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Volume 74, Number 3, Summer 2008
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Jennifer Dunnam, President
What does it mean truly to know that it is respectable to be blind?
Each year our national convention of the National Federation of the Blind is a highlight of the entire year for many of us—a time when we join together in a national movement to stay informed, to take action, to share ideas and renew acquaintances, and to renew our energy around the work that we do to improve opportunities for blind people. From the March for Independence to the banquet address, from the informative and helpful seminars on every topic imaginable about blindness to the policy debates, there is something for everyone—children, senior citizens, teachers, students, those newly blind, sighted friends and family, and those who have been blind their entire lives. The week is full of opportunities to strengthen our positive philosophy of blindness.
At times, however, the little moments that happen between the hundreds of more formal activities are some of the most meaningful. One of my personal favorites of those moments this year is a story I heard involving my four-year-old nephew Luca. Luca is not blind, but he is familiar with the white cane and especially with braille because of the collections of books I’ve given him and occasionally read to him. He and I do not have a chance to visit with one another often since we live on opposite sides of the country, but he and his parents sometimes attend part of the national convention when it occurs near where they live, as it did this year.
One evening, Luca’s grandmother (my mother, who also attends conventions in connection with her work with blind toddlers) took him to participate in the star party, an outdoor astronomy event designed for children. Having arrived early, Luca had time to strike up a friendship with Anna, a little girl around his age who was blind and used a cane very well. They played energetically around the area for a while, having a great time and getting along well. A while later, when it was time to go and Luca was back with his grandmother, he asked, “When will I get my cane?”
Clearly, as he observed so many adults and children all around with white canes, going about their business, it seemed only natural to him that he would someday get one too, and the idea was no problem with him. No negative attitudes, no fear or shying away, and no feeling sorry for people using canes. He simply wanted to be like his friend and so many others around him—and why not, since he could tell that everyone was doing just fine? At that moment in time, to him, it was perfectly respectable to be blind.
The national convention is a wonderful place to get a true sense of the respectability of blindness. Blind people from all walks of life show what a vast resource our organization is by serving as examples and sharing information, encouragement, and practical tips. Long-time members and new recruits alike are encouraged to try new things, to push beyond what they think they can do. It is practically impossible to experience the convention without discovering something to improve an attitude or even to change a life. It was twenty years ago this year that I attended my first national convention in Chicago, and still, like so many others, I gain much from convention week.
This year our Minnesota affiliate had its usual prominent role in the activities at the convention. Some of the highlights included the ever-popular karaoke night sponsored by Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND); the leadership of many Minnesotans in divisions like the National Organization of Blind Educators and others; the presentation of national scholarships to two of our members at the banquet; the election of a Minnesotan to the presidency of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; the presentation of a Jacob Bolotin award to BLIND—the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, not every person in the world can attend NFB conventions and get the kind of concentrated exposure to the truth about blindness that makes such a difference. To convince our larger society of the respectability of blindness, with all it implies, is an ongoing effort on all levels, from the individual and local to the national. It requires the help of all of us who believe that blindness need not in any way diminish our ability to learn, to think, to take care of ourselves and help others, to find our way, or hold a job. Those who know it is respectable to be blind know that the sight or lack of it does not make people superior or inferior to one another. We start with the assumption that a blind person has the capability to do a given task. We hold high expectations for blind people and assume that blind people will exercise their rights and responsibilities as others in society do. We know that the standard for using a cane is to walk confidently and independently, and the standard for reading braille is to read quickly and fluently—in short, that the alternative techniques really work. We assume that blind people will pull their weight as others do. We do not place artificial limits on blind people by making assumptions about what we can and cannot do or by automatically connecting blindness with a need for help. If we happen to be sighted, we certainly do not quash the hopes and dreams of blind people by directing them away from certain activities with statements like, "Even I can't do that, and I can see!"
On the other hand, we who know it is respectable to be blind also know that each person has had different exposures and different opportunities to learn about blindness. It is up to us respectfully but actively to help educate others who do not see things in as positive a way as we do. Such education takes many forms—from setting an example, to teaching someone a new skill, to insisting on equal treatment when some would treat us as special, to writing a letter in opposition to a harmful policy or action, and much in between—and of course, to act in more forceful ways that are sometimes necessary when all else fails, as we sometimes must when the rights and opportunities for blind people are at stake.
