Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Kathy McGillivray, Editor
Volume 84, Number 2, Spring/Summer 2017
Table of Contents
From time to time, each of us experiences seasons in our lives that are busy and challenging in ways we had not anticipated. Since this has recently been the case for me, I am deeply grateful to several Federationists who stepped in to compile this issue. I hope these articles encourage all of us to continue working together so all blind Minnesotans can live the lives we want! I look forward to editing future issues. Please keep those articles coming!
A few weeks ago, 99 Minnesotans attended another inspiring and refreshing national convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando. Amid all of the many exciting activities that served to build and strengthen our Federation and move forward our agenda of action, one of the highlights of the convention was the banquet address delivered by our national president, Mark Riccobono (text available at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/convent/2017/banquet-speech-2017.html). The topic is particularly timely as we observe the fast-increasing innovations in technological tools that we as blind people can use to increase our independence as we go about our lives. In the speech, President Riccobono discussed the many considerations that go into our approach to such innovations, to ensure that we are the ones shaping our lives and our technology, as opposed to the technology driving things for us. In talking with Federationists since the convention, I gather that many have found this speech especially helpful, which is certainly the case for me personally. The past six months have caused me to think quite a bit about the relationship of technology and raising expectations.
The passing of my father back in February, after his five-year battle with cancer, has brought about a good deal of opportunity for reflection about how incredibly fortunate it is for a blind child to have parents who refused to accept excuses or half-measures when it comes to education, and who hold the blind child to the same standards as their other children who are sighted. Although I was born totally blind, no one knew it until I was about six months old. The day my parents learned I could not see was one of the few times I have ever heard of my father crying. But it was not long before both of my parents recovered from the shock and decided their approach. Thank goodness, they did not listen to the doctor, who conveyed the attitude that since I was blind, there was no hope, and I should simply be protected. Instead, they determined that it made more sense to continue to treat me as they had when they assumed I was sighted, so that I would be equipped to live in the real world. Their attitude stayed that way always, and they did their best with what they knew to put it into practice. I had the same chores, the same opportunities, and the same punishments as my sisters.
Both my parents' formal education ended at high school graduation, which was common in their time and place. For their three daughters, they insisted on attention to education, and plans for college were a given. When I was a toddler, They gave me wooden blocks shaped like print letters, and spent time making sure I knew the shapes of those letters—long before I learned braille. They taught me to spell before I could read. That may have started out accidentally, though. To try to avoid my knowing what they were talking about when it came time for feeding, they sometimes spelled the words; before long, I am told that they soon began hearing from me a request for my "b-o-t-t-l-e"! From then on, spelling became an important tool for me. In games of hide-and-seek, when I got frustrated at not being able to find my younger sisters for a long time, (and only after I had given a good try to find them), my father would spell out where they were, so that they would not understand that he was helping: "u-n-d-e-r, t-h-e, t-a-b--l-e."
As soon as I was big enough to wield a little wooden hammer, Dad bought me a tool bench and tools all made of wood, teaching me all about screwdrivers, wrenches, nails and hammers. Of course, I hammered on one of my little fingers once, and I am sure that this upset him more than it upset me. But the next day, there was the tool bench, and no restrictions on my using it, other than my own memory, which did a fine job of keeping my fingers well out from under that hammer.
As a little girl of four, I can remember us driving around to different places to find a school for me. After one of these trips, I recall overhearing my father say in absolute disgust, "we're not sending her to that baby-sitting service!" Why not, I wondered—all the baby-sitters I knew were wonderful! But thank goodness, I was not in charge back then. My first three years of school were in New Orleans—a public school but with a self-contained program where I could learn braille and other necessary skills on my way to being mainstreamed into classes with my sighted peers. The school was an hour drive each way from our house, so my mother took a job at a bank near the school. She also began to learn braille and ultimately became a Library of Congress-certified braille transcriber, thus allowing me, beginning in third grade, to attend a completely mainstream school nearer our home. My mother's new career also gave an opportunity for other blind students to attend nearby public schools as well.
My dad taught me how to ride my first tricycle, then took the training wheels off my first miniature-sized bike. He was there a few years later the first day I finally got the larger-sized bike I had been coveting from my cousin who finally outgrew it. On my very first foray down the driveway on that bike, because the brakes worked differently from what I was used to, I could not stop quickly enough upon realizing I was off-course, so I flipped over a culvert into a ditch, chipping one of my teeth. That was traumatic for us all, but as soon as I was able, I was encouraged to be out on that bike again, and operation of the new brakes was second nature in no time. For years afterward I rode that bike all over the property on which we lived.
Dad grew up in poverty and had a strong sense that people underestimated him because of it. I believe this gave him a particular ability to understand my struggles with people's low expectations of me because of blindness. If I vented to him about times when people talked to me as if I were two years old instead of twenty-two or thirty-two, he discouraged self-pity but understood the frustration. He and my mother also instilled in me that I needed to do my part to raise the expectations, by not asking others to do things for me that I could perfectly well do or could perfectly well learn to do for myself.
