Kathy Conley is worried about the future of her clients - clients who cannot see or hear and are, in many instances, mentally and physically impaired.
The Utah Division of Rehabilitation Services employee was told the state will not fund her program for the deaf and blind after July 1.For the past year, Conley has managed the Helen Keller Affiliate Project of Utah, a program that gives deaf and blind citizens training and job opportunities.
The project is partially funded by a grant from the Helen Keller National Center but requires state funds to keep it alive. In April, Blaine Petersen, director of the division, decided to discontinue funding for the project.
Petersen said Utah's economic situation forced him to eliminate Conley's project, but he feels the state deaf and blind team that will be phased in as a replacement will be more than sufficient.
Conley is not satisfied. She said boards provide important services but tend to deal with philosophical issues, not personal cases.
"Without a manager in the field, doing legislative work and following through, it's my opinion that the services will not be provided. The board members are in high, bureaucratic positions and do not have time to do casework," Conley said.
Conley said it's imperative that the blind and deaf receive training and job opportunities immediately after they finish their schooling because they regress if they are isolated or not challenged.
"It's almost a disservice to offer them a little bit of hope and then take everything away," she said.
Petersen said, however, that the state board, consisting of representatives from the visually handicapped, aging, health, social services and parents, is an adequate replacement for Conley's project. And it will save the state money.
"We're terminating the project, not the program. We're just going to be handling the services in a different way. It may end up increasing the amount of services provided because people from different agencies can work together on these cases," Petersen said.
Because the board members will be compensated by their individual agencies, the division will not have to fund the project, saving the state about $30,000.
Petersen said Conley's project was expensive because it could not be funded by the division, since most of the deaf and blind do not fall into the rehabilitation category.
The amount of state money the project's Helen Keller grant required also increased each year. Petersen said state social service funding is decreasing annually, while federal monies are increasing. Because federal grants require matching state funds, he said some programs had to be eliminated.
"It may sound hard and cold, but during the days of a tight economy, these types of decisions are made to balance programs," he said.
Conley feels the deaf and blind community will suffer from the change. She said all they have to look forward to is living in institutions and being dependent.
"It's the dying of dreams. A waste of great human potential," she said.
Annie VanDriel, the mother of a deaf and blind child, said Conley's program helped her 25-year-old son learn independence. When VanDreil's son Richard graduated from Ogden's school for the blind, he didn't know the alphabet or how to write his own name.
She said with Conley's help, Richard was admitted to the Helen Keller school in New York. He is now living in his own apartment and writes his parents four-page letters every week.
"I'm afraid when he comes back, there will be nothing here. All that time and money (225 a week) for him to come home to nothing," Van Driel said.
But Petersen said many of Conley's clients receive services from independent living services and will continue to do so.