OKLAHOMA CITY –Empowering Oklahomans with disabilities is not just a slogan to Jack Tucker. It was the focus of his career and remains a way a life.
The 69-year old Oktaha resident was recently elected to his second term as chair of the Commission for Rehabilitation Services.
The commission is the governing board for the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Commissioner April Danahy from Enid was elected Commission vice chair.
Lynda Collins from Mannford completed her second term as chair and will continue to serve as a Commission member.
Tucker is a former DRS client with a visual disability, who spent more than 40 years motivating students to actively prepare for employment and independence as a teacher and principal at DRS’ Oklahoma School for the Deaf.
In addition to Oklahoma School for the Deaf, DRS serves Oklahomans with disabilities through Disability Determination Services, Oklahoma School for the Blind, Visual Services, and Vocational Rehabilitation.
The agency’s new slogan is “Empower Oklahomans with disabilities.”
“It’s not only my belief -- it’s almost my faith -- that if you put a person in a situation and empower them and back off, they’re going to rise to their ability,”
Tucker said. “DRS’ job is to develop the desire for that success – to be there when they run into rocks in the road if they need some assistance so they can continue to achieve up to their full potential.”
Tucker’s empowerment philosophy extends to DRS staff, as well as students and parents, according to Lesa Price, Oklahoma School for the Deaf librarian and former second grade teacher who worked with Tucker for many years.
In a phone interview, Price summarized statements made about Tucker at a recent OSD departmental meeting when teachers, administrators and teachers’ aides heard about his election to Commission chair.
“You could always come to Jack, but he wanted a solution,” Price reported based on her co-workers’ comments. “He gave us the freedom to offer our best solution.
“You always knew where you stood with Jack. He was supportive of us in meetings with parents and students, but if we were wrong, he wouldn’t embarrass us,” she said. “He would support us in that meeting, but then after the meeting, he would take us aside and say, “Maybe next time we should do this….”
“Jack has been the voice of our students and an advocate of both schools,” Price repeated. “He has changed the perspective of disability to ability.”
One of Tucker’s most notable achievements is the creation and success of Occupation Training Opportunities for the Deaf, OSD’s job training program that prepares deaf and hard of hearing students for the competitive job market.
OTOD combines on-the-job training in two to three jobs each school year with a half day of regular academic classes and practical lessons in resume writing, job search, banking, budgeting, residence shopping and other consumer skills.
“OTOD continually increases expectations … stimulates continuous professional growth” and equips each student for “life-long learning, responsible citizenship and productive employment,” wrote Thomas J. Thompson, OSD’s director of residential life, his nomination of Tucker for DRS’ 2006 Einstein Award.
Tucker won the Einstein Award that year.
“It’s my belief that whether you’re deaf or blind, no matter what your disability is, you can do what you want to do with your life,” Tucker said. “At OSD we would get a lot of 14 and 15-year-old kids that didn’t have language or had minimal language skills.
“One of my first goals was to get them to make eye contact because their self-concept was so low,” Tucker explained. “Once you got them past that and got them to develop a little self-worth, the rest was easy.”
“If you coddle them, they will expect it,” Tucker said. “If you empower them, they want to stand on their own two feet, and their successes become DRS successes.”
Tucker and his wife Julie live in Oktaha where they operate Possum Grape Farm. They have two adult children, J.J. Tucker and Jen Tucker.
In 2015, DRS assisted 88,383 Oklahomans with disabilities. DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Visual Services divisions focus on job preparation and employment. The School for the Deaf and School for the Blind provide standard and specialized education programs for residential, commuter and summer school students, as well as free outreach services to students who attend local schools, educators and families. The schools’ seniors have achieved 100 percent graduation rates for six years. DRS’ Disability Determination Services determines medical eligibility for Social Security disability benefits in Oklahoma and several other states.