I have immense gratitude for my parents' efforts, and for those of the many parents of blind children everywhere who are also working so hard to fight against the low expectations their children face. For example, Jean and Allan Bening, whose daughter Megan also unexpectedly passed away six months ago, fought and worked creatively to make sure that she was empowered to live a full life and to help many others. For another example, the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota has just met the family of a little boy who lost his sight a few months ago. His parents found us while researching to make sure that their son could get all the opportunities and education possible, so that he, too, can grow up and live the life that he wants and not be held back by the low expectations that he may find at his school or elsewhere.
We have the recently-released documentary "Do You Dream In Color", which chronicles the barriers faced by four blind teenagers in getting their education (hint: the fact that they cannot see does not rank when compared to the low expectations that they face). If you have not seen the film yet, I recommend it; it is available from all the usual places where digital versions of movies can be bought, and it is available with descriptions of the visuals when purchased from iTunes. The trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9RhlPQkQPw One important feature of the depiction is the role of parents. All of the kids had parents who were very supportive; Not all of the parents had the same level of resources to put behind that support, but all encouraged and did their very best for those kids. That is a big reason why their blindness itself was not their real problem.
All of this leads back to the discussion of the role of the technological innovations. Along with several other Minnesota Federationists, I have over the past few months been part of experimenting with the new Aira service. Aira is a platform that allows a blind person to wear a glass and connect to a sighted person remotely who can see through the glass and provide descriptions of visual information. As a person who has spent decades successfully finding ways to get the necessary information to live independently and efficiently without the need of vision, and working to help convince our society that vision is not a requirement for success, this innovation has caused quite a bit of internal conflict for me and others. Surely we do not want to move in a direction that would seem to put sight as the perceived key ingredient in independence, when we have worked so hard to teach ourselves and others otherwise. However, I recognize the potential value in this new tool when added to our existing excellent nonvisual techniques, and so I am testing it out to help sort out where it can be beneficial. I will likely have more to say about this later, but for now I have two basic findings.
First, and perhaps quite obvious, using Aira is not like becoming fully sighted. In fact, it strikes me as somewhat analogous to what it might be like to have partial vision. The vision can provide useful access to information, but it also has limitations: the field of view is more limited, there is a lack of depth perception, and the fact of the information needing to be spoken (as well as any latency in the video and audio connection) mean that the information is more slowly gleaned than if it were seen directly, and it may also be incomplete. This is not to say that this way of getting information is useless—quite the contrary. It simply has limitations that need to be understood and sorted out, and those limitations need not determine the limits of what a person can know and do, if that person has good alternative skills. For example, being able to spot an empty seat independently in a crowded cafeteria using Aira can be handy. However, unless I have the skills to carry my tray with my cane and navigate the path to the seat without bumping into people along the way or tripping down the steps leading to the seating area, knowing the location of the empty seat will not have much benefit for me. An Aira agent can tell me what temperature my oven is set at, but if I use Aira to place tactile markings on the oven knobs at the various temperature settings, then I will not need to take the time to call an agent to help me every time I want to cook.
All of this leads me to my second and very much related point about Aira (or any of these types of technological tools). I would submit that innovations such as these make it even more imperative that the education system for blind children be improved, and that blind people of any age get access to quality training toward blindness-specific skills and positive attitudes. If these technologies do remove more barriers and thereby help raise expectations, then we must have the foundation and preparation we need in order to clear the higher bar.
I look forward to the work we will do together in the Federation, to build the lives we want, and to bring a future full of promise.
(Editor's Note: Presentations at our 2017 semiannual convention this year included a panel entitled "The Power Of Our Stories". The following is taken from the remarks Randi Strunk made as part of that panel.)
I grew up in rural Nebraska, and what you do there is you play sports. So I joined the basketball team during my freshman year of high school. I went to every practice, worked hard and traveled to every game, and I sat on the bench every game. There was one time I got in with about 15 seconds left. We were losing, and it was one of the last games of the year. I was discouraged. What was all this work for? Maybe I just wasn't cut out for sports.
Fast forward ahead to my freshman year of college. I was going to a lecture in a night class, walking in the rain. I couldn't really see anything because it was dark, and I didn't use a cane. I thought, "there's got to be a better way. I don't know what it is, but I don't like the way I feel right now."
Later that semester, I went to a college workshop put on by the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and the Nebraska Association of Blind Students. It was there that I started to see what I wanted for myself. Blind students were traveling independently, going to college and taking notes independently. The keynote speaker there was a blind lawyer who graduated from Yale. And I thought, "this is it, I'm beginning to find the things I want for my life." And so I went home and literally read every Braille Monitor article that person wrote.
