Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 82, Number 3, Summer 2015
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Jennifer Dunnam
We have completed a momentous occasion in the National Federation of the Blind. More than 100 Minnesotans went to Orlando for our national convention, joining nearly 3,000 of our colleagues to celebrate 75 years of our national movement. This organization has effected tremendous accomplishments throughout its history, and it remains eminently strong and ready to take on the monumental work that still lies ahead to keep low expectations from coming between blind people and our dreams. Minnesota is one of the seven states that united in 1940 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to begin our national organization. This year, members from all of our chapters in Minnesota attended the convention, including the two chapters that newly organized or revitalized during our recent "75 days of action" — the At-large chapter and the Riverbend chapter.
On May 18, we held our NFB of Minnesota 2015 semiannual convention. The attendance at this semiannual was the largest I can remember, and our members and friends gave excellent and interesting presentations. For the first time this year, we streamed the semiannual convention morning session over the Internet for anyone to hear. One member reported that she started listening at home but was soon inspired to come join us in person. The concurrent afternoon meetings for students, seniors, job seekers, and braille enthusiasts were all well attended with solid, interactive, and informative agendas. Thanks to the students for feeding us lunch, and to the seniors division for the doughnuts in the morning, which I must say were of particularly amazing quality this year — sorry that we were not able to put those on the stream! Everyone's participation made it a very good day, and accomplished good work — some of it of the kind that doesn't feel much like work at all but accomplishes a great deal all the same.
Over the past few months we have spent time working with the legislature to inform them about the need for more resources to ensure that seniors who are becoming blind can learn what they need to live independently. Although there was no increase this year to the appropriation to State Services for the Blind for services to seniors as we advocated, many legislators have a better understanding of this issue because of the presence we maintained, and even more so of the fact that we will not be going away. Rarely have we won any of our victories on the first round — we win because we keep at it. Another reason I am glad to be part of NFB is that we know how to bring our collective knowledge and experience to a tightly focused plan. We are very clear, for example, that it would not be in the best interest of blind people to fragment our services across multiple government agencies. We also know that it makes no sense to obtain funding for something needed by taking away funds from something else that is also very much needed. Because of the time and effort spent at the legislature by a number of Federationists during this session, and the many e-mails and phone calls sent by our members, we have pledges to work with us to try to help move something forward next session.
In other news, finally, after discussing the need to do so for some time, we have embarked on a project to digitize the extensive document archives of our state organization that have been lovingly preserved for almost a hundred years. The purpose is both to preserve the material and to make it more accessible to us. We have found an individual with a deep appreciation of historical documents and knowledge of how to preserve them. He has begun with the records of incorporation as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind on May 27, 1920, through convention proceedings, meeting minutes, and letters. Much of the early work was hand written. Even the typewritten material has handwritten corrections on it. Apparently, in the early days, some of the material was kept in a small notebook. Sometime later, the notebook pages were affixed to larger pages and bound in a book. Some of the pages were attached in such a way that that they overlap, causing several lines on each page to be hidden. The person we have working on the digitization, in consultation with archivists and the Minnesota Historical Society, was able to use a bone letter opener that he happened to have handy (doesn't everyone have one of those), to lift carefully enough of the pages to expose the rest of the writing so that it can be added into the digital images. The story of our organization starts with people's desperate wish to find a way to live on their own, independently. The solutions devised by the people nearly 100 years ago are not like the solutions we would seek today, because the context was very different as were the resources at hand. However, the strong belief that we who are blind are the best ones to determine our destiny is very much the same. The story has been told in these pages in the past and will no doubt be examined here again as we approach the centennial of our state organization.
Remember that membership in the NFB of Minnesota is on an annual basis, beginning June 1. If you have not had a chance to renew your membership, you are welcome to send in your $5 dues along with your current contact information to our address on the cover of this Bulletin.
We remain active in the effort to ensure that blind people, like everyone else, have the opportunity to cast our ballots independently and privately. The details of current developments are discussed in this issue of the Bulletin.
Regulations were recently proposed for implementation of the newly enacted Workforce Investment Opportunity Act, a reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act that governs rehabilitation programs for blind people, among other things. The public comment period ran from April to mid June, and we were active in helping to formulate comments to improve the regulations. While in general the regulations reflected a much more positive view of the capacity of blind people than some previous regulations and a clearer view of how rehabilitation programs should work for best effect, there are some provisions of concern in the proposed regulations. For example, some changes would make it more difficult for a newly blinded person, who often has no idea of his or her potential to work at a wide variety of jobs as a blind person, to get started with rehabilitation to gain the needed skills and understandings. On the positive side, the requirements for people in the rehab process to be informed about advocacy organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind are strengthened. Also, the regulations would prohibit schools from contracting with agencies holding wage exemption certificates (i.e., employers that pay subminimum wages to their workers with disabilities), to reduce students' exposure to those kinds of jobs. The proposed regulations are lengthy and address numerous issues. I expect our comments will bring about improvements.
We will hold the NFB of Minnesota's 34th annual Walk for Opportunity on September 12 this year in Rochester. The day is a lot of fun, and it helps us to be able to do what we need to do by bringing in funds to this organization. We hope each of you will come join us on September 12 and encourage your friends and colleagues to contribute. If you cannot be with us, you can certainly still contribute and/or encourage your family and friends to do the same.
The annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota will take place October 9-11 in Bloomington. Visit www.nfbmn.org for information on how to make hotel reservations by September 11. Pre-registration and other details will be available shortly.
