Department of Labor Assists the Iris Network to Secure Funding for Training Center for Visually Impaired Individuals Bookmark and Share

September 19, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 19, 2014 Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, 207-621-5009

Will create the only immersion center in Northern New England

AUGUSTA—The Department of Labor’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI) has secured $1.4 million in federal grant funding for Maine’s Iris Network to establish a Vision Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center. This immersion learning facility will be built at the Iris Network’s William J. Ryan Building on Park Avenue in Portland. The division is part of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, which seeks to connect people with disabilities to employment.

“This project will bring a unique training facility to Maine to benefit not only our citizens but those from around New England,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “Immersion learning is a best practice; it brings people together to build supporting relationships and intensifies the educational environment. This investment will pay off by increasing the effectiveness of our life skills and work skills training over a shorter period of time. Our citizens who are blind or are experiencing vision loss will be able to return to an active and independent lifestyle more quickly while remaining here in Maine.”

The grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education will be matched by $302,000 from the Iris Network, which will also provide $275,000 in additional public and private funding to complete the renovation of the Ryan Building. The closest similar center is located in Newton, Mass.

The division has worked for the past three years to assist the Iris Network in planning for this project and applying for funding. Almost all vision rehabilitation services in Maine are provided on an outreach basis, which can leave people in rural areas isolated from others who are living with similar vision limitations. It is also more expensive to do intensive training in this way, because the staff are not local to the clients.

The immersion center program will bring clients to Portland for intensive, small-group low vision therapy, vision rehabilitation programs and vocational training. These 10-week intensive programs will teach clients the skills needed to compensate for vision loss as a foundation and then build upon that base with the skills needed for working and living an independent life. They will have the opportunity to build supportive relationships with their peers.

The Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS),, works to bring about full access to employment, independence and community integration for people with disabilities. The Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired, part of BRS, provides vocational rehabilitation, education, skill training, paths to employment and independent living skills to people who are blind or have a visual impairment.