Quarterly Publication of the
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Volume 73, Number 1, Winter 2007
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
She’s Sighted and a Fine Federationist
By Joyce Scanlan, President
As I reflect on more than sixteen years during which I served as executive director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. and the countless decisions involved in carrying out the responsibilities of such a job, I am often shocked almost to disbelief at the success of the program founded by Federationists with a dream that we could create something of value to improve the lives of our blind brothers and sisters.
Many people fully expected us to fail. We never considered anything but absolute success as the outcome of our brave venture. It’s impossible to list all individuals or entities deserving credit for our success; however, there is no doubt that a certain staff person in the home management department merits high praise for her dedicated service and numerous contributions in the building of our program. That is Betty Bishman.
Betty joined the staff of BLIND, Inc. in the summer of 1989, our second year of operation. She had excellent credentials as a professional home economist with a B.S. degree in home economics/education, certification by the American Association for Family and Consumer Science, and several years of experience in the county home-extension service of Minnesota. At the time of her application, Betty was also a novice nun with temporary vows in the Order of St. Benedict. As she applied for the position, we were all impressed with her outstanding home management credentials, but a nun in our midst! How would she fit into our unusual group? We never know what combinations of personalities and behavior will come together in our students. How would a nun handle the anger, possible swearing, passive-aggressive behavior, etc., etc., etc. of our students? Our staff also represented a broad cross section of society; some might imbibe alcohol; some might use “raw” language; some might eat way too much. Could a nun be comfortable working in our bizarre environment as we worked with students to free them from the stereotypes and misconceptions of blindness? Would she join and appreciate the National Federation of the Blind as much as a blind person would? We needed to determine the answers as we came to know Betty. Her interview had to provide help.
It was essential that Betty meet Mark during her interview. He was a young man who had lost his eyesight as he worked as a bouncer at a university fraternity party. He had been a star hockey player. Mark loved every person around, especially women, and he demonstrated it by throwing his arms around everyone in a warm cuddly hug. How would a nun handle this? Would she slap him? Would she push him away? Would she leave on the spot in anger never to return? Would she scold him, hug him back? What would she do? Betty’s reaction to Mark’s behavior was her supreme test. It would let us know many things about Betty, and how she might fit into our group.
Well, Betty passed the test by taking the whole incident in stride.
And that was the beginning of a very warm and friendly relationship between Betty and the students and staff of BLIND, Inc. and the National Federation of the Blind. She had many initiation experiences to learn about blindness, the alternative techniques we use, and about the Federation. She accompanied us to our national convention in Denver that first year and to all subsequent state and national conventions.
Soon after Betty came to BLIND, Inc., we made one of our traditional camping trips. Betty is a very sincere, deep-thinking, straightforward person. I can remember only one incident in which I detected some “plastic” or somewhat phoniness in her spoken words. On our first camping trip, as we were all crawling into our sleeping bags that first night, I heard her say with a definite smile in her voice, “Don’t you just love camping?” Camping may not have been her favorite program activity. She was more comfortable in her kitchens or our home building than out in the wilds of a campground where we carried our water for cooking and washing. Betty was a hound about cleanliness and clearing the environment of any germs whatsoever. Everything had to be “convent clean.” On every camping trip she would hang up a bar of soap wrapped in a nylon stocking on a string right next to the water faucet so we’d all faithfully wash our hands before meals or any activity around food. Betty was a real planner about meals, cleaning the stove, or making sure everyone lived in a germ-free environment.
She had a way with students that never caused them to be angry. In fact, I know of no other instructor who over the years never had a student in the director’s office complaining about something said or done. Other staff might say to a student, “Go wash your hands.” Betty would say, “We’ll first give you an opportunity to wash your hands.” Everyone loved Betty. Moreover, during Betty’s tenure as home management instructor, BLIND, Inc. never had a single case of food poisoning or any such gruesome thing. Betty’s techniques paid off. One of her favorite tools was the paper towel or “family napkin,” as she termed it; Betty confessed that because of her reliance on the “family napkin,” she would never have made it as a pioneer woman.
It is only a guess, but I always had the impression that the Minnesota State Fair was Betty’s favorite activity. She was brought up in the 4H program and had spent many weeks on the fairgrounds entering food and craft competitions. She knew the layout of the area better than anyone else and could instruct us on key locations to gather at specific times during our day at the fair. It was where she had some of her roots as a home economist. All students in Betty’s group had a special opportunity to benefit from her profound love and enjoyment of the state fair.
Students from all cultural backgrounds came to our program. Many from other countries had arrived convinced that only women cooked or should do anything in the kitchen. It may have been an agonizing process, but absolutely everyone came out of home management with adequate food-preparation skills to ensure survival in any environment. If Betty wasn’t sure how a blind person would accomplish a certain task, she would seek out a live blind person to inquire, or she would don the sleepshades and figure it out on her own. She could devise a nonvisual technique so that students could accomplish any task in cooking, sewing, shopping, cleaning, or whatever. No excuses accepted. And students did accomplish all their personal goals in home management—some they were compelled by the program curriculum to meet, and some personal goals they chose.
As a new program, we experienced many ups and downs. We all came to know that we could always count on Betty for so many important tasks around the Center. She always worked at least thirty-six hours per day making certain we had safe, clean, and germ-free surroundings. Her expectations and standards for students were always high; she could give corrections always in the most non-threatening style. Several times other staff people would say to me, ”You shouldn’t make Betty work so hard.” My problem was how to stop her. Betty was always in charge. I frequently tried to send her home soon after the end of the day; she usually wouldn’t leave. And if she did leave, she would return later to clean up the kitchen or check on some unfinished task. Betty never complained.
Betty made sure all birthdays of staff and students were properly recognized and celebrated with the individual’s favorite cake. Everyone was given the opportunity to light the candles and cut the cake using alternative techniques. Betty set a fine example by lighting her candles and cutting her cake on her birthday, February 7; she faithfully wore sleepshades, too.
Betty’s commitment to projects and goals also included activities of the Federation. She contributed to our fundraisers, supervised our holiday dinners and summer picnics, and reached out to blind people in the community she met on the bus or in the grocery store. She was always quietly present and offered a helpful hand in countless ways. Her style of persistent tenacity worked with students who needed an extra push to realize that the Federation had something important to offer them.
It would be impossible to list all Betty’s outstanding qualities; however, if I had to give the one I appreciated the most, it would probably be her abiding loyalty to BLIND, Inc., its students and staff, including the director, and to the entire blind community. In so many ways, she was the ideal working partner and dear friend. If anyone wanted to know the picture of a “perfect employee,” Betty was as close as anyone could find.
