AER Submits Comments Opposing WIOA Rules

Docket ID: ED-2017-OS-0074
(Filed August 18, 2017)

The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired expresses strong opposition to rules enacted by the U.S. Department of Education (DoED) in 2016.

The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) serves and empowers professionals to deliver standards-based practices that lead to improved educational and rehabilitative outcomes for individuals with visual impairment and blindness.

In 2014, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which reauthorized and reformed the nation’s workforce development programs. To implement WIOA, federal agencies issued a total of five regulatory rules. DoED issued The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) final rule in August, 2016. The VR final rule contained detrimental policy decisions and misguided language that we believe exceeded congressional intent and placed at risk employment and related services for Americans who are blind at numerous agencies providing employment for persons with visual impairment, as well as those at other AbilityOne® Program agencies.

Under WIOA, Congress combined previously existing definitions under what is now called “Competitive Integrated Employment”. Congress did not change the “integration” definition that already existed in regulations and that has been used by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and state VR agencies. And yet, the final WIOA rule on Vocational Rehabilitation programs enacted by DoE contained language that said any nonprofits working through AbilityOne, state use programs or that are required to comply with labor ratio requirements, are either never going to, or not likely going to, provide employment in integrated work settings.

As a result of these misguided, blanket statements by DoED, some state VR agencies have distributed letters telling these nonprofit agencies that they cannot continue to work with AbilityOne nonprofits. This is regulatory overreach, goes well beyond congressional intent, and is resulting in harm and the withholding of services to people who are blind and who freely choose to work at an AbilityOne associated nonprofit agency.

Existing regulations issued by the Department of Education/RSA, and still in effect today, require state VR agencies to research each employment setting to make determinations as to whether or not it is “integrated” and this must be done on a case-by-case basis. State VR agencies cannot simply write off AbilityOne agencies based on unwise statements in the final VR rule issued by DoED.

The Department of Education also overreached in the VR rule when it made the discretionary decision to eliminate the category of uncompensated outcomes, which includes the “Homemaker Exemption.” This category is utilized disproportionately by people who are blind, and allows older adults that have experienced vision loss sufficient time to receive training and rehabilitation. Congress did not direct DoED to eliminate the homemaker exemption when it passed WIOA, and this unilateral decision by the Department comes at a time when the federal government projects increased numbers of older Americans will experience vision loss.

We respectfully request that the leadership of the two relevant committees in Congress (Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and House Committee on Education and the Workforce) direct the Administration and the Department of Education to do the following:

(1) Issue a new communication to state VR agencies and remind them of their obligation under existing regulations to investigate and make determinations about integrated work settings on a case-by-case basis; and
(2) Reverse the decision made in August 2016 and restore the uncompensated outcomes category, including the Homemaker Exemption.

The livelihoods of thousands of Americans who are blind have been placed at risk by an agency that engaged in regulatory overreach and went beyond the will of Congress in 2016, and we are asking Congress to work with the Administration to correct these wrongs.

AER Joins 24 Associations in Supporting Teaching Profession

 

Classroom learning is most effectively supported by teachers who have pursued high-quality preparation programs, according to research. Motivating the most promising students to pursue careers in education and providing rigorous teacher preparation is key to having the most effective teachers in our classrooms. Quality education preparation programs work to develop candidates’ teaching abilities and ready them for the realities of the classroom, further raising their chances of success.

The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), along with 24 other organizations, issued a joint statement in December affirming their strong support of high standards in education and calling for united efforts to recruit quality and diverse candidates into the teaching profession.

The full statement can be found at http://bit.ly/Teaching2017.

These entities understand that educators have long been struggling under the weight of a negative narrative about the teaching profession as well as the increased scrutiny and demands placed on them. Additionally, enrollment in U.S. teacher education programs has declined 30% since 2008, and the number of high-achieving undergraduate students considering a career in education is at its lowest level in decades.

