AER O&M Division newsletter - June 2011
Licensure for O&M - Will It Happen This Year? Please Help!
By Dona Sauerburger, COMS
You are reading this at what might be an historic moment -- after working for several decades to achieve licensure for O&M, a bill to license O&M specialists and vision rehabilitation therapists (VRT / rehabilitation teachers) in New York was passed on May 17 by the New York State Senate with a vote of 61 to 0 (it passed unanimously in 2008 as well). Now we need YOUR help THIS WEEK to get it passed by the Assembly! (See the action items at the end of this article.)
Return to home page
The benefits of licensure for our profession and the people we serve are profound. Many doctors, nurses, ophthalmologists and optometrists in New York are not familiar with our services, and others say they will not refer to professions which are not licensed in the state. However they do refer people to occupational therapists and physical therapists for services related to their visual impairment.
Another problem is the severe shortage of O&M and VRT professionals in New York state and elsewhere. Research has shown that licensure of professions increases awareness and draws people into those professions, and also tends to increase the salaries of those professionals.
Thirdly, consumers do not presently have a central place to complain about poor service or unethical behavior by O&M or VRT practitioners. Licensing creates a mechanism through the state board for reporting and addressing problems.
But perhaps most importantly, we continue to have problems with O&M services being provided by people who are not trained and qualified. For example
This problem has persisted since I entered this profession four decades ago, and licensure would help ensure that O&M and VRT services are provided by qualified professionals.
- Last May, I started working with a client who had been unable to move her wrist without pain for almost a year because of an injury she had while holding and using the cane incorrectly. She had been taught to use it that way by a well-meaning professional who was not an O&M specialist - she would not have had that injury if she had been taught by a qualified O&M professional.
- About a month ago I was contacted by someone with no O&M training who wanted ideas for teaching a blind person the skills to get around safely.
- This week, one of the workers I passed in the hallway at my client's work center asked where I had gotten the cane, as she had been trying to find one. One of her clients there at the center had just lost all his vision at age 62, so they wanted to get a cane so they could teach him how to use it.
So for the last 15-20 years, there have been efforts to get licensure for O&M in one state or another, but none have come close to succeeding except in New York. The New York licensure efforts have been spearheaded by the New York Vision Rehabilitation Association (NYVRA). NYVRA is the broadest coalition of professionals, consumers, organizations and agencies in New York State addressing issues that impact services for people who are blind or visually impaired. The New York chapter of AER has been a member of the coalition and contributed to the effort for the past 5-7 years. The American Council of the Blind of New York has also contributed to the effort, and brings a bus load of folks to Lobby Day every year. O&M specialists from New York and around the country have helped gather signatures, made donations, and went to New York's annual Lobby Day to convince legislators to pass a bill to license O&M and VRT professionals in New York.
We didn't always support licensure. I remember being on the international AER Board in 2001 when Grace Zaken, who was O&M Division Chair at the time, asked the AER board to consider making a donation to help cover the lobbying expenses. I didn't understand the need for licensure and argued strongly against it but by the end of the meeting, Grace had convinced the board (myself included!), and AER made the first of a series of significant donations to support the efforts.
Actually, Grace's family has been instrumental in supporting the efforts to advance our profession and the people we serve. Her father, the renowned historian Stephen E. Ambrose, called senators from his death bed in 2002 to get O&M and VRT named in the Medicare law.
Although we succeeded in getting named as vision rehabilitation professionals with Medicare, they stipulated that professionals have to be licensed to be reimbursed - hence our efforts to get licensed.
Grace's mother, Moira Buckley Ambrose, donated to the licensure effort every year until her death in 2009 -- the photo to the right shows her presenting one of her annual $15,000 checks to NYVRA (represented by Robert K. Hanye, President of the Assn for Vision Rehab & Employment).
So where have AER and the O&M Division stood on this issue? Rest assured, your membership dues and O&M Division leaders have been hard at work in this effort! Over the years, AER's contributions to the licensure bill have totaled more than $40,000. In 2009 AER's President John Kelly and Executive Director Jim Gandorf went to New York for Lobby Day, and O&M Division chairs and former chairs have also gone to Lobby Day.
The photo to the left shows Lobby Day 2011 with Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, who sponsored the bill in the New York State Assembly, addressing supporters before they go meet with legislators.
Many of us have also garnered support and signatures for licensure (my son and I got hundreds of signatures from people in our grocery stores - many of them couldn't believe that a profession like O&M isn't licensed!)
This year, we are closer than ever and our efforts have intensified. Letters of support for the bill were written by AER, the American Foundation for the Blind, the New York Institute for Special Education, the New York State Medical Society, the New York State Ophthalmological Society and most of the 18 New York vision rehab agencies. More than 100 O&M specialists and specialists-in-training as well as dozens of consumers and other interested citizens signed a letter supporting the bill (click here to read the letter and signatures).
However, letters opposing the licensure bill were written by the two organizations that certify O&M specialists - the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) and the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP). NBPCB was concerned about the fact that the bill requires licensed O&M and VRT professionals to have a baccalaureate degree, and that the bill has insufficient details about the examination requirement and the standard for university O&M curriculum. ACVREP released a statement that they support licensure for qualified O&M and VRT professionals, but do not support the New York bill primarily because many of the bill's requirements for qualifications of licensed O&M and VRT professionals are not clearly defined (ACVREP's full statement can be found on the ACVREP website).
These concerns about insufficient details in the bill are understandable, but details for implementing bills are usually written after they pass. Traditionally these regulations are first drafted by bureaucrats and then people react and comment on them. However, O&M and VRT professions and the needs of our consumers are so unique that the regulations governing their licensure should be developed by those who understand them. This can be done using Facilitated Regulation Process.
With the Facilitated Regulation Process, the stakeholders all come together after the bill is passed and draft the regulatory language themselves, with a professional facilitator. That way everyone knows what's in the draft and how it got there; everyone gets to know each other, and each party can hear other's points of views and understand their perspective and their needs. This process is explained on the website with the letter of support at www.sauerburger.org/dona/license
ACTION NEEDED! If you would like to help the bill pass, please do the following THIS WEEK:
1. Contact Assembly Member Glick at http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Deborah-J-Glick/contact/ or 518-455-4841 and urge her to put the bill A.6179A to license O&M and VRTs on the agenda for a vote at her next Higher Education committee meeting.
Our next newsletter will have an update on what happens. Meanwhile, for more information visit the website of the New York Vision Rehabilitation Association at http://www.nyvra.org/.
2. Contact Assembly Member Bing at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-605-0937. Thank him for his support, tell him you support licensure bill A.6179A to license O&M and VRTs and that you have contacted Assembly Member Glick to urge her to put the bill on the next agenda.
3. Check out the list of NY Assembly Members at http://blog.nyvra.org/ and, if you are a New Yorker, find out if your State Assembly Member is a sponsor of the bill -- if they are, thank them and ask them to urge Glick to put the bill on the next Higher Ed agenda. If they're not, let them know that you are a constituent and you want them to sign onto the bill.
If you're not from New York, feel free to ask those who are not yet sponsors to sign on.
Addressing concerns about NY Licensure Bill
Letter of support for NYS licensure bill S. 3880/A. 06179