Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Web site: www.nfbmn.org
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume LXVII, Number 2, Winter 2003
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
My Long Journey From "Partially Sighted" to "Really Blind"
A Day at the Capitol
St. Cloud Protests SSB Cuts
I Will Always Remember the Wellstones
Annual Convention: Renaissance
We are in the throes of a rebirth in opportunity, in services, and involvement for blind people throughout the state of Minnesota and throughout the nation. The new governor and his administration are extremely important and will hopefully lead to changes in administration at State Services for the Blind (SSB).
After the semiannual convention in May, we were all gearing up for the national convention in Louisville. The Louisville convention met and surpassed all expectations for an outstanding national convention. However, we returned to find more financial cuts and staff layoffs and service reductions at State Services for the Blind. Children's services were virtually eliminated in June; the Store was lined up to be closed at the end of July; changes in the Communication Center's services were forecast; and we were told that Services for the Blind would handle $416,000 of the $913,000 cut for the Department of Economic Security--in other words, 45% of the Department's cut would be handled by Services for the Blind. This, we felt, was unreasonable, along with all the other service cuts that were scheduled in August for State Services for the Blind. That led us to the August 1st march and press conferences outside Services for the Blind. We had a fine day, and our goal was to call public attention to what was going on at Services for the Blind and all of the problems that we were experiencing. One of the things that I will give to Bonnie Elsey is that she is pretty good at public relations. She knows what to say; she knows how to tout "customer service" and "choice" and all of those things verbally. However, if you know about her implementation of these things as we who are blind do know, you know that those statements that she makes are not true. She doesn't believe in customer choice; she doesn't believe in customer voice even.
That led to our legislative hearing on August 19. Senator Richard Cohen held a hearing about the budget cuts that were implemented throughout various departments including Services for the Blind. The interesting thing was how much emphasis was made on the cuts at SSB; it kept coming up, time after time, throughout the whole afternoon. Federationists made a good showing that afternoon by testifying about the things that were happening at SSB. That was another successful event for blind people of Minnesota.
The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) of the U.S. Department of Education has been reviewing Services for the Blind for about the last three or four months. That happened because we of the National Federation of the Blind wrote a lengthy letter outlining the problems we were seeing at Services for the Blind and asking for help. RSA made a valiant effort and is still making a valiant effort to address the problems. However, RSA has problems of its own; for example, the RSA officers at the federal level might be willing and interested in doing something about this, but the officers of Region V--of which Minnesota is a part--can sabotage those efforts. It has been very difficult to do much about it, and there has been sort of a conflict between what RSA might be saying and what Region V might be saying. Where we are right now is that there is no leadership in Region V. Doug Burleigh, who was heading up that region, retired in August. He did a few things as "parting shots" that were not exactly helpful to Minnesota; for example, somehow or other he said to SSB officials, "I can see that informed choice is alive and well in Minnesota." I don't know where he got that. He tended to overlook some of the problems that we were seeing. I think what they did originally was to ask Bonnie if she was following informed choice, and she said, "Of course I am. I believe in informed choice, and of course we're doing that. I believe in the customer!"--and so that's what was published. However, that claim--that RSA would come out with a "clean bill of health" for Services for the Blind--was not substantiated by any kind of report. As of the end of 2002, there has not been a report on the final review of Services for the Blind from RSA.
There has been a problem with a financial shortfall, meaning that many SSB customers were delayed in receiving services. It could have meant that SSB should have been on Order of Selection, which would have been the honest and legal thing for SSB to do. But Heaven forbid that Bonnie Elsey should go on Order of Selection, because she's been maligning the previous administration of SSB for doing exactly that when funding was short and Order of Selection was the only solution to bring out to legislators, the governor, and to blind people that we needed more funds. Of course, we all worked on that back in 1999 at the Legislature and secured funds to help SSB. It didn't take Bonnie Elsey long after she became Assistant Commissioner to do away with that. So the business of whether or not SSB should have been on Order of Selection at the end of 2002 is a question that RSA is looking at seriously.
Also, they are questioning how informed choice is being implemented in Minnesota. Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. sent off, through our attorney, a letter asking for information under the state Data Practices Act. We asked for some financial information, student numbers, some documentation showing what the policy on informed choice is, and the spending patterns at SSB with respect to the various training centers--the Duluth Lighthouse, Vision Loss Resources, and BLIND, Inc.
There were public hearings and comment periods on two particular issues. Bonnie Elsey claimed that she was being pressured by RSA to look at the "services to groups" policy in Minnesota. We received a copy of the letter that RSA sent to her, and it was clearly her initiative that led to the issue of what Services for the Blind should do on the services to groups policy relating to the Communication center. Five hearings occurred in October, and I attended three of the five. At issue was what should be done with respect to services to groups--whether that funding should continue to be used for textbook transcription and other services of the Communication Center or whether that funding should go to services to individuals under the direct services part of SSB'S program. At the three hearings I attended, Bonnie Elsey showed her mean spirit--especially at the St. Cloud hearing. She was fairly vociferous at the first hearing in St. Paul, but in St. Cloud she really tore into anyone who would raise an issue of any kind, whether it was relevant to the topic or about something different such as a personal concern. She really bullied them to come up with the kind of bureaucratic language that she might understand. It was inappropriate and showed her negativity toward the customer, contrary to her claims. That hearing was on Wednesday the 15th of October, and the next evening there was another hearing in St. Paul. I would have to say that they must have had a little discussion about Bonnie's behavior in St. Cloud, because the next night, she was greatly girded up by her two associates Chuk Hamilton and Dick Strong. They would leap in to answer questions raised by the public before Bonnie had a chance to say anything. They were protecting her greatly, and it was almost as if she had some kind of tranquilizer because she was very calm and quiet--very unlike her usual behavior. I think they must have had a discussion, and it was probably a plan that they would help her in that way, which they did very well.
I would say it's a forgone conclusion that whatever the plan is will actually be done. Those of you who attended the hearings know that they came with no proposal. They just said, "We're here to listen to people." They didn't have a plan for how they would carry this out, or how they would have students handle services such as transcription of textbooks. I would say we can expect to have the plan changed so it will be done as Bonnie wants it to be done--in other words, no spending of money on services to groups, only to individuals.