Well, after more than seventeen years of worthy service, Betty retired at the end of 2006. Betty, I can’t tell you how much all of us appreciate everything you have done throughout your time with us. You’ve taught us all so much. Your giving spirit will long live in the BLIND, Inc. kitchens, which you managed with such loving care, and throughout our BLIND, Inc. programs. You are truly one of the primary builders of this program. Enjoy your retirement with some fun activities. I know it would be pointless to say you should take some time for rest. I’ll say just try. I will say, “Keep busy and stay healthy.” We’ll all miss you terribly at the Center. You will, however, remain a dedicated and active member of our Federation, so we expect to see you at NFB conventions and all other gatherings.
By Carrie Gilmer
When my son Jordan was in 7th grade, he had the typical sewing project as all the other seventh graders at his school: a pair of pajama shorts. As the class approached, his teacher of blind students at Northdale Middle School in the Anoka-Hennepin school district informed me that I should go out and buy “highly contrasting fabric and thread” for the project. I was shocked. Hardly believing what she suggested, my immediate response was to ask aloud, “Is that what blind people do? Wear clothing with highly contrasting fabric and thread?” From discussion before and after this statement it appeared to me that this teacher (with decades of teaching experience) did not really know how blind people sewed. She had voiced some exploratory suggestions of a few possible low-vision techniques that seemed poor and inadequate at best—and some, such as the contrast suggestion, seemed completely ridiculous.
Thankfully, at the time I knew very well that totally blind people sewed proficiently everyday according to their own purposes (personal or professional) using a few simple techniques and tools. I also knew Betty Bishman, and that she regularly taught people to sew using absolutely no vision at all. Jordan’s teacher of blind students agreed to (and did) talk with Betty about the techniques, where to get the tools, and then was to inform and assist the classroom teacher in implementing them. The teacher of blind students never did so; she abandoned the techniques and the tools and left Jordan and the classroom teacher to their own improvisations—using teacher guidance (meaning the classroom teacher doing steps for Jordan that other students did independently—which the nonvisual techniques would have allowed for), and in the end by drawing a bold marker line on the seams for him to follow visually. He sewed the entire pair of shorts with his head tilted, forehead pressed against the machine while it was operating—straining to follow the marked lines. No one told me of any of this! Jordan never complained or told me he hadn’t gotten the nonvisual techniques or tools—he kept saying all was fine. I found out when the shorts came home. He had done this thinking he had to make the best of the only available option. He had been determined to complete the same project as his classmates. (Believe me we really worked hard on self-advocacy skills after this incident!)
A year and a half later, in the summer after eighth grade, Jordan had the opportunity to learn how to sew—as a blind person—from Betty Bishman at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND). He made a beautiful, perfect-fit, pair of pajama pants—this time including a pocket!—using no vision, independently! He said it was MUCH easier nonvisually, more comfortable, faster (and, I thought, SAFER). Betty’s love, encouragement, and matter-of-fact high expectations helped to heal the memory and experience of betrayal and low expectations he had received from his school district’s teacher of blind students.
He still wears both the shorts and the pants regularly. Do you think he will ever forget the difference? Not until the day he dies! And that is how long we will think of Betty with fondness and gratitude. What would Betty say? She was simply doing her job. She was simply teaching with an accurate view of blindness. What had the teacher of blind students have to say? She “couldn’t be expected to be everywhere,” and didn’t I realize that “Jordan likes to use his vision.”
For over a decade Betty Bishman showed blind student after blind student—hundreds of them—that they can cook virtually anything from grilled cheese to gourmet, and that they can sew or shop or totally manage their own homes; eyesight not necessary!
Betty was a dear to work with, and she was on duty 24/7/365 by choice, always giving 100% MORE than was asked or expected. Whenever a student rang the Freedom Bell at BLIND after a major accomplishment, I noticed Betty’s face glowing with happiness for them as if it were the first time or the first student.
Betty’s retirement party was a night of great laughter and tears. I salute you Betty! And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you’ve done to bring my own son along on his path to personal freedom.
By Fritz Busch, Journal Staff Writer
(Editor’s Note: The following article was published in the New Ulm Journal on January 16, 2007. It contains some factual errors in organization names that I have corrected and enclosed in square brackets, but it is otherwise a good explanation of Charlene’s many activities and accomplishments that brought her this well-deserved award.)
A New Ulm woman was honored Monday at the Lind House for her exceptional service to the visually impaired and dedication tohuman rights principles like leading by example.
Charlene Childrey was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awardby Lee Johnson, Chairman of the New Ulm Human Rights Commission.
"Dr. Martin Luther King would be 78 years old today and what a wonderful example of human rights his life was and his legacy is,"Johnson told a standing-room-only crowd.
Childrey was nominated for the award by Marsha Eyrich and Jan Dallenbach of the New Ulm Lions Club for her efforts to create the Low-Vision Loaning Collection at the New Ulm Public Library.
She was cited for scheduling and directing the annual New Ulm Move-A-Thon, a fund-raising event for the [National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota].
Cancer claimed Childrey's vision as a 2-year-old but it didn't stop her from studying occupational therapy and early childhood development at St. Catherine's College in St. Paul.
Since then, she has served the blind in many ways as an occupational therapist.
For seven years, she worked at the New Ulm Medical Center hospital before becoming a rehabilitation instructor for the State Services for the Blind. She often travels around southern and central Minnesota helping people who are losing their sight adapt to their new challenges.
Childrey helps people with a variety of tasks including choosing a career, cooking, writing resumes and traveling, among other things.
"I wouldn't ask people to do anything I couldn't do myself," she added.
Childrey, president of the Riverbend Chapter of the [National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota], helped create the New Ulm Area Partnership for Independence to address the needs of those with vision handicaps.
Thanks to a $5,000 donation from the New Ulm Lions Club, equipment available for checkout with library cards in the library basement includes closed-circuit televisions and other magnification equipment.
Library staff schedule appointments to try out equipment. Local Lions Clubs and state funding can be used to help purchase items found to aid the visually impaired.
Childrey directs the annual 10k Move-A-Thon each September that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for blind and nearly blind people from across the state.
Participants from as far away as Minneapolis walk, bicycle or skate from her home to Schell's Brewery where they stop for a cup of root beer.
Volunteers pass out water and snacks at checkpoints in parks along the way. Funds raised promote projects like voice-activated tellers and voting machines for the blind.
Childrey reads to her children and others at New Ulm Area Catholic Schools by using a book with Braille text. She visualizes the story by asking children to explain illustrations and pictures to her.
She operates a computer using Braille text and mechanical voices.
"Her spirit is one of the most energizing things about her," Johnson said of Childrey.
