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 83, Number 3, Summer 2016
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Jennifer Dunnam
Eighty-seven Minnesotans attended our 76th annual national convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando. The convention, as always, was a wonderful way to deepen our connections with other Federationists and with the issues of our movement, to get our internal batteries charged, and to gain broader perspectives — not to mention to have fun getting some work done! The convention had many invigorating highlights, but the penultimate event, as it always is, was the banquet speech, delivered this year for the second time by our president, Mark Riccobono. Entitled "The Understanding of Fear and the Power of Progress" (https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/convent/banquet-speech-2016.html), the speech discussed various aspects of fear, its relationship to blindness, and finding the power at the other side of fear. For me, his discussion of some fears as hard-wired and some as conditioned called to mind some recent incidents.
About a year ago, an unidentified flying creature (possibly but not definitely a bat) got into my apartment and landed on my shoulder. I screamed, flung it away, and ran out of the apartment in terror, prepared to let this winged creature have whatever it wanted as long as it left me alone! Fortunately, I had the sense to enlist cooler heads to help me reclaim my abode. After a lengthy search involving several people, flashlights, and iPhone apps, the creature was found and escorted from the premises (although unfortunately for me, it was I who ultimately located the interloper by accidentally stepping on it causing it to make a loud sort of hissing sound!).
Not two months later, on my way home, a man walked behind me as I entered my apartment building. Suspecting I was actively being followed, I continued down the hallway past my own apartment door, headed for another exit, and was just opening the door to go out, when a pair of hands reached from behind me to try to take away my phone, which I was holding in my left hand. In that case I also screamed, but this time I fought furiously until he gave up and ran away empty-handed.
To this day, thinking about either of these incidents can evoke strong almost physical reactions in me — cringing, skin-crawling terror in the case of the creature, and snarling readiness for battle in the case of the failed phone thief. I don't completely understand why these two frightening events caused such opposite reactions, but they are definitely two sides of the very same coin.
In general society, we know that blindness is one of the things people fear the very most. When people who have lived much of their lives with full sight and then begin to find that they are losing significant amounts of vision, they are often terrified. There has been a general awareness for many years that there will be a major increase in people who have this experience, because of the aging of the "baby boomers.” We in the NFB of Minnesota, along with Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB), have been working to get our state government to see the wisdom of making more funding available now so that people can get training to unlearn the fear and continue to live full and independent lives in their own homes. Otherwise, the state will end up with much greater expense if people enter assisted living care or nursing homes because they are afraid and have no idea what else to do if they cannot see.
In this legislative session, only because of the kind of concerted effort on many fronts that we know how to make in the Federation, we have realized another tremendous success that will greatly improve opportunities for blind seniors in Minnesota. In the supplemental finance bill that passed the legislature in the last hours of the session, increased funding was included in the state appropriation for SSB, specifically designated for services to seniors. There will be $1,000,000 additional for the 2017 biennium, and a $500,000 increase for each year going forward after that. The Governor signed the bill into law on June 1. Each person in this organization who made a phone call, wrote a letter or sent a tweet, participated in a meeting to educate a legislator, stayed for long hours in committee meetings, and so many other things large and small that enable this organization to do its work has helped to improve opportunities for many blind people in this state. Of course, the work is not done. We have a good working relationship with State Services for the Blind — if we did not have a sense that the decision-makers understand that people need quality training rather than quick-fix solutions, we would have gone about this differently. Still, it remains important for us to stay informed about what the plans are and to provide the input from our collective experience to see that things go as they should.
Later in this issue, you will read about our recent semiannual convention, filled with information, inspiration, and fun because of the more than 100 members from all over our state who helped to make it so.
In other exciting news, May 19-21, our regional NFB STEM2U program took place, in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota. Elementary and high school students from many states in our area worked on accessible STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning at the museum and provided feedback to staff and educators about how the museum could be accessible to blind people. Everyone had a great time with this event, and we will hear more about it at our annual state convention.
That convention will be here before we know it. This year the convention will be earlier than in some years — September 30-October 2. Check our Web site www.nfbmn.org for information on room reservations and other details.
This year's Walk for Opportunity in Rochester to benefit this affiliate will take place on September 10. Mark your calendars and watch for more details so that you can be part of our largest (and some say most fun) statewide fundraiser!