We just finished our very first NFB BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) program! The purpose of the program is to provide intensive instruction for children who need more instruction in braille than they are able to get during the school year. The curriculum for this two-week program was very solid, and the team of enthusiastic and hard-working adults brought it to life to make an unforgettable and helpful experience for the children involved. A special thanks to Carlton and Anna Walker from Pennsylvania who took two weeks out of their lives to come and work in the program. Here is a braille note from one of the participants, who lives in Northern Minnesota:
“Dear NFB of Minnesota,
Thank you for sponsoring our NFB BELL program. I learned new braille, and I liked that people read us stories. I also like using my new cane!
Thank you again,
Riley is six years old. He is bright, curious, happy, confident, and is learning to read in braille. We must do all that we can to make sure that he is able to grow up in a world that lets him stay that way. He may encounter low expectations from some as he goes along his path, but we will be there to counter them so that our society will benefit from the wonderful, contributing person that he will be.
It can take a long time to change the things that need changing, but they do change when people persist. This organization will keep on persisting.
By Lori Peglow
CMC-NFB President’s Message
The other day, a friend of mine was talking to a mutual friend of ours, and in the course of the conversation, this mutual friend referred to herself as a “nothing.” Both my friend and I were deeply moved and saddened by the words “I’m a nothing.”
Sometimes, you and I can be caught in that scenario too. Life doesn’t seem fair — especially when we have to deal with our visual impairment. We would like to do some things we feel incapable of doing. Under our breath, we say, “I’m just not like somebody else. I’m a nobody/nothing.” When we feel limited as a person, it is so easy for those negative feelings to come forth into negative thoughts about ourselves. These negative thoughts, we begin to wear consciously and unconsciously inside and outside of ourselves as “labels” as to who we are and what we are about. These negative thoughts are not true, but we can act them as if they were real. When this happens, we do not pursue our rights or help establish the rights of others. Only knowing the truth and implementing the truth will bring about corrective and constructive change.
So what is the truth? The pilgrims and the puritans came to this country to build a foundation of truth for every one of us. Remember the words that the founders of this country framed when they said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator, with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Since its inception, some 75+ years ago, the National Federation of the Blind has fought for our rights, and engaged the governmental power for our equality and that our life might have meaning and purpose.
The question posed is, where does this motivational power come from? To see ourselves as a somebody, to act on our own behalf and on the behalf of others, comes to us from the word of God. It is here that we learn that we were created by God in His image, and especially designed by Him as individuals. Secondly, we learn from God’s love, God’s love for us and all of mankind. We hear in John 3:16, “For God so loved that world, that he gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him, may not perish but have everlasting life.” Thirdly, we see God presenting us the truth when we look at the cross. It was on the cross that God totally demonstrated His love for you and for me, each one of us is a somebody. We now have a mission to speak and to live out that truth here on this earth, and to witness to it in all that we do and say as to how we think about ourselves, how we get involved in governmental affairs, how we treat and communicate God’s love.
God’s blessings to all of you!
CMC-NFB President Reverend Ronald Mahnke
Meet the Members
Gwynith Copner is one of the newer members of the CMCNFB. She joined about six months ago. An acquaintance at church knew Ron Mahnke, President of the CMCNFB and helped put Gwynith in touch with him. Gwynith was originally diagnosed ten years ago with dry macular degeneration. Her condition was stable until about three years ago.
Gwynith has two daughters who each have two children. She also has six great grandchildren. She raised one of her granddaughters. Her mom and stepfather raised her. Her stepfather is now 96 years old and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Gwynith’s father retired as a major in the Air Force. He has remarried and raised two stepchildren. Because of his career in the Air Force, their family moved around a lot. Gwynith went to six high schools in six different states in four years. At the time, she didn’t appreciate moving around. But now when she looks back, she values the cultures she was exposed to and she also learned to enjoy traveling. She eventually went to school to become a travel agent, but is not pursuing that career anymore. Gwynith also went to college and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business.
For the past five years, Gwynith has lived in St. Joseph Minnesota. One granddaughter and great-granddaughter and another member of the CMCNFB, LisaMarie Thomas, all live upstairs above Gwynith.
Crafts are one of Gwynith’s hobbies. She used to take goose eggs and at one time, a couple of ostrich eggs, cut them open and decorate them. Those eggs are now protected so she uses plastic eggs in her craft. Gwynith also works with porcelain and plaster of Paris. She once made an 18-piece nativity set. She also enjoys working on crafts for children, such as Easter eggs and bunnies.
Gwynith belongs to the Love of Christ Lutheran Church in St. Cloud where she is very active. For six years, she was part of the Altar Guild, helping set up communion. Because her eyesight is deteriorating, she no longer does that. But she volunteers in the church office and is a greeter and usher. Gwynith also enjoys being part of the Bible studies at church. Currently she attends the JOY program (Just Over Youth) which consists of mainly retired people. They meet to have Bible studies, socialize and have attended some mission trips to Devils Lake, North Dakota where they assisted with the Daily Vacation Bible Schools.
As far as technology, Gwynith just got her first white cane. She needs training on how to use it. She is hoping to learn about what other technology is available when she attends the National Convention in Florida this summer.
Her advice to others is that when you are first diagnosed with a visual impairment or condition, learn all you can. Don’t wait until your vision is gone or it will be twice as hard to get information and help. Also, she says it’s important to keep active. Don’t hole yourself up in your house and not go out and participate in life.
Annual Events in the Area
This summer the CMCNFB held their annual brat sale. The sale was held on July 3 at the Cashwise West in Waite Park starting at 11 a.m.
Our chapter summer picnic will be held on August 8 this year. Members from the Metro chapter also join us at the picnic. Members from the Twin Cities who plan to attend need to let Jennifer Dunnam know as soon as possible.
We will be holding our annual elections in September this year. Members of the CMCNFB are asked to keep that in mind and be thinking about what office you want to run for or who you want to nominate. On a side note and for fun, don’t be absent from that meeting or you might find yourself elected to an office (just kidding).
