Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363

Tom Scanlan, Editor
E-mail tom.scanlan@earthlink.net

Volume 72, Number 4, Fall 2006


Table of Contents

Les Affaires

The Luckiest Break of My Life

Disabled Voters Gain Privacy at the Polls

We Voted by Ourselves

Meet the Blind Month in Minnesota

Blind Group Seeks Change at Target.com

My Shadowing Experience

Struggling Against the Limits

Perks of Being Over 50

And They Ask Why I Like Retirement

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires

By Joyce Scanlan, President

During the week of August 21-25, 2006, two representatives from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) came to Minnesota to meet with state rehabilitation personnel of general rehab and State Services for the Blind (SSB), to tour private agencies such as Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. and other programs doing business with state rehab entities, and to confer with various rehabilitation councils, including the State Rehab Council for the Blind (SRC-B), and to meet with consumer organizations. Here is what I said to them.

I am Joyce Scanlan, president, National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. We see our role as a consumer organization of blind people as providing advocacy for the blind population and serving as a watchdog to make sure that blind people of the state receive meaningful and relevant services of the highest quality. We strongly believe that the agency providing services to blind people should be independent and separate from other programs with the autonomy to operate with direct communication with the state legislature and the governor and to receive funding directly without cumbersome layers of bureaucracy. This structure would be most desirable for the provision of services to blind people. While we do not have such a system in Minnesota, we do have a system in which our agency has separate identity with a moderate ability to govern itself; however, more importantly, the Federation has made its voice heard in the legislature, throughout state government, and--most important of all--within the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) itself. We will go along with the unsatisfactory arrangement until we can persuade a responsive legislature and governor that blind people would benefit more if our rehab agency were free-standing and separate from the complex system of workforce centers that have no capacity for or interest in working with blind people. The only reason we are welcomed into the DEED bureaucracy is that administrators can devise circuitous or sneaky ways to siphon off rehab funds to support the workforce center system. And that's no joke. It bears constant vigilance on our part. Yet we do appreciate the degree of separate identity SSB has. As we say in Minnesota: it could be worse.

We are pleased to have a director of SSB who understands fairness and open communication. He meets with us whenever we ask him to and will discuss and give fair consideration to issues we bring to him. He has a pretty good understanding of the training needs of blind people and has reintroduced a staff training program. We all know that the academic programs providing training to rehab counselors deal very little with the matter of blindness; also, much of the academic information available to rehab students is often negative and not conducive to the development of a positive attitude toward blindness. That SSB staff training is absolutely essential, and we hope the director will continue to work on improving it.

We are pleased that SSB has continued to support quality adjustment-to-blindness training and has improved its informed choice policy so that customers are encouraged to tour all training programs before making a decision based upon a more thorough understanding of what is available. Rehab counselors must be urged to require customers to gather full information so that they won't be forced to rely solely on information provided by the counselor's often-biased opinions.

We do have a concern that too frequently the policies of DEED and SSB force blind people into low-level or entry-level jobs, rather than encouraging them to consider careers and preparing themselves for long-term employment.

SSB does not offer much more than information as its service to children. Services provided to young children at the earliest age possible can save time for more adult services at an earlier age. For instance, many children who are blind lose out on learning daily-living skills at an early age; SSB is in the best position to offer such training, but not much is available to young children until they reach 14 or later.

Also, although we realize that RSA may not be so concerned about such services, we are concerned that SSB doesn't offer more extensive services to seniors or older blind people. We see older people being provided with written information, a tape player, or a closed circuit TV or some other equipment that may or may not work for them. Seniors would benefit from and would maintain their independence longer if they were offered a more extensive adjustment-to-blindness training program.

Finally, I think the director has a pretty good understanding of the political landscape in which he works. And we in the federation understand it also. So we work together quite well.


The Luckiest Break of My Life

By Tom Scanlan

(Editor's Note: This is the winner of the 2006 Metro Chapter essay contest. Tom Scanlan has been a member of the NFB of Minnesota since 1970, treasurer since 1974, and editor of this publication since 1995.)

Many people are lucky enough to have a turning point in their lives that puts them on a path to more happiness and success than they would have otherwise had. That point for me was the convention of the National Federation of the Blind held in Minneapolis in 1970. I can easily divide my life into two parts: before and after that convention.

By all appearances, before the convention I was successful. I grew up an only child on a farm near Rochester. My parents soon discovered that my vision was not good, and did what all good parents do to fix the problem by taking me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and doctors in Minneapolis. No one could explain what was wrong, and finally my doctor at the Mayo Clinic said there was nothing that they could do, and I should be sent to the Minnesota Braille and Sight Saving School (now the Academy for the Blind) in Faribault. My father resisted the idea, but the doctor and my mother convinced him that I would someday go away to college and this was just an early start. So off I went to Faribault, and I did get a good education including academics, music, drama, athletics, and social activities. However, the summers were not good being a blind child on a farm. My mother even took me out of summer Bible school because I was taunted by sighted kids as a near-sighted "Mr. Magoo."

