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Semiannual Convention Summary

May 20, 2017

It was a beautiful rainy day in Minneapolis, making it easy for Minnesota Federationists to stay inside our historic building to shape the future of blind Minnesotans. 120 of us gathered to listen, learn and contribute our thoughts so that we can live the life we want. People came early to partake of coffee and doughnuts. The Registration line was short because of the many who pre-registered. Special thanks to Cindy Dulude for stepping in to staff the registration table.

President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order and then turned the microphone over to Ryan Strunk, president of the NFB's metro chapter, for a brief welcome. Convention attendees included representatives from all six of our chapters. A live stream of the convention was available for those who could not attend in person.

Much appreciation was expressed to those who pitched in to set up tables and chairs and who would stay at the end of the day for cleanup duty.

One very popular feature of recent conventions is to hear "pro tips" about how blind people accomplish everyday tasks.

Pro Tip #1 from Shane Wegner: How to run on a treadmill. Shane wears a resistance band; one end is tied to the handles of the treadmill and then it is tied around his back. The give and take of the band lets him know how close he is to the edge of the treadmill. On the high tech end, Shane straps a foot pod to his shoe; this connects by bluetooth to his phone, so that he can get information about speed, distance, and the like.

Ms. Dunnam reported that sixteen people went to Washington DC for this year's seminar where we visited the offices of the entire Minnesota congressional delegation. We need to keep working with them to support the following bills:

H.R.1772: Accessible Instructional Materials and Higher Education Act. This act would ensure that material in colleges and universities would be accessible to blind students.

Access Technology Affordability Act: This would provide a tax credit for blind persons investing in assistive technology.

We are seeking an appropriation for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to provide refreshable braille displays for reading books much like the program that provides digital players for recorded books.

Transition to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act. This Act provides for the elimination of the exemption allowing employers to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages.

In the state legislature, we are working to find the best way to protect blind parents from having their children taken away based on their blindness. Throughout the nation Federation affiliates are exploring the best way to do this.

We are also working to help the state determine what the next generation of voting machines will look like. The law mandates that every voting precinct have at least one voting machine that allows everyone to vote privately and independently. The current voting machines are no longer being manufactured, and we must help determine what will take their place.

Minnesota has no licensing program to train teachers of blind children. We continue to urge the legislature to provide funding for such a curriculum at a Minnesota college or university.

Last year, the NFB of Minnesota was successful in getting an increase to the budget for State Services for the Blind (SSB) to serve senior citizens. This year we discovered an effort in the legislature to rescind that increase. We are working hard to see that it does not happen. (Note: At this writing we now know that we were successful in saving that funding.)

This year the NFB of Minnesota sponsored our third Possibilities Fair for seniors. It took place in Mankato and allowed seniors who are losing their vision to become familiar with how they might continue to lead the life they want.

Our Walk for Opportunity will be held on September 9 in Rochester. This is a fundraiser, and everyone from throughout Minnesota is urged to participate.

Pro Tip #2 from Brian Dulude: Mr. Dulude lets us know that blind people can smoke meat. He recommends looking for sales and investing in a brisket. The night before smoking, put a rub on it by placing it in a large trash bag and shaking it to distribute the seasoning. Plan to baby-sit it all the next day over your smoker. It will be tender and succulent.

Under the leadership of President Cody Beardslee, our Minnesota Association of Blind Students is thriving. On April 1, students gathered for the "No Joke" seminar. Speakers included Patti Chang, chair of the NFB's national scholarship program and Kathryn Webster, president of the Federation's national student division. The theme for the seminar was self-advocacy. Beardslee acknowledged several teenagers who were in the audience.

The NFBM is now operating on a fiscal year beginning on January 1. Alice Hebert, our treasurer, came forward to give the mid-year report. A motion was made and seconded to accept the report.

Pro Tip #3 from Judy Sanders: Ms. Sanders talked about being in charge when using customer service at a grocery store. She also made suggestions for labeling the groceries.

Aaron Cannon is the chief engineer at Accessible 360. As Mr. Cannon came to the microphone, Dunnam expressed appreciation for this company's sponsorship of the convention. This company teaches businesses how to make accessible websites. This is one company who wants its clients to need them less and less. One of their success stories was Dairy Queen.

Carol Pankow, the director of State Services for the Blind, gave us her usual thorough report. Her remarks appear elsewhere in this issue. 

Pro Tip #4 from Ryan Strunk: Following the food theme, Mr. Strunk gave us hints about cutting, chopping and slicing vegetables and cake in the kitchen. One example is making a fist with the non-cutting hand, to use the knuckles of that hand to line up the knife for cutting.

"Earlier Start on a Bright Future: Working with Teens" was presented by Michell Gip, the coordinator of Youth Services at BLIND, Incorporated. Miss Gip introduced ten-year-old Charlie Rush-Reese who shared that he is learning braille and other skills of blindness. All of this is new to him and he is looking forward to being a buddy this summer. 

Along with the Buddy program, Ms. Gip described the various other youth programs that will be a part of BLIND, Inc.'s activities. We were also introduced to Stephanie Martin, Gip's assistant coordinator. She recently graduated from Louisiana Tech with degrees allowing her to teach blind children cane travel, braille and other skills. 

Kyle Hanneman then urged us to join him in a fit break where he led us in some stretching exercises that brought us renewed energy.

Briley O'Connor, a blind parent of an energetic toddler, began her talk by telling us her story about her single mom who wanted advice about how to raise a blind child. Her mom looked in the phone book in their Virginia city and found the National Federation of the Blind. The family received the advice they were looking for, and Ms. O'Connor began her journey in living the life she wants. She believes that a parents' division offers two primary opportunities for parents and children: first, parents get advice in what their children need to learn about blindness; and second, parents and children have a large network of blind mentors to teach them about succeeding in life.

