Quarterly Publication of the
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Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 76, Number 3, Summer 2010
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
2010 Legislative Activities
By Jennifer Dunnam, President
The National Federation of the Blind succeeds at the goals it sets because we are persistent, and we know how to put our collective experience to use. That is what drove our efforts again this year in the legislature and permitted us to achieve a victory that has been a long time in the making. Our bill requiring a minimum of six weeks of sleepshade training for all new counselors hired at Minnesota State Services for the Blind passed both houses of the Legislature and was signed into law in mid April! Now, the staff training policy at SSB can certainly be expanded as needed, but by law, it cannot be eliminated as was done in the past. This is one more example of how our collective efforts can bring about needed improvement in opportunities for blind people.
We introduced the bill last year to strengthen the training requirements for those who work at State Services for the Blind as rehabilitation counselors. At the time, the training for staff at SSB went like this: all staff hired to work at SSB were required to undergo a couple days of “phase 1” blindness specific training—a basic orientation to blindness. Those staff working in a more direct role with blind customers were to continue with “phase 2” training—were sent first for two weeks at one adjustment to blindness facility, and then for two weeks at another. None of this training was required by law, and very little blindness-specific knowledge or experience was required in the hiring process, even for rehabilitation counselors. While this training plan was better than the lack of staff training in place before its implementation in 2004, the training fell far short of giving those working with blind people the foundation they needed, and in some cases may have even been counterproductive, creating more fear about blindness by not allowing staff sufficient time to see that a greater degree of comfort with blindness techniques was possible.
When our bill was first introduced, it included a number of provisions that raised some opposition. For example, we know that a number of states with successful rehabilitation programs require many months of intensive blindness training for their staff, and we wanted the new staff here in Minnesota to be at least as well prepared for their work. We are no strangers to controversy, of course, but given the nature of the opposition and our desire to get something done as soon as possible about the problem of inadequate training for staff, we decided that our best course of action was to have consideration of the bill deferred to this year, to see if we could work out some agreement among concerned parties that would result in real improvement rather than risk having to wait until the next legislative session and start all over. We knew that discussion had been occurring at SSB about a plan to improve the staff training, so the timing was right to get something in statute as soon as possible. During 2009, we worked to provide our input into the discussion about staff training, both through our own organizational efforts and through our representation on the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.
A new staff training policy was developed and implemented at the beginning of 2010. Now, the policy deals with the training of all new staff, not just counselors. It provides for the basic introduction to blindness training for every new staff member; for six weeks of sleepshades training for counselors, managers, and other direct service staff; and for continuing education.
We appreciated the improvements in the new policy. Still, we remembered what happened in the early part of the decade—the elimination of a policy when the leadership changed. Blind Minnesotans needed something more permanent than a policy, so we pursued passage of our training bill this year. Representative Tom Rukavina was our chief author on the House side; our author in the Senate was Senator David Thomassoni, and we had an excellent line-up of co-authors in both houses. At the start of the session, we worked to amend the bill so that it reflected the progress made in the new policy. The amended language received the support of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, and passage of the bill looked promising, although we know that in the Legislature nothing is done until it's done. It went through all the necessary Senate committees and ultimately passed the Senate with the exact language that we agreed to. It also went through a series of House committees and emerged at the House floor with identical language and looking as if it would also pass there. However, on the floor of the House, we got a little surprise. Representative Torrey Westrom offered an amendment on the floor. For those who do not know, he is a member of the House of Representatives who happens to be blind. He has historically not been particularly friendly to our efforts. His amendment was not related to rehabilitation counseling or SSB at all; it concerned accessibility of public records. Obviously, we, too, are concerned with accessibility of information, but when we pursue things like this, we try to be very careful to lay groundwork and ensure that there are no unintended consequences and that the effort will achieve what we intended. The House accepted Representative Westrom's amendment, and the bill passed. At first we were quite concerned that our language had been changed, but fortunately, the language regarding staff training remained intact. Of course, however, there remained the concern that now the language was different in the two houses, and that the differences could stall it completely. Luckily, the Senate did concur with the last-minute amendment, and the Governor signed the bill at the end of April.
We then learned that the Westrom amendment as passed could have had a negative effect on the technology accessibility legislation that we supported and helped to get passed last year. When this problem was pointed out, additional legislation was passed to prevent any interpretation negating the law from 2009.
This law does not contain every thing that we might have wanted, nor does it fix all of the problems, but it helps to set a foundation that will result in even more improvements in the future.
