Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Voice:  (612) 872-9363

Website:  http://www.nfbmn.org/

Tom Scanlan, Editor



Volume 76, Number 1, Winter 2010







Table of Contents


President’s Column. 1

My Best Decision. 3

Adam Perry: Operations and Project Management Professional 4

Refocusing the Images. 8

An Update from Our Library. 10

State Services for the Blind: A Time of Transition. 13

Convention Alert! 22

Chapter Meeting Dates to Remember 22

Acknowledgements. 23






President’s Column

By Jennifer Dunnam, President


I would first like to take a moment to thank the many people who helped to make our 2009 annual convention a success.  You will read more about the convention in this and future issues of the Minnesota Bulletin, but the accomplishments and festivity of the weekend occurred because of the cooperation of many dedicated folks working behind the scenes and of all who attended.  I am happy to be able to share with you some positive developments that have occurred since the convention, some of which are based on the groundwork we laid that weekend.


The process of hiring a director for SSB has been long and worrisome, but now it is complete.  After the most recent posting for the position was closed, three candidates were identified to be interviewed—Eric Falk, Torrey Westrom, and Richard Strong.  The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, along with other consumer organizations and the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, was invited to submit questions to be used in the interview.  We were also asked to have a representative attend the interview sessions as an observer, and I participated on our behalf.  State employees participating in conducting the interviews were Paul Moe, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED); Kim Peck, Director of the Vocational Rehabilitation Services unit of DEED; and Bonnie Elsey, Workforce Division Director of DEED.  The sessions took the entire day of December 18, and after all of the interviews were complete, everyone on the interview panel participated in a discussion of the decision. 


As a result of this process, the position was offered to and accepted by Richard Strong—an excellent choice for the future of the agency and for the blind of Minnesota.  Richard Strong has worked in the blindness field for many decades, most recently serving as Acting Director for SSB while also directing the Communication Center and the Senior Services unit.  He is a capable leader with a thorough knowledge of the rehabilitation process, a strong belief in blind people, and a demonstrated willingness to see that those beliefs and expectations translate into policy and practice.  We congratulate him, and we will continue to work with him and play an active role in assisting with the challenges ahead. 


For challenges there certainly continue to be.  Staff transition at SSB continues, and state budget cuts loom.  The number of customers whose cases are closed as successfully employed has been trending downward—see the resolution passed at the annual convention for more in-depth discussion of this subject.  These are not issues that lend themselves to quick fixes, and indeed the "quick fix" is the least desirable solution in most cases.  By the time you read this, the first new hires will have begun their training under the improved staff training policy, including six weeks of adjustment-to-blindness training as well as a "job shadowing" day in which the employee spends the day on the job with a successfully employed blind person.  Some of our members are helping with the shadowing day, and we hope it will be a start toward helping these new staff get the right context for what is possible and what should be expected.  As always, we continue to help advocate for individuals to ensure they receive quality services throughout their rehabilitation process.


In Early November I was pleased to participate on the agenda of the Statewide Vision Network (the network for teachers working with blind students that meets quarterly), highlighting the youth programs of the National Federation of the Blind locally and nationally.  For some of the teachers, this was the first they had heard of our work in this area, and the discussion was lively and productive.  Since then we have worked to cultivate the connections and will continue to do so.


We have begun to take advantage of new ways to reach and communicate with more people by making our presence known in the social media.  Follow @nfbmn on Twitter, or search for "National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota" on Facebook to keep up with the latest goings-on around the state and to make your voice heard.


Our student division has been a part of getting us into these current communications media.  The new president, Katlyn Kress, and the rest of the new board—Jean Rauschenbach, Matthias Niska, Anne Naber, and Jordan Richardson—are ready to contribute their talents and ideas.  At this writing in December, they are working on planning a talent show to raise funds for other activities that the division would like to undertake to spread the positive truth about blindness.  


In December our newly-formed Seniors Division held elections, with Joyce Scanlan now serving as president, Harry Kruger as vice president, and RoseAnn Faber as Secretary/treasurer.  We look forward to good things from the seniors.


In the past few months, through the hard work of Dick Davis and several others, this affiliate has sold close to 100 of the NFB Louis Braille Commemorative silver dollars, by making them available at coin shows and other events.  Add to this the many additional coins that individual members of the affiliate have bought.  The US Mint has clarified for us that, because enough coins have been sold to cover the production costs, $10 from the sale of each of the braille silver dollars will be made available to the NFB for braille literacy programs.  These coins are no longer available from the Mint, but in case you missed your chance to own your very own, we do have some here in Minnesota available for purchase.