AER’s outreach efforts include work by its Professional Personnel Recruitment Committee to attract teachers to the vision field as well as an outstanding university review approval program, which ensures that colleges and universities across North America are offering Teacher of the Visually Impaired and other vision personnel preparation programs that meet high quality standards.

AER is pleased to join these other associations in promoting education as an attractive career and supporting the career-long professional growth of teachers.

AER Legislative Committee Comments on U.S. Administration Change

How to Respond to the Unpredictable: Be Continually Ready for Action
By Anthony R. Candela, Co-Chair, AER Legislative Committee
December 21, 2016

The Trump administration will likely challenge us in ways we can only guess as we await the commencement of the 115th Congress and the Senatorial advise and consent process on Mr. Trump’s cabinet Secretarial nominees.

The AER Legislative Committee met on Wednesday, December 7, 2016, for a focused discussion on what we can anticipate under the upcoming Trump administration. For the moment, things remain unpredictable, but federal funding cutbacks and/or shifts to the states and localities might be in the offing. Departments of Education and Labor policy shifts are reasonable to expect given the conservative nominees President-elect Trump has put forward for Secretaries of Education and Labor. Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education, is best known for championing the concept of “vouchers” that would enable parents to move their children out of public schools (see a November 23 Politico article), and we do not know how she will steer the Department with regard to the education of children with disabilities.

The nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, has been critical of minimum wage increases and could conceivably roll back protections for workers including those with disabilities that he deems too expensive (see a December 8 New York Times article).

Already rumors are mounting regarding regulatory rollback as transition team requests begin coming in. Section 511 of WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act), part of Title V, the Rehabilitation Act, has been mentioned. This section is new to the Act and implements limitations on the use of subminimum wages.

And, in accordance with the President-elect’s promise, we should prepare ourselves for an attempt to dissolve the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The implications for colleagues and clients who do not have employer- or government-sponsored health insurance are concerning; what is unknown is if the ACA will actually be dissolved and if so, how will the dissolution be carried out.

Pat Leahy of the National Rehabilitation Association writes in her newsletter of December 13, 2016, “While no one really knows what to expect with a new administration, like with previous administrations (both Democrat and Republican), I anticipate a number of bills to be introduced or reintroduced which will call for the elimination of duplicative programs and consolidation of other programs spanning a wide spectrum including very possibly Social Security programs, education programs, employment programs, health care programs (including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program [CHIP]), among others .”

As we await the work of the new Congress, commencing on January 3, 2017, we can already see signs of the scrambling and also the laying back that happens when a current administration winds down. Eight days after the election, for example, Mark Richert, AFB Director of Public Policy, reported that the Federal Communications Commission has postponed rule-making on increasing the number of hours of described TV. He advises we take a “deep breath,” remember that this is usually what happens during a major transition, prepare ourselves to work with the upcoming administration and Congress, and be prepared to respond to issues quickly. Taking a “deep breath” also means recognizing that over the years our field has been supported (and occasionally disappointed) by both Democrats and Republicans, so while we should not overly prejudge, let’s remember to stay alert and ready to act.

Your Legislative Committee will be stepping up its attention and calls for action as things begin to unfold. We wish to advise all AER members that it is more important than ever to keep in touch with your federal and state representatives as issues evolve. Your voice must be heard. To that end, an easy way to locate your representatives is via the League of Women Voters. Another, perhaps more accessible, site is How to Contact Your Elected Officials.

Please look up your federal, state, and local representatives, store their email addresses in a convenient place and be ready to write to them when an important issue is at hand. Your Legislative Committee, AER staff and subject matter experts, and AER partners will keep you apprised of issues as they unfold.

Finally, your views must be expressed on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress and their legislative staffs are influenced by personal contact from their constituents. To that end, we urge you to join the American Foundation for the Blind’s visit to the Hill on March 1, just prior to the AFB Leadership/AER Virginia conference to defend the Cogswell-Macy Act, which will help assure that children who are blind or have low-vision will get the proper level of braille and low-vision service they need to function optimally in school.

