Quarterly Publication of the
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Volume 73, Number 2, Summer 2007
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
Dates to Remember
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Charlene Childrey at 507-354-2250 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace Church in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Annual State Convention; November 2-4 at Holiday Inn in Bloomington
By Joyce Scanlan, President
(Editor’s Note: This address was delivered at the membership seminar for chapter representatives held on March 31, 2007.)
Blind people throughout the world have been coming together for self-protection and mutual support since the Middle Ages. And in the United States, blind residents of the state of Minnesota recognized a need and organized to address it before the first nationwide organization of blind people came into being. The Minnesota State Organization of Blind (MSOB) incorporated in 1919 and established itself in the community as a St. Paul property-owner in 1920. You may wonder what issue could have been so problematic for these blind people that they would take such a daring and innovative step as to create their own vehicle for self-help. Well, it was the basic need for housing. Those who established the MSOB were primarily graduates of the state residential school for the Blind in Faribault, probably called the Minnesota Asylum for the Blind at the time, who after graduation came to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to pursue various careers and found that landlords refused them local housing because they were blind. Their solution was to set up their own organization and operate a housing facility owned and managed by blind people themselves. They purchased property and opened the Minnesota Home and Center for the Blind at 1605 Eustis Street in St. Paul. Their headquarters remained at that address until 1980, when the property was sold for $533,000.
During the early years of the MSOB’s existence, while housing was the organization’s major concern, its members were involved in many other issues in the broader community. I should point out that minutes of the organization’s meetings indicate clearly that some of the members firmly declared they absolutely would not raise funds or help with any project that didn't involve the Home. As you can guess, this caused some dissention within the organization. Of course, other members were interested in issues such as public assistance for blind people, rehabilitation, dealing with the state agency and the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, education of blind children (both at the state residential school and in the metro area public school systems), various employment programs, and of course library services. The MSOB had a strong voice whenever these issues were addressed.
By 1938, there was a definite division within the membership between those dedicated solely to the Home and those who felt that the organization should be involved more in the community at large. Those who wanted community participation broke away and formed the United Blind of Minnesota in that year. All this was before the National Federation of the Blind.
The National Federation of the Blind was organized nationally on November 16, 1940. Remember that in 1935, the Social Security Act was passed by Congress, and that brought matters of public assistance to the national level. Individual states could deal with local issues only, but now a national voice for blind people was needed after this federal program under the Social Security Act came on the scene. As we all know, Minnesota was one of the seven states that came together in 1940 in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, to form the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Now, which Minnesota organization do you believe was the one present at the organizational meeting in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania—the one committed to the Home? No, it was the United Blind of Minnesota who was interested in community involvement. Now, at this time, our organization was called Minnesota Organization of Blind, (MOB), and that didn't help us a whole lot. But the MOB, who operated the Home, became a member of the Federation sometime in the 1940's—no one is sure exactly when, because the original charter was somehow lost. So Minnesota became the only state in the Federation with two local affiliates—something we will probably never quite live down.
As early as the 1950's, it was becoming obvious that the Home was no longer a profitable business, but the commitment of the older members was holding strong, and the Home continued to operate, draining the organization's treasury and membership energy.
Minnesotans continued to benefit, though, from national participation; national leaders were helpful in broadening the perspective of Minnesota members. The uplifting philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind reached many members, and more and more people began attending national conventions and bringing back information on valuable issues, such as the "right to organize" legislation, the white cane law, and the idea of state rehab services being provided by a commission form of administration, with blind people themselves having a voice in the agency's operation. The 1947 national convention was held in Minnesota, and many blind people began to take interest in a broader range of issues.
The next time the Federation came to Minnesota for a National Convention was in 1970. There were some changes taking place in the state. We still had two affiliates, and one still operated the Home for the Blind. I attended a meeting at the Home just prior to the 1970 national convention, and the big discussion during the afternoon was whether the welfare committee should be allowed to visit blind people in nursing homes outside the metro area or only in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I don't remember the ultimate decision, but the discussion held little interest for anyone under the age of 40 who may have been present.
While some of us may look back on our Minnesota history with a bit of shame and embarrassment over the Home, the restricted view of some of the early members, and the seemingly-localistic perspective of early policies, I for one will be eternally grateful to those wise pioneers who created a viable organization to serve as a mechanism for social change for future generations. The organization was here for me and for all of us when we finally had the good sense to participate fully in promoting better lives for all blind people. If those residential school graduates had merely sat around in 1919, whined about their rejection by property owners, and done nothing about it, we today might have no foundation on which to build our current programs. Without that foundation, could we today be as creative and resourceful as the founders of our organization who built a strong instrument for us to build upon? While it seems to us that early members may have resisted social change or meaningful progress, we might ask ourselves if we today could deal graciously with proposed major changes without feeling threatened or unduly challenged. We truly owe them sincere thanks for their personal dedication and undying determination to address a basic need of their time. The legacy they left for future generations allowed all of us to come together in strength to pursue solutions to the burning issues of our era.
The MOB president in 1970 was a guy named Jim Schleppegrell, who was probably on the younger end of the membership spectrum, and he really encouraged the younger people to join. After the national convention, he encouraged young members and students to organize a student division in the state. I can say that the United Blind president told Jim Schleppegrell later that starting the student division was "the biggest mistake he could ever have made." The United Blind withdrew more and more from public involvement, and left the Federation in 1977, leaving NFB of Minnesota the one Minnesota affiliate, finally. We do have rather a checkered history.
The year 1970 was a very exciting time for Minnesota and the National Federation of the Blind. State affiliates were changing their names to “National Federation of the Blind of (name of state)”, as did Minnesota in 1972. We did this to show our solidarity and our unity with one another. We gained many new members in Minnesota because of the national convention being here in Minnesota. Probably most important of all, Minnesota organized a student division soon after the national convention. Many of us were greatly inspired to join this national movement of blind people. We found our common voice, and our lives forever changed. I, for one, found the philosophy of the Federation especially uplifting. Such thoughts as "blindness is respectable," "blind people can compete on equal terms with the sighted," "blindness is just another one of those characteristics—not a handicap—like being left-handed," (which I also live with), and "blind people can participate on a basis of equality with the sighted." As a teacher, I had experienced discrimination and prejudice because of blindness; and here was an organization ready and willing to challenge such treatment in the courts. I was thrilled beyond words.
