Nwokeji and I met with Dr. Susan Ventura. Dr. Ventura presented us with a binder containing all the details necessary to have the Conference at Northeastern University. Dr. Ventura was instrumental in applying for a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Although the MRC did not receive the grant, Dr. Ventura will assist us in reapplying next year. Northeastern University offered to donate all the facilities and space needs for the Conference. Limited audio and visual services would also be donated. Dr. Ventura has arranged to have 50 student volunteers assist consumers at the Conference.
Commissioner Charles Carr announced he would appropriate $50,000 from the MRC budget for the Conference. We will contract with Northeastern University Catering for a continental breakfast, Box lunch and afternoon snack the day of the Conference. All other related expenses will come from various MRC funding sources.
A fundraising sub-committee, chaired by Owen Doonan, has been established to help fund future conferences, as fundraising is now an integral part of the conference planning process. Please contact Owen Doonan or Lisa Weber at 617-204-3638 if you can be of any assistance to the fundraising subcommittee.
When you attend the Conference this year I hope you will take the opportunity to thank Commissioner Carr for his dedication and financial support for the Consumer Conference. Please convey how grateful you are for the generosity of Northeastern University, Dr. Susan Ventura and her student volunteers. Without their spirit of volunteerism and dedicated financial endowment this Conference would not be possible. I hope you will enjoy your time at the Conference and seriously consider how you can help to financially support future conferences.
SILC Legislative Day, April 22, 2008
Two hundred people attended the SILC Legislative Day at the State House in Boston to support an Independent Living agenda for Massachusetts. This Legislative Day is unique in recent memory since financial issues facing the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) were not the priority of the Legislative Day. Rather, the focus was on persons with disabilities, who given adequate supports, can live, work and play within the larger non-disability community.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, in his proposed Fiscal Year 2009 Budget allocated $45.8 million for his "Community First" initiative. This initiative is the newest and largest single long term investment ever funded in a gubernatorial budget. It is a significant commitment to rebalancing the Commonwealth's long term care system, and implementing the most significant component of the so-called Equal Choice law, which was passed in 2006 which looks to ensure a full continuum of care for people in the community while maintaining necessary nursing home capacity.
The centerpiece of this initiative is an expanded research and demonstration waiver (Section 1115 waiver) funded under the Commonwealth's Medicaid waiver which will allow the Commonwealth to provide transitional and Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) to between 30,000 to 35,000 elders and persons with disabilities over the next five years. The waiver also provides transitional support to three different groups of elders and persons with disabilities in nursing homes and those who are at risk of going into nursing homes. Some of the individuals getting services will be new to the MassHealth system because of eligibility changes while others will be newly eligible to receive community services.
The Legislature, however, disagreed with Gov. Patrick, and only allocated $15 million to this task. Organizers hoped the high concentration of people with disabilities at the State House on this day would prompt the Legislature during debate on its budget to increase the amount of money dedicated to waiver implementation by $13 million.
To this mix, organizers added the pay rates for Personal Care Attendants which they considered woefully inadequate for the difficult economic times in which we live . Note: Gov. Patrick several weeks prior to the rally had proposed a pay raise of thirty-six cents for Personal Care Attendants with no fringe benefits. The disability community would like to see a pay increase of $2.16 per hour over the next two years with benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation.
Speaker after speaker took to the microphone to extol the virtues of community living and to support the proposed increase in the pay rates for Personal Care Attendants. "The state budget should be a document that reflects our fundamental values and practices," said Michael Festa, Secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Speakers later on stressed to the audience the importance of passing the money since without this community support money, people with disabilities will be unable to do the job needed in a 21st century economy.
Now that we are in the Conference Committee stage of the budget, please contact your State Representatives and State Senators to have them send letters to members of the Conference Committee requesting they put the higher number in the Community First Line item.
LD/ADHD Task Force
The November meeting of the Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (LD/ADHD) task force provided an opportunity to meet with MRC Commissioner Charles Carr. During this meeting most of the discussion centered on the task force's recent accomplishments, specifically the website re-design project, support groups and updating of the task force's mission, goals and history.
Further conversation centered on the task force's understanding that the Independent Living Centers (ILC') are not providing services to adults with LD/ADHD. According to the MRCIS system, 12% of consumers have LD/ADHD. The LD/ADHD task force is currently developing a strategy to engage the ILC's in a more effective way to provide services for this population.
Commissioner Carr thought the ILC's could do a better job regarding there dealings with consumers with LD/ADHD. The ILC's needed more training and did not have appropriate resources.