Pro Tip #5 from Alycia Howard: Miss Howard reminded us that when speaking in public we should remember that people are watching us and we should try hard not to show our nervousness. Among other things, she recommended that we keep our hands busy by painting a picture and stay focused on what we have to say.

Our scholarship chair, Lori Anderson, came forward to present two state scholarships. Wesley Sisson and Hannah Herriman will each receive an all-expense paid trip to our annual convention where they will be presented with their monetary scholarships; in addition, Ms. Herriman will attend the national convention with expenses paid.

Dunnam shared plans for the national convention in Orlando. BLIND, Incorporated will have its traditional karaoke night; BLIND and the NFB of MN will share a table in the exhibit hall selling various Minnesota products, and all attendees will have the chance to be a part of making plans for the future. The semiannual convention elected Jennifer Dunnam as our delegate to the national convention and Steve Jacobson to serve as alternate delegate.

Our affiliate has a tradition of donating money to the Jacobus tenBroek fund. This fund supports the maintenance of our national headquarters building. We make these contributions in two ways: members pledge what they can give as individuals and then a motion is made to have the affiliate treasury match that amount. Members pledged $1,385, and the affiliate will match that amount.

The NFB of Minnesota was formed in 1920 (then known as the Minnesota Organization of Blind.) The national organization came into being in 1940 and Minnesota was one of the original seven states to make up this new movement. To preserve our proud history, the NFB is creating an oral history project. Toward that end, Minnesota is providing a recorded interview conducted by Steve Jacobson with Maxine Schrader who joined this movement in 1941. In a clip of that recording, played at this convention, Schrader talked about the magic of Dr. tenBroek; his charisma inspired people to listen and to think beyond their current limits. Ms. Schrader says that whenever she wonders how to solve a problem that she feels is created by her blindness she thinks "What would Dr. tenBroek have said about this?" 

Schrader used to edit our Minnesota BULLETIN using her typewriter (which she still owns). She even typed over three hundred mailing labels to send it. 

Pro Tip #6 from Dick Davis: Dick Davis taught us how to make raised lined paper so we can write letters or anything else. Roll a piece of paper around a pencil. Shake the pencil out of the tube and hold the tube flat against the table. Use the pencil to iron out the tube, and you have raised line paper.

It is always inspiring to hear from the students and staff of BLIND, Incorporated (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions). This center was created by and for blind people; we know what it takes to be successful as a blind person, and this program epitomizes what we can do for ourselves. Dr. Brian Dulude has a long and varied career in serving blind people, having worked in Louisiana, Arkansas, Utah and now Minnesota. Since November, he has been the new assistant director at BLIND, and he says that the most fun he has had since his arrival was joining everyone in cutting down a tree for the holiday season. Dr. Dulude is spearheading staff development opportunities such as hearing from someone who works with people who have sustained brain injuries and those dealing with Mental illness. These speakers will help the staff better serve a diverse blind population. Dulude also teaches career exploration.

Laura Martinez is a student who became blind two years ago. She had been blind for seven months when she met staff at BLIND. Ms. Martinez is a social worker who was so devastated about her blindness; she was always helping others and now she thought she couldn't help herself. That was until she encountered the energy and purpose of staff and students who gave her reason to hope. She is now almost finished with her training, and she has the chance to return to her former employer.

Rob Hobson is now the coordinator of professional development and outreach. Mr. Hobson is updating the school's curriculum to today's standards and is designing programs to train professionals from other programs for the blind. There have been groups from New Jersey and Nevada coming to learn about structured discovery. The other part of Hobson's job is to recruit students. 

Dan Wenzel, executive director of BLIND, closed this panel by talking about the depth of the programming available. Whether it is a child, adolescent, employable adult or senior citizen—or whether it is a new citizen of our country—BLIND has something to offer. There is also opportunity for professionals to enhance their careers here. Mr. Wenzel wants to continue to find new segments of the population who can gain from coming here.

Wenzel announced that the student apartments are moving to Stadium View Apartments just off the light rail system. The complex has a 24-hour concierge service and a computer lab. It even has a theater and a fitness center. Wenzel said, "Just like George Jefferson would say, 'We're movin' on up!'"

A "Go Fund Me" campaign has been launched to help cover the costs incurred in the move. Dick Davis thanked the 51 people who have donated to the fund. Corbb O'Connor moved and Bob Raisbeck seconded a motion for this affiliate to donate $250 to the fund. Debbie Hobson proposed a friendly amendment to donate $300. Amendment accepted and the motion passed unanimously.

"The Power of our Stories" was presented by Jeff Young of St. Cloud, Jan Bailey of Rochester, and Randi Strunk of Edina. You can read their remarks in this and future issues of the BULLETIN.

Bob Raisbeck closed out our session explaining the Preauthorized Contribution plan. This plan is a way for members to contribute to our national treasury through an automatic withdrawal from our checking or debit accounts or charge on our credit card. 

The morning session adjourned and everyone enjoyed a fried chicken lunch served by the Minnesota students. All the food was donated and all proceeds went to the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. People had plenty of time to socialize and look at exhibits before the afternoon workshops.

The afternoon break-out sessions were all well attended and substantive. They included meetings of the Minnesota Association to Promote the Use of Braille, Minnesota Association of Blind Students, and the NFB of Minnesota Seniors' Division. There was also a session in which any and all participants from throughout the state had the opportunity to present about a technology tool that they find useful; discussion and debates about the merits and drawbacks continued throughout the afternoon.

Conventions are an important way that we build our organization and get our work done, and the 2017 semiannual convention was no exception!

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