One of my most memorable decisions after attending the convention was to close my case with State Services for the Blind. That was a terrible burden lifted from me. I began accompanying other blind people over to challenge decisions they found troublesome when dealing with their rehabilitation counselors. All of us began to assert our rights and to question the established agencies and their despicable treatment of blind people.
At the time, the Minneapolis Society for the Blind (MSB), now called Vision Loss Resources (VLR), had no blind people on its board of directors. At our fall convention in 1970, the organization that we all now belong to passed a resolution calling upon MSB to put three blind people on its thirty-member board of directors. The response was, "No—we want people on our board who can contribute." They made clear that they meant financial contribution. In other words, blind people couldn't contribute financially, so were not regarded as worthy prospects for board positions. Not to be put off by such a rejection, we pursued the matter by joining the MSB as members and attending the annual meeting so that we could participate in the election of the board of directors. That effort failed when the chairman at the annual meeting discovered our intentions and summarily adjourned the meeting. When MSB ultimately expelled all the blind members, the Federation brought legal action, which lasted for seven years. Finally, after these seven long years, the State Supreme Court decided in our favor, and the Society was forced to hold a special election—and a nationwide election at that. The Federation was able to elect eight members to the MSB board of directors. We asked for three in 1970; we won eight in a court-ordered election.
We had participation from our fellow Federationists across the country for that election. Nationally, we had far more votes than the Society folks had, but in Minnesota MSB outspent us and gathered up more votes. That is somewhat surprising in light of the support MSB could have garnered from the nationwide rehabilitation establishment of traditional agencies available to it. MSB spent $150,000 to NFB of Minnesota’s $5,000. We felt proud and pleased to have gained eight seats on the MSB board. Many of us will never forget our celebration dinner at Murray’s Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis after that election on November 14, 1979.
The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which we always call NAC, was a major issue in the 1970's and early 1980's. Federationists held numerous marches with picket signs protesting NAC and other agencies all over the country, including the American Foundation for the Blind, the Chicago Lighthouse, the Cincinnati Association for the Blind, and in Minnesota the Minneapolis Society for the Blind. Each march was an uplifting experience, through which each of us strengthened our belief in ourselves individually and our confidence in our collective voice.
In Minnesota, we carried out a major public relations campaign. That is a long story, during which we all learned much about our own capacity to control our lives and to influence public attitudes toward blindness. Today, I would say, that there's probably no controversy as to who speaks for the blind. On a regular basis, our office receives calls with questions about blindness. They ask for our opinions about all manner of subjects related to blindness. We have established our organization as the authority on blindness. If reporters go to VLR for information, they never mention it in conversations with us. They can't really find the Minneapolis “society for the blind,” and they don't know where to go when they can't find it; VLR became the current name after several name changes to avoid the word “blind.” As we said long ago in one of our NAC chants, "we speak for ourselves!"
I can recount many experiences that Minnesota Federationists have enjoyed over the past three decades. Probably our most outstanding accomplishment has been the creation of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated, our own consumer-directed training center with Federation philosophy—a completely new choice for blind people who prefer a different approach from the traditional program such as VLR. We are proud of the name we have selected and see no reason to hide from or be ashamed of blindness as the characteristic that has brought us together.
With our voice gained from the National Federation of the Blind, we in Minnesota can look forward to a future of success. No problem can block our progress. We have moved out into the community and the world, and we will be heard. Our work in the legislature has led to many policy changes for blind people: the passage of the Minnesota Human Rights act; legislation leading to the adoption of an administrative rule for our state agency for the blind to clarify its services and agency policies; the braille literacy law; funding for NFB-NEWSLINE®; and state support of the Help America Vote Act giving blind people nonvisual access and privacy in voting for the first time. There have been many, many other pieces of legislation dealing with special education, transportation, and funding for our state agency for the blind. Our annual days at the Capitol and participation in the Federation Washington Seminars over the years have demonstrated the strength of our affiliate in the blindness movement. To communicate with Federationists in Minnesota and throughout the country, we have had our Minnesota Bulletin since 1934, and the Braille Monitor, our national publication since 1958, keeping us abreast of goings-on with a solid philosophy on all matters related to blindness.
I think there is one major outstanding benefit every member of the National Federation of the Blind has received—an incentive to think and live beyond ourselves, by caring for and focusing on our blind brothers and sisters across the country, and I would even say throughout the world. All of us, whether blind from birth or experiencing blindness later in life, begin by struggling alone, concerned about our personal future, wondering how we can ever have a good life. Then, when we become involved in the National Federation of the Blind, and come to know others who are blind within the organized movement of the Federation, we are suddenly faced by a much broader view: we can reach out to one another and begin to live in the world with the love and support of our fellow Federationists.
Probably the time I came to realize that the most was in 1979, when we had our proxy battle with MSB. We had a struggle going in Minnesota, which affected the life of every blind person in this state. I personally had unfortunate experiences with MSB, as had many others around the state, but when we in Minnesota saw our colleagues in the Federation from all over the country join with us by signing their proxies to us and not to MSB, we had absolute proof that this Federation was truly more than just a scattering of individual blind people. It was a national people's movement of individuals who cared deeply about one another, and cared about every blind person in the country—even those in our struggle in Minnesota. Our national president at the time was Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and he called me every day to encourage and support us. Many other leaders throughout the country did that also, but Dr. Jernigan would say, "We must fight this battle whether we win or lose. Even if we lose, we will be better off for having fought the fight." Then I would have renewed strength to go forth and rally the troops in Minnesota to move forward with our proxy battle. And that's how it is in our Federation.
