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

Tom Scanlan, Editor

Volume LXVI, Number 3, Spring 2002


Table of Contents

Les Affaires

NFB of Minnesota Launches WebSite


Truth and Truancy

Guiding Teens through the MinnesotaJungle

Letter From Bonnie Elsey

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires
By Joyce Scanlan, President

Buddy was a small boy who was very wise and veryclever for his age. What he lacked in physical stature, he made up for inhis ability to think on his feet. As he was eating his lunch in theschoolyard one day, three big bullies swaggered up to him and demanded hehand over his food. The small boy hesitated, and slowly stood up. "Maybeyou're hard of hearing," growled the largest of the three. "We said tohand over your lunch!" The little guy backed up dramatically, then hedrew a line in the dirt with the toe of his shoe. He looked the leader ofthe group right in the eye and said, "Now, you just step across thatline." The bully didn't hesitate for one moment at the challenge. Hestomped defiantly across the line and barked, "I'm across, now what areyou going to do about it!" Smiling, the little guy looked the big bullyright in the eye and said, "There, now we're on the same side!"

As I reflect upon my now thirty-two years as a memberof the National Federation of the Blind, I can recall countless battles weas blind people have been forced to engage in. Whether it be the need toadvocate for ourselves over an audible pedestrian signal, a truncateddome, or the challenge of a bureaucratic state government or a big bullyagency, we have all pulled together and fully participated, and ourefforts have ultimately resulted in victory for blind people. When I cameto know the Federation in 1970, I was living in Minneapolis, and IowaFederationists were the envy of all who were actively involved in thefield of blindness. They had the strongest state agency with a top-notchorientation center; the graduates of that center demonstrated absoluteself confidence in every word they uttered and in every step they took. Everyone looked up to Iowa Federationists as the supreme role models andthe epitome of excellence in every aspect of blindness. I learnedeverything I could from these Federationists, because it seemed to me thatthey knew everything that counted. An effective organization has a purposethat is shared by all its members and to which they will willingly committheir efforts. It has been said that people working together can doalmost anything. These are statements Federationists can certainlysupport. In the early 70's we were fighting a thing called the NationalAccreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and VisuallyHandicapped (NAC). Today, although NAC officials have recently approachedthe Federation on bended knee to give it renewed life, I would guess thatthere are some readers who may not even recognize the name of NAC. Ipromise not to go into a long tirade on what NAC was or is and what it didto blind people in the past, because NAC is no longer a viable player inour field. But I came into this National Federation of the Blind movementas a shy, frightened blind person who grew up in North Dakota neverdreaming that I would be seen on a picket line chanting along with mycolleagues against a so-called charitable agency serving blind people.

Like most residents of my native state, my parentswere realists; they knew nothing about blindness; they had no organizationof parents with blind children to rely on. They knew only that theywanted me to have a good education. So off to the residential school Iwent at the age of six.

Today, we're in a different era. Very few blindchildren attend residential schools; most are mainstreamed into the publicschool system. We frequently hear comments such as, "Blind people todayhave it so much better than we did thirty or forty or fifty years ago. Wehave passed anti-discrimination legislation to protect blind peopleagainst unfair treatment by employers; new laws guarantee us reasonableaccommodations in education and employment; we have offices for studentswith disabilities on college campuses to meet the needs of blind students;the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to hire theblind and to provide us with accessibility in every way. Also, the publichas become more sensitive about accepting us because of these laws." Andso, they then say, "What is there to razzle-dazzle about? Blind peoplehave it made. Why is the Federation always fussing?" I hear thesecomments from all across the land.

Think about it. Are we out of line as we complainabout shoddy or deteriorating services we receive from rehabilitationagencies serving the blind or continuing discrimination against the blindin the job market or the negative attitudes toward blind people weencounter as we travel throughout the country?

Yes, times are different, and we know who isresponsible for the great difference. It is the National Federation of theBlind. The Federation worked hard to pass antidiscrimination laws andimprove public attitudes toward blindness so that blind people would enjoygreater opportunity in our society. Some of our friends have become socomfortable as they enjoy the fruits of our labors that they forget howtheir new benefits came about. They call us "trouble-makers" and"complainers." They malign us for everything we say and do.

The position of the Federation now may be somethinglike this: "If you want a place in the sun, you have to put up with a fewblisters." It's true that Federationists are the activists. Federationists are carrying the full workload in addressing problems andmaking changes. We are the ones out there taking risks and gettingburned. We are the front-line leaders. But what about those who criticizeus and refuse to join our ranks? Certainly they are reaping the benefitsof what we have done. Are they afraid of being criticized? Someone oncesaid, "Some of the most talented people are terrible leaders because theyhave a crippling need to be loved by everyone." Federationists have cometo grips with the idea that if we are going to be out there tackling thecritical issues, we are going to be blistered, and not everyone is goingto love us. We also know that our battle for first-class citizenship isfar from over.

Remember I said I attended a residential school as achild. As one of the "partials" at the school, my lesson went beyond theunderstanding that blindness was a shameful and embarrassing thing. Thetotally blind students knew where they stood; They were blind. Theycouldn't deny their blindness or hide it. But the "partials" on the otherhand, who had been high up on the visual register while in school, wouldfind that compared to the people out in the big wide world, we were theones at the low end of the totem pole. And that was where we didn't wantto be. We didn't want to be blind, and we didn't want to associate withanyone or anything related to blindness. Out in the real world, we foundourselves treated in the same way the totals had been treated at school. The only way to deal with that was to hide out as a sighted person; Denythat you're blind at all. And that was where I was when I left theresidential school. I wanted nothing to do with anything that might smackof blindness, especially an organization of blind people such as theNational Federation of the Blind.

But there I was in 1973 in Chicago proudly holding upa picket sign flashing the words, "NAC hurts the blind," and joiningwhole-heartedly in a loud chant of "Fifty thousand blind guys can't bewrong." Yes, my best picketing techniques were learned from fellowFederationists from across the country. NAC-tracking became the fashionevent of every fall season; and we who were there remember NAC-inspiredsongs such as "O, NAC, It's Hard to Be Humble" and our special song forHouston Collingwood, who followed us around taking pictures with hiscamera. It was on the NAC picket lines where many Federationists met andbecame close friends.

Our Federation brothers and sisters came toMinneapolis twice to join us in a march against our local agency, at thattime called the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, now Vision LossResources. On the second march, we were able to sing "Who Got J.R.?"after we had successfully gotten rid of a very mean-spirited MSB director,Jesse Rosten, and the television show, "Dallas," gave us a great theme forour NAC-tracking when J.R. was shot and we "got" Jesse Rosten. That JesseRosten was the biggest agency bully anyone could meet, and weFederationists defeated him thoroughly. That was in 1980.

Do you really think things are different today, thatwe don't still have agency directors to "get?" Well, let me tell you ofan incident which happened very recently that will demonstrate that theindividuals may be different, but the circumstances are very similar.