Donations can be sent to the National Federation of the Blind, 100 East 22nd Avenue [sic], Minneapolis, MN 55404.
(Copyright 2007 — The Journal)
By Andy Virden
(Editor’s Note: Andy Virden is the president of our Central Minnesota chapter. This letter was published in the St. Cloud Times on January 10, 2007.)
In reviewing events of 2006 in preparation for the annual fund-raiser for the Central Minnesota chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, I found that one thing last year was a real accomplishment: the use of new voting machines as required under the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
With these machines, the disabled population for the first time was able to vote with our privacy completely protected.
The National Federation of the Blind and its chapters throughout the nation were strong supporters of this equipment. These machines talk to you and have large screens for low-vision people. Also, they have to be arranged and equipped so that most people in wheelchairs can use them.
At the Federation's national conventions a number of members tried these machines before they were officially marketed. The final products are good.
In Minnesota, we are using a machine called the AutoMARK. It does have a paper trail, which was a concern to some people. I think it is good.
Former Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer must be commended. She took a strong interest in the project and appeared at training sessions and in the media to promote the project.
If a voter has trouble using the machines, contact your county auditor or the secretary of state's office. And, if a voter wishes, you still can use the older way of voting. Personally, I would try the machines.
By Chuk Hamilton, Director, State Services for the Blind
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota annual convention on September 30, 2006.)
Greetings, Federationists! What a pleasure to be with you all again. It seems only yesterday many of us were in Dallas at the national convention; and only the day before that we were in St. Cloud!
A special greeting to the Riverbend Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM) and Charlene and Shannon Childrey.
I come before you today to share information regarding what we have been doing at State Services for the Blind (SSB) over the last year. However, I will not repeat, unnecessarily, items presented this past spring.
A significant amount of time and preparation since this spring has centered on our federal partner, the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). Some may say too much time was spent!
You may recall that RSA came under new department leadership some time ago and Joanne Wilson resigned. Since that time, the new team has made a number of changes including closing their ten regional offices and laying off half their staff. They have also been reviewing their activities and making a number of changes.
One of those areas of change has been in what is called “the state plan.” The state plan lays out what SSB has done and will do in order to meet federal requirements in delivering the vocational rehabilitation program to blind and visually impaired persons in Minnesota. In the past this has been a rather routine endeavor and our state plan was always approved.
This year that was different, for both SSB and every other agency in the country. The new leadership has taken a different view of the statutory requirements, including those related to a “needs assessment” that must be done every three years.
I must say this has been a trying experience with our new federal partner. But, because of great SSB staff and the leadership by the Chair of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind (SRC-B), Jennifer Dunnam, an experience we have completed successfully. The fruit of the effort is that I have just received word that our state plan for vocational rehabilitation services has been approved for 2007. I understand many states may only receive conditional approval.
As some of you know, RSA representatives, Erica Shephard and David Esquith, visited Minnesota in late August. They met with a variety of folks, including staff, the SRC-B, the Client Assistance Project, and consumers, including the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.
At the spring convention of this body in St. Cloud, I received a question about the federal budget and its impact on SSB. I also commented on SSB’s finances, generally, for the future. Currently, the Congress has made no progress on the federal appropriations bill that sends dollars to the states for rehabilitation. Just this week I was informed that Congress had to do a Continuing Resolution to continue funding the programs for a while longer until the Congress agrees to and passes a regular funding bill. It is hoped that process will commence during the lame duck session after the fall elections.
Looking generally to the future, I still see rough weather ahead financially for SSB. This is not a new message I bring to you—rather, an update and acknowledgement of a problem that is not going away without intervention. Simply put, I still foresee a problem with financing our vocational rehabilitation program beginning October 1, 2008. We need more money put into that program from other parts of SSB, or we need to make cuts, or both. I have spoken with SSB staff, the SRC-B, and consumers including the NFBM about this anticipated problem for the last 18 months. Along the way, we have made some staffing cuts to reduce costs. I have developed a proposal that I hope makes it to the Legislature that will alleviate this problem and maintain existing services in all parts of SSB. I will keep you informed as best I can.
Also having to do with finances, I want to give you an update on our fundraising efforts. As of this past Thursday, September 28, SSB had received $269,869 in gifts since October 1, 2005. A total of 2,533 gifts were received, three-quarters coming from Communication Center customers. Of the total, $97,663 was earmarked for the Senior Outreach Program and received primarily from granting organizations.
It is coming to that time of the year when we start to consider the SSB Annual Report, which is distributed widely. You will recall that last year we changed the format for the report, focusing our efforts on what customers had to say about SSB services. The format proved to be a success and we will continue on that path this year. I expect that another project we participated in, partnering with the Secretary of State in the outreach to inform and train the public in use of the AutoMARK, will also be prominent. The NFB-M has been a key player in the development and implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The federal act and the Minnesota equivalent developed and funded the opportunity for blind and visually impaired persons to vote privately and independently for the first times in their lives during Minnesota’s primary elections in September. We were pleased to be part of the roll-out.
Also in that Annual Report will be the final numbers of whom we served during the year. You should expect to see an all-time high of seniors being served, well over 3,000. At the same time, we anticipate meeting our goal of 101 individuals being successfully employed.
There have been several recent major developments concerning NFB-NEWSLINE® and Dial-in-News. Earlier this year the Communication Center Committee of the SRC-B formed a task force focused on these two services. Members included Steve Jacobson and Catherine Durivage, both of whom are present here today.
As a result of the research, efforts and input from the Task Force we decided to plan to add an additional newspaper (either St. Cloud or Rochester) to NFB-NEWSLINE® and then add a newspaper from Brainerd, Bemidji, or Faribault to Dial-in-News. We also agreed to add Minnesota Monthly to the local channel of NFB-NEWSLINE®. We secured sufficient funding to carry out these efforts from the Department of Commerce's Telecommunication Access Minnesota fund, a funding source that became available to us last year from the efforts of many of your members.
David Andrews is working hard developing contacts at both the St. Cloud and the Rochester papers to determine which is the best paper to put on NFB-NEWSLINE®. We hope to make that decision in the very, very near future.
Catherine Durivage, an active member of the Task Force, was instrumental in linking David to a contact at the Minnesota Monthly. As a result of their combined efforts, that publication went up on NFB-NEWSLINE® in August and is now available on a monthly basis to all Minnesota NFB-NEWSLINE® subscribers.
An additional activity undertaken in recent months is the NFB-NEWSLINE® mentoring project. SSB's Ellie Sevdy, working in cooperation with several persons present here today, has trained about a half dozen peer mentors. These mentors are working with new users of NFB-NEWSLINE® to increase their comfort with and ability to use the service. We hope this effort will help new users become long-term heavy users of the service. If successful in increasing usage, we plan to expand the mentoring project later this year to include users of Dial-in-News.