Each of us can reach outside ourselves to help and support our fellows who are blind, and together, we all move forward to better lives. When Tom Tebockhorst over here started his new job, each of us benefited. When Jordan Richardson was allowed to do industrial arts in his school system wearing sleepshades, every Federationist rejoiced. When Charlotte Czarnecki was hired at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, her victory was a triumph for all of us, and on and on it goes. This has been our history in the National Federation of the Blind, and we hope it will always be thus with our organization and our people's movement, with the shared love and joy experienced by all of us. As we all learn today how to work together to further build the Federation, we will see a bright future with successful and fuller lives for every blind person.
There you have a thumbnail sketch of the history of our people’s movement in Minnesota and throughout the country. As we proceed with our recruiting efforts in the coming months and year, let’s remember that we are carrying forward the torch brightly lit for us by our founders, those in Minnesota and Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and many others at the national level. We indeed have a history of which we can be justly proud.
By Patrick A. Barrett
(Editor’s Note: Pat is the newly elected president of our Metro Chapter and a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors. He is employed as a Systems Change Administrator at Express Scripts, Inc., and is another example of the strong connection between Braille literacy and employment.)
Science fiction was my favorite reading genre during my junior high and high school years. I consumed little else. Though I am blind, I would strain my eyes to read library books that were just large enough standard print. I was whisked in the blink of an eye through Robert A. Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky to explore new planets. I traversed centuries across time with Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity. These were just a couple of fantastic voyages through reading.
Going back to the year 1957, I was born in a rural town in Kansas with cataracts on both eyes. I could only see light. Through the generous support of area Lions Clubs and a lot of cost put out by my mom and dad, some of my vision was restored. Until about age 35, my vision was stable at 20/200, or on the line of legal blindness. As I got older, I lost some vision, and now am at 20/400—the big ‘E’ on the eye chart.
I attended public school through the year I graduated from high school in 1975. My dad was a teacher, and had easy access for me to get large print books. I also ordered taped books from Recordings for the Blind (now Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic). Math and history were my hardest subjects as the charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps were difficult to follow even in large print.
Braille was first introduced to me in sixth grade. My parents, my itinerant teacher, and I saw no harm in trying it as an alternative to reading large print. Yet, they did not know then about the encouraging energy and vast experience of the National Federation of the Blind. The itinerant teacher came by twice a week for an hour to teach me Braille. She stressed using the sleepshades, or blindfold. I would wear the sleepshades, but after a few minutes, I would peek under them to read the Braille dots with my eyes, frustrated that they were not making sense through reading by touch. The teacher would rap my knuckles with a pencil, and secure the sleepshades more tightly. I tried again, but soon found a way to cheat myself and look beneath them.
Regrettably, we threw in the sleepshades, and I did not pursue Braille literacy for my benefit until 1993 (26 years later). This was when I was enrolled as a full-time student at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Inc. Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I had stuck with Braille for greater reading speed today. Parents of blind children, I cannot stress enough the need to stick with Braille, no matter what your child’s reading acuity is. Braille is a viable, successful option for work and leisure reading. Insist on the Braille option!
Now, I am reading more Braille than ever before. I use it on the job as notes for conducting meetings, on note cards when delivering speeches to my Toastmasters Noontime Expressions club, teaching Sunday school lessons in my church, and for leisure reading. I really enjoy reading and writing Braille now.
How did things change for the better for me? Why emphasize Braille over print if I have some remaining vision? What has fed, and continues to fuel, that reading fire?
Quality training in alternative techniques of blindness, daily application of Braille skills, and caring mentors has stoked that desire. As a student at BLIND, I read Braille daily and for homework at night and on the weekends for nine months. Once, my home management instructor, Betty Bishman, observed me at the bus stop in 20-degree weather reading a favorite Braille library book because I couldn’t put it down; not because my fingers were frozen, but I was engrossed. I used the sleepshades to read by touch. I was committed to using this valuable tool, and did not cheat by peeking this time.
My wife Trudy, who is also blind, has set a great example for me by reading Braille regularly for her volunteer work in our church, and just for fun. There have been some great articles in the Braille Monitor, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind, which have inspired me to keep with Braille as well. One that comes to mind is an instructive one from Jerry Whittle, who has taught Braille for many years at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
Melody Whartonbee, the Braille instructor at BLIND, volunteers her time twice a week after her regular classes to host a Braille club for current students and adults in the Federation that want to improve their reading speed. She times our speed, and we have a friendly competition going on to reach higher goals of others reading more words per minute (wpm). We share with each other a little of what books we are reading. At one time, Melody was reading the kernel book The Journey, Trudy was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ben Moser was reading Walking Alone and Marching Together (a comprehensive history of the National Federation of the Blind), and I was reading The Best of O. Henry. I am now averaging ten pages of Braille reading a day, and that has increased my wpm to 62 at last timing.
It is hard for me to attend as much as I would like, as I have a long bus commute from work in the southwest part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area to almost downtown. But I enjoy it when I am there, and it is something Trudy and I enjoy doing together, too. Sometimes, the Braille Club will go out to dinner to celebrate a member’s birthday. We select restaurants with Braille menus, of course.
I still read books on tape. But, those have been sitting on the shelf longer, as I alternate with the Braille ones. My reading interests are more varied now. I have read biographies, short stories, detective novels, and a few of our kernel books in Braille. Our Library for the Blind in Faribault, MN, and our dutiful mail carrier keep me supplied. These kernel books, too, with their personal, first-person accounts from other blind persons have mentored me as well.
Earlier this year, I read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It is a classic, but I had only seen the movie. As I usually find with movies, the book is always better. You get more character development and depth to the story.
This science fiction book has particular relevance to reading Braille versus tape, or even electronic texts on a device that outputs Braille. The setting for Fahrenheit 451 is the future. Books have been banned. The State controls the information and entertainment that comes into its citizens’ homes. Guy Montag, the main character, is a fireman. These firemen of the future burn books if other citizens call in an alarm on their neighbor that is caught reading them.