In mid November, a new online giving website called givemn.org was launched, and to promote it, a “Give to the Max” day was held on November 17.  Thanks to many generous members and friends, we raised over $1,200 in donations online that day.  We cannot say thank-you enough to all those who helped with this effort.  This affiliate has not been immune to the economic difficulties affecting everyone this year, and this effort will help us to be able to keep doing the work we need to do.


Efforts are underway to increase our membership, to help those who need us get connected with us.  We held training in November on membership recruiting, mostly attended by enthusiastic members of our Rochester chapter, and we will be holding more of these calling centers in the upcoming months.  We will also focus on working to help strengthen all of our chapters.


It is my hope that each and every one of you has embarked on a happy and prosperous new year.  Prosperity comes in many forms, not the least of which is the good that comes to us from working to make a difference for the better.  Thank you for all of your many forms of support for the work of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.


My Best Decision

By Mark Erickson


(Editor’s Note:  This is the winner of the 2009 Metro Chapter essay contest.)


I am blind.  I spent 12 years as a blind person, and 40 years as a sighted person.  The transition has been quite a journey, with the first several years as a “partial” and the last two years as a “total.”  The first was woeful and full of “why me,” and things felt hopeless at times.  When I went totally blind, again more feelings of despair and not knowing which way to go or even how to go.  I finally accepted my condition, and pondered what to do if anything.


Today I am at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) getting adjustment-to-blindness training.  It has been the best decision so far in gaining independence, achieving success in the world of work, and having a chance to live a good life.  The training is good; it is a very rigorous and demanding, but life is like that anyway.


Being immobile and sedentary was not my cup of tea; this was not acceptable.  I asked myself, what are you going to do?  Your family still needs your help and support, emotionally and financially.  The feelings of loss were overwhelming at times, something you can’t anticipate or plan.  My family was in shock and denial; so was I.  The care and love of close friends and peers was vital as they listened to me cry and complain about going blind.  This crying was extremely important in healing from the loss of vision, and the grief of never seeing again.  Being able to have those feelings of anger and sadness were necessary; it helped me get over it and subsequently get on with life, living with blindness, and wanting to live a good life.


Adam Perry: Operations and Project Management Professional

Or Somebody’s Girl Scout Moment

By Jane Harlan-Simmons


(Editor’s Note:  The following article was posted on the website of ArtsWORK Indiana on November 3, 2009.  Adam Perry is a member of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter and a graduate of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND).)

Departing from our feature’s customary Indiana focus, we’re giving Honorary Hoosier status to a Minneapolis resident raised in Cincinnati.  After all, that’s just across the border.  – J.H.-S.

A group of Egyptians at the New Library of Alexandria is having a conversation about a book.  They have just read an Arabic translation of To Kill a Mockingbird.  They’re talking about it with Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress.  The creative mind and logistician behind this unprecedented, videoconference event is Adam Perry.


Senior Program Director on the staff of Arts Midwest, Perry is Program Director for The Big Read Egypt/U.S., a project of the U.S. Department of State, National Endowment for the Arts, and U.S. Embassy in Cairo.  Perry is thrilled with the “cross-pollination between the American communities that were reading an Egyptian book and the Egyptian communities that are reading an American novel” as this exciting experiment in cultural diplomacy is wrapping up.


Handling Anything That's Thrown at You

So add literary diplomat to the numerous roles Perry has Photo of Adam Perryassumed with impressive competence during his 12 years in the field of arts administration.  “You have to be well rounded and handle the basics of anything that’s thrown at you,” he says.  Having juggled responsibilities akin to entertainment lawyer, accountant and financial analyst, strategic planner, theatrical production coordinator, communications strategist, talent manager, and travel agent, often simultaneously, that is a bit of an understatement.


Perry’s résumé glitters with phrases like “summa cum laude” and “Rhodes Scholar nominee.”  How did the arts become a passion and, ultimately, a career for him?  “It’s actually because of my disability, to be honest.”  Perry recalls when he was 10 or 11, “My mom sat down and explained that I was a little bit different, that I was never going to be able to drive a car…  I was just like every other kid, but you don’t see so well.”


“I was kind of a rare case.  Most people who have retinitis pigmentosa (“R.P.”) don’t know about it until they’re in their 30’s or 40’s.”  Perry considers himself fortunate that this revelation occurred early in his life.  “I never had to re-imagine myself or regret any of my choices, as they were all informed by my disability.”


A Way into the World

Perry was an avid soccer and baseball player.  He had to switch gears.  “My mom basically forced me to try out for plays,” he recalls, and he discovered his aptitude and love for acting.  As a preteen and high schooler with a disability, the theater enriched him with an identity “that made me feel confident, a way into the world.”