We need a new director at Services for the Blind, and I hope the new Pawlenty administration will yield such.
Let me conclude by saying how happy I am that we had a chance to do another NAC march. It is a very important issue for blind people. We in Minnesota know how it is to go back and forth with services; at one time we had two NAC- ACCREDITED agencies in Minnesota, and we are now fortunate enough to have none. We don't want to have any more NAC-ACCREDITED agencies in Minnesota or anywhere else in the country. We were on hand in great force for the march in Tampa, Florida in December. We will indeed be leading a renaissance as we march and let people know what we think of NAC - this organization that wants to exclude blind people.
We have lots of important work ahead of us, and I know that we'll all get involved and will do a fine job.
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(Editor's Note: This is the winner of the 2002 Metro Chapter essay contest.)
As a blind person, I have often been showered with compliments that I have to admit are not always completely deserved. My teachers, co-workers, and even family and friends do not always know much about the little tricks and techniques that blind people use to complete the tasks of everyday life; consequently, I have too often been deemed amazing and wonderful for completing the simplest of tasks. I do not take offense or respond negatively to these gestures, for I know that people are well intentioned in what they say. However, I do have to take these exaggerated compliments with a grain of salt.
However, I was given a compliment a few years ago that I felt extremely proud to accept. I had taken Yoga classes throughout college, and this activity became my favorite form of exercise. I took the same Yoga class with the same teacher for three years in college. I was very comfortable with her teaching style, and she never seemed uneasy about having a blind person in her class.
So, when I spent a semester completing an internship in another city, I decided I would join a Yoga class to help me keep up my practice. I found out that there was actually a Yoga studio connected to my apartment building, and I immediately went down to the office and signed up for a thirteen-week course.
However, my first class proved quite a shock to me. I was not met with the same warmth that I had experienced in my college class. My new teacher, Carol, made it painfully clear that she would prefer that I not be in her class. "I'm just really not sure how I can best teach you." I assured her that I had taken Yoga throughout college, and that having me in the class would really not be a problem for her. I gave her some tips for instructing me. For example, I told her that it would sometimes helped to use me as the example as she demonstrated a complicated pose to the class. This way I could learn the pose along with everyone else. I also encouraged her to use more verbal descriptions as she taught so that I could get some of the information that others were getting through visual means.
For the first few weeks, it was apparent that Carol was still uncomfortable having me in the class. When we tried exercises where we had to stand on one foot, she would insist that she stand next to me to make sure I didn't fall. And I felt that there was a great distinction in her mind between the other students and me. But, over the thirteen weeks of the class, I noticed a gradual change in Carol's attitude and behavior towards me. She commented with surprise one day that my balance was no worse than anyone else's in the class, and she no longer hovered over me as I completed poses that require balance. And slowly, I felt as if I became just another member of the class. Toward the end of the course, she paid such little attention to me that I sometimes even had trouble flagging her down for assistance.
I still had one problem with which I usually needed assistance. Alignment is very important in Yoga, and the other members of the class were taught to line themselves up using the squares outlined on the floor. However, there was no way for me to use this method. When doing poses, I would try to align myself the best I could, and Carol would nudge me in one direction or another if I were a little out of line.
One day when I arrived to class, Carol met me with great excitement. "I have figured out a way for you to align yourself on the mat. I have put a strip of electrical tape along the middle of your mat that you can feel with your feet." I thought this was a great idea, and I wished that I had been the one to suggest it from the beginning. Then she told me, "Eventually, I want you to be able to align yourself just by your own sense of space." This seemed to be a rather high expectation, and I knew then that her attitude towards me had completely changed.
Carol stopped me as I was leaving on the last day of class. She said, "I have to admit that I was really reluctant to have you in my class. I just didn't know what you would be able to do. And I'm just so sorry that I felt that way, because I think you could even be a Yoga teacher one day if you wanted." I told her that, never having known a blind person before, her feelings were understandable.
Then she gave me one of the greatest compliments I have ever been given. She told me that she had researched blindness-related organizations on the Internet and asked me if I were a member of one. I told her that I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind. She said, "Yes, that was the one that stood out to me, and I thought that would be the one you would be a part of."
My friends in the National Federation of the Blind continue to encourage me when I face misunderstanding about blindness. They hold higher expectations of me than anyone else in my life, and I try to live up to these expectations as best I can. I felt honored that someone could see the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind in me, and I hope that I can always live my life true to Carol's compliment.
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I am so grateful to be able to share with you my journey from the NFB National Convention to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND)--which is essentially my version of "partially sighted, really blind."
Let me first give you a brief overview of my relationship to blindness in the past few years. The cause of my blindness is unknown. I just remember that one morning, when I was in the third grade, I could see the board fine, but when I came back from recess later that day, I couldn't see it anymore. In turn my parents took me from our home in New York to numerous doctors in various countries; we traveled all over the place.
Somebody referred us finally to the National Federation of the Blind. I remember my parents putting me on a train and schlepping me all the way down to Manhattan; we went into a room and sat around a rectangular table, and I was very upset because I was with all these old people (I was about twelve and they must have been in their twenties, but to me that was very old). I didn't say a word; I just sat there very still.
Afterward, I made it clear to my parents that I didn't want to have anything to do with these people. My father, being the wise man he is (I didn't think he was at the time), said, "How do you expect to live as a blind person if you don't know any other blind people?" I said, "Dad, these people are blind. I am legally blind. We are in two different worlds; they do not understand where I come from." From that point, the only relationship I ever had with the NFB was that every year I would get two fliers--one about New York state convention and the other one about national. The little NFB logo was in dark print so I could always see it, and as soon as I saw it, I would just tear it up and throw it in the garbage before my parents saw it. I didn't want to hear anything about it.
I went through school, and as a teenager, I no longer saw myself as "legally blind;" I became "visually limited." I loved being visually limited, because I didn't understand the "legal" thing. High school was great; it was like going to school with your mom: I had readers, notetakers, and advocates. I didn't have to deal with any of the blindness issues that came up; they just magically disappeared.