Life went on, and I graduated from the Braille and Sight Saving School and was admitted to the University of St. Thomas. There had never been any question by my parents that I would go to college, so I had grown up with the idea that I was as capable as anyone else. However, I had to overcome new problems such as not being able to read the blackboard (some colleges rejected me because I couldn't). I solved the problems and graduated in the top 10% of my class with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration.

Then the real trouble started. It was during the economic boom of the mid-60s and if you had a warm body you could get a job, especially with a degree from a top college such as St. Thomas. That is, unless you were "not normal" such as being blind. The St. Thomas placement director said he had never seen anything like it. I was told by several companies that they didn't hire the handicapped. I was hired by one major corporation for their accounting department and sent for a pre-employment physical exam. The nurse giving the exam panicked, saying "You're blind. Why don't they tell me these things?" She sent me off to lunch, and when I returned I could hear arguing in the office. The man who wanted to hire me was saying "But he's the best qualified candidate for the job," and someone else was saying "It doesn't matter. We don't hire blind people." So I was un-hired before I even started.

When I told my counselor at State Services for the Blind about it and said that we should do something, he just told me to let it go. I didn't think that was right, but I had no power to do anything about it. Instead, my counselor arranged for me to take the various tests for state-government employment. I passed the exams with high scores and was placed on lists for several positions.

Then my luck got better. I was interviewed for a research analyst position in the state highway department by a woman who knew all about discrimination. She was Jewish and had fled Austria when the Nazis took over. She thought I was well qualified for the job and hired me. She still had to fight management above her to keep me, but she prevailed.

A large part of my job involved dealing with computer programs and the people who wrote them. The man assigned to us gave me a book on programming and let me write a program to process some data we dealt with. He brought the output of the program back to me and said "You're either very good or very lucky," since the program had been perfect. He got me transferred to the computer department, and we worked together for 35 years. Early in that job, he told the head of the department that I studied all the computer documentation and understood the computer system better than anyone else. To which the big boss replied, "He's blind. What else does he have to do?"

On the surface I was very successful, with a good job and the respect of my co-workers. But underneath I was not happy. I did not want to be blind, even "legally." I was "near sighted," had "low vision," or "didn't see well." But I was not "blind" and wanted to have little to do with blind people, because I wasn't like them. Still, I didn't really believe I could do as good a job as my co-workers and was afraid they would agree with me. Anytime anyone would say or do something that indicated they knew I was blind, I was mortified.

Then the National Federation of the Blind convention came to town. A friend called and asked me to come and have some fun. I had never heard of the organization, but had nothing better to do. So I left work on Friday saying, "I'll going to this convention of blind people and see if they run into each other, I'll probably be back on Monday, but here's my vacation slip just in case." I did not come back on Monday. I stayed at the convention until it finished on Tuesday.

What I found at the convention were blind people who did not feel sorry for themselves, were confident in their abilities, and above all believed it was respectable to be blind. And there were lots of them. They filled the largest hotel in the state. This was no little group of pitiable blind people; there were lawyers, teachers, merchants, factory workers, and even computer programmers like me. I came to party and found the parties, but also something else. I sat in the hotel lobby reading literature that described the NFB's philosophy and programs. I was hooked.

After the convention, I got involved in the state organization. They were glad to have me, and I helped with whatever I could such as legislation and public relations.

Part of the legislation I helped with was an amendment to add "disability" to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (Minnesota Statute 363A). That meant that the flagrant discrimination I had experienced when employers outright refused to hire me because I was blind could not happen anymore. Employers can find more subtle ways, but there is less discrimination because of the NFB of Minnesota's legislative success.

I helped form a student division and served two terms as its president. Then I was elected treasurer of the NFB of Minnesota, and continue to serve in that position.

One of the issues that emerged about then was the lack of blind people in the management of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, now known as Vision Loss Resources (VLR). Some of us tried to participate in the annual meeting of VLR to elect blind people to the board of directors. We were cast off by the sighted management of VLR as "not able to contribute." We sought relief in court, and the judge ruled that VLR had "rejected those who had shown the most ability in overcoming their handicap," and ordered a new board election. I and seven other NFB members were elected to the VLR board. But it soon was apparent that they had learned nothing from the experience, and they continued to refer to blind people as patients. The eight of us agreed that a different course was needed, and we resigned from the board at the end of our term.

That different course was the founding of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) to provide a new training program for blind people that would teach positive attitudes and build self-confidence. Instead of teaching blind people how limited they are and what they couldn't do, it would teach by example that blind people could lead full, successful lives. A key feature was to be management and staffing by blind people; truly of the blind, by the blind, and for the blind. My role in the formation of BLIND was as a volunteer management consultant, applying the knowledge of computers and management I had gained on my job.