Other of our legislative efforts this year were also successful. We brought attention to a problem in a budget proposal that could have severely affected the budget at State Services for the Blind, resulting in deep cuts; the problem was fixed. We were also pleased to support language strengthening the penalties to those who willfully harm guide dogs and other service animals; this legislation also passed.
Thanks so much to all the many Federationists who helped with these efforts. This type of success does not happen because of only one or two people working on the issues. We in this organization discuss what is needed, we pass resolutions enunciating and clarifying our positions. We make sure that the legislature knows who we are on an annual basis through our day at the Capitol; this year we met personally with about 100 legislators—that's 100 who personally saw and met with blind people, heard our issues, and got a bit of positive blindness education as well. There is no substitute for that, but of course, every legislator received the written information that we prepared. We made calls to our legislators at critical points; we attended and testified at hearings. We are making sure they hear our thank-yous as well, because they need to know that their support was important and we appreciate the work they helped us to do.
We also thank our old friends and our newer friends in the legislature and other parts of the government, for recognizing the good sense in our efforts and for helping and/or not hindering us in getting things done.
By Pat Barrett
Boise, Idaho, 1973. It was my sophomore year of high school. I was walking to school the mile from my house as I did every day. At that time, though legally blind, I was not using a cane, and had not heard of the National Federation of the Blind.
My mother was not crazy about me walking to school. During junior high, I had been bused across town with kids of other disabilities. I could not participate in extracurricular activities, as I wanted. But my brother, Tony, urged me to go to our neighborhood school, Boise High, to do just that.
Tony and I are close. Since we were young, we would wrestle together, and watch the same TV shows like “Get Smart” and “The Naked City”. I had a big crush on Barbara Feldon who played Agent 99. And, we thought it would be fun to grow up and run away to the naked city, where we assumed no one there wore any clothes. Even though I was blind, Tony would include me in ski trips with his friends where I would snow tube in the bowl while they skied. We would go out for pizza. Our favorites were pepperoni with green peppers (or green moms, as we called them), and anchovy. I didn’t mind that the anchovies would get stuck in my braces.
On that cloudy and gray spring day, I went to cross the street. It was a four-way stop. I looked to the left, but did not look to the right. I was halfway across, when I could notice with my limited vision a blue shadow coming from the right.
Pow! I was on the ground. The car could not have been going more than ten miles an hour. The driver, whose name was Roberta, stopped her car, got out, and apologized several times for hitting me. I assured her I was OK, and continued on to school. She followed me in her car, and again stopped to ask me as I was going into school if I was sure I was all right. I said again that I was.
Nevertheless, she reported the accident to the office. They reported it to my mother. Three weeks later, Mom and I reported to traffic court.
This was the first time I had been to court. The judge looked to be twenty feet above me on his bench, appearing stern and serious.
“Mr. Barrett,” the judge asked in a deep, intimidating voice. “What kind of car were you driving?”
My mother cleared her throat nervously.
“Your Honor,” she explained. “Patrick doesn’t drive. He is legally blind.”
The judge was taken aback, and was silent for what seemed several minutes.
He then said, “Well, Mr. Barrett, you need to be using a white cane!”
That spring, the itinerant teacher with the Idaho State School for the Deaf and Blind began my cane travel training a couple of times a week for an hour after school. Though the cane was short and aluminum, and would sometimes fold up in the middle of the street, I found it gave me a new freedom and confidence. I did not have to look down at the ground all the time. That was bad for my posture. The cane could tell me if I was running into something like a table or even a cord on the floor.
Doing my paper route, (which my (brother had given me in ninth grade), walking to the store several blocks away to pick up the newest Carly Simon album, or still going out with my brother was easier. One time I remember cruising down Main Street in his blue VW bug, sun roof open, and us singing to “Jesus Christ: Superstar” on the 8-track tape player at the top of our lungs.
I took my white cane with me on choir trips to southeast Idaho and southwest Oregon. I wrestled my junior and senior year. I went out for track in my senior year.
At one out-of-town track meet, I still remember the cinder track feel under my feet, I laid my cane on the grass by where I started. I took the inner path, and started running the half-mile flat out. I knew others were passing me, but I was still determined to do my best in one of the last meets of the season. I finished in 2 minutes, 48 seconds — a record for me. My team and my coach were proud.
Before graduation, I earned a handsome college scholarship for my newspaper carrier service for The Idaho Statesman, holding a 3.6 grade average and my lettering in sports. That summer, I attended the Idaho Commission for the Blind, where I had the liberating opportunity to attend my first National Federation of the Blind convention in Chicago. Hundreds of people were going out to eat, getting to meetings, and talking about their jobs and raising families with confidence being blind—all with either a long, white cane or dog guide. Small kids were running about with white canes. I knew then that blindness did not need to be a wall I had to get around, but that it was simply a part of me, not a problem.