Montag, in his career, begins smuggling books out of houses before they are burned, and begins reading them. He meets and befriends an old man in the park who he learns is a college professor that has been forced off his job for too much independent thinking. They gain each other’s confidence, and discuss the joy of reading.
“It is like a fever,” the professor observes. “And books have a texture, and an aroma.”
Montag and I agree with his observations and value of reading the printed (or Brailled) word. Public libraries have that atmosphere and those nuances. Braille libraries like that at the training center at BLIND do as well.
My wife bought me a recliner for Christmas, the first one I have owned, and I derive great pleasure from relaxing with an involving Braille book in a quiet house, dimming the lights, and waiting for my teenage daughter, Raeann, to come home or check in from a date (not as fun as the reading, but it comes with the parental territory). Braille helps me cope.
When members of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota visited with a staff person of Senator Norm Coleman’s office to encourage the senator to sponsor our Louis Braille Commemorative Coin Bill, I brought along the Braille book I was reading, and told him it was a Louis L’Amour western, Mojave Crossing. I also showed him some notes I had used in facilitating a work meeting the day before, gave him a kernel book, and two Braille alphabet cards. Later on in our conversation, he remarked that he had never seen Braille before. He was glad to be introduced to it.
My personal goal is to keep burning through Braille pages daily to get up to at least a smoking 100 wpm. This would be rewarding for me. After that, I want to keep the reading fire burning. On my Braille book list is Tunnel in the Sky. Though I have read it before, I am looking forward to reading it in Braille—more enjoyment, less eyestrain. I am very grateful for quality blindness skills training, and the many mentors in my Federation family who have shown me the value of Braille literacy!
By Richard Strong, Director, Communication Center and Senior Services Unit, State Services for the Blind (SSB).
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was made at the Semiannual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on April 21, 2007.)
Good morning!! Joyce, I appreciate the opportunity to be here and to share with you comments concerning the future directions, efforts, and aspirations of SSB.
I especially appreciate the chance to share with you SSB’s vision and plans for the future.
I’m reminded of a statement by a great American, an American whose comments I’ll also cite near the end of my presentation.
He’s credited with the following:
"People say I am ruthless. I am not ruthless. And if I find the man who is calling me ruthless, I shall destroy him.”
While SSB is not necessarily ruthless in its focus and drive to the future, it is very much committed to making that future better than today. We know we can’t do it alone.
First, I want to state again to you the importance to SSB of consumer organizations of the blind and citizen participation. Over the years, they’ve had many profound and positive influences on services provided and outcomes realized by blind Minnesotans. And consumer organizations will do so in the future.
SSB recognizes, encourages, welcomes and is stronger because of your participation. Strong consumer groups are vital to a vibrant, responsive, and effective SSB. I am pleased and honored to join you today at this semiannual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM).
Today, Federationists work hand in hand with SSB in numerous projects and efforts.
Some are current or former members of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind (SRC-B); such as Jan Bailey, Jennifer Dunnam, Steve Jacobson, Judy Sanders, and Joyce Scanlan.
Federationists are also members of committees of that Council, including RoseAnn Faber, Tom Scanlan, and Andy Virden.
And Federationists, such as Nadine Jacobson and Charlene and Shannon Childrey work in partnership with SSB and other organizations to build a stronger Minnesota.
We thank you all for helping continually improve services to and outcomes realized by our citizens.
I want to echo the comments made about a Federationist last December at the State Rehabilitation Council by Chuk Hamilton, Director of SSB.
The occasion was the last Council meeting of the year and Chuk was thanking outgoing members for their service.
This is what he said about one of those members:
“I want to especially highlight the work of Jennifer Dunnam who now completes her two terms as a member and her second term as its chair. Jennifer is a leader, she leads by example, she leads through forethought and planning, she leads by conviction. She has worked with individuals from many backgrounds and different beliefs, has been able to gain their confidence and support. People want to work with good leaders. People want to work with Jennifer. She has set a high standard for timeliness, outcomes, quality and efficiency.
“I will miss her as a member of the Council, but look forward to continue working with her in other capacities. Jennifer, thank you very much.”
Jennifer, thank you for all you have done and will do for blind Minnesotans.
When Joyce and I spoke about this presentation, the focus was clear: look to tomorrow and where we’re headed—where we’re going.
I will do so and touch on a number of factors that will help shape our future. They are:
1.) The Legislature;
2.) SSB Goals and Priorities for next year;
3.) The 21st Century Plan for the Communication Center, the Office of Legislative Auditors review of that plan and development options for the Communication Center;
4.) Senior Services Unit plans for the future; and
5.) Update on possible SSB move.
I’ll then, if time permits as it should, answer any questions I can that you may have.
I want to thank the NFBM for your support of SSB at the legislature. Staff and members of both the House and the Senate mention to us your visits to them earlier this year. Your “Day at the Capitol” was noticed and it makes a difference. Thanks!! Here are the three major items we are tracking that may prove to be of significant importance to SSB and its future.
1.) Funding Bills: SF 2089 and the House version of SF 2089 have passed their respective bodies and are now ready for conference committee.
Over the last two years, SSB has regularly discussed with you its concerns about income and expenses. We have long anticipated the need to secure additional funding to ensure sufficient funds to avoid an order of selection in the Vocational Rehabilitation program and to secure funding to ensure the viability of the Communication Center.
Last year Mr. Hamilton noted to you SSB’s intent to bring an initiative through the legislative process transferring Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) dollars from the Communication Center to the VR unit and replacing $900,000 with general fund dollars so no harm would be done to the Communication Center.
This request includes an additional $100,000 for match so that SSB will continue to receive all available federal Vocational Rehabilitation dollars.
This request was included in the Governor’s budget and the bill containing this proposal—along with many, many other budget items—is now ready for conference committee.
(Editor’s Update from Chuk Hamilton: SF 2089 was vetoed by the Governor. Subsequently, SSB’s (and DEED's) funding bill was resurrected by amending HF 122, which ultimately was signed by the Governor with a few line item vetoes. SSB's base budget and increase of $1 million in base budget remained intact.)
