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Nell Carney and the future of the RSA.

Taking charge of a stagnant federal agency and attempting to change its direction is no easy task. But Nell Carney accepted that challenge and has taken the first steps toward what she considers "responsible administration" of the Rehabilitation Act. Appointed by President Bush last year as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Ms. Carney is the "point" person for rehabilitation and disability services at the federal level.

As RSA Deputy Commissioner Ralph Pacinelli points out, Ms. Carney's appointment is significant because of her blindness. "There will be a balance of service for all disability groups.... (Her appointment) is a statement by the Administration that disability is a central issue." He adds that Ms. Carney is a former state vocational rehabilitation director, a "product of the system."

And indeed she is. She is quick to add that her years in direct service were the most meaningful to her, and that she is "fully committed" to assisting those who offer direct service to clients. Her original interest in management, she said, was inspired by "bottlenecks" at the management level of the rehabilitation process. However, she notes realistically that although the bureaucracy can't always be changed, ways exist to work within it. She brings to the job specific skills acquired from her experiences as client, counselor and manager within the vocational rehabilitation system.

Prior to her federal appointment, Ms. Carney was Commissioner of the Division of Visually Impaired for the State of Virginia. She was raised and educated in Tennessee, and served as a counselor and administrator in the State of Washington. She attended George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, where she received a bachelor's and master's degree in special education and psychology.

She hails from a long line of teachers, a supportive family who believed in her and in her abilities. She describes her family and husband as "driving forces" in her life. She views herself as a role model, but more so for women than for people who are blind. Her life includes much more than work, and she describes herself as an "outdoors person" with an interest in swimming, jogging, skiing, and white water canoeing. She is also a reader of history, a lover of music, and a gourmet French chef.

She knows that her job will be a difficult one, as RSA was in some disarray before naming her its new commissioner. A policy review covering the last 15 years was recently completed in which policies were updated, retired, or changed. She has developed more effective communications and has established work groups to reorganize RSA, as well as develop a work plan for the next year. A Rehabilitation Reauthorization Work Group has also been formed to work on the new Rehabilitation Act. Knowing that there may be differences between RSA's perspectives and the Department of Education's viewpoint, she has developed responses for staff development and training. All of these are considered by Ms. Carney to be "ad hoc," and she hopes eventually to see a longrange management plan established.

She is a team player who fully embraces the Bush Administration's theme that "government works." Openness and honesty in government are important. As demonstration of her commitment to rehabilitation, Ms. Carney has spent time with regional offices and regards the regional commissioners as part of the senior management team." She recognizes the need to develop a strong constituency for RSA, and has set up meetings with consumer organizations and with the Council of Administrators of State Vocational Rehabilitation programs (CASVR), which she considers to be the "retail outlet" of rehabilitation. She does have a vision for RSA, and would like to see its programs be creative in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.

Ms. Carney supports the Americans with Disabilities Act because it will remove barriers" in problematic communities and "make a fundamental difference" in the delivery of vocational rehabilitation services and in outcomes. The fact that Ms. Carney has reached her present position is, she says, "a statement that vocational rehabilitation is alive and well." She knows the system and understands the skills she brings. She cares about those who receive services as well as those who provide them. Her commitment will serve her well as she strives to make the federal rehabilitation system responsible, and seeks "to restore RSA to its rightful place."
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Title Annotation:Rehabilitation Services Act
Author:Leung, Paul
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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