In 1988 and 1989, I had the opportunity to work in St. Louis and teach blind people how to use and travel independently with the long, white cane. I felt good about passing along what skills I had learned from the skills I had acquired over the years. In 1993, I attended a more comprehensive training program at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. There for nine months I learned to go across town and cross streets using the long, white cane, read braille, use the computer, and cook and barbecue.
Today, I go wherever I want with the cane. My adult daughter and I go on occasional daddy-daughter dates. I sometimes take my wife, who is also blind, out dancing. But if I were to meet that judge again, I would vigorously shake his hand, and buy him the most scrumptious steak dinner in town for giving me the sentence that freed me!
(Editor’s Note: We easily think that things have always been as they are now and that they will stay that way. The following article appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on May 21, 2010, and is about a blind man who had a much more limited time than most of us have today. Many of us grew up at the time he did and were able to choose a different path in life, but he wasn’t able to do that. We often looked down on what he did, but we also worked to make better opportunities for blind people. His ultimate goal was to be as independent as he could be in his circumstances, and we must respect him for that. However, we must also remember that blind people no longer have to do as he did, and we must respect ourselves for that.)
Gordon Emo, 76: A familiar face is no longer there in St. Paul skyways
Blind man saw security in picking humble job selling pencils
By Frederick Melo, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Gordon Emo never walked on the moon or threw a famous touchdown pass. He won't be remembered for feats of philanthropy or scientific achievement, and his name isn't inscribed on any memorials.
But to countless passersby on St. Paul streets and skyways, Emo was known as the blind man on the collapsible stool who sold pencils from a cigar box for 40 years. He died Monday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul after a long struggle with lung cancer. He was 76.
"I said I didn't want to do that kind of work — it's a disgrace to the blind," Emo told the Pioneer Press in 1990, recalling the day a friend suggested pencil sales to him. "But it's either doing this or sitting home alone. I won't say selling pencils is a good job, but it is secure for a blind person, and I'm free from counselors and other people who tell you a fairy tale, a bunch of dreams that never come true."
Often dressed in a snowmobile suit to get through the tough Minnesota winters, Emo began selling pencils outside the old Bailey's Bar and Grill on Wabasha Street in 1969. In the late 1980s, he moved his sales to the skyway, where he took up residence near the U.S. Bank building.
Emo kept a couple hundred pencils in an old Dutch Masters cigar box mended with tape, selling them for 10 cents apiece or three for a quarter. He never made much money, but his self-styled occupation introduced him to a wider world. He was also well known at Mickey's Diner, where he often ate breakfast.
He grew up on a farm near Jamestown, N.D., and graduated from the North Dakota School for the Blind, where he studied biology and Latin. As a youth, he could recite portions of the Iliad and Macbeth.
He never attended college but learned how to type at a Twin Cities workshop for the blind, where he also put together telephone parts and practiced using a Dictaphone. After two years, he dropped out to look for what he described as "a real job."
"I thought if I could get a job, my folks would be proud of me," he said. "I thought I had qualifications. I had my suit on."
Instead, he found a series of closed doors. He was engaged for a time until his fiancée died of an illness. His three brothers, sister and extended family became his close companions.
"He had a great sense of humor," said Emo's niece, Elizabeth Kommer, 43, of Maple Grove. "Even though his health was going down, he seemed to be always bubbly, happy. He would call me up and ask me to come over. His big treat was going to the Dairy Queen. It was a joy for me to take him."
Emo, who was born blind, grew up at a time when resources and legal protections for the blind were more limited, said Joyce Scanlan, a board member and past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.
As children, Scanlan was a few years ahead of Emo at the North Dakota School for the Blind, then located in Bathgate, N.D. She had him as a student in 1959 when she returned to the school to teach.
Some advocates for the blind saw Emo's pencil selling as an insult, a throwback to the days when the disabled had to beg on street corners. But Scanlan, who was born partially blind, doesn't agree.
"He was doomed from the start, almost, because he was totally blind," she said. "Times have changed, we hope ... but a totally blind person was at the bottom of the totem pole in a residential school. I think he really did have some intelligence, but the way he was treated and the way he was regarded in the student body and by the staff of the school, he didn't ever develop the drive or the skills to deal with the attitudes towards him."
"I was at the other end of that scale from Gordon, but I understand it better now," she continued. "I'm totally blind now."