It is a goal of the National Federation of the Blind that people like my nephew Luca have the opportunities to see the truth about blindness, and to grow up with that foundation. To use our collective experience and resources to that end helps all of us and ensures that future generations of blind people will have even more opportunity than we have today. No doubt, society’s traditional attitudes about blindness will present themselves, but Luca and children like him will have better access to the positive message of the truth of blindness. If there are blind students in his classes when he is growing up, he is more likely to treat them as just another fellow student and not ostracize them. When he runs a company or becomes a professor, he’ll be more likely to choose employees or deal with his students based on their skills and qualifications and not on the basis of blindness if that happens to be among their characteristics.
May we continue to work hard to strengthen and support the efforts of this organization and one another, so that all children—blind or sighted—can grow up knowing in their hearts that it is respectable to be blind.
By Lisa M. Bolt Simons
(Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from the Winter 2008 issue of TODAY, a publication of Minnesota State University, Mankato. It is another example of a blind person living and fulfilling the beliefs and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Those of us who knew Jim and Betty Goff will always remember his strength and commitment. Betty wrote in a note she sent with the article, “It was a truly wonderful dedication. Jim would have been impressed and maybe a little embarrassed by the big to do.”)
He rode to the fields on his bicycle while others drove cars. He took pictures with a poor box camera. But lack of money couldn't stop Jim Goff from doing what he needed to do as a graduate student: complete his research in geography.
Goff eventually earned his doctorate in geography from the University of Illinois and served as a professor of geography at Minnesota State University, Mankato for thirty-six years. He retired in 2000, and he died in 2006. Today, in order to prevent another graduate student from struggling financially the way Jim did, his widow, Betty Goff, is donating $100,000 to create the James F. Goff Geography Graduate Research Endowment.
The endowment honors a distinctive professor whose legacy lives in the memories of colleagues and former students alike.
In his uniform of jeans, a two-pocket shirt for his cigars, and a cardigan, Goff taught a variety of classes, from urban geography to regional geomorphology. Former colleagues recall his distinctive forthrightness and dry humor. Bill Webster, a former dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, says, “I define a university professor as someone who thought otherwise. You could count on Jim to think otherwise.”
It was thinking otherwise that allowed Goff to teach and inspire others despite his blindness, a result of the diabetes he'd battled since age fourteen. By thirty-five, Goff had lost his sight completely.
He eventually co-founded and led the regional Riverbend chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and he refused to define or restrict himself as a result of his blindness. George Stoops, a former colleague, recalls that Goff “handled himself so well in the classroom that a student asked me after class, ‘Is he really blind?’"
Goff regarded his disabilities as mere inconveniences, and he expected the same kind of drive and optimism from his students.
Lee Sampson, a work-study student who assisted Goff in the early 1980s, says, “When (Goff) found a student who had potential, he really wanted that student to live up to his abilities. He would make the extra effort of offering mentorship and assistance, sometimes to help the student define, or hone, what their goals should be.”
Betty recalls the philosophy she and Jim shared. “Everybody deserves a little bit of a whimper,” she says, “but after that, you have to make yourself go forward.”
Goff did move forward, and in addition to his service as a teacher and mentor, he was nationally respected as a military geographer. He was also interested in war game design and incorporated it into his classroom teaching in order to help students think about tactics, maneuvering and strategy.
Branko Colakovic, professor of geography, says Goff “earned his sound reputation by excellent performance in the classroom and by doing research and other scholarly work.” He adds that Goff was capable and creative, and generated “ideas and solutions to deal with various educational and organizational issues.”
Until his retirement in 2000, Goff also served the University as a member of boards and committees and served as chair of the Department of Geography for two terms. He was Geography Graduate Coordinator, an Arts and Science Task Force member, and a Section 504 Advisory Committee member.
Betty, a retired Minnesota State Mankato art professor, says she wanted to be sure the gift would help graduate students. They have less opportunity for financial help than undergraduates, she says, and they embody a certain focused drive and “fire in the belly.”
Betty delights in telling about her husband's character and accomplishments. She also speaks of their travel, his love of animals, his phenomenal memory, camping and canoeing, and, of course, teaching. “Jim loved being a professor,” she says. “He loved everything about it. It was just a way of life for him.” The endowment will ensure that his passion and drive benefit students for generations to come.