And finally, here is your reminder to read our flagship publication of the national organization of which we are a vital part — the Braille Monitor. When questions arise about what the Federation is doing or should do about a given situation, the Monitor is full of the information and background that we need to be best situated to weigh in on those decisions. To borrow some recent words from the editor, Gary Wunder: "... the Monitor is published eleven times a year. It is available in Braille, print, and in narrated audio on a flash drive readable with an NLS player. It is available through email and as a podcast which one can find through iTunes. It is on the web as an HTML document and in Microsoft Word. It can also be read with human narration by article. To subscribe, send an email to email@example.com, telling Sonia the form in which you would like the publication. Please make sure she has your address, telephone number, email address, and the form in which you would like our publication. So whether you read Braille, print, like narrated audio, or prefer to do your reading with the voice provided by your screen reader, the Monitor is available to you. Whether you prefer your portable Victor Stream or HIMS product, the Monitor can go where you go. You can have the convenience of a DAISY book navigable article by article or the convenience of a podcast in which each issue comes to you when it is released."
As I write this, we in this country are living through such a difficult time of violence and distress. May this human race find the power to counteract the fear of all kinds, with acknowledgment and understanding of one another, with empathy, and especially with positive action. May our Federation spirit be part of the mix that helps us move forward, toward living the lives we want.
By Steve Jacobson, Vice President
While thinking about why I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind, many reasons came to mind. I could talk about how our approach to life offers the most hope for blind people. I could mention various discrimination cases we have won that would not have happened if not for us. I could talk about how we have moved large corporations toward providing better accessibility to their software and web sites. There are other accomplishments I could mention as well, and they would all be true.
There is another side to the question, though. We live in a world that is constantly trying to be helpful by taking care of us and watching out for us. Mostly people mean well, but the result is that we face a constant pressure to take the easier of the paths before us. This pressure takes many forms.
I remember not long ago going to the airport and looking for the security line. An airport employee said she would be glad to show me where it was, and even better, she would get me into a special line so I wouldn’t have to wait. I had planned on the fact that there would be a wait, so I told the employee that I would rather just wait in line like everyone else. She seemed to understand, put me in line, and left. Very shortly after that, I found that I was actually in the special line that she had intended for me all along, not the regular line that I had requested. While her intent was to be helpful, she ignored my preferences in favor of what she decided was good for me. In addition, she told me she had followed my wishes and placed me in the regular line, knowing very well that she would be out of range by the time I figured it out. What a feeling of hopeless powerlessness I had. Part of me wondered, why fight, in this case, for the right to wait in a long line?
I did not wonder for long though. I thought back to a time when we were protesting rules that would have required us to sit in the priority seats for handicapped people on busses. I remembered the words of an African-American member from Maryland named John McCraw who said with a smile, “I never thought I would be fighting for the right to sit at the back of the bus.” I also remember talking about my experience with our president and found that she had similar experiences and similar feelings about it. The result is that I continue to insist on being in the normal security line because I knew I was not alone. I would never have known John McCraw, Jennifer, or the many other members who have helped me over the years, if it were not for the Federation.
Even though I have been employed for a long time, it is not always easy to handle the challenges of a changing workplace. Construction, new software, and even a job whose duties necessarily change, can take a good deal of energy. For me, our conventions, state and national, are times of renewal. Seeing other successful blind people motivates me to hang in there. Seeing those who are just learning but still struggling with new techniques also inspires me because if they are working that hard, I have no choice but to do the same.
I am a member of this organization because of what I get from all of you. I am also a member because I have a responsibility to return some of what I have received. It is easy to forget this as we face the tasks of each day. We each have our personal load to carry and our individual strengths. It is important that we work together to share the loads we carry and benefit from the strengths of one another as well. We must have patience with each other, knowing that we are all tired at the end of the day. The bottom line is that I am a Federationist because of you, and I hope some of you are Federationists in some small way because of me. The most important thing we have is an ability to work together as human beings in a common cause, to make the world a better place for ourselves and for those who come after us. That is why I am a Federationist.
By Kathy Hagen
(Editor’s Note: Kathy is a long-time member of our Metro Chapter, and a retired attorney. We all encounter the health care system throughout our lives, more so the older we get. This article recounts her experience with some recent health problems. As blind people, we all encounter various attitudes toward blindness and the resulting behaviors of those around us. Kathy’s experience may or may not be the same as others, but it is important. Joyce Scanlan, president of our Seniors Division, and I met with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Walker Methodist and the Associate Administrator of Walker Methodist Health Center to discuss the issues raised by Kathy. The meeting was very fruitful and Joyce will be working with the entire Walker Methodist organization, which operates independent living, assisted living, memory care, transitional care, and long-term care, to educate the staff about blindness and the varying abilities and experiences of blind people. An article by the CEO follows this one.)
I had lived at Kenwood Isles Condominiums (KI) for about a year, and things
seemed wonderful to me. We had an independent living situation in the middle of Uptown with access to all kinds of activities. I had arranged for us to have groceries and prescriptions delivered to the condominium. Of course, we had Wi-Fi and telephones connected to our landlines so we could communicate with the outside world whenever we wanted to. We had dinner in the dining room and participated in social events. I belonged to a book club that I went to some of the time. Chernah participated in an adult day-care program called Open Circle and was followed by a senior care agency called Home Instead. We were virtually busy five days a week. We were a tight couple and did most things together. It seemed that it would be a happy place for us. But things changed within the blink of an eye.