Following his wishes, Emo will be buried Saturday next to his parents in a family plot at Calvary Cemetery in Jamestown, N.D., said his brother, Patrick Emo of Minneapolis. A visitation is scheduled today at the Lisko Funeral Chapel in Jamestown.
"He was my brother, and I took him around," said Patrick Emo, choking back tears during a telephone call from his Super 8 motel room in Jamestown. "He was a real good fellow. He was a real good talker — that's what I liked about Gordon."
(Editor’s Note: The following is reprinted from the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind Senior Division.)
1. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
2. A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.
3. He who laughs last thinks slowest.
4. A day without sunshine is like, well, night.
5. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
6. Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.
7. Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.
8. The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.
9. It is said that if you line up all the cars in the world end-to-end, someone would be stupid enough to try to pass them.
10. If the shoe fits, get another one just like it.
11. The things that come to those that wait may be the things left by those who got there first.
12. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat all day drinking beer.
13. Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries.
14. The shinbone is a device for finding furniture in the dark.
15. When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of 12 people, all of whom who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.
By Richard Strong, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB)
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the Semiannual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on May 8, 2010.)
Good morning Federationists!
Thank you for this opportunity to update you on developments at your state agency for the blind. Since your last convention in October, there have been a few changes at SSB.
Finally, after a long and thorough search I was honored in late December to be selected to serve as SSB’s Director. It is a position I do not take lightly. I realize better than many, the role SSB does and can play. It can be a positive force in changing what it means to be blind in Minnesota. And it can be a detriment to positive change. I will do my best to shape SSB as a positive force for all blind Minnesotans. And I need, I seek and I ask your help in doing so.
Enough about me. Let me tell you about happenings at SSB by touching on major activities in our various work units.
Workforce Development Unit
SSB is committed to improving outcomes for customers served by the program. We are taking specific action to do so:
· We are reviewing data from past years, looking for service patterns that might explain the low success rate — Cornell, Southern Illinois and Hunter College are involved. Hunter indicates it will be another four-six weeks before they complete their analysis.
· A State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind (SRC-B) Task force, with Jan Bailey as Chair along with members Judy Sanders, Tom Scanlan, and Steve Jacobson from the SRC-B as well as Shawn Mayo, Kathy Hagen and Sharon Monthei along with Pam Brown and I, will be reviewing the results from the universities and looking at additional elements to help answer the question: “Why so few persons leave SSB with an employment outcome?”
· Specific activities to improve outcomes are also underway inside the Workforce Development Unit itself including:
o Revision of philosophy and practice to recognize the need people have for time to adjust to their blindness and attend to other personal and medical issues;
o Many of us recall the story Jan told at her retirement thank-you event in this room about not giving up on people too soon. We have taken her concept to heart and are reinforcing the need to stay in touch — not be a pest but stay in touch — with persons who are not quite ready for ATB (Adjustment to Blindness) and not quite ready to move forward. We want to make certain they have the chance to stay with the SSB program and not be closed prematurely.
o Putting in place improved procedures for our upfront and initial contact with customers and a review of cases prior to closure to see if there is more we could have done/options overlooked.
o Improving services to youth of transition age.
§ SSB 101 was held last Saturday with about half a dozen young persons and their parents and siblings attending an Introduction to SSB and their future with the vocational rehabilitation program.
§ We are working to reach out to youth and ensure that during their school years they attain a firm foundation for the transition to the post-secondary world of higher education and employment.
§ Looking forward to working with the NFB this fall on a joint outreach and education event for youth of transition age.
Assistive and Adaptive Technology Unit:
Staffing is increasingly stable with Jesse Anderson, the unit’s newest member, now up to speed as a replacement for Carl Andor who retired last fall.
We have reviewed and, with some adjustments, are implementing recommendations and guidelines developed by the Technology Workgroup. Specifically, we are:
· Updating existing qualifying test instructors must pass in order to teach particular software applications.
· Continuing to develop new tests for A&AT so all trainers will be recertified in the coming months;
· Moving to provide students the access technology packages (hardware and software) needed by them during training. Along with these packages will be the expectation that, as part of training, students do homework as practice of skills taught is essential for learning to stick.
We will again be working with the Summer Transition Program; ensuring students have the required access technology in their dorm setting.
We continue work with other state agencies to establish accessibility standards consistent with national and statutory requirements for all new software the state develops or purchases. This includes the new state government wide financial system (SWIFT) now under development.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) software developers are getting basic training on JAWS. They will not be experts but will have a much firmer appreciation of the need to build access into any product they develop.