Then, I went to college, where I was hit with a dose of reality. On my first day, I was suddenly expected to manage my own readers, schedule my exams, and talk to my professors. Sometimes I would go to my professors and they would say, "Michele, how can we help you?" I would get frustrated and angry, thinking, "Shouldn't you be telling me what to do? Haven't you had visually impaired students before?" (In college I was "visually impaired.") I was so frustrated and stressed out that in my junior year, I left college and never returned. It really disappointed my parents, but there was nothing anyone could have told me; I wasn't going back.
I did have the sense to know I needed some training, so I enrolled at the Lighthouse in New York. I was there for about four years, and I went through all the programs they had there (I'm a very thorough person). There, I learned that I am now "visually disabled". One program I was a part of had twenty people in it, and only one used a white cane. We were taught to maximize our residual vision. We had computer class, and we used ZoomText; there was no JAWS or anything like that. I had travel class and was given a white cane, but I wasn't encouraged to use it outside of class and it certainly wasn't a requirement. I remember being on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street and saying to my instructor, "How do I know if this is the right corner?" He said, "Use your common sense!" (That's how people in New York talk). He said, "Look up at the pole, and you see there's a street sign. Broadway is a longer word, so it would be a long white strip, whereas 42nd is two numbers, so it's a short strip. So that's how you know." I thought to myself, "But where's the sign?" I graduated from there with honors, and I moved on.
I decided it was time to work, so I auditioned and got a job in London as a background singer. When I moved there, my mother made me take my white cane (that's my parents being wise again).
As soon as I arrived in London, I made a discovery: I might really be blind. I grew up in New York, so I didn't realize how little I was actually seeing and how much I was relying on my mental picture of everything to get around. When I got to England, everything was totally different. For the first month, I would not leave my apartment unless somebody came and got me, and without exaggeration, I cried every single day. My parents and family and friends called and pleaded with me to use my cane, but I refused. Somebody from the Lighthouse called and said, "Michele, somebody from New York died because she crossed a street without using a white cane and got hit by a car." Even that wasn't enough for me. I said, "Well, that's nice; I'll take my chances." In England, the traffic goes on the left side of the street instead of the right. One of my cousins called me and said, "A lot of people from America come to England and get killed. If you don't use your cane, you might get hit by a car, and we're not kidding." I'm embarrassed to repeat this, but I said to him, "I'd rather die than use that stick." As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I realized I had hit rock bottom.
I decided I had to do something, so I called the Royal National Institute for the Blind and made an appointment to meet with a counselor. I wanted to hire a travel instructor, but she said that would not be possible because I was a "partial." I said, "Partially what?" and she said, "You're partially sighted, like me." I asked, "What do you do about it?" She said, "You just get used to it."
Every day I had to go someplace different to work, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to die, but I still wasn't going to use that stick. I started coming up with my own alternative techniques--my "blind person pretending to be sighted" tricks. It worked some, but I decided to interview other blind people to find out what they do. That led to reading books and doing a lot of research; suddenly, I had to go to every seminar on blindness I heard about. One day my mom called and said there was a letter from the NFB (I hadn't had a chance to get it torn up yet). She said they were having a convention in Philadelphia, and I decided to go because I hadn't yet figured out a good way to get down stairs.
Once, I was doing a show, and to get off the stage, I had to come down stairs from the stage into the audience. I fell down the stairs, got up, and fell back down the stairs again. I was mortified, and I had a "thing" about stairs from then on. I used to tell people that I would have no problem if there were no stairs in the world--the problem was not my eyes, it was the stairs. So I flew to this convention to learn about going down stairs.
I got to the hotel with a friend of mine, and we noticed all these people with white poles. I thought to myself, is this a try-out for the summer Olympics? Then we went to registration, and I saw that everybody had them, and I realized of course they were canes, but I had never seen them being used like this before. I got excited because I saw people walking by themselves without guides. These people were just doing this, and I was beside myself. I talked to everybody (well, almost everybody, since there were three thousand people). I called my mom and said, "Mom, do you know blind people have jobs?" Almost everyone I had met up to that point was on SSI (Supplemental Security Income). I said, "Mom, do you know they have houses and families?" I had never thought I would have a family. My father got on the phone and said, "I told you: how do you expect to live as a blind person if you don't know any?"
At the convention, there was a talk on travel, and I talked to Joe Cutter from New Jersey and told him my sob story about stairs. I didn't have a cane with me, so when I finished my story, he said, "I have a present for you." He offered me a cane; it was so pretty, and I was happy now because I had a pole like everyone else. Joe Cutter introduced me to Ron Burzese. Ron listened to my story, and he was so gracious and patient. We went to a staircase, and he told me to close my eyes; I'm from New York, so I was suspicious and made sure my friend was watching, but I did it. He showed me how to use the cane going down the stairs, and it was the safest feeling. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Ron said in his deep, Barry White voice, "You have a decision to make. You can either live the rest of your life as a clumsy sighted person, or you can become a respectable blind person." Those words hit me; so many people had pleaded with me, but when he said that, it was like he knew me. I thank him every day now, about twice a day.
After the convention I went back to London to finish up my jobs, and then I came back home. Three days later was nine-eleven (September 11, 2001), and I thought to myself, I am never getting on a plane again ... oh, well, so much for my dreams of going anywhere. A few weeks later, there was a big deal in the news about how Mike Hingson got out of the World Trade Center, and I said to my parents, "How much you wanna bet he's from the NFB? Anyone who went to the training center I went to, they would never have gotten out!" A while later, I received the Braille Monitor with the article about him, and I went crazy! I thought, "This is another sign! I know many people in those towers did not have the opportunity to get out, but even if I had been there and had the chance, I probably wouldn't have taken it, because my fear of coming down a flight of stairs was so deep I would have sat there and perished." I realized then that getting good training wasn't just about becoming respectable, but it could be a life and death situation.
