Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Unmet Needs: Service Issues for Persons Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Unmet Needs: Service Issues for Persons Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

Article excerpt

Abstract: Five focus groups were conducted as part of an assessment to identify stakeholders' views of the service delivery needs of persons who are visually impaired. The analyses of the data from the focus groups were clustered into four distinct themes or concerns regarding the variability in services, outreach, transportation, and service delivery.


A statewide assessment of stakeholders' needs was conducted for a state agency providing habilitation, rehabilitation, and independent living services to persons of all ages who are visually impaired (that is, those who are are blind or have low vision). This needs assessment was designed to acquire an accurate and thorough picture of the agency's strengths and weaknesses. It used focus groups as a key component to obtain findings that might be overlooked using a strictly quantitative focus. The focus groups provided information about stakeholders' issues and generated data for planning and developing programs.


The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended requires an annual statewide assessment of the rehabilitation needs of residents (Freedman & Fesko, 1996). States have autonomy in determining the procedure for these assessments, resulting in variation in the methods that are used across the United States. Although state vocational rehabilitation agencies typically complete their own assessments, states may have an independent entity do so. The results of the assessments are reported in individual state plans, submitted to the federal funding agency, and made available for public review (but not widely disseminated). State agencies may conduct additional assessments of the components of programs or services to meet other requirements or to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of specific programs.

In an example of such an assessment, Williams, Dutta, Kundu, and Welch (2008) addressed the service delivery needs of female former inmates with mental illness in a southern state that requested anonymity. The state's Department of Rehabilitation Services completed a series of data collection instruments using information from closed files. The results indicated that the greatest needs of those studied on their release from prison included assistance adjusting to their families, their communities, and their disabilities, as well as vocational counseling and guidance. Williams and colleagues recommended additional training about these issues for agency staff members.

Another previous needs assessment (Cherry, Keller, & Dudley, 1991) addressed the demographic characteristics, disability status, independent living skills, mobility, transportation needs, and interest in employment among persons who were legally blind in Georgia. Telephone surveys found that elderly people had more difficulty performing tasks of daily living than did younger people and were less likely to live with family members or relatives. Cherry and colleagues stressed the importance of interagency collaboration to provide effective services to elderly persons with visual impairments.

In a similar need to comply with the federal regulation requiring a statewide assessment, the state that wished to remain anonymous requested an independent party outside the state to evaluate potential gaps in services or unmet needs; the state granted permission for the results to be disseminated provided that the state was not identified. Focus groups were conducted as part of this multistage assessment.



The importance of input from stakeholders in evaluating the delivery of and need for services is recognized by service providers and funding agencies (Graves, 1991; Schriner, 1995). Focus groups provide a means of obtaining information about the ability of agencies to provide services to the populations they serve and to provide a vehicle for obtaining information directly from those who are receiving services, their families, and others in the service delivery process. …

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