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Cutting programs for N.J.'s blind children sets them up for failure

pizzurosal_optBY SALVATORE PIZZURO
COMMENTARY

New Jersey’s Parents of Blind Children, an advocacy organization, has recently begun alerting the public about proposed cuts in services for children who are visually impaired, partially sighted, or totally blind. Governor Christie has accepted a proposal to eliminate one third of the teaching force that serves blind children for the New Jersey Commission for the Blind.

The proposed cuts would affect more than 600 children, including sixty-three Braille learners, 21 infants and toddlers, 52 preschoolers, and nearly 300 children with multiple disabilities. Furthermore, 276 schools will be affected, impacting an additional 2,400 children. The fear among the parents of the advocacy organization is that additional services will be cut, affecting even more children. Perhaps the most egregious part of the proposal is that there is no documented plan for providing educational services for these children, given the cuts.

The overall goal of the aforementioned programs is to help these children to develop the appropriate skills so that, as adults, they will be independent contributors to society, rather than be a drain on State resources. In fact, the Blind Children's Resource Center states that it: “is dedicated to the idea that blind/visually impaired children can grow up to become productive, fully functioning, independent members of society. To do this, they need normal expectations for their development, high quality training in the skills of blindness, and exposure to healthy, positive attitudes about blindness and the abilities of blind/visually impaired people.”

The Resource Center is dedicated to helping children with blindness and visual impairments and “with developmental delays and additional disabilities reach their potential.”

There is no question that the Christie Administration is faced with an unprecedented fiscal crisis. As a state, we are faced with genuine concerns about funding our police, fire-fighters, health and safety workers, including health-care providers and teachers. However, will the cost cutting measures be worth it if there is nothing left in the state to save?

The Blind Children's Resource Center’s goal is to educate the public about how people with visual impairments and blindness can “accomplish tasks... (and) use simple adaptations to become full participants at home, at school, and in the community; and how we can create stimulating environments that encourage children with additional disabilities to be active participants in the world.”

According to the Braille Institute, more than 15 million Americans are Blind or Visually Impaired, including more than 70 per cent of people over the age of 65. Among school children, five million preschoolers and more than 12 million school-age children have impaired vision or total blindness. Nevertheless, the special programs that are designed for these children are not directed toward making these individuals a drain on society, relying on public assistance, but to help these children develop the skills to be fully productive and contributing members of society, gainfully employed adult taxpayers who are builders, not destroyers, of public resources.

All adults should take heed of training programs for those with visual limitations, since the majority of New Jerseyans, as adults, will acquire some form of visual impairment.

Certainly, our Governor, who has voiced concern for the plight of New Jersey’s children with Autism, has not forgotten the needs of our children with blindness and varying levels of visual disorders? As this writer has noted in previous publications, New Jerseyans with disabilities have three times the unemployment rate of their non-disabled peers. Can we, as a state, afford to continue this trend which will condemn these children, at an early age, to a lifetime of failure that will render them a drain on society, rather than a contributor to it?

Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.

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