I had my boyfriend from London come and fly with me on the plane to Minneapolis. All my life I always said there were two places I wanted to live: London and Minneapolis. I grew up watching Mary Tyler Moore, and I wanted an M like the one she had in her apartment. I did check out the other NFB training centers, but I already knew I was coming to Minneapolis. It was very challenging to get New York to pay for me to come here, but that's for another time. But I kept knocking on their door because I knew that eventually they would give me what I wanted just to shut me up, and they did so thanks to Shawn Mayo and a lot of other people.
I have only been here since September 16th, 2002 and I have already seen a huge change within myself. I knew I needed confidence but could never figure out why I couldn't get it. I realize now it's the training. I'm walking around and I'm not banging into things. As a singer, I travel a lot, and usually I would get someplace, cry for a week, and then get going. I have not cried yet in Minneapolis, and I am so happy.
In closing, I'd like to thank the Federation on behalf of myself and my fellow BLIND, Inc. students. Thank you for not only challenging us to embrace our blindness or aspects of our blindness, but for providing us with the opportunity, the wisdom, the mentoring, and the tools which enable me to stand now as a respectable, independent, "sky's-the-limit" blind person.
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(Editor's Note: Raeann wrote this paper for her high-school civics class after last year's Day at the Capitol. Metro Chapter members are well acquainted with Raeann's participation in NFB activities with her parents, Pat and Trudy.
8:30 AM: I am a member of the Metro Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM), and I participated with this group in our annual Day at the Capitol which started at this time. Our headquarters room was 500 South in the State Office Building (SOB). Judy Sanders, legislative chairperson for the NFB went over the fact sheet of our issues to discuss with state senators and representatives.
9:30 AM: First thing on our agenda was to meet with Senator Steve Kelley who was located in the Capitol building, which we got to by way of shooting over to the Judicial branch when we missed our turn in the underground tunnel that connects the three buildings. Sen. Kelley was a nice, understanding yet fair man. The reason he understood where the NFB was coming from was because he had an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa.
10:30 AM: We went back to visit Rep. Andy Dawkins from District 65-A back at the SOB. We discussed with him the main issue on the fact sheet, which is that the NFB wants to see that Minnesota establishes a free-standing agency for the blind instead of having the current one, which is submerged under layers and layers of bureaucracy. For the rest of the hour, we were not able to meet with anybody, so we just dropped off copies of the fact sheet. In some cases, the reason they were not there is because they were in committee. But in one case, we were given the chance to pull one of the representatives out of committee and see what that was like. But due to the lack of time, we had to decline.
11:15 AM: A small group of us went down to eat lunch in the cafeteria in the basement.
Linda Higgins was the senator sponsoring our bill; SF751. Rep. Tom Rukavina was sponsoring the bill on the House side; HF384. Sen. Higgins is located in Capitol 328.
12:30 PM: Coincidentally, when we got back from lunch, we heard that our bill was getting a hearing, which doesn't happen very often that suddenly. The hearing was short and somewhat confusing in my case. The bill was brought up but had already had a hearing before and been amended. The language of the amendment was contrary to our bill's purpose. So, we suffered a setback. But due to the language of the opposing bill, it has been suspended for one year.
2:00 PM: We had appointments with Sen. Jane Ranum and Rep. Mark Gleason who both were from our district; 63-B. We discussed with them what happened at the hearing. But, unfortunately, they were leaning towards the answer that our bill wasn't going to be passed. Rep. Gleason suggested that the current agency for the blind, State Services for the Blind (SSB) could be taken out of the current government structure and put into the Department of Administration. Joyce Scanlan, President of the NFBM, thought this was a good idea. Also, the point was taken that if the governor agreed with Rep. Gleason's suggestion, it would make it soar higher.
2:45 PM: Rep. Gleason, when hearing I was doing a report for school, offered to take me on a tour of the Capitol. So we went down to the main desk to ask for a tour guide to take us up to the roof of the Capitol. But, unfortunately, they were in a meeting till 5:00. So he took me and the group I was in on a tour of some of the more popular rooms. These were the Supreme Court chamber, and the Senate chamber, and the House chamber. We were only able to enter into the House chamber where he gave us a tour. One place he took us was the back room where they discussed their business with constituents. Engraved above the fireplace was this quote, "Free and fair discussion will ever be held..." He also pointed out to us that if you stand in the middle of the chamber above you where the dome is, if you speak, your voice gets projected throughout the whole room as if you had a microphone in your hand, even if whispering. He also pointed out to us his assigned seat, and the wall that showed how the votes were cast. And then due to lack of time he had to go.
It has been a great and interesting learning experience for me today. I got to sit in meetings with the people that we read about in books. And when I got the tour of the Capitol and the chambers, it made me realize how important the government actually is. And it made me realize the difference between senators and representatives. So, all in all, I had a good time.
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Members of our Central Minnesota chapter, led by chapter president Andy Virden, contacted government officials in St. Cloud and Sterns County to make them aware of the budget cuts to State Services for the Blind made by the Department of Economic Security and Assistant Commissioner Bonnie Elsey. Here is just one example of the fruits of that effort.
How this support will affect Bonnie Elsey and the Department of Economic Security remains to be seen, but this is a good example of Federation involvement in local government by our members and the support that involvement can generate.
I'm writing this letter of support on behalf of the City of St. Cloud to encourage you to restore funding that was cut from the State Services for the Blind.
Leaders from the Central Minnesota Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind appeared before the St. Cloud City Council to inform us about this issue and to express their concerns about the consequences of this budget cut. While I am well aware of our State's budget challenges and their implications on many levels of service, it appears that the cuts to the Services for the Blind are disproportionate and affect a very vulnerable population.
On a local level, the St. Cloud area office had its workforce reduced from five workers to two, a decision that will dramatically affect the level and quality of services provided. I am asking you to reconsider that decision and its negative impact especially on children and senior citizens who are blind.
It also appears that housing the State Services for the Blind in the Department of Economic Security might not be in the best interest of an estimated 40,000 Minnesotans who are blind. Especially not when their services account for only 5 percent of the department's budget, but were slated to absorb 45 percent of the cuts. This does not seem equitable.
As Mayor of St. Cloud, I am concerned about the quality of life of all our residents and ask you to reconsider these budget cuts which target some of our most vulnerable citizens.