Commissioner Carr suggested that the MRC Training Department should be contacted. Specifically, Ken Nicosia should work with the LD/ADHD task force team to create a training curriculum for VR counselors. The task force reminded Commissioner Carr that there has been training for the VR counselors in the past.
Currently the MRC is providing funding for a support group in Cambridge, MA. Commissioner Carr emphasized the importance of support groups. The Commissioner also asked how many people attend support groups on a regular basis?
The SCIL Legislative Advocacy Day at the State House was brought to our attention. We encouraged our consumers to make every effort to attend this advocacy opportunity.
The process of becoming meaningfully employed can be very difficult. Consumers have complained about how hard it is for them to get a job and be successful. The discussion then turned to job coach services. There are not enough qualified job coaches and they do not stay in the job very long. Many MRC offices do not have job coach services available. The LD/ADHD task force is recommending that the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) inform consumers which offices have job coach services.
For more information about the LD/ADHD task force, please visit their information on the MRC website.
New England Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center SCI Lecture Series
The New England Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center held its first SCI Lecture Series event of the new year on January 15th at the Boston University School of Medicine. Eighty people attended the Lecture to hear Hollis Cotton, Community Liaison for the Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD), speak about the services MOD provides.
Mr. Cotton's presentation highlighted MOD's history in educating people with disabilities about their rights within the workplace as well as access to public programs and buildings. The event brought several people with disabilities from various backgrounds together to learn how MOD can best assist them and their constituencies with complaints ranging from access to public buildings, public transportation, and job discrimination.
Budget constraints the past few years are responsible for staff cuts at MOD, but the array of services the state agency is known for are ongoing. "We (MOD) have an obligation to serve the person with a disability who requires information about laws governing access or any other service we offer," Mr. Cotton said.
Also attending the lecture were advocates, family members of consumers, health care personnel, and Dr. Steve Williams, Chief and Chairman, Dept. of Rehabilitation at Boston Medical Center, who introduced Mr. Cotton. A light dinner and refreshments were provided.
The SCI Lecture Series events are held at the Boston University School of Medicine, Heibert Lounge, 14th Floor, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. For more information, contact Claudine Dejoie, Health Services Coordinator, at Claudine.Dejoie@bmc.org.
State Government as Model Employer
By Joseph Panciotti
The Employment NOW Coalition met on April 18, 2008 at the John Volpe Center/Federal Transit Administration Building, 55 Broadway, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Bill Henning called the meeting to order and introduced his co-chair Linda Long-Bellil, who was also the moderator of the panel discussion. Ms. Long-Bellil explained that a distinguished panel had been invited to discuss the efforts that can be undertaken to make Massachusetts government a model employer of people with disabilities.
Following the introductions, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commissioner Charles Carr explained the concept of the state as a model employer of people with disabilities. He stated that the Employment NOW Coalition is a grass-roots organization and that "We need to push the issue of employment from the bottom up."
Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner (EEOC) Christine Griffin, shared her experiences within the federal government. It was encouraging when she observed: "We are at a turning point in the achievement of our goals to increase employment of people with disabilities." She added that we are not at our destination, yet. Ms. Griffin reminded us "Employment is a measure of self worth, what you do for a living."
Her recommendations include:
Government centralized funding for accommodations in the work place. If funds are not in your departmental or agency budget, resources need to be made available from a central account that will pay for the accommodations needed.
Disability program managers need to keep their eyes open and be alert to opportunities for employment of people with disabilities, both in hiring and advancement. The position of disability program manager must be an important position, not a collateral duty.
Have a subset of qualified people to be looked at and interviewed prior to the public posting of a position.
Myra Berloff, from the Massachusetts Office on Disabilities (MOD), reported on the progress of Executive Order 478. She thanked the Employment NOW Coalition for its dedication and valued contributions in assisting with the draft of Gov. Patrick's Executive Order to make the Commonwealth a model for employing people with disabilities.
Dr. Jean McGuire, Assistant Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), stressed the importance of adequately funding the initiatives taken to meet our mutual goals. The Legislature, as a partner in this venture, has an important role to provide the capital that will result in an ample return on its investment. Dr. McGuire went on to accent the inclusion of a provision in the order for the "accountability" of progress and oversight at all levels.
Dr. McGuire announced that internships are being created at senior managerial and executive levels to be available to those with diabilities. She also mentioned concerns about those among us who are both not only people with disabilities, but older as well.
Stan Eichner, Director of Disability Program Development, led a discussion toward answering the question "What is an effective strategy for increasing the number of people with disabilities employed in state government?" Mr. Eichner repeated the call for accountability, which prompted the need for clarification by an audience member of exactly what the meaning of the term "accountability" is. Mr. Eichner explained that executives and managers alike, as part of their periodic performance evaluations, will have to account for their performance in meeting their responsibilities as outlined in the Executive Order.
