Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 78, Number 1, Winter 2012
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
During one of our activities for blind children not long ago, we discovered that many of the young participants had no idea what a cassette tape was. It was amusing yet a little sobering to introduce them to this item which had long been such a staple in the lives of many of us but which is fast slipping into the ranks of artifacts of history! Now, even the Braille Monitor, the flagship publication of the National Federation of the Blind, is no longer being produced on cassette. Time certainly does march on.
Of course, the Monitor is still being produced in numerous other formats, and it can even be listened to by telephone now, so there is bound to be a format that works for any who had still been using the cassettes to read it. If you do not receive the Braille Monitor yourself each month, please see the end of this column for information on how to subscribe.
The changes related to the Braille Monitor prompt me to urge all Federationists to be sure to read the magazine on a regular basis. The ways in which our members can be informed, inspired, and mobilized between conventions and chapter meetings are many: state affiliate newsletters, division newsletters, presidential releases, social media, email listservs, and more, all have important purposes. However, the monthly Braille Monitor is our lead national magazine and is essential reading for all Federationists, to benefit us as individuals and to benefit the organization as a whole. I often think of the Braille Monitor as something like the Swiss army knife of the Federation, in that it includes many different tools and functions inside. Here, in no particular order, are ten of them:
Stay informed about current events in blindness. In The Braille Monitor, blind people speak for ourselves, from individual in-depth knowledge and from our collective experience. The information is pertinent not only to individual blind people of any age, but also to parents, teachers, counselors, staff and management of agencies for the blind, friends and family, and any who affect the lives of blind people. Regardless of how long we have been members or how familiar we are with the ins and outs of our organization, we all need to cultivate a strong knowledge of what issues arise and what the NFB is doing. Along with many articles on the various issues on which we advocate, the fact sheets on our legislative issues are printed each year. A further example of a particularly informative piece about current events is "Belling the Cat: The Long Road to the Passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act" from the June 2011 issue. Read about our programs — our adjustment-to-blindness training, our seminars for youth, our technology advocacy, etc. If the articles raise questions for you, ask a fellow Federationist; any will be glad to explain further or help find the answer. Our organization is much stronger when we are all better informed.
Learn about our organization's history. The struggles we have waged, the victories we have won (as a movement and as individuals), stand as a strong testament to the power of collective action. In current issues as well as the many decades worth of previously printed issues (which are available online), our rich history of accomplishment and of the development of the organization itself are written in vivid detail. To understand where we have come from is essential to be part of setting the future direction. As I was putting the finishing touches on this column, the January 2012 issue was released, which includes some organizational history as well as most all of the other elements listed here.
Stay connected to something larger. Reading the Braille Monitor can help remind us that our movement and the issues we face are much, much bigger than our own situation or even the situation of our circle of blind acquaintances. The connection also opens the door for each member to lend his or her time and talents to the larger movement.
Learn about our philosophy and how it can be applied in our lives. This goes far beyond learning about our history and our accomplishments. Many Federationists have become more committed and involved because of reading the Braille Monitor and grappling with the philosophical questions. It is one thing to understand a statement of philosophy; it is another to understand how it can actually work in our ever-changing world. Reading the thought-provoking pieces can help hone our attitudes and show us new ways to put our philosophy into action. "I'd Rather Be Mugged," an edgy little piece from the May 1990 issue, may seem almost inflammatory on its surface, but a careful reading helps us think about basic and important philosophical questions. November 1997's "Delivering the Coffee" is another of the numerous examples of pieces that show how a Federationist approaches the all-important "little things" with a strong foundation of philosophy.
Learn practical skills. To read about what other people are doing can help us to fill gaps we may find in our own skills or understanding. From grilling on a barbecue to navigating an airport to shoveling snow (the latter covered in the January 2008 issue), the practical tips are plentiful in the Braille Monitor.
Get a "pick-me-up." Sometimes, any of us can find ourselves in environments in which our independence is compromised or our competence is questioned, or we're just plain discouraged for whatever reason. If we are visiting relatives for the holidays and find we cannot even operate the microwave because the panel is flat, or we are being treated like children, or we are underestimated, it can be lonely and dispiriting. At times, just picking up something to read, being reminded that we are not alone in the struggle, can help to mitigate the sometimes overpowering effects of low expectations, and can help give us the strength to act to change them.
Bring in resources and support. We need support from outside our organization to do the things that need to be done to improve opportunities for blind people. The Braille Monitor is an excellent way to help explain the purpose and activities of our organization to potential outside donors. From the stories of the everyday lives of individuals to the coverage of the nationwide programs we offer, the reader can get a picture of the power and scope of the NFB.