There is a certain state agency director who knowsnothing about blindness and seems unwilling to learn. After serving inher position for just over two years, she has done away with a programserving older blind people (although she still makes a feeble attempt toclaim it still exists) that had the highest satisfaction rating of anyagency program, has reorganized the agency staff so often that rehabcounselors can't keep track of who is on their caseloads, has hired somany consultants to tell her how to do her job while agency staff areinstructed to hold back on services because the agency is low on moneywhen we are barely halfway through the fiscal year (at the same timedenying to legislators and others who inquire that she is concerned aboutbeing short of money). Counselors are again resorting to the cafeteriaapproach to adjustment-to-blindness training, rather than thecomprehensive full-time approach. Services related to blindness seem tobe de- emphasized in favor of the generic job-service model. We shouldall be concerned about the "choice" provisions of the Rehab Act. Yes, agood chunk of the rehab money designated for services to blind people hasbeen siphoned off to fund trumped-up expenses for the workforce centers orone-stops. She has implemented numerous changes, making quick decisions,implementing them, and then when problems arise, she lays the blame atsomeone else's doorstep. At this point, there are no blind people holdingpositions as top-level managers in the agency and very few blind peopleemployed in the agency or in the department in which the agency islocated. The agency is in a sorry state.

Here is a memo sent out by this agency director onMarch 20, 2002. Read it and think about whether or not the work of theFederation is over.


With the changing state political and budgetarylandscape, SSU (Self- Sufficiency Unit) is now on a fast track forimplementation of the redesign. The concept of "pilot projects" has beentransformed from two limited areas in the state, to the state itself. Statewide rollout is now our "pilot project" and must begin immediately.

All new SSU customers will be served in new ways,beginning July 1 at the latest. There will be no home visits to newcustomers, except in cases of defined need (to be spelled out in a writtenprotocol coming soon). Counselor time is our most valuable and mostexpensive resource, and must be used with the greatest efficiency possibleto ensure that counselors spend the most time possible face-to- face withcustomers, individually or in groups. The biggest need for change isprobably in the outstate areas, because of the great distances.

This means, in turn, an all-out effort to closecurrent cases, as appropriate, before July 1. SSU staff can play animportant role in helping address case closure more efficiently.

The best ideas and solutions will come fromcounselors, based on their expertise and experience. Please be ascreative as possible in seeking new strategies, activities and communitypartnerships. For example, in some regions two counselors might partnerat a single event. Lyle and Linda can provide assistance as theirschedules allow. SSU staff can assist with call screening and other tasksregarding both new contacts and case closures. In the metro area, the SSBbuilding can be used as a site for group activities and individualappointments.

Think creatively about the many types of individualand group activities that can be tried. These may include screening,evaluation and intake; informational sessions on visual impairment issues;group training on independent living skills, health issues, diabeticeducation and management; vision support groups; group sessions inpartnership with other senior service providers; and so on. Audiences mayrange from prospective customers to family members and caregivers, toother community professionals, to interested members of the generalpublic.

Counselor caseload output may decline temporarilyduring this transition phase, to allow for planning, partnership building,and making change. That's okay, because counselor expertise andcreativity are so vital to success. Be adventurous in trying newapproaches, knowing that some will fail but that failure will be alearning experience. A failed effort may simply teach us that aparticular approach is not the best way to reach our special customers. The redesign can only progress if we build on these learnings and sharethem with each other. Don't worry about failing, but learn from it when ithappens! The state pilot is our learning laboratory.

The legislature will receive a report on how many morepeople are being served by the redesign, so careful and accurate datatracking is essential. We will develop a simple system with forms to beused in group events, indicating who and how many people were served invarious ways: with information only, with referrals to other serviceproviders, and with SSU counseling, teaching, and other case services. "People served" will be defined broadly enough to include not only thosewho become SSU customers, but all those others who benefit from theservices offered by the redesign (their loved ones, other senior serviceproviders, community professionals, etc.).

We must begin to do systematic evaluation of everyactivity we hold, especially from the point of view of the customer. We'll experiment with various evaluation instruments, and counselors areencouraged to try out their own approaches. We then need to build asystem that feeds this evaluation back into our redesign efforts, so theycan be shared with all of SSU.

Her opening sentence speaks of the "changing statepolitical and budgetary landscape," revealing her dedication to thealmighty dollar. She is discussing the "redesign" of the independentliving program to serve anyone not interested in job placement, mostlyolder blind people. The redesign has been in the wind for more than ayear as a "pilot" program. Two consultants, who declare that they werehired specifically because they knew nothing about blindness, have been onboard for almost a year to implement the pilot project in two small areas. The redesign plan has been on the drawing-board for more than one yearwithout any services being provided; now there is a sudden rush toimplement on a statewide basis.

Notice the nonspecifics in her language: "Customerswill be served in 'new ways,'" "defined need (to be spelled out in awritten protocol coming soon)." And then more specifically--"There willbe no home visits to new customers." How are people, newly-blindedpeople, who are already feeling isolated, dependent and in despair, tomeet with counselors to plan services if the blind person can't get to theagency office, and the counselor is not allowed to make a home visit?Counselors are told to hurry up and close current cases by July 1. Herinstructions are long on expected outcomes and very short on specificsteps for achieving the outcomes. Where is the leadership? Where are thespecific blindness services, those which aren't already provided by otheragencies? The proposal sounds more like a program about blind people,rather than one to serve blind people. And then, what about these numbersgames? Will the legislature indeed be impressed by how many familymembers, other agency personnel, or interested members of the generalpublic are participating? It strikes one as just a bunch of fluff. Didyou hear the jargon? "Caseload output," "data tracking," "systematicevaluation," "evaluation instruments." Then, she says, "Don't worry aboutfailing." Aren't the independent living customers the least bitimportant? It appears that anything at all is good enough for thesepeople. No interest in quality or concern for the impact services mayhave on the individual blind person. Anything goes. Whatever you do isjust fine.

This whole proposal is totally unacceptable. Many ofthe director's staff could offer constructive and very meaningful ideasand even lend some heart and soul to the program. Apparently the programdesigner doesn't know on a firsthand basis any older blind person wholongs for independence, to steer clear of the nursing home or theassisted-care center, and to resume lifelong favorite interests. Thisprogram designer is a true bureaucrat, interested in numbers only, andcompletely detached from the services badly needed by blind peoplestriving for independence.

Can, or should the Federation walk away and notchallenge the lack of effectiveness and total disregard for human need inthis proposal? Is criticism of this proposal nit-picking or pure bluster?