As many of you know, the staff of the Communication Center has been working on finding an improved radio receiver for the Radio Talking Book. Since one was not and is not available commercially, we have been working with manufacturers for several years now to develop what we need.
I am pleased to be able to tell you that we recently tested a unit that gives us most of the improvements we sought. We still need to do some additional testing, and will then have to negotiate an acceptable contract. However, if things go as we hope, we should be able to offer an improved Radio Talking Book Network receiver in the relatively near future.
I cannot conclude my remarks without first commenting on my experiences at the NFB Convention this past July. I had an inspiring, educational and energizing experience in Dallas.
Further, I had the opportunity to do a presentation regarding our own Tech Trainer Certification project before a national audience. I explained how we started working with our community to make this happen, what steps we took, what testing we did, and our adult learning course requirement of all trainers. By the way, we will be doing another set of sessions on adult learning for our trainers, who haven’t attended before, in November.
There were so many different breakout sessions on such a wide variety of subjects related to blindness. I couldn’t attend all those I wanted. I was warned before I left that I couldn’t! I met a number of new people, and renewed my relationship with yet others. I saw the latest that technology had to offer, in a truly “hands on” environment. I saw an organization doing its business in a logical, thoughtful and experienced fashion. I saw an organization taking blindness issues head-on, and allowing differences of opinion. This was particularly evident regarding how to address the issues caused by the new hybrid vehicles.
I know there is much that can be learned from attending national conventions, whether as a blind or visually impaired individual, family member, professional person, or agency director. I would like more staff to attend in the future. Some 92 Minnesotans attended, and I was proud to be one of them.
Thank you for inviting me to speak today.
By Catherine Durivage, Director, Minnesota Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Faribault
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota annual convention on September 30, 2006.)
I want to thank Joyce Scanlan for extending an invitation to me to speak at your conference this year. New Ulm is a wonderful city. I have been here a couple of times before. One time was around Christmas. I enjoyed visiting all the shops; which I hope to do yet today.
We are in the process of writing our next newsletter. I am trying hard to produce four per year. It has been hard the past year or so with personnel changes and a new automation system. This next one should be out sometime in October.
I generally do not rattle off a bunch of statistics when I go out and speak to groups. Sometimes that can get quite boring. However, I think it important to note just how busy the library has been the last couple of years. Between June 2005 and June 2006 we have seen a 15% increase in the number of active readers of the library. An active reader is someone who borrowed an item from the library, whether that item is a book or magazine. Now, this figure only includes what our computer system tracks. Not any other item we may mail out, like a catalog or application. We currently serve over 11,500 patrons. The other statistic I would like to note is that when you compare the months between October 2004 and May 2005 to October 2005 and May 2006, you will find an 8% increase in our circulation. We average between 1,200 to 1,500 items mailed out every day. The library is a busy place. We like that, but it can result in us getting behind in checking materials in. I am happy to report that we do not have that problem now, but we did over the summer and I know it was frustrating not to have books set out as quickly. I instituted some changes to correct the backlog and if another one happens in the future, we have ways to deal with it. I want to express my appreciation for your patience and understanding.
Now, for some exciting news. The Library was a recipient of some grant money from the State Library Agency at the Minnesota Department of Education to purchase some self-playing digital books called Playaway. I brought some with me so that you can try them out if you would like. The Playaways are about the size of a deck of cards. They hold anywhere from 6 to 20 hours of recording. All you need to listen to them is a set of headphones that we can provide, if requested. Otherwise, you can use almost any headphone, speakers or car adaptors because the device comes with a universal headphone jack.
The Library will loan the Playaways, hopefully starting in October. A list of titles in braille, large print, audio, and on the web will be available. Like I indicated earlier, we will provide headphones, but we ask that you keep them because we do not have the means to sanitize them. We will also loan the devices with one battery, which should be enough to listen to the book one time. However, if the battery does run out, feel free to replace it. It takes one AAA battery.
The title selection is pretty vast. There are current bestsellers available as well as children and classics. I am excited to be able to offer the Playaways to you as the means to be introduced to the digital format. They are nice in that they are self-contained and very portable.
We still loan descriptive videos. We updated the large print listing of titles and are in the process of updating the braille version. You search our online catalog for available titles and a list of titles also appears on our Web site. We purchase new descriptive videos every couple of months.
The Library still participates in a virtual reference service called InfoEyes. InfoEyes offers people with visual impairments the ability to communicate with librarians over the Internet using screen readers, text and voice chat and email. You can use this service to ask just about any question, whether it is about this service or something entirely different. You may have read about this service as it was featured in the July/August issue of Talking Book Topics. For more information about this service, visit www.infoeyes.org.
I know that many of you are interested in knowing more about the move to a digital format. I attended the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped conference in Maine last May. The focus of the entire conference was pretty much about moving to a digital format. The National Library Service (NLS) still expects to introduce both a player and digital book by 2008.
I will share with you some information about the player and the cartridge.
Digital Player and Cartridge
v Smaller machine-1/3 the size of current cassette player with cord storage
v Lighter – ½ the weight of current cassette player
v Player more durable; no moving parts
v Easier to clean as there are no sharp corners or ridges
v More portable-recessed handle; can add straps (will not be included or offered from NLS)
v Significantly better audio quality in both high and low frequencies
v Simpler to use than easy cassette player
v Autoplay feature
v Audio description for each key when no cartridge is loaded
v Less force is needed to operate keys (no extension lever needed)
v No slide knobs, instead up and down buttons
v Jack for headphones; adaptor will be available so existing headphone stock will work
v Advanced machine will have more features like skipping through chapters and adding bookmarks; will remember bookmarks (saved in player)
v Can run by remote control
v Longer battery run time-greater than 15 hours on battery
v Can player MP3, WAV, AMR-W+ (NLS), Daisy formats
v Can find out the number of battery charge cycles so you know when to replace batteries
v Low-battery announcement
v Machine can remain plugged in as it will remain cool
v Machine shuts off after 30 minutes of inactivity
v Sleep mode program—will stop after a preset time-must be set
v On/Off switch
v Instructions will be built into player
v Cartridge will be easier to insert; insert from front of machine
v Machine can be pre-programmed for English or Spanish instructions.
Digital Initiative Schedule:
August 2006 –– Fully functional player prototype ready
February 2007 –– Beta test of player (100 players will be built)
May 2007 –– Final design specifications for player, cartridge & container finished
August 2007 –– Identify firms that can produce player, cartridge & container and release RFP
April 2008 –– Launch digital talking book
Thank you again for allowing me to speak at your conference. I know I might not have included everything that you may be interested in knowing about, but feel free to contact me personally. I enjoy hearing from you.