I moved to Lincoln, and for the first time I had a local chapter of the NFB and the student division to be involved in. I really didn't jump into the Federation with both feet until the summer of 2003. Now, it is important to the story to say that Ryan and I had started dating by then. In the summer of 2003, we decided that we were going to work for the NFB Corps. The NFB Corps was a program where people went around to different states and started new chapters of the Federation or strengthened chapters that already existed. Ryan and I were smart—we were going to spend the summer together, we were going to get paid to travel around the country, and all we had to do was organize chapters of the NFB.
Dr. Maurer was smarter, however, because I found myself on a plane headed to Illinois with Kimberly Aguillard, and Ryan was on a plane to Vermont with Yolanda Garcia. I was mad. This is not what I had signed up for. I tell you, looking back on it, the six weeks in Illinois were some of the best in my life. Not only did I gain one of my best friends in the world, Kimberly, who was later in my wedding, but I didn't have Ryan to rely on. I had to figure out things for myself, because I was recruiting people to this Federation and had to explain why it was important to me. I had to stand on my own two feet and learn to be a leader on my own, and learn to confidently talk to people about blindness and about why the Federation is so great. The skills that I learned through the student division and NFB Corps are great opportunities that we have in the Federation. For me, I didn't have those opportunities until I found this organization. We have so many groups, committees and divisions in the NFB that there's more than likely one thing that you will be interested in—whether it is a hobby or your career. I encourage you to get involved and experience that leadership for yourself.
We have such a great network here. I've moved to three different states after college. First we moved to Hawaii and we didn't have any biological family there, but the minute we landed, we had Katy Keim, Virgil Stennitt, and Brook Sexton, members of our Federation family, to welcome us there with open arms. We moved to Texas, and we had Angela Wolfe and Kimberly Aguillard there to welcome us. And then we moved to Minnesota and we had all of you who brought us into your Minnesota Federation family. I think that's so special, like you guys have given me the confidence to not be the kid who was scared walking in the rain to class.
I've taken up triathlon as a hobby. That's kind of a 180 for me, from sitting on the bench of a basketball team. I recently did a half-iron man in Texas. That's 70.3 miles combined swim, bike, and run. Because of you guys and the confidence and the skills I have gained as part of this Federation—that's why I'm able to do something like that. That is why I am a Federationist.
(Editor's Note: This presentation was given at the 2017 Semiannual Convention.)
Greetings once again from SSB. It's always great to be here.
As you can imagine, these are complicated times for government agencies. The threat of a government shutdown on the federal level has been pushed off until September, so we anticipate a rocky road come the fall. Our state legislators and the governor are in the middle of hammering out a state budget, and, with the Monday night deadline fast approaching, once again there is some talk of a shutdown. Our main focus, in the event of any disruption is to lessen the impact on our customers, and that's something we're always thinking about and preparing for.
Last year in a non-budget year, the NFB of Minnesota lobbied successfully for an increase in funding for training seniors who are losing vision. Those dollars have made an incredible difference in the depth of service that we're able to offer to seniors and helped to stabilize our senior services program.
For instance, we've been able to send seniors to more indepth training at BLIND, Inc., and that too has made a world of difference. Seniors leave here feeling empowered and confident and comfortable in their abilities to manage their own lives and stay active in their own communities. A few weeks ago, we learned that the continuance of that funding for training might be in jeopardy. That's when you all again went to work – calling legislators, monitoring the process, and making it known what a difference the funds make in keeping seniors in their own homes. You once again did a full-court press to let the governor and the legislature know that this funding matters. As for now, it looks like that funding is secured going forward. So, on behalf of those seniors, our senior services staff, and for myself personally, I want to thank you for advocating on behalf of independence and quality of life for Minnesota seniors who are experiencing vision loss.
In the midst of complicated times like these are, what keeps me going is the successes of our customers. I want to share with you a couple of those stories, along with sharing the numbers and the program updates from across SSB.
As I mentioned, we've been able to send seniors to BLIND, Inc. so that they can receive solid training over several weeks in cooking, using technology, managing a household, and getting around. We hear over and over again about seniors who began classes feeling reluctant and fearful, and came out feeling excited and confident. In 2016, seniors had an 8-week, forty-hour program here. In our 2017 fiscal year, seniors are taking an expanded 12 week class at 120 hours. We were also able to send 4 additional seniors free of charges due to grant dollars BLIND, Inc. had received.
With the extra money we have seen that more resources and training have made for better outcomes. For example, compared to 2016 on average we have seen an 18% increase in seniors ability to master skills of blindness (O and M, AT, Communication, Daily Living). This is a self report they give us at the end of training.