To join your colleagues on the Hill, write to AFB’s Rebecca Sheffield at [email protected] to be added to an email update list for further details about the day’s schedule.

AER Presents Ferrell Scholarships to Individuals Studying to Become Vision Professionals

9/15/16
For Release at Will

AER presented William and Dorothy Ferrell Scholarships in 2016 to two outstanding individuals who are pursuing careers as vision professionals.

Natalie Martiniello, from Saint-Leonard, Quebec, is working on her Ph.D. in Vision Science (Vision Rehabilitation) at the University of Montreal in Montreal, Quebec.

In her application, she said, “I have chosen to pursue doctoral studies because, in the long-term, I hope to engage in further research that explores new methods and instructional strategies. I also hope to teach within a university program that prepares future rehabilitation professionals. As a clinician who is congenitally blind, I feel (and hope) that my first-hand experience and perspective will be of benefit to future professionals.”

Scott Lacey is working on his Masters in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy and Rehabilitation Counseling at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

He said in his application that he plans to work with adults and possibly elderly adults. “I have chosen this field because I have always wanted to be in a helping capacity for a professional career. I have a real passion to let individuals receive the type of training that I received when I lost my vision to pursue whatever their goals may be. Specifically, I am doing the VRT program because I like the hands-on aspect of teaching others a new skill or adaptation to something they already know. I am pursuing my Masters in RC because I also like the case management and psychological support that I will be able to provide.”

AER provides two Ferrell $1,000 scholarships every other year to students who are legally blind and who are planning for careers as vision professionals. The next scholarships will be presented in 2018.

AER Recognizes Vision Profession Leaders with Biennial Awards

8/3/2016
For Release at Will
Media Contact: [email protected]

(Alexandria, Va.) The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) recognized leaders in the vision profession at the biennial AER International Conference 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida, July 22.

AER’s highest honor in education, the Mary K. Bauman Award, went to Dr. Tuck Tinsley III, who recently retired as president of the American Printing House for the Blind. The Ambrose M. Shotwell Award, the association’s highest honor in rehabilitation, was presented to Gale Watson, national director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Blind Rehabilitation Service.

Dr. Lauren Lieberman, Dr. Paul Ponchillia, and Dr. Susan Ponchillia received the C. Warren Bledsoe Award, acknowledging contributions to literature related to blindness. Lieberman is a distinguished service professor at The College at Brockport, State University of New York and founder of Camp Abilities. Paul Ponchillia is professor emeritus for the Department Blindness and Low Vision Studies, Western Michigan University. Susan Ponchillia, deceased, was also on the faculty at Western Michigan University.

Cliff Olstrom, former executive director of the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind, earned the Douglas C. MacFarland Award, which honors individuals who have provided leadership in the field of blindness and visual impairment and are now retired from the field.

Dr. John Mascia, president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, received the John H. McAulay Award for outstanding efforts and achievements leading to the placement of people with visual impairments in productive employment.

Linda Lyle, superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, was presented the Alfred Allen Award for direct service to people with visual impairments.

The AER Nebraska Chapter received the Outstanding Chapter Award for 2016 for its efforts in membership recruitment and member involvement and benefits. Audrey Graves, center-based program lead teacher for the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired, accepted the award on behalf of the chapter.

New in 2016 was the presentation of the Richard L. Welsh Award to Joseph P. Helm in recognition of his efforts in AER chapter leadership. Helm, retired assistant commissioner of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, has served in numerous leadership positions within the Alabama Chapter. The award is named for AER’s first president, Richard L. Welsh, who passed away in 2014.

AER is an international non-profit association supporting professionals who provide education and rehabilitation services to people with visual impairments, offering professional development opportunities, educational resources, and public advocacy.

 

AER International Conference 2016

AER NEWS

Date: 3/1/16
For Release at Will
Contact: Ginger Croce
703-671-5875

AER International Conference 2016 – Largest Conference for Vision Professionals Working with Individuals Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

(Alexandria, Va.) The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired is hosting the AER International Conference 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida, July 20-24.