· We are looking seriously at producing text-to-speech materials. We want to see if we can bring them to market in a cost-effective way that meets the needs of our customers.
o We have looked at costs for two workstations and the volunteer and staff resources required.
o We’re nearly completed a market analysis of student/user needs and an assessment of the “competition” — whose producing what type of product in what format?
o Thus far, things look promising and we anticipate moving forward with this effort later this year.
· We are nearly done stabilizing the hardware and software systems in our media production efforts. We have recently upgraded our ten-year-old hardware that was well beyond its “end of life.”
Radio Talking Book (RTB):
· Working with the SRC-B’s Communication Center Committee to analyze results of an RTB customer satisfaction study to see how we can improve programming and other aspects of the RTB service.
· We are distributing the new radios in northwest Minnesota and working with Minnesota Public Radio to adjust hardware at transmission sites statewide to accommodate the new radios. We will continue with statewide distribution throughout the year.
The section is pretty close to having a full complement of permanent staff. In addition, we are looking to replace some of our outdated and almost antique braille production equipment.
Senior Services Unit (SSU)
· The number served by SSU continues to increase and we are currently well ahead of where we were at this time last year.
· We are in the final steps of a personnel classification review of some positions and will make any required adjustments that result from that review.
· We are equipping Greater Minnesota offices with computers with Zoomtext and ensuring staff can assist customers with screen enlargement products.
· We have produced and distributed statewide a DVD to help staff of assistive living sites work more effectively with blind residents.
Rehabilitation Services Administration Monitoring Review
The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) conducts a review once every three years of each state vocational rehabilitation program. RSA is reviewing SSB and the Minnesota general agency this year.
The review began back in October with an examination of reports, state plans, data and numerous documents on our programs and services. The entire review process cumulates with a final written report slated for late September.
RSA personnel were here in February and again last month looking at our programs. They met with DEED and SSB staff, consumer organizations, the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, and community rehabilitation programs. In exit interviews following their visits, they identified, on a preliminary basis, some areas of major concern.
One area was the allocation of costs in the Workforce Center system. There concern extends beyond just SSB to the general agency. We — SSB, the general agency and other partners in the Workforce Center system — are not waiting for a final report before acting on the concerns they identified. Rather we are already taking the steps needed to address those concerns and hope to have remedies in place by this July.
An additional major concern was SSB’s employment rate and the portion of persons leaving our vocational program without employment. As noted earlier, SSB has been very much aware of this problem, has enlisted assistance from a number of sources, and is working aggressively on this issue.
RSA voiced concern about the relationship between and decision-making authority of SSB, as the designated state unit, and the Department of Employment and Economic Development, as the designated state agency. This concern also exists with the relationship between the general agency and the department.
A final concern identified was lack of strategic planning and use of data in decision-making by SSB.
We await their draft report later this summer and will welcome their suggestions and support in improving our organization and complying with federal requirements.
There have been several events important to SSB at the Capitol so far this session.
As of this meeting, passed and signed into law was a House–proposed cut of $119,000 to SSB’s base budget (for just the second year of the biennium). While significant, it is much less than reductions offered by the Governor or the Senate. The House version prevailed in no small part because of persons in this room showing up at the legislature and voicing their opinions. Thank you very much for your active citizen participation in our democracy.
Last July the governor unalloted significant amounts including $178,000 from SSB’s budget. Earlier this week the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the unallotment actions “unlawful and void.”
We will see just how that ruling plays out. I would not be surprised if there are additional reductions in SSB’s budget.
On a more positive note, passed was a law requiring rehabilitation counselors employed by SSB after January 1, 2011 to complete successfully a minimum of six weeks of intensive training under sleepshades. This law codifies in statute the training policy recently developed and put in place at SSB.
In conclusion, while much is happening at SSB to improve products and services, we still have a long way to go. From a fiscal perspective, things are tough and will get tougher. Assuming no further major reductions, we can weather the current biennium. Of great concern is the next biennium, where a $5-7 billion shortfall looms.
SSB will be commencing a strategic planning effort next month. We will also be convening a Rulemaking Advisory Committee as we move to update our Administrative Rule.
We are embarking on these and other critical tasks to shape the future of SSB. They will have significant impact on the services you and other blind Minnesotans can expect from your agency.
I thank you for inviting me today. Again, I ask for your support, assistance and partnership in these important endeavors.
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
Our very own headquarters was the place! Saturday, May 8, was the day. Over 70 Federationists gathered for our one-day semiannual convention. A combination of tradition and innovation made for a full day of activities.