By Steve Jacobson
It seems only yesterday when many of us cast a completely private vote for the first time, but the AutoMARK voting machines we have come to know are getting old and no longer manufactured. Therefore, Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon, has begun looking into the future to figure out which machines to use in Minnesota. As part of that process, Judy Sanders and I attended a meeting on June 25 to hear him outline some of the current thinking and request our input. Knowing this meeting was going to occur, we brought the information released to us in advance to our state board meeting in Rochester earlier in June, and that discussion helped us define some concerns.
We learned that, while the AutoMARK has served us well, it has been quite a challenge to use and maintain. Besides general programming for each ballot, the ink supply must be checked and there is some cleaning that must occur to insure clear printing. In addition, the printer must be calibrated to make certain that the ballot is marked accurately. This needs to be done for each voting machine before every primary and general election, and local elections. The machines are also very large and heavy, over 50 pounds, usually requiring two people to move one. If the machine is jarred when it is moved from its final testing location to the polling place, it can lose its calibration, resulting in a service call on Election Day. Therefore, the office of the Secretary of State is trying to look for better solutions as well as a way forward.
One of the machines that has come to their attention is made by Election Systems and Software, (ES&S, the same company that made the AutoMARK), and is called the ExpressVote. This machine is an example of a technology that might be far easier to maintain. It weighs less than 20 pounds, prints with a thermoprinter that uses special paper, requires no ink, and does not require the same calibration as does the AutoMARK. Its user interface is very much the same as the AutoMARK and it produces a paper ballot that is scanned and counted along with all other ballots. This ballot can be retained and counted in the event of a recount, and in that respect, complies with Minnesota law. One of our concerns was that the same vote tabulators count our ballots, so this was welcome news.
Of course, nothing is ever quite so simple. Here is why moving to this new machine requires some thought on our part. While it does produce a paper ballot, it does not simply mark the regular ballot, as the AutoMARK does. Rather, it prints out the choices made and prints a bar code that the vote tabulator reads. By doing this, the printer does not require careful calibration because it does not place marks inside small boxes or ovals on the regular ballot. Having a printer that is less mechanical allows the printer to be smaller and lighter, and there is no need to check the ink supply. However, the ballot is smaller than the regular ballot, and is therefore physically identifiable and less private. Because of the different nature of the ballot, it does not comply with current state law that specifies everyone must use the same ballot.
Therefore, the Secretary of State is considering sponsoring legislation that would allow machines such as the ExpressVote to be certified for use in Minnesota. Such legislation would not prevent the AutoMARKs from continuing as long as they work, but it would open up more options for replacements. He is seeking input from disability groups before proceeding with legislation to see what would need to be included to address concerns and gain support.
The privacy of these ballots is our primary remaining concern. Some will quickly tell us that the AutoMARK is not perfect in guarding privacy. Even though the ballots are the same as every other ballot, the marks placed on the ballot are easy to identify because they are just too perfect to have been marked by hand. Still, a ballot with a different look and shape such as those produced by the ExpressVote, would be more easily identified. One solution that would provide some protection would be to require that a minimum number of votes be cast on these smaller ballots. If only one or two ballots were cast using the ExpressVote, it would mean that during a recount, it could be obvious who cast those ballots. On the other hand, perhaps all poll workers could be required to use the alternative machines. If there are more than one or two ballots cast using the ExpressVote or similar machine, the identity of the voter could not be connected with a specific ballot. There are other possible approaches to the privacy issue as well. Of course, there is nothing to prevent anyone from using these machines, but it is felt that leaving the number of identifiable ballots to random chance is not a sufficient guarantee of privacy.
Judy and I tried the ExpressVote at the June 25 meeting. For all practical purposes, it works just like the AutoMARK in terms of voting. The keypad is different in that it is on the end of a cord so it can be moved around, which makes it more convenient for some voters. Like the AutoMARK, though, the keys are brailled and have differing shapes making them very identifiable.
The only real issue that we can see is protecting ballot privacy. We concluded that if there is some guarantee our ballots are not the only ones cast using that machine, then the improvements outweigh the drawbacks. It seems as though there is serious interest in instituting privacy safeguards, but we will continue monitoring and influencing this process with your help.
There will be future meetings to discuss remaining concerns through specific legislation. If you have questions or comments, please contact Jennifer Dunnam (612-203-2738, firstname.lastname@example.org), Judy Sanders (612-375-1625, email@example.com) or me (952-927-7694, firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Patrick A. Barrett
Fresh tomatoes and cucumbers in a green salad. Mouthwatering aroma wafting from warm zucchini bread. These are some of the fruits (and veggies) of our labors from the Windom Community Garden this year. This is our fourth year gardening our own little plot. Thirty gardeners now tend these half or full raised beds. We have cultivated new friendships and our neighbors’ understanding about what blind growers can do.
Trudy has always had a green thumb. She has nurtured marigolds, poinsettias, geraniums, and philodendrons for years. I have never overheard her talking to them, but I believe they share her love of classic country and Beatles music. Since a car struck her as a pedestrian nine years ago, she cannot care for the flowers as much as she would like. Sometimes, she overdoes it and sits down in our easy chair; heat and vibration buttons activated, and takes some extra-strength Tylenol®.
I’m the only person I know who can kill plants with Miracle Gro®. It does help if you use the right measurement with the correct scoop. I think I’ll stick to frying bacon rather than African violets. That’s why Trudy is the brains, and I bring the brawn to our garden upkeep.
The Windom Community Garden Project started in 2011 with Windom Community Council Board Member Brian O’Shea. The Windom Neighborhood is located in South Minneapolis. Brian’s wife, Jackie, had given him the idea one day to take the barren area just west of the northwest corner of 62nd Street West and Nicollet Avenue South and create a garden spot. The large Crosstown Highway Project had bought up an apartment house, which left this lot vacant. They say that behind every male leader there can be a woman with a great idea.
