Vision · Opportunities · Innovation · Choices · Expertise.
Oregon Commission for the Blind, February 2024

Welcome to 2024! This edition of The Voice celebrates the work happening around Oregon to carry out the agency’s mission, to Empower Oregonians who are Blind to Fully Engage in Life. 

Every Oregonian wants to be able to support themselves and their families and live a fully-productive and independent life. You will be able to read about one Oregonian who found meaning in the helping professions after receiving the training and support from our agency. He is now giving back to care for others in a new field as a Certified Nursing Assistant. 

We are reminded that access and opportunity are key to full community engagement for our citizens who are blind, and we are so grateful to have partnerships with organizations like OMSI to ensure that Oregonians who are blind can participate in and enjoy the museum’s exhibits. 
Our work and support requires leadership, planning and engagement. I hope you enjoy reading about the agency’s efforts to carry out of our vision for Oregon: Blindness without barriers, a state of inclusion for Oregonians with vision loss!
Seniors Accessing Services Hits Record High
Senior woman in glasses smiles as she high-fives a friend.
Age-related macular degeneration is a major cause of vision loss for seniors, and a reason that many seniors experiencing vision loss reach out to OCB for assistance to remain living independently and safely in their homes. In 2023, the agency experienced a 24 percent increase in referrals to a record high of 1,230 Oregonians who sought assistance from the agency.
Image: A senior woman in glasses smiles as she high-fives a friend.

Whether it is helping a senior find a low vision aid that works for them, learn how to manage their medications, prepare a meal or use a support cane to prevent falls, these critical services make a big difference in the lives of Oregonians who are blind. 
Evaluating and Planning to Make an Impact
Cork-board with note pinned to it with picture of a heart and the words, "Time for PLANNING"
We recently completed the 2024 Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment to identify the unmet needs of unserved and underserved Oregonians who are blind who may access agency services in the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. 

Image: Cork-board with note pinned to it with picture of a heart and the words, "Time for PLANNING".

This tool, along with the recently completed State Plan will inform the agency’s service delivery system across the state for the next few years. 

"I appreciate all the wonderful, insightful feedback Agency stakeholders provided during this needs assessment," says Cassie Richard, Policy Analyst for the agency and principal contributor to the Needs Assessment. "This information is critical in helping OCB execute our mission to empower Oregonians who are blind to full engage in life! To that end, I would especially like to thank clients for taking part in such self-advocacy. It is with your feedback that we can tailor services to your needs and goals. This was all for you!"

This information was presented to the Commission as they lead the agency’s efforts in developing agency’s Strategic Plan for 2024-2027.
"Oregon Family for the Blind"
Client Steve Degan and Woodshop Instructor Braden Dashney in the OCB woodshop.
Steve Degan had done many things in his life. He served as a track vehicle mechanic and infantry soldier in the Army. He drove truck and taught trucking off and on for 37 years. He had a commercial embroidery business, and did glass blowing, mechanics, ranching, landscaping, logging, road construction, and more. He was a 6'1", tattooed, tough rolling stone that gathered no moss.

Image: Steve Degan, wearing scrubs from his job as a caretaker, catches up with OCB instructor Braden Dashney in the woodshop. Braden’s hands are folded over his white cane, and Steve’s exposed arms are covered with tattoos. Both men have silver hair and slight but humorous smiles. Behind them are woodworking tools.

“I lived off-grid in the woods for 30 years before I decided to become a functioning member of society,” he laughs. And he did all this despite being effectively blind in his left eye from a childhood stroke.

Then, ten years ago without warning, his optic nerve exploded. Click here to read Steve's story.
OCB and OMSI Partnership for Accessiblity
A child with low vision and their parent use the Aira app on a smart phone to examine an OMSI exhibit of a large bird skeleton.
One important role OCB plays in Oregon, is as an expertise resource to community organizations, businesses, and public agencies who want to boost their equity and inclusion.

Last year OCB and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) formed an interesting partnership to make the campus more accessible. With OCB staff as consulting experts generating many ideas, OMSI eventually settled on piloting the use of real-time human assistance to provide visual information for people with low vision. OMSI launched Aira in March. Click here to read more.

Image: A child with low-vision and their parent use the Aira app on a smart phone to examine an OMSI exhibit of a large bird skeleton.
OCB Part of National "NET" Serving Businesses, Clients
Participants of the 2023 NET Summit. Morgan Rincon is second from left.
Last fall, OCB’s Business Relations Coordinator Morgan Rincon represented OCB at the National Employment Team (NET) Summit in Washington, D.C. The NET is a national network of the U.S.’s 78 public Vocational Rehabilitation programs joining together to create a united or “one company” approach to working with business customers. It operates through the leadership and support of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR).

The NET specializes in employer development, business consulting, and corporate relations, and meets the employment needs of business through qualified applicants and support services provided by the public VR system. This model is called “dual customer,” because the VR programs are funded to serve individuals with disabilities, but their employment outcomes are tied to business. We know that VR clients receive better career planning and employment supports when VR works with business customers to better understand their needs and expectations.

The dual customer approach provides the NET’s customers with the following benefits:
  1. Business has direct access to a pool of qualified applicants and the support services provided by the public VR system and their partners;
  2. VR consumers have access to national employment opportunities and career development resources; and
  3. VR agencies have a national system for sharing employment resources, best practices and business connections.​

For more information, please contact: Morgan Rincon, MS CRC, at
OCB Welcomes Three New Leaders
Close-up photo of a compass with the needle pointing to the word "Leadership"
In December we were thrilled to welcome Ron Stewart to OCB as our new Director of Business Enterprise Program (BEP), which promotes independence by providing business opportunities in food concessions to Oregonians who are legally blind. As a seasoned professional in the Food Service industry, Ron honed his skills through extensive experience as a successful Restaurateur, Corporate Executive Chef, Caterer for high-profile clientele, Private Chef in Beverly Hills, and Restaurant Business Consultant.
Image: Close-up photo of a compass with the needle pointing to the word "Leadership"

In January, we welcomed Jim Portillo as our new Director of the OCB Orientation and Career Center! Jim will supervise the Center's curriculum and instructors, working hand-in-hand with our Vocational Rehabilitation program to ensure that OCB's clients gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence to reach their employment and life goals. Jim comes to us from Washington State Services for the Blind’s Orientation and Training Center where he was the Lead Instructor. Jim is bilingual in Spanish and English and has over 20 years of experience working in the training center environment providing blindness skills training to individuals who experience vision loss. (Photo of Jim from the National Federation of the Blind).

In September we congratulated Jonathan Scrimenti on moving from his position as the Director of the OCB Orientation and Career Center, a position which he has held since 2021, to the position of Workforce Innovation Manager in 2023. This position is one of the more visible/outward-facing management positions in the agency, with direct responsibility for our State Plan (done in collaboration with our workforce partners throughout Oregon) and our Comprehensive State-wide Needs Assessment. He will also be taking over the management of OCB's Workforce Team.
Jonathan has Career Services experience at both the undergrad and graduate levels along with building employer partnerships for job seekers.

Please join us in welcoming these excellent additions to OCB's leadership team!
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