In college, he majored in political science as well as theater.  He reached the crossroads, as he characterizes it, of a choice between law school and graduate work in theater.  Realizing the stage was “where my passion and my identity were,” Perry pursued a master’s degree in theater at Ohio State University.  Professional acting gigs followed.  Then a crossroads, again.

“Being on stage was not an easy thing for me.”  Perry relates how stressful it was to avoid physical hazards and to pitch in with the kinds of odd jobs expected of actors in productions on a shoestring budget.  “I grew pretty adept at faking it, but it was exhausting and my love of the craft faded.  I felt that I had other talents and I had other skills, and I could be a more viable contributor in other ways.”  He had a good friend in Minneapolis and knew it was a great arts community.  He landed a Programming Assistant position in St. Paul at what is now called the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

The Guy behind the Scenes

He worked his way up through Producing Associate to Programming and Contract Manager.  “That’s where I discovered that my aptitude is in operations and project management.  I like being the guy behind the scenes.”  A stint in the for-profit sector at Clear Channel followed.  As a Director of Operations, working on multi-million dollar touring Broadway productions, he learned a new set of skills.  However it was “a blessing in disguise” that he was laid off.  That’s when he found his present employer.


Arts Midwest is “an exciting place to be because we’re doing some pretty groundbreaking stuff here.  The projects are always fascinating and it’s fast-paced.”  Perry’s boss David Fraher founded the organization.  Perry considers him a mentor, a source of large opportunities and high performance expectations.  Fraher is a model for “how I can extend my career, grow my career, and make my career personal to me.”  These days Perry is thinking a lot about strategies for using his skills, background, and connections to assist people with disabilities to succeed in the arts.  He is “beginning to get the language, tools, and the connections to open up my career” to accomplish this goal.


"I needed to let the world know a little more about me"

Just three years ago was a different story.  Perry says he was so focused on his work that he wasn’t thinking much about his future with R.P., much less about his disability as an identity.  “It’s a degenerative disease and it’s getting worse.”  “Up to that point I wasn’t using a cane nor had adjustment-to-blindness training.  I was certainly a visually impaired person, but I was able to get by without a means of assistance or at least of recognition.”  Time spent working on treacherous film sets with challenging lighting, as well as a nasty sidewalk accident, spurred him on to make some changes.


“I realized that if I was going to continue doing this kind of work, and there was no reason I couldn’t, I needed to let the world know a little more about me immediately.”  Although he had been open about his condition, it was a huge transition to use a cane.  He had some down time between projects.  “So I spent 6 or 7 months at a place called Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc.,” a nationally recognized Minneapolis rehabilitation center for people adjusting to blindness.  “It was really immersive.”

The training includes usage of assistive technology, an on-the-job necessity for Perry.  Kurzweil scan-and-read software “is a godsend.”  “Any document I can scan into my computer, Kurzweil will translate into something I can magnify or have read back to me.”  The Dolphin screen magnifier, and JAWS, a screen reader, are other essential software tools.  Perry uses braille to determine which button to press in an elevator, for example, or how to find a meeting room.


"You want to be that much more perfect"

Adding a visible disability to his public identity has been challenging.  Strangers offer unwanted assistance.  “At some point every day, I’m somebody’s Girl Scout moment.”  The cane elicits stereotyped assumptions and low expectations.  “The majority of people treat me just like anybody else,” but there are frequent exceptions.  “You cannot believe how patronizing people can be.”  “[Friends and coworkers] say ‘Wow, you handle it so great.  How can you be so calm?’  …I have to take a deep breath and realize that people are frightened of what could happen to them, and that I am a physical manifestation of that fear.”

On the job, “people talk with me on the phone for 6 months.  We set up a big meeting.  I show up and walk in with my cane and things change.  It’s up to me to get it back to where we were when we were on the phone.”  “You want to be that much better and you want to be that much more perfect.”


Perry aims for excellence, but he isn’t afraid to take risks.  “I’m used to walking into places where it’s dark and I don’t know where I’m going.”  This serves him well in his career in arts administration, a field he describes as “reimagining itself” in the struggling economy.  “The vast majority in the field is project work...  There’s kind of an instability that’s built in.”  To get a foot in the door, he advises a background in a creative discipline.  Knowing how to write and to research are essential skills.  “My recommendation to someone who goes into arts administration is to have a wide open perspective, to be willing to take on anything.”  It’s about “self-starting, self-generation, and coming up with your own idea about how to go at it.”  And “working your tail off, just like anything else.”