By Jean Martin, Director, Minnesota Resource Center for the Blind, Faribault.
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota annual convention on September 30, 2006.)
Good morning! Thank you for inviting me to share information about the educational service delivery of students who are blind or visually impaired in Minnesota.
As many of you know, I am the Director of the Minnesota Resource Center: Blind/Visually Impaired with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). The office is located on the campus of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD). The Resource Center is supported by a state mandate, and has an Advisory Committee that provides recommendations on goals and activities. Joyce Scanlan serves on this advisory committee.
New Legislation: The first issue I will address is one that I know is of high importance to many of you attending this conference. The following language was passed by the legislature on 4-13-06 and is part of Minnesota law.
Sec. 25. Rule on Visually Impaired to include references to “Blind” and “Blindness.” The commissioner of education, where appropriate, must incorporate reference of “blind” and “blindness” into the definition of visually impaired under Minnesota Rule 3525.1345, and amend the rule title to include the word “blind.” This section is effective the day following the final enactment.
The rule is in the process of being amended but the law is in effect. Teachers of the Blind/Visually Impaired and Orientation and Mobility Specialists in Minnesota received a letter from me in September indicating the above information. This issue was also discussed at the first State Educator Network meeting.
State Test Update: Students entering grade 8 in 2006 or later will not take the Basic Standard Test (BST) but will take the MCA-II/Grad (written composition in grade 9, Reading in grade 10, and Mathematics in grade 11). They must obtain a satisfactory score on each of these tests to graduate from a public school in Minnesota.
The state test review team specific to blind/visually impaired continues to be included in new item development. New this year is the computerized science test. At this time, students who are blind or visually impaired will receive a hard copy test, as the computerized test may not be accessible.
NIMAS/NIMAC: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 requires states to address the critical difficulty in obtaining accessible textbooks for students with print disabilities by adopting a new file format, the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). This same legislation offers a means to assist states in this responsibility by establishing a national repository to collect and store these files and make them available to states. This repository is the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), and is being established at the American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. (APH) with support from the U.S. Department of Education. NIMAC will begin regular operations, December 2006. States/Districts are required to meet the standard (NIMAS) but can choose to opt in or out of the center (NIMAC). Minnesota did opt in for the current school year. MDE will continue to be involved in this process.
MDE and State Services for the Blind (SSB) have signed a two-year interagency agreement for Braille and tape. School districts that participate have agreed to withhold $5 per special education child count in a centralized account at MDE and receive Braille and some tape at no cost. School districts that did not agree will have to pay for Braille and tape materials. Due to this interagency agreement, I believe Minnesota is in a better position than many states to ensure the NIMAS standard is maintained.
The beginning of the school year finds the Resource Center very busy. One part-time staff person for the library retired in June and a temporary replacement has been hired.
I have responded to several requests for technical assistance throughout the state concerning service delivery for students who are blind or visually impaired, and plan to meet with the advisory committee to review responsibilities and activities for the coming year.
I currently serve on two workgroups at MDE that will have impact on the state performance plan: assessment and transition.
The Community of Practice groups will continue to focus on low vision, assistive technology, use of APH quota funds, early childhood and other issues identified as high need.
In the spring of 2001, SSB provided funding for four notetakers with refreshable Braille displays; two targeted for pre-transition aged students and two targeted for transition-aged students. The Resource Center/MDE provided the system and personnel to manage the loan of the devices as well as funding for updates, maintenance, shipping and repair. The teacher members of the group provided the training materials. The purpose of the assistive technology device was to allow school districts to have a period of time (approximately 9 weeks) to evaluate the effectiveness of the device for the students. The Trial period was expected to be documented through the IEP process. In addition, the following items have been added to the library loan program:
2 Mountbatten Braillers
2 PacMate QX 420’s (QWERTY)
1 PacMate BX 420 (Braille Input)
1 Humanware MyReader (CCTV)
2 Flipper CCTVs with 10 inch flat panel and XY table
2 Laptop packages with Voyager Braille Display and scanner (The laptop includes JAWS, MAGic, Kurzwell 1000 and Zoomtext).
The units have circulated throughout the state. Technical assistance is also available through a listserv.
We hope to plan additional interagency activities for students and their families this year. I expect this to be a busy and productive school year.
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
Excitement was building as Federationists came from all over Minnesota to gather in New Ulm at the Holiday Inn on September 29, 2006 for the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. People who arrived for the Friday activities were treated to a variety of opportunities that were fun, educational and productive.
"Blind People Experience Accessibility and Privacy in Voting—a demonstration of the AutoMARK Voting Machine" was available from the Office of the Secretary of State. A fun ballot with such weighty issues as our favorite fair food gave us the chance to practice for the real thing in November. Hot competition ensued between mini doughnuts and pork chops. Enterprising Federationists found a way to turn the voting into a fundraiser. Mini doughnuts were proclaimed the winner at the banquet.
The Power Showdown was a fun game where blindness ruled. All players had to wear sleepshades if they had any amount of vision. Jim Mastro showed everyone how to have a good time playing this game.
Anyone wanting to explore what is new in the marketplace for blind people had the chance to talk with and examine products from Kevin Nicholson and the Minnesota Low Vision Store. Special thanks to Kevin for the many door prizes he donated to our convention.
While some of us were playing, serious business was being conducted. A meeting of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille in Minnesota (NAPUB) planned for ways of bringing Braille literacy to the attention of the public. NAPUB elected the following officers: president, Melody Wartenbee; vice president, Kathy McGillivray; secretary, Trudy Barrett; and treasurer, RoseAnn Faber.
Our resolutions committee, ably chaired by Jennifer Dunnam, put together two resolutions that appear below. Our resolutions are vitally important to this organization; it is how we set our policies for blind people in Minnesota.
One last opportunity was available to conventioneers. A hybrid car was on display in the parking lot of the hotel. Observers discovered that it is extremely quiet when not moving and must get up to a certain speed before it makes a discernible noise.
"Advocacy: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" was the theme for this year's meeting of the Minnesota Parents of Blind Children. Their election brought the following results: president, Carrie Gilmer; vice president, Nadine Jacobson; secretary, Charlotte Czarnecki; treasurer, Phillip Richardson; and board member, Jean Bening.
The last meeting of the evening was that of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students. Their guest speaker was David Reeves, an employee of the U.S. Department of Education who came to speak to both students and parents about federal grants for higher education. Mr. Reeves spent the entire weekend with us.
