Julie Hovey, New York State Commission for the Blind

Andy/ August 30, 2022/ accessibility, blindness

Photo of Julie Hovey, Associate Commissioner for the New York State Commission for the Blind

I’m Beeshernah Ceus, Accessible Pharmacy Services for the Blind’s student intern. Recently, I interviewed Julie Hovey, the New York State Commission for the Blind’s Associate Commissioner. The New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB) assists individuals across the state of New York with accommodations, employment, and simply increasing their independence. Read more to learn about Julie and all of the wonderful work she does.

Beeshernah: Hi, my name is Beeshernah. What’s your name and your titles?

Julie: My name is Julie Hovey, and I’m the Associate Commissioner at the New York State Commission for the blind.

Beeshernah: What is your professional and educational background?

Julie: I have a Bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oswego in Public Justice, and I have a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Wright State University, and I am a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor or CRC. I have been at the Commission for the Blind since 2000.

Beeshernah: That’s amazing, I didn’t know they existed that long. 

Julie: We are over 100 years old. 

Beeshernah: Wow! I’m learning something new. What would you say are the missions and values of the Commission for the Blind?

Julie: The Commission for the Blind is a State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, we’re funded federally by the Rehabilitation Services Administration and state operated. New York has two vocational rehabilitation agencies, NYSCB and ACCESS-VR. ACCESS-VR is part of the state education department. We serve people who are legally blind of all ages. People can come to us who are legally blind with other disabilities as well. And our mission is to help people live independent and productive lives and achieve employment. We have a large mission which is to help people find work, but before they find work we want to make sure that they have some level of adjustment to their blindness and receive services and necessary tools needed to be independent with all aspects of their life. And then find meaningful jobs so they can achieve their goals.

Beeshernah: That’s great as someone who’s a part of it. I think you guys are doing a fantastic job!

Julie: Thank you. I’m happy you think so!

Beeshernah: You’re welcome! How many people does the Commission for the Blind employ?

Julie: I would say roughly around 125 staff statewide and we cover the entire state.

Beeshernah: That’s really a lot of people. What services and programs does the Commission provide?

Julie: We have a Children’s program. We start with children right after early intervention. So typically this is right around when they’re going to kindergarten and we provide counseling and guidance to help parents and children better understand the education system and services available to help children succeed academically. We help them manage their school environment. The school district is responsible for providing the actual service in school. But we will provide support and guidance at the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, making sure kids are getting what they need in school and then helping them maybe with some out of school recreation/socialization activities which help with the adjustment to blindness. Then, we provide vocational rehabilitation services to young people that are usually around the age of 14. That would be considered transition age youth services. So kids that are maybe entering junior high or high school start thinking about their vocational goals with us. We help with work experiences, internships, learning to travel independently, learning to use adaptive technology and really start thinking about their interest in the work world. We look at a lot of pre-employment transition services to help kids get ready to enter the working world. Do they want to go to college? Do they want training in something? What is their vocational goal? We really start looking at talking to them at a young age. 

For adults we offer vision rehabilitation services. We provide orientation and mobility which is learning to travel more independently and safely. Rehabilitation teaching which is looking at activities in your household which can help you be as independent around the house as you can. Social Case Work is offered when people are having difficulty with adjustment to blindness when they first lose their vision. The social worker can be, you know, a tremendous support and also help connect them with community resources that they may need. There may be adaptive technology devices introduced related to their blindness, so that they can perform household duties in their home such as to dispense medication, cook, and clean. You know these are all the things that we do every single day. We have services and instructors that will help people right in their home or in their community, so that they can be more independent. 

We sponsor people to attend college, for residential services when they want to learn more at the blindness center. Another service is computer training. You know, we can provide really anything that a person needs to live independently and get a job. Most of the people we see are interested in employment. So all of these services eventually lead to helping that person find employment.

We also have an older blind program. This program is for people who are over 55 who are not interested in employment. Maybe they’ve retired from their job. They have lost their vision, and they need help being independent in their house. We will help with a lot of the services that I mentioned, to make sure that people can remain in their homes. And you know, age in place. 

We also have the Business Enterprise Program, which is a program for people who are interested in having their own business in State or Federal buildings. There’s a law called the Randolph Sheppard Act, which created the Vending Facility program. It requires qualified blind individuals to be given priority to operate vending facilities on Federal property. Some vendors operate vending machines on a route and some operate stores in these buildings. After receiving some training, they are self-employed and can operate these locations. Some of them have vending routes. They travel daily and manage all of the vending machines. For example, on different highways, or the NYS Thruway or you know places like that, or government buildings that you’ve gone into that have vending machines. It’s most likely a blind vendor that’s managing those machines.

And we have an independent living program and that’s for people who are under 55, who don’t have a vocational goal. We can help ensure that they are able to access our supports and services too. 

Beeshernah: It’s amazing to see that you guys have a variety of programs for different age groups who are living with visual impairment and blindness. Does some of the staff have low vision or blindness?

Julie: Yeah, we have staff that are blind. We have blind vocational rehabilitation counselors. We have staff who are blind in Buffalo, Syracuse, Valhalla, New York City, Harlem, and Garden City. We certainly are always interested in hiring people with disabilities, people who are blind. We are interested in making our agency more diverse with our hiring practices.

Beeshernah: The agency has a wonderfully diverse staff. What led you to work for the New York State Commission for the Blind? 

Julie: I started at the Commission as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor trainee. I had been a job coach previous to that and one of the people that I worked with was blind. It was something that I wasn’t that familiar with. It really taught me a lot. Then I explored what opportunities were available, and there was an opportunity in Westchester, for me to become part of the Commission for the Blind. 

Beeshernah: What makes you proud to work for this organization?

Julie: I think I’m most proud of the fact that we really want people to use their voice and choose their vocational goal with some help along the way, and guidance from us. We try hard to help people recognize their potential at a young age, and know that there are lots of opportunities out there for people and that being blind might mean that you do something differently but you certainly can perform almost all of the job tasks that everybody else does. We don’t put any barriers up for people. We try to tell people to think about what they are good at and what interests them. We may ask what they would like to do, and then we help along the way to understand what’s needed to get there. 

So sometimes somebody could pick a particular goal and they didn’t realize that they had to get an advanced college degree to do that. Some jobs do require that or they need to have some type of certificate or technical training in a particular area. So we try to help people be realistic with what they are interested in, and what’s needed to get to that job. But we also really want people to have a voice and to really think about what they want to do. Sometimes people just don’t know that there’s opportunities for them, so we try to give people as many opportunities as we can to experience the world of work. You know, when you’re really young you don’t really know what it means to go to work. We try to make sure people have experience in getting out there and figuring out what they need. Sometimes people need reasonable accommodation. Maybe they need their monitor to be larger. Maybe they need a large print. Maybe they need braille. We want to try to help them get those types of things early on so that they know what’s gonna make them the most successful.

Beeshernah: Thank you for all of the work that you guys do and the services you provide. I know that a lot of people benefit from them and it makes a tremendous difference in their lives. Thank you for interviewing with us at Accessible Pharmacy!

Julie: It was a pleasure and an amazing interview, thank you for having me!

To learn more about the New York State Commission for the Blind, please visit: https://ocfs.ny.gov/programs/nyscb/

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