Retirements lead to reorganization in Blind and Deaf Services

Blind Services staff listen to a speaker during their August retreat
Employees of VRS-Blind Deaf take note of a presentation on increasing productivity at an August staff retreat.
VRS-Blind Services staff members listen to a presentation at the August’s Blind Services staff retreat.

The recent retirements of VR assistant commissioners Joe Helm and Rita Houston have led to a reorganization in VRS-Blind and Deaf Services.

The initial change came as a result of the reallocation of Helm’s duties, including his oversight of the department’s highly regarded Business Enterprise Program, which employs almost 100 blind vendors at snack bars, cafeterias, vending machine facilities, dining halls, and other sites statewide.

With Helm’s departure, Commissioner Cary Boswell decided to move BEP into the department’s VR-Blind Services program.

The change made sense, said VR-Blind and Deaf Services Assistant Commissioner Curtis Glisson, because BEP “dovetails well” with Blind Services.

“Every BEP vendor begins as a consumer in a VR counselor’s caseload, so it’s a good fit,” Glisson said. “Plus, Blind Services has a strong partnership with E.H. Gentry, which provides the training for BEP vendors.”

The recent departure of former BEP Assistant Director Perry Hopper – who retired after 39 years with ADRS – led to yet another change as Lori Brady, a 27-year veteran of the program, was tapped to succeed him.

Other changes in Blind and Deaf Services occurred in the wake of Houston’s retirement. Her departure left a vacancy in the assistant commissioner’s post, which was subsequently filled by Glisson. That, in turn, created an opening in Glisson’s former position as director of special programs.

In May, Ashley Townsend, a former unit supervisor for Blind Services covering central Alabama, was selected to assume that role. Carol Pinkard – who was serving as coordinator of Blind Services’ OASIS program – stepped into Townsend’s previous role, while Matt Haynes, a former VR counselor and rehabilitation teacher, was selected as the new OASIS program coordinator.

Despite all the changes, there has been no impact on consumer services, Glisson said.

“We’ve been hit with a significant loss of ‘institutional knowledge’ in Blind Services as well as BEP, but we’ve also been fortunate to have staff with substantial longevity and experience who have stepped up to fill these leadership roles,” Glisson said.

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