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I met Senator Paul Wellstone in 1996 when I was a volunteer in his local St. Paul office. I volunteered one to two days a week between the primary and final election, if memory serves me correctly.
I was first struck by the differences in people who worked there. There were young and old, high-key and low-key people. This fascinated me, because it was rare that I saw the same people more than two or three times, except for Dan, the Campaign Manager, who had just passed the Bar Exam. I never saw him often, but when he popped out of his little cubbyhole whatever he said was like an orchestral crescendo. He certainly did represent the brightest and best.
The political bug bit me at that time, despite everything I did to stifle it, because of Rev. Jesse Jackson's not having had the chance to be in a final election. The political bug has remained a part of me ever since.
I did little things, nothing important, such as inserting maps and things in invitations to parties held at local residents' homes. I counted fliers and other things by 50's and 100's. I stamped and sealed letters. Once in a while, I'd put a stamp on up side down and some one would say, "Oh, Julie's here today. A stamp is up side down." I would blush and apologize and we'd have a good laugh. We realized that whatever happened, we were working shoulder-to-shoulder, swapping stories of how we became so important in this political race, talking non-stop of what brought us here.
People from many locations came to work as the political ads turned extremely ugly. My story was short; I never liked former Senator Boschwitz, Wellstone's opponent, and I never would.
It never bothered me that I'd never met Wellstone to this point, but one day I did rather unexpectedly.
It happened like this:
I found myself working next to a deaf lady that day. Realizing we'd never be able to talk, I pulled out my Walkman and inserted a Daryl Cooley Gospel music tape, one of his Greatest Hits. The music inspired me to work faster and faster as I got into it. Suddenly I heard a voice behind me with some one shaking hands with people. He tapped me on the shoulder and I pulled off my Walkman and heard, "Thank you, thank you so much. Paul Wellstone!"
He repeated this, going around the room.
At first, I thought for sure it wasn't him! It couldn't be! But as he talked with more and more people, I knew with certainty it was. The office was abuzz with life. I turned to Scot, who was in charge of us volunteers. "Wow, Scot!" I exclaimed, "aren't you glad we didn't even think of having a card party in here?" Everybody laughed and we were excited at the moment until Dan shut his cubicle door behind them.
The reason Paul was there that day was to help out Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., whom I had met as a law student on the evening he spoke at Hamline University. I had taken Jesse's pictures at that time and handed him one with a Braille label of his name. He'd said he'd keep it forever; often I wonder if he has. A few weeks later, I tripped on a curb on the way to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), and sprained my ankle. One of the campaign staffers helped me sign up for an absentee ballot. I wrote Senator Wellstone, explaining that because of this, I wasn't in his campaign office any more, but hoped to come back in the final days before the election, which I did. I thanked him for how nice the rest of his staffers were in my situation, helping me to vote. I let him know I voted for him when the ballot came.
I still have the letter he wrote. He said he appreciated my help as much as the others in the campaign office. He reminded me that this was a tough election, but that if he won, it would be because of people like me. That was my last communication with him directly.
I met Senator Wellstone's wife only once, the day everyone, especially campaign workers, were invited to the St. Paul office, which Senator Wellstone informed us was going to be the most open, accessible Senatorial office in the history of Minnesota. I shook hands with and hugged both of them and exclaimed, "Hey, you two are short like me!" We had a good laugh.
I was in the middle of composing an important e-mail when I heard the news of the plane crash. All of the events described above whirled through my mind. Almost daily since I left Minnesota, I've read of the way he and his wife championed the causes of the Common Man.
Just the week before, I had said for what must be the millionth time to listeners at social gatherings, "If we lose Wellstone from Minnesota, Feingold of Wisconsin, and Harkin of Iowa, this country will be in a mess." My stomach feels even today as if it were punched really hard with this loss. He and his family members and campaign workers will be missed.
During the last Presidential election, I shook hands with Tipper Gore. But never have I known mightier champions for the Common Man than the Wellstones. Many will miss them.
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A renaissance is defined as a renewal of life, vigor, interest etc. The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBMN) could be said to have a renaissance at every convention. Members find that they are renewed and eager to dedicate themselves to the bettering of lives for all Minnesotans. The energy of participants and the content of this convention was no exception.
Members began arriving at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester early Friday afternoon. Friday afternoon and evening brought a variety of activities that had something for everyone. We began with a seminar for those interested in matters dedicated to senior citizens. Cochaired by Judy Sanders and Charlene Childrey, this seminar emphasized positive lifestyles for seniors who become blind later in life and, of course, for those who have been blind all their lives.
Toward the other end of the spectrum, the National Association of Blind Students in Minnesota met over pizza to reinvigorate themselves for working in the Federation. Ahmed Chaing, president, acted as chair.
A meeting followed for people of all ages of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille in Minnesota ably chaired by its president, Kathy McGillivray. The round of meetings ended with the presentation of resolutions to the Resolutions Committee chaired by Jennifer Dunnam.
The Rochester Chapter, Jan Bailey President, reminded us that all work is not the way we do business in the Federation. Their fine hospitality made us feel welcome, full of food and gave us the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones.
Door prizes were given away in abundance throughout the convention. The Rochester chapter donated most of them, and particular credit was given to Michaela Morritz for her work in seeking donations from the Rochester business community. It was announced that the grand prize for the banquet that evening would be a copy of JAWS, a screen reader for some lucky person's computer. Laura Des Marais was able to persuade Freedom Scientific to make this donation.
Also throughout the convention, our traditional bake auction was very evident with a variety of baked goods and dinners for sale. We even sold the services of one of the BLIND, Inc. students for babysitting pets or children. Al Spooner magnificently coordinated auctioneering duties. The auction raised close to two thousand dollars.
President Joyce Scanlan called the convention to order promptly at 9 a.m. Saturday. After Pat Barrett's invocation, Jennifer Dunnam led us in some spirited singing.
Allen Harris, our national representative to this year's convention, presented "A Renaissance for Blind Americans Through National Effort". Allen is a past member of the NFB's Board of Directors, past treasurer of the NFB and is currently Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind. His wife, Joy, also a longtime Federationist, joined him at our convention.