Spread the word — share individual articles on social media. Nowadays it is common to consume information in the form of short articles rather than reading an entire issue of a magazine. The Monitor has a strong role here, too. The Web based edition allows individual articles to be shared. If you like a particular article, why not share it with your network on Facebook or Twitter? It's an excellent way to help bring our philosophy more into the mainstream consciousness, and to counteract some of the very negative and harmful messages about blindness that are still seen all too frequently. What's more, there are thousands of articles to choose from for this purpose — the decades of Monitor issues are filled with timeless articles to spark discussion and make important points.
Go forth and make changes. Reading is key to building a foundation of know-how, but reading can only go so far. From our reading we can get the background to make the legislative contacts, to educate the public, to help advocate for a fellow blind person, to mentor a blind child, and all the things that make us an organization of action. The excellent May 1999 issue contains many articles about chapter building. The January 2012 issue deals with this topic as well.
Write articles yourself. Do you have a success story to share? Is there an aspect of our philosophy that you wish more people understood? Was there a noteworthy event? Is there someone else's story you wish would be told? Write it down and send it in! Writing an article is an excellent way to give back to our movement and have a positive effect — often more of an effect than you will ever know.
The articles I have mentioned here are just a small sampling. What's more, one certainly does not need to go back to old issues to find excellent articles. Each month, under the capable editorship of Gary Wunder, the Braille Monitor is filled with important and interesting reading. If you do not currently receive the monitor, please either call (410) 659-9314 (ext. 2344), or log onto http://www.nfb.org and type “braille monitor” into the search box to find the page where you can subscribe. The Monitor is available in braille, print, and by email. It can also be accessed through NFB-NEWSLINE®, via your telephone or via a portable device that accesses NFB-NEWSLINE®. Starting in January 2012, you can also obtain the Braille Monitor on a USB flash drive so that it can be played in an NLS digital machine. It is also available for reading on the web, but members should consider subscribing in another format, so that the magazine shows up in your mailbox or inbox and reminds you of its existence.
Happy New Year and happy reading!
In addition to being an organization focused on consumer advocacy for blind people and promoting a positive philosophy of blindness, the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is also a family. Here is a new column we will print from time to time, containing items that would not normally be sent out on our membership listserv but which are noteworthy and of interest to members. Did you or a Federationist you know get a new job? Go on a major trip? Win an award? Have a child? Something else important to you? If you have news you would like shared in this column, send it to the editor, Tom Scanlan, and he will pass it along. Here’s the news for this issue:
On December 13, 2011, Al Spooner and May Vang were married in a small ceremony among family and friends. Our congratulations and best wishes to the Spooners.
We are also happy for Zach Ellingson, who recently became engaged to be married to Jenny Caito.
We said “Happy Birthday” to Tom Scanlan early in December. He was born on Pearl Harbor Day, so this was a special birthday for him.
Speaking of birth, Steve and Kallie Decker are expecting the arrival of a new little Decker in April of 2012. We look forward to celebrating with them!
In somewhat old news, a whole bunch of Federationists have moved to new residences within the last six months (most of them during the summer). These included Jean Rauschenbach, Judy Sanders, Jennifer Dunnam, Rob Hobson, Al Spooner, Sharon Monthei, George Wurtzel, and more. That’s a lot of packing!
It is likely that we’ve missed some noteworthy news here. If so, feel free to send it along for the next column. A happy and blessed new year to all.
By Chris Kuell
(Editor’s Note: This is the winner of the 2011 Metro Chapter essay contest.)
I received a great report from my daughter’s kindergarten teacher this morning. Not that it was a surprise, but good to hear nonetheless. The teacher came over to me as Grace was busy putting away her coat and backpack in her cubby. She said, “Grace is such a great kid. Her reading skills have just skyrocketed in the last month. She is really getting it. And all the kids love her. I’ll be sad when she moves on to first grade.”
Beaming with pride I thanked her, made some small talk and hugged Grace before walking my son to his third-grade class. There was a rousing “Hello Mr. Kuell!” as his teacher greeted me.
“Did Nick tell you he was the Multiplication King?”
I informed her that indeed he had, and then I gave him a hug and was on my way.
Heading down the long hallway towards the door, I heard a small voice to my side say “What’s that?”
Hearing no other response, I assumed the kid was talking to me. “This thing?” I responded. “This is my cane.”
“What’s it for?” asked the inquisitive voice.
Knowing I only had a minute before reaching the exit, I gave the simple answer “My eyes don’t work. I use the cane to feel where I am going.”
“You can’t see anything?” came the astonished youngster.