Here's just one example of what that actually looks like. One of our senior Services Counselors, Katie Viaene met with a gentleman who was living in a group home and desperately wanted to be able to live on his own. Here's how Katie tells the story:
"Clyde explained that it seemed that this goal of living on his own had been put on a temporary hold until he could learn the skills to safely manage by himself. So, we didn't waste any time, and discussed options to make his goals possible. Clyde lit up when he heard about the opportunity to attend classes at BLIND, Incorporated. Attending BLIND, Incorporated quickly became the plan, and he couldn't wait to go learn and work towards making his goals a reality, which is exactly what he did."
Katie goes on to say that the next hurdle was transportation. She put in time and effort and talked with several providers trying to work out rides to and from BLIND, Inc. She writes, "I communicated with Jennifer and Dan Wenzel at BLIND, Incorporated, and was extremely impressed with their overall kindness, and willingness to work with both Clyde and myself on this. Jennifer went out of her way to work with me, and get Clyde to and from classes. Jennifer let me know that if there were issues with rides going forward, she would try and arrange for an Uber to come and get him, or even have someone from BLIND, Incorporated transport him if need be. I was amazed! Having another person be such a strong advocate for Clyde was so wonderful. When Clyde graduated from BLIND, Incorporated, I could tell that he had learned a great deal, and felt more confident all around. He was so proud of his efforts and accomplishments. I had a lot of fun watching Clyde learn and grow, and couldn't be more pleased with his accomplishments." The group of men that went through that class now take the bus and meet regularly for lunch.
That's a little bit of what's happening on the senior side. At the other end of the age spectrum, we've had a lot going on for young people too. As I've mentioned before, because of changes in federal funding, we've scaled up the services that we can offer to students between the ages of 14 and 21. One of the programs we were able to offer this year is called Blind and Socially Savvy, which is put on by the International School of Protocol. It teaches those so-called soft skills, like knowing how to introduce yourself, hold the door for someone, or navigate a formal dinner. If you're sighted, and you sit down at a dinner table and there are three forks in front of you, you can look around and see what other people are doing, and bluff your way through. If you don't have those visual cues it's not so easy to fake it. So the folks who put together Blind and Socially Savvy designed a curriculum to teach those skills to young adults as they head off to college or internships or jobs. BLIND, Inc. partnered with us to hold one training, and another was held at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind. We'll hold a third training up in Duluth later this summer.
One person here who took the training and then talked with our State Council about it is Alycia. Alycia is heading off to MCTC this fall, and one of her growing interests is in public speaking. When she spoke to the council, we were impressed by her energy and poise and confidence.
Later this summer, she will be part of a panel to speak to college professors about accessibility.
In addition to talking about all the technical and practical things she learned at Blind and Socially Savvy – like using a nifty method called the "continental style" of using a knife and fork, or knowing how to pull out and hold a chair for someone to be seated, or how to start a conversation, or mingle at a networking event, Alycia says that a lot of it comes down to being respectful. I think that's exactly the kind of thing that will give Alycia that extra edge. She's already been putting what she's learned to use, having conducted an informational interview, and finding opportunities to open a door for someone and introduce herself. She, and the other graduates of the program are building a capacity for self-advocacy and initiative that they can draw on in every aspect of their lives.
I can't emphasize enough that this kind of self-confidence and initiative are absolutely fundamental for the success of our customers. You can know everything there is to know about assistive technology, and have good grades in school, and a well-written resume, but, when you're sitting across from a hiring manager in a job interview, you've got to make the case that you are a better fit for the job than all the other applicants. Fostering that kind of confidence represents the best of what the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota stands for, and it comes through here at BLIND, Inc. too.
Here's another example of what I mean. Abdi Osman, who many of you may know, came to this country 3 and a half years ago and was scared of almost everything. He heard about SSB, and even though he was scared, he agreed to come to the PREP program at BLIND, Inc. He was scared to use a cane, scared to walk down stairs, and scared to venture out on his own. But he was willing to try, and willing to face his fears, and that's what made the difference. Abdi will be graduating from high school in two weeks, and if there is anything that scares him now, you definitely wouldn't know it from talking to him. Because he benefited so much from the PREP program, Abdi is enrolling in the adult program here at BLIND, Inc. He wants to learn everything he can. He has a goal of working in technology – maybe for Apple – and, like Alycia and the other young adults in our transition program, he's building both his hard skills and his soft skills, so that he'll have the best shot at living the life he wants.
Clyde and Abdi and Alycia are three of the reasons why I get out of bed and come to work every morning. And, I said at the beginning that I would also share with you our updates and those numbers that measure our progress in a given year, so here's where we are:
In our workforce development section, our numbers are slightly down overall. We have a case load of 685 customers, which is down about 100 people from previous years. Since 2015, we've been under Order of Selection which forces us to put some consumers on a waiting list because of fiscal constraints. Currently there are 19 people on that waiting list. Since the beginning of our federal fiscal year, 84 of our customers have found work. 48 of those have been in their jobs for longer than 90 days, so they are successful closures; the other 36 are within that 90 day window, so they will be successful closures when they reach that marker.