Meanwhile, back on my job, I continued to advance through promotions to have more responsibility. But now it was different than my pre-NFB days. I was confident in my ability to do the work as a blind person, and I no longer feared that someone would think less of me because I didn't see as well as they did. A co-worker told me, "When I came here, I wondered what you were doing here and how you could do anything since you are blind. But now I know you are one of the best people here and I'm glad to work with you." That was the best confirmation I could have that my NFB-bred positive attitude toward blindness and the resultant self-confidence were paying off. No one ever said to me that "you do so well for a blind person," or "you do so well I forget you're blind."

But not everyone was willing to treat blind people as competent equals. The airlines were treating us as children that could not take care of ourselves or help others. For me it began with a flight from Minneapolis to Baltimore with a change of planes in Cleveland. I was part of a group of Minnesotans on our way to the NFB national convention, and when we had to change planes in Cleveland the trouble began. A gate agent collected our tickets, supposedly to check us in for the Baltimore flight. But then he refused to give them back or let us board until we gave up our white canes. He would put them æin a safe place" and would come to get us "if anything happens." In other words, we were to place ourselves completely at the mercy of the airline crew and wait to be the last in case of an emergency. We could not accept that. He would not relent and we would not place ourselves in such a demeaning and dangerous position, so we completed our trip by bus.

The airline troubles escalated with battles over white canes and seating in exit rows. The airlines took the position that any sighted person was better than any blind person in an exit row. That attitude culminated in the arrest of Steve and Nadine Jacobson when they refused to be humiliated by airline personnel removing them from an exit row in which the airline had seated them. Since I and other Minnesotans were on that flight returning from the NFB convention in Louisville, I was privileged to be a witness at their trial. We prevailed, they were found not guilty, the airlines' attitudes began to change, and the Federal Aviation Administration began to adopt rules to govern the situation.

Anyone flying today will notice two things: blind people keep their canes with them, and seating in exit rows is based on the capability to perform the functions and not simplistically on a person's eyesight. Yes indeed, the familiar announcement about anyone sitting in an exit row being willing and able to perform the functions is a result of our victory in what is sometimes known within the NFB as the "Airline Wars." I am proud to have been part of that successful struggle to protect the dignity of blind people and further positive attitudes toward the capabilities of blind people.

In my work life, I had been promoted to management and was responsible for a $5 million budget and key staff and components of the State of Minnesota main computer center. Of course I had to have the ability to carry out the required duties, but I also had the self-confidence to do so. I firmly believe I would not have had that confidence without my involvement in the National Federation of the Blind.

I have had many lucky breaks in my life, from my parents sending me to the Braille and Sight Saving School, to admittance to St. Thomas, to the woman who hired me, and to the man who got me into computer work. But the luckiest break of all, and the one that made the others pay off, was that NFB convention in Minneapolis. I have attended every state and national convention since, served as a state officer, worked nights and weekends on NFB activities, and I have never regretted a moment of it.


Disabled Voters Gain Privacy at the Polls

By Jackie Crosby, Star Tribune

(Editor's Note: This article was published in the Star Tribune on September 12, 2006. Joyce Scanlan is president of the NFB of Minnesota, as well as a co-founder and retired Executive Director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND). Judy Sanders is secretary of the NFB of Minnesota. Both are active members of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter.)

Glaucoma stole Joyce Scanlan's eyesight in the mid-1960s, and she was shocked when she voted for the first time as a blind person.

"There were two people in that little booth with me," she recalled of the 1968 election. "I remember thinking, 'This doesn't seem right.' It was imposing on my privacy as far as I was concerned."

Today, as part of a federal mandate, Scanlan and thousands of other disabled Minnesotans will be able to vote in private for the first time by using a ballot-marking computer called the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal.

"It's about time," said Scanlan, of Minneapolis, who founded and ran Blind Inc., a training center, from 1987 until she retired in 2003. The center teaches blind people how to function independently.

More than a half-million Minnesota adults have disabilities, according to the U.S. Census, but it's hard to say how many people could take advantage of the AutoMARK.

Disability advocates suspect that many have stayed away from the voting booth because of the hurdles involved. Until now, disabled voters have had to rely on a friend or relative to fill out a ballot, or they had two election judges from different parties mark and witness their choices.

Minnesota is among 28 states using the AutoMARK, which is made by Election Systems and Software of Omaha. They cost about $5,000 each, and will be available at all 3,500 polling places in the state, said Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer.

Users listen to choices through headphones or see them in enlarged type. Voters mark ballots by touching the screen, using a keypad with Braille or by inhaling or puffing on an air tube, which allows people who are paralyzed or don't have steady control of their hands to vote. However, the machine cannot help those who are both deaf and blind.

Minnesota received $35 million of a $3 billion nationwide federal grant as part of the Help America Vote Act.

The bill required all states to make it possible for every citizen to vote privately and independently by 2006.

"It's a huge step forward," said Judy Sanders, a member of the National Federation of the Blind. She has worked with others the past three years to test the AutoMARK, and now is working with the secretary of state's office to get the word out.