“Nope, nothing,” I answered.
“Oh” said the child. A few steps later, the kid gave me a cheery “Bye.” I bid him good-bye, and then headed out of the school into the fresh air.
When I lost my sight four years ago, I never could have envisioned such a pleasant drop off. Amid the anxiety of losing my sight, my job and career, I felt helpless regarding raising the children.
When my daughter was born, I was blind in one eye but the other could see what a beauty she was. By Christmas that same year everything was a blur for me, I couldn’t really make out what gifts were what. For the first time I couldn’t see the joy on my kids’ faces as they opened their loot. My vision was really going downhill. I needed surgery on my “good” eye a few months later, and while I was hopeful, there was still lingering doubt. On the day before the operation, I tried to hold my daughter still and I got about four inches from her face to try to see her as best I could. Being a kid, she thought I was playing so she squirmed and rolled and I never did get a good look at her. My son had just turned five at the time, and he was a little more cooperative. That was the last time I ever saw my children visually.
So how does one move from this heart-wrenching melodrama to the nice morning I had today? How can a blind parent help to educate his or her children and give a positive impression to others? It’s not that hard. The answer is through persistence, creativity and a positive attitude.
You have to believe you can do it. This is fairly logical — thousands of other people do it every day. You have to work at the essential blind skills; they are necessary to do what you want to in life, plus mastering them will build your confidence for tackling new stuff. And you have to be creative. Unless you have a blind friend at your side 24/7, you are going to have to figure stuff out on your own. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention.
My wife and I both worked with our son to teach him the alphabet and basic phonics, and at age four he was beginning to read simple things. Now he excels at all his schoolwork, which we attribute to his early reading. So when Grace turned three I tried to figure out a way that we could give her the same head start. I took some old business cards and wrote a letter in bold marker on the back of the card. I used my slate and stylus to make the letter in braille, so in effect I made blind friendly flash cards. We used to play games where she would memorize the letters. After she got the upper-case letters down, we did lower case and started working on sounds. This took a while longer, but soon she caught on. A year or so ago I started making word cards, emphasizing families of sounds. For example, at, cat, bat, rat and sat are the “at” family. We would also work on the basic, much encountered words like the, and, but, you etcetera. In time, she developed a good sight vocabulary. My wife and son would read with her often, and together we listened to books on tape. As her teacher said, in the last month everything is really starting to click and she is reading.
Basic addition and subtraction were taught to both my son and daughter at the kitchen table and in the bathtub. I started by having them learn to count — fingers and toes, crackers, whatever. Then in the kitchen I’d give them a few grapes, have them count them, then give them some more and count again. This quickly evolved into an addition game. After that came subtraction. If I gave them 12 cheese doodles, and they had eaten eight, how many were left? This stuff was reinforced during bath time, where I quiz them with problems and they try to answer both correctly and quickly. My son is very good at doing math in his head, while Grace is still relying on her fingers a lot. But that is OK; she understands the concept and can do problems more and more without manipulatives.
By a combination of a lot of innate intelligence and bathtub grilling Nicholas has memorized the multiplication table and now reigns King of the third grade.
Finding games to play with kids takes a bit of imagination and a lot of patience. Playing with cars and trucks, setting up blocks and bowling them over with a tennis ball just came naturally for me. Doing arts and crafts is a little trickier, but I have a sighted memory of most things, so with a pad of colored construction paper, some scissors and white glue we can create just about anything. Both of my kids and I love playing cards, which is possible using braille playing cards. I don’t know too many card games, and I soon became weary of Go Fish. So at a very young age my kids learned how to play poker, which provided a natural opportunity to work once again on their math skills.
The possibilities for learning and having fun with kids as a blind or visually-impaired adult are limited only by your desire and imagination. My kids are well-adjusted, smart and overall just great people. They bring me a great deal of pride, and help me in so many ways to become a better person. I honestly believe I would not have come as far as I have if not for the challenge of being a good dad to Nick and Grace. To them I’m not a blind guy or the man with the long white stick; I’m just their Dad. And a very lucky one at that.
By Maxine Schrader
My six-year-old great granddaughter A’mya is the inspiration for this article. Whenever she sees braille — in elevators, on doors, signs, ATM machines, and so forth — she loudly and proudly announces to the public “that’s braille; my great grandma can read it!” What a little advocate she is.
Eighty-one years ago at the age of five I touched my first braille dots, and the magic began and will never end. Just like A’mya, I said, “that’s braille!” At her age, I could read and the whole neighborhood knew it. The kids gathered on my porch and I read the book Old Mother Westwind and the Seven Little Breezes. After all these years, I can recall that book and wonder if it still exists. I made sure that everyone on my block knew about braille and its importance to my education.
