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Strategic Plan SFY 2014 - 2019

Primary Tasks

    Secondary Tasks


      Philosophy, Values, and Principles
      Core Functions 
      Goals and Strategies


      The Iowa Department for the Blind is the means for persons who are blind to obtain for themselves universal accessibility and full participation as citizens in whatever roles they may choose, including roles that improve Iowa’s economic growth.

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      It’s okay to be blind.

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      Philosophy, Values, and Principles

      The programs of the Iowa Department for the Blind are based on the belief that the real problems of blindness do not lie in the physical loss of eyesight but rather in the misconceptions about blindness held so widely by the general public and by many blind persons themselves.  The Department for the Blind maintains:

      • That these misconceptions have given rise to forms of discrimination that have denied blind persons first-class citizenship.
      • That programs and services enabling blind persons to deal with problems arising from the physical loss of sight must be based on a belief in the competence of persons who happen to be blind.
      • That blind persons constitute a cross-section of the population and that the average blind person can do the average job in the average place of business, given proper training and opportunity.
      • That persons who are blind, both as individuals and in organized groups, must take the lead in determining the kinds of services they may need to empower themselves more fully.

      State and federal legislative mandates and the expressed needs of customers form the basis for the Department's mission.  To fulfill these commitments, the Department functions in four main areas essential to meeting the needs of blind Iowans: vocational rehabilitation, independent living rehabilitation, business enterprises program, and library and information services.  The Department strives to maintain customer input for all facets of these core services.

      The Department maintains belief in its overall mission and understands that, in order to realize this mission, it must continuously modify its programs to meet the needs of its customers and changing socioeconomic conditions.

      The goals and strategies of this plan reflect these efforts.  In making these continuous modifications, the Department must take care not to jeopardize its positive philosophy of blindness and the cohesiveness this philosophy generates among its customers and staff.

      Through this philosophy, the Iowa Department for the Blind has developed a set of values and principles by which its programs operate.  The Department affirms:

      • That the Department operates on the established and well-demonstrated truth that blindness need not be a barrier to leading a full life as a first-class citizen in society.
      • That blind persons have the same rights and responsibilities as all other citizens to self-determination, including the right to enjoy full integration in all aspects of society.
      • That the blind constitute a minority group who must overcome the misconceptions and discriminations that result from this status.
      • That agencies and programs for the blind should assist blind persons and their organizations to succeed in fulfilling their aspirations.
      • That all staff of the Department will be qualified individuals trained in the delivery of services based on the agency's philosophy.
      • That the Department shall provide the widest range of pre-vocational training, vocational rehabilitation training, independent living training, library services, and other ancillary services so that all customers have as much opportunity as possible to make informed plans and choices concerning life goals.
      • That the Department in its staffing policy be cognizant of the value and importance of hiring qualified persons who may be blind.

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      The Department completes several internal and external activities to assess its impact on Iowans and to determine whether the services provided meet the needs of blind and visually impaired Iowans.

      Department staff define annual outcomes and review progress toward defined outcomes quarterly. In addition, the Department completes a comprehensive statewide needs assessment every three years.  This assessment seeks to identify the vocational rehabilitation needs of blind and visually impaired Iowans who are minorities, who may be un-served or underserved by the Department, who are served through other components of the work force investment system or by community rehabilitation providers.

      Customer input is solicited continuously. Each year, representatives from the Iowa Department for the Blind meet with members of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa and the Iowa Council of the United Blind at their annual state conventions.  The director also meets with the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) to receive their specific input.

      Staff members also continue to meet with customer support groups when opportunities arise at gatherings in local communities in Iowa and actively seek input.  Input has also come from meetings of the Department's Independent Living Advisory Committee, the Library Consumer Advisory Committee, and the Business Enterprises Program State Committee of Blind Vendors.  Department staff members solicit recommendations from the 100% consumer controlled Iowa Commission for the Blind.

      Internal Strengths

      Guiding Philosophy
      All staff have a strong sense of mission, values, and philosophy.  Through staff trainings, the Department has maintained a work culture that adheres to and believes in its mission and guiding philosophy of blindness.  The Department provides services and training to clients based on this philosophy because it is effective.

      Qualified - Motivated Staff
      Department staff are dedicated and highly qualified. They bring a variety of educational and life experiences that allow them to address the unique needs of blind Iowans and other stakeholders.  In addition, they retain their skills by seeking out and taking advantage of new approaches or technology and adapting them to our approach.  Staff possess specialized knowledge of blindness, non-visual techniques, and attitude-building that no other VR agency has.  Staff are consistently responsive to our clients', stakeholders', and partners' needs.  Staff are deeply committed to providing individualized and direct line service to Iowans who are blind or visually impaired.  Internal rules and procedures are defined by customer and staffing needs, rather than the reverse.