I never expected to go through the experiences we have gone through in the last couple of months. Ultimately, I’m the one who got sick and overturned the apple cart.
Chernah has dementia and Parkinson’s disease, and the two disorders together caused her to lose stamina quickly. I was in denial about how fast she was progressing in her diseases. In the meantime, I seemed to go on with no real problems. The apex of our year together was our wedding on January 30, my birthday. Things went downhill from then on.
Chernah entered Walker Methodist Health Center when her symptoms worsened, while I continued living at KI. Then, approximately the end of February, I had an incident that ultimately changed both of our lives. I developed a brain abscess. No one has been able to determine why it happened, but there is speculation that it occurred because of an improperly drained root canal that then carried into my brain.
The last thing I remember thinking about before my brain abscess was on February 28. I was lying in bed watching early morning TV when I heard them talking about the next day being Groundhog Day. I remembered that this was a leap year. Those are the last thoughts I remember having. By the next day, I was unconscious. I remember nothing of the next month. It was a strange feeling to have people know about me when I didn’t know how they learned what they knew. For example, in April, I had a brain scan to determine how my abscess was doing. The scanner said to me, “Oh I scanned you about a month ago.” Strange to think that someone had scanned me and knew how I was reacting when I knew nothing about it.
It took me a long while to piece together some of what occurred in that six weeks. Apparently, I was unconscious for the first month. Then, when I started to recover, it came slowly. I had to learn to spell and put words together again, to count and do mathematical problems, to have paragraphs read to me and then to explain what the paragraphs meant. It was like a short and fast course in academic learning.
I can’t really say when I was fully “back.” It occurred sometime in mid or late April. By that time, I had had physical, occupational and speech therapy. Chernah had reached the apex of her therapies at about the same time as I did.
Under many health-insurance plans (including Medicare), when you have finished a therapy plan or reached a time limit, their payment ends. So If we wanted more therapy, we would have to pay for it ourselves, which can be very expensive.
Chernah, on the other hand, has been diagnosed as needing 24/7 care. So, at this point, we are looking for a rehabilitation center or nursing home to care for Chernah, and I have moved back to our condominium. It is very difficult to know that, after 37 years together, we won’t be living together anymore, and that we each, by ourselves, will be reaching toward goals of improvement. I expect it to be a lonely and isolating experience and I will worry about Chernah all the time. Chernah is expected to have a short remaining life span. I know that others at KI have become widows or widowers and have learned to live without the love of their spouses. So I expect I will do that too.
Living at Walker has been quite an experience. As is common throughout the industry, there is a relatively small staff to deal with a large number of residents. On our floor, approximately three aides for 30 people is average. Chernah, according to Walker, will need a 24/7 skilled-nursing setting with more staff and fewer people per staff member. We are looking at places for Chernah that have smaller ratios of patients to staff, and with staff dealing more with dementia. My friends and I believe that Chernah has much independence left in her.
Pointers for being blind and disabled in other ways
It is important to get rehabilitation services for the blind involved right away. Since many people become blind later in life, this might be best accomplished by getting the NFB of Minnesota and the seniors unit of State Services for the Blind (SSB) involved. In my case, and in the case of others who are blind first and become later disabled with another injury, it is important to find ways to delineate blindness from the other injury. In my case, for example, when I tried to walk anywhere, people would say that I had to sit down or I would fall down. After a while, it erodes your confidence and independence. You begin to feel like you can’t do anything for yourself. It’s a weird and scary feeling to watch that happen.
That’s why it is important to get orientation early in the process so you don’t lose what you already had before you got a second injury. Also, since most people are more afraid of being blind than of almost any other injury, blindness will always be seen as your primary injury. It is very hard to convince people that your brain injury might be more serious than your blindness when you’ve been blind your whole life.
If you have the opportunity, contact SSB before looking at placement facilities.
Get SSB involved right away as the staff at any nursing home will look at your current injury and compare it completely with being blind. Blindness will always come out as the first injury. So, with a brain injury, people will always be saying that you can’t safely go to your room or anywhere else, that if you try to move you’ll fall down, etc. For that reason, you need someone with training to orient you to your surroundings. My time in the nursing home would have been much more productive if I had had that training to begin with. For one thing, people who are rehabilitating you but who are not blind do not perceive that you will be walking outside, crossing streets, etc. They are trying to give you training always to be inside a building. I didn’t disillusion them because I thought they would probably never let me get out then. After all, how could a blind person walk down the street alone without being run over?
