2021 RSA Re-allotment Project Summary

This executive summary includes snapshots of all 2021 RSA re-allotment projects completed by MCB and our partners.

MESSAGE FROM COMMISSIONER D'ARCANGELO

In 2021, thanks to the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), MCB was able to take steps to help us achieve our ultimate goal of securing successful employment for many of the people we serve who are blind and visually impaired. Employment offers financial independence and the opportunity to contribute to society in meaningful ways.

Our MCB community experienced employment challenges due to COVID-19, but we remain motivated to continue to provide employment-related services to the approximately 900 individuals who are a part of our Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program.

MCB’s VR team and Employment Services Unit were able to pivot quickly due to the latest mobile technology, strong partnerships with employers, mentoring opportunities for consumers, and innovative employment training programs with employer partners across the Commonwealth that are committed to inclusion and accessibility.

As more telework and hybrid employment opportunities are developed in response to the pandemic, we anticipate that the people we serve will be prepared for new employment options and successes in the year ahead.

As part of our 2021 reallotment from RSA, we were able to place the first of its kind paid digital and traditional advertisements for our “What’s Your Vision?” campaign. These ads included successful members of our VR community and served to motivate their peers to conceive of employment as an achievable goal. The campaign increased engagement with individuals and their families, as well as outreach to eye care providers and employers in Massachusetts, because together, we all play a vital role in creating successful employment outcomes for individuals. The campaign wrapped up in October 2021 to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and included a partnership with Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to feature the campaign via 195 digital billboards across the state. The campaign received more than 8,893,743 online impressions and 3,284,740 video views. Offline, the campaign received more than 42,290,616 impressions via TV, radio, and print ads.

To learn more about the campaign and our 2021 MCB Reallotment Projects, review the summaries and attachments below: 

Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment

Project Partner

Public Consulting Group, Inc.

Objectives

In early 2021, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) contracted with Public Consulting Group LLC (PCG) to administer an existing fifty-one (51) question Voluntary Survey to consumers in MCB’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Social Rehabilitation (SR) programs for the purpose of evaluating MCB consumers’ socioeconomic status, level of impairment, overall health and wellbeing, activities of daily living, social interactions and technology use.

This report serves as a baseline for MCB to administer this survey and analyze the resulting data on an annual basis in order to track and monitor trends over time and ultimately improve the lives of those who are blind or visually impaired in Massachusetts.

Key Activities

MCB pursued a vendor, which then contracted PCG, to implement a 51-question survey to existing consumers and provide analytics on the data collected. The questions for the survey would be the same as those from the HSRI Report in 2020.  PCG produced a final report that would be like the HSRI Report from 2020. 

PCG determined through the data provided the best ways of reaching out to existing consumers with the survey, whether by phone, mail, in person, email or other methods or a combination of methods to generate a representative sample for the survey. During 2021, it was determined the best way to reach consumers was email. PCG also created a way for consumers to complete by phone, if chosen. 

PCG attended weekly or biweekly meetings with MCB virtually to keep the staff updated on the project and data. PCG analyzed the data and prepared a final report on the findings. PCG shared the final results with MCB.

Outcomes

In this section, we describe a summary of PCG’s analysis of the survey findings.

  • DEMOGRAPHIC AND SOCIOECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS

Overall, survey responses were representative of several populations with diversity in gender, race, sexual orientation, primary language, age groups, educational levels, marital statuses, military experience, and different socioeconomic backgrounds.

From 2020 to 2021 there was a slight increase in female responses, with females representing slightly over half of survey responses.

When looking at racial groups of respondents, more than three-fourth of respondents were classified as ‘White’ and one-tenth classified as ‘African American’. Although the majority of respondents were classified as ‘Non-Hispanic/Latino’, 6.8% of respondents were ‘Hispanic/Latino’. In looking at primarily language spoken at home, English represented nearly 90% of respondents, however, ‘Spanish’ and ‘Other’ were also represented.

From 2020 to 2021 there was a 409% increase in respondents aged 14 to 21, and almost a 15% increase in those 65 and older. Nearly half of respondents were aged 65 and older.

