Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Valley Association for Independent Living

Yesterday, I met with the Valley Association for Independent Living. VAIL provides services to people with disabilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Their service area extends beyond the counties along the border; however, the group is able to meet the greatest number of needs at their McAllen office at 3012 McColl. At the meeting were members of VAIL and representatives Carlos Gutierrez, from Senator Hinojosa's office; and Edna Dougherty from Representative Veronica Gonzalez's office.

You may be wondering what exactly it is that they do. They do quite a bit given their small size. One of the services they provide, Social Security Work Incentives Planning and Assistance, (WIPA), helps people currently receiving Social Security benefits to understand how they can return to the workforce without losing their benefits. I can see this is a great benefit to people who are on a low, fixed income and want to improve their standard of living a bit.

By far, VAIL's biggest contributions are their Independent Living Services. These include:
  • Information & Referral
  • Peer Counseling
  • Multiple Sclerosis Support Group
  • Independent Living Skills Training
  • Advocacy
  • Informational Sessions
  • Social/Recreational Activities
  • Deaf Services

In addition, VAIL offers Community Living Assistance and Support Services (CLASS). This program is geared towards helping people with developmental disabilities before age 22 to become independent.

There are also other services provided to the deaf and hard of hearing through VAIL. These go beyond translation. They provide, for instance, videoconference services, which works like we use the telephone, except through sign language. VAIL also helps their deaf and hard of hearing consumers get reimbursement for the T-Mobile Sidekick 2. The Sidekick is a great device, having had one myself, for communicating. It offers unlimited instant messaging and text messaging. The same reason most of us have a cell phone apply to their consumers, freedom.

It is amazing what range of services they provide for being such a small group. What they do is important from two points of view. One is the perspective of their consumers. Many of them may be living in a nursing home where they receive care. Unfortunately, it may not be enough for their social/emotianl well-being. If you can imagine living in a nursing home while in your 20s or 30s, you realize that there is a wide age gap between you and the majority of the other residents. Living independently, in such a case, would mean having the ability to go out to social events, having a pet, and maybe even having a job.

The other perspective in why VAIL provides a useful service, not only to their consumers, but to society as a whole is that it costs less for a person with a disability to live on their own than to live in a nursing home. I asked to be certain about the circumstances. Their consumers still receive public assistance to live on their own, but the overall cost is less than staying in a nursing facility. In fact, it costs about $9,000 less per person each year. That is a great benefit to the state of Tcxas.

We did go over some business, such as their funding needs for the upcoming biennium. With time, VAIL is getting an increasing number of consumers due to their success in helping people with disabilities live independently. VAIL is one of only a handful of such organizations throughout the state providing these kinds of services. Of course, they depend on grants from various agencies and other public entities. They are facing some challenges in that they have a very large service area required of them, which covers over 40 counties. In effect, grants are requiring much more from agencies like VAIL for the same amount of funding. Any funding increases would go a long way in helping them meet their consumers' needs.

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