Information

Oregon Commission for the Blind Central Oregon office:

Location: 813 SW Highland Ave., Suite 102

Phone: 541-699-5090

Website: www.oregon.gov/blind

Having a Redmond office for the Oregon Commission for the Blind makes a big difference for visually impaired Central Oregon residents, says one resident aided by the agency.

“The benefit of it being in Redmond is all I have to do is get on the No. 24 (bus) and it drops me off four blocks away,” said Skyler Forsey, 26. “It took everything they offer and made it more accessible.” Forsey previously had to get travel to Portland, at agency expense, to get an assessment he can now get close to his Bend home, he said.

The Oregon Commission for the Blind opened its office at 813 SW Highland Ave., Suite 102 a couple years ago.

It is one of five offices in the state and the only one the agency has had in Central or Eastern Oregon.

The office opened after the agency looked at growing areas in the state.

“One of the areas most identified were, especially, Central Oregon, and some Eastern Oregon territories that are projected to double and triple in population,” said Angel Hale, the agency’s Portland-based director of vocational rehabilitation services. “We wanted to have a presence over there to better serve our people in Central and Eastern Oregon.”

Redmond made sense as a location for the Central Oregon office because costs are lower than in Bend and the Commission for the Blind can send its representatives to meet clients at partner agencies like WorkSource at offices around the region, Hale said.

“We felt like with the cost savings, location and our ability to travel and meet people, it was a better fit,” she said.

The commission offers two primary services, both are free. Vocational services, the more widely used is for Oregonians 14 and older who are legally blind or have a condition that will likely lead to blindness. It helps them find or retain employments.

Independent living services is for people 55 and older who experience vision loss.

The Redmond office includes a rehabilitation assistant, as well as a technology instructor to help clients learn screen readers, braille displays and other instruments. The instructor also works with businesses on possible job opportunities for the students.

It also has a field instructor to teach vocational rehabilitation classes, which teaches clients about living independently, including shopping and finding employment.

Two business relations people work directly with businesses on job opportunities for people with disabilities.

It also has a rehabilitation counselor, who also serves as a case manager in getting clients eligible for services and making sure they have the training, tools and ability to work, Hale said.

The Commission for the Blind provides valuable experience in helping people locate jobs, Hale said.

“We work with (employers) to wee what the options are and get engaged, make sure they have the really solid skills they need to work independently,” she said.

The number of jobs that can’t be done by blind people is growing smaller. Hale said driving jobs are among the few, and that could soon change with the development of self-driving cars.

Forsey started working when he needed technical assistance to help him read computer screens. He took part in the commission’s technology training in Portland, which sparked an interest in becoming an instructor to the blind.

After interning with the commission from June 2017 until April of this year in Redmond, Forsey is now studying at World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, Ark., with hopes of becoming an assistive technology instructor. He would like to work for the commission if positions are available.

The agency helps the blind and visually impaired with everything from reading computers to finding transit stops to crossing streets, he said.

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now (without the commission),” Forsey said. “I’d still be banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to read text or learning to ride the bus.”

People like Forsey who take part in the commission’s immersive training in Portland spend at least three months there, where they learn Braille tools like versions of Microsoft Word and Excel, as well as devices like smartphones.

“It’s a really good environment to get the skills to truly live independently,” Hale said.

The commission, which partners with sister agency Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services, serves between 650 to 700 people statewide each year, with about 70 to 100 people getting outcomes in employment searches, Hale said.

The Commission for the Blind wants to get the word out about the services it offers, Hale said. It can be difficult for blind people to make the move to get support, but she said they find it one of the most rewarding moves and are surprised with all that’s offered.

“We get people that have experienced vision loss for years that don’t know about us,” she said. “We do not want to be the best-kept secret since we are the only game in town for blindness training.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com

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