"It's going to take some time for people to learn about it and get comfortable," she said. "Some people are machine-phobic, and that's OK. They can still ask for help or vote the way they have in the past."

She said she and others on a voter-outreach team have demonstrated the machine the past few months at fairs and local chapters of United Cerebral Palsy and National Federation of the Blind as well as at private agencies that serve the disabled.

Scanlan was among those who got a sneak preview of the AutoMARK. She says that she's "mostly not a techie person," but that the excitement of being able to vote by herself far outweighs her discomfort.

"I'm looking forward to it," she said. "I have the right to mark my own ballot and not have anyone else know who I voted for."

(Copyright 2006 Star Tribune. Republished with permission of Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul. No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the written consent of Star Tribune.)


We Voted By Ourselves

By Steve Jacobson

Over the past several years, there have been several articles in these pages regarding accessible voting machines, and several of us have reported on related issues at our conventions as well. Many of us have attended numerous demonstrations of voting equipment and we have patiently endured countless legislative hearings. There have been challenges that have arisen questioning whether accessible voting was even possible. Some felt that perhaps only certain elections should be accessible. Questions were raised in some states as to whether machines that gave us access to a secret ballot could be trusted. Certain counties in Minnesota felt they needed to chart their own course and this raised compliance questions. We have worked through all of these issues, though, and at long last, the blind of Minnesota finally have voted for the first time with a truly secret ballot.

We first used the AutoMARK machine to vote in Minnesota's primary elections last September. Now we have used it in the November general election. Almost without exception, the experience has been smooth and very positive.

I did not expect to be able to vote independently in my lifetime, and I must say that the feeling of knowing my vote was completely secret evoked more emotions than I had expected. My feelings seem to have been shared by many blind people throughout Minnesota and the entire country who voted for the first time using a completely secret ballot.

Where do we go from here? The Minnesota Legislature created a workgroup to monitor issues surrounding the AutoMARK machine and the Help America Vote Act, and we are involved in that effort. Following our experience with the elections, many of us completed the survey put together by this workgroup. Please continue reporting problems when they occur.

Voting systems and processes will continue to change as technology changes, and as is always the case, we will need to watch this closely to ensure that new technology doesn't exclude us. Efforts need to continue to expand the use of accessible voting equipment so more people can benefit, particularly as the population ages. There are many people who do not yet realize that accessible voting machines can help them, too. The more this equipment is used, the harder it will be for anyone to reverse our progress in this area. In short, the work continues and we will stay involved.

But this is also a time to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Probably most of us assumed that a completely secret ballot was beyond our reach. Sometimes, it can be a lot of fun to be wrong. Thank you to each of you for helping make this possible.


Meet the Blind Month in Minnesota

By Jennifer Dunnam and Judy Sanders

One of the main objectives of the National Federation of the Blind is to dispel the many misconceptions that the general public has about blindness. It is toward this end that the NFB began promoting "Meet the Blind Month" several years ago. Here's how we celebrated it in October of 2006.


For many years, mayors and governors proclaimed October 15th as White Cane Safety Day; however, we have now expanded it to be "Meet the Blind Month". Here is the state proclamation from Governor Tim Pawlenty. We thank the many mayors who also issued similar proclamations.

STATE of MINNESOTA Proclamation

WHEREAS: The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) was founded in 1940 to serve as the voice of the nation's blind, to end discrimination against the blind, and to secure first-class citizenship for all blind persons; and

WHEREAS: The National Federation of the Blind represents more than fifty thousand members across the country and continues to work to secure equal rights and opportunities for the blind; and

WHEREAS: To change attitudes about blindness, the National Federation of the Blind provides information about blindness to parents, teachers, school administrators, and business, political, social, and civic leaders; and

WHEREAS: Since blind people and blindness are still frequently misunderstood, the National Federation of the Blind has developed a public education campaign, Meet the Blind Month, to create opportunities for the people of Minnesota to learn firsthand that blind people are basically like everyone else; and

WHEREAS: The Minnesota affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, now in its eighty-sixth year, invites neighbors, coworkers, and classmates to join them at various Meet the Blind events throughout the month of October to learn how blind people lead full and active lives.

Now, THEREFORE, I, TIM PAWLENTY, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim the month of October 2006 as:


in the State of Minnesota.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Minnesota to be affixed at the State Capitol this 16th day of September in the year of our the Lord two thousand and six, and of the State the one hundred forty-eighth.

[Signatures of Governor and of Secretary of State]

Contact with the public

Several chapters set up tables in public places to distribute NFB literature and demonstrate Braille and assistive technology. We answered many questions and met folks whose family members were blind. Children loved receiving a Braille alphabet card and a card with their name written in Braille. They were able to check our work to see if we wrote it correctly. Visits to schools enabled us to answer many direct questions about blindness.

Media coverage

We involved radio, television and newspapers in helping us spread the message. Television coverage came from Rochester when they filmed our tabling at the Hy-Vee supermarket. Our radio interviews aired on Clear Channel stations in the metro area, and we received newspaper coverage of the Great Blind Race.