We ended our evening with gracious hospitality from the Riverbend Chapter. Old friendships were rekindled and new contacts were begun.
Saturday morning began a long and productive day. Kathy McGillivray began the morning session with an invocation followed by welcoming remarks from Charlene Childrey, president of the Riverbend chapter. We also welcomed Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia, member of the national board of directors and our national representative.
Anil Lewis gave us a national report that demonstrated that we are alive and well. We have a newly designed website that you can access at www.nfb.org. Everything you ever wanted to know about blindness, the NFB and its activities is available at this website. The Materials Center is now called the Independence Market and is located in the Jernigan Institute. We are planning NFB Youth Slam for blind youth in cooperation with Johns Hopkins University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). We are also sponsors of the Possibilities Fair that highlights opportunities for blind seniors who want to know how to keep control of their lives. Training and Organizing People to Serve (TOPS) is another leadership program sponsored at the Jernigan Institute. Among other things, it teaches us creative ways to recruit members into the Federation.
Mr. Lewis reminded us that October is "Meet the Blind Month" and our Washington seminar will begin on January 29, 2007 and end on February 1st. We might still be working on accessible voting and insuring that textbook access is available for all students. This could include expanding access to blind college students. We must protect the Books for the Blind program by keeping money from being transferred from the National Library Service to the general library fund. We will also be working for dedicated funding through the Telecommunications Act for funding for NFB-NEWSLINE®. We may have issues to protect the Randolph-Sheppard program.
The 2007 national convention will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, beginning on June 30. The most dramatic point in the convention will be the March for Independence. Anyone raising a minimum of $250 for the Imagination Fund can be a part of this historic march. The Imagination Fund supports the many programs described above run by the Jernigan Institute. This is an opportunity to get our friends and relatives to contribute to these stellar efforts. We can register for the march on the NFB website.
Anil ended his talk with a poignant reminder of why we have all these programs in the NFB. We are working together to open new horizons for all blind people; we are raising our expectations and those of others. We encourage each other and we inspire each other. That is why we spend time at this convention and doing the work that we do.
"What's Going Around and What's Coming Around at State Services for the Blind?" was presented by Chuk Hamilton, director of State Services for the Blind (SSB). His report appears previously in this issue.
Chuk was asked by Anil Lewis if assistance was available for clients of SSB to attend NFB's national convention. Chuk said that if it could be shown that the convention would help a customer reach a vocational goal it was not out of the realm of possibility.
Joyce expressed concern about many signs that are occurring at SSB which are being modeled after the general rehabilitation agency. These include clerical staff being promoted to rehabilitation technicians without extensive training in blindness; contracts are being signed with job placement specialists that work with the general agency and they do not have experience with blindness; and counselors must do a lot more work filing reports on their computers instead of spending time with customers. It could lead to the thought that both agencies should be combined—an idea that is unalterably opposed by the NFB and other members of the blindness community.
Chuk responded that because SSB is located in the Department of Employee and Economic Development (DEED) it is inevitable that there will be some common resources and job descriptions. He agreed that we should always be vigilant against a combined agency, but he does not believe that the Department has any plan to make such a change.
Shawn Mayo asked specifically for the rationale of moving clerical staff into tech positions. Chuk said that this practice has been going on for at least five years. This is being done with more frequency for the Older Blind program because a master's degree is not required to provide services. These people will receive training that is more extensive. Counselors must determine eligibility, develop a plan and handle closure. Hopefully, techs can do much of the paperwork.
Andy Virden asked about how much money SSB must expend to the Department to pay for workforce expenses. Would they save money if they had their own office space? Chuk could not give an exact figure, but said that there is no general fund to which they must contribute. They would have to pay building expenses no matter their department. He pointed out that there are bills in Congress dealing with workforce centers that put limits on how much money rehabilitation agencies could be charged for the upkeep. It remains to be seen how it will actually pass.
Kathy McGillivray asked if the Communication Center had plans to digitize the production of recorded textbooks to keep up with the National Library Service and Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. SSB, says Chuk, is behind in this project. They are having difficulties with their contractor. They are not ready to scan books either.
Jeff Thompson asked how SSB was implementing informed choice with customers. Chuk said that SSB worked with the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind to develop a form which counselors must fill out explaining what they did to insure informed choice. In particular, the form tells what adjustment to blindness centers the person toured and how they made their choice.
Monica Buboltz asked how rehab techs can be ready to handle the emotional side of adjustment to blindness with such little training. Joyce added to the question by wanting to know when SSB would reexamine how staff training was given. Chuk said that the contracts with Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) and the Lighthouse for the Blind in Duluth had just been renewed but that the program should be evaluated before the next round of contracts.
"Rocket on! Camp” was presented by Jordan Richardson, a participant in last summer's program. He summarized their experiences that lead up to building their own rocket. It was launched and was the most successful of all launches in the last three years. This camp was conducted by the National Center for Blind Youth in Science with the partnership of NASA scientists. Jordan expressed gratitude to members of the NFB who made all this possible.
Catherine Durivage presented her 2006 report regarding library services in Minnesota. Her report appears previously in this issue.
Our afternoon session began with remarks from Rod Haworth to talk about "Pathways to Employment: an Overview." Rod is the project manager for this program. He is a former member of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind. This is a five-year program funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Its partners are the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the Department of Human Services and the State Council on Disabilities. There are six goals connected with this project:
1. Form partnerships with business. This involves educating business leaders about the capabilities of people with disabilities. The state must become a model employer if we expect business to employ people with disabilities. Toward this end, there will be a fulltime employee to see that this happens. The second step for working with businesses will be to establish internships to increase opportunities. The state will hold an annual summit to talk about the transition between school and employment.
2. Examine public policy and competitive employment of people with disabilities. They will examine public policy that might hinder employment such as Social Security earned income.
3. Coordinate services and supports. They are helping the Work Incentives Connection transition from being a state-supported nonprofit to becoming private. They have provided funding for this purpose.
4. Coordinate information and communication system. There are so many places to go for services. They are making an effort to organize all of these so that the disabled can have access in one place.
5. Strengthen transition services and work experiences for youth and young adults. They are sponsoring a mentoring day and want to make it a statewide program. They are also working with PACER.
6. Standardize data collection analysis and outcomes. They want agencies that are accumulating the same data to share what they have. It may take legislation to bring this about.
Pathways does not provide direct service; rather, it helps already existing agencies to do a better job.
During the question-and-answer part of Rod's remarks Joyce emphasized that while there might be some things that agencies can share it was important for this program to recognize the unique services given to blind people. No one else learns Braille; uses a white cane; or must find access to printed material. Rod assured us that from his background on the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind he learned his lesson well.