One of the professional experiences Perry has enjoyed most is his recent travel to Egypt.  It is a country where “blind people are kept in a house and not allowed to leave.”  He found himself representing not just Arts Midwest, but his government, his nation, and the very idea of who a person with a disability can be.  “They [the Egyptians] see me and they don’t know what to do with me.  They see this capable, just-like-anybody-else guy there to do business with you.  That gives me great satisfaction.”


Refocusing the Images

By Sheila Koenig


(Editor’s Note:  Sheila is a 9th grade English teacher at South View Middle School in Edina.  She is also First Vice-President of our Metro Chapter and a newly elected member of the NFB of Minnesota Board of Directors.)


During the last year at South View, we have been implementing a new system for talking with kids about behavior and choices.  Restitution is a philosophy that focuses on the kind of people we want to be.  In my class, for example, students created drawings and collages of the type of student they want to be, the type of friend they want to be, and the type of son or daughter they want to be.  So when behavior issues arise, instead of ostracizing students, we talk with them about how their choices might have been incongruent with the kind of people they want to become.  It’s a process that strengthens rather than defeats.


As I began considering my own reading history, I reflected that the image of the type of person I wanted to be was quite different as a child.  Growing up I did not consider myself blind.  I focused on the vision I had rather than the vision I lacked.  I was not taught braille.  Because I had usable vision, no one thought to teach it to me.  I believe that most of my vision teachers thought that the large print was effective; the struggles and setbacks I kept to me myself.  In classes I read large print books by dragging my nose across the pages.  I got ink spots on my nose from such close reading, and in middle school and high school, ink spots are not the coolest accessory.  I was very anxious about being called upon to read aloud in class.  I would always look ahead and count paragraphs to try to determine which one I would be reading.  I worried that I wouldn’t be able to see the words.  The more anxious I became, the more quickly my glasses steamed.  So by the time my name was called, I couldn’t see the words because of the steam on my glasses.  Flustered and ashamed, I stammered through the reading.  My junior year in high school I elected to take a Creative Writing class.  Because I was a fairly good writer, I had been looking forward to this class for some time.  However, I soon learned that all of our writing would be read aloud to the entire class.  I worked hard to memorize each piece, and I practiced laboriously.  Something, though, was always different when I stood in front of that classroom.  Perhaps the fluorescent lighting glared too harshly, or maybe the sun streamed through the window at an unusual angle.  I struggled through each piece I read.  The real embarrassment is that I could write well, but I doubt many of my classmates know that because of how I read the words.


I met blind people for the first time when I won a scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin when I graduated from high school.  I saw that these blind people had successful careers and full lives. Despite seeing these things, I still felt separate.  Good for them, I thought.  But it has nothing to do with me.  It wasn’t until the semester before I began student teaching that I reconsidered the image of the person I wanted to become.  Myriads of questions spun through my mind.  How would I take attendance or read notes for my lessons?  What would my 14-year old students think of their teacher holding papers up to her face in order to read them?  The person I had wanted to be was professional, competent, confident, and successful.  I struggled to fit together the images of who I was and who I wanted to become.  I slowly began to understand that braille was the key.


The summer before I student taught, I attended Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Incorporated.  I learned the braille code and practiced reading and writing.  During my time at BLIND Incorporated, I began to think of myself as blind.  Surrounded by capable and confident blind teachers, I realized that I could become the competent, successful person I had always wanted to be.


I have been teaching now for nearly ten years, and braille is a vital part of my career.  My seating charts are in braille, and students see from the first day that I am a braille reader.  They excitedly ask, “Which one am I?” as their fingers run across the page.  I use braille for PowerPoint notes.  For example, this past week we began reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  On a separate sheet of paper students labeled sections as “characters”, “setting”, “problems,” and “outcomes”.  With the projector remote in one hand and my brailled note card in the other, I flashed words like “The Trial”, “Stereotype”, “Atticus Finch”, and “Cooties” on the screen.  Since we had not yet begun reading, students guessed where the words would fit.  They find it amusing, weeks later, to review their guesses.  A few years ago I was surprised when I student approached me with a braille message scribbled on a piece of notebook paper.  He asked if I could help him decode it, and he explained that in one of the video games he plays, one must decode braille messages in order to move to the next level.  Braille can emerge in the strangest places!  I have also used braille when presenting to staff during professional development meetings.  Most recently I shared a test that I had created using Bloom’s Taxonomy, a way of asking questions at a variety of levels.  In addition to using braille at work, I use braille in my home life as well.  I can now enjoy curling up on the couch with a book, no longer worried about lighting or ink spots.