People lose their sight for various reasons later in life. If you are a person who has been blind your whole life, the SSB seniors unit can help educate staff to the fact that blindness is only one injury, and in this case not the most serious injury. It is very important for people not to become dependent and lose confidence because people are not clearly defining your injuries or determining which injury will be the most important.
I spent long weeks in my room with very little to do. Sometimes I could make my computer work for a while. Sometimes I could make my cell phone work for a while. But neither instrument worked all the time! If you didn’t have any books with you, which I didn’t because I was taken to the emergency room, it could get very boring.
I was lucky enough to have a rehabilitation therapist who caught on to the fact that I could already use a white cane and gave me one early in my rehabilitation training. I got a chance to teach her the difference between using a cane and other mobility aids.
The time has come to go out and seek connections between programs for the blind and programs for people with other disabilities. You can use many things in common between blindness and other disabilities. It is important to teach people who are using wheelchairs or crutches that a blind person using a white cane will not disrupt their balance. That was another problem with people becoming hostile because they thought I would trip them.
In closing, I want to reiterate that, when blindness is only one disability with other disabilities appearing, it is important to have rehabilitation experts in blindness be a part of the mix. Now that there will be more money to introduce blind seniors to rehabilitation, I am hoping that the time is right for bringing about this joint effort. We must always be encouraged to look for more opportunities to be independent and not limit ourselves by fearing what will happen to us if we have more than one disability.
By Scott Riddle, President & CEO
(Editor’s Note: This article is the response to the proceeding article by Kathy Hagen on her experience with some recent health problems. Joyce Scanlan, president of our Seniors Division, and I met with Scott Riddle to discuss the issues raised by Kathy. As this article reflects, the meeting was very fruitful and Joyce will be working with the entire Walker Methodist organization, which operates independent living, assisted living, memory care, transitional care, and long-term care, to educate the staff about blindness and the varying abilities and experiences of blind people.)
It's impossible to capture what people go through when their lives change dramatically in a short period. Kathy's account of her and Chernah’s experience is an example of the type of struggles we see with many of our residents at Walker Methodist Health Center (WMHC). Each set of circumstances is unique and there are many different resources people draw on when their "apple cart is upset" as Kathy so clearly puts it.
It is a core belief at WMHC that it is in everyone's best interest that people get the highest level of care. We certainly strive to make that happen — every day and in every interaction. And most of the time we succeed. When we fall short in any way, we immediately turn our attention to ways to correct problems and improve ongoing care.
So when Kathy observed that some aspects of our care could benefit from a better understanding of what it's like to live with vision loss or impairment, we took her suggestions to heart. We are using Kathy's experience to help train our employees in a better understanding of what nursing care looks like from the perspective of a person with vision impairment. And using that perspective to adapt our standards of care in a way that each resident — no matter what their circumstances — feels that they are getting the best possible care.
This is a familiar concept for us. All staff who provide care to residents with Parkinson's receive specialized training (the TULIPS program) through the Struthers Network. We also educate all staff who provide care to residents with dementia or delirium in our specialized Memory Care training (as featured on tpt segment on Late Life). This in addition to the ongoing training all staff receive to ensure we continue to provide the high level of skilled-nursing care people expect from us.
We continue to wish Kathy and Chernah all the best despite difficult circumstances, and gratefully acknowledge their contribution to helping make Walker Methodist a better place to both receive care and provide care through better training. As Kathy and Chernah are learning to adapt to their new situation, we at Walker are committed to doing the same, learning to adapt how we serve, in order to serve better.
By Carol Pankow, Director
Minnesota State Services for the Blind
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was made at the Semiannual Convention on May 14, 2016.)
Good morning, and, as always, thank you for inviting me to come and talk about what’s happening at State Services for the Blind (SSB). This morning, I’m going to give you the highlight reel from SSB, answer some of the specific questions that have been brought to me about employment, and then I hope to have plenty of time for questions and conversation. Please know that I always welcome your input. Stop by my office, send me an email, or give me a call. I want to hear from you.
First, at SSB, we’ve been putting more time, money, and energy into supporting young adults. In the vocational rehabilitation world, we refer to this population as transition-age students. It just means kids who are ready to launch. They’re making, or preparing to make, that big transition into adulthood. Some are preparing for college, others for jobs, still others for another kind of training or job prep. It’s an incredibly important time in any person’s life — a time when the skills you learn, the decisions you make, the connections you build and the friendships you form will have ripple effects throughout the rest of your life. Through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), we’ve been able to build up the programming, resources, and support we offer to blind, DeafBlind, and visually impaired young adults. A little more than a year ago, we started developing a transition team to work with students aged 14-21. Our first hire was Sheila Koenig who is primary to working with the schools, students and families around opportunities and presenting training and information. She has built the group of students served from 61 to 123. More recently we moved an assistive-technology specialist, Jesse Anderson, to focus solely on transition-aged students and are working through the hiring process to bring on a coordinator to work with jobs, internships and work experiences. Finally, we will be dedicating one metro-based counselor to working with the transition caseload in the metro area.