The Great Blind Race

On the chilly morning of October 14, 2006, more than 35 enthusiastic Federationists converged on the Crystal Court in the IDS Center in Minneapolis for the first annual Great Blind Race.

The racers were divided into twelve teams, and each team was provided a list of ten locations around downtown Minneapolis - well-known landmarks like the Basilica of St. Mary's, the new Guthrie Theater, the Public Library, and the Target Center. The object was to get to as many locations as possible within a two-hour time frame, using only buses, light rail, or walking, and to arrive back at the Crystal Court before noon. A Metro Chapter member waited at each of the locations handing out NFB brochures and Meet the Blind Month Proclamations to passers-by, and giving the teams a Braille card proving they had reached the destination. Some of the twelve teams included parents and children, and several of the teams made it to all ten landmarks.

When the race was done, the happy group descended on the 8th Street grill for lunch and presentations to the winners. The winning teams received medals: first place, Zach Ellingson and Greg Stilson; second place, Jeff Thompson and Sheila Koenig; and third place, Emily Zitek and Gene Riebe.

A photographer from the Star Tribune rushed around downtown with one of the teams for the entire two hours. The October 15 Sunday paper contained a visibly-placed feature that was widely seen even outside the Metro Area. It included a blurb about the event and two large photographs of the team, white canes clearly visible. The description of the event was upbeat and matter-of-fact, no talk of amazing feats or overcoming great hardships--simply information about a fun and competitive event.

Minnesota Federationists can be proud of our Meet the Blind Month activities that certainly had a positive effect on public perceptions of blindness and are an excellent way to highlight the work we do all year long to change what it means to be blind.


Blind Group Seeks Change at Target.Com

By John Reinan, Star Tribune

(Editor's Note: This article was published in the Star Tribune on September 18, 2006. Steve Jacobson is a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors as well as an active member of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter.)

Steve Jacobson whips through Target.com, fingers flying on his computer keyboard. "This is all super good," the Edina resident says, jumping from gift cards to baby gear on his way to furniture.

Then Jacobson hits a bad link and his computer starts sputtering incomprehensibly. In a mechanical voice, the machine rapidly spews out a list of numbers and letters that add up to gibberish.

Jacobson, along with other blind people, wants the retail giant to fix the glitches in its website. The National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit earlier this year in federal court in California, alleging that Target.com violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Jacobson, 55, has been blind since birth. With special software that reads Web pages and his keystrokes aloud to him, Jacobson is able to shop on the Internet with Best Buy, Wal-Mart and many other retailers. But not with Target.

Disability advocates say the Target case could set a precedent requiring all U.S. retailers to make their websites accessible to the blind and others with disabilities.

"This is the first case in the country where a court ruled that the ADA applied to a website," said Mazen Mohammed Basrawi, a Berkeley, Calif., lawyer who's handling the case for the National Federation of the Blind. "We think thousands of businesses will take note of accessibility issues."

'Public accommodation'

One piece of the ADA forbids discrimination against the disabled in places of "public accommodation," which many courts have construed to mean brick-and-mortar locations. Minneapolis-based Target asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that its website didn't qualify as a place of public accommodation.

This month, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel refused Target's request, opening the way to a possible jury trial. In her order denying dismissal, the judge said that Target appears to treat its website as an extension of its stores and a piece of an integrated marketing effort.

"The website is a means to gain access to the store and it is ironic that Target, through its merchandising efforts on the one hand, seeks to reach greater numbers of customers and enlarge its consumer-base, while on the other hand it seeks to escape the requirements of the ADA," the judge wrote.

The Federation complains that Target.com doesn't include features that make web sites fully usable for the blind, such as an invisible code that allows a blind customer's software to interpret and vocalize graphic images. Target.com also requires the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, the lawsuit complains, making blind customers unable to make purchases independently.

Vigorous defense

Target says it will defend itself vigorously.

"We believe our Web site complies with all applicable laws," the company said in a statement. "We will continue to implement technology that increases the usability of our Web site for all our guests, including those with disabilities."

The time is ripe for the Internet to include all Americans, regardless of disability, said Cynthia Waddell, a California lawyer and professor who wrote the federal government's web-accessibility standards.

"Technology changes, but civil rights do not," she said. Waddell added that there are sound business reasons for making websites widely accessible. Some disability features, for example, are used to translate graphics and photos into text; the same features are useful in adapting content from large computer screens to handheld devices for non-disabled customers.

Jacobson, a 3M computer analyst and a board member of the Minnesota Federation of the Blind, said he doesn't understand why Target is fighting the accessibility lawsuit.

"The issue isn't that my life is gonna stop if they don't fix it," he said. "The issue is that corporations using the Internet -- which has had and continues to have some government subsidies -- shouldn't lock us out.

"I can't imagine it would cost anywhere near as much to fix it as they're paying their lawyers."