      Each division views itself as an integral part of the Department's work.  Further, collaboration among the different programs is strong with staff working together to reinforce the services provided by each other.

      The Department works to maintain interagency collaborations and participates in activities to promote statewide services to Iowans with disabilities.

      Internal Challenges

      Staffing Changes
      In the next five years, a significant percentage of the staff will be eligible for retirement.  The loss of experience and knowledge will require the Department to invest time and resources into training.  The Department will likely encounter competition in hiring as the number of workers retiring will not be unique to this agency.

      Staffing levels have declined in recent years and this is likely to continue.  Matching service needs to staff capacity is likely to become a greater issue over the next five years.

      The demographics of Iowa's blind population are changing.  We are encountering more individuals with additional significant disabilities, disruptive home lives, and addictions.  This change in demographics requires field staff to provide more intensive services.  Further, Iowa has a large older blind population.  The need for the provision of training in independent living skills is greater than the resources allocated for this purpose.

      To address these challenges, management developed a work force plan based on an analysis of current and future staffing needs. The plan guides hiring and training decisions to ensure the Department has staff with the knowledge and skills needed to achieve its strategic and performance goals.

      External Challenges

      Social Attitudes
      Misconceptions about the abilities of blind and visually impaired individuals remain pervasive. Societal attitudes are a severe impediment to placing individuals in employment, encouraging blind Iowans to participate in their communities, and to remain independent in their home lives.

      Our society does not see the value in government helping others become self-sufficient. Instead, public assistance programs are or are viewed as reinforcing dependence.  For instance, Social Security work rules can still be a barrier to working at self-sufficiency.

      Advancements in several technology areas have improved independent access to information.  While challenges remain, improvements to adaptive technology have given blind and visually impaired individuals access to sophisticated work place and communication technologies.  Further, the conversion to digital media has made audio information easier to access and use.

      External Opportunities

      Consumer Organizations
      Iowa's blind consumer groups are organized and motivated to retain high quality services and VR programs.  In addition, members of these organizations serve as role models and sources of support for those Iowans who have recently experienced significant vision loss.

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      Core Functions

      Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

      The Department's library for the blind and physically handicapped provides reading materials free of charge to Iowans who cannot use standard print because of blindness, physical disability, or reading disability.  The library:

      • Circulates books and magazines on digital cartridge, cassette tape, in Braille, and in large print to eligible borrowers throughout the state.  The library maintains a collection of over 88,000 book titles and makes available to its borrowers over 120 different magazines.  Because the library is a cooperating member of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), its borrowers have access to all NLS services.
      • Transcribes print materials into Braille and recorded formats.  Employment-related, educational, and leisure materials not already available in alternative media are transcribed upon request.  The library also transcribes other magazines and books appropriate for its collection and acquires instructional and employment materials for students and workers.  The library's instructional materials center (IMC) locates textbooks and other educational materials for Iowa's K-12 and college students who cannot use standard print.  The IMC also locates job-related materials for employed Iowans for whom standard print is not an option.
      • Maintains a public work station including the career resource center which houses career related books and employment guides in a variety of formats such as Braille, digital cartridge, cassette, and E-file.  The work station also includes an Internet connected computer used by clients to research employment opportunities and to apply for positions on-line.  The computer features a refreshable Braille display, screen access software, and a scanner for turning print resources into voice.
      • Provides independent access to the library's collection through the on-line public access catalog (OPAC) and Braille and audio reading download (BARD).  Linked to the Department's web site, OPAC allows borrowers to search the library's collection, select books, and put them on reserve.
      • Circulates descriptive videos enhanced with audio descriptions.  These videos range in subject from popular movies to documentaries for audiences of all ages.
      • Maintains an adequate number of playback machines and accessories for borrowers to listen to recorded media.

      Vocational Rehabilitation Services

      Vocational rehabilitation (VR) services assist persons who are blind in preparing for, obtaining, and retaining employment.  Applicants are made eligible based upon their visual disability, their need for VR services, and their intent to work.  The VR counselor and the eligible individual jointly identify a vocational goal and the services needed to achieve it.  Services may include:

      • Training: Training to help individuals achieve the vocational goals they have selected. Individuals may need training to acquire the skills of blindness and vocational training or post-secondary education.
      • Rehabilitation technology services: Through such services as job site assessment, procurement of access technology, and training in the use of adaptive equipment, blind employees can perform their jobs competitively and efficiently.  Individuals can explore various types of access technology and receive an evaluation of their needs, skills, and resources so that they can make informed choices about which options are best for them.  They can borrow adapted equipment from the Department's loaner pool to help determine which items meet their training and employment needs.
      • Job placement services: VR counselors help job seekers develop a job-search plan, write a resume, practice interviewing, and locate job-search and placement resources.
      • Post-employment follow-up: After individuals have achieved their employment goals, VR counselors can continue to serve as a resource to both employees and employers.  Individuals can receive benefits counseling, and employers can receive assistance in recruiting, training, and retaining employees who are blind.