The state of Minnesota has made a commitment to increasing the number of state employees with disabilities and, as part of reaching that goal has launched a program called Connect 700. The thinking behind it is that if people can get a foot in the door and prove their ability to do a job well, we can get around some of that initial resistance to hiring people with disabilities. To date we have a small handful of customers who have jobs in state government through the Connect 700 program. We see it as one more tool in our toolkit. So far this year, while our number of successful closures is slightly off-pace for the year, , the average wage, especially for parttime work is higher than it has been. The average wage, for full and parttime work is $19.16. Last year's average was $16.75.
We continue to move forward on the Communication Center side as well. 2019 will mark fifty years of the Radio Talking Book, and we have a committee working on some really interesting plans to mark that anniversary. We're also close to launching an online searchable catalog of all the books we've produced. It's been a huge undertaking to get that ready to go, and Lisan, who some of you know, was part of making that happen.
We're in the process of replacing the software that manages our Communication Center services. As you can imagine, there are a lot of specialized requirements that we need in that software, so it's a big job. We'll soon be hiring a radio engineer to fill the position held by Hal Shardin, to bring us back up to full strength. Since the beginning of the federal fiscal year, the NFB-NEWSLINE® has been accessed 250 thousand times and we are on pace to hit 400,000.
While I'm talking about the Communication Center, I'll mention one example of how we're working to break down the silos within our agency, so that we can collaborate better in serving our customers. Recently, one of our workforce customers got a great job as a music therapist at a senior living center in St. Louis Park. It's one of those places that offers options for independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. In other words, it's a big place. When Rachel started, she soon realized that there wasn't a good way to find individual rooms. There wasn't any braille, or raised numbers, and there were too many to memorize easily. Rachel knew her way around, but often, to find a specific room, she had to ask someone. So our Business Relations folks got together with Jay, our Braille Supervisor, and arranged a brailling party. Jay worked with his staff in creating braille labels for every room, and he, along with Pam, Dave and Dacia put braille signage on every room. It was an easy fix that we had the resources to make happen, and it allowed Rachel to be able to focus on doing her job.
Finally, in Senior Services, we're on track to serve around 5,000 seniors this year. Last month, we partnered with BLIND, Inc. and the NFB of Minnesota to host a Possibilities Fair in Mankato, highlighting all the opportunities for maintaining independence and a good life for seniors who are losing their vision. As I mentioned, the real story in senior services is the expansion of the quality and depth of service that we've been able to offer. We're looking to expand the successes we've found here at BLIND, Inc. in other parts of the state. Recently, a team from the Lighthouse in Duluth came down to observe the programming for seniors at BLIND Inc. They left here feeling energized and excited, but mostly impressed. I know, because I heard about it.
Betsy from the Lighthouse talked about how impressive Briley was and how impressive the curriculum was. She said that one of the seniors was anxious to try to do everything faster and better than the others in the class. Briley gently reminded him that this isn't a race, it's a journey.
As always, I know perfectly well that SSB and NFB of Minnesota will not always agree on everything, but, I'm glad that we can talk – that I have a chance to meet regularly with Jennifer and the leadership here, and to talk things through as they come up. This is, in fact, a journey, and I'm glad to be on it with you.
(Editor's Note: This summer, a young girl and her grandfather took classes at BLIND, Incorporated at the same time—she in the Buddy Program, he in adult refresher classes. The following article is reprinted from the June 28 edition of the Star Tribune http://www.startribune.com/preparing-his-granddaughter-for-a-life-without-sight/431205983/
David House brought his 8-year-old granddaughter, Lily, to Minnesota this month for a three-week stay. She got to visit the Mall of America and a petting zoo, and on Tuesday she even got to play softball with some new friends.
It was a chance for the two to bond and, more important, a chance for David to help teach his granddaughter how to be blind.
Lily is attending the Buddy Summer Program at BLIND, Inc., housed in the former Pillsbury mansion in Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood. Blind or sight-impaired kids come from all over the country to work on both the practical and emotional aspects of being blind.
David, 59, learned he had retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease, when he was 5 years old. The disease is inherited, but the gene is recessive, so both parents have to have the gene in order for their children to have the disease. David's wife does not have the gene, and none of their four children has the disease. David and his three sisters, however, all have the disease, which is rare.
"When Lily was young, I was certain she didn't have it," said David. "It was a long shot. When it was diagnosed, I was pretty shocked and depressed. Lily is at the onset stage, so I wanted to get her here as soon as possible to start to deal with being blind. [BLIND, Inc.] is one of the top places in the country."
The agency let Lily into the program even though she's a year younger than its youngest participants, mostly because her grandfather also came to take adult refresher courses.
In an upstairs room Tuesday, Lily was learning to use a talking typewriter to craft sentences. She wore a Pokémon T-shirt and, at times, a blindfold. Students who can still partly see wear blindfolds to get them used to not being able to see at all. Lily took commands from the computer, successfully writing out "I ate a fish salad."