Overall, respondents in 2021 had higher levels of education compared to respondents in 2020, with the highest increase seen in those with a bachelor’s degree. In 2021, almost half of respondents had a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. However, with regard to vocational training programs, respondents reported low enrollment, with just over 5% enrolled.

In 2021, 32.8% of respondents were either working full or part-time. However, the majority (57%) of respondents were not currently working but had worked in the past. This is most likely contributed to the sampling pool, as the majority of the sample were active cases, most likely seeking employment with MCB assistance.  In regard to income levels, almost half of respondents reported total household incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 or more, and of those, 17.9% reported household incomes above $100,000. The increase in higher income levels correlates with the higher educational attainment levels seen in responses.

In regard to sexual orientation groups, all sexual orientation groups were represented in the 2021 survey, which included ‘Heterosexual’, ‘Gay or lesbian’, ‘Bisexual’, and ‘Other’. In comparison to 2020, respondents in 2021 were more likely to be single, with over half of respondents identifying as ‘Single, never married’, ‘Single, divorced’, or ‘Single, widow/widower’. Nearly than one-third of respondents reported living alone, a higher percentage than in 2020. This suggests respondents may be more equipped with the skills or assistance they need to live independently. 

Overall, the majority of respondents indicated they are citizens while some identified as ‘Lawful permanent residents’. The majority of respondents have ‘Never served’ in the military, but 6% reported serving ‘On active duty in the past but not currently’.

Nearly half of respondents reported being able to see large print but not regular print, an increase from 2020.  Further, more than half of respondents reported developing vision difficulties later in life, a decrease of 21.4% from 2020. Overall, respondents appeared to have better visual functioning that occurred later in life, which may have contributed to the level of increased independence noted in the data above. 

Respondents in 2021 reported being more likely to use telescopic or prescriptive lenses, large print, braille, or talking materials, magnifiers, and guide dogs and less likely to use CCTV’s, white canes, and sunglasses. 

  • HEALTH STATUS AND DISABILITIES

In 2021 the majority of respondents had medical insurance and were in better overall physical and mental health. They also reported better quality of life.

The majority of respondents (99.4%) reported having health insurance. Compared to 2020, respondents were less likely to have state or federal Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and self-paid insurance, and more likely to have employer-provided insurance plans or some other type of health insurance.

Regarding overall health, 2021 respondents reported being in better physical health, with higher percentages indicating their physical health status was ‘Excellent’, ‘Very good’, or ‘Good’. Overall, the majority (72.7%) of respondents reported being in excellent, very good, or good physical health.  When looking at mental health, compared to 2020, respondents reported being in better mental health, with the majority (78%) reporting being in either ‘Excellent’, ‘Very good’ or ‘Good’ mental health.  For overall quality of life, a higher percentage of respondents in 2021 reported their quality of life as either “Very good’ or ‘Good’. Overall, the majority, 83.5% reported either ‘Excellent’, ‘Very good’ or ‘Good’ quality of life ratings.

  • USE OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Overall, advanced technology use among respondents is trending upward, with an increased use of smart mobile phones and computer applications. Compared to 2020, 2021 respondents reported higher usage of laptop computers, tablets, smart phones, smart watches, ATM machines, smart speakers, and desktop computers, and decreased usage of non-smart mobile phones. Over half of respondents reported using smart phones or laptop computers regularly, while another (nearly) half reporting using tablets or desktop computers regularly. 

Compared to 2020, 2021 respondents were less likely to report using the internet daily (16.5% less likely). However, nearly two-thirds of respondents reported using the internet every day. In contrast, nearly 90% of respondents reported checking e-mail every day or at least several times a week. Because survey responses to ‘use the internet daily’ and ‘checking e-mail daily’ do not align (67% compared to 77%), individuals may have interpreted using the internet differently from checking e-mail. 

Regarding devices, overall, more than half of respondents noted using a smart phone and nearly half also reported laptop computer and tablet use. Compared to 2020, 2021 respondents reported they were more likely to use screen magnification software, hearing aids, and large print materials.

2021 saw an increase in accessibility settings and accessibility software usage, likely in conjunction with increased use of smart phone technology. Overall, the majority of respondents reported using accessibility settings or software on a mobile phone or tablet. Compared to 2020, respondents reported increases in VoiceOver, ‘Other’, and Mobile Accessibility for Android technologies, with over half of respondents in 2021 reported using VoiceOver technology. 