Just two weeks ago, we had about 100 people — young adults, parents, guardians and teachers — attend the Career Expo that SSB co-sponsored with the Metropolitan Community and Technical College. A core part of that day was the conversations that took place between those young adults and the 25 blind, DeafBlind, and visually-impaired grownups who gave up a big chunk of their Saturday to talk about how they made it. They were there to give practical advice about school and internships and technology and writing resumes. More important, they were also there to communicate something intangible.
Those adults who came to share their experience offered something that sighted teachers, counselors or peers just can’t offer those young people in the same way. They could talk about the importance of self-confidence, self-advocacy, resilience, persistence, flexibility, and determination. They could talk about what it was like to face doubt and skepticism. They could share how they had made the case to potential employers that in fact they were the best person for the job. They could talk about facing rejection, and communicate what it takes to get up and start over again.
That kind of determination is a hallmark of the National Federation of the Blind, and plenty of NFB members turned out for our Career Expo day. They were there to pass along to a new generation the knowledge of what it takes to dream the life you want, and then live it.
I hope I haven’t overlooked anyone, but I want to name those individuals associated with the NFB of Minnesota who volunteered their time that day: Russell Anderson, David Bates, Robert Binns, Charlotte Czarnecki, Susan D’Mello, Zach Ellingson, Rob Hobson, Steve Jacobson, Deanna Langton, Alex Loch, Kathy McGillivray, Michele Denise Michaels, Randi Strunk, Ryan Strunk, Jennifer Wenzel and Dan Wenzel. Thank you to each one of you for being there. None of us can know what impact we’ll have in the life of a young person, but I hope, some seeds were planted that day that will make life a little easier and a little better for this next generation coming along.
A few days from now, two blind Minnesota students will be among the 25 specially selected from across the nation to attend STEM2U at the Science Center of Minnesota, as part of the NFB’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — or STEM — program. That will be the start of an active summer for our transition students, with work and education opportunities taking place all across the state.
Now, on to my SSB highlight reel.
On Wednesday, our staff gathered for a half-day of training, altogether, our staff is just over 110 people. As you know, we, like the rest of Minnesota has an aging workforce. Several of our staff have retired or taken new positions in the last six months since I spoke with you, and, there will be more in the months ahead. As we juggle various budget restrictions, we are being strategic about hiring, and at the same time working toward creating a workforce that more closely mirrors the diversity of our customers. Right now, about 13% of our workforce is blind or visually impaired, the highest number it’s been for some time. We are extremely excited about two of our latest hires, with counselor Marie Knapp just completing her staff training at BLIND Inc., coming to us from Michigan and the Bureau of Blind Services there. Secondly, Catherine Goulding is joining us next week from Texas services for the blind where she is managing their Chris Cole Rehab Center.
On a side note, there is an interesting trend afoot to combine blind and general agencies in those states where services remain separate. Texas is one state that is going through this as we speak. Utah is also doing this. I hear Kentucky will be next up.
Meanwhile, in our Workforce Development unit, we’re on track to have another record-setting year. A little bit past the halfway mark, there are 82 successful employment closures and 140 working right now. A successful closure means that a customer has found a job and has been working at that job for 90 days. Given that most of our closures come toward the end of our year, which runs October 1 to Sept. 30, we are on track to meet our last year’s numbers.
Some of you have asked me to provide more detail about the jobs our customers are getting, and what they are earning. Here’s how those 143 successful employment closures from 2015 are divided between customers who were blind, were DeafBlind, and were categorized as other visual impairment, who we might think of as low vision.
· Of those 143 successful closures, 81 were blind. Of those, 46% got a job working 30 hours or more, and 35% earned above $15.
· 47 of last year’s successful closures were designated as “other visual impairment.” Of these, 55% worked 30 hours or more, and, roughly similar to their blind counterparts, 36% earned $15 or higher.
· The remaining 15 of last year’s successful closures were DeafBlind customers. 40% of those individuals got a job working 30 hours or more, and 53% earned $15 or above.
When we look at average hourly wage, DeafBlind customers earned $19.86, low vision was $19.88, and blind customers came out the highest at $20.56. This includes part time and fulltime wages and salaries.
If that information went by too fast, I have those numbers with me in braille and large print formats, or I can send them to you electronically.
In order to paint a slightly more detailed picture for you, I’ve picked a random sample of jobs our customers found last year.
· A blind General Manager is working 40 hours a week and earning $58 an hour.
· A mental-health counselor who is blind is working 15 hours and earning $15.
