Overview of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind

This section describes the makeup and responsibilities of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.

Table of Contents


The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) was established under Section 129 of Chapter 6 of the Massachusetts General Laws. According to its website, “MCB provides the highest quality rehabilitation and social services to Massachusetts residents who are blind, leading to their independence and full community participation.” People who have low vision and have been diagnosed with progressive visual impairments leading to legal blindness are also eligible to receive vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. MCB partners with local agencies, healthcare providers, employers, and clients’ relatives to provide services, including rehabilitation and social services and vocational assistance, to people in Massachusetts who are legally blind.

MCB has offices in four locations supporting its six service regions in the Commonwealth. MCB’s main office, located at 600 Washington Street in Boston, serves its Greater Boston, Northeast, and Metrowest Regions; its office at 436 Dwight Street in Springfield serves its Western Region; its office at 390 Main Street in Worcester serves its Central Region; and its office at 888 Purchase Street in New Bedford serves its Southeast Region.

As of December 31, 2017, MCB had approximately 137 employees. Its operations are overseen by a commissioner and a five-member advisory board. According to Section 129 of Chapter 6 of the General Laws,

The advisory board shall consist of five persons, qualified by training, experience, or demonstrated interest in the amelioration of the condition of the blind to be appointed by the secretary of health and human services, with the approval of the governor, for a term of five years.

MCB received state appropriations of $22,243,811 and $22,419,621 for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, respectively. It received federal appropriations of $11,445,038 and $9,553,040 for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, respectively. The table below shows its allocation of state and federal funding.

MCB Appropriations

Appropriation Number

Appropriation Name

Fiscal Year 2017 Budget

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget






Administration and Program Operations




Community Services for the Blind




Turning 22 Program and Services




Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind












Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program




Federal Independent Living Grant—Adaptive Housing




Independent Living Services for Older Blind Individuals




Supported Employment for Individuals with Disabilities











Section 136 of Chapter 6 of the General Laws requires vision professionals to report people who are diagnosed as legally blind1 to MCB within 30 days of their diagnoses. A person who is diagnosed as legally blind may request a Certificate of Legal Blindness from MCB to verify that they are registered. A copy of the certificate is necessary to apply for state and federal tax exemptions, automobile excise tax exemptions, and disabled license plates and parking placards, as well as for other identification purposes. As of December 31, 2017, there were 26,976 people who were legally blind registered with MCB.

VR Program

VR programs are designed to give people who have disabilities the rehabilitation and social services they need to find and retain employment. Applicants for MCB’s VR services must be referred to MCB by optometrists or ophthalmologists, since eligibility is determined in part by their examinations. If a submitted report of a person’s legal blindness is accurate and complete, MCB registers the person and refers them to the appropriate VR regional director, who assigns a VR counselor to introduce the person to the VR program and conduct an initial screening.

After the initial screening, the person may apply for services. According to MCB’s website,

To be eligible for MCB VR services, a person must meet the following criteria: the person must have a disability of legal blindness which for that person constitutes or results in a substantial impediment to employment; the person must require VR services to prepare for, secure, retain, or regain employment; and there must be a determination that the person can benefit in terms of an employment outcome from VR services.

A VR counselor is required to determine a person’s eligibility for VR services within 60 days after they apply. If eligibility is denied, the applicant has the right to appeal the decision (see the “Complaint-Resolution Process” subsection of this report).

Eligible people may receive a wide range of services based on their individualized plans for employment (IPEs), which must be developed as soon as possible after the eligibility determination and no later than 90 days after. The IPE is a collaborative effort that involves the consumer and MCB counselor. It is intended to establish an appropriate employment objective that takes into consideration physical and mental limitations and to identify the nature and scope of services required to attain the objective. The IPE is used throughout the person’s involvement with the VR program to periodically monitor their progress toward the established goals and may be amended at any time as situations warrant.

VR services are available to eligible candidates; services include VR counseling and guidance, independent living skills education, job exploration, workplace readiness training, self-advocacy education, and assistive-technology training (e.g., training on keyboarding skills, screen-reading software, and computerized speech systems). Other available training services include college or university, occupational/vocational, on-the-job, job readiness, and disability-related skill training, as well as career services such as job-search assistance and on-the-job support. Transportation services and reimbursement of reader and interpreter fees may be provided under certain circumstances.

Pre-employment transition services are available to any student age 14–21 (up to their 22nd birthday) who has a documented disability. People who are not legally blind and are not registered with MCB can receive pre-employment transition services if MCB considers them potentially eligible for VR services. Pre-employment transition services include job exploration counseling, work readiness training, work-based learning experiences, counseling in post-secondary education, and self-advocacy. They are primarily provided by vendors under contract with MCB.