With certainty, BLIND Incorporated and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) changed the person I have become.  In part, I believe I didn’t consider myself blind as a child because of the misconceptions and stereotypes blindness carried.  Those stereotypes were inconsistent with the person I wanted to be.  It is because of both BLIND Incorporated and the NFB that I could adjust the images and realize that even though I was blind, I could still be a competent, successful person.


An Update from Our Library 

By Catherine Durivage, Director, Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library


(Editor’s Note:  This presentation was given at the Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on October 24, 2009.)


Picture of Catherine Durivage at podium.Hello.  As Jennifer mentioned, I am Catherine Durivage, Director of the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library.  Thank you for extending an invitation to me to speak at your annual conference again this year.  I celebrated my ten-year anniversary in this position in July.  It seems like yesterday that I had just arrived here in Minnesota to start a new job.  Time has definitely flown by!


When I spoke to you last year at this time we were facing some serious budget and service challenges.  We had been down four full-time staff positions for a while, had already cut telephone hours, and were considering other service cutbacks.  In January of this year, our Customer Service Specialist left for another position and another staff person went on medical leave for 5 months.  This meant we were operating with six less people.  We were forced to suspend our local recording program because staff had to be reallocated to other areas.  This affected our recording of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer and Minnesota History magazines and other Minnesota-related materials.


To help us out during this difficult period, staff from the State Library Services office in Roseville took turns coming to the library to ensure that we were able to send out materials and provide other much-needed services.  We could not have maintained services without their help.  Many of you expressed your concerns to us personally and to your legislators about these staff and service cutbacks.  We are deeply grateful for all of your support and understanding.


As of this month, we have been able to hire two temporary employees even though there is still a hiring freeze.  I am grateful to the Minnesota Department of Education for their support in allowing us to fill some of our open positions.  One of the new employees helps in our circulation area and the other one works in Customer Service assisting patrons who contact the library.  We are extremely pleased to have the additional staff, but we continue to struggle to provide the level of service you have come to expect.  We have yet to resume our local recording program and our telephone hours remain 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Many of the candidates contacted about the two temporary positions were looking for a permanent full-time job, so we know we must work toward obtaining permanent positions, otherwise we will not be able to increase our telephone hours, resume our local recording program, and expand services.  As the legislative session gears up in February, I know we can count on your continued support and advocacy for this service.


At this time last year, I also spoke about the transition to digital that was 10 or more years in the making.  Well, it is here.  In conjunction with State Services for the Blind the first digital players were sent out in August and as of yesterday, over 150 players have been sent to patrons.  Veterans are the first recipients of the new players and we have over 200 veterans on our waiting list that have yet to receive the new machines.  After veterans, individuals 100 years or older will receive the players.  There are 69 active 100+ year olds that use this service, of which 20 have indicated their interest in receiving the new machines.  Overall, including veterans and 100+ year olds, there are over 800 people on our digital player waiting list.  If you have not yet added your name to the waiting list and want to, please contact the library.  Machines are distributed to states on a monthly basis and our allotment will be around 230 per month, so we hope that everyone on our waiting list will have a player within the next 4-6 months.


We contact every person on our waiting list prior to sending out a player.  We call, email or send them a letter inquiring about their interest in the digital player.  Some people have decided to forego receiving a player when their name comes up on the list, so we think it best to make the contact ahead of time.  And now that some of our patrons will be heading to different (that is, warmer) climates, we don’t want to send a player to someone here in Minnesota when they may already have left the state.


Because our collection of digital titles is small we are limiting the number of digital books sent by the library to two at a time and letting our computer system select books based on your reading interests.  However, for those of you that have a computer and access to the Internet you can register to use NLS BARD and download additional books and magazines that can be played on the new players.  Plus there are five other commercially available players that will play NLS’ digital audio books.  Those are the Victor Reader Stream from Humanware, the Levelstar Icon from LevelStar, Inc., the Braille Plus Mobile Manager from American Printing House for the Blind, the BookSense from G.W. Micro, and the Plextalk Pocket PTP1 from PLEXTALK.  Currently over 150 people have registered to download books and magazines on NLS BARD.  Recently, NLS upgraded their player’s software to allow for the option of playing more than one book downloaded to a cartridge or USB flash memory stick.  I know this may sound very technical to those of you that may not use a computer or the Internet, so I want to reassure you that you can still simply order books like you do now and receive them in the mail.  If you want to do your own downloading, well, that is an option, but it is not required in order to receive the new digital books.


Many people have asked about keeping their cassette players.  We strongly recommend keeping your cassette player since it will be a while before our collection of digital titles will be sufficient in quantity.  New cassette books will continue to be available through the end of 2010.  Beginning in 2011 new books will only be produced on digital cartridges.  However, we will maintain our collection of cassette books as they are a viable format.


