Director of the Department of Rehabilitation: Who Is Joe Xavier?

Friday, March 14, 2014
Director Joe Xavier

Governor Jerry Brown’s new director at the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), Joe Xavier, has come a long way from his early days as a nearly-blind immigrant milking cows instead of pursuing a college education.

Brown appointed the Azores native with the impressive back story to head the department on February 14. He took over for Anthony Sauer, who had been director since 2007. Sauer was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident when he was 18.  

Xavier, 54, came to the United States from the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, with his parents and seven siblings in 1966. By his own account, he spoke Portuguese and almost no English. Xavier repeated the third grade, but got the hang of the language and ended up skipping a grade before he hit high school. His vision was impaired early in life by retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease that often leads to blindness.  

The family was poor and his father milked cows for a living. His paycheck wasn’t enough to support a family that size so the older children worked, including Xavier, who milked cows before and after school.

Although his English skills were weak and his failing eyesight presented a formidable challenge, he excelled in school on what he said was a near-photographic memory. Xavier won a scholarship to Sacramento State but only stuck around for a year.

He returned to milking cows. Over the course of the next two years, his vision went from bad to horrible and, out of fear, he decided to look for something a bit more career oriented. A counselor steered him to a food service Business Enterprise Program (BEP) at the DOR and he was through milking cows.

Xavier became a U.S. citizen while in the program. His first job as an entrepreneur, in 1984, was at the Gold Star Café in Santa Rosa. He left in 1986 for Skyline Food Services in Sacramento, where he ran multiple facilities from 1986 to 1996. He was owner and operator at Snack N Things from 1996 to 1998.

Xavier took the state civil service exam and went to work for the state in March 1998 as a supervisor in a BEP field office. He did that for three years and then took a job in the department as, in his words, “a blind auditor.” The more technical name for his position was associate management auditor for the audit section at DOR. He did that for four years.

Xavier was promoted to staff services manager II in 2005 and three years later Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him the department’s deputy director of Independent Living and the External Affairs Division. In 2010, Schwarzenegger named him deputy director for the DOR’s Specialized Services Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Xavier is a graduate of the California Health and Human Services Agency Leadership Academy and a fellow of the Health Leadership Program at the Sierra Health Foundation and University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. He’s a graduate of the National Rehabilitation Leadership Institute through the San Diego State Interwork Institute and George Washington University, and a fellow of the Health Leadership Program at the California Institute of Mental Health and University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development.

As deputy director, Xavier had direct executive responsibility for Blind Field Services, the Orientation Center for the Blind, the Older Individuals who are Blind Program, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Section, the Business Enterprises Program, the Independent Living Unit, the Assistive Technology Unit, the Disability Access Section, the Client Assistance Program, the Public Affairs Office and the Traumatic Brain Injury Program.

He is a member of the California Council of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind.

This director’s position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $142,968. Xavier is registered without political party preference.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

EmploymentLINK 2012 (pdf)

Governor Brown Announces Appointments

Governor Schwarzenegger Announces Appointments (San Francisco Sentinel)

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