President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order with the announcement that we have a new sound system which, judging from the applause, was an improvement from the old one. The new Metro Chapter president, Sheila Koenig, gave welcoming remarks. She acknowledged the new people in the crowd.
Hearing about blind Federationists in new jobs is always a popular item on a convention agenda. Amanda Swanson, a recent college graduate and NFB scholarship recipient, has a temporary position with the Nature Conservancy as an operations assistant. This involves light reception duties and data entry work. She keeps her phone extension list in braille and her computer is equipped with JAWS. She is hopeful that this will evolve into a position with more tenure.
Jan Bailey recently retired from a career as a rehabilitation counselor with State Services for the Blind, and is starting her own business as J B Rehabilitation Enterprises. She will be teaching braille, white cane travel and will spearhead classes for senior citizens. She points out that there is a lot more to starting a new business than one might realize. From registering with the Secretary of State to buying insurance, there is much to consider and expenses involved.
Our treasurer, Tom Scanlan, reported that we had a loss of a little over $2,000 in this last fiscal year. Considering the state of the economy, it was felt this was not too dismal. The treasurer's report was unanimously approved. We also approved a budget of $52,800 for the coming year giving our board of directors the authority to make any necessary changes.
One item that is usually auctioned during our bake sale is a couple of hours on the back of Chuk Hamilton's Harley Davidson motorcycle. Since it did not happen in the fall, it was auctioned at this convention. Our auctioneer is new to Minnesota but not to the Federation—he is Ryan Strunk, the new communications instructor at Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated.
Learning about the latest in technology is becoming a most popular part of NFB conventions. We heard from Earl Harrison from Handy Tech North America, who began by donating a license for software to make a cell phone talk. The license was auctioned in lively bidding. Earl demonstrated the universal accessibility offered by Apple Macintosh. Instead of needing a screen reader made for blind users, the computer comes with VoiceOver capabilities that are usable by anyone and a braille display can be attached to this computer. Earl offers classes in how to use this product, called "The Mac Academy.”
This was another banner year for the NFB of Minnesota and blind people at the state legislature. Jennifer reported on our efforts to strengthen counselor certification qualifications for State Services for the Blind (SSB). In 2009, the NFB worked with Representative Tom Rukavina and Senator David Tomassoni to introduce a bill that required counselors hired at SSB to participate in adjustment to blindness training using sleepshades. This will mean that such training will not occur at the whim of any one director. Federationists spent 2009 building support for this legislation. We were ready in 2010 and, with the active support of many Federationists and now having the support of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), SSB's department; it appeared the bill would have clear sailing. It passed the Senate easily and we expected the same in the House. On the floor of the House, an amendment was offered by Representative Torrey Westrom to make all public state documents available with nonvisual access by 2013. While this may seem laudable (who doesn't want access) it was not germane to this bill and it was weaker than provisions that the Federation had already supported. The bill, with its amendment, passed; however, thanks to our authors it would appear that we would not lose the stronger access standards passed in 1998.
The NFB joined others in the blindness community to support harsher penalties for those who willfully harm dog guides or other service animals.
On the transportation/pedestrian front, the NFB worked with a coalition of groups supporting a concept that turned into legislation called "complete streets” that is criteria for communities that want a design to benefit pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. We testified at hearing to make sure that planners understand that special accommodations such as accessible pedestrian signals need not necessarily be a part of their plans.
An important part of any convention is an update from Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB). This was the first time for us to hear from Richard Strong as the permanent director of SSB. His full remarks appear earlier in this issue. Among other news, he told us that SSB is updating its administrative rule that governs its policies and will affect services to its customers. The NFB was instrumental in writing the original rule adopted in 1986; we will now be heavily involved in writing the amendments.
Jennifer Dunnam and Steve Jacobson were elected as delegate and alternate delegate respectively to the NFB convention in Dallas.
The Imagination Fund is our primary method of seeking outside contributions to support our national treasury and the Jernigan Institute. We heard via phone from Parnell Diggs, our national chair. Individuals can work in teams to raise money and we have established Team Minnesota to increase our efforts. This year the race is through our actions to raise money rather than a march as in past years. We can have fun, raise money and publicize our activities. A symbol of this activity is our development of a car that blind people can drive. It is never too late to be a part of this effort—for this year or any other year. We are each asked to raise a minimum of $250. A portion of the funds comes directly back to Minnesota.