By Shawn Mayo, Executive Director, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions
Can you believe it? Twenty years have passed since Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Incorporated first opened its doors offering innovative, consumer-based adjustment-to-blindness training programs to blind Americans, the first of its kind in Minnesota. That means it’s time for a celebration!
This is our first communication to alumni and friends so that you can make necessary arrangements to join with us by first setting aside one day in your busy schedule to come to our BLIND Incorporated Center to help us give proper recognition to this exciting and auspicious occasion. Although our plans are not yet fully set, here’s what we have so far:
Date: Saturday, October 25, 2008;
Time: 10:00 a.m. to midnight;
Plans for the day:
· Welcoming ceremonies over coffee;
· Tours of the Center;
· Where is everyone now?—jobs? Success stories? Hobbies?
· A time to reminisce—Fond memories of days in the program;
· A picnic lunch in the front yard;
· Make a video of attendees for the website;
· New BLIND Incorporated programs developed over the years:
· Establishing an alumni organization;
· Begin plans for our 25th anniversary in 2012/13;
· A catered dinner followed by a dance or other entertainment in the evening;
· We welcome further suggestions.
Current students and staff are eager to hear stories of the past and let you know of today’s life at BLIND Incorporated. What has changed? What remains the same? What challenging activities do students of today experience?
Please share this notice with others. We want to reach everyone who had a part in shaping the history of BLIND, Incorporated since we first launched our program on January 4, 1988 following a year of planning and preparing.
By Pat Barrett
Your vote is valuable. Vote your conscience for a better life for yourself, your family, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow citizens. I would like to discuss the history of the struggle to vote, the current apathy surrounding going to the polls, and what you can do about it.
Susan B. Anthony, the leader of the women’s suffrage movement and champion of the right to vote for women in 1920, said, “Suffrage is the pivotal right.” From 1920 to 1960, the voting block of women decreased from a 50% difference as opposed to male voters to only a 10% gap.
The 15th amendment to the Constitution passed in 1870, granting African Americans the right to vote. However, many states denied this right. At the very least, some states levied poll taxes of $2 and $3, knowing that many African-American voters of the 1870’s could not afford this tax. Many African-American citizens were beaten or killed when they tried to vote by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1963, three civil rights workers who had traveled to the South to help register African-American voters were slain. Two years too late, the Voting Rights Act passed. This prohibited discrimination based on race or language in voting.
The Help America Vote Act (Hava) passed in 2002. You will remember from the 2000 presidential election that some unwanted guys named Chad were hanging around in the polling booths in Florida. HAVA established more accurate methods of recording votes and access for those with disabilities.
Up until the 2006 primary election, blind persons could not vote privately. They could either bring a friend in to help them fill out their ballot in the polling booth, or have an election judge from each major political party read and review their ballot. My wife Trudy, who is blind, had an unfortunate experience a few years ago when she used the second method. The judge vocally criticized Trudy’s candidate choices. Not very private, was it?
Blind persons still can use the two voting methods I discussed earlier. But now, there is a third option of voting privately using the AutoMark machine.
The AutoMark takes the regular voting ballot and scans the text in the machine. After a couple of minutes, the text is vocalized through a set of headphones that the voter wears. Basic navigation keys like those of a video game help the voter move forward, backward through contests, and select candidates or preferences on constitutional amendments. After the ballot is marked and the blind voter is done, they feed it into the ballot box to be counted.
This was such a liberating experience for me! I could vote for the first time in private as other citizens did. I rode the bus, the driver commented that I voted when he saw the red sticker proclaiming that, and I told him excitedly about the freedom to vote privately for the first time. I continued that excitement in a conversation with the bank teller.
George Jean Nathan, who lived between 1882 and 1958, wrote, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” How much more is that voter apathy true today!
Dr. Thomas E. Patterson, an African-American history professor at Howard University, brought the following sad facts to light in 2002 in his book The Vanishing Voter. From 1960 to 2000 represented the longest ebb in voter turnout in American history. Sixty-five percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the U. S. presidential election in 1960. That dropped to 51% in 2000. A little over half of the voters voted in that hotly contested election. Would it have been different in the outcome and less time-consuming if more people voted? And, an incredulous and shocking 18% voted in the Congressional elections for that same year.