(Copyright 2006 Star Tribune. Republished with permission of Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul. No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the written consent of Star Tribune.)


My Shadowing Experience

By Susan Brueske

(Editor's Note: One of our goals in the National Federation of the Blind is to help rid blind and sighted people of common misconceptions about blindness. One way to do this is to invite our sighted friends and colleagues to work alongside us. In the following article, Susan Brueske, one of our new sighted members, relates her perspective on a cleaning day we held at our building in Minneapolis. Susan wrote this report as an assignment for a course titled "Disability and Society" taught at Bethel University by one of our members, Kathy McGillivray. Here is how Susan describes what happened.)

On Saturday, April 1, 2006, I participated in the National Federation of the Blind's (NFB) "Building Repair Day." As a result, I did not have a particular shadowing volunteer to observe, but rather a whole group of individuals with a disability. The majority of them are blind, but others have various degrees of visual impairment. There were also several other sighted individuals such as me; some of them are members of NFB or family members of an NFB member. Several other sighted men that came to help with building repair projects are co-workers of NFB member Justin McDevitt; they came to offer their skills and time and to learn about blindness. It reminded me of a neighborhood gathering we had at my house when my father was building a new garage: friends, laughter, teamwork and a lot of work getting done in a very short time.

I spent most of the day in the dining room cleaning woodwork and removing many years' accumulation of cobwebs and dust from the heat registers which are behind a wood-paneled casing with intricate metal grillwork through which the heat radiates. Above these radiators are windows all the way up to the ceiling, almost like a full wall of 10-by-12-inch windows side-by-side.

Near my work area, a long table was filled with many buckets of water and piles of cleaning rags that were being handed out by Al Spooner. As people arrived, Al would direct them to different areas of the building for cleaning, according to what kind of task they would like to do. There were many opportunities for cleaning windows, polishing woodwork, vacuuming carpet, painting and more. I got to chat quite a bit with Al and many others as they came in to choose their tasks and pick up their cleaning tools.

From 9:00 a.m. until 12 noon, I worked in the company of Charlotte Czarnecki, the NFB Metro Chapter secretary, who was polishing the wooden panels of the dining room, and Judy Sanders, who was cleaning the windows above the registers I was working on. There was a constant stream of chatter and laughter among the three of us the entire time, nothing specific I can remember, but just enjoying each other's company and friendship. I probably spent more time observing them than doing my own job, partly because it was part of this assignment, but also because I was fascinated by how thorough a cleaning job they were doing without vision, for which I rely on heavily for cleaning and most everything else. I noticed how I relied on my visual senses while they relied on their senses of touch and/or smell, depending on what task they were doing, and yet the end results were no different than if I had done all the work myself. I had to ask myself "Why should it make any difference how a person does something, when the final outcome is the same as if I do it my way?" It shouldn't. There have been so many times I have been too quick to jump into a situation and say, "Here - let me show you how to do that."

During this time, Shawn Mayo joined us to dust the upper levels of the window panes with a long-reaching cleaning tool, and I was glad for the chance to connect a name of an "unknown person" I had on my email list to an actual person. Shawn is the director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated, which shares the building with the NFB. They all had questions for me regarding my school, major, and future plans, and were so glad to have me as part of the group. They also said they'd be happy to answer any questions I might have about them, living as a blind person, or about the NFB. The combination of being able to ask questions without being afraid of offending anyone or of looking stupid, and being able to observe blind persons doing everyday things in ways different from myself only because I am fully sighted and they are not was a great learning experience!

At one point, Charlotte finished her dining room job and left to help out in another area of the building. Judy asked me for help in determining what kind of "crud" was on a window because she couldn't get it off and couldn't identify what it was. I saw that it was some kind of glue that would require a razor blade to scrape it off, so we made note of it for someone with the right kind of tools to fix later. Within minutes I was asking Judy for help because the top of the register case wouldn't stay up by itself and I needed someone to hold it up for me so I could clean the inside. We got into talking about the "Disability and Society" class and my life and her life. For many years she worked in an office at the state level, until budget cuts made by then-governor Jesse Ventura eliminated her job. Judy is now retired, yet very active in NFB and other activities. She told me that she did not think of her blindness as a disability, but as an inconvenience. In observing the many blind persons working at various jobs throughout the building that day, I became more aware of how true that statement really is. Not a single person was unable to do their job due to blindness. They just did them differently than I, as a sighted person, would have done them.