If you find that you are not using your cassette player or it is not working, please return it.  There is a waiting list for cassette players, so if you don’t use the one you have, please return it to the Communication Center, State Services for the Blind, in Saint Paul.


Available digital books will be listed beginning with the November/December issue of Talking Book Topics.  Digital books will have the letters DB listed before the book number.  Cassette books use the prefix RC.  Both cassettes and digital books will share the same book number.  The prefix, DB or RC, will let you know in what format a book is available. 


We have had nothing but positive comments about the new players.  People have called or emailed us specifically to express their joy in receiving the new machines.  There have been very few questions about their operation.  I have been to Bemidji, Shakopee, Minneapolis, Duluth and Virginia in the last couple of months to demo the new players and the response has been very favorable.  NLS took their time to develop a sturdy, easy-to-use player and so far it has been a winner.


Because of our staff constraints, we put on hold converting our audio recording equipment from analog to digital.  This will still be a future project.  However, we were able to purchase blank cartridges and shipping containers that will allow us to produce copies of digital titles to supplement books in our collection. 


In other news, we just recently converted to a new telephone system and the changeover was seamless as far as we can tell.  Our main contact numbers remain the same including our toll-free number, so you will not have to worry about learning new telephone numbers.  In fact, the switchover occurred Thursday of this week and so far so good.


Our biggest challenges over the next year will be the ongoing transition to digital and working on increasing our funding level.  I know we are still in a very difficult economic time, but I remain positive that with the support of your group and others, we can meet and overcome these challenges.  


It has been a pleasure being here today.  If there is time, I entertain questions.

Thank you.  


State Services for the Blind: A Time of Transition

By Richard Strong, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind


(Editor’s Note:  This presentation was given at the Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on October 24, 2009.  At the time, he was acting director and was appointed to the permanent position on December 23, 2009.)


Picture of Dick Strong at podium.Good morning. . .  I’m Dick Strong, and Madame President I want to thank you for inviting me today to address this meeting of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.


I appreciate and very much value the important work of the Federation and its membership.


You are indeed changing what it means to be blind in Minnesota and throughout the nation.


I especially appreciate, value and respect the work members do on the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind (SRC-B).


Listen, for just a moment . . . o.k. . . .  a long moment . . . to what your leaders do with and for the council.  


Judy Sanders, Jan Bailey and Tom Scanlan are members appointed by the governor.  Judy is the Council Chair.


Jennifer Dunnam, your president, chairs the Council’s Consumer Satisfaction and Goals and Priorities Committee.  Steve Jacobson, your vice president, Tom Scanlan, your treasurer, and Bob Raisbeck also serve on that committee that works with State Services for the Blind (SSB) to set overall goals and priorities for the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program.


Steve Jacobson chairs the Communication Center Committee and is joined by Andy Virden, your Saint Cloud Chapter President.


Tom Scanlan chairs the Vendor Outcomes & Measures Committee.


Joyce Scanlan, your past president, chairs the Senior Services Committee, along with Harry Krueger, [Amy Baron],  and RoseAnn Faber.


Sharon Monthei serves on the Minority Outreach Committee.


Pat Barrett, your Metro Chapter President, and Jan Bailey, your Rochester Chapter President, are on the Transition Committee with Jan also serving on the Needs Assessment task force.


The NFB is truly actively involved in working with SSB to improve services for Minnesotans and we very much appreciate your work.


Staff Transitions at SSB


I’m very pleased to be here today with the Federation but, as I said to the SSB staff at its meeting earlier this week, I don’t want to be here.  At least not in the role I’m now playing.


That’s the role as acting director of SSB.


I’d hoped the personal wish Chuk Hamilton shared at your meeting last spring, that he wanted to be “doing something different” by July, would come true. 


Like many of you, I had high hopes a permanent director would be in place by now and he or she would be sharing with you a vision for the future of SSB and what blind Minnesotans could expect from their state agency.


Not always do all our hopes come true.  Not always are all our wishes realized.  But some do come to pass.


Chuk’s hope came true.  An opportunity arose and he is doing something different: working hard in a new role with SSB, handling American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) efforts and other special projects to make a difference in the lives of blind Minnesotans.  I’ll touch on the ARRA efforts in a moment.


And Chuk is still riding his Harley.  That’s a good thing.


The posting for the director’s position closed a week ago Friday and I hope for a fine and full pool of candidates for that difficult, very difficult but doable job.