· A blind equipment and small engine mechanic is working 10 hours and earning $16.
· A DeafBlind administrator is earning $10 working 25 hours.
· Another DeafBlind individual is working 40 hours as a childcare worker and earning $12.50.
· A low vision guidance counselor is earning $23 and working fulltime; another is earning $10.75 and working halftime as a healthcare support worker.
· Finally, a former low vision customer is now working fulltime as a customer service rep and earning $13.55.
Of those 81 individuals listed as blind, I also looked at various grouping or categories of jobs. Five got jobs as general managers or operations managers, five have jobs as dishwashers, another five as retail sales persons, and seven found work in a teaching profession. Beyond this, the types of jobs our customers found range across a wide swath: computer systems analyst, accountant, stock clerk, executive secretary, carpenter and automotive service technician, to name just a few. The types of positions for DeafBlind and low vision customers are equally diverse.
Moving on to this year, as you know, budget restrictions made it necessary to prioritize new customers through what is referred to as order of selection. In March we were able to move 19 customers who were on the waiting list to active customers. Although order of selection remains in effect, the number of eligible customers on that waiting list is currently at 8. I am reviewing spending on a month-to-month basis and making decisions about opening the list each month.
Finally, on the employment side, the Business Enterprises Program has been training new vendors, and two students in the program have started work managing routes as they finish up their course work. We are also actively working on the VA situation and their lack of responsiveness to our priority under the Randolph-Sheppard Act to provide vending on their premises. I have spoken to our congressional delegation while in Washington DC and we just this week received a letter from the Rehab Services Administration to a congressman from Florida outlining their understanding of the law, how it relates to the Veterans Canteen Service and reiterating that we do have a priority of service that VA needs to honor. We are also making plans to combine forces with Florida’s BEP program, which is undergoing a similar situation, and meeting with Rehab Services Administration leadership at a conference next week.
On the Senior Services side, we are also as busy as ever. We served just over 4,000 seniors with vision loss last year, another record for us. As you may remember, over the last several years, we’ve been carefully thinking through how we can meet the growing demand for services as the number of Minnesota seniors increases. About a year ago, we rolled out the Aging Eyes Initiative, a program which trains professionals who are already working with seniors to provide a first level of support to seniors in the early stages of vision loss. This frees up our staff to give more in-depth support and training in using nonvisual techniques to seniors with more significant vision loss. To date, we’ve trained about 150 partners. Since October 1, the beginning of our federal fiscal year, they’ve provided aids and devices to about 175 seniors across the state, but that number is growing every day. In fact, this past month we received an average of 20-25 referrals per week.
Even with the Aging Eyes Initiative, we know we don’t have the resources to provide high-quality services to the growing number of seniors losing vision. Here again, I want to thank the NFB of Minnesota for drafting legislation to increase funding for seniors who are blind or losing vision, and for shepherding that bill through the legislative process and continuing to fight the fight.
In addition, Senior Services recently welcomed a new student intern. Hailey Roering, who is in our Transition Program, has been helping with the Aging Eyes Initiative and gaining office and administrative skills.
Hailey is the first of three interns who will be working at SSB over the next few months. Both Audio Services and Radio Talking Book (RTB) will be hiring an intern soon.
Another way in which we’ve been reaching out to a new generation is through podcasting. Stuart and his team have been creating podcasts with content for blind and DeafBlind young adults, and another series that focuses on job searching and career building. These RTB podcasts are just part of what’s available through the BlindAbilities app, created and maintained by Jeff Thompson. The BlindAbilities App has a wealth of content for blind and DeafBlind young adults in the BA TEEN CAST who are looking for tips on living on their own, getting through college, or finding their first job. The app also features interviews, tech tips, and some hidden treasures too. In January, Jeff posted about how to clean using non-visual techniques and that received 4,000 hits.
As you may know, our Audio Services team has been working hard so that customers have a more seamless experience when they’re looking for material from our Communication Center or the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault. It used to be that you needed to call us if you wanted materials transcribed, or you needed a digital-book player repaired, and you called the library to order books from the library service. Now, there’s just one number to call, staff in both locations are trained to answer any questions, and the call will go through to whichever line is free.
As you may know, BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download), the National Library Service’s (NLS) download service, has been accepting titles produced by local reading services. These titles have to meet NLS’s content and formatting criteria. So far, 193 titles read by our volunteers, broadcast on the RTB, and formatted by our engineers have been posted to BARD. As it happens the two thousandth book from a local reading service posted to BARD was a title we recorded. So we are being featured in a future publication.
In the last year, Dave Andrews has moved over to work with our engineering staff, and we welcomed Jay Maruska, who has been shepherding braille through the transition to Unified English Braille (UEB).