Today, all of us in the National Federation of theBlind stand at a crossroads. Yes, we can bask in the accomplishments ofthe past, despite the fact that some may choose to ridicule us for oursuccesses. However, at the same time, we fend off harmful plans toreorganize state agencies serving blind people. Remember the dressdesigner who had a special line of clothing for blind people. Should wesit idly by and calmly accept this as appropriate? Also, we've heardabout the research project going on in a New England hospital on the sleepcycles of blind people. Then, too, there are restaurants beingestablished in Europe by blind people, where customers are blindfolded asthey eat their dinners; the restaurant in Switzerland is called the BlindCow. Do we really need clothing especially designed for us because we'reblind? Do those of us who are totally blind have problems with our sleeppatterns so that big bucks are needed to check it out? And, are peoplereally educated about blindness if they eat dinner while under shades?

It seems clear that we have our work cut out for us. We can be thankful we have a strong nationwide organization to support usas we rise to oppose the oncoming battles.

We as Federationists will be forced to respond tothese issues. We will receive criticism from opponents for our rigidattitudes or our hostility to the sighted, or we may be accused ofdamaging public attitudes toward blindness; but we must take on the issue. That is what the Federation is all about. Call a spade a spade.

Our work is by no means over. We are an organizationwhich willingly and eagerly takes up a cause which has the potential fordamaging the image of blind people. Audible traffic signals, lauded bymany, but too much used can cause problems for us. The perspective of theMinnesota SSB director hearkens back to the 1940's and 1950's. Doingnothing about it will set blind people back.

We know that doing nothing is not our style. We areactivists; we will take concerted action, and in the end we will prevail. I sense great energy in Minnesota these days, and I know we will take aunited stand against those who would dismantle or destroy services we havestruggled to create. We will not be cowed by intimidation tactics usedagainst us. The ultimate victory will be ours!!!

(Back To Top)

NFB of Minnesota Launches Web Site
By Jennifer Dunnam

Now there's a new way to get all the latestinformation on blindness and find the resources you're looking for. Checkout the NFB of Minnesota's new web site at www.nfbmn.org. Here are some of the ways you can use the web site:

Find information on all of the local chapters, aswell as the parents' and students' divisions.

Read current and past issues of the MinnesotaBulletin. In addition to the Braille, cassette, print, andtelephone (NFB-Newsline) formats, you can now read it online!

Learn about the history, programs, and funding ofthe NFB of Minnesota.

Check upcoming events and other information on the"What's New" section.

Find other resources on blindness on our "BlindnessResources" page including sources of books, technology, local services,and a wealth of other information.

Emily Wharton, Tom Scanlan, Steve Jacobson, JudySanders, and Jennifer Dunnam have been working on various aspects of thesite. The site is a work in progress, so more features will be added aswe go.

The Federation is about reaching out to people andpromoting positive attitudes about blindness. What better way to expandour work than to increase our presence on the Internet's World Wide Web!

(Back To Top)

By Sheila Koenig

Every summer during my childhood my family ventured atleast one camping trip. My brother David and I conjured up fantasticadventures wherever we went; building enchanted hideouts or mystical sandsculptures, we embarked as pioneers to chart new territory. Though blindsince birth, I have not always traveled with a long white cane; during theexpeditions with my brother, I squinted at the ground in front of me andlet him lead, even though he was younger. I anticipated our adventureswith enthusiastic curiosity, eager to unleash my imagination in eachmagnificent place we discovered. But straining and squinting becametiresome, and my incompetence at times created a genuine apprehension toexplore rocky or unfamiliar terrain.

The summer we camped at Devil's Lake in Baraboo,Wisconsin I realized the magnitude of my ineffective travel technique. Hiking along the bluffs, which stood nearly 500 feet, I clenched myfather's hand. He tried his best to guide me along the trails, but Iclung to him, paralyzed with the fear of falling. I understood thattrusting my residual vision compromised my abilities, but I knew noalternative techniques that existed. As I gathered the courage to finishthe hike, I promised myself that one day I would no longer allow myblindness to thwart my ambitions.

Years later I stood atop a different bluff, one that Ihad climbed while wearing sleep shades as a student atBlindness: Learning in New Dimensions(BLIND), one of our Federation training centers. Upon graduatingfrom high school I had won a scholarship from the National Federation ofthe Blind, and part of the scholarship requirement included attending thenational convention. At national conventions I observed blind peopletraveling confidently with a long white cane. I noticed that if I hadlearned Braille I would not be holding large print books close to my facein an awkward attempt to read them. Since those childhood days ofexpeditions with my brother I aspired to be a teacher. But questionsalways lingered beneath the surface of my dream: How would I read theclass attendance? How would I grade papers and complete lesson plans? Howwould I approach the topic of blindness with my students? With the helpof the National Federation of the Blind, I observed that alternativetechniques existed, and I recognized that before I could become asuccessful teacher, I must first acquire the skills to become a successfulblind person.

I developed these skills at BLIND. Daily lessons intravel, Braille, and computers built my competence, but one activity morethan any other launched my confidence. My initial reaction to rockclimbing was one of anxiety and fear. I speculated that falling probablywouldn't be any less frightening attached to climbing gear. But as Ilistened to other blind people clamoring with excitement, I became moreeager to climb. When I touched the anchor at the top, I smiled with proudexhilaration, confidence rushing through my veins. On the first day ofschool I challenge my 9th grade English students to stretch thepossibility of their imaginations, to explore the language and images inthe world around them, and to confront the fears that paralyze them. Showing, however, inspires more than simply telling. I began mypresentation this year with a video recorded two weeks prior to the startof school; I had ridden the Skycoaster at the Minnesota State Fair. Tightly secured in our harnesses, Jennifer Dunnam and I ascended a 150foot tower. Upon reaching our perch at the top, she pulled the cord,sending us plummeting towards the ground. I screamed through the initialfall, but as we began to glide back and forth, pendulum style, I marveledat the exhilaration of flying. My students also marveled at seeing theirEnglish teacher falling through the air and flying triumphantly. They toowere ready to stretch the possibilities of their imagination and dive intonew experiences. I thrive on challenges and high expectations, butwithout the influence of the National Federation of the Blind I wouldnever have evolved from that fearful young girl, clinging to others forguidance and direction.

(Back To Top)

Truth and Truancy
By Trudy Barrett

I am a parent of a teenage girl. She comes with anattitude about clothes, friends, hair, parents, and school. Raeann ismodestly dressed most of the time except when she tries to push thelimits. The friends she runs around with are basically good kids. Theyare just like her, trying to see what they can get away with, and checkingout the limits. My daughter's natural hair color is dark brown with areddish tint. At the beginning of the school year, my daughter dyed herhair blue. She bought the dye with her own babysitting money, and with afriend's help dyed her hair blue. I did not like it, but all I could dowas pray that she would not do it again. I was wrong. She ended up dyingher hair three times. All I could do was hope this was a phase that wouldchange.