Trudy and I volunteered to be on the planning committee. We wanted to grow more food, and liked the idea of doing it with a bigger group. This year, 11 new beds were built. This expansion meant putting down more wood chips and sod around the raised wooden beds, digging trenches to channel excess rainfall, and putting in more posts and fence wire.
The first weekend in May, when the snow had gone away, we got a good crew going. I met new neighbors as I steadied the posts while someone else drove it in. It looked pretty basic, so I thought I would spell someone for a while and try it. As a student at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. in 1994, I learned it was healthy to take some reasonable risks in life and try something new.
The post pounder was a red, hollow metal cylinder with a handle on each side and a strong screen in the middle. While someone steadied the post, I would throw myself into a powerful thrust to bring the pole farther into the ground. Before I started the pole pounder down, I always made sure I knew where the holder’s hands were placed to avoid injuring them. After several poundings, I would ask the holder if I had pushed the pole down far enough. He or she would say, “Just a few more.” Or “That’s good enough.”
It usually took a dozen or so hits to bring the post down to the desired depth. Sometimes, I would run into rock, and so we would need to move the post slightly to a softer spot. A previous post pounder advised that I should wear some ear protectors due to the loud clanging from the hits. I should have listened to him, because my ears were starting to notice it after the first half dozen posts. I did several more, and then switched off with another post-al (pun intended) worker.
Last year, we planted peppers, butternut squash, basil, and sweet 100 tomatoes. All did well, but the “sweets” though prolific were a lot of work. We would get about 100 tomatoes for each harvest (checking them every day for which were ready). However, it was a lot of work when I bent down to get the riper ones under the ones on top that were still green. My sense of touch got better to judge the tomatoes' ripeness (firm or soft) through a lot of experience. This year, we went with the larger beefsteak and Roma varieties, easier on the back.
Back in 2013, we planted strawberries. Brian O’Shea told us at the end of the season to cover them with mulch to protect them during our harsh winters. They survived the brutal first few months of 2014. We had a mild winter for 2015. With the summer, we have reaped the rewards of our care and patience with seven dozen sumptuous fresh strawberries! So far.
Watering requires walking about a block to hook the long hose to the fire hydrant, unlocking the padlock, and starting the water. Brian arranged for permission with the city to do this if we kept the hydrant lever shut off and locked when not in use. Sometimes, our neighbors would be there and already have the water turned on. We would water after they did. We would chat about how each other’s plots were producing and other things, too. One neighbor gave us some extra green bean seeds she did not need. We have shared tomatoes and squash with other neighbors and friends.
Many times, we have gone to the garden together. I have reached down to pull any weeds from around our raised bed to keep the aisle clear for walking and looking nice. Trudy has usually watered, and sometimes picked vegetables (though tomatoes are technically fruit).
There have been occasions where other gardeners have been watering, and offered to either turn the water off at the hydrant or lock the gate. We have accepted their help. Other times, we have assured them we would do these tasks. One night, a neighbor that we have seen a lot at the garden offered to come back and lock up the hydrant and gate. We finished our watering and waited about 20 minutes. I told Trudy I might as well take care of the water supply. That being done, we were trying to lock the gate. The lock is on the inside of the gate, and so can be awkward for anyone to secure.
Our neighbor’s mom came back, we introduced ourselves, and she asked if she could help. We told her that the water was off, and we worked with the gate a little longer. We finally were stymied enough to let her try. We visited with her as she was working with it. However, Minnesota’s unofficial state bird, the mosquito, started feeding on us with ravenous appetites, so we went in.
I have learned a lot from Trudy and others about gardening over the last couple of years. Though we try to get out in the cool of the day, there were a couple of occasions where it was hot and steamy this summer: we felt like the plants in the hothouse!
Growing fruits and veggies organically, and increasing people’s understanding about blindness, has been rewarding. We are optimistic about next year’s yields.
By Carol Pankow, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind
How time flies – a year ago, when I addressed your spring convention, I had only been serving as SSB’s new Director for a few months. Back then, I laid out for you some of the plans I had for building a better SSB. Today I can tell you about the progress we’ve made toward meeting those goals. I also want to give you an update on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA, which, as many of you know, is a major piece of federal legislation just being rolled out. I will also leave plenty of time for your questions so that I can speak more directly to what’s important to you.
First, just to provide a snapshot of how we’re doing, here’s an overview in numbers from across SSB.
· Senior Services has served 2,901 seniors across the state. I’ll be talking a little bit later about a new pilot project to reach more seniors. I also want to mention that there’s been an uptick in the number of consumers with senior services who are interested in adjustment to blindness classes. Ed Lecher says that there are four terrific, energized ladies here at BLIND, Inc. right now. They’re doing things they wouldn’t have thought possible just a few weeks ago, like taking the bus on their own to BLIND, Inc. for class.
Our Communication Center is as busy as ever.
· We’ve turned out 60,000 pages of braille, and transcribed nearly that many print pages in to audio. Altogether, audio services has provided 122,000 print pages in alternate formats to consumers, about 10,000 of these as scanned e-texts.
· The Radio Talking Book has put up about 30 podcasts focusing on job and career planning and topics of interest to young adults. In selecting material for some of those teen podcasts, Stuart Holland has drawn from NFB publications, especially some of the personal testimonies of young adults who have found their independence and personal empowerment.
· We now have 23 titles produced at the Communication Center available as a download on BARD, and that number keeps growing.
· Dial-In News has added two new publications: the Brainerd Dispatch and City Pages.
· Finally, at last count there were 216,125 log-ins to the NFB-NEWSLINE®, which we jointly administer with the NFB.
On the Workforce side, here are the numbers as of last Monday:
· 54 successful closures, with a successful closure being a customer who has found work and remained in that job for three months;
· 39 employed over 90 days and expected to close this year
· Another 45 people counting down their 90 days
· And 83 people ready for employment.