I will stop here so that I can answer any questions you have, but, before I do, I want to thank you for both the work you do and people you are — you make all the difference.
By Jennifer Wenzel, Secretary
Our semiannual convention started as President Jennifer Dunnam banged the gavel at just after 9:00 AM on Saturday, May 14, 2016. She greeted everyone and turned the mike over to our metro chapter president Ryan Strunk who welcomed everyone and encouraged us to enjoy the packed agenda. President Dunnam then updated us about STEM2U, a program that took place the following week in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. This program was open to students across the Midwest region, and opened a long-term relationship with the Science Museum for us. Our national president, Mark Riccobono, will come for the first day of this program. She also announced that the winner of the joint Braille Readers are Leaders Contest sponsored by Minnesota and Illinois is a kindergarten student from Minnesota. She also announced that Steve Jacobson has been elected chair of the State Rehabilitation Council. She also announced that the Minnesota Academy for the Blind is searching for a superintendent. We have written a letter stressing that the candidate hired needs experience in both blindness and deafness so that both populations can be served. On the national level, we are working hard to make the ADA apply to the Internet so that we are not locked out of jobs and other important life events taking place on the Web. There has been a settlement with Uber regarding the use of guide dogs in vehicles. The Space Available Act, giving blind veterans priority on flights is also important. She also spoke about a new national Website, blindparents.org, which gives a great deal of helpful information for blind parents as well as a pamphlet for those whose parental rights are being questioned. She also urged members to send articles to the Minnesota Bulletin.
President Dunnam next introduced the president of the student division, Cody Beardslee. He spoke about some of the activities he participated in at the spring Student Seminar in Illinois. He attended various presentations including one on financing college, one on being active on campus, and one on guide dogs. Carlton Walker also gave a presentation that challenged students to think about true equality. He also attended an educator’s seminar where he learned about many interesting skills such as teaching with the student’s hand over the teacher's hand so that the student’s hand is not being forced. He is excited about the future of our student division here, with our training center and the TEAMS program and encouraged the members who are no longer students to interact with the students and share their history because the history is important.
Alice Hebert then gave our midyear treasurer’s report. We now operate on a calendar year, so this report is different than in past years and the budget is not voted on by the membership. The board had a special budget meeting at the beginning of the year to help plan how we are spending our money, and President Dunnam encouraged everyone to think of fund-raising ideas.
Anne Naber next spoke about persistence as it relates to martial arts. She began taking jujitsu after graduating from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She takes the Japanese type, which combines judo, Karate, and Aikido. As a blind person she uses more contact to feel what people are doing and how they are moving to learn techniques. It helps her confidence and assertiveness, and she works to try to beat the larger, stronger people and gets better each time.
Carol Pankow, director of State Services for the Blind (SSB), spoke about the many happenings at the agency. See “What's Happening at State Services for the Blind” earlier in this issue.
Randi Strunk then spoke about accessible fitness technology. She demonstrated some accessible iPhone apps for health and fitness including one that measures heart rate using the phone’s camera, a sarcastic interval workout that describes the exercises and throws in humor, and a running app that intersperses a zombie apocalypse story into your music playlist. She has also found a way to track her bike rides by putting Bluetooth sensors on her pedals and using an accessible app to track the information.
Jack Rupert, the president of our Riverbend Chapter and vice president of the national veterans division spoke about services available to blinded veterans. The mission of the Veteran’s division is to make sure blind veterans receive the services and training they need to live the lives they want. Anyone can join, even if they are not veterans, and they will become members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Lori Anderson then announced that Jordan Richardson is the winner of our state scholarship this year. He will receive a trip to national convention as well as a check and a trip to our state convention.
Bob Raisbeck, our PAC plan chair then encouraged all to increase their contributions or to consider contributing each month to our organization in this way. Minnesota is currently fourth on PAC.
Jennifer Dunnam was elected as delegate and Steve Jacobson was elected as alternate delegate to our national convention.
Next, a panel of blind youth, Lisan Hasnain and Rakeb Max, spoke about their extracurricular activities including athletics such as martial arts and skiing, policy debate, and theater. These two young people are learning a great deal by being involved in activities beyond the academics of school including adapting to new situations, making new friends, and the importance of persistence.
Next, Dan Wenzel and others from Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. spoke about some positive changes going on at the center. These include faster Internet service being installed both for wireless and wired services. Taey Mack, who has started as the residential manager spoke about her experiences and new duties. Rob Hobson is now the new head of youth services and Charlene Guggisberg is now head of admissions. Kotumu Kamara also spoke about how the English Language Learners (ELL) program is expanding and how she will be working with an intern this summer who is originally from the Ukraine. A student, Charles Acheson, also spoke about his experiences in home management and travel, stating that he was gaining knowledge in nine months that might have taken him 30 years to learn anywhere else. He is hoping to be employed very soon.