Bernard K. Baruch advises, “Vote for the man or woman who promises the least: they’ll be the least disappointing.” What can you do before voting on November 4?
Ponder, pray (if you are so moved to do so), and identify the issues that are important to you. Tune into the political debates. This will inform you more on the candidates and the issues they stand for than the short, often negative political ads. Finally, turn out to vote, vote, vote!
John Quincy Adams, the 5th president of the United States counseled, “Always vote for principle, and even if you vote alone, the sweetest reflection is that your vote is never lost.”
Did you start to read this to get advice as to which candidate should receive your vote this fall? If you did, you're out of luck! What this covers is not which candidate to vote for, but which method to place the mark on your ballot for the desired candidate.
In 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed because of the many problems with the presidential and other elections in 2000. Part of this Act requires that there must be an accessible method to vote available for persons with disabilities, including those of us who are blind, at each polling place. In addition, Minnesota passed a state version of HAVA that generally covers state and local elections.
Minnesota has chosen to use a machine called the AutoMark. This machine communicates the ballot in a number of ways and prints your selections on the same ballot used by everyone else. However, if you desire, you can still vote as you always have, with the help of someone you bring along or with assistance from election judges. Using the AutoMark is easy, though, and it is very important that we make use of this new option as much as possible.
If you choose to use the AutoMark, you will receive the same ballot as all voters. You insert the unmarked ballot into a slot on the AutoMark machine and it speaks instructions and displays them on its built-in screen. There are also options to enhance the contrast, change the color or even the appearance of the text.
A number of options are available to make your selections. Most of us will use the small keypad that, among other keys, has four arrow keys. The UP and DOWN ARROW keys are generally used to choose between candidates within a single race while the LEFT and RIGHT ARROW keys go to the previous and next races. A button in the center of the arrow keys makes the selection. You can also change the speed at which the ballot is spoken and adjust the volume. For privacy, the ballot is read using headphones, and the screen can easily be turned off so nobody else can see how you are voting.
There are other ways to mark a ballot as well. The screen is touch-sensitive, so you can mark your choice with your finger or a pointer, and there is provision for a sip-and-puff switch for those who have no use of their hands.
Once you have completed your ballot, it is marked with a printer inside the AutoMark and the ballot emerges from the slot. You then bring the ballot to the ballot counter and put it in the counter's slot just as if you had marked it by hand. In general, the election judges will be able to help you at any point if you have questions, but you will be surprised how easy it is. However, if you are not yet convinced, you will likely be able to get some hands-on experience at our annual convention in October.
This is the first presidential election since accessible voting machines have been required, and the election turnout will probably be large. Therefore, it is quite possible that there will be some problems. There are hundreds or even thousands of polling sites, and several election judges must be trained at each site. As the election approaches, we will have more information on phone numbers you can call to report any difficulties, and of course you can contact the NFB of Minnesota as well. Future solutions will happen only if you patiently and accurately report problems.
We have come a great distance regarding accessible voting, but there are still issues to be resolved. A number of NFB of Minnesota members have actively worked to reach a compromise regarding township elections that occur in March. Also, there are indications that there could be resistance to using accessible machines in other local elections that do not take place at the same time as state and federal elections. However, we will continue to work to resolve such difficulties, but there should be no reason for your polling site not to have an accessible machine this November or for the primary elections that occur sooner. Besides doing our duty as American citizens, we need to use accessible voting machines to demonstrate that they are worth the added cost and effort. In years to come, many people in addition to those of us who are blind will use voting machines like the AutoMark, and that use will be just another part of the election process. For now, though, be a pioneer on the cutting edge of technology, and help blaze a trail for the generations to come.
Current Trends and Future Directions at State
Services for the Blind
By Chuk Hamilton, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota semiannual convention on May 3, 2008.)
Thank you for inviting me again to spend some time with you, and share some information regarding what’s happening at State Services for the Blind (SSB).
In 2007, some rather important results were achieved that positively impacted the lives of blind, visually impaired and DeafBlind Minnesotans. None of these were accomplished without the active support of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM), the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, staff, or other consumer groups and individuals.
· Success at the Minnesota State Legislature! SSB received a $900,000 appropriation to the Communication Center replacing Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) dollars that were needed to provide services to people preparing for employment, and a $100,000 increase to match future VR federal funds. SSB was also assured participation in the study of state electronic data development and storage (“Open Document Format”).