It wasn't easy.
"Agh, that tortured me," Lily said. "Get me away."
Another student, Charles, stopped by to visit. He had just taken the "travel class," learning to get around the neighborhood with a cane. He named all the adjacent streets and their direction from the building.
I asked him how he knew the difference between north and south.
"You go outside and face the building," said Charles. "That's north. Never Eat Soggy Worms — north, east, south, west," he said, pointing to each direction.
In the afternoons, the kids have "talk times" where they can discuss their frustrations, uncomfortable situations and strategies to overcoming life as a blind person. They also take field trips and engage in activities such as rock climbing and horseback riding.
"My favorite was actually the Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America," Lily said.
David was downstairs, working on his computer skills. "She's probably better at computer skills than I am," he said. "I'm better at Braille. Just wait until you see me in the fire juggling class."
It's that persistence, humor and positive outlook that he hopes to pass on to his granddaughter this week and from now on. Lily lives with her grandfather part time in Missoula, Mont.
Despite losing his sight over a number of years, David graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in public administration. He got married and had children and built a very successful business, running cafeteria vending machines.
"My goal is I just want her to have her skills exceed her blindness," David said. "I have to get her prepared for a life without sight. My goal is to have her take over my business some day."
Back home, Lily is on a swim team, is on her way to a black belt in karate and takes piano lessons.
"I don't want her to have a different life just because she's blind," David said. "Even as busy as my business is, I thought it was important to be here with her."
Lily wanted her grandfather to go on the MOA field trip with her. He said if she'd let him skip the field trip, he'd take her someplace special.
"She outfoxed me," said David. "After she went to the mall on Saturday, I asked her where she wanted to go that was special. She said, 'Back to the mall.'?"
"I want to teach her that nothing is insurmountable," David said. "With the blindness itself, if you have the right psychological and emotional attitude, you can conquer anything."
It was a beautiful rainy day in Minneapolis, making it easy for Minnesota Federationists to stay inside our historic building to shape the future of blind Minnesotans. 120 of us gathered to listen, learn and contribute our thoughts so that we can live the life we want. People came early to partake of coffee and doughnuts. The Registration line was short because of the many who pre-registered. Special thanks to Cindy Dulude for stepping in to staff the registration table.
President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order and then turned the microphone over to Ryan Strunk, president of the NFB's metro chapter, for a brief welcome. Convention attendees included representatives from all six of our chapters. A live stream of the convention was available for those who could not attend in person.
Much appreciation was expressed to those who pitched in to set up tables and chairs and who would stay at the end of the day for cleanup duty.
One very popular feature of recent conventions is to hear "pro tips" about how blind people accomplish everyday tasks.
Pro Tip #1 from Shane Wegner: How to run on a treadmill. Shane wears a resistance band; one end is tied to the handles of the treadmill and then it is tied around his back. The give and take of the band lets him know how close he is to the edge of the treadmill. On the high tech end, Shane straps a foot pod to his shoe; this connects by bluetooth to his phone, so that he can get information about speed, distance, and the like.
Ms. Dunnam reported that sixteen people went to Washington DC for this year's seminar where we visited the offices of the entire Minnesota congressional delegation. We need to keep working with them to support the following bills:
H.R.1772: Accessible Instructional Materials and Higher Education Act. This act would ensure that material in colleges and universities would be accessible to blind students.
Access Technology Affordability Act: This would provide a tax credit for blind persons investing in assistive technology.
We are seeking an appropriation for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to provide refreshable braille displays for reading books much like the program that provides digital players for recorded books.
Transition to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act. This Act provides for the elimination of the exemption allowing employers to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages.
In the state legislature, we are working to find the best way to protect blind parents from having their children taken away based on their blindness. Throughout the nation Federation affiliates are exploring the best way to do this.
We are also working to help the state determine what the next generation of voting machines will look like. The law mandates that every voting precinct have at least one voting machine that allows everyone to vote privately and independently. The current voting machines are no longer being manufactured, and we must help determine what will take their place.
Minnesota has no licensing program to train teachers of blind children. We continue to urge the legislature to provide funding for such a curriculum at a Minnesota college or university.
Last year, the NFB of Minnesota was successful in getting an increase to the budget for State Services for the Blind (SSB) to serve senior citizens. This year we discovered an effort in the legislature to rescind that increase. We are working hard to see that it does not happen. (Note: At this writing we now know that we were successful in saving that funding.)
This year the NFB of Minnesota sponsored our third Possibilities Fair for seniors. It took place in Mankato and allowed seniors who are losing their vision to become familiar with how they might continue to lead the life they want.
Our Walk for Opportunity will be held on September 9 in Rochester. This is a fundraiser, and everyone from throughout Minnesota is urged to participate.
