Proposed bill could do away with free services to help older, blind Oklahomans

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Vicky Golightly has been legally blind her whole life.

The 63-year-old said she’s now losing what is left of her vision.

But, recently, she received some help from the Department of Rehabilitation Services.

A specialist came to her home to help her be more independent, something she said is especially helpful in the kitchen.

“I was always burning myself,” Golightly said of some new padding on her oven. “Now, when I pull the shelf out, I’m not going to get burned.”

She also had help labeling her spices, and an electronic device can read the labels for her.

But, she, along with the DRS, fears this kind of help could fade away if House Bill 1861 is passed into law.

“1861 is a bill that would force the Department of Rehabilitation Services to contract out for services for independent living for older people who are blind,” said Jody Harlan, communications director for the DRS.

Harlan said 16 specialists work for the DRS and provide in-home services to older, visually-impaired people.

Services help people with mobility, safety and even getting back to work.

Right now, the services are free to clients.

But, Harlan said clients could end up paying out-of-pocket to get the services from another organization if the bill passes.

And, the specialists could be out of work.

“These 16 individuals would lose their jobs, and nine of them are blind, if the funding for their work was transferred to a single nonprofit organization,” Harlan said.

In part, the bill said the DRS would have to direct “all state and federal funds received and appropriated for services to Older Individuals that are blind (OIB) to qualified community-based nonprofit organizations.”

Golightly said the DRS has greatly improved her independence, but she’s worried about others.

“I’m worried about the decrease in services, the quality of the services, the availability of the services,” Golightly said. “And, would the services cost the client anything?”

We reached out to the author of the bill, Rep. Leslie Osborn, but haven’t heard back.

Rep. George Faught has also drafted an amendment to the bill that would change some of HB 1861’s wording.


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