Jean Martin, director, Minnesota Resource Center for the Blind in Faribault coordinates services to blind children for the Department of Education. Her topic, “Expectations for Minnesota's Students Who are Blind,” showed an active pursuit of high standards for all blind students. Her report appears previously in this issue.
"Employment: Achieving Success after Training" was a panel moderated by Dick Davis. We heard from three people who found employment after graduating from BLIND, Incorporated. Beth Moline is working as a receptionist; Jeff Thompson is the new industrial arts instructor at BLIND; and Joe Veader is now working as a cabinetmaker. Dick introduced Joe as his hero. Joe came here from Massachusetts where he had been employed in a sheltered workshop. Joe had the courage to become a student at BLIND where he gained newfound skills and confidence in himself. He now is competitively employed.
Shawn Mayo, director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), introduced current students to talk about their experiences. David Starnes just recently lost his drivers license so is new to all this. Kelvin Heath is also a novice blind person who wants to return to being his old normal self as a father, husband and nurse. Allen Zderad, while a new student, has been blind since childhood. Laura Parrish worked hard to get the right to be a student here from Virginia. She had many bad experiences with other agencies before she found this training on the internet.
Shawn gave us an analogy about the complex parts of the gumball machine made in the industrial arts class being very confusing when view separately. However, when put together it makes sense and its purpose is understood. The same thing can be said for adjustment to blindness training; when taken separately the individual classes may not make sense; but when put together it really works.
Carrie Gilmer, president of our parents division, is always inspiring. She did not disappoint us with her talk entitled "What Gets in the Way." She eloquently imparted the message that she has learned from members of the National Federation of the Blind that blindness need not be limiting. She did not undermine the courage it takes to conquer the myths about blindness. Carrie continues to bring a strong message to parents and teachers.
The high point of every NFB convention is our banquet. This is partly so because we take the time to honor those who have contributed in some way to improving attitudes toward blindness. One way in which this is done is the essay contest sponsored by our Metro Chapter. This year's winner is Tom Scanlan. You can read his essay in the fall 2006 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin. Another prize was given through a random drawing from those who entered the contest. Pat Barrett's name was drawn. Pat and Tom both received a fifty-dollar prize.
The NFB of Minnesota presented a $1,000 scholarship to Lao Xiong, a freshman at Riverland Community College. He is studying sports management. Lao told us that we, in the NFB, are the first blind people he has met. We hope this will be the beginning of a positive experience as it has been for all of us.
Everyone in the Federation is a member for his or her own reasons. Our Federation banquet speakers often share their reasons; in addition, they remind us of the value of working together and how we all benefit. Anil Lewis shared his poignant story with humor and strong emotion. He became blind as an adult. He reclaimed his independence because he came to be involved in the NFB. While he received rehabilitation services before he knew about the Federation none of those services motivated him to use the skills he was learning. Only through the Federation was he challenged to do so.
After being truly inspired, Joyce and Anil challenged us to put our money where our thoughts were. We were given the opportunity to increase or start a new PAC Plan. PAC is the Preauthorized Check Plan; this is one way for members to make an automatic monthly contribution to the NFB from our checking accounts. Federationists once again demonstrated their generosity and commitment.
Charlene Childrey kept the entire evening at a fast pace as she hosted the banquet.
Federationists not only know how to make a serious commitment but we know how to have fun. The banquet was followed by hospitality sponsored by the Riverbend Chapter. We were treated to entertainment from an Elvis Presley impersonator.
After a late night of hospitality, many energetic Federationists attended the traditional Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Sunday morning breakfast. This is our chance to hear in detail about the accomplishments of BLIND's students and to meet the staff. This is a real partnership between the Federation and BLIND, which demonstrates that blind people can run their own agency.
Our Sunday morning business session yielded the following results. We began on a somber note with a memorial service for those Federationists who died during the past year. Lavern Cruzen of St. Cloud, Kathleen Sebranek of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and St. Paul, Dr. Jim Goff of Mankato, and Larry Kettner of Minneapolis were those that we honored. Ben Ties and Eunice Lynch from our Rochester chapter were also recognized.
Retaining and recruiting members was the focus of our membership committee. Pat Barrett suggested that the best way to keep members is to make meetings exciting and relevant. Be sure to welcome new members and call all members for meetings. One of the ways to teach Federation philosophy is to read a Kernel Book story at a chapter meeting and then have a discussion. Charlene Childrey focused on getting new members. Even if someone does not seem interested in the beginning we should never give up. Stay in contact and become their friend. Jeff Thompson reminded us about using our website, www.nfbmn.org, to engage new and old members. We also link to our national site, www.nfb.org. It was determined that we would have a statewide membership seminar in the spring. Each chapter can designate participants.
The Federation is involved in the blindness community through its representatives on various committees. Steve Jacobson reported on progress being made to bring access to the voting machine for blind people. A cheer went up from those who used the new machine in the primary election. We are being asked to fill out a survey telling of our experience for a working group that will evaluate the equipment.
Nadine Jacobson serves on the Board of Governance for the State Academy for the Blind in Faribault. Five employees have been laid off because of budget cuts. Two of those who lost their jobs were deaf; two were blind and one was not disabled. They do not have many innovative programs and now they have lost some people who served as role models for students. The school needs a definite shot in the arm.
Charlene Childrey will begin serving on the Academy's Site Council. Joyce thanked Janiece Duffy for her long service on that council as our representative.
Jennifer Dunnam serves as chair of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind. Steve Jacobson, Judy Sanders and Liz McDevitt also serve on that Council. Many other Federationists serve on Council committees. The Council serves as one place where we can influence SSB programs. The Council was forced to spend much time rewriting our State Plan because of technicalities called to our attention by representatives from the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration. Jennifer pointed out the importance of audience participation by Federation members at Council meetings.
It is our hope to purchase a sign for our building. Shawn Mayo reported that the committee has had two meetings to bring this about. Tom Scanlan is researching city requirements; Al Spooner and Jeff Thompson have been researching designs for it. Joyce is trying to contact the Minneapolis Heritage Perseveration Commission because our building is on the historical register. Pat Barrett is also working on the committee.
Carrie Gilmer reported on the activities of the parents division. At the convention, they sponsored a workshop on advocacy. Saturday School will continue and Emily Wharton and Jeff Thompson will be in charge of a teen night once a month. Carrie needed to leave early because Jordan, her son, is on the honor role and to keep him there he had to go do his homework.
Jennifer chaired our resolutions committee. She presented two resolutions. Both passed unanimously. The first resolution dealt with audible pedestrian signals. There is a move to put these signals in Minneapolis; we urge careful consideration before installing these signals.