· A major marketing effort was reinstituted by once again having a booth at the Minnesota State Fair. SSB distributed 10,000 handheld fans with a message in braille and SSB contact information, braille alphabet cards to 120 teachers, 145 volunteer application packets, and thousands of other pieces of information regarding blindness.
· SSB monitored the Minnesota State Capitol restoration project to ensure continued and appropriate space for the Business Enterprises Program vendor—a site SSB has had since the 1940s.
· The Workforce Development Unit served 1,054 customers and assisted 81 customers to secure employment at an average hourly wage of $14.07.
· The Senior Services Unit served over 3,432 customers—the largest number ever.
· Donors contributed $210,554 in support of the Communication Center, including in-kind donations valued at $21,571 and a bequest for $5,181. The Communication Center would find it difficult to maintain, let alone expand services, without the support of these 1,806 donors.
So, what should you look for in 2008?
Well, the year has already started out with a bang thanks to the NFBM! Through your initiative and efforts, SF 3147 (Chapter 171) has become law. This action removes the “sunset” on funding from the Telecommunications Access Minnesota (TAM) Fund for NFB-NEWSLINE® and Dial-In News, two news services offered through SSB. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
And speaking of the Legislature, they are just weeks away from adjournment. One of their major tasks remaining is the passage of a Supplemental Appropriations bill. All of you know that there is a $935 million shortfall predicted for the year ending June 2009. The Governor’s original position would not require any cuts at SSB. The House and the Senate positions made some DEED or statewide cuts that conceivably could impact us. As of yesterday, everything is still on the table. By 5 pm last night, all the divisions were to turn in their proposed budget plans to Senator Cohen and Rep. Carlson. The targets that they were given were not negotiated with the governor. That may be problematic. I am hopeful they will find a pathway out of this that does not reduce our funding.
This year we are also blessed to be able to more permanently organize an outreach effort. We are concerned about getting the word out to schools, adults, seniors and their families about our services. For the last several years, we had a project, funded by gifts, to expand outreach primarily for the Communication Center. We have now expanded that formally to Senior Services and Workforce Development. Many of you have met Ed Lecher in this regard—more of you may get to meet him in the future.
I mentioned earlier that last year we legislatively became involved in what was termed an “open document format study.” Since that occurred, SSB has become involved in an additional process aimed at improving the electronic accessibility of public websites and application software. Other partners in this process include the Department of Administration, the STAR (System of Technology to Achieve Results) Program, the Office of Enterprise Technology (OET), and others. This may very well serve to open doors for access and employment in the future for you and other Minnesotans.
This week we completed work on a project to increase the availability of Radio Talking Book programming on the web. It’s called RTB Archived Programs. Users of our web-based service (RTB Live) can now access the most recent seven days of RTB programming. Simply go to www.mnssb.org/rtb and check out this new RTB product.
Another exciting activity we are pleased to be a partner in this spring is the FIRST annual Possibilities Fair for Seniors Who Are Losing Vision. This event, scheduled for this Monday, May 5, 2008 is sponsored by NFBM, in partnership with Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. The Possibilities Fair will provide seniors with a hands-on opportunity to learn methods for improving their lives.
Spring will also bring us the final steps in the conversion to digital audio recording, specifically in a “DAISY” format. Almost everything is in place, and we have been able to actually record and ship some books already. These truly accessible and structured recordings will allow our customers to be on equal footing with their sighted peers.
In previous addresses to this group, I have referenced our federal partner, the Rehabilitation Services Administration. They have notified us of a “monitoring” process here in Minnesota, commencing October 1, 2009, being completed by the following summer. As part of the advance work for that process, we will be looking at our rules this summer to determine any necessary steps in that regard.
Also, this summer we hope to send some staff to your national convention in Dallas. While budgets are tight and travel will be scrutinized heavily, I will make every effort to make this happen.
August will bring the State Fair, where we have expanded our space and will likely modify our activities. Members of the NFBM were volunteers this past summer and we look forward to your support continuing this year.
As the State Fair concludes, we are likely to be preparing for the arrival of our first shipment of the new Radio Talking Book Network digital receivers, and later, the National Library Service’s digital players. Both of these products have been a long time in coming!