Once the VR participant is ready for job placement, they must be actively involved in the process. Consumers work with MCB employment specialists to find job placement opportunities in both the private and public sectors. Employers have included banks, hospitals, and schools. In addition, consumers who need ongoing assistance can access MCB’s consumer-supported employment services. After employment, MCB monitors the consumer’s progression and satisfaction for a period of 90 days before finalizing the case.

Accessible Web-Based Activity and Reporting Environment Case-Management System and Database

MCB maintains a case-management system called Accessible Web-Based Activity and Reporting Environment (AWARE), which has a central database of information on the population of people in Massachusetts who are legally blind. The information maintained in AWARE is essential to statistical research at the state and national levels. As of December 4, 2017, all VR case-service records were transferred from the MCB legacy case-management system (System 7) to AWARE. AWARE retains a comprehensive history of clients involved with the VR program from registration through exit, whether or not it obtained employment for them. AWARE automates all Rehabilitation Services Administration2 (RSA)–mandated reports.3

Case Service Report

MCB is required by the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, to submit quarterly and annual Case Service Reports to RSA. The reports collect data regarding VR participants from their VR service records. The data elements collected from the Case Service Report are necessary to evaluate the state’s VR program performance. There are 393 data elements, each representing a specific reporting requirement, such as the participant’s sex, race, veteran status, date of application, date of birth, training services, credential attainment, employment status, or income earnings.

Before submitting its Case Service Reports, MCB uses an edit check application provided by RSA to ensure the accuracy of the data reported. According to RSA’s Policy Directive 16-04,

RSA maintains and provides a comprehensive edit check table to agencies. . . . The table details, by data element, the edit checks required to ensure the integrity of data submissions. . . . Each data submission is analyzed to determine whether the data is consistent with the edit checks. Data submissions that fail to pass the edit check are returned to the VR agency for correction and resubmission. . . .

VR agencies are responsible for ensuring that any data submitted conforms to edit check and data submission requirements.

Complaint-Resolution Process

Informal Complaint-Resolution Process

Consumers have the right to file complaints if they are dissatisfied with their services or disagree with any decision made by MCB staff members that affects VR services. MCB uses case conferences and administrative reviews to resolve complaints informally. The goal of the case conference, which is the first step of the informal complaint-resolution process, is to identify, clarify, and resolve a consumer’s dissatisfaction without conducting a formal hearing. The second step, administrative review, is a meeting organized by MCB’s deputy commissioner within 15 days of the case conference. This review includes a panel made up of three people who have had no direct involvement with the issue under consideration. The panel is appointed by the deputy commissioner, who, whenever possible, is one of the three members. The consumer, their representative, and the involved MCB employee also participate in the review. The panel is charged with examining the relevant information of the case and making a decision on the matter. MCB’s deputy commissioner must issue the panel’s decision letter to the consumer within 10 days after completion of the administrative review.

Formal Complaint-Resolution Process

If the consumer is not satisfied with the decisions made during the case conference and administrative review, they may appeal within 30 days to request mediation, a fair hearing, or judicial review. Mediation, which is the first step of the formal complaint-resolution process, is conducted by a trained, impartial, and qualified mediator chosen and paid for by MCB. All agreements reached during mediation must be in written form. If the parties do not reach an agreement, the consumer can pursue the second step: a fair hearing. A fair hearing is held before an impartial hearing officer and includes the consumer and/or their representative. According to Section 1.10(2) of Title 111 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, MCB employees may “appear and present relevant information orally or in writing, examine witnesses and present arguments relevant to” the hearing. Decisions are made solely by the impartial hearing officer. MCB’s commissioner may not overturn or modify any decision that supports the consumer’s position, unless that decision is contrary to state law, federal law, or agency policy and procedure. If the consumer is not satisfied with the decisions made through the fair hearing, they can pursue the final step, judicial review, by filing a complaint with the Superior Court in the county where the consumer or their principal business is located or in Suffolk County.

Client Assistance Program

Additionally, the Massachusetts Office on Disability maintains and administers a Client Assistance Program (CAP) to independently advocate for VR-service consumers. If a consumer disagrees with a decision made by MCB, is not satisfied with the delivery of VR services, or has questions regarding their rights, they may contact CAP to evaluate the issue. CAP works independently but may reach out to VR representatives to negotiate and communicate on behalf of the consumer or to represent the consumer during an informal and/or formal dispute resolution.

1.    MCB’s website defines legal blindness as “vision with correction of 20/200 or less in the better eye; or peripheral field of ten degrees (10⁰) or less, regardless of visual acuity.”

2.    RSA is an agency within the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. It is the federal oversight agency for the VR program.

3.    VR agencies are required to periodically report to RSA on matters including caseload, finances, appeals, and other program performance measures.

Date published: March 28, 2019

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