  • ACTIVITIES OF DAILY LIVING

Regarding daily activities, in 2021 respondents reported being more independent compared to 2020. The largest decreases in need were washing and ironing clothes (39.6% less), preparing meals (35.9% less), grocery shopping (23% less), and doing house cleaning (26.9% less). However, more than half of respondents still require assistance with grocery shopping, and nearly half also reported requiring assistance with taking a walk outdoors and doing house cleaning. In 2021 respondents reported being slightly more independent in regard to managing finances; those reporting ‘no help’ (19.4% less) and those reporting ‘some help’ (22.9% less) both saw reductions. Overall, nearly half of respondents reported needing no assistance with managing finances. 

  • ORIENTATION, MOBILITY AND TRAVEL

For orientation, mobility and travel, 2021 respondents were less likely to have had a driver’s license and more likely to use a white cane, specifically a long cane. Respondents also reported feeling safer crossing the streets or traveling independently. Just over half of respondents reported having a driver’s license at one point.

Compared to 2020, 2021 respondents reported feeling slightly safer (14.9%) crossing the streets or traveling independently. Overall, 2021 responses indicated exactly half of respondents felt safe crossing the streets or traveling independently. Regarding reasons for not feeling comfortable crossing the street, the 2021 survey elicited higher responses for all reasons, including ‘It is too complex to do independently’ (-85.6% more), ‘Never learned to travel or cross streets independently’ (111.8% more), and ‘No accessible routes available’ (274.3%more). Overall, more than half of respondents reported that crossing the street or traveling independently was too complex to do independently. 

  • SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS

Overall, social relationships and community connectedness increased from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, respondents reported they were more likely (28.5% more) to be part of a community group (formal or informal), and almost half of respondents in 2021 overall reported being part of a community group. Compared to 2020, respondents indicated similar levels of difficulty participating in social activities with the exception of respondents reporting that they ‘can’t do these things at all’, which decreased by 64.1%. In total, one-third of respondents reported that participating in social activities was ‘Somewhat difficult’.

Responses regarding overall feelings of loneliness were notably similar between 2020 and 2021. Overall, one-third of respondents reported feeling lonely ‘Sometimes’ and one-third reported feeling lonely ‘Rarely’. Satisfaction with social relationships in 2021 was similar to 2020. Overall, 29.5% of respondents ranked their satisfaction with social relationships as ‘Good’. Collectively, 63.2% of respondents reported their satisfaction with social relationships as ‘Excellent’, ‘Very good’, or ‘Good’.

  • SERVICE UTILIZATION

The majority of 2021 respondents (91.8%) reported that they are currently using, or have used, MCB services. Of these, more than half are currently using MCB services. Compared to 2020, 2021 saw an increase in assistive technology and deaf and blind extended supports services, and a decrease in orientation and mobility, vision rehabilitation and therapy, employment counseling, peer support groups and ‘Other’ services. More than half of respondents reported using MCB assistive technology services.

Compared to 2020, the largest increase in usage of other Massachusetts services in 2021 was Department of Developmental Services (DDS) services (88.3%), and the largest decrease in usage was Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) services by 55.6%. Overall, the majority of other Massachusetts services used were DTA services. 

Innovative Strategies and Best Practices to Serve Youth who are Blind or have Low Vision

Project Partner

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL)

Objectives

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) was funded by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) to gather best practices and innovative strategies in support of transition age youth who are blind or have low vision, specifically, those who are disconnected from school and work and may face additional barriers such as justice involvement, homelessness, or foster care.  Terms such as opportunity youth, disconnected youth, or transition age youth are used interchangeably in the field and in the data collection for this report. MCB seeks to ensure that they are reaching and serving all transition youth who are blind or have low vision.

Key Activities

IEL reached out to eleven states that were identified by consumers as having innovative practices and strategies to serve youth with disabilities.  IEL conducted interviews with seven state agencies and learned about their strategies to recruit, engage, and support out-of-school youth and students with disabilities, the barriers and risk factors that impact their ability to serve youth, their best practices and strategies to serve youth, their family engagement activities, and additional partners they work with to serve youth. 