Linda Long-Bellil then reminded those in attendance that this was a regular meeting of the Employment NOW Coalition and opened the floor to the membership for comments or announcements. The only speaker from the floor reminded those attending that this is an especially active political season and we will have ample opportunity to ask candidates for their positions on affordable housing. Also, the speaker said we must recognize that eighty-five percent of those in subsidized housing are either seniors or persons with a disability or both. Furthermore, the speaker stated housing is an important element of support in meeting the needs of people with disabilities.
The Co-Chair announced the next meeting of the Employment NOW Coalition is scheduled for Friday, May 16, 2008 at the Central Square Branch Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
For more information please contact: Jim Lyons at NILP at (978) 687 4288 or coalition co-chairs Linda Long-Bellil at 617- 686-3054 or Bill Henning at BCIL at 617- 338-6665.
Come, be seen, be heard and contribute. All are needed and welcome.
David Heim-Wheelchair Recycler
We last heard about David Heim in October when he appeared in the Boston Globe. Recently, I caught up with David in a brief phone interview to learn how his wheelchair recycling business is doing.
David is a rare individual who harbors innate abilities to build, re-build and repair power chairs and manual wheelchairs from parts taken from chairs no longer in use. Thus, his business name: Wheelchair Recycler.
David started his own business more out of need than by choice. He suffered a spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury in a car crash 12 years ago. Heim, 46, is one of the fortunate few who regained function in his upper and lower extremities. Months of intensive physical and occupational rehabilitation restored much of his cognitive and speech skills. After overcoming his debilitating injuries, Heim set out on his quest to return to work. MRC assisted Heim by purchasing a wheelchair lift-equipped van.
After a distrust of durable medical providers, he decided to scrap his relationship with vendors who practiced fraudulent business by overcharging for unnecessary work to power and manual wheelchairs of his friends. "I've seen lots of fraud. People call me and tell me their chair has been in the shop for weeks. When I get it, I don't see problems," Heim said.
Heim repairs wheelchairs from consumers and, with the help of his 19-year-old son, gets a chair back to its owner the next day. Typically wheelchairs are held in a vendor's shop for weeks, leaving a consumer waiting needlessly to return to wheeling around independently.
Heim built a power chair he daily uses because he cannot walk long distances. He also built the Freedom Walker, a unique power chair that allows Heim to stand up safely for exercise. Heim uses the Freedom Walker to drive long distances as well. Both power chairs are customized to meet a consumer's needs and sell for $2,000 dollars or whatever a consumer can afford. He also builds customized "off-road" power chairs that include a snow plow on the front that is capable of pushing heavy wet snow.
Prior to his injury, Heim was an engineer at a machine shop in Hopedale, where he worked as operations manager. He credits those work experiences and his innate abilities to build and repair wheelchairs. "I was gifted with a mechanical ability."
Recently, the recycled wheelchairs, all manners of parts and his vast array of tools forced him move to a 200 square-foot space that still doesn't accommodate his need of 3,000 square feet. Heim learns about wheelchairs no longer in use from friends and other contacts. He does not deal with insurance companies and takes cash payments. For more information, visit www.wheelchair-recycler.org.
CORI Reform Moves Forward
Consumers and their service providers recognize the need for reform in the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) program. Some consumers have criminal records. This is not to infer that all consumers partake in criminal activity. Often the criminal offense has been directly related to the consumer's disability. As a result, they have been unable to obtain employment or find a place to live, thus their rehabilitation and re-entry into the community becomes further delayed.
In a letter to the Senate and House of Representatives dated January 1, 2008, Governor Deval Patrick submitted a bill entitled "An Act to Reduce Recidivism by Increasing Employment Opportunities." The purpose of the bill is to "create economic opportunity and enhance public safety by increasing employment opportunities for rehabilitated individuals with criminal records."
The bill amends the time individuals must wait to seal their criminal records; ten years in the case of felonies and five years in the case of most misdemeanors. Previously, individuals had to wait 15 years for felonies and 10 years for misdemeanors in order to request their records be sealed. Sex offenses will not be eligible for sealing. To further improve employment prospects, the bill directs the Criminal History Systems Board (CHSB) not to provide CORI-certified employers access to records that are eligible for sealing under the new timelines. However, criminal justice agencies will be given full access to sealed records.
