Virginia Capitol Connections Summer 2022

Virginia Capitol Connections, Summer 2022 27 What would it feel like to wake up blind? Not knowing whether it’s day or night, not knowing how to fix breakfast, or walk down the street safely, or go to your job? For 100 years the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) has helped people do just that. The Department celebrated its Centennial on March 22. During these decades, the services and delivery methods might have changed, but the mission has always remained: to empower individuals who are blind, vision impaired or deafblind to achieve their desired levels of employment, education, and personal independence. For the past year, DBVI has focused on celebrating the past and empowering the future. Through half a dozen virtual events, participants tuned in to learn about specific services provided through this agency and while these services cover a wide range, one thing remained consistent, time to look to the past, the present and where they are going into the future. The DBVI was established in 1922 by an act of the Legislature and was then referred to as the “Commission for the Blind.” The Commission was comprised of a board of seven members who were appointed by the Governor and who served without compensation. Originally, the Commission for the Blind was based in Charlottesville and was established to meet the needs of individuals in Virginia who are blind or who have low vision. The Commission was relocated to Richmond in 1925. Prior to the Department’s establishment of regional offices in the early 1980’s, all services emanated from a central location. A small staff of counselors and home teachers, currently known as rehabilitation teachers, were based in Richmond and traveled extensively throughout Service for Virginians who are Blind Celebrates 100 years By JESSICA COLLETTE the Commonwealth in order to provide services to residents who were blind or vision impaired. During those years services were very limited and provided irregularly. In the early 1970’s the field services programs includedVocational Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation Teaching, Education Services, Social Services, and Orientation and Mobility services. The Social Services program was strictly administrative in nature with the role of the specialists to work with local welfare departments in the administration of the previous Aid to the Blind program. The Social Security Supplemental Income program (SSI) replaced the Aid to the Blind program and the DBVI Social Services program was discontinued in the late ‘80s. Throughout the early 1970’s and into the early 1980’s, the field services programs experienced significant growth. A Low Vision Services programwas implemented, a Deafblind Services programwas initiated, and the services to Older Individuals who are Blind program, which was part of the rehabilitation teaching program, was established as an offshoot of Rehabilitation Teaching through a federal grant. Other programs including Education services, Vocational Rehabilitation, Orientation and Mobility also expanded during this period. In early 1982, the Agency underwent a major reorganization when Regional Managers were added to each Regional Office to manage the operations and supervision of all field staff. The Normally my humor is based on things that have happened to me over the course of the years as a food service manager, gas station owner, or even better a lobbyist, as were my three careers. During my last time period as a lobbyist I would attend semi-annual conferences for state agencies for the blind which would be held all around the country, mostly in the spring in Bethesda and in the fall, either San Diego, San Francisco, or San Antonio—anyway, I digress. This story I'm going to share with you is about the commissioner for the blind at the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI), Ray Hopkins. Now, I've known Ray since before he was commissioner of the department for the blind. I knew him when he was with Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), a federal organization based in Washington. We would always run into each other at various conferences. Ray was a pretty good guy. I really like Ray. In fact, I've come to really appreciate Ray. In so many ways he's a wonderful human being. He's a people person. He's very knowledgeable about what he does and how he does it. I don't respect a lot of people, but I respect Ray Hopkins. However, this story is going to show some disrespect but in a fun way. I was at a conference for the state agencies for the blind and Ray had just come on as commissioner for our state agency in Virginia. I don't think Ray felt like he had the funding to make the conference—I don't know what it was. Something was up. I have been attending these conferences for years for free. I think that means I sneaked in, but nobody ever questioned me. I mean, I was always there. People just got to know me, and they just sort of accepted the fact that I was part of the conference. But you know guilt really weighs your shoulders down, and I was really feeling guilty, and I wanted to come clean. I wanted to bare my soul to these people who ran state agencies for the blind. I wanted them to know that I was not only visually impaired, but they must have been too, because I was being allowed to get into their conference and associate with them and even participate. Knowing that I'm feeling all this guilt, I go by the conference table—you know every conference has one, where all the name tags are. I see Ray Hopkins’ name tag, and I know he's not going to be at the conference, so I decided to come clean, and put on a name tag—Ray's name tag. Now here's the part of the story that you need to understand: I'm a Caucasian and Ray is an African American, so knowing that as I'm putting on Ray's name tag a lady looks at me and goes, “Ray you sure have changed.” To which I said, “moving to Virginia will do that to a person.” Now, that's the story that's the funny part, but I will end on something else. Ray is getting ready to retire as commissioner for the department for the blind and vision impaired. Ray has done a stellar job in over 13 years as commissioner, and I hope only the best for him in the near future and in his life ahead. I'm going to miss him. I hope he's going to make himself available for any advice or friendly chat, and maybe we can come up with another story sometime. Ray, I want you to know that I love you, I appreciate what you've done and the blind of Virginia have benefited greatly under your leadership. Take care and have a great journey. Ken Jessup is a member of the Statewide Independent Living Council, the Virginia Department for the Blind Board, and State Rehabilitation Council, and Virginians for Integrity in Government. He can be reached at Ray Hopkins: Thank you and God bless By KEN JESSUP See Service for Virginians who are Blind Celebrates 100 years, continued on page 28 V