Members of the blind and visually impaired community made their voices heard at a listening session with the head of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) hosted by Perkins School for the Blind on February 25.
Commissioner Paul Saner spent two hours taking questions from several dozen attendees representing both the blind and deafblind communities. Some asked for status updates on initiatives like accessible prescription bottles, while others voiced concerns over the safety of state programs like The RIDE, a transportation service for people with disabilities.
One question came from the parent of a nine-year old child with visual impairment, who asked how he could improve communication with his son’s case worker.
“We’re always looking for a lot of information, and communication with our case worker is patchy,” he said. “We email and sporadically get responses.”
Saner promised to address the issue personally.
“I will speak to that case worker myself,” he said. “I think that you’re going to get better service going forward.”
Dwayne Spicer expressed frustration with the use of video remote interpreting (VRI) in hospitals that lack an on-site interpreter for people who are deafblind. Many of the sign language interpreters on VRI are not qualified, and make the situation more confusing, he said.
“It does not work for me as a deafblind person at all,” he said. “This is a very big complaint that I have and I’d like to see MCB work with hospitals to try to solve this problem of communication access throughout the commonwealth.”
The MCB began holding listening sessions in October, traveling all over the state to speak with residents who utilize its vocational and social rehabilitation services.
The sessions have been productive, Saner said, yielding questions and concerns that he expects to address in his remaining two and a half years as commissioner.
“We’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I think the comments have been very insightful and the to-do list is even richer than before we began tonight. MCB is not perfect, but my objective is to make us as effective as we can be in support of our consumers.”
Corinne Grousbeck, chair of the Perkins Board of Trustees, introduced the commissioner and said she appreciated the opportunity for people in the blindness community to meet him in person.
“In our digital world of email and smartphones sometimes it’s really nice to have the opportunity to spend some time together face to face talking and especially listening,” she said. “That’s what this evening is all about.”
Though he voiced some concerns during the event, Spicer was pleased by the chance to engage in open discourse.
“I enjoyed it very much,” he said. “There are negatives and positives, but you need to bring all those things up. There’s a lot of work to do, we’ve got to roll our sleeves up, but we’re keeping positive.”