I would like to end my remarks this morning by letting you know that for the first time in quite a while, SSB will be having an all-staff meeting in October. The theme that has been selected is “Celebrating Collaborations: Past, Present, Future.” We will be taking time to get acquainted with new staff, celebrating past accomplishments and partnerships, and thinking about what the future might hold for SSB.
On behalf of SSB staff, thank you again for your partnership, support and advocacy. Working together, we can make a positive, profound and life-long difference in the lives of blind, DeafBlind and visually impaired Minnesotans.
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
Saturday, May 3, 2008, brought approximately 70 Federationists together for the semiannual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM). Taking place at the NFB's historic Minneapolis headquarters, spirits were high, the action was fast and the day sped by. After registering, many stopped off for coffee and rolls; by 9:30 a.m., everyone was in their seats and ready to go.
For her first time, Jennifer Dunnam, the new president of NFBM, called the convention to order. Jennifer began the day by telling us that we should all make sure that we registered to be eligible for exciting door prizes given throughout the day. They included some speech access software and Jernigan Fund raffle tickets and many other door prizes.
The president of the Metro Chapter, Pat Barrett, made welcoming remarks. The singing of the first of many Federation songs followed his welcome. As with many civil rights movements, music tells the story. Various Federationists led the singing.
Introductions of the audience followed, with people identifying themselves and giving their current vocation.
Jennifer reported that we have introduced legislation in Congress that would place a minimum-sound standard on all vehicles. This legislation is to minimize the danger that quiet cars present. HR5734 is the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. Current Minnesota cosponsors are Ellison, McCollum, Walz and Oberstar. (Note: At this writing, Congressman Peterson has added his name to the cosponsor list.) Congress is holding hearings on the budget for the National Library Service (NLS) and their conversion to digital talking books. Many Federationists in the DC area are attending those hearings.
Our advocacy work continues particularly in the area of helping children receive instruction in braille. We participate in IEP meetings with parents and will do whatever else is necessary to see that schools meet the needs of their children.
Jennifer urged us to look at our new and improved website. Tom Scanlan is now serving as our webmaster. Go to www.nfbmn.org.
Jennifer gave a commercial for the Jernigan Fund raffle tickets that she would be selling throughout the day. The winner will receive an all expense paid trip to the 2009 national convention in Detroit.
Our new NFBM brochure was unveiled. Complete with pictures, it has all the information one could want about the NFB in Minnesota. Chapters were urged to take the brochures and distribute them.
Tom Scanlan, treasurer of the NFB of Minnesota, gave a detailed budget report for our fiscal year beginning April 1, 2007 and ending on March 31, 2008. We showed income of $82,515 and expenses of $53,898. Tom also reported the Minnesota Charity Review Council has reviewed our finances and management and reported that we fully meet their accountability standards. We are also in good standing with the Minnesota Attorney General's office.
Representing Minnesota State Services for the Blind, Director Chuk Hamilton gave us a thorough update. His report appears previously in this issue. This report will focus on the question and answer period.
President Dunnam began the questioning by expressing the concern that counselors do not have an adequate background in blindness; that is, they do not understand what goes into helping a blind person feel whole and equal to being a part of mainstream society. Chuk said that there are seventeen counselors in the Workforce Development Unit. There has been a great deal of turnover and he wants to make sure that SSB does not have internal issues. To find out, the Department of Administration will be interviewing staff to allow them to pinpoint problems.
Chuk also talked about staff adjustment to blindness training. There are two phases to it: Phase 1 teaches a general overview about blindness and is required of all staff. Phase 2 is for professional staff with direct contact with blind customers; it includes counselors, supervisors, and some other professionals. Two weeks are at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated and two weeks at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Duluth. The purpose of it is to teach the staff about the change that should occur in the blind person with proper training. He admitted that the training is not adequate.
Andy Virden complained about the difficulty with the Radio Talking Book having technical difficulties on weekends and there is no one to notify. Chuk talked about SSB's partnership with Minnesota Public Radio for almost forty years. There may be a communication problem with them on weekends but if the problem is internal then he will have to look at it.
Emily Wharton brought the subject of new SSB staff participating in their adjustment to blindness training. She commented that many of the staff fully participated in the training with good spirit and learned what they could in the short time allowed them. Her concern was for the few who demonstrated such arrogance that it seemed apparent that they had chosen the wrong career because they demonstrated a lack of respect for the blind people they encountered as instructors.
