Homer Page was a central figure in the founding of CPWD and now lives in Missouri. At the time he was the Executive Director of the Colorado Center for the Blind.
QUESTION: In terms of the work that the center does, what do you feel is the success rate and how do you measure that?
PAGE: The success rate is really very high. We have one program which trains people to work as customer service representatives; we’ve had 29 people finish that program, and all 29 have received job offers. We’ve had, over the years; several hundred people come through our adjustment-to-blindness program. Probably 60 to 65 percent of those people are employed; another 20 percent or so are in some sort of training school. Another 10 to 15 percent or so are living independently but not working or in school; and five percent I would consider to be not successful.
QUESTION: What are the biggest challenges or barriers for blind people in the Denver metro area? And for each of these challenges, what solutions would you propose?
PAGE: First of all, getting quality skills that they need to live independently and to find employment. We currently don’t have a day program; and we don’t have some specialized services for, for example, people who have psychiatric disabilities as well as blindness. What I’m thinking here is a much more intensive skill training than people normally get in school or in other kinds of settings. I hope that our program is going to be able to meet a lot of those kinds of needs.
The second thing would probably be access to information. We’re trying to develop something called the “News Line,” which would give people telephone access to newspapers and other information.
Transition programs for young blind people from school to work would be a third area that we need to do more work. So far, transition programs have not done much with the blind population.
A fourth, big area is how to get the wide range of services that the older blind population needs. We really need to get the mainstream senior services programs more involved with addressing the needs of blind seniors. We need to do more training of senior service providers. We’ve got to get mainstream programs - senior centers, health care services, etc. - knowledgeable about blindness. And I think programs like mine, the Colorado Center, need to be able to create a training program for older people; that then can be a kind of model, for mainstream service providers. In the metro area I would expect that there are probably 15,000-20,000 older blind people.
QUESTION: What are the most positive opportunities available to blind people in the Denver area? And what do blind people need, in order to take advantage of these opportunities?
PAGE: I think employment opportunities are wide open. What people need are competitive marketable skills. The climate for employment for blind people really is great. I think the Vocational Rehabilitation program serving the blind is as good as anywhere in the country. As far as using Vocational Rehabilitation, they don’t need much more than just desire.
The RTD service is good for blind people. We continue to hassle with them to get the drivers to call the stops, and things like that. But the independence that people are able to have because of the quality bus service, is realty important. They really need good independent travel skills to use the bus system. They need good cane or guide dog training.
QUESTION: What kinds of community supports and resources are most valuable to blind people? Do these exist, and are they adequate?
PAGE: Skill training and transportation. And information including the Library for the Blind - there’s much more need for that. I think medical insurance is another area where we really are needing some more resources. Sometimes there are work disincentives; you can’t work because you can’t afford to lose your Medicaid.
QUESTION: What kind of services are not helpful for blind people?
PAGE: In-home services, except for those who are multiply disabled. Some kind of subsidized cab service would not be helpful, because people are much more independent when they use the bus system. It’s a much more active way of managing your own travel.
With a lot of other services, it’s not really the services, but the way that they’re done, that would create the problem. Young blind people need effective education. But if the person is not given the skills to participate in the mainstream classroom, that would be a disservice. If the teachers don’t instruct the kids in how to get their own materials, use the libraries that provide recorded materials, to access Braille materials, then that doesn’t work.
QUESTION: What changes have you seen over the last ten years, for better or worse, in terms of opportunities for blind people in the Denver metro area or generally?
PAGE: I think the changes have really been much, much for the better. There’s been a much more collaborative relationship between the consumer groups and the service providers in the blind community, and I think that’s really made a lot of difference. There are more resources available now than there were ten years ago; that has to do with the advocacy role of the consumer groups, and the cooperation that has occurred.
QUESTION: What changes do you anticipate over the next ten years?
PAGE: The demographics are changing, and will continue to change. A higher percentage of the blind population will be older. A higher percentage will have multiple disabilities — blindness associated with other conditions. Those are the groups that are going to be harder to provide quality service s to.