School was, and still is, important. When it came tothe last grades on her report card, she worked hard to bring everything upto passing. Her attendance was perfect. Occasionally, she would miss theschool bus, but not very often. When she did miss the school bus like anyother blind parent, I would call a friend, take a cab, or the city bus.

Raeann, from the time she was a baby, has been takingthe city bus. For as long as Raeann has been alive, the city bus has beenthe family car. Early last spring, just as the snow was melting and theweather was warming, Raeann missed the school bus two days in a row. Thefirst day she called a friend. The second day she took the city bus. Allthe time she had to take the city bus to school, I have ridden with her. This time, I thought she could ride the bus alone. She was in the eighthgrade, knew the way, and had ridden the city bus alone many times. So Isent her on her way.

To get to Raeann's school by bus, you need to take twoshort bus rides. When Raeann reached the bus stop of the second bus,which was near a high school and junior high school, there was a policecar with a truant officer waiting in it. Raeann tried getting on the busto go to school. With blue hair and a spiked bracelet, Raeann was on herway to school. The officer made her get off the bus, and accused her ofskipping. He took her downtown and put her in a holding cell for twohours. Raeann honestly told the police officer that she was on her way toschool. They did not believe her. They told her it was a story, and theyhad heard it all.

When Raeann told them that she had blind parents andthey could not drive, the police department called me at home, and myhusband at work, to verify Raeann's story. They also contacted Raeann'sschool to see if she was telling the truth. The officer walked Raeann toclass like any other student. The school counselor, my husband, and Ipraised Raeann for telling the truth. I have always been volunteering andinvolved in my daughter's education to teach the teachers, her friends,and whoever else came along about blindness. I also believe that it isimportant to just be involved because I care.

(Back To Top)

Guiding Teens through the MinnesotaJungle
By Patrick A. Barrett

Experiencing a new culture widens one's view of theworld. You gain an appreciation of the new culture, while taking less forgranted the way of life and liberties you enjoy in your own culture. InMarch of 2001, my daughter, Raeann and I earned our survivor status whenwe journeyed successfully through the jungle of Northern Minnesota.

Now, I know you hotdish, loon-watching, lake-lovingnatives are asking, "A jungle in Minnesota? Now, that's different." In our eight years of living in thisgreat state, it was different and definitely worth the trip. Just fivehours to the north of the Twin Cities, above Bemidji, and there we were inthe jungle surrounded by snow.

My wife, Trudy, who is also blind, and I volunteerwhenever we can at Raeann's school. It helps her and her class, plus itpromotes an image of blind parents being involved and contributing toschool activities. Raeann was in her second year of Spanish at Susan B.Anthony middle school when we took this trip. It was my second yeartaking the trip to assist as a parent volunteer. Each year, the Spanishteachers schedule months in advance to give their students the opportunityto attend the Concordia Language Village camp. This immerses theirstudents in the language and culture which they study in the classroom.

In 2000, we were only able to book the time for Fridaynight, Saturday, and come home on Sunday morning. This year we were ableto get the extra day earlier on Thursday.

At 1:00 PM on Thursday March 1, the bus rolled awayfrom the school. The adults were the driver, three parent chaperons, andthe student teacher for the Spanish classes. Her name was Paula, and hernative country was Chile. She told us she had a definite wake-up call andwelcome to the chilly Minnesota winter. There were about 45 students fromMary Quello's and Elaine Drivas' seventh and eighth grade Spanish classes. Our job as parent chaperons was to do crowd control, make sure the kidsgot to their classes, meals, and activities, and relieve the ConcordiaLanguage staff during staff meetings or other times as needed. Eachstudent had paid $125 for the experience, which included food,transportation, lodging, and supplies for camp activities. There was nocharge for the chaperons.

It was a sunny winter day, with a temperature in the30's for the high. The teens were excited about being out of the usualroutine. The bus was comfortable, and there was a movie playing on theVCR-not my choice on the film, and fortunately I had my Weight Watcherspamphlets in Braille, and Little River Band and Gloria Estefan CD's asbackups when I wasn't visiting with the adults. As a dad with a daughteron the trip, I made sure for my sake that I didn't sit too close toRaeann, because that would be a violation of cool. However, we parentsalways have our antenna out when it comes to our kids.

In Brainerd, we stopped at McDonald's for an earlydinner. Parents and teacher posted ourselves strategically to cover crowdcontrol and keep count. Everyone was accounted for when we resumed ourtrip up to camp.

We arrived at El Lago de Bosque (Lake of the Woods)around 5:00. We took our bags off the bus, and reported to customs. Atcustoms, we exchanged US currency for centavos and pesos. We also turnedin all contraband (snacks, radios, and discmans). This was one of theguidelines of the Concordia Language staff to take away distractions fromthe food and experience of the culture. We also were divided intoassigned family units with whom we would be during most meals andactivities, as well as received the camp policies and itinerary. Allcontraband would be returned, as well as money exchanged, on Sundaymorning before we left.

This weekend, we were staying in the German village. There was a dorm building for girls with eight separate sleeping rooms,two bathrooms and showers, and a community area. There were also separaterooms for staff and chaperon use. These dorms were at opposite ends of thecamp, with the main dining and recreation hall in the hub. The camp hadits own geothermal heat which kept the buildings pretty warm. The waterin the showers, though, gave off a sulfuric odor. In addition to theAnthony school group, three other schools from the Twin Cities area joinedus.

We gathered together for la comida(dinner) at seven. My family was the pantera (panthers). The theme of the camp activities and cuisine was "La Vida en laSelva", (life in the jungle). Meals were more dinner theater innature. The meal was announced and blessed in Spanish. Activitiessurrounding the meal, and of upcoming events, were also in Spanish. Thefood was served family style so the students could apply their Spanish inasking for food and utensils. In each family there was a Concordia staffmember or teacher fluent in Spanish and English. They were willing totranslate if needed. Communication was facilitated through repeating ofkey phrases during meals and other activities and gestures. Learningfamiliar phrases and understanding through the context of the messagesgiven promoted understanding.

I grew up with Spanish in my home. My dad taughtSpanish for a number of years. I had him for a couple of years in highschool as he was the only upper division teacher there. I took threeyears of Spanish in school and a semester of college. It was common forus to have enchiladas for dinner, and leftovers with huevos (eggs) forbreakfast the next day. Around the house, flamenco and mariachi recordswould be playing a lot. I have also taken a couple of trips to variouscities in Mexico with high school tours. During the last one in 1977,Trudy and I went as chaperons as we were in college, and assisted the highschool students.

It was now Friday morning at camp after breakfast. The students had gone back to their cabins to get ready for the day'sclasses. The camp nurse came up to me to let me know that one of thestudents from Anthony, Jim (not his real name), had been sick the nightbefore, and was not feeling better this morning. He and the camp staffwere not only concerned for his welfare, but about the potential for hisillness to spread to the other campers. The nurse, staff, and Jim thoughtit best that his dad drive up to get him, and he would arrive lateafternoon from Minneapolis. I was the parent chaperon over his cabin, andthe volunteer for Anthony for the boys, so I was responsible for helpingwith his care until his dad arrived. I really appreciated the fact thatthere were no plans for someone else to assume my duties because theycould see and I was blind. His care was up to me.