So, that’s where we are. Here’s what we’ve been doing to improve our effectiveness for our customers.
When I addressed this gathering in the fall, Brianna Holeman had just come on as Deputy Director for operations and the communication center. With a strong background in finance and management, Bri has already helped us streamline our work; eliminating duplications of effort, cutting the fat, and helping us focus on directing our time and energy more completely on serving our customers.
Likewise, Jon Benson has been on board as Deputy Director for Programs for about ten months. He oversees our workforce team and Senior Services. As will be clear, we’re making a lot of changes in both of these units, and Jon has his hands full.
Also, when I addressed the Minnesota chapter of the NFB in the fall, I told you about the six cross-agency working groups that were launched about a year ago. At our all-staff meeting this Wednesday, the work group leads will be providing the whole staff with progress reports on their work.
Each of these work groups is focused on some aspect of the customer experience. These work groups include:
· Assistive Tech – developing a strategy to connect customers with the right technology;
· Data – reviewing the way we collect and leverage data across the agency;
· Intake – looking at first points of contact;
· Outreach – making sure we get the word out to folks who need our services;
· Placement – ramping up our efforts to get customers in front of employers;
· And Team Model – Looking at more collaborative models for working with our customers in their job prep and job search process.
That brings us to WIOA, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that was passed by congress last July. Part of WIOA amends the Rehabilitation Act and creates a roadmap for states to follow in providing services to people with disabilities. Now we’re in the phase of unfolding that roadmap to figure out just how it’s going to work. To that end, the federal government is accepting public comments on the Act through June 15. If you go to Regulations.gov and do a search on WIOA, you’ll find the guidelines for submitting comments, and I would certainly encourage everyone to do so, if you have an opinion on how this law should be carried out.
One of the key provisions within WIOA is an emphasis on preparing young adults between the ages of 14 and 21 for the world of work. The law requires that agencies like ours set aside 15% of our federal grant for these consumers. At SSB, that’s about $1.3 million of our budget.
Many of you here can remember what it was like to be a blind or visually impaired young adult launching out on your own for the first time. While today’s young adults have a lot more going for them in terms of technology and other resources, we’re hearing from colleges that they don’t necessarily have the same skills for self-advocacy and self-reliance that earlier generations may have had. With or without WIOA, we’re committed to working with these young adults to help them gain the kind of practical and problem-solving skills they’ll need as they enter college, work, or other training. If more blind, DeafBlind and visually impaired Minnesotans are coming out of high school with some job experience, the ability to advocate on their own behalf, a solid grounding in technology, and a capacity for resilience, agencies like SSB will have much less work to do as they enter the workforce.
When we began a serious review of our transition services, we had about 60 customers who fit in this category. In collaboration with the Department of Education, we identified about 85 others who could qualify for our services. In a few short months, we’ve added about forty more to our customer base, and are reaching out to the remaining forty.
As we develop more robust services under WIOA, here are some of the things we’ve put in place or are developing:
· We have brought together a transition core team charged with helping us keep our eye on the ball. They’re sending out regular updates to Transition Students and families, including a newsletter, they’re promoting technology and other training, and they’re creating other relevant pre-employment services.
· Right now, we’re in the process of hiring a transition coordinator to work directly with kids and the schools to get them what they need.
· We’ll be submitting an RFP for year-round group services and programs. These services will be focused on skills building in braille, technology, living independently, career prep, and orientation and mobility.
· We’ve set a goal of every student having a summer work or training opportunity.
· We’ll be making a special effort to reach out to high school seniors so that they have the best shot at success in college or at a job.
· Lastly, we’ll be part of a unified state plan incorporating all the workforce development programs across the state, so that we can better coordinate services.
Along with WIOA, another initiative we’re launching this year is a pilot program to involve community partners in providing resources to seniors who are losing vision. We’re testing out this project in northwest Minnesota. We’ve trained a group of Block nurses and staff at Centers for Independent Living to work with seniors who are at the early stages of vision loss and who are just looking for a few simple resources as they adjust. The idea here is that our counselors will be spending less time handing out magnifiers and large-print check guides, and more time working with seniors who are ready to learn more about adding nonvisual techniques to their daily routines. We also think that this approach will get more seniors connected earlier. This is one solution we’re trying in order to address the growing number of seniors with vision loss.
That’s a quick overview of what’s going on at SSB. This is work that we are in together, and my door is always open. In 1994, Kenneth Jernigan addressed a gathering of education and vocational professionals who served blind consumers. In that address, he talked about the dynamic relationship between consumer groups and public sector organizations. He said: “In today’s climate of changing values and hard-fought issues, the best possible insurance policy for an agency for the blind is a strong, independent organization of blind consumers.” Minnesota is fortunate to have organizations like this chapter of the NFB that are engaged, active, critical, and also constructive. Before I take your questions, I want to let you know that I am grateful for our partnership. You keep us honest, you challenge us, and you identify problems so that we can put things on the table and get them worked out. In short, you make us better. Thank you for your thoughtful attention, and I’ll be glad to answer your questions.
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
We held our Semiannual Convention at our building in Minneapolis on Saturday, May 16, 2015, and there is a lot that goes into the planning of NFB conventions. Forming an agenda, inviting guests, writing the agenda are just a few of the details to be completed. In Minnesota, our Semiannual Convention involves even more planning and work by our members. Using our building has its advantages; but it also means we are responsible for setting up all the chairs and tables, making lunch and coffee and cleaning up at the end. What other group of blind people could undertake all this?
The day began with our Seniors Division providing coffee and doughnuts for the convention participants. Those who preregistered could quickly go through the line to get an agenda and a lunch token. This made the line go more smoothly for those who registered onsite. Seventy-one of the 102 registrants registered in advance and saved $5.00. Those who could not join us in person had the opportunity to listen to the morning session via live stream.