While we wait for a new director to come to SSB, nearly a dozen long-term staff have left SSB in the last year.  They include two long-time supervisors in the Communication Center I had the honor to work with: Ellie Sevdy, in our Audio section who retired after over 40 years and Mary Archer in Braille whose untimely death last month shocked us all. 


 It’s especially fitting that Celebrating Braille is the theme of this convention – Mary would definitely approve. 


We mark the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth this year and I have to note the staff leaving SSB in the past year account for more than 220 years of service to the people of Minnesota.


And the departures continue with Jan Bailey retiring in December and Cathy Carlson next month.  Their retirements will add another 71 years of service to the total.


So we recognize and remember the seasoned veterans who served so long and so well.  Our hope for them is satisfaction in a job well done and peace.


And we welcome the new: the younger staff who join us with their energy and enthusiasm, unfettered by time and frustration, and the older (but new to SSB) staff, who bring with them the wisdom and perspective gleaned from years of experience.


The future will be crafted by the young and the old, the new and the veteran who will seize the opportunities to improve our services to blind Minnesotans.  And there are great opportunities.


­­­­­­­­­­­­­American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


Let me touch for a bit on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and what it means to SSB, to you, and the opportunity it presents to blind Minnesotans.


On February 17, 2009, the President signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA or “stimulus”) into law.  This is a $787 billion recovery plan for America.


The purposes of ARRA are several.  They include:


·        To preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery;

·        To assist those most impacted by the recession;

·        To invest in infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits; and

·        To stabilize states and local government budgets, in order to minimize and avoid reductions in essential services.


Guiding principles in the distribution and use of ARRA funds include:


·        Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs;

·        Ensure transparency, reporting, and accountability; and

·        Invest one-time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the “funding cliff” as all funds must be obligated by 9/30/2011.


SSB’s ARRA funding is over $2,000,000 of one time money with nearly $1,400,000 for vocational rehabilitation (VR), almost $44,000 for basic Independent Living (IL) and a bit more than $586,000 for the Older Individuals who are Blind (OIB) program.  Those funds present a splendid one-time opportunity to improve services and outcomes for blind Minnesotans.


Here is a summary of SSB’s current plans for these funds:


SSB-VR “stimulus” project plans:


·        Hire and train two counselors in temporary positions to meet immediate needs and increase the pool of candidates for permanent positions if and when vacancies arise;

·        Bring on placement staff to work with employers;

·        Hire technology staff to assess the technology skills of customers approaching job readiness;

·        Hire a program support person to facilitate the ARRA effort and carry out additional critical infrastructure functions at SSB;

·        Purchase assistive technology inventory for the resource center lending library and for the SSB Resource Room;

·        Improve the Workforce 1 program software system; and

·        Improve statewide E-government accessibility.


SSB-IL “stimulus” project plan:


Funds from the basic Independent Living program will strengthen on current outreach activities for unserved and underserved persons.


SSB-OIB “stimulus” project plans:


·        Hire staff in Moorhead and Marshall to deepen the pool of skilled personnel in areas where we anticipate retirements in the near future;

·        Hire technology staff to improve skills of field personnel serving older blind Minnesotans;

·        Replace old and outdated office and customer equipment;

·        Strengthen staff skills of blindness training program; and

·        Develop and distribute training materials on blindness and how to work with blind seniors to nursing home and assisted living staff.


We trust these one-time expenditures will jump start our employment program and provide blind Minnesotans improved services and opportunities.


SSB will keep in touch with you through its SRC-B as these activities unfold.


2009 Accomplishment and Continuing Opportunities


I want to touch briefly on some additional milestones — some positive and some where we need to do better — reached in the last year by SSB’s four major service units. 






1.     Added a number of devices to the K-12 technology loan program we have with the Resource Center in Faribault.

2.     Closely involved with the enactment of HF 1744, the bill related to accessibility of the state’s equipment, websites and software systems. The Commissioner of DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) appointed David Andrews to the committee called for by this law that began meeting in September and has a life cycle of two years.  

3.     Increased the number and expanded the range of devices and software we can demonstrate in the Computer Resource Center.

4.     Trained AT (Assistive Technology) staff on the Macintosh computer when used as a Mac and as a Windows substitute.


Areas for Improvement:


1.     We need to respond more quickly to rehabilitation counselor requests for evaluations and equipment recommendations.

2.     Make improvements to the trainer certification process.

3.     Provide training to improve AT staff skills in JAWS scripting, Windows 7, and other areas.


Workforce Development




1.     Added a functional dimension (Expanded Evaluation Program) to the current evaluation process at SSB.  This dimension minimizes the time lag for feedback to counselors and clients.