Pro Tip #2 from Brian Dulude: Mr. Dulude lets us know that blind people can smoke meat. He recommends looking for sales and investing in a brisket. The night before smoking, put a rub on it by placing it in a large trash bag and shaking it to distribute the seasoning. Plan to baby-sit it all the next day over your smoker. It will be tender and succulent.
Under the leadership of President Cody Beardslee, our Minnesota Association of Blind Students is thriving. On April 1, students gathered for the "No Joke" seminar. Speakers included Patti Chang, chair of the NFB's national scholarship program and Kathryn Webster, president of the Federation's national student division. The theme for the seminar was self-advocacy. Beardslee acknowledged several teenagers who were in the audience.
The NFBM is now operating on a fiscal year beginning on January 1. Alice Hebert, our treasurer, came forward to give the mid-year report. A motion was made and seconded to accept the report.
Pro Tip #3 from Judy Sanders: Ms. Sanders talked about being in charge when using customer service at a grocery store. She also made suggestions for labeling the groceries.
Aaron Cannon is the chief engineer at Accessible 360. As Mr. Cannon came to the microphone, Dunnam expressed appreciation for this company's sponsorship of the convention. This company teaches businesses how to make accessible websites. This is one company who wants its clients to need them less and less. One of their success stories was Dairy Queen.
Carol Pankow, the director of State Services for the Blind, gave us her usual thorough report. Her remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
Pro Tip #4 from Ryan Strunk: Following the food theme, Mr. Strunk gave us hints about cutting, chopping and slicing vegetables and cake in the kitchen. One example is making a fist with the non-cutting hand, to use the knuckles of that hand to line up the knife for cutting.
"Earlier Start on a Bright Future: Working with Teens" was presented by Michell Gip, the coordinator of Youth Services at BLIND, Incorporated. Miss Gip introduced ten-year-old Charlie Rush-Reese who shared that he is learning braille and other skills of blindness. All of this is new to him and he is looking forward to being a buddy this summer.
Along with the Buddy program, Ms. Gip described the various other youth programs that will be a part of BLIND, Inc.'s activities. We were also introduced to Stephanie Martin, Gip's assistant coordinator. She recently graduated from Louisiana Tech with degrees allowing her to teach blind children cane travel, braille and other skills.
Kyle Hanneman then urged us to join him in a fit break where he led us in some stretching exercises that brought us renewed energy.
Briley O'Connor, a blind parent of an energetic toddler, began her talk by telling us her story about her single mom who wanted advice about how to raise a blind child. Her mom looked in the phone book in their Virginia city and found the National Federation of the Blind. The family received the advice they were looking for, and Ms. O'Connor began her journey in living the life she wants. She believes that a parents' division offers two primary opportunities for parents and children: first, parents get advice in what their children need to learn about blindness; and second, parents and children have a large network of blind mentors to teach them about succeeding in life.
Pro Tip #5 from Alycia Howard: Miss Howard reminded us that when speaking in public we should remember that people are watching us and we should try hard not to show our nervousness. Among other things, she recommended that we keep our hands busy by painting a picture and stay focused on what we have to say.
Our scholarship chair, Lori Anderson, came forward to present two state scholarships. Wesley Sisson and Hannah Herriman will each receive an all-expense paid trip to our annual convention where they will be presented with their monetary scholarships; in addition, Ms. Herriman will attend the national convention with expenses paid.
Dunnam shared plans for the national convention in Orlando. BLIND, Incorporated will have its traditional karaoke night; BLIND and the NFB of MN will share a table in the exhibit hall selling various Minnesota products, and all attendees will have the chance to be a part of making plans for the future. The semiannual convention elected Jennifer Dunnam as our delegate to the national convention and Steve Jacobson to serve as alternate delegate.
Our affiliate has a tradition of donating money to the Jacobus tenBroek fund. This fund supports the maintenance of our national headquarters building. We make these contributions in two ways: members pledge what they can give as individuals and then a motion is made to have the affiliate treasury match that amount. Members pledged $1,385, and the affiliate will match that amount.
The NFB of Minnesota was formed in 1920 (then known as the Minnesota Organization of Blind.) The national organization came into being in 1940 and Minnesota was one of the original seven states to make up this new movement. To preserve our proud history, the NFB is creating an oral history project. Toward that end, Minnesota is providing a recorded interview conducted by Steve Jacobson with Maxine Schrader who joined this movement in 1941. In a clip of that recording, played at this convention, Schrader talked about the magic of Dr. tenBroek; his charisma inspired people to listen and to think beyond their current limits. Ms. Schrader says that whenever she wonders how to solve a problem that she feels is created by her blindness she thinks "What would Dr. tenBroek have said about this?"
Schrader used to edit our Minnesota BULLETIN using her typewriter (which she still owns). She even typed over three hundred mailing labels to send it.