Throughout the day one could purchase Louis Braille Commemorative coins, Jernigan Fund raffle tickets for a chance on an all-expense-paid trip to the 2016 national convention, and “Seniors in Charge” pins sold by the NFB of Minnesota Seniors Division.
Michelle Jackson, a massage therapist who owns and operates MRJ Massage, offered chair massages with all proceeds donated to the NFB of Minnesota. Her generous donation of time and money helped make the day a little more relaxing for many.
President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order and introduced Ryan Strunk, the newly elected president of the Metro Chapter, for a few words of welcome.
President Dunnam began her update to the convention by getting us ready to help host the 75th anniversary convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida. This year founding affiliates of the Federation will take that responsibility. Minnesota is proud to be one of the seven states represented in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at the NFB’s first convention in 1940.
President Dunnam reported on our efforts at the Minnesota Legislature to get a larger appropriation for the Senior Services Unit at State Services for the Blind (SSB). At the time of the convention, we were uncertain if we would see an increase in the budget but we never give up until we succeed.
We are still looking for Minnesota cosponsors for TIME (Transition to Integrated and Meaningful Employment) that means eliminating the exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act allowing people with disabilities to receive a subminimum wage.
We are urging the United States to sign the Marrakesh Treaty that would make books available to print disabled people throughout the world. The language of the treaty has not yet gone to the Senate.
In honor of the NFB’s existence for 75 years, we worked with the rest of the country on 75 days of action where we actively recruited new members to the Federation. We organized an at-large chapter for people who cannot get to a local chapter. It meets by phone on the third Sunday evening of the month. We have reorganized our Riverbend chapter; Jack Rupert attended our convention with other members from the area. While our Twin Ports chapter is growing, we are losing a member, Anmol Bhatia, who found employment in Seattle, Washington. We now have six chapters throughout the state. Dunnam thanked two outgoing chapter presidents for their hard work; they are Rob Hobson from the Metro and Bryce Samuelson of Rochester. The new presidents are Ryan Strunk and Jan Bailey respectively.
A new tradition seems to be developing at NFBM conventions. Members share pro tips that are hints about nonvisual techniques to gain information or accomplish everyday tasks.
Pro Tip from Jennifer Wenzel: A new free app called Redlaser is available on iPhone that functions as a barcode reader. Scan the product and find out all you want to know about it — and even things you maybe don’t want to know such as calories.
Alice Hebert, our newly elected treasurer, came forward to give her first report to a convention of the NFB of Minnesota. We are operating under a new fiscal year; our old one ran from April 1 to March 31. We are now operating on the regular calendar year starting January 1 and ending December 31. Ms. Hebert reported on our expenses and income starting with January 1, 2015. We have a net income of close to $9,000. The treasurer’s report was accepted.
Sharon Monthei and Steve Jacobson presented “Going Where We Want, When We Want.” In introducing this item, Dunnam said that if she did not have the ability to travel throughout the country and the world independently she could not perform her job. She, like most of us, did not always know that this was possible for a blind person. Ms. Monthei told us that she had two kinds of travel training. The first was at a school for the blind where she learned the traditional route travel. That training did not motivate her to go anywhere alone. She then became a student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind where a lot more was expected of her. She was taught to figure things out for herself without a teacher bailing her out. Monthei has attended several different colleges and traveled to at least five states. It never occurred to her that she would need further instruction for every new trip.
Steve Jacobson recently read on a listserv a message from a subscriber that she needed to transfer from her current college and was trying to choose another school. The woman was looking for appropriate educational opportunities and she wanted a school that could provide O&M instruction. Mr. Jacobson, like Monthei, had the same kind of traditional O&M instruction; unlike Monthei, he figured out on his own that after he learned the skill of using the white cane his instruction was all about directions. He began to wonder why he needed this instructor. He learned to ask helpful questions, explored on his own, and worked with a reader to learn about signs and other information.
Both Monthei and Jacobson were using structured discovery, the method of travel taught at our NFB centers like Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), even though they never heard those words.
Our state’s largest fundraiser is our Walk for Opportunity that is once again being in Rochester. Jan Bailey, president of our Rochester chapter, announced that the date for the walk is Saturday, September 12. We will travel the same route as last year and buy lunch from the chapter. Since the NFB has a new logo, we will be investing in new T-shirts for the walk.
Hearing about new technology has become a favorite thing to do at conventions. Randi Strunk is one of the first people to own an Apple watch. Ms. Strunk gave a thorough description of the watch; this watch not only tells time but it serves as a phone for texting or speaking, it can give one the temperature and it can even measure a person’s heartbeat. It has the same VoiceOver feature of all Apple products. It has an easy setup. Strunk demonstrated the phone part of the watch by calling someone in the audience.
Carol Pankow, SSB’s agency director, presented her update from State Services for the Blind. Her remarks appear earlier in this issue.
Dunnam acknowledged the large contingency of SSB staff attending our convention. There has never been such interest.
A question was asked about whether SSB could help seniors find part-time employment; the answer was yes.
Someone asked for clarification about SSB’s placement unit. They just changed their name to business specialists. Ms. Pankow urges all staff to take an interest in the whole agency; if we hear of a job opening, we should share it with the right people; if someone would benefit from the Communication Center, anyone should be able to make a referral.
Dave Walle asked if there was anything new for deafblind customers. Pankow talked about the rehab council’s deafblind committee that is extremely active in rewriting brochures to meet the needs of ASL speakers.