Most state agencies share the challenge of finding and engaging out-of-school youth with disabilities—just two states offered specific examples of how they work outside the educational system to support those youth. Nonetheless, the rich examples of how states overall are serving youth offer many examples and strategies that may benefit MCB as they continue to advance their services for this population.

Outcomes

Information gathered by IEL highlighted many strategies that states outside of Massachusetts have implemented to serve youth outside of educational settings. 

Some of the best practices include:

  • Nebraska Commission for the Blind informs legislators about how funding can support outcomes for youth who are blind or have low vision and their families through vocational rehabilitation services. New Mexico and Iowa have also obtained grants specific to technology and instructional materials, respectively.
  • New Mexico Commission for the Blind obtained a grant from the state’s Department of Health Services to provide access technology  for school and home use to  elementary students.  That technology comes with training connecting them to the rehabilitation system before age 14 and incentivizes schools to connect with the commission, which also draws in youth and their families.
  • Several agencies offer summer youth training. The New Hampshire Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation also allows a family member to attend portions of their summer youth training programs with the student, which increases family awareness and support for the youth.
  • Agencies in New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Virginia have created programs that connect their staff to parents of blind children and offer peer supports among parents to help  them learn how to advocate for their children in the vocational rehabilitation system.
  • Transportation is a barrier to some degree in all states, particularly those with larger rural areas.  New Mexico addresses this challenge by paying family members to serve as drivers.

Innovative Strategies and Best Practices to Serve Youth who are Blind or have Low Vision

Project Partner

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL)

Objectives

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) was funded by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) to gather best practices and innovative strategies in support of transition age youth who are blind or have low vision, specifically, those who are disconnected from school and work and may face additional barriers such as justice involvement, homelessness, or foster care.  Terms such as opportunity youth, disconnected youth, or transition age youth are used interchangeably in the field and in the data collection for this report. MCB seeks to ensure that they are reaching and serving all transition youth who are blind or have low vision.

Key Activities

IEL reached out to eleven states that were identified by consumers as having innovative practices and strategies to serve youth with disabilities.  IEL conducted interviews with seven state agencies and learned about their strategies to recruit, engage, and support out-of-school youth and students with disabilities, the barriers and risk factors that impact their ability to serve youth, their best practices and strategies to serve youth, their family engagement activities, and additional partners they work with to serve youth. 

Most state agencies share the challenge of finding and engaging out-of-school youth with disabilities—just two states offered specific examples of how they work outside the educational system to support those youth. Nonetheless, the rich examples of how states overall are serving youth offer many examples and strategies that may benefit MCB as they continue to advance their services for this population.

Outcomes

Information gathered by IEL highlighted many strategies that states outside of Massachusetts have implemented to serve youth outside of educational settings. 

Some of the best practices include:

  • Nebraska Commission for the Blind informs legislators about how funding can support outcomes for youth who are blind or have low vision and their families through vocational rehabilitation services. New Mexico and Iowa have also obtained grants specific to technology and instructional materials, respectively.
  • New Mexico Commission for the Blind obtained a grant from the state’s Department of Health Services to provide access technology  for school and home use to  elementary students.  That technology comes with training connecting them to the rehabilitation system before age 14 and incentivizes schools to connect with the commission, which also draws in youth and their families.
  • Several agencies offer summer youth training. The New Hampshire Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation also allows a family member to attend portions of their summer youth training programs with the student, which increases family awareness and support for the youth.
  • Agencies in New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Virginia have created programs that connect their staff to parents of blind children and offer peer supports among parents to help  them learn how to advocate for their children in the vocational rehabilitation system.
  • Transportation is a barrier to some degree in all states, particularly those with larger rural areas.  New Mexico addresses this challenge by paying family members to serve as drivers.

MCB VR Program Return on Investment (ROI) Report

Project Partner

Public Consulting Group LLC (PCG)

Objectives

The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) is the state agency that provides Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VR) to Massachusetts residents who are blind or who have low vision. VR programs are designed to give people who have disabilities the rehabilitation services they need to obtain and maintain meaningful employment.