Jeff Thompson asked about what was being done for transition students, students fourteen and older. Chuk talked about an award-winning partnership between SSB and Minnesota's teachers of blind students regarding assistive technology. SSB loans school districts equipment that students can try before making a heavy investment in it. His vision for the future is that all transition students would have an adult blind mentor.
Shawn Mayo asked about the role of the Voc Tech position. These people are supposed to have a limited role in working with customers; but Shawn pointed out that there were a few occasions when the tech attended staffings for students at BLIND. There was one case where the only staff present was an intern. Chuk pointed out that corrective action was taken so that no tech would be attending a staffing without the presence of a counselor. It is inevitable that counselors will have to do more of their own clerical work because of a shortage of clerical positions and changes in technology.
Al Spooner queried as to how you get counselors to believe at the gut level in their blind customers; it is difficult for them to instill that kind of positive attitude in their customers if they do not have such an attitude themselves. Chuk acknowledged the problem but pointed out that there are no easy answers.
Gayle Bengtson complained about the difficulty in reaching someone in the St. Cloud office of SSB. Her complaint was duly noted.
Johnny Ott asked if there would be a need for field-testing of the new Radio Talking Book Radio. It is very simple to operate so there may not be much of a need for an extensive test.
Amanda Swanson served as a mentor at the NFB's Youth Academy in February. She talked about the extensive array of seminars and their effect on forcing the kids to probe their view of blindness. Amanda said that the seminars were not the typical dry presentations. There was a lot of interaction between kids and adults. Amanda had the chance to lead one of the breakout sessions where she did an exercise in biology. She worried that the teens were smarter than she was.
Beverly Collins gave us an exciting demonstration of the newest model of the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader. It runs on a Nokia N82 cell phone. It takes a picture of printed material and reads it back in a clear voice. It can read memos, books, mail and can identify money. Its uses are endless with its ability to read print. A local dealer can provide further information and demonstration. NFB does not sell this device.
Bev also told us about her activities in the Federation as chair of our public relations committee. The committee is working to organize our massive amounts of NFB literature and is organizing a speakers' bureau.
The convention adjourned to allow everyone to enjoy their “academic lunch” served and sold by our student division. Many other activities occurred during this period. Jan Bailey joined Bev in demonstrating the KNFB Reader Mobile. Others went outside to participate in a test to see whether they could hear a quiet car as it drove around the block. It could be heard slightly when it was directly in front of us. These cars definitely pose a danger to the blind pedestrian.
The afternoon began with a demonstration of more technology. Steve Decker, Federationist and computer instructor at BLIND, Incorporated, introduced Mike Calvo who is CEO of the Serotek Corporation. They have numerous products; among them is software that can give us speech access to any computer by downloading it from their website. They are working with a nonprofit called Access Is a Right that operates for everyone to be able to use any computer. They also have systems for sale that widen the opportunity for accomplishment. Their main system is System Access. Mike generously gave away two of his reading devices as door prizes.
Charlene Childrey once again will be chairing our move-a-thon committee. This year will bring many new changes to the event with hope of reenergizing it! It is moving to Minneapolis and will take place around Lakes Calhoun and Harriet on September 6. The brochure is being written and, in addition, we will have cards to hand out to prospective donors telling them how they can donate through our website. Anyone who raises at least $25 will receive a T-shirt that says, "We are changing what it means to be blind in Minnesota." A grand prize goes to the person who turns in the most money on the day of the event.
"BLIND Incorporated Thrives in Its 20th Year" gave us a panel that NFB audiences look forward to at each convention. Shawn Mayo, executive director of BLIND, introduced us to two students who gave us their stories. Shawn introduced Reed Hoffman as having one of the biggest vocabularies she had ever heard. Reed said that he felt the need to be pithy in his remarks. He learned about BLIND from his older sister, Konnie, who spent a summer here several years ago working in the Buddy Program and taking classes. Before he decided to come here, he checked out a center in his own state. He asked about their computer training and they said that because he already knew how to use JAWS there was nothing for them to teach him. He learned that BLIND would offer him a comprehensive program that was more thorough than he expected. He worried that, as a musician, he might encounter danger in industrial arts class, but he still has all his appendages. He is learning more about using his cane and traveling independently around a big city. And in his careers class he learned about Michele Gittens who recently graduated from McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul to further her singing career. He was just accepted into the school's program to become a professional drummer.