Our next agenda item introduced us to our new president of the Riverbend Chapter, Jack Rupert. Mr. Rupert has turned his hobby of working with leather into a small business. Rupert became blind in 2009 and, since he is a veteran, he went to the Hines Blind Center in Chicago. They reintroduced him to leather which he first learned about in high school. When he returned home he made his wife a purse that she lovingly keeps as a reminder of how much more skill he has now. He displayed some purses of different sizes. He also showed a cane case for a folding cane and other holders of different kinds.
He said that it takes about two weeks to complete a project and he described the various tools he uses. He closed by inviting anyone in the Mankato area to join them for chapter meetings.
At every convention, we are reminded of the many ways we can help our movement grow financially. Bob Raisbeck explained the mechanics of our Preauthorized Contribution (PAC) plan. By signing up, we designate an amount of money to contribute to the national NFB by deducting it from a checking or savings account or charged to a credit or debit card on a specified day of the month. The contributor can cancel at any time and adjust the amount whenever needed. Mr. Raisbeck said that 43 Minnesotans are currently contributing to PAC and we are in fourth place in the country in giving with an average monthly gift of slightly more than $45.00.
For our next order of business, the convention elected Jennifer Dunnam as delegate and Steve Jacobson as alternate delegate to the national convention.
A favorite tradition at our convention is to hear from staff and students from our partners at BLIND, Incorporated. Executive Director Dan Wenzel began the presentation reporting that the student enrollment is near capacity; as soon as students graduate, there are others to take their place. He praised Kotumu Kamara who teaches the English Language Learners Program; many of the students go on to the full training program. This summer’s Buddy Program still has some vacancies; this is geared for children in fifth grade through middle school. On the other hand, the PREP program for high school student is at capacity with a waiting list. For the first time, these students will have a work experience for the last two weeks of their stay with us.
Latim Matenje is an intern from Malawi. Mr. Matenje is the program manager of the Malawi Union of the Blind; his story is compelling and will be reprinted in a future issue.
James Gagnier is the new network administrator who came to us from Iowa. He has been blind since 1997; he is a Canadian native but he came to this country because he married an American. He loves making websites accessible. He has developed websites that cater to blind people with games, conversation and support groups. Tim Aune runs one of the new groups for blind parents.
Michelle Gip is joining us for the summer to work with Charlene Guggisberg running the PREP program. She has a degree in psychology from Louisiana Tech and intends to study for a Master’s Degree in teaching blind children. Last year she worked with BLIND teaching cane travel and this year will work as the assistant coordinator.
Roz Strimling is a member of the most recent class for seniors. Ms. Strimling says that the students range in age from their sixties to their eighties and they are learning everything wearing sleep shades. She began by listing many of their challenges. They learned braille numbers so they could read elevator panels. They learned to thread a needle and sew on a button. They will be growing herbs and they will take a field trip to a restaurant using their white canes.
During their first session, the ladies compared notes about what they could or could not see. They found they had much in common and the more they talked the more they were sharing solutions such as labeling lipsticks.
In her first foray into the kitchen, she discovered that cutting a tomato was easier to do using one’s fingers to feel where to cut.
She concluded by saying how empowering she found the experience; the class plans to meet once a month to continue to take on projects and share. She invites future graduates to join them.
The tenBroek Memorial Fund is our national organization’s building fund for the National Center for the Blind. Each year members make pledges and our state treasury matches those contributions. This year we pledged over $2,400.
The Minnesota Association of Blind Students participated in a regional conference in Chicago last April. President VaNasha Washington joined Marissa Becker and Candice Chapman to represent Minnesota. There were panels discussing offices for students with disabilities, sports such as judo and beep ball, braille in college, self-advocacy and much more. Ms. Chapman participated on a panel about graduate school. They were instrumental in planning the seminar and will use those skills here in Minnesota.
After a closing door prize, the convention adjourned to eat the students’ academic lunch and take advantage of the various fundraisers.
In the afternoon, there were four breakout sessions from which to choose. Below are reports from each one.
Our day ended with an energetic cleanup crew putting the building back in order.
Seniors in Charge
By Joyce Scanlan, President
Our Seniors Division met at 1:30, and had a wonderful and full agenda of topics. Twenty-three people participated.
We heard first from Ed Lecher, Director of the Senior Services Unit at State Services for the Blind (SSB). Ed talked about the Minnesota Olmstead Plan to carry out a court order to provide services for disabled people, and the increasing number of seniors that SSB must serve in the future. He expressed his appreciation to the NFB for working with the state legislature to increase funding for senior programs.
Jonathan Campbell, the Assistive Technology Specialist with SSB’s Senior Services Unit, gave an informative yet lively demonstration of some of the assistive devices available to blind seniors. This included the “Say When” for pouring liquids, a talking thermometer, and a pen that produced tactile markings.
Throughout the meeting, comments from many participants recognized the value of the group model used in classes for seniors currently being conducted by BLIND, Inc.
Our final speaker was Elisabeth von Berrinberg, author of a new autobiographical book The City in Flames. We met her first at our Senior Possibilities Fair last August. This event was co-sponsored by the NFB of Minnesota, BLIND, Incorporated (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions), and SSB. She shared many enthralling stories of her experiences in Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. SSB will record her book and Braille it upon request.
Beautiful “Seniors in Charge” pins were also sold. We have more for a minimal charge of $5.00. Contact Joyce Scanlan at 612.920.0959 to wear your own proudly.
Tactics for Job Search and Success
By Dick Davis
This breakout session was dedicated to jobseekers, and was moderated by Dick Davis, Associate Director and Careers Instructor at BLIND, Inc. and national Chair of the NFB Employment Committee. A large number of blind people and two counselors from SSB listened to Dacia Normandin, Holly Dugal, Brook Sexton, Tom TeBockhorst, and Antonio Smith talk about job seeking skills and their personal jobs. Holly, a Certified Nursing Assistant, talked about her job working in an assisted-care facility and her difficulty finding a job as an occupational therapy assistant. That prompted Dacia, who gave a lengthy presentation about how to get a job in state government, to reach out to her and offer State Services for the Blind’s help in finding a job more in line with her skills.