2.     Held SSB 101, a student and parent event to provide transition students and their parents information about the VR program.  Agenda included multimedia presentation by Nicole Schultz of her path toward accepting her blindness and looked at Myth vs. Reality about SSB.

3.     Increased job development staff from one to four with focus on professional positions and large companies likely to hire more than just one SSB customer.


Areas for Improvement:


1.     Placement: Poor economy or not, we didn't meet our placement goal for the year.  Right now we are looking at 79 successful outcomes rather than last year’s 93.  We must do better and the ARRA resources and the planned effort in assessment and in placement will assist in that effort.

2.     Internships: We are developing internships, job try-outs and on-the-job training opportunities to increase employment outcomes.  We need to do more to ensure customers have real world work and career experiences.

3.     Staffing: Difficulty getting qualified counselors, including one to take Jan’s place in Rochester.  We need to be more creative in developing options for attracting qualified candidates to SSB.  And SSB needs more qualified blind people on its staff in all its sections.


Senior Services Unit (SSU)




1.     Served over 3,300 customers in FFY (Federal Fiscal Year) 2009, up from 3,200 in FFY 2008, without developing waiting lists or having long delays in services. 

2.     Equipped each SSU location with updated electronic devices/tools that are used by seniors to increase independence.

3.     Collaborated with NFB and BLIND, Inc., to hold the 2nd annual "Possibilities Fair for Seniors."


Areas for Improvement:


1.     Need to increase capacity to train customers to use computers with access technology.

2.     SSU needs to update its policy manual to ensure consistent service delivery across the state.

3.     SSU needs to take a very close look at how it provides services, who’s going to get services, what services it will provide and how optimal services can be delivered when resources are shrinking and demand is exploding.


Communication Center




1.     New digital radios arrived last week, a year behind our forecast of 18 months ago, but they are here, have passed our initial inspection and we will begin distribution later this fall.

2.     Permission granted to hire for Braille supervisor and have already hired Annette Toews for Ellie Sevdy’s position.

3.     Engineering will be fully staffed come this Wednesday.


Areas for Improvement:


1.     Radio Talking Book survey of customers is in its final stages with nearly 400 persons interviewed about our services and improvements needed.

2.     Continue to work with contract vendor to ensure stable platforms for Radio and Audio.

3.     Braille embossers are solid and running smoothly but we may need one more machine to ensure our capacity to meet need.

4.     Our agreement with the Minnesota Department of Education continues to meet some but not all of the cost for providing braille to the K-12 population. 


Those are the major events, the positive and the areas for improvement, for this past year.


The Future


SSB, through its staff and its valued partners including the National Federation of the Blind, will continue to provide quality and critical services that blind Minnesotans will use to secure their own future, a future not just full of hope and intentions but rather a future of full integration and inclusion in the very fabric of American society and a normal and productive life.


So when someone comes to SSB and is unsure of themselves we can point them to an article called “Minding my own Business,” written by a woman who went into the Business Enterprise Program and came out with more than hope.  She came out with a renewed belief in herself and she seized the opportunity for increased independence.


So when a young child stops by our booth at the State Fair (staffed, in part, by members of your organization) and that boy says he’s going to learn braille because that’s how his blind baby sister is going to read, he’s seizing the opportunity of life-long positive expectations for his sister.


And when some blind person, young or old — perhaps even someone in a strange land called Louisiana down at the other end of the Mississippi River, reads about some blind guy from Arkansas engaging in a seemingly outrageous activity behind a dog sled in northern Minnesota, I hope they see it as an opportunity to increased independence and a pathway to a normal and productive life.


I appreciate your willingness to work with SSB to get more qualified blind people employed.


And I appreciate your willingness to serve as mentors to new SSB staff in our “Introduction to Blindness and Visual Impairment – Phase II” training program.


There will soon be a new director for SSB.  I hope that person seeks your support, your guidance and your wisdom.  I ask you to offer that opportunity in the future.


And if your counsel isn’t sought, I’m certain you won’t hesitate to step forward and provide your input.


Thank you for working with SSB and, Madame President, thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your convention today.


Convention Alert!


Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions.  Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.


The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be April or May 2010 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis.  Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.


The National NFB Convention will be July 3 through July 8, 2010 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas.  This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business.  It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world.  The full convention bulletin is in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.


The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in October or November 2010 in Greater Minnesota.  Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.


Chapter Meeting Dates to Remember


Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis


Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location


Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace Church in Rochester


Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud


Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria




Many people are involved in getting this issue to you.  The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, Brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file.  Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.


Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the compact disc edition.

Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.

Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.

Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.

Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition and other tasks as needed.

Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails all editions.