Pro Tip #6 from Dick Davis: Dick Davis taught us how to make raised lined paper so we can write letters or anything else. Roll a piece of paper around a pencil. Shake the pencil out of the tube and hold the tube flat against the table. Use the pencil to iron out the tube, and you have raised line paper.
It is always inspiring to hear from the students and staff of BLIND, Incorporated (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions). This center was created by and for blind people; we know what it takes to be successful as a blind person, and this program epitomizes what we can do for ourselves. Dr. Brian Dulude has a long and varied career in serving blind people, having worked in Louisiana, Arkansas, Utah and now Minnesota. Since November, he has been the new assistant director at BLIND, and he says that the most fun he has had since his arrival was joining everyone in cutting down a tree for the holiday season. Dr. Dulude is spearheading staff development opportunities such as hearing from someone who works with people who have sustained brain injuries and those dealing with Mental illness. These speakers will help the staff better serve a diverse blind population. Dulude also teaches career exploration.
Laura Martinez is a student who became blind two years ago. She had been blind for seven months when she met staff at BLIND. Ms. Martinez is a social worker who was so devastated about her blindness; she was always helping others and now she thought she couldn't help herself. That was until she encountered the energy and purpose of staff and students who gave her reason to hope. She is now almost finished with her training, and she has the chance to return to her former employer.
Rob Hobson is now the coordinator of professional development and outreach. Mr. Hobson is updating the school's curriculum to today's standards and is designing programs to train professionals from other programs for the blind. There have been groups from New Jersey and Nevada coming to learn about structured discovery. The other part of Hobson's job is to recruit students.
Dan Wenzel, executive director of BLIND, closed this panel by talking about the depth of the programming available. Whether it is a child, adolescent, employable adult or senior citizen—or whether it is a new citizen of our country—BLIND has something to offer. There is also opportunity for professionals to enhance their careers here. Mr. Wenzel wants to continue to find new segments of the population who can gain from coming here.
Wenzel announced that the student apartments are moving to Stadium View Apartments just off the light rail system. The complex has a 24-hour concierge service and a computer lab. It even has a theater and a fitness center. Wenzel said, "Just like George Jefferson would say, 'We're movin' on up!'"
A "Go Fund Me" campaign has been launched to help cover the costs incurred in the move. Dick Davis thanked the 51 people who have donated to the fund. Corbb O'Connor moved and Bob Raisbeck seconded a motion for this affiliate to donate $250 to the fund. Debbie Hobson proposed a friendly amendment to donate $300. Amendment accepted and the motion passed unanimously.
"The Power of our Stories" was presented by Jeff Young of St. Cloud, Jan Bailey of Rochester, and Randi Strunk of Edina. You can read their remarks in this and future issues of the BULLETIN.
Bob Raisbeck closed out our session explaining the Preauthorized Contribution plan. This plan is a way for members to contribute to our national treasury through an automatic withdrawal from our checking or debit accounts or charge on our credit card.
The morning session adjourned and everyone enjoyed a fried chicken lunch served by the Minnesota students. All the food was donated and all proceeds went to the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. People had plenty of time to socialize and look at exhibits before the afternoon workshops.
The afternoon break-out sessions were all well attended and substantive. They included meetings of the Minnesota Association to Promote the Use of Braille, Minnesota Association of Blind Students, and the NFB of Minnesota Seniors' Division. There was also a session in which any and all participants from throughout the state had the opportunity to present about a technology tool that they find useful; discussion and debates about the merits and drawbacks continued throughout the afternoon.
Conventions are an important way that we build our organization and get our work done, and the 2017 semiannual convention was no exception!
Our Minnesota members of Congress need to hear from us! Please call your Congressman or Congresswoman and ask him or her to cosponsor these three bills: the AIM HIGH Act (H.R. 1772), the Access Technology Affordability Act (H.R. 1734), and the TIME Act (H.R. 1377). Note that Representative Rick Nolan is already a co-sponsor of Aim High. Please also call senators Franken and Klobuchar and ask them to cosponsor S. 732, the Senate version of the Access Technology Affordability Act. The phone number for the Capitol Switchboard is 202-224-3121; from there, the operator can transfer you.
As you travel with your service animal via Lyft or Uber, please make sure to record your experience in the NFB's rideshare testing online questionnaire: https://nfb.org/rideshare-test. As a part of the NFB's settlement agreements with Uber and Lyft, the NFB is conducting testing to assess how successfully both companies are implementing new policies and procedures regarding drivers' obligations to transport riders with service animals. We are seeking feedback regarding positive and negative rideshare experiences; please take time to report your experience.
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 October 20-22, 2017 in Brooklyn Park at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest. Room rate is $99 per night plus tax. Reservations must be made by September 29. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in May 2018 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 take place in July 2018 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 for purchase 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.
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.
· Caitlin Baker formats the layout of the print edition.
· Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape, Compact Disc, and audio download.
· 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.
· Jennifer Dunnam 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.