The networking continued with Brook’s discussion of her job as an accessibility specialist at Target Corporation Headquarters, and Antonio’s impressive presentation on his community outreach and empowerment job for the City of Brooklyn Park. In fact, he did a mini-lecture on community empowerment that resonated with the attendees. Tom TeBockhorst described his customer service job at Apogee Retail, in which he sets up pickups of donated items, which are then resold in thrift stores to benefit nonprofit organizations. Both Tom and Anthony are proud graduates of BLIND.
Tim Wheeler, also a graduate of BLIND, Inc., talked about his experiences as a personal trainer and Yoga instructor. He even had the audience stand up and go through some Yoga postures to help them loosen up from a long day sitting.
There was lots of time for questions and answers by the participants. The two SSB staff were impressed by the diversity of jobs held. Given the large number of positive comments received from all the participants afterward, this was a very popular event.
By Amy Baron, President
NAPUB’s meeting covered the Braille Club, the Braille Enrichment for Learning and Literacy (BELL) program, Unified English Braille (UEB) and updating restaurant menus.
The division decided that we would encourage members to attend Braille Club and try to bring new people to it. This club helps people improve their speed and receive encouragement from each other. It meets on the first three Tuesdays of the month from 4:30 to 6:30 at our building.
This is the first year for the BELL program in Minnesota. The BELL program provides fun with braille for young blind children. We look forward to its growth in future years.
President Baron announced the availability of a resource guide about UEB through the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). A list of names of people wanting a copy of it was made and President Baron will take care of ordering the guides.
We discussed how we could update the restaurant menus in the metro area. Baron said that she would talk with the president of the Metro Chapter to see how this could be a joint project between the two.
Baron will bring back information from NAPUB at national convention and report to everyone in the fall.
Amy Baron can be contacted by phone at 612-822-8711 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
By VaNasha Washington, President
The Minnesota Association of Blind Students (the NFB of Minnesota student division) conducted a discussion on self-advocacy in which various students from BLIND, incorporated, and students from colleges and universities participated. Some shared their experiences dealing with this issue in and around the classroom, whereas others gave advice. A good discussion lasted a few hours. Most of the students in attendance were shocked to realize others have been through the same thing.
In conclusion, Candice Chapman talked about Dr. Jernigan’s speech about not throwing the nickel. She brought this up in reference to us not being so unkind to those who want to help — even when we are not seeking it. (Note: The speech is on the NFB website Nfb.org and is entitled “Don’t Throw the Nickel.”)
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 9-11 in Bloomington at the Ramada Mall of America Hotel. Room reservations must be made by September 11. More information is on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in May 2016 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be the first week of July 2016 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.
At Large Chapter —
State wide: meets by conference call on the third Sunday of every month;
contact Aaron Cannon at (319) 400-0157 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at the American Legion in Waite Park
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — Mankato area; meets the second Thursday of every month from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, at the American Legion Post number 11, 223 East Walnut St., Mankato, MN 56001. Food is available for ordering prior to the meeting
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester
Twin Ports Chapter — Duluth area; meets at 6:00 p.m. on the second Monday of every month at Pizza Luce, 11 E Superior St, Duluth.
Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend. This group meets on the first, second, and third non-holiday Tuesdays of the month from 4:30-6:30. Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users. Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one. Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail email@example.com.
Technology Group — This group gives the chance for everyone to explore what’s new in technology, and have their questions answered. These sessions will occur on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. at our building. We hope to find a way to involve people around the state. For further information contact Kathy McGillivray at 612-822-9174 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
for youth — Several times a
year, the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota holds
educational/recreational activities for blind youth. These activities
provide opportunities for the youth to learn new skills, to connect with one
another and with confident, well-adjusted adult blind role models, and to have
fun while doing so. Meetings and other activities for parents
also take place in conjunction with these events. For more information, contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail email@example.com
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is two-fold — to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind. By providing public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families, members of the NFB strive to educate the public that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality.
No one understands blindness as well as those who live with it daily. To apply this knowledge to solving the problems of blindness, blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM). NFBM is the state's largest and oldest organization of the blind. It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.
As blind people, we know the loss of eyesight is not the major problem of blindness. The real problem is the misunderstandings that surround blindness. The NFBM overcomes this problem through education of the sighted to the reality of blindness and through mutual help among blind people. Such activities make blind people fully‑participating members of society. They earn their living, raise families, and take full responsibility for their own lives.
The NFBM began in 1920 as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind. It is a membership organization open to everyone who believes in the capability of blind people to help himself or herself become full participants in the community.
In 1940, Minnesota and six other states founded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Today, the NFB numbers over 50,000 blind people. It has organizations in every state, and local chapters in almost every sizable community.
During these many years, we have made strong progress toward equality. We have improved employment opportunities and education for blind persons in the state of Minnesota and in the nation.
Most of our members are blind, and their knowledge of blindness comes from their personal lives. Other organizations get their information on blindness through the reading of textbooks or other secondhand techniques.
For a complete listing of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, visit www.nfbmn.org/board.html.
There are several ways to keep up with, as well as interact with, the most active group of blind people in Minnesota:
· Join the discussion list for Minnesota on NFBNET at www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/minnesota-talk_NFBNET.ORG
· Follow @nfbmn on Twitter at twitter.com/nfbmn
· Like us on Facebook by searching for National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota at www.facebook.com/
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.
· Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
· Sharon Monthei makes corrections to the braille and print editions, transcribes, and embosses the braille edition.
· Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
· Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc edition.
· Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.
· Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
· Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition, mails the print edition and other tasks as needed.
· Emily Zitek collates the copies for the braille edition and mails the braille and audio editions.