I told the nurse I would be glad to help. I headedback to the boys' cabins from the dining hall, but got turned around. Atthat moment, there was no one around to ask directions, and I feltembarrassed that this responsible person had to go back and ask the way tothe cabin where he had been just the night before. However, I needed toget back to relieve the Concordia staff member so they could help teachclasses. I said a short prayer, and remembered my cane travel trainingfrom Russell Anderson, who was my instructor atBlindness: Learning in New Dimensions(BLIND) back in 1994. I did not panic, felt confident that I coulddo it, and took a couple of minutes to get my bearings. If the dininghall was at the hub of the camp, then I would travel up one of the spokesI knew led to the cabins. I did not know if it was the boys or girls. Halfway up the slightly steep and still icy paved path, I ran acrossPaula, the Anthony teacher aide. She and I compared notes about Jim'sillness. I let her know that I would look after him until his dad came.

Now, I knew the opposite direction was the boys'dorms, and headed quickly for them. I checked immediately on Jim, and hisforehead felt warm. I asked if he felt up to going to the nurse's office,and he said he did. Once we reached the office, just to the right of thedining hall, I helped the nurse make Jim comfortable. I sat by him, andlistened to the pattern of his breathing for any irregularities. Ichecked his forehead every half-hour. I also heard the birds gettingready to come out for spring, and students walking from class to class,crunching on snow.

About two hours later, the nurse and Jim felt he wouldbe more comfortable back at the cabin. I walked him back, and gave him acool cloth for his forehead. I read quietly about exercise and sensibleeating habits in the Weight Watchers magazine. My Braille reading is notthe fastest, but I know that, like the Weight Watchers program, if I keptwith it, then I would improve my life habits.

I checked on Jim every half-hour, changed thewashcloth, and asked him if I could get him anything. I remembered thetimes I worried and watched over my own child when she was sick. Thenurse came back to check on us regularly, too. One of the other schoolparents relieved me while I went to get lunch, which was a spicy scrambledegg dish, pineapple, ensalada (salad), and galletas (cookies). His dadarrived around four to take Jim home.

The classes which the students took included crafts,Geography, Latin dance, and presentation skills. There was also a specialclass activity which consisted of a scavenger hunt for information, a kindof Clue game. The students would go to four different buildings andinstructors to get a piece of the Spanish dialogue toward solving themystery. I remember Raeann had made a beaded bracelet. All of theclasses centered around life in Latin countries which had jungle habitats.In presentation class the students wrote and rehearsed presentations madeduring mealtime to announce the meal or for entertainment after theevening meal. A couple of the Anthony boys were not treating the subjector teacher respectfully. They were being rowdy, and had asked to learnswear words in Spanish. The teacher was calm and determined. At onepoint, I had reached my tolerance level, and chewed them out. I wascareful not to get down to their level, though, and disciplined withrespect to them.

Each afternoon after lunch, there was also siestatime. The parent chaperons were to supervise the teens while theConcordia camp staff met to discuss their progress in various classes, andany problem areas. For siesta, the students were to rest, talk quietly,or play cards for that hour. Teens and siestas are like cats andswimming-not usually a winning combination. For the most part, I gottired working to get them to rest.

I did get one good card game in, though, with one ofthe boys whom I will call Jack, and a couple of his friends. Jack and Iwere in the same camp family. He had told me that some of the boys hadmade fun of me due to my blindness, and he felt that was wrong. (And Ithought I had got that behind me when I was in high school.) He said hehad taken the chance to get to know me, and felt I was intelligent andfun. We learned that in addition to our love of Spanish language andculture, we were also fans of novelty songs and routines. Monty Python's"Spam", and a little ditty called "Fishheads" were among our favorites. Did you know that, according to the comedy team of Barnes and Barnes,"...rolly, polly fishheads can't wear sweaters, don't play drums, or arenever seen drinking orange capuccino at Italian restaurants with orientalwomen...?"

I told Jack that I really appreciated getting to knowhim, too. I said he showed caring and intelligence on his part to takethe time to see me as a person who just happened to be blind.

On the other side of the coin, the two troublesometeens continued to try my patience. In addition to not taking the campexperience seriously, they did not respect the guidelines about gettingalong with other campers and staff, and when it was time to turn in forthe night. I would have voted those survivors off the island in aheartbeat, if it had been possible. I asked one of the other parentchaperons at Anthony for her advice. I am not big on confrontation,anyway. I half expected her to take care of it for me, or at leastassist. But she said it was my responsibility, and suggested some ideas. For a short time, I was double- standardizing myself. If I could takecare of a sick teen, then I should be able to do the disciplining as ablind surrogate parent, too.

Later that night, I talked with the counselor. Wewere on the same page on who the prime offenders were, and the types ofbad behavior they had exhibited. This helped us both to keep a sharpereye on these two and their actions with the time remaining, for thebenefit of those who did value the experience of the language camp.

During the afternoons, the students also had a freeperiod. Some got into a friendly but intense snowball fight. They couldalso visit the camp store. Here, you could by with your pesos andcentavos Spanish T-shirts, books, games, toys, jewelry, and Spanish andEnglish contraband (sweets, pop, and munchies). On Saturday night, thebanquet, as it is for National Federation of the Blind conventions, wasthe highlight of the weekend. I remember really delicious bread, chickenenchiladas, and chocolate cheesecake. Students and staff were encouragedto dress up for the occasion, and they could sit away from their campfamilies, if they chose, to be with more long-term friends. Following thebanquet was a dance and game event. If the students did not care todance, they could visit or play cards. Those that did dance applied theirnew skills learned at camp to Latin line dancing. Raeann and severalother girls did a special dance number with their instructor, Paulino. Itwas excelente!

During the dance, parents and staff would circulateevery so often to check that the teens were having fun and not intounplanned activities of their own. Everyone was having a great and safetime. Toward the end of the dance, they did play one English languagesong. It was the Village People's "YMCA". Trudy and I dated during thedisco era. I just could not resist jumping in with the rest, and chantingloudly the letters "Y-M-C-A!" My daughter came by and punched meplayfully on the arm, and was happy and not embarrassed her dad was outthere on the floor.

Sunday morning, we had a big breakfast, and went tothe store to exchange our currency. Everyone got last minute pictures,picked up their contraband from customs, and boarded the bus. The adultsagreed that we needed a presence farther back on the bus for the returntrip, and so I volunteered. One of the teens, who had been trouble beforehad no problem coming up with short, English swear words. I finally wasfirm with him and told him to knock it off. My daughter was embarrassedand told me so. I listened, but know I still had to correct unrulybehavior, if need be.