2.) Voting: (HF 1110, which is now part of SF 1997).
SSB was pleased with the results of efforts made by many members of the community, with NFBM being a key player, to ensure all citizens can vote independently and privately.
There is a proposal (HF 1110, which is now part of SF 1997) to move the date for township compliance with the accessible voting requirements out from 2008 to 2010.
I’m sure others will be providing more specific detail later in this meeting on the “why” behind this effort.
(Editor’s Update from Chuk Hamilton: SF 1997 was vetoed by the Governor. Funding portions of the bill were resurrected in another bill, but the voting- related issues, including those related to townships and accessible voting machines, did not survive.)
3.) Accessible state systems (SF 1997)
The final legislative development we’re watching is the state government finance bill, SF 1997.
It requires there be a “... study of how government data ..., hardware, software, and media can be maintained, exchanged, and preserved by the state to ensure access, competition, and interoperability.”
This section of the bill is important to SSB and blind Minnesotans because we want to make certain any technology systems the state has are accessible to blind users.
In the Senate version of SF 1997, SSB is named as an entity to be consulted. As of yesterday, there is no explicit reference in the House version to SSB’s involvement.
(Editor’s Update from Chuk Hamilton: SF 1997 was vetoed by the Governor, but many items, including this provision for a study that included SSB regarding how electronic documents and the mechanisms and processes for accessing and reading electronic data can be created, maintained, exchanges, and preserved by the state in a manner that encourages appropriate governmental control, access, choice and interoperability, survived. This provision was in HF 548.)
Goals and Priorities
As shared at previous meetings of the NFBM, federal law requires that SSB and the SRC-B jointly develop and agree to “Goals and Priorities” along with strategies for achieving the goals and priorities for the Vocational Rehabilitation program.
Agreement on goals and priorities for the forthcoming federal fiscal year (October 1, 2007 – September 30, 2008) was reached earlier this month and approved unanimously by the SRC-B at their meeting on April 12. Taken together these goals and priorities are an explicit and measurable statement of the future direction of SSB’s vocational rehabilitation program.
What follows is a quick summary of those goals and priorities. They are also available in their entirety on the SSB website (www.mnssb.org/rcb/docs/2007_meeting_material.html)
GOAL AND PRIORITY #1: Employment Outcomes—SSB will meet RSA Indicator 1.1. This has to do with the number of people getting jobs—real jobs. Sheltered employment does not count.
SSB expects there to be more employment outcomes realized for 2007 + 2008 than for 2006 + 2007.
Strategies for meeting this goal:
· Staff of the Workforce Development Unit (WFD):
1. agree to specific paid closure goals for the following year;
2. ensure customers are provided current, accurate information about employment demands, trends and opportunities;
3. assess individual training needs to improve staff counseling and placement skills. In-service training planned in FFY08 includes:
a. Serving the DeafBlind Customer;
b. Improving Cultural Competencies; and
c. Low Vision.
· Targeted outreach activities: i.e., presenting information on SSB services at various professional conferences; contacts with community based organizations; mailings to ophthalmologists; etc. Effectiveness will be measured by comparing referrals from FY07 through FY09.
GOAL AND PRIORITY #2: Minority Service Rate—by the end of FFY08 at least 100 persons from minority backgrounds will exit services annually and SSB will meet RSA Indicator 2.1, which deals with the number or percentage of persons from minority backgrounds served (ratio of minority to non-minority service rates).
SSB strategies are:
· Develop and carry out the in-service training plan;
· Use research results to improve staffs’ competency in serving customers from minority backgrounds.
· Conduct outreach activities to community-based organizations, especially those serving African-Americans.
· Develop relationships with English Language Learner programs to co-train blind individuals from minority backgrounds in braille while they are also learning English.
Sharon Monthei, who is here today and works for SSB, has recently begun forging these relationships and we know we can expect great things from her and her efforts.
GOAL AND PRIORITY #3: DeafBlind Outreach and Service—Enhance services for persons who are DeafBlind. During FFY08, at least six individuals with a dual sensory loss will secure employment as a result of SSB services.
Strategies for meeting this goal:
· Continue to assess and provide staff training on understanding and serving customers who are DeafBlind. This includes reviewing and acting on results of customer satisfaction studies.
· Continue to identify and act on opportunities for outreach activities.
· Improve communication between DeafBlind customers and SSB by providing customers fact sheets on the vocational rehabilitation process formatted in a step-by-step manner (eligibility, plan development, services, closure, and appeal process).
· Collaborate with other state agencies, so that specific vocational needs, like the need for supported employment, can be met.
GOAL AND PRIORITY #4: Increase customer satisfaction with services provided—by the end of FFY08, the annual overall satisfaction with services provided by SSB will be at or above 85%. (This is measured by question Q1 on the Customer Satisfaction Survey, “What is your overall satisfaction with the services provided.”)
Strategies for meeting this goal:
· Customer satisfaction surveys will be administered quarterly to approximately 60 SSB customers.
· SSB and the SRC-B Customer Satisfaction & Goals and Priorities Committee will continue to review and analyze the data on a quarterly basis including specific customer comments.
· Based on the analysis of the customer satisfaction survey results, recommendations for program improvements will be brought to SSB and the SRC-B to assure that services are available that meet customer needs.
GOAL AND PRIORITY #5: Insure every SSB customer has the information needed to make an informed choice in selecting providers for adjustment-to-blindness (ATB) training. During FFY08, 100% of SSB customers attending ATB half time or more will indicate that they were given the opportunity to choose their provider. During FFY08, the results of the customer satisfaction surveys for customers completing ATB will be posted externally for customer review.
Strategies for meeting this goal:
· During FFY08, SSB counselors will complete the “Choosing ATB Training” form with each customer considering ATB training. Counselors will ensure that all customers are provided information, in an accessible format, about options for receiving adjustment-to-blindness services, and strongly encourage each customer to tour each community rehabilitation program.