Shawn Mayo, executive director of BLIND, Incorporated (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions), introduced us to several current students. First was Jennifer Heath from West Virginia who, when she arrived, knew only how to cook something from a box or spaghetti. She is now cooking meals for 40 from scratch. When she arrived, she did not know her cardinal directions, but now completed a two-mile walk on her own. She is learning many new things about computers and exploring possible careers. She is now comfortable using power tools and with all this is almost ready to move on in life.
Hannah Furney is a woman who knows what she wants. She learned about NFB training centers through a national seminar and knew that here was a program for her. Hannah is from Ohio where she attended a training center in Cleveland that emphasized her remaining vision. She believed that sleepshades training would be far more beneficial so she set her sites on coming to BLIND. The Ohio agency for the blind would not send her here so she moved to Minnesota. She is postponing her college education while she learns her skills.
Michelle Corso is the current student body president at BLIND. Michelle has been blind for about a year. Her reaction to this caused mental and physical problems but her rehabilitation counselor, Jan Bailey, knew that adjustment to blindness training was imperative. Michelle said that Al Spooner answered all her questions and, although she thinks she has a long way to go, things are much more positive.
Shawn also introduced two new instructors:
· Ryan Strunk is a former national student division president and has now moved to Minnesota to teach communication skills such as computers and braille. His teaching experience came from the Nebraska and Hawaii agencies and he is greatly impressed with the people here.
· George Wurtzel migrated here from Michigan to be our industrial arts instructor. George has spent 30 years as a blind carpenter. He wants his students to know that they can buy furniture, bring it home and put it together; they can do home repairs and they can undertake many other challenges.
The Jacobus tenBroek Fund supports our national center for the blind in Baltimore. Every year Federationists from Minnesota make pledges to the fund and we match those contributions from our treasury. This pledge amount is announced at the national convention. Al Spooner shepherded us through making our individual pledges with a total individual and match of $2,360.
Jennifer announced several items for the national convention.
· We will be staffing an exhibit table that will have Minnesota food products for sale and information about BLIND; we will sell the Minnesota Word Scramble from the Metro chapter.
· Once again, BLIND will sponsor karaoke night.
· People can enter a raffle to win an all-expense paid trip to next year's national convention in Orlando, Florida. This raffle benefits the Jernigan Fund that helps bring first-time convention attendees.
Through an Imagination Fund grant, we will be sponsoring a transition fair for high school students.
We are holding conference calls for at-large members in the state so they can be more in touch with our activities.
Our next annual convention will be in St. Cloud. The likely dates are November 5-7, 2010.
Charlene Guggisberg announced that our next move-a-thon will be on September 25 and a picnic will follow courtesy of the Metro Chapter. Get ready to bring in pledges, move and eat!
Mike Sahyun introduced us to a piece of technology that has built-in accessibility from the manufacturer. He was available for a hands-on experience with it.
The session closed with the awarding of a $50 door prize donated by our Metro Chapter won by Jennifer Heath.
After our morning session, we were treated to an academic lunch provided and sold by our Minnesota Association of Blind Students.
For our afternoon session, we broke up into small workshops that were informative and fun. The following reports are from each session as told by their facilitators.
NFB 101: A Look at the Basics and Why They Matter
By Sheila Koenig
Coordinated with Jennifer Dunnam
In lives that are swirling with activity, we Federationists do not often look back to who or what brought us to the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation has become so much a part of who we are that we forget what our first steps in the Federation were like. We may have struggled with philosophy, misunderstood the structure, or questioned how the NFB works. Likely, too, is that we sought to connect with other blind people and wonder at the possibilities of our lives. A small group of us gathered to teach and learn about some NFB basics as well as get to know new members.
The fundamental goal of the National Federation of the Blind is to integrate blind people into society. With 50,000 members nationwide, we are the largest organization of blind people, and we work to improve the lives of blind people through advocacy, education, technology, and research. We believe that blindness is only a characteristic and that with proper training blind people can compete with sighted peers on equal footing. So it is not blindness itself which handicaps people, it is the attitudes we encounter that hinder or confine us.
Our organization operates in three branches: locally, statewide, and nationally. We establish our policies through adopting resolutions. During our National Convention each summer, members submit resolutions to a committee that discusses, revises, and votes upon them. When a resolution is voted affirmatively, it is read on the floor of the convention, engaging the entire membership into discussion and deliberation. Adopted resolutions then become our policy. State conventions follow the same procedure.
But when does this organizational philosophy and structure become meaningful to the individual, particularly new members who have just met us?
In our group, it became meaningful when one person asked why the braille literacy rate is so low, and others share their stories of being denied braille as children and students. It became meaningful when one member mentioned concerns about quiet cars, and we discussed how this issue became a national focus after originating in local chapters. As more and more of us experienced the danger these cars posed to our safety, the need for action became more urgent. We discussed how a separate state agency for the blind would give us the governance over our own programs, and someone asked how we could make that happen.