Lunchtime was another opportunity to observe how "difference" is not synonymous with "disabled." We all pitched in a few bucks and ordered seven large pizzas. When they arrived, they were lined up the length of a table and it was announced that, from first to last, the pizzas were sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon and pineapple, sausage and mushroom, and vegetarian. I then spoke up that there were four cases of pop to the right of the refrigerator; from left to right they were Diet Coke, regular Coke, regular Sprite, and diet Root Beer. With this simple information, everybody was able to independently help themselves to whatever they wanted by sense of touch, and afterwards they took their pizza and drinks to the dining room tables to eat amongst friends. I found an empty chair at a table with Joyce and Tom Scanlan, Charlotte, Mary, and a few other men and women I hadn't met prior to this work day. I got to ask Joyce questions about her new reader and what she thought of it since she had had several weeks to become familiar with it since I last saw her. She said she really found it useful, but she was still learning the new technology. I also wandered over to sit and chat at a table where Justin and Gemini and others were eating, and also to a table where Al Spooner and Judy Sanders were sitting, in an attempt to get to know other people I hadn't met before. I noticed that many of those I had talked with at a previous meeting and throughout the morning recognized me by my voice before I even had a chance to announce who I was. That made me feel so "at home" and "known" among friends instead of the "outsider" visitor I had felt like at the first meeting. The constant chatter and laughter indicated to me that everybody was having a good time, and I can attest that a group of blind persons can wipe out a massive amount of pizza, pop, and mountains of homemade cookies as fast and efficiently as Bethel's football team after a game--and very likely with much more organization and much less cleanup to do afterwards!

One thing I initially perceived as a barrier was the lack of Braille for identification of cleaning product containers. I noticed that this was not much of a barrier at NFB because, by a simple squirt from a spray bottle or opening a container, each person could identify what the product was by its odor. However, this would be a real barrier for a blind person trying to select the desired item from a store shelf where it's not allowed to randomly open sealed containers to find the correct one.

My perceptions of others' attitudes toward blind persons is that the blind are just "regular, everyday people" who happen to have a physical difference that is not disabling in the sense they need assistance to do the things we sighted people often assume one needs vision to do. However, we were not out in general public view, so there was very limited interaction with persons without disabilities outside of NFB who would be unfamiliar with persons who are blind. I did not observe any discrimination towards persons who are blind; neither did I sense any discrimination towards myself for being different than the majority in that I am fully sighted. I felt so welcome and accepted, so completely at ease that it actually felt like being with a group of people who have been my friends for many years.

That evening, as I was reflecting back on my day at NFB, a question popped into my mind: "What if God's design for humans had never included eyes or a visual sensory system?" Blindness would be the normal human experience; eyes and sightedness would be unimaginable concepts. People would still go about their daily business, be creative, productive, hold jobs, go shopping, clean house, and raise families--every bit as much as people, both with and without disabilities, do today. EXCEPT that things would be done differently. The outcomes would be the same; only the methods of reaching those outcomes would be different because our environment (i.e., buildings, schools, appliances, books, etc.) would be designed for persons with no visual capacity. I have to agree with Judy when she says, "I don't see blindness as a disability, but as an inconvenience." And it's only an inconvenience because our society has been created predominantly by and for a visually oriented, sighted population.


Struggling Against the Limits

By Eric Hanson, Star Tribune

(Editor's Note: This article was published in the north suburban edition of the Star Tribune on June 13, 2006. Jordan Richardson is a member of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter and the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. He attended the Buddy Program for children ages 9-13 at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) during several summers.)

Jordan Richardson of Blaine can't see much, but he'd rather focus on what he does well. That's why it's frustrating for him and his family when others treat him as disabled.

Like many other kids, Jordan Richardson wants a red Corvette when he grows up. Unlike most others, he knows he will have to pay a driver to get around in it.

Richardson, 15, will be a sophomore at Blaine High School. He wants to be a lawyer or a scientist or a governor or a journalist and he has about 5 percent of the vision that his sighted classmates have.

Jordan's high expectations of himself are partly why his parents fought to have him included in driver's education, even though he knows he will never get behind the wheel of a moving car. His inclusion in driver's ed is part of a mediation agreement between Jordan's parents and the Anoka-Hennepin schools.

"I wouldn't have done it if he wasn't as comfortable with who he is, and if he thought he actually could drive," said Jordan's mother, Carrie Gilmer. "He accepts he won't drive. ... But he's going to have to be directing drivers and hiring them and he will need to feel like he's in control. He needs to know if the driver is driving safely."

Jordan is the only blind student at Blaine because the district typically clusters special education students at Coon Rapids High.

But his parents didn't like the idea of sending him to Coon Rapids. They wanted him among his friends and without such a commute, said his father, Phillip Richardson.

Jordan said his friends and other classmates are so familiar with him that they forget he needs them to introduce themselves, so that he knows who is talking to him. It's one of the small things he struggles with almost daily. He laughed, talking about how sighted people scatter around him when they see him walking toward them with his white cane.

People try to be helpful, Gilmer said, overly so--so much so that it feels weird. And sighted people feel odd, she said, because their exposure to the blind is so limited.

Gilmer is the president of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children, a division whose parent organization is affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. The 50,000-member NFB has worked since the 1940s as an advocacy organization for the blind. She also works at the local resource center BLIND [Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions], Inc. Those roles, and her experience overseeing Jordan's education, she said, have been a revelation.