Stacy Krahl, from the St. Cloud area, talked about being persistent in seeking enrollment at BLIND. She called Al Spooner every day to see if she could move into an apartment. She credits Zach Ellingson, her travel instructor, with giving her the motivation and pride to use her cane. She appreciates the independence that Becky Bergman gives her in home-management class and she finished learning contracted braille with the prodding of Melody Wartenbee.
The last speaker was Sidonia (Sid) Starnes, the new secretary for BLIND and the NFB of Minnesota. She came to Minneapolis to be with her husband David (a graduate of BLIND), and applied for the position. She was excited to begin this work and completed her training in adjustment to blindness a short time ago. Her favorite class was braille.
To celebrate BLIND Incorporated's 20th anniversary there will be a grand party on October 25. See article previously in this issue for more information.
Shawn announced the revival of our classes for seniors. A class will be taught here in Minneapolis and everyone looks forward to additional classes. A new program at BLIND will teach classes to blind students who are not only learning braille but also are studying English. Sharon Monthei has been instrumental in helping to develop the curriculum for this class.
Shawn closed by telling us that we can now donate to BLIND over the internet.
Al Spooner asked for pledges to the Jacobus tenBroek Fund that supports our National Center for the Blind. It was moved, seconded, and passed that our state treasury match all individuals' pledges paid by December 1, 2008, meaning Minnesota will contribute at least $2,500 to the building fund.
We were reminded to make plans for the national convention in Dallas. Many Minnesotans are planning to participate in the Federation's March for Independence.
Jeff Thompson talked about the NFB's teen night. Teens come once a month and are mentored by adult Federationists. They have engaged in activities ranging from a trip to the Mall of America to running science experiments. Saturday School for younger children is also active. One grandmother talked about how her grandson became confident in riding escalators.
Joyce talked about our upcoming Possibilities Fair for Seniors. Approximately 75 people have registered and there are several exhibitors. Barbara Pierce will be the featured speaker.
Jennifer began a report of a busy year in the legislature with the news that we have successfully worked to remove the sunset provision that would have ended the funding of NFB-NEWSLINE®. Acknowledging the leadership of Senator James Metzen and Representative Tom Rukavina, the vote in both houses of the legislature was unanimous.
The Federation began efforts for legislation to require publishers of college textbooks to provide electronic copies to producers of books for the blind or to the blind college student. The publishers felt so threatened by this legislation that they sent a representative from New York to St. Paul to present a letter of opposition to the committee hearing our bill. Our efforts will continue.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) has been one of the most empowering pieces of legislation to affect blind Americans. It enables us to have nonvisual access to the ballot when we cast our vote. However, there have been difficulties in how to provide this access when voting in townships in Minnesota for their special March elections. Steve Jacobson explained our efforts to work with the Secretary of State and the township officials to come to an agreeable solution. How can small townships be relieved of high expenses for only a few voters while protecting the rights of blind voters in larger townships? The current negotiated solution is that townships with less then 500 registered voters will be exempt from providing nonvisual access unless the cost of doing so is less than $150. This provision is in effect until 2016. Larger townships are required to provide access. The NFB is named in this legislation to be a part of a committee to review how access is provided.
Steve asked us to report any election in which we might participate that does not provide us access.
The convention’s attendees elected Jennifer Dunnam as delegate and Steve Jacobson as alternate delegate to our national convention.
Al Spooner brought reflections on becoming involved in the Federation. How do experienced members take in the ideas of new members? How do new members learn from the experience of "the oldies?” Wherever we are in learning our niche in the organized movement, we should know our history and respect new ideas.
Our chapter reports show that activities are exciting throughout the state. There are common themes, such as working on public transportation, fundraising, working with parents and children, and public relations.
The convention closed with miscellaneous announcements and with thanks from our president for all those who helped make this convention such a success!
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 is October 3-5, 2008 at the Kahler Grand Hotel in Rochester. Room rates are $69.00, plus tax. 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 in April or May 2009 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 is the first week of July 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. 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.
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 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace Church in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition.
Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.
Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up the website edition.
Emily Zitek runs the copies for the braille edition, deals with the printer for the print edition, and mails all editions.