Arizona Department of Economic Security: A Resource for Low Vision Tools


Arizona Department of Economic Security:  A Resource for Low Vision Tools
AUGUST 6, 2009
by Reverend Charles Harper

The last thing I wanted to do is go to a government agency for help. My foot dragging was based on pride, ego and perhaps a little fear of Big Brother in my life. Mostly I think it was my continuing reluctance to ask for help from others.

Charlie HarperAt this point my eyesight had deteriorated to the point where I could no longer read, couldn´t drive at night. I was limited in my driving by day, needed help writing checks to pay bills, couldn´t see the faces of actors on TV and so on. As a counselor to teenagers in crisis I was also having difficulty observing facial expressions, body language and other visual cues to their progress and well being. I had hired a part-time assistant to help me with some of the more mundane activities but at this point the quality of work I was doing for the young people I serve began to suffer. In addition, my inability to read was affecting my ability to write. As a columnist for a couple of newspapers, I needed to be able to read research from books and refer back to notes I had written during interviews.  
[Photo: Charlie Harper on the movie set of fellow PXEer and twin brother, Sam Harper, for his new movie No Place Like Home.]

A visit to the PXE International Biennial Conference in Bethesda, MD in 2008 alerted me to the enormous number of tools that were available to compensate for my low vision in my professional life as well as tools to improve the quality of my recreational life. By my estimate I needed a desktop monitor with magnifier for reading glasses with built in binoculars for driving and for teaching, high powered customized reading glasses, “spaceman” viewing glasses for movies, theater and television, a stable desk magnifier, a pocket size magnifier with a light. This wish list totaled close to $10,000 or about $10,000 more than I had on hand.

My assistant read an article in the PXE newsletter written about a fellow PXEer, Steve W. He was in the same boat. Steve had contacted the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and they had helped him acquire his wish list empowering him to remain gainfully employed.

I e-mailed him and his response was encouraging. So my assistant Letha and I set out to negotiate what we were sure was going to be a journey of Kafkaesque bureaucratic mazes. Not so. Not in the least.

In part the Arizona DES is charged with helping the disabled get jobs when they have lost jobs because of a disability, as well as those of us who develop disabilities on the job to keep our jobs by providing the tools and training necessary to remain or become an active member of the workforce.

For the government this is a lot less expensive than farming us out to Social Security. The Arizona DES, through their low vision contractors, pay for a percentage of the tools they recommend. It does not matter what your income level is. If you are disabled and if it affects or will affect your employment, they will help you. In my case they paid for 75% of my wish list…reducing a $10,000 bill to $2,500.

And it was a cake walk.

The process began in January of 2009. By May of 2009 I had received four of the six items on my wish list.

With in a month of contacting my local Arizona DES office´s Vocational Training Department, Paul, a DES counselor who specializes in working with the visually impaired, showed up at my home and workplace.

I had written a personal description of my condition and had my eye doctor write an evaluation of my condition and prognosis. Paul did an evaluation of my job requirements and my workspace and came up with his own list of tools that would help me do my job. In addition he filled out a formal but painless application form. In the process he warned me that given the state of the economy and cutbacks in the state´s budget it was unlikely I would be approved for everything I needed. Apparently this is now true for most states. Cutbacks have really strangled the ability of many state organizations to provide the level of services they had been able to provide in the past.

After our meeting Paul set up an appointment with a state-certified low vision specialist, Dr. H. Dr. H´s job was not to second guess Paul´s recommendations but to measure my eyesight to custom build the tools. In addition, he introduced me to choices of desktop readers, viewing glass, frames etc. In the whole process this was the longest wait. He was booked solid for two months but eventually he showed up at a local office and did his evaluation.

Based on Dr. H´s work, the Arizona DES then evaluates the cost and determines how much the client should pitch in based on income and how much DES will pay based on their budget. Paul let me know in advance what I would be liable for and what tools the state would ultimately pay for. Within two months, Dr. H had my visual aids ready for a test. Only one of the tools didn´t work, but these were quickly refitted and delivered to me a month later.

Now that I have incorporated these tools in my life I can´t believe I lived without them. I can read what´s necessary, I can drive at night, I can spot my students´ smirks and spitballs, I enjoy watching movies on my TV and so on.

The moral of this story is if government can run health care as well as the Arizona DES can help those of us with disabilities…what is Congress waiting for? Or if you are trying to hobble along because you think you can´t afford visual aid tools or because you think it will be a bureaucratic nightmare to ask for help, my experience tells me don´t wait. It has been truly liberating to have the tools I need to do my work.

Charles F. Harper
Zia Coyote
C: 203-695-1317