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Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
By Sue Thoms
Gov. Rick Snyder today rescinded an executive order that would have abolished the Commission for the Blind. He is working with advocacy groups on a new plan to reorganize state services for the blind and visually impaired, officials said.
The order, which was set to take effect Tuesday, drew protests and rallies from advocates for the blind when it was issued two months ago
“I think it was the power of our advocacy that made him change his mind,” said Elizabeth Kazmierski, a 16-year-old from East Grand Rapids. “I like how advocacy can really make a difference.”
Elizabeth, went to Lansing with her mother, Marianne Dunn; her twin brother, Michael, and representatives of Michigan Parents of Children with Visual Impairment and the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan. Michael and Elizabeth, who are blind, advocated for the job training and independent living services provided by the commission.
The executive order would have replaced the Commission for the Blind with an advisory board while transferring its duties from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to the Department of Human Services.
“We now have more time to work collaboratively with advocates and our federal counterparts to ensure that Michigan’s system is effective, efficient and accountable,” Snyder said in a statement. “We are committed to meeting the needs of Michigan residents with disabilities. I want to thank those who have been willing to work in partnership to improve Michigan’s program structure.”
Under the new plan, the commission will be part of the Department of Human Services, but will remain an autonomous body and four of the seven members will be blind, advocates said.
The commission will report to the governor and will have investigative powers, said Richard Bernstein, a blind Detroit-area attorney who advocates for the disabled.
“If you don’t have the oversight of the commission and the advocacy component, those services (to the blind) will disappear,” Bernstein said.
Research has shown that when services to the blind are merged with general rehabilitation services, fewer blind people are employed and there is no cost savings, Dunn said.
“The needs of the blind community are so unique,” she said. “A lot of people are well-meaning and want to do the best they can in offering services to the blind and, because they are sighted and not trained specifically in the needs of blind individuals, they often make decisions that are detrimental.”
Dunn and Bernstein said they were impressed by the willingness of state officials to work with advocacy groups.
“We’re thankful they opened up their office and spoke with us,” Dunn said.
“They were genuinely committed to find a way to make the situation better,” Bernstein said.
The lawyer, who was considering a lawsuit against the state, added the governor’s action “avoids four years of federal litigation.”
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