We stopped at McDonald's for lunch. Most of thestudents were eager to try the new foods of the Latin-jungle culture overthe weekend. They did make a beeline between the golden arches, though. The old Jimmy Buffett anthem came to mind, where the "shrimp boat rock"singer paid homage to a "Cheeseburger in Paradise".

The remainder of the trip was routine, and we arrivedback on schedule at 4:00 P.M. One of the parent chaperons offered Raeannand me a ride home, and they were going that general direction.

I enjoyed the chance to apply and enhance my Spanishskills at the Concordia Language Camp and expand my understanding ofSpanish culture. They also sponsor other camps in German, French, andChinese, to name a few languages. I appreciated the support of the campand school staff, the parent volunteers, and the students. Spanish skillsand surviving the imaginary jungle of Bemidji was not all we learned. Wegained a deeper understanding of the reality and independence ofblindness.

(Back To Top)

Letter From Bonnie Elsey

(Editor's Note: The following letter was introducedin the last issue, but there was not enough space for it all. So here isthe entire letter and Joyce Scanlan's responses to Bonnie Elsey'sresponses.)

September 24, 2001

Tom Scanlan, Editor

Minnesota Bulletin

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Dear Mr. Scanlan:

The article entitled "Les Affaires Bonnie ElseyProclaims Neutrality" (NFB Volume LVI, Number 1, Summer 2001) raiseslegitimate concerns about the accuracy of its content. I welcome theopportunity to respond.

(Joyce's Response: All statements in the Les Affairessegment to which Ms. Elsey refers are true and correct to the best of ourknowledge. Our evidence comes from blind people who are customers of SSBand SSB staff, regardless of Ms. Elsey's denials. Her customary patternof behavior is to swoop down and make giant changes and then deny what shehas done or blame someone else. Ms. Elsey does not communicate with theNational Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. She has bailed out on hercommitment to meet with me every month. So, if the statements in theBulletin are not to her liking, she should look to her owncommunication style. She prefers that the Federation be excluded frominvolvement with SSB; however, this will never be. Ms. Elsey cannotdisregard the largest organization of blind people in the state.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"Ms. Elsey announced that the older blind program,which had received higher customer satisfaction ratings than any other SSBprogram, was too costly and would be discontinued."


The Older Blind Program continues to operate in StateServices for the Blind (SSB). In federal fiscal year 2000, the OlderBlind Program was changed by law from a grant application process to adirect formula allocation process in which SSB receives a directappropriation from Rehabilitation Services Administration. The Older Blindresources continue to serve seniors at SSB as well as other statenon-match dollars.

In the reorganization of SSB, services to seniors arenow provided by counselors who focus only on serving individuals age 55and older (or under age 55 if not seeking permanent, competitiveemployment). With a mix of state and federal funds, the new SSBSelf-Sufficiency Unit (SSU) is able to provide a wide array of services toseniors. Currently SSU counselors are providing services such as lowvision evaluation, equipment and training; assistive technology evaluationand training; rehabilitation teaching including Braille, cane travel, andindependent living skills training; and counseling. These services areprovided one-on-one or in a group setting. A variety of other servicescan be provided and are agreed upon by the counselor and the customer.

(Joyce's Response: The group model program for theolder blind, as we knew it, does not "continue to operate in" SSB as Ms.Elsey claims. First of all, Judy Sanders, who coordinated the older blindprogram, has been removed from that position. No one person has replacedher. We aren't talking about whether state or federal funds support theprogram or how the program was or is paid for. We are talking about a12-session, five-hours-per-session program with four to eight participantslearning Braille, travel with the white cane, daily living skills, anddiscussing blindness issues--all under sleep shades; the program wasstate-wide and available to all SSB customers who chose it--as classeswere put together. We aren't talking about all the self-care andindependent living services SSB has traditionally provided to blind peopleover the age of 55--"low vision evaluation, equipment and training." Thegroup model older blind program we're talking about is no longer inoperation. There is no uniform curriculum, time frame, and use of sleepshades. Former vendors are no longer being included. All classesreferred to BLIND, Inc. during 2001 were eight weeks, nottwelve, in length. Only one counselor referred those classes that wereoffered by BLIND, Inc. Counselors can choose what curriculumthey want in each class, no sleep shades, no Braille. We are not talkingabout "services to people over the age of 55; we are talking about thegroup model older blind program as we knew it. And Ms. Elsey has ditchedthat. The legitimacy and accuracy of her statements raise seriousconcerns as to truth and honesty.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"This highly regarded older blind program is now beingreplaced by a pilot program designed by consultants who know nothing aboutblindness. The new program has the dubious distinction of being titledThe Happy Path."


The pilot program for seniors in Minnesota is notbeing paid for with federal Older Blind resources, but rather withone-time resources. In regards to the name "Happy Path", it does not inany way refer to any services being provided by SSB. The "Happy Path" isan internal name derived by one-stop partners developing the Minnesota OneStop Operating System (MNOSOS). Partners developed a fictitious case filethat documented their process for the purpose of testing the MNOSOS casemanagement system. This case service process (SSB has traditionallycalled it the Rehabilitation Process) was named the "Happy Path" in alighthearted attempt to add some humor to a rather detailed activity,i.e., testing a major computer system. The MNOSOS prototype can be viewedat www.mnosos.org.

(Joyce's Response: Again, we're not talkingabout how the older blind program is funded, except to say that SSBcounselors who are offering the group model have very little funding tosupport older blind classes. One must only assume, then, that the fundsare going to the consultants for the "pilot" older program, which has been"redesigned" by Public Strategies Group. Wherever the term "happy path"came from--whether internal or external, fictitious or real, lightheartedor serious, the term "happy path" is insulting to SSB customers regardlessof their age or services received and has no place in any respectablerehabilitation program serving blind people.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"Since Ms. Elsey took charge of SSB, the agency hasbeen reorganized several times. But Bonnie Elsey declares that 'services'are not her responsibility; she denies having reorganized SSB severaltimes."


I reorganized State Services for the Blind onSeptember 20, 2000 in order to align diverse missions with appropriateresources. The realignment allows each unit to focus on their mission:competitive employment outcomes for the Workforce Development unit;self-care and independent living for the Self-Sufficiency unit; highquality and timely access to the printed word, low vision aids, andinformation from the Business Services unit; and efficient administrationfrom the Administrative Services unit. The only purpose for thereorganization is to provide high quality services to our customers. Customer service is my responsibility and why I serve as SSB's AssistantCommissioner.