Judy Sanders then gave a legislative update focusing on increased funding for seniors and accessible voting. One part of a larger elections bill that has passed the senate mandates accessible machines, smaller than the AutoMARK machines currently in use, could be used for accessible voting. These machines would have smaller ballots than regular ballots, so in order for our voting to be private we want them to have a plan for many ballots from these machines. If this bill does not pass, we will need another solution for accessible voting. Increased funding for seniors for SSB is critical so that blind seniors can get the services they need in the future.
Next, a panel spoke on why they joined and stayed in the National Federation of the Blind. Both Steve Jacobson and Jennifer Wenzel focused on how the Federation gives a sense of community and energy and is a way to give back to others. Steve said that as a member, he works together with others towards a common cause to make the world a better place for those who come after us. Jennifer Wenzel stated that the Federation has changed what it means to be blind for her from something people kept pointing out as her most amazing characteristic to just a part of her busy active life. She also emphasized that the NFB gave her a sense of community and a chance to give to others.
After discussing items for sale and demonstration during lunch at exhibit tables on the second floor, taking pledges to the tenBroek fund, and making a few more announcements, the convention adjourned at noon.
Four breakout sessions were held during the afternoon.
Job Search and Success, by Dick Davis
The Semiannual Convention featured a seminar for jobseekers. Natasha Jerde of State Services for the Blind described changes to the new online job application system for the State of Minnesota. What was supposed to be an improved system has proven to be exactly the opposite; less accessible to blind and even sighted people. Natasha described some ways to get around the problems in the system, and suggested that users contact the state human resources representative listed at the bottom of the job posting if they have any problems. In fact, the human resources representative can help people who are having problems completely circumvent the problems by allowing them to apply using paper materials. She said SSB is working with the state to fix the problems. For more information about state employment, contact Dacia Vanalstine of SSB at 651-539-2349. Dick Davis held a general discussion on applying for jobs in today’s environment. It’s important for anyone applying for a job to customize their resume to make it look as much as possible like the job description. This is “gaming” the system, but it is necessary in order to get an actual interview. Dick also talked about other application methods, including a paper resume and cover letter, which sets a person apart from the rest of the crowd. He answered a number of questions from people in the audience.
Seniors Division, by Jan Bailey
We had around 20 people at the seniors meeting. We heard from everyone teaching the adjustment-to-blindness classes and discussed how each does things. Many of us liked the suggestion someone made about calling sleep shades learning shades. Ed Lecher spoke to us about SSB senior services and thanked us for trying to get extra money for seniors from the legislature. Edward Cohen showed the group his ‘”Ez to See” calendars which are in very large print. Judy Sanders lead an effort to help those who wanted to make phone calls to legislators encouraging them to vote for the money for seniors, and Dave Walle made a sample call.
Promote the Use of Braille
The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) in Minnesota held a meeting and seminar.
The Minnesota Association of Blind Students held a meeting and seminar.
By Tom Scanlan
I have written previously about what this organization has meant to me, and how it changed my life. I have tried to repay it in some part, successfully I hope.
Two years ago, I ended my service as treasurer after 40 years. Alice has picked that up well.
Now it is time to end my more than 20 years editing this publication. I have not done it alone, of course. There would be no publication without people writing articles for it. The president’s column, first by Joyce Scanlan and now by Jennifer Dunnam, is a vital piece. I have had the good fortune, which most affiliate newsletter editors have not, of several people frequently writing for me. Pat Barrett and Emily Zitek have been most helpful in this regard. The Metro Chapter essay contest has also been a critical part of getting articles.
I am sure the next editor will do well. We have a wealth of talent in this affiliate, more than many in the federation. We are fortunate in that, too.
So now, off to the next phase in life. Perhaps I can be an elder statesman with some knowledge and experience left to offer.
The National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, is seeking members from Minnesota. Jack Rupert from Lake Crystal is first vice president. Interested veterans should contact Jack by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone at (507) 276-4640.
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 September 30 – October 2, 2016 in Rochester at the Kahler Grand Hotel. Room rate is $97 per night plus tax. Reservations must be made by August 30. Members will receive a letter with details, and the information is on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in May 2017 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details, and the information will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be July 10 through July 15, 2017 at a Rosen hotel 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 — statewide, consisting of those who live outside a chapter area and/or cannot attend a meeting in person; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the third Sunday of every month by teleconference call. The telephone number for the call is 1-605-475-6700 with access code 9458023.
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:00 on the second Saturday of every month (with an optional lunch at 11:00) at VFW Post 428, 9 18th Ave N in St Cloud
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 at 7:00 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month by teleconference call. The telephone number for the call is 1–712–432–0926 with access code 1005345.
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.
Activities 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.