His report began with greetings from Dr. Mark Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind. He began by telling the glad news that Congress has passed and President Bush has signed a bill into law that is supposed to bring about election reform. This includes the opportunity for blind people to vote privately for the first time. However, as meaningful as this reform is, our work is not done regarding this matter. Congress did not allocate any money for the accessible machines so this issue will probably be back.
In October the Access Board held hearings in Portland, Oregon to hear public reaction to their proposal to put audible traffic lights at every intersection and place truncated domes in public sidewalks to hopefully aid in our independent travel. Federationists were on hand both inside the meeting and outside of it to make our views known. We have been traveling independently and safely for many years and there is no reason to believe we cannot continue to do so. If their plan is adopted, it will take over $1 million just to fit Portland with all the bells and whistles they are proposing. That money could better be used to give blind people the training they need in independent cane travel. We believe that their final report will reflect our thoughts somewhat with some curtailment of their plans.
NAC is back! The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) had scheduled a meeting for December 13 and 14 in Tampa, Florida. New Federationists may want to read past issues of the Braille Monitor to learn more of NAC's sordid history. Briefly, NAC is a small body of people, primarily funded by the American Foundation for the Blind that sanctions the work of agencies for the blind--if the agency is willing to pay NAC's fees. The accreditation is not contingent on quality service. Therefore, the NFB will once again be present to expose their behavior.
"Text On Time" is a proposal that the Federation and others, including the American Publishing Association, presented to Congress during this last session. It would require that all textbooks for children be available in electronic format so that the books could be transcribed into alternative formats for blind students. There would be a federal depository for these texts that would insure efficiency and lack of abuse by those who are not eligible for these books. This bill, which should have been noncontroversial because of its wide support, was blocked by the Bush administration when Assistant Secretary of Education Robert Pasternack was told that Braille was obsolete and this bill was not needed. We need to write to Rod Paige, the Secretary of the Department of Education, to let him know how important braille is in our lives. This bill will hopefully be back for the next Congress.
We will still be working to raise the Social Security Substantial Gainful Activity limit for blind recipients of Social Security Disability benefits. Social Security should provide better work incentives for blind people so that we can become taxpayers without fear of losing income.
The Medical Equity Act will also be back next year. This would allow doctors to write prescriptions for rehabilitation services for blind seniors that could then be funded by Medicare. Under the current system, our government does not give nearly enough money to meet the needs of the largest growing population of blind citizens-our seniors. We must find another way to meet this need. In looking at the reauthorization of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), we are concerned with services available to transition students. These are teenagers who are long ready for adjustment to blindness services and we will try to make this a more integral part of a blind child's education.
We do not yet know when the Rehabilitation Act will be introduced for reauthorization but when it is we will try to strengthen the "choice" provisions in it.
Jean Martin, director of the Minnesota Resource Center for the Blind in Faribault, is a longtime friend of the Federation and blind children in Minnesota. She presented an update on the education of blind children in this state. She and a team of others in the field of education have been evaluating the questions that appear on the benchmark testing for Minnesota's school children. They ensure that there is no bias in any of the questions that would make it more difficult for blind children to answer the questions. She assures us that blind students take the same test as their sighted classmates.
Once again, she promised to work with Minnesota's vision teachers to promote our "Braille Readers Are Leaders" contest. The contest began November 1 2002 and will end on February 1 2003.
President Scanlan presented the item "Renaissance On the Home Front: A Report to the Members." Her report centered on the continuing problems with Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) and, in particular, Assistant Commissioner Bonnie Elsey. Joyce read a memo to members of the Minnesota Council for the Blind calling for a retreat where members of the Council could learn more about their role as Council members. This would be an opportunity to get away from the public, which she considers divisive. We have checked with the Attorney General's office and the Department of Administration and both tell us that it is not legal in Minnesota for an appointed body such as the Council to have a closed meeting except in certain circumstances--none of which apply to this Council. It will be up to the NFB to insure that no such secret meeting takes place.
Joyce closed her report by reporting that Minnesota was active in the letter writing campaigns regarding our desire to see the proposed requirements for audible traffic signals greatly reduced and our wish to see that descriptive video not be a government mandate.
In Judy Sander's legislative report, she emphasized the importance of the upcoming elections. She pointed out that the Federation does not endorse candidates but we should each make a point of knowing which candidates will be supportive of Federation issues; in particular, we should vote for candidates who will support a separate agency for the blind. It is important to note that Party affiliation is not a predictor of support for Federation issues. Judy closed reminding us that there will be many new members of the Minnesota Legislature and we have our work cut out for us to educate them about the needs of blind citizens.
Our afternoon began with a comprehensive report from the director of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Catherine Durivage. Among other things she related: That the library suffered cuts during last summer's layoffs in state government. Unlike SSB, the Department of Children, Families and Learning laid off supervisors to help their budget. Others were affected as well including Rene Krentz, a longtime employee at the library.
Much to everyone's dismay, mold was discovered in the Braille collection stored in the basement of the library. Each volume must be cleaned and the space must be mold free before the books can be returned to the shelves or dispersed to patrons. In the meantime, we are urged to continue to request books; orders will be filled with the help of the subregional library and NLS (the National Library Service) itself. In addition, we were reminded that we can use Web Braille to receive books. Catherine's sincere hope is to keep the braille collection here and asked for the Federation's help to do so. It was unanimously given. The Federation was helpful to the library in receiving money for compact shelving to store the cassette collection. That shelving is just about in place and Catherine reports that there is room for growth of the collection for a long time.
Bequest money was used to modernize the phone system. We can now leave our list of book requests on their toll-free number at any time of day. Call 800-722-0550.
The library's newsletter, always available in large print, cassette or braille can now be received through e-mail. Just call the library with your e-mail address.
News from NLS: Catherine had a chance to travel to NLS for some long overdue training. She was able to view a variety of models of the new digital talking book player that NLS will use in the future. The one that would later be chosen as the prototype for NLS is called a "dook." The machine looks like a book.