The other resolution was critical of State Services for the Blind for allowing rehabilitation technicians to serve in a manner that should be reserved for counselors. Both resolutions are printed elsewhere in this issue.
Steve Jacobson, Shawn Mayo and Sheila Koenig also served on this committee.
Joyce called to our attention that we have some members who have served the Federation for a long time. Andy Virden joined in the fifties; Marie Whitteker joined in 1947 and Maxine Schraeder joined in 1942. Maxine was 19 years old and it was necessary to change the rules to let such a young person become a member.
Elections were held with the following results: vice president, Jennifer Dunnam; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; board members, Pat Barrett and Steve Jacobson. Those officers and board members who were not up for election are president, Joyce Scanlan; secretary, Judy Sanders; and board members, Jan Bailey, Charlene Childrey and Beth Moline.
Our local chapters reported on their various activities for Meet the Blind Month, in fundraising, on program items for meetings and membership recruitment. The Federation is alive and well throughout the state. These reports included one from our student chapter under the capable leadership of Jeff Thompson.
We have proclamations regarding Meet the Blind Month from the governor and several mayors.
Tom reported that the move-a-thon raised over $4,400. Al Spooner and his dedicated core of volunteer auctioneers led us to raise $2,983 for this year's bake auction.
With thanks to Anil Lewis for his inspiration, thanks from Anil for his appreciation of all that our affiliate does and thanks to the Riverbend chapter for a wonderful job as hosts, the convention adjourned.
WHEREAS, Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS's) are electronic devices that alert a blind pedestrian in an audible or vibro-tactile manner when the traffic signal has changed; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has repeatedly and clearly stated its position that APS's are for the most part unnecessary and should only be installed at intersections where the sound of traffic flow and other methods used by blind persons to cross streets safely and independently cannot be adequately utilized; and
WHEREAS, it has come to our attention that a small group is promoting the installation of APS's near a hotel in downtown Minneapolis because of an upcoming convention which will bring a number of blind persons to the city of Minneapolis for less than one week; and
WHEREAS, the push for APS in this case appears to stem not from concern over particularly difficult intersections, but rather from a desire to show Minneapolis as a "model city" for accessibility; and
WHEREAS, installation of APS at intersections where they are not needed would not show Minneapolis as a "model city" for accessibility but rather have the opposite effect of giving residents and visitors the false impression that Minneapolis is a city generally unfriendly to pedestrians and that blind people cannot travel safely throughout the city; and
WHEREAS, three conventions of the National Federation of the Blind have taken place in Minneapolis in recent memory, bringing large numbers of blind people to our state, without the need for changes to the environment; and
WHEREAS, Minnesota is home to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated, a nationally recognized adjustment-to-blindness center known for its excellent results in helping blind people to travel independently in any environment; and
WHEREAS, the installation of APS's in places where they are not needed would be detrimental to the work of this well-respected training center, hindering learning for students of cane travel, who must above all come to understand that the traffic sounds are the most reliable indicator of when it is safe to walk; and
WHEREAS, additionally, deployment of these costly APS at unnecessary locations would be a waste of federal, state, and local tax dollars; and
WHEREAS, a number of municipalities in the United States have developed systems for prioritizing requests for APS according to certain criteria, such as intersection configuration, traffic flow, vehicle speed, etc.; now therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this first day of October, 2006, in the city of New Ulm, Minnesota, that this organization express to all concerned that accessible pedestrian signals should not be installed anywhere in Minnesota except at those intersections where other means of making the intersection usable are not effective, and then only based on well-thought-out criteria, arrived at in consultation with the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization work with relevant government officials and with individuals to help them identify viable alternatives to accessible pedestrian signals.
WHEREAS, the rehabilitation counselor/customer partnership is at the very core of the public vocational rehabilitation program; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Congress recognized the importance of highly trained rehabilitation counselors by requiring that they meet the highest certification standards in the state, and the State Services for the Blind (SSB) division of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has, for several years, required its rehabilitation counselors to have master's degrees, or to get them if they do not; and
WHEREAS, Minnesota's Workforce Center System of DEED is headed by the former SSB Assistant Commissioner, whose tenure at SSB was characterized by a move toward generic services, job placement without blindness training, hiring supervisors with no experience related to blindness, and loss of critical services and funding, leading to picketing by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota and its friends; and
WHEREAS, the current SSB administration appears to be pursuing the same old deceptions: promoting clerical staff to rehabilitation-technician positions without providing them adequate training, replacing highly trained rehabilitation counselors with minimally trained rehabilitation technicians, requiring that SSB counselors use job placement providers who have no experience working with blind people because they already have contracts with the Rehabilitation Services (RS) division of DEED, using the same position descriptions for SSB rehabilitation technicians and rehabilitation counselors as are used for the same job titles at RS, and using service authorizations designed for RS services even though they increase the amount of SSB paperwork; and
WHEREAS, rehabilitation technicians, who are not even required to have bachelor's degrees, are scheduled to replace rehabilitation counselors in the SSB Senior Services Unit and the SSB Workforce Development Unit when those positions become vacant, and rehabilitation technicians are permitted to perform most of the functions of rehabilitation counselors, with the exception of eligibility determination, Individual Plan for Employment (IPE) development, comprehensive assessment, and case closure; and
WHEREAS, replacing professionally trained rehabilitation counselors knowledgeable about the unique needs of blind people with non-degreed service technicians who have virtually no knowledge of blindness is a false economy and an affront to blind Minnesotans; and
WHEREAS, this organization is concerned that common authorizations, contracts, position descriptions, and computer systems for both SSB and RS will lead to yet another attempt by DEED to combine the two rehabilitation agencies under the umbrella of the Minnesota Workforce Center system, a system which has proven itself useless to blind Minnesotans; now therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, in convention assembled this first day of October 2006, in the city of New Ulm, Minnesota, that we condemn and deplore the promoting of clerical staff without providing them adequate training, the hiring of SSB supervisors with no experience in the field of blindness, the underhanded attempts to combine DEED's SSB and RS divisions, and the further waste of SSB resources supporting the useless Workforce Center model; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization take whatever steps are necessary to stop these alarming developments, including meeting with the Commissioner of DEED, contacting the Governor and state legislators, testifying in the upcoming DEED budget hearings, introducing protective legislation, contacting the press, picketing DEED offices, and initiating action in the courts.
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 on April 21 at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd St. in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia from June 30 through July 6, 2007. 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. The full convention bulletin is in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website. On the NFB website, you can make your hotel reservation from a link to the hotel website, pre-register for the convention, and buy your banquet ticket at a discount.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held in September or October 2007 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.