(Joyce's Response: Well, she said it yet again,"reorganized" only once. If that's true, why did SSB counselors complainabout not knowing who was on their caseloads; they seemed to believe theywere reorganized more than once; and why did customers find themselveswith three or four changes in SSB counselors over a period of a fewmonths? Why were blind people left without services for so long whilethey waited for a counselor to be reassigned to their case? If Ms. Elseydidn't reorganize SSB several times, who did?)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"New staff with no education or experience doing fieldwork with blind people come on board, and Ms. Elsey has terminated theformer staff adjustment-to- blindness training program which waspreviously available to newly-hired people."


New field staff and supervisors are required to attendadjustment to blindness training. However, it is not the same trainingestablished by the previous administration. The training is designed toassure staff understand blindness and understand the differentphilosophies and techniques in teaching blind Minnesotans to beindependent. New and existing staff are required to obtain competenciesin areas other than blindness such as the Rehabilitation Act, careerinformation, Labor Market Information, WorkForce Center resources andservices, and successful placement techniques, to name a few.

(Joyce's Response: Where have new supervisors andfield staff been going for their adjustment-to-blindness training? Andwhat is the curriculum or makeup of the adjustment-to-blindness trainingthey are receiving under the Elsey administration? Have the supervisorsand field staff been informed that they are "required" to have some typeof adjustment-to-blindness training? Why are SSB counselors reportingthat they are no longer "required" to attend adjustment-to- blindnesstraining? What is the real truth? How is the training designed to assurestaff understand blindness and understand the different philosophies andtechniques in teaching blind Minnesotans to be independent? Let's hearsome specifics; generalities won't cut it. Talk about the blindnesstraining offered today. We already know about the generic servicetraining staff are getting from the workforce centers, etc.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"Today, blind people cannot get services from SSB; yetMs. Elsey can continue to use Public Strategies Group (PSG) and Gilmoreand Associates to be consultants and tell her how to run the agency. Ohwell, they really are legitimizing what she wants to do anyway. Neithergroup has dealt with administration of an agency serving blind people orhad responsibility for employment programs for the blind."


Public Strategies Group works exclusively with publicorganizations, helping them transform themselves into customer-focusedenterprises. The Public Strategies Group is made up of leaders who havededicated parts of their careers to public service. As executives instate and local government, they have experienced, firsthand, thechallenges public managers and elected officials face in giving citizensmore value for their money.

Gilmore and Associates, Toronto, Ontario has trainedorganizations to effectively place people with significant employmentbarriers in competitive employment for the past 11 years. Gilmore hasbeen recognized by the American Society for Training and Development withtheir Quality Service Award Disability Awareness Network for their work ingetting people with disabilities into the workforce. Gilmore has beeninvolved with vocational rehabilitation organization system changes toachieve better employment outcomes and has directly worked with a numberof blind agencies in the United States to improve their competitiveemployment outcomes.

(Joyce's Response: These statements are correct. PSGhas not had responsibility for administration of a service-delivery systemfor blind people, no matter how much public service they have beeninvolved in and no matter how many customer-focused enterprises they havehelped to transform. We have only Ms. Elsey's word about the successes ofGilmore and Associates in the employment of blind people. In whatcategories of jobs were blind people placed? What career advancement didGilmore and Associates bring about for blind people? It seems that theirprimary focus is in entry-level positions that require little or novocational training. Is this sufficient to drop adjustment-to-blindnesstraining until customers have found employment? The impression left bythe Gilmore training, according to several SSB counselors, is that jobplacement is now the first step in providing services to blind customers. Forget about the adjustment- to-blindness training. And if the Gilmoretraining is so successful, why are the SSB competitive placement closuresdecreasing?)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"SSB staff, who were hired to serve blind people, arestill required to spend time at the workforce centers, where they rarelysee a blind person." "And we cannot know how much SSB funding is going tosupport the workforce centers." "Ms Elsey said that she had tried toseek additional funding for the SSB Communication Center in the 2001Legislature but had been turned down."


SSB staff are encouraged to use the WorkForce Centersas a resource. Staff are not required to go there just to sit. TheWorkForce Centers have numerous tools and information that can assist ourcustomers. Many blind customers attend the Creative Job Search workshopsoffered by the WorkForce Centers and find them extremely beneficial. SSBas an organization must leverage every resource that can assist ourcustomers to achieve successful outcomes. We will not serve our customerswell by working in isolation.

In federal fiscal year 2001 (ends September 30, 2001),it is projected that SSB's expenditures for rent in the WorkForce Centerswill be $125,000. This is .01% of SSB's annual budget. There are 53WorkForce Centers in Minnesota. SSB is only charged rent in the nineWorkForce Centers where staff are actually stationed. SSB is not chargedfor space in the remaining 44 WorkForce Centers where they are givenitinerant space free of charge. Under the Workforce Investment Act,services delivered under Title IV (Rehabilitation Act) are a requiredpartner in the one-stop system. SSB receives its federal funds from TitleIV of the Workforce Investment Act.

SSB did not make a request to the legislature foradditional funding for the Communication Center in the 2001 sessionbecause MDES was prohibited from bringing a new funding initiative forwardunless it first participated in the Governor's challenge pool. MDES didnot participate in the challenge pool and did not bring forward anyfunding initiatives.

(Joyce's Response: SSB staff seem to believe that theyare "required" to spend a specified amount of time "staffing" theworkforce centers--one day per week. Being "encouraged to use theWorkForce Centers as a resource" is quite another matter. Addressingblindness issues on the path to employment does not constitute"isolation." Thank you for the specific amount spent by SSB on "rent;" Wehave been asking for a figure paid out for ages, with no response. Fromour observation and information from other states, Minnesota SSB is a bitover-zealous in its role as a "required partner in the one-stop system." When Ms. Elsey said at a council meeting that she had "tried to ask the2001 legislature for funding for the Communication Center, she did notdetail the Governor's process with the challenge pool. Thank you, Ms.Elsey, for providing more data.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"Ms. Elsey has terminated the longstanding SSB policyof funding taped and Brailled textbooks for blind college students."

"Now it has been decreed by Ms. Elsey in herneutrality that SSB can no longer afford to fund such a service and thatMinnesota colleges and universities will fund the taping and Brailling ofcollege texts."

"Did Ms. Elsey inform them that when they purchasetaped books, they are funding the operation of the Radio Talking Book?"


SSB was forced to institute an order of selection inDecember of 1998, and in the 1999 legislative session had to requestdollars for a funding offset. Because of increasing pressure onvocational rehabilitation funding to serve customers in the basic Title IRehabilitation program, I had to re-think the expenditures of Title Ifunding in other areas.

The largest source of spending of Title I fundingoutside of the Workforce Development unit is the Communication Center. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Public Law 101-336, signedinto law in 1990, requires that institutions make their programs andservices accessible to persons with disabilities, it became apparent thatthe funding of the Braille and audio transcriptions services was an areathat needed to be re-examined. Recognizing that higher education has anADA responsibility to make their programs and services accessible topersons with disabilities, it was decided to develop a fee-for-servicearrangement for custom transcription services. The fees are based onactual costs SSB experiences. The costs do not include any of the cost ofthe Radio Talking Book.