· During FFY08, each SSB customer will be surveyed six months after completion of adjustment-to-blindness training or at time of case file closure (whichever comes first). Customers will be contacted to complete the telephone survey of eighteen questions.
· When sufficient data is gathered, data will be formatted and posted externally for customer review when selecting a service provider to meet their rehabilitation needs.
· Vendors who train on access and assistive technology will still have to pass a test on programs they teach and pass an adult learning course.
Tom Scanlan, Chair of the Vendor Outcome and Measures committee of the SRC-B, has been tenacious in working to ensure needed information is gathered and the resulting summary data will be formatted so it is useful to persons seeking training.
GOAL AND PRIORITY #6: All VR staff members new to SSB will receive Introduction to Blindness Phase 1 and/or Phase 2 training on the essential aspects of blindness and visual impairment.
Strategies for meeting this goal:
· Supervisory staff will ensure all new VR staff will complete Introduction to Blindness Phase 1 training within three months of hire.
· Supervisory staff will ensure all new rehabilitation-counseling staff will complete Introduction to Blindness Phase 2 training within three months of hire.
· Introduction to Blindness Phase 2 training will be discussed with and encouraged for career development for current staff that would otherwise not be required to attend.
That completes the goals and priorities for SSB’s vocational rehabilitation program for 2008.
2.) Senior Services
Note that while not covered by the Goals and Priorities (as they apply only to the VR program) Senior Services staff, all new and many veteran, also complete the Phase 2 training. I know from personal experience it is a valuable and important program for personal and professional development.
The Senior Services unit and its activities, while not included in the Goals and Priorities, are an important source of service to blind Minnesotans.
We know thousands of baby-boomers will need our services in the coming years and access technology will be a major area of need.
We’ll be working with the Senior Service committee of the Council to assess our current technology services to seniors, and to plan for the future. We appreciate Judy Sanders and her work as Chair of that committee.
3.) 21st Century Plan and Communication Center
And now let’s quickly move to the 21st Century plan and the Communication Center.
The 21st Century Plan consists of three phases: 1.) direct uplink of our signal to satellite; 2.) a new software system for recording and distribution in digital and DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System); and 3.) new radios that receive digital broadcast and are better than our current radios.
Before giving an update on the 21st Century Plan itself, I want to let you know about activity and results with the Office of the Legislative Auditor. That office had received a complaint about the 21st Century Plan and SSB, when contacted by the Legislative Auditors’ staff, cooperated fully with them in their review. The complaint was fully reviewed by them and their report says, in pertinent part:
“Based on the information we reviewed, we have determined that the department complied with the 1999 appropriation laws and finance-related contract provisions in Minnesota statutes. It appears the delays with project implementation were due to the unavailability of the desired technology in the marketplace and the challenges of developing that digital technology. Finally, we felt the relationship between state Services for the Blind and the Saint Paul Foundation, a major nonprofit organization affiliated with the project, was appropriate.”
As to status of project elements and the future:
· The satellite uplink was completed several years ago and is functioning well.
· Radios: We are now conducting the final review of a prospective replacement radio. It has passed our rigorous field tests and now needs just FCC and UL approval. We expect those approvals later this spring.
We will then request a formal bid. Once that is accepted it’s estimated it will take about six months for radios to be manufactured, in our hands and ready for rollout. We are very excited about this!!
· DAISY Recording: We continue to work with our contractor in developing the software needed for our volunteers to record in DAISY.
He has made significant progress and we are targeting his completion date for the end of this July.
Our intent is to be able to record, store and retrieve textbooks and Radio Talking Book (RTB) book recordings in DAISY.
So, things are looking very good indeed. While I don’t view myself as a techie (and have never been called one) those who are true-blue techies, including David Andrews (involved in the 21st Century Plan since its inception), see things as looking good.
There are some additional developments and future directions in the Communication Center:
· We are, with the Communication Center Committee of the SRC-B, looking at doing a RTB customer satisfaction study. We want to make sure we continually improve the alignment of the programming we offer with the general interests of our listeners.
· We are beginning next week to explore the feasibility of making the RTB digital programming available via Internet or our telephone-based news services. We want to see if we can make programming available on a “on demand” basis rather than having to listen at a particular time for a specific program.
· We’ll be using the National Instructional Materials Access Center—a repository for educational material in an electronic format—that will speed up our ability to provide material—especially braille—to the blind youth of the state.
· We have plans to improve the telephone-based news (NFB-NEWSLINE®, and Dial-in-News) in 2008 by adding one Greater Minnesota newspaper to NFB-NEWSLINE® (Rochester Post-Bulletin) and a Greater Minnesota newspaper (perhaps Brainerd) to Dial-in-News.
· We are working with the Regional Library in Faribault to plan for the migration to flash technology and the retirement of tape and the cassette player.
4.) Update on possible SSB move
A final item is the possibility of a move of SSB from its current location.
Our lease at 2200 University Ave. runs out at the end of this year. Since last year, we have been exploring options for our location, including renewing at our current location. We have received assistance from the state’s Real Estate Management Division in this effort.
We have offers and counter offers from our current landlord and from management of the Griggs-Midway building (Fairview and University in Saint Paul).
Factors we’re looking at include cost (the dollar amount of the lease) and value (the worth of the location to our customers, our volunteers and our staff).
We expect a decision on this issue very soon, hopefully no later than the end of this month.
(Editor’s Update from Chuk Hamilton: Several proposals and counter-proposals regarding both Griggs-Midway and the current location occurred. It would have cost over a half-million dollars over ten years in order to move, and would have resulted in some inconvenience to customers, volunteers and staff. The only improvement might have been closer proximity to a planned light-rail station in a number of years. The net result is that SSB is staying where it is currently located.)
In summary, I believe the future of SSB looks promising. The fulfilling of that promise does not depend on SSB alone. It depends on numerous factors, players and variables, some we can influence more than others.