The Governor's letter also states he is issuing an Executive Order to establish as the policy of the Executive Department that a criminal background check would occur only where a current or prospective employee is otherwise qualified for a position and that the contents of a criminal record be relevant to the duties and qualifications of the position the person is applying for. The Executive Order includes a number of other initiatives to ensure the accuracy and relevance of CORI and facilitate the employment of rehabilitated individuals. The Governor closed his letter to the Legislature by urging prompt and favorable consideration of the bill.
Overcoming the Fear of writing
Ray Bradbury, the famous American writer, once explained how he writes. Upon awakening in the morning, Bradbury first goes to his typewriter. He doesn't think he just puts his "hands over the keys" and lets his mind guide him "through a myriad of ideas."
Bradbury has authored countless books, several of which are famous. The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451 are among his best-known titles. We can safely say that Ray Bradbury makes his living by putting words on paper. We can also safely say that he is not afraid to write.
Fear of writing is common. Many of us don't know what to write. Many avoid criticism from others. Some fear making mistakes and some have been taught that "practice makes perfect."
Writing is an art and art is imperfect. Perfection is never the goal, practice is. Practice won't make you perfect, but it can make you better. So, no matter what it is you face, the key is always practice. Here are five steps that will teach you how to practice the art of writing.
Bodybuilders need to do warm-ups to avoid straining their muscles. You do the same thing mentally. Set aside some time, then sit down and start talking to yourself, out loud if possible. This might seem silly, but talking is the best way to get your thoughts out. You can better examine your feelings, and write about them, when you can hear what you are thinking. Even just thinking silently is better than not thinking at all.
Physically write words. You might need some inspiration. Try thinking about the beach, or about a time in your life, but you must create real words! If all else fails, pick a small word like "the" and write it down. Then put a noun in front of it, followed by a verb. Continue writing until you have a sentence, then write another sentence until you have a paragraph. Keep writing until you are satisfied that you have completed a thought.
Keep a notebook for yourself. If you have an idea, write it down and save it. Revise it repeatedly, and you will see your writing improve.
Show your work to friends, family, and colleagues. They will tell you what they like and don't like about what you have written. Realize that they are actually helping you to improve your writing. Of course, we all want to get positive feedback but even negative criticism helps you! And as always, avoid getting angry. A calm exterior shows people that you are taking their commentary as royalty would even though you're fuming inside.
Use standard English. Write simply, and write as you would speak. If you need help with the mechanics of the English language, then read E.B. White's "The Elements of Style." Learning lessons from this book will help you to simplify your writing. Find a copy of it at a used book store, and keep it handy for reference.
Writing is important. Daily life requires the use of text messages, emails and written memos. We must all improve the language that we speak, read and write. If you improve your writing skills, then people will comprehend you better, in print at least.
If Ray Bradbury can be a writer, then so can you. Take advantage of technology when possible by using a computer. If you have already tried that, and you feel as though it has failed you, then try writing with a pen and paper, or using an old manual typewriter. Do whatever it takes to find your groove. And enjoy yourself! Writing can be fun and rewarding.
Massachusetts 9-1-1 Emergency Personnel can now respond to a "silent call"
If you need to call 9-1-1 and you are unable to speak for reasons such as a physical disability, domestic violence, home invasion or a language barrier, follow these simple instructions using a touch-tone telephone.
First dial 9-1-1. When the call is answered, indicate your need by pressing the appropriate number on your touch-tone telephone. If you need Police press 1. If you need Fire press 2. If you need an Ambulance press 3. The silent call procedure works with both land lines and wireless phones.
Sardi Pronja lives in Malden, MA and came to the United States from Albania in 2004 after receiving an invitation to exhibit with Very Special Arts (VSA), in Washington, DC. Soon after the exhibition, Sardi moved to Malden MA, where he received asylum status in the United States. He graduated from Malden High School in 2006. Sardi has been recognized by several national, state and local art competitions including Channel 5's "A+" student segment. Currently, Sardi is attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he has gained praise for many of his paintings and drawings. Sardi utilizes his experience regarding the after effects of the fall of communism in Albania and expresses these experiences in his artwork.
Sardi Pronja can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the following companies for their support of the Artists with Disabilities Task Force,
The Consumer's Voice
Elaine McHugh, Editor
Youcef "Joe" Bellil
John Chappell, Jr., Deputy Commissioner
Emeka Nwokeji, Director, Consumer Involvement
Sheila Wojdakowski, HR/Customer Relations
Leslie Wish, ICC Program Coordinator
Lisa Weber, CI Program Coordinator
This newsletter is a publication sponsored by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). 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, send an e-mail to email@example.com
This information is provided by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.