(Joyce's Response: Again thank you for explaining thatthe cost of operating the Radio Talking Book is "not" included in theexorbitant price charged to colleges and universities for taping andBrailling of textbooks. Review the tape of your presentation to thecouncil last August, and you will recognize that your explanation was veryunclear and misleading. Just how was the fee charged for textbooktranscription by the Communication Center determined? We have never beentold. Yes, the ADA was signed into law in 1990, but why did it take SSBeleven years to decide to begin charging the colleges for transcriptionservices, if it was wrong to do so? SSB funded textbook transcriptionsfor learning disabled students without question for years as well. Toobad that now blind college students are losing out as this quality serviceis shifted to another entity, which does not have adequate fundingavailable to provide the service.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"While serving as administrator of an agency providingspecialized services to blind people, Ms. Elsey has been forming allianceswith national administrators of general rehabilitation programs byparticipating in the abandonment of membership in the Council of StateAgencies for Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) and founding a neworganization."


The Assistant Commissioner for Rehabilitation Services(Minnesota Department of Economic Security) and I have joined statedirectors from Alaska Combined, Michigan General and Blind, MississippiCombined, New York General and Blind, Ohio Combined, and Virginia Generalto form a new National Organization of Rehabilitation Partners (NORP). NORP was formed because the state agencies believe the vocationalrehabilitation programs must have greater visibility in Washington andthroughout the country. NORP is committed to the employment andindependence of people with disabilities. NORP hired the Leonard ResourceGroup in Washington to serve as NORP's lobbyist and association manager.

(Joyce's Response: The problem is in thealliance with general rehab agencies. And that wouldn't be bad in itself,if SSB weren't becoming so generic and abandoning its emphasis onblindness.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"Ms. Elsey comes from a background as a projectmanager. Never before has she had responsibility for administering abroad range of services."


The majority of my background in state government isin directly administering a broad range of services to customers. Theservices I directly administered were Unemployment Insurance, Job Service,Dislocated Worker, CETA, Job Training Partnership programs,Welfare-to-Work and Youth program services. I only served one year as aproject manager in my 26 years of state service.

(Joyce's Response: We still do not know what Ms.Elsey's specific role in each of these areas was: Unemployment Insurance,Job Service, Dislocated Worker, etc. In which of these did Ms. Elsey dealdirectly with customers? In which did she deal with paperwork? In anycase, she never before coming to SSB administered or did field work in aservice-delivery program serving blind people. DES is primarily adepartment of projects, and SSB is really outside that restricted projectconcept. Also, what experience has Ms. Elsey had dealing with organizedconstituent groups such as the Federation, the ACB, and the UB? Sheclaims neutrality; however, she shows bias toward the lowest commondenominator in terms of service delivery. She acknowledges noaccountability to any organization or any individual. Blind people inMinnesota have never before been confronted with one so unresponsive or soimpervious.)

Minnesota Bulletin Quote

"She has excluded blind people in every way possiblefrom having a voice in the decision-making process. Even the RehabCouncil for the Blind is not involved in the process; they are informedafter decisions are made and sometimes already implemented."


As Assistant Commissioner of State Services for theBlind, I am committed to serve blind and visually impaired Minnesotans andassure our services are provided without bias. Just because a person isblind doesn't mean they don't have a bias towards a particular ideology. That is precisely why we have more than one blind advocacy group inMinnesota. I am charged with providing services as an honest broker andproviding customers with information to empower them to make choices thatassist them to obtain their own personal goals. I am also charged withassuring the federal and state resources are spent wisely and alwaysremembering it's the people's money. The Rehabilitation Council for theBlind and its committee structure provide information about issues relatedto blindness and they are listened to.

(Joyce's Response: What does "without bias" mean? There is no such thing as "philosophically neutral," the concept espousedby Ms. Elsey and a very small minority in the blindness field. And whatis wrong with "having bias toward a particular ideology?" That is why wehave Lutherans and Catholics, Democrats and Republicans, public andprivate education, and all manner of other personal belief from which tochoose. Why should blind people not be allowed to make similar choices? Blind people have a right to create and participate in whatever advocacyorganization they may choose, no matter what the custodial agencyadministrators may wish. Ms. Elsey's attitude toward organizations is ofa bygone era. In the 1940's and 1950's when the organized movement wasstill fairly new, we fought for the "right to organize" in the U.S.Congress. Regardless of Ms. Elsey's bias against organizations of theblind, we are here, and if we must, we will again fight for our right tobe heard. The deep prejudice against the Federation rampant in the Elseyadministration will be short-lived, because blind people, except for a fewwho shall go nameless, will simply not tolerate such prejudice. We wouldprefer to have an "honest broker" administering SSB, one who worked inpartnership with the blind community, and one who made an honest effort tounderstand the true meaning of "empowerment" and making "choices thatassist blind people obtain their own personal goals." Unfortunately, thatis not what we have.)

At a time in our nation in which such grave bitternesshas been exhibited, it is critical that we partner together and bringfacts and truth to your readers. I hope you will share this informationwith your readers.

Sincerely,Bonnie ElseyAssistant CommissionerState Services for the BlindMinnesota Department of Economic Security651-296-1822

(Joyce's Response: Considering the devastation whichhas taken place at SSB during the Elsey administration, calling for theFederation to "partner together" with SSB and the Elsey administrationcomes with bad grace. Such sanctimonious rhetoric overlooks somefundamental realities: partnership is based on mutual respect and mutualbenefit. Partners speak the truth and value it in their relationship. Partners share a level of trust and focus on the needs of one another andtry to do things that will benefit all partners as well, not expect otherpartners simply to fall in line and follow. Real partners can talkstraight and don't cancel meetings because they don't like what they hear,as Ms. Elsey withdrew from her monthly meetings with the Federationbecause she didn't like reading the truth published in the MinnesotaBulletin. And real partners respect all other partners and carrythat respect into all their dealings. The relationship of the Elseyadministration with the organized blind of this state represents the worstrelationship SSB has ever had with those consumers. She has habituallysnubbed those who could help her most. She has chosen allies who will say"Yes ma'am" to whatever she proposes. She has reduced SSB to atraditional charity reminiscent of the rehabilitation system one-halfcentury ago. Can blind Minnesotans support her actions? The answer isobvious.)

(Back To Top)

Convention Alert!

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

The National NFB Convention will be held at the GaltHouse Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky from Wednesday, July 3, throughTuesday, July 9. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and seriousbusiness. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blindpeople in the world. Full details are in theBrailleMonitor.

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held inOctober in Greater Minnesota. Members will receive a letter with detailsabout a month before the convention.

The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will beheld in April or May 2003 in Greater Minnesota. Members will receive aletter with details about a month before the convention.

(Back To Top)

(Back to NFB ofMN Home Page)