By 2003, NLS expects to have selected recorded magazines available on the Web. This is a pilot project.
NLS's collection will increase by several thousand volumes because the Jewish Braille Institute (JBI) is giving its entire collection to the library. We will be able to order these books through our regional library. JBI will continue to produce books for NLS.
Catherine saved her most exciting announcement till the end of her report. The Library for the Blind and the Communication Center have become cosponsors of NFB NEWSLINE. This means that we will have access to NFB NEWSLINE for the year 2004. Local information can be added because we now have a sponsor. The Department of Children, Families and Learning is providing all the money for this service; the Communication Center will oversee it. People can apply through either agency or directly with the NFB.
"A Reconsideration of an Old Subject: The Best Location in State Government for SSB--a membership discussion" was led by Tom Scanlan. Tom began with a concise history of where SSB has been located since its inception in 1923. However, it is important to point out that wherever we are located in state government our prime concern has to be the personnel of the agency. As Allen Harris pointed out, we can have the most progressive structure in the world, but if administrators who do not understand our needs run the agency it will be meaningless. Allen observed that Minnesota has dedicated itself to the Workforce Investment Act--even though many think its time has not yet come and it is doomed to failure. As long as we are in the Department of Economic Security, SSB is in real trouble.
Terry Nelson, from one of the new stores selling products for blind and low-vision people, came to introduce his new store to us. His store, and that of his competitor's, opened after SSB closed its store. Terry's store is located at 2200 University Avenue in St. Paul in the same strip mall with SSB. Terry has worked in the area of low vision for many years. Blindness products are new to him and he is seeking our assistance to make his store what we need. The Federation agreed to provide advice on product selection.
Shawn Mayo moderated a panel entitled "Examining Our Beliefs About Blindness". The first speaker, Miguel Mendez, passionately illustrated that our environment plays a key role in how we react to our blindness. Miguel grew up around a family who loved him but also lived in an area with many teenage gangs. Miguel's blindness may have kept him from participating in the gangs; but at the same time, he lived in constant fear. Coming to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. has liberated him; he is learning to be free and safe.
Chris Nicolosi, the next speaker, is the president of the BLIND, Inc. student council and newly elected vice president of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. Chris taught us that we can have a second chance. Many years ago, Chris was a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind where he admitted that he was not ready for his training. He could not accept the importance such training could have on his life. After trying college and finding that his life was going nowhere he decided that it was time to rethink his attitude toward adjustment-to-blindness training. He now looks forward to finishing his training and going back to college.
Michele Gittens, the final speaker, is a professional singer who has traveled to foreign countries to practice her trade. She told us that her blindness came on very suddenly as a child for no apparent reason. She learned that she was legally blind. However, when she entered high school, she called herself visually limited. She went on to be visually impaired, visually disabled and partially sighted. Finally, because, of many harrowing experiences in her travels, she accepted that she was blind and decided to do something about making her life happier. Michele credits her training at BLIND, Inc. for giving her the confidence to truly excel in her career.
THE BANQUET: As usual, the banquet proved to be the highlight of our convention. Allen Harris provided inspiration and wit in his banquet address. History is a tool that was used well in this address. As Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, Allen reviewed the stellar accomplishments of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan who served as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind for twenty years. By knowing the past the Federation can work for a more positive future in rehabilitation and in every part of our lives.
In addition to Harris's address, Michele Gittens entertained us with an example of her professional singing. Angela Howard was announced as the winner of the essay contest sponsored by the NFB's metro chapter. Her essay was not only chosen as the best but she won the prize for the random drawing from all those who entered the contest.
Sunday morning began with a spirited discussion of the role that members of the Federation can play on SSB's Rehab Council. Although not much was known at the time of the convention, it was understood that the Council would be holding a closed meeting (or retreat) to focus on their purpose and duties as a council. We planned our strategy for gaining entrance to the meeting and what we would do if we were not admitted.
Two panels were carried over from Saturday's session. The first, "Splitting the Clock with Career, Education and the Federation," let us hear from three speakers who know how to meet a challenge. They are all employed, continuing their education and as active as ever in the Federation. Sheila Koenig is a teacher at Southview Middle School and a student at the University of Minnesota working for a master's degree in education specializing in curriculum and instruction in English. Emily Wharton works part-time as a computer instructor at BLIND, Inc. and is studying creative writing at Hamline University. Angela Howard works at a student loan agency in the human services department. She is a student in the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. All agreed that even with their heavy workloads, time had to be found for Federation responsibilities.
"Court Decisions on Technology Affecting Blind Citizens" began with Jennifer Dunnam reading a press article telling of a court decision that said that the ADA did not cover the Internet. This was a case in which a blind man sued Southwest Airlines because the airline's web site was not accessible to him. The court ruled that the ADA only covers accessibility to physical places--not virtual ones. Steve Jacobson led a thoughtful discussion about the problems in navigating web sites and how much we can demand that they be accessible.
ELECTIONS: Our board consists of president, Joyce Scanlan; vice president, Jennifer Dunnam; secretary, Judy Sanders; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; board members, Jan Bailey, Eric Smith and Charlene Childrey. This year we were to elect a vice president, treasurer and two board members. Jan Bailey announced that she would not be seeking reelection. She is working for her master's degree in rehabilitation and is not able to give the time commitment she feels is necessary for her position. Joyce expressed all our thoughts when she said that we look forward to Jan's completion of her degree so she can once again continue her full participation as a Federationist. (Note: Jan still serves as president of the Rochester chapter.) Election results were as follows: vice president, Jennifer Dunnam; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; first board position, Pat Barrett; second board position, Eric Smith.
Jennifer reviewed the activities of "Meet the Blind Month" which occurred in October. Federationists were busy making appearances at schools, senior citizens groups and setting up exhibits at large employers.
Plans were made for the upcoming NAC activities in Tampa, Florida. The Federation has grown so much that it was necessary to review what NAC is for our newer members. Members voted to allocate $5,000 for assistance to members traveling to Tampa and/or our upcoming Washington seminar. Our local chapter presidents gave reports that indicate the grassroots movement of the Federation is alive and well throughout the state. Whether participating in "Meet the Blind Month", fundraising, engaging our legislators in an educational effort or recruiting new members we are busy.
