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My SSB Testimonial by Rocky Hart

rocky"People who are blind are a cross-section of society as a whole, mirroring society in every way with the same hopes, interests and desires, the same dreams, abilities and potential as everyone else. Most all the physical limitations associated with blindness can be overcome by learning and using alternative techniques for doing without sight what you would do with sight. With appropriate education, training and opportunity, persons who are blind can achieve in the world of work, can be independent in their home and community, can have and take care of a family, can be a tax paying and participating citizen and can be in every way a contributing member of society who can compete equally with his or her sighted neighbors."

The above was derived from the philosophy statement of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB), Minnesota's rehabilitation agency for individuals experiencing vision loss. Having been a client of SSB since October 2017, I will enthusiastically affirm that the agency does its utmost to live up to this philosophy, providing to its consumers the resources necessary to live independently and work competitively.

Since elementary school, I have been aware of SSB's existence. This is primarily due to the fact that many of my textbooks, my talking book player, and other learning media was provided to me by the communication center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This center is directly affiliated with SSB, which is somewhat uncommon in rehabilitation agencies throughout the country. As I aged, I learned more about SSB, but it wasn't until I officially enrolled as a client that I began to fully understand the vast array of services the agency could provide to me.

My first vocational rehabilitation counselor was Stephen Larson. He was a seasoned professional, serving in this capacity for over thirty years. Although he was not blind, Mr. Larson was born without arms and continues to use prostheses. He emerged from a childhood of unconditional love and high expectation which enabled him to succeed in both his personal and professional life. He, therefore, carried his high expectations into his career working with clients with disabilities, including me.

When my case was initially opened, my mother met with Mr. Larson on my behalf. Together, they developed an employment plan with which I agreed. The first resource SSB provided was an authorization to BLIND INC, a training center in Minneapolis, which enabled me to participate in my first state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Brooklyn Park. This was a transformative and exhilarating experience which allowed me to network with many other blind people and learn more about the issues our community faces.

In addition to the many enrichment activities, SSB has provided to me many other resources and opportunities. These include assistive technology training, participation in two adjustment to blindness training programs and a work-based learning opportunity as a Marketing and Outreach Associate for the agency. Most notably, SSB supported my education at North Central University for the spring 2021 semester so that I could live on the NCU campus and take PSEO courses as a senior in high school. The ladder was nothing short of a liberating experience, providing me an opportunity to live more independently. I am currently in the process of working with SSB to participate in training through the Helen Keller National Center in Sandspoint, New York, where I am confident I will gain essential skills in order to survive as an individual who has a combine vision and hearing loss.

At present, I am planning to begin my undergraduate studies at North Central University in August 2021, with a focus in Biblical And Theological Studies. I am also planning to obtain a degree in political science and will begin a career as either a theology professor or in a field related to politics, advocacy, or journalism.

As a transition student, I am beyond grateful to Minnesota State Services for the Blind for the numerous resources and opportunities they have provided not only to me, but also to many other consumers, including other transition students. During the semiannual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota held virtually on May 22, 2021, SSB Director Natasha Jerde indicated that the agency ranks third in the nation in the percentage of consumers who are blind who are able to obtain and retain employment for at least one year. In my informed opinion, this is the result of many factors, including SSB's commitment to hiring persons with disabilities and its ability to provide services to consumers on an individual basis. SSB also has a high compassion index, which has better equipped the agency to provide quality services. I would advise any parent of a student who is at least fourteen years of age who is blind to open a case with SSB on behalf of their child. I firmly believe that the earlier a student can begin receiving services, the better the odds of them entering the workforce and maintaining employment. As is stated in SSB's philosophy statement, people who are blind or visually impaired can contribute to society so long as they receive the resources which will empower them to do so.

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