Our goal remains clear and is consistent with the conviction and values behind the comments made some time ago by Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator from New York, on the 25th anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind. He said:
“A Greek philosopher once wrote: `What joy is there in day that follows day, some swift, some slow, with death the only goal?' What we are interested in—those of you that are here and those of us who are in the Senate of the United States, who feel strongly about this problem—is to make sure that you can live out your lives making a contribution to society, and live your lives in dignity.”
Joyce, thank you for inviting me here today to speak on behalf of SSB.
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
This year's semiannual convention on April 21, 2007 was hosted by our Metro Chapter and held at our building in Minneapolis. Thanks to Al Spooner and his crew for rearranging the furniture to make room for the crowd.
The day began with registration, rolls and coffee. Registration is important for two reasons; first, the registration fee helps defray convention costs. Second, those who register become eligible for fun and valuable door prizes. Thanks to Amy Baron, Trudy Barrett and others for coordinating the door prize effort.
A spirited welcome from Jennifer Dunnam, president of the host Metro chapter, included the singing of NFB songs. The crowd sounded ready for action on a Saturday morning.
Joyce Scanlan, president of the NFB of Minnesota, began her report to the convention with a review of the role we played in solving a transportation issue for dog guide users in the metro area. The Metropolitan Airports Commission held a hearing to discuss the refusal of some cab drivers to transport passengers, including users of dog guides. To make amends, the drivers offered free rides to blind passengers to our state convention. Most of us took buses to arrive at the convention and all of us agreed that free rides were not our objective; we simply want the drivers to obey the law and provide transit to their paying blind passengers. The NFB has offered to provide in-service training to cab drivers to break down the misconceptions that they may have about the capabilities of blind individuals.
Tom Scanlan, our treasurer, reported that for the last fiscal year, from April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007, our treasury operated in the black. This is primarily due to some generous bequests.
"Where is SSB Headed?" was the next topic. This was handled by Richard Strong, director of the Communication Center and the Senior Services Unit of State Services for the Blind (SSB). He began by crediting many members of the NFB who have worked to make SSB a better agency. That included thanks for our support of the SSB initiative at the legislature to increase their annual appropriation by one million dollars—$900,000 of which will go to the Communication Center allowing the same amount to be transferred back to the Vocational Rehabilitation program and $100,000 to serve as a match for federal funds. The rest of Mr. Strong's report covered the following areas: SSB goals and priorities for the coming year in the vocational rehabilitation program; an update on the 21st Century Plan for the Radio Talking Book and the Legislative Audit completed on that project; the Senior Services Unit activities and the possible relocation of SSB's St. Paul headquarters.
Goals and priorities: SSB's goals and priorities for the coming fiscal year were developed by the Minnesota State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, and can be found on SSB's website, www.mnssb.org.
The 21st Century Plan is SSB's conversion of the Radio Talking Book service to a digital transmission with portable receivers that will bring this service into the modern age. Because of delays in the implementation of the plan, a Legislative audit was completed. The results show that the delay is not due to any negligence on the part of SSB; the delays are connected to the unavailability of needed equipment.
All of Mr. Strong's remarks are found previously in this issue.
The latest from a national perspective of the NFB was brought to us directly from Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind with his most recent presidential release. Many changes are coming to the NFB.
First, we were given the sad news that Betsy Zaborowski has retinoblastoma and must take some time from work to deal with her treatment. In the fall, she will leave her post as director of the Jernigan Institute to work on new initiatives to be established by the NFB. She will be able to help with a smooth transition with the new head of the Jernigan Institute, Mark Riccobono. Mark has been coordinating our educational programs.
The next change to come to the NFB is that James Gashel, head of strategic initiatives for the NFB will be leaving after the national convention to join a new company that has been formed to promote the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader. Mr. Gashel will serve as vice president in charge of marketing. Jim Gashel has worked for the NFB since 1974 primarily in the area of governmental affairs. It is impossible to know how many blind people have received assistance in advocacy from Jim over the years—whether with appeals with Social Security cases, vocational rehabilitation dilemmas or any other government agency. Although not as an employee, Jim will always be an active part of the Federation.
The new director of strategic initiatives will be John Paré. John has been instrumental in helping our NFB-NEWSLINE® program grow to several magazines and over 250 newspapers on the system. He now directs our public relations efforts. All these changes brought to mind how lucky we are in the NFB to have such a wealth of talent to lead our efforts.
This year the NFB will be holding our first March for Independence in Atlanta at our national convention. It will take place on Tuesday, July 3 at 6:30 a.m. It is both a fundraiser for the Jernigan Institute and a declaration that blind people are in control of their own lives and the Federation is stronger than ever. Judy Sanders explained the mechanics of how to participate in it. We can go to the NFB website and register which means we accept the responsibility of raising $250 for the march. Teams can work together to make it easier to raise the money. Minnesota hopes to have a large delegation on the streets of Atlanta.
Lunch not only gave us nourishment, but it served as a fundraiser for our Minnesota Association of Blind Students (MABS). They assembled and sold "academic lunches" that included a sandwich, apple, chips, cookie and a drink. Everyone came out of that fundraiser a winner.
Our afternoon session began with hearing from the students who fed us. Jeff Thompson, president of MABS, introduced a panel of students. First was Lori Brown, vice president of MABS. She compared the division to a NASCAR race. The officers are the drivers and the members are the pit crew. They not only raise money, but also go out to colleges and staff tables to meet other blind students. David Starnes talked about the trip that some students took to our Jernigan Institute for a leadership seminar. It was a perfect way for them to learn about the organized blind movement. Ellen Bielawski talked about being a student at Purdue until two years ago when she became blind. She now helps with teen night sponsored by our students and parents.
Our election for a delegate and alternate delegate to the national convention brought the following results: Joyce Scanlan will be the delegate with Jennifer Dunnam serving as our alternate.