On April 1, 2021, Public Consulting Group LLC (PCG) was contracted by MCB to produce a report of MCB’s VR program’s return on investment (ROI) to demonstrate the value and impact of VR programs and services to MCB consumers and stakeholders. The study sought to assess the effectiveness of the VR services that MCB provides by documenting both the financial and nonfinancial benefits of VR services.

Key Activities

PCG used a multipronged approach to conduct the study, including a literature review of existing VR programs and their ROI for consumers.

PCG also conducted focus groups with MCB consumers in Massachusetts who had cases that were successfully closed. PCG scheduled and conducted five focus groups with a total of twenty-six MCB consumers who had closed cases or were current MCB consumers participating in employment internship programs between July 15, 2021, and August 11, 2021.

Finally, PCG analyzed RSA-911 data to assess the monetary ROI for VR services in Massachusetts.

Outcomes

In the report, PCG organized the findings and results of the data analyses (RSA, SSA reimbursement, Aware case management data, and state tax data), literature review, and focus groups into two categories – financial ROI and non-financial ROI. They grouped the data by performance year (PY) 2015-2016 and 2017-2019 to account for WIOA modifications to certain RSA data collection procedures and elements. The literature review included recently published articles relevant to VR-related ROI. 

What’s Your Vision? Media Strategy and Purchase

Project Partner

Marketing Doctor, Inc.

Objectives

Implementation of the What’s Your Vision Public Service Announcement (PSA) Campaign from May thru October 2021 with media strategy, planning, and purchase to procure print and digital advertising time & space targeted towards bringing new legally blind consumers into MCB’s VR program with additional goals to

  • Build awareness of MCB and its Vocational Rehabilitation program and services with priority audiences, including individuals who are blind/visually impaired, employers, eye care providers, and caregivers;
  • Encourage individuals to learn more about VR programs via the MCB website, MCB’s toll-free number, or to talk to their eye care provider;
  • Reach individuals early to prevent job loss by enabling them to learn and seek VR services;
  • Give employers and other community stakeholders information on blindness as a resource for their employees; and
  • Equip eye care professionals with information and resources about VR services to be shared upon a legally blind or visual impairment diagnosis.

Key Activities

MCB leveraged an omnichannel marketing approach and purchased online and offline advertising opportunities to introduce, inform and encourage multiple VR audiences to connect with MCB. The purchase strategy focused on platforms known for accessibility features that can be easily navigated using screen readers and apps for the visually impaired. Audience targeting tactics helped locate and define the best placements for online channels. The ad campaign was further amplified by organic content placements online and offline, including a partnership with MassDOT that featured What’s Your Vision messaging on 195 digital billboards across the Commonwealth and a partnership with Audible Local Ledger who initiated placements with all Massachusetts Audio Information Network (M.A.I.N) affiliates. The five digital platforms selected for the campaign included Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google Search. The digital campaign was refreshed between May and October to optimize engagement with animated ads. Ten radio stations were selected for the campaign with a broad statewide reach; seven publications were chosen for ad placements; seven cable zones were selected as part of the campaign; and four television stations.

Outcomes

Key performance indicators (KPIs) for the ad campaign included impressions or number of times that the ad was viewed, clicks, click thru rate (CTR), video views, and website analytics. The most successful audiences reached were employer and individuals who are blind and visually impaired. The most difficult audience to reach was eyecare providers. Animated images performed best on digital channels. The campaign successfully reached different audiences through cable TV and streaming TV without a content refresh. Content performed well via public radio stations, cable TV, and OTT/CTV.

Digital KPIs

  • Online impressions; 8,893,743
  • Online clicks: 105,250
  • Online CTR: 1.18%
  • Online video views: 3,284,740

Traditional KPIs

  • Offline: 42,290,616
  • 10,300 TV Ads = 28,338,848 Impressions (Including OTT)
  • 3,518 Radio Ads = 10,363,599 Impressions
  • 21 Print Ads = 3,588,169 Readership (4 Print Buys in 7 Statewide Newspapers)
  • Bonus Weight increased reach

Email MCBinfo@mass.gov for full reports and results of the 2021 projects.  

Feedback