Joyce expressed thanks to Allen and Joy Harris for their many contributions throughout the weekend. Allen gave closing remarks recognizing the energy and commitment he saw coming from the convention participants.
Jennifer reminded us about our new web site, www.nfbmn.org, which is bringing us new visibility. We are already seeing results from this site. Jan Bailey reported that one legislator used it as a means of getting background information about the Federation before he came to speak to a local chapter meeting.
Throughout the convention, we dealt with various resolutions dealing with State Services for the Blind and the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Faribault (see below).
Tom Scanlan announced that we raised close to two thousand dollars in our bake sale auction. On that positive note, Joyce thanked our host Rochester chapter for its hospitality. The convention adjourned at noon.
WHEREAS, measures of customer success, when appropriately developed and applied, can be a key component in improving the quality of services to the blind and can provide prospective students of adjustment-to-blindness training with one important part of the information they need to make an informed choice about service providers; and
WHEREAS, State Services for the Blind (SSB) has developed an instrument for measuring outcomes which purports to include measures of the skills and the self-confidence a blind job-holder needs in the areas of independent travel, communication, home and personal management, technology, leisure activities, attitude about blindness, and career planning; and
WHEREAS, a committee of service providers and others was appointed to participate in the development of the instrument, and the process was facilitated by Public Strategies Group, an entity with knowledge about developing public systems but with no background at all in the provision of services to the blind; and
WHEREAS, examination of this recently developed instrument shows that a preponderance of the skills and abilities being measured are very basic, "entry- level" tasks which can often be performed by a blind person without the need to go through adjustment-to-blindness training at all (e.g., making telephone calls; plugging a cord into an electrical outlet; and traveling around home, garage and yard); and
WHEREAS, furthermore, the measurements do not elicit information about whether the student can perform a given task using techniques not requiring vision; and
WHEREAS, because a positive attitude about blindness - in addition to mastery of blindness skills alone--is a critical indicator of a person's success on the job and in life, high-quality adjustment-to-blindness training centers carefully and deliberately work with students to help them put their blindness into the proper perspective; and
WHEREAS, repeated requests by committee members having extensive experience in work with the blind for inclusion of measures that reflect the real- world skills required to hold a job and that assess the student's overall attitude about blindness were ignored and discounted throughout the development process; and
WHEREAS, some of the questions in the final version of the survey provoked laughter from members of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind and the public when they were read at a recent Council meeting; and
WHEREAS, the resulting instrument--with its insultingly low standards, its dubious relevance to the actual experience of adjustment to blindness, and its trivialization of the adjustment-to-blindness process--sends a clear message of minimal expectations for blind people, is virtually useless for gathering meaningful information about the types and quality of services provided, and represents a drastic drop in the standards historically applied at SSB; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this second day of November, 2002, in the city of Rochester that this organization condemn and deplore the instrument currently being used at State Services for the Blind (SSB) to measure outcomes of vendors providing adjustment-to-blindness services; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist that SSB abandon the use of the current instrument and rewrite it in a framework of high expectations and with a greater emphasis on higher-level skills, use of non- visual techniques to accomplish tasks, and assessment of attitude toward blindness; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization urges the members of the Rehabilitation Council to reject these outcome measures as they are currently designed and join us in requesting that they be revised.
WHEREAS, NFB Newsline (R) is an automated nationwide telephone service that enables blind people to read any of more than 50 daily newspapers, any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; and
WHEREAS, thanks to a special appropriation from Congress, NFB Newsline (R) will be available until March 1, 2003 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia through a single nationwide toll-free telephone number; and
WHEREAS, after March 1, 2003, NFB Newsline (R) will only continue operating in those localities where local sponsors can be found; and
WHEREAS, the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning has graciously agreed to sponsor NFB Newsline (R) in Minnesota, thereby insuring the continuation of this valuable service; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this second day of November, 2002 in the city of Rochester that this organization commend and loudly applaud the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning for agreeing to sponsor NFB Newsline (R) in Minnesota; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization work closely with the Department to promote and expand this valuable service throughout the state.
WHEREAS, since February 2000, Bonnie Elsey, a political appointee with no experience in blindness and a demonstrated lack of willingness to learn about it, has been the Assistant Commissioner of State services for the blind (SSB); and
WHEREAS, Ms. Elsey's administration has been characterized by ignorance of blindness, hiring of managers and supervisors who have no knowledge of blindness, and the virtual elimination of staff training in blindness; and
WHEREAS, Ms. Elsey steadfastly refuses to seek and use the advice of the legitimate, elected representatives of blind people, and expresses contempt for blind persons and their organizations--preferring instead to rely on the advice of paid consultants who have no experience in blindness; and
WHEREAS, Ms. Elsey's administration has also been characterized by elimination and destruction of essential services and programs (such as services to blind children and senior citizens), layoffs of service-providing staff, and the waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars on management systems and administrative buildups; and
WHEREAS, according to the state Client Assistance Project (CAP), the number of appeals by blind persons because of SSB'S service denials has doubled over the past year; and
WHEREAS, only three years after receiving the largest state appropriation in its history, SSB is heading into a financial crisis and is currently trying to obtain additional state money; and
WHEREAS, SSB is the subject of a continuing federal investigation by the Rehabilitation Services Administration; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota has tried to work with Ms. Elsey, only to find its advice disregarded and its leaders ignored; and
WHEREAS, Ms. Elsey is a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the Governor of Minnesota; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this third day of November, 2002, in the city of Rochester that this organization condemn the administration of Bonnie Elsey and deplore the harm that she has done to blind people, and furthermore that we call on the new Governor of Minnesota to fire Ms. Elsey and to consult with the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on the selection of a new assistant commissioner who understands blindness and blind people, respects their elected representatives, and is willing to work hard to repair the damage which has been done.
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Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held in May 2003 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention.
The National NFB Convention will be held at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky from June 28, 2003 through July 4. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. Full details are in the Braille Monitor. The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held in October in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention.
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