      VR staff members also participate in a variety of outreach activities. These include:

      • Participation in job fairs, technology expos, and speakers’ bureaus.
      • Provision of information and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); assessment of job sites, recommendations for accessibility, and referral to appropriate vendors.
      • Assistance to employers in producing employee manuals and training materials in such alternative formats as Braille and electronic text.
      • Partnership with other training and employment programs to facilitate the recruitment of qualified blind employees.
      • Provision of guidance and training to information technology staff of public agencies and programs so that web sites available to the general public are also accessible to blind persons.

      Independent Living Rehabilitation Services

      Through the independent living (IL) rehabilitation program, elderly or multiply disabled persons who are blind learn the skills they need to live independently and participate actively in family and community life.  By learning the alternative techniques of blindness, they can choose the privacy and independence of living in their own homes over moving into expensive care centers.  IL teachers and service coordinators travel throughout the state to provide a variety of services, including:

      • Instruction in the alternative skills of blindness: In homes and local communities, IL staff members provide individual and group training in travel with the long white cane, Braille, keyboarding, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and leisure activities.
      • Coordination of community services: IL staff members help locate and coordinate community-based services that allow blind individuals to remain independent.
      • Provision of in-service training: IL staff members give instruction in blindness techniques to community service providers so that they, in turn, can provide this training to the blind individuals they serve.

      The Department provides specialized services to Iowans who are deaf-blind so that they, like other blind persons, can benefit from the vocational rehabilitation and independent living rehabilitation services that will enable them to live and work as full members of their communities.  Staff members help procure adaptive equipment, make assessments, and arrange for educational and employment opportunities.

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      Goals and Strategies


      Strategy 1.1: Provide transition services to blind youth ages 14 and older who are beginning to exit the K-12 educational system.

      Strategy 1.2: Develop and promote relationships with employers in all sectors to enhance opportunities of blind Iowans to achieve full time employment.

      Strategy 1.3: Develop a comprehensive, statewide network of technology specialists to provide training in the use of access technology for consumers and work with employers on work site issues related to information technology.

      Strategy 1.4: Use a variety of outreach activities to educate Iowans, including employers and those who are newly blind or visually impaired, about the Department's services and about the capabilities of blind Iowans.

      Measures for Department goal 1:
      A. Percentage of transition students obtaining part-time employment.
      B. Ratio of average VR wage to average state wage as a percentage.
      C. Percentage of individuals with employment outcomes.
      D. Percentage of orientation center students who self-report an improvement in skills and attitude after center training.                                                                                                                                                                           

      E. Initial benchmark statistics on career resource center work station usage.

      Strategy 2.1: Evaluate all aspects of the business enterprises program (B.E.P.) to broaden opportunities, increase average incomes, and serve more blind Iowans.

      Strategy 2.2: Maintain and expand the number of individuals hired by blind business owners by increasing and expanding business opportunities.

      Strategy 2.3: Explore opportunities for training and internships for blind Iowans within and outside of the B.E.P. framework.

      Measures for Department goal 2.
      A. Number of individuals participating in self-employment opportunities.
      B. Number of people employed by individuals participating in self-employment opportunities.
      C. Average income of B.E.P. managers.


      Strategy 3.1: Use public service announcements, newsletters and other outreach activities to market the wide variety of materials available through the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

      Strategy 3.2: Work closely with Iowa schools and area education agency personnel to fill requests for students’ textbooks and educational materials in alternative media.

      Strategy 3.3: Use new digital technologies, volunteers, contracted vendors, and prison workers to ensure timeliness in responses to requests from students of all ages and employed persons for educational and professional materials in alternative formats.

      Measures for Department goal 3:
      A. Total library readership
      B. Number of volumes circulated
      C. Total applications for library services
      D. Total requests filled for alternative media materials from the library's instructional materials center (IMC)

      Strategy 4.1: Provide skills training and related independent living (IL) services.
      Strategy 4.2: Provide increased opportunities for peer interaction to help individuals develop a positive attitude about blindness and their abilities.
      Strategy 4.3: Promote print and visual materials about the blind and visually impaired which align with the Department mission and vision.

      Measure for Department goal 4:  Percentage of independent living clients indicating they have a more positive attitude about their blindness and their abilities after training.

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