This is the largest conference devoted exclusively to vision professionals who work with or on behalf of individuals who are blind or visually impaired. This year’s conference theme “Connect. Collaborate. Achieve” embodies everything that delegates will gain from the conference.

“The event will feature the most current information, innovative techniques, proven strategies and the latest resources,” said Jim Adams, chair of the conference program committee. Leading experts, seasoned professionals and thought leaders will provide more than 150 hours of sessions related to orientation and mobility, vision rehabilitation therapy, preK-12, physical education, information technology, low vision rehabilitation and much more.

Special events include the pre-conference daylong MacFarland Seminar on Pediatric Ophthalmology and AER LIFT leadership training for chapter and division officers on July 20.

Keynote speaker for the opening celebration on the evening of July 20 is Vera Jones, motivational speaker and author of “Play Through the Foul: Basketball Lessons for the Game of Life.”

Early Bird deadline for registration is April 14. For more information, visit https://aerbvi.org/professional-development/conferences/international2016/.

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The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) is the only international membership organization dedicated to rendering support and assistance to professionals who work in all phases of education and rehabilitation of blind and visually impaired children and adults. Membership is comprised of more than 3,800 professionals who provide services to people with visual impairments.

New Website

The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) welcomes you to its new website, which is designed on an accessible platform and adaptable for viewing on desktops, tablets, and mobile devices. We will be expanding the site’s contents in coming weeks as we incorporate more information from our old site, so check back frequently for updates.

AER is pleased to provide resources to the professionals who serve those who are blind and visually impaired.

AER Joins Other Associations in Supporting Teaching Profession

12/22/2015
For Release at Will
Media Contact: [email protected]

Will today’s students be ready and able to meet the challenges of society’s uncertain future as literate, creative and critical thinkers; as wise, compassionate and knowledgeable citizens; as workers with the skills and ability to resolve challenges within their professions? The answer to this question lies with teachers and the teaching profession.

In December 2015 the Association for Education and Rehabilitation for the Blind and Visually Impaired partnered with 14 other leading educational organizations to release a joint statement that seeks to reinforce the value and importance of the profession of teaching. With more than 200,000 educators represented, the statement expresses the belief that teachers, as change agents, have the ability to fill our communities with informed, caring and engaged citizens.

Joint Statement on the Profession of Teaching

Teachers are agents of change. With an uncertain future, where there will be more people and fewer resources and where governing equitably will be even more challenging, will today’s students be ready and able to meet those challenges as literate, creative and critical thinkers; as wise, compassionate and knowledgeable citizens; as workers with the skills and ability to resolve challenges within their professions? The answer to this question lies with teachers and the teaching profession. Teachers have the power to create a healthy, just and peaceful world. Teachers have the ability to fill our communities with informed, caring and engaged citizens. Teachers have the capacity to inspire lifelong learning and a passion for knowledge, understanding and innovation.

Yet, educators are struggling under the weight of increasing and sometimes unrealistic expectations about their role. They are expected to balance numerous national educational reform efforts such as high-stakes testing and other accountability measures, a reduction in teacher autonomy, constriction of the curriculum and reliance on the opinions of people outside the profession. Seen in this light, interest in teaching as a career has been waning. With several years of significant decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs and an increasing exit rate by newer teachers, teacher shortages are appearing across the country.

To fulfill our shared goal of preparing and sustaining a robust workforce of educators, the undersigned leaders of educational organizations affirm our full support of preservice and practicing educators and the teaching profession. Through the collaboration and partnering of our various organizations, we are positioned to inform decisions and reinforce the value of the teaching profession as one worthy of respect and equal status among all other professions.

Alpha Delta Kappa
American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences
The American Association of School Personnel Administrators
American Association of Teachers of German
Association for Career and Technical Education
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
Association of Teacher Educators
Christian Educators Association International
International Literacy Association
Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education
Music Teachers National Association
National Association of Agricultural Educators
National Business Education Association
National Council for Geographic Education
Organization of American Historians