Joyce reported to us that there is a crisis in the request for funding from Congress for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and their transition to digital talking books. This change is urgent because the parts for our cassette machines are no longer being manufactured. We must help Congress understand why commercial recordings will not meet our needs. We were all urged to contact our Congressional delegation to let them know how important this program is to us.
A panel entitled "Was Our Voice Heard at the Capitol?" began with Jennifer Dunnam reporting on our efforts to help our Minnesota Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped come up to full staff. When they are fully staffed, they have eleven people; they currently have eight employees. We raised questions with the legislature asking them to inquire why the Department of Education was not filling those positions. Our efforts have raised visibility for the library and awareness about their needs.
Steve Jacobson gave us a progress report on accessible voting. We now have equal access in state and federal elections. Steve asked for a cheer from those who voted with an accessible machine for the first time in the last election. There was a resounding cheer of satisfied voters. We are still negotiating with township officials and legislators about the best way to handle voting in those small communities. It is hoped that we can find state funding to help finance programming the machines for these small township elections. We will continue to work with them until a satisfactory solution is reached. These efforts include help from the Secretary of State's office.
The NFB of Minnesota is supporting full funding for public transit. Judy Sanders reported that the governor plans to veto the transportation bill that is currently in the legislature. We were urged to call the governor's office to let him know how important public transit is to us. Judy closed by saying that whenever she sees blind people at the capitol they are members of the National Federation of the Blind. We are the ones who make a difference.
A lengthy discussion ensued about membership that delved into the following topics: transportation to chapter meetings; retaining members; pressing issues for chapters; and brainstorming about new chapter projects. The key question that was discussed was how we raise expectations among blind people, which is the main purpose of the Federation. Our membership committee consists of Joyce Scanlan, Pat Barrett, Charlene Childrey and Jeff Thompson.
Every year Federationists pledge donations to the Jacobus tenBroek fund; this fund owns our National Center for the Blind building that houses the Jernigan Institute and other Federation offices. Our state treasury then matches the amount donated by our members. This year's contribution will be approximately two thousand dollars.
"Ringing the Freedom Bell for Success" was a panel made up of four current students from Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND). David Starnes began with an explanation of how he came to the Federation. David says that he drove to the Federation; his career as a sighted person was as a truck driver. His optic nerves were severely damaged through strokes and the Mayo Clinic could do nothing. Wending his way through various bureaucracies, he met Jan Bailey who became his counselor at SSB. As a student at BLIND, he attended an NFB convention and is ready to work hard in the movement.
Bryce Samuelson now knows that as a college student he need not depend on the office for students with disabilities. Among his many accomplishments in his training, he is now reading 70 words a minute in Braille.
John Horna already has his college degree. However, he realized that he needed help with living skills if he is to be successful in life. His primary emphasis is in cane travel, home management and industrial arts. He was amazed to find that his travel instructor was blind.
The last panel member, Lori Brown, talked about straddling a fence between the sighted world and the blind one. She is a single mom and she has learned how important it is for her to function independently and have her children respect her. She is breaking down the fence and she knows that she is headed in the right direction.
A testimony to the progress we are making for the next generation of blind Americans was evidenced in Jennifer Dunnam's presentation regarding NFB's Youth SLAM. Expectations and opportunities have never been higher. Two hundred blind high-school students from across this country will gather at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The students are attending the "STEM Academy." STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These are all subjects that were avoided by blind children until the work of the Jernigan Institute gave them their proper attention. We now know that four Minnesotans will be participating in Youth Slam occurring from July 30-August 4, 2007. For more information, go to www.blindscience.org
Plans were made for Minnesotans to attend the upcoming national convention in Atlanta. People discussed how to get the lowest airfares. One hundred dollars was voted as door prizes donated from the NFB of Minnesota. For more in-depth details about what to expect at the convention we were referred to the April issue of the Braille Monitor.
"As We Begin the Third Decade: A Report from the BLIND, Incorporated Executive Director" was presented by Shawn Mayo. She began her remarks with a tribute to Toni Koehler, a member of BLIND's board of directors, who recently passed away. Toni was a graduate of the program and served as the president of the NFB of North Dakota. Her dedication and spirit will long be remembered and admired.
Three new representatives were elected to the BLIND board. They are Michael Brands, Mike Sahyun and Kotumu Kamara.
The strong tie between the Federation and BLIND was emphasized by Shawn's request for volunteer mentors for blind youth and children who will be a part of the program during the summer. BLIND is also reinstituting its older blind classes under the sponsorship of State Services for the Blind. Joyce Scanlan was coaxed out of retirement to teach these classes.
BLIND is exploring starting English Language Learner classes. Blind people who come to this country not only need to learn about adjusting to their blindness; they must break down language barriers.
We were pleased to welcome Steve Decker to Minnesota. He is the new technology instructor and comes to us from Iowa.
Shawn discussed three components that set BLIND’s training apart from a traditional model. The first is control; students learn to problem solve on their own with minimal guidance from instructors. The second is mentoring; the instructors recognize that the student's day does not end at 4:30. Life goes on and students should be encouraged to live it to the fullest. The last component is advocacy; students learn their responsibility to help other blind people as they have been helped. This is why the NFB and BLIND are so closely united.
We can look forward to a huge twentieth anniversary celebration and many more years of effective training for blind citizens.
Joyce directed us to the May issue of the Braille Monitor to see the recipe section contributed by Minnesotans. We had sixteen recipes showing our culinary expertise.
Sheila Koenig reminded us that applications are still being accepted for Minnesota scholarships. June 1, 2007 is the deadline. One $2,000 scholarship will be awarded.
The convention closed with a variety of announcements about upcoming chapter events and individual member activities. Everyone is looking forward to the annual convention to be held in the metro area this fall.
Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held on November 2-4, 2007 at the Holiday Inn I-35 located at 1201 West 94th St. in Bloomington. Room rates are $79.00, plus tax, for two Queen-size or one King-size bed. Reservations must be made by calling 952-884-8211 before October 19. 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 Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held in April or May 2008 outside 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 during the first week of July 2008 in Dallas, Texas. 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 Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.