For all of us, this becomes meaningful when we are inspired to act, to work, to lead, and to grow. There are so many jobs in our organization: in fact, there are over a hundred. We need people to greet new members, stuff envelopes for mailings, write letters to legislators, prepare and organize food for celebrations, and fundraise, just to name a few. Every person is important, as they are in a family, and together we work to better the lives of blind people.
The Voice of Experience from the Seniors
By Joyce Scanlan
It was a lively group of 12 seniors who assembled for our very first face-to-face meeting in the communications classroom of our Federation building. As seniors, we were not at all concerned that our meeting began slightly later than previously announced, because experience has taught us that priorities are established and meetings will always take the time required to accomplish all essential tasks.
Although we had held two previous meetings to organize ourselves—one at the annual convention last October to adopt a constitution and another on December 10 to elect officers and participate in the Metro Chapter Christmas party—we felt it would be helpful to do introductions by sharing a recent adventure/activity/event in our lives from which we had gained pleasure, knowledge, information, a helpful skill, or something particularly meaningful, in addition to identifying ourselves by name. We found that our group of members makes up a vibrant, diverse, very energetic segment of the state’s population of blind individuals. We had in our midst a vendor, a clergyman, an attorney, a teacher, a Wal-Mart employee, a masseur, a program director, three domestic scientists—all of whom are now retired, and a state employee who is still on the job.
Our next assignment was to consider proposals for worthy projects/activities/relevant issues we might address to make good use of our individual and collective talents. We presented many suggestions, discussed them thoroughly, and placed them on a list for further consideration and ultimate decision-making. Health insurance and the relevant new laws, HIPPA, supporting our members through various steps of the grieving process, social deprivation, the importance of remaining active and involved, dealing with light rail platform borders, reviewing books, socializing by going out to dinner together, cooking together, learning new skills to deal with blindness were all offered and considered as valid possibilities.
By the time we were ready to make decisions, our time was up. We delegated the task of selecting our initial project(s) to a subcommittee consisting of Harry Krueger, Andy Virden, Craig Anderson, and Joyce Scanlan, who will be ready to make a report within the next month.
The Senior Division of the NFB of Minnesota has a vibrant, enthusiastic, creative, and goal-oriented membership and is ready to move forward with full steam to promote the goals of the National Federation of the Blind; we’re excited to be involved and look forward to building a strong and determined bunch of folks. And while we’re doing that, we plan to have lots of fun.
By Steve Jacobson
Coordinated with Mike Sahyun
Our Technology breakout session proved to be a shining example of the many resources that we have within our own membership. The session began with a short presentation by each person who was demonstrating a particular piece of technology followed by questions and answers. During the second half, those attending were able to move from table to table for hands-on experience. Some of the devices shown included an Apple iPad, an iPhone, the VoiceSense, a BrailleSync display, the BookSense, the Victor Reader Stream, a BrailleNote, and the new Digital Talking Book Player being distributed by the National Library Service. In a particularly heart-warming twist of fate, Tom teBockhorst demonstrated the VR Stream that he won in a drawing at our annual convention last fall.
Knowing that technology is ever changing, this was a session that we may well wish to try again in the future.
Calling All Members
By Jan Bailey
Coordinated with Judy Sanders
After introducing ourselves, we first brainstormed about where to find blind people to recruit. We made the following suggestions: get the names of blind people receiving the homestead tax exemption for the blind from the county assessor’s office, ask friends and relatives, and ask taxi drivers, when you call someone ask them if they know other blind people. We then discussed some things to remember when talking with someone on the phone such as: offer them some kind of literature and find out what format they would like the literature in, ask open-ended questions so they’ll give more information, invite them to a chapter meeting even if we have to go and bring them to the meeting, promise them that if they give us another name we won’t reveal the source, and there were many other suggestions. We then did some role playing, and critiqued each other. Have you ever encountered the "I am not a joiner" person? How about the person who made it on his/her own? Or "I am not really blind.” Everyone left the seminar with goals of how many people he or she wants to try to recruit in the next few months. Remembering what brought each of us to the Federation is a good place to start developing your recruitment technique.
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 November 5-7, 2010 at the Kelly Inn in St. Cloud. 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 2011 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be the first week of July 2011 in Orlando, Florida. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin 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 Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, Brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the compact disc edition.
Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.
Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print
and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition and other tasks as needed.
Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails all editions.