Feeling held back

She believes that too many blind children are hindered by an educational philosophy that teaches to the kids' liability -- their limited vision -- instead of teaching them to achieve self-sufficiency. It prizes vision itself -- even at its most limited -- to more efficient nonvisual means of reading, math, and getting around.

Consider, she said, that Jordan is an "A" student and yet at one point last year he was reading at an elementary school student's pace.

Too much early focus, Gilmer said, was on painstaking sighted reading of large print. Hunched and staring at words a few inches from his face, Jordan labored to read at 45 words per minute. Now, after more intensive study of Braille, Jordan is reading at about 75 words per minute. With Braille, he has the potential for 200 words per minute.

Yet, according to the NFB, only about 10 percent of blind children are literate in Braille. It's a figure Gilmer finds frightening. Consider, she said, if sighted children existed with a similarly low level of literacy. It's a result, she believes, of better audio technology and lower expectations of the blind than of sighted children.

"The most crippled blind people I've ever seen were people who were overprotected," she said. "They're crippled by inappropriate dependence, overprotection, and crippled by fear -- a feeling of helplessness."

Gilmer sees Jordan as a trailblazer. He has accompanied her to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of a more efficient system for college students to get access to Braille textbooks.

"I liked it. I've never lobbied before," Jordan said, smiling.

In school, he uses a variety of means to keep up, and stay ahead, of his sighted classmates. A BrailleNote is a personal computer, much like a laptop without a display screen that offers word processing, Internet accessibility, a media player and other essentials for a well-equipped student. Software that features audio commands helps him navigate on a standard laptop. New to the household -- available in part through Jordan's mother's NFB connections -- was a prototype "personal reader" that takes pictures of text and reads back, via audio, everything that was photographed. The technology has existed before but not in so small, so portable a fashion.

Going places

Next month, Jordan will be among 12 students in the nation, and the only Minnesotan, to attend the NFB's Science Academy's "Rocket On" camp in Maryland and Virginia. There, he and teammates will build a rocket payload, make trajectory predictions, prepare the rocket for launch and work with consultants from NASA.

Jordan said he was excited about the trip -- and about the idea of getting to and from camp on his own. For the first time, he will fly by himself on an airplane.

The last time he flew on a plane, with a young friend who was blind, he said he had trouble with a flight attendant. She took his cane away and wouldn't let him sit where he wanted. She was patronizing. She wouldn't listen.

Is that just part of daily life? Is he adjusted to the fact that he might just have to deal with patronizing attitudes in the future?

He nodded his head, yes. Jordan, his mom said, is really low-key. She thought perhaps she had never seen him get angry.

"No worries," Jordan said.

(Copyright 2006 Star Tribune. Republished with permission of Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul. No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the written consent of Star Tribune.)


Perks of Being Over 50

From Joyce Scanlan

If you are not over 50, this is what you have to look forward to.

1. Kidnappers are not very interested in you.

2. In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.

3. No one expects you to run--anywhere.

4. People call at 9 p.m. and ask, " Did I wake you?"

5. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.

6. There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

7. Things you buy now won't wear out.

8. You can eat dinner at 4 p.m.

9. You can live without sex but not without your glasses.

10. You get into heated arguments about pension plans.

11. You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.

12. You quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walks into the room.

13. You sing along with elevator music.

14. Your eyes won't get much worse.

15. Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.

16. Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather service.

17. Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either.

18. Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size.

19. You can't remember who sent you this list.


And They Ask Why I Like Retirement

From Tom Scanlan

Question: How many days in a week?

Answer: 7 - 6 Saturdays and 1 Sunday.

Question: When is a retiree's bedtime?

Answer: Three hours after he falls asleep on the couch.

Question: How many retirees to change a light bulb?

Answer: Only one, but it might take all day.

Question: What's the biggest gripe of retirees?

Answer: There is not enough time to get everything done.

Question: Why don't retirees mind being called seniors?

Answer: The term comes with a 10% discount.

Question: Among retirees, what is considered formal attire?

Answer: Tied shoes.

Question: Why do retirees count pennies?

Answer: They are the only ones who have the time.

Question: What is the common term for someone who enjoys work and refuses to retire?

Answer: NUTS!

Question: Why are retirees so slow to clean out the basement, attic or garage?

Answer: They know that as soon as they do, one of their adult kids will want to store stuff there.

Question: What do retirees call a long lunch?

Answer: Normal.

Question: What is the best way to describe retirement?

Answer: The never-ending Coffee Break.

Question: What's the biggest advantage of going back to school as a retiree?

Answer: If you cut classes, no one calls your parents.

Question: Why does a retiree often say he doesn't miss work, but misses the people he used to work with?

Answer: He is too polite to tell the whole truth.

I'm sure all the retirees you know can relate to some of these! And, if you have not yet retired, look what you have to look forward to.


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 held in April or May 2007 in the Metro area. 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 held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia during the first week of July 2007. This is a whole 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 will be in the Braille Monitor, and in the Members section of the www.nfb.org website under the Conventions link.

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held in September or October 2007 in the Metro area. 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.