Back in those days, the textbooks were all braille — no tapes, computers, CDs or any of this modern stuff, so there was no question or fuss about teaching braille in the schools. Everyone learned to read and write braille and were all the better for it.
As a teenager, I read Gone with the Wind, the big book of that time. Because of braille, I could stay current on the latest books and magazines and never miss a beat.
Now at 86, I continue to be independent and people kid me about all the braille-marked things in my home: appliances, files, clothing, canned goods, albums, even lipsticks for their various shades. You name it; braille is there.
Now when A’mya says “that’s braille; my great grandma can read it,” I say “YOU BETCHA!”
By Maureen Pranghofer
Though my eyesight has been up and down at various points in my life for all practical purposes, you could say I’ve been blind since birth. I consider myself well adjusted, independent and confident in my abilities. Yet at the age of 57, I am still finding that my perceptions of things are often incorrect.
These are some of the things I’ve discovered and how I’ve found out about, what to other people who have had vision, are simply normal parts of life.
Talking to People — The only time I can recall my family ever talking to me about something I did because of blindness was when I was a senior in high school riding in the car with my father. He was talking about something and I was quietly, attentively listening. “Did you hear what I said?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. He then informed me that people generally look at other people when they are talking. It was something I’d never thought about, if I could hear them and responded I thought that was good enough and was not aware that people intentionally look at others when they are speaking.
How People Drive — When I was in college a friend and I were hitchhiking back to the dorm after bowling, a hobby we both enjoyed. She said something casually about the fact that we needed to be in the other lane. I asked, “What do you mean lane?” She acted as if I were nuttier than a fruitcake, not understanding what she was talking about. Later I explained that I had assumed when people drove they simply went around whoever was coming. I hadn’t realized how lanes worked on the roads.
Tipping — In my 30’s I was at a business luncheon with a colleague in Los Angeles. It was the end of a meal. He watched me get my credit card out and casually remarked, “Blind people are so cheap.” I was taken aback and somewhat insulted. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, they never tip.” I had to admit no one had ever told me about tipping, how to do it, how much to leave and apparently I wasn’t the only blind person he’d run into who had this problem. I didn’t admit it to him but quickly spoke to my husband about tipping and got that dilemma squared away.
Thumbs Up — After not being able to walk for many years I have recently gained newfound mobility and am starting to use a walker. My sister-in-law was congratulating me on walking down a few steps and getting on their pontoon boat — something I had not physically been able to do for over a decade. “Thumbs up” she said. I had heard the term before and promptly put my thumb up. But it wasn’t the way sighted people do it, and the others in the group laughed at me and then physically showed me how to do the gesture. This was just a recent discovery on my part.
Leaves on Trees —My husband and I were out for a walk when he said something about the leaves changing. I asked what phase they were in and he was puzzled. I explained my understanding of the trees changing their leaves to the Fall colors before they fell. It was my understanding that every tree was green, and then its leaves went to yellow to orange, to red, to brown and fell off. It was then that I learned that not all trees go through every color; that the color depends, in part, on the variety of tree.
As you read this you, if you’re sighted, might think I’m strange or weird. That’s okay. If you’ve always been blind you might be going, “I didn’t know that.” My point is that as long as we as blind people have misconceptions and incorrect assumptions about the world around us we will stick out like sore thumbs. We will seem weird or strange and our chances of living in equality will be reduced.
Here are some ways that we can overcome this mismatch between what is and how we perceive things.
Parents — Explain everything. Verbally tell your blind kids what you are doing. Physically show them. Encourage them to ask questions about where, when, why, how, what. Ninety percent of what people learn comes to their brain visually and children generally learn by watching their parents and copying their actions. My parents didn’t do this, but you can.
Friends and Colleagues — Don’t worry about offending someone because you notice they are doing something sighted people would never do. I’m so glad my coworker made the crack about blind people being cheap. We need honesty from our sighted peers.
Blind People — Ask questions. Inquire about how things are, don’t do as I have done, and make assumptions. Sometimes, like my assumptions about driving, our lack of information gained through vision is wrong.
We live in a wonderful world where there is lots to learn for everyone and the more we can interact with family, friends, and each other the more we can be people who don’t stick out but fit right in.
By Esther Levegnale
(Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from the Fall/Winter 2011/2012 issue of The Federationist In Connecticut, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut.)
It goes without saying that one of the aspects of being blind is educating the sighted world. No matter if we're 10 or 60, it just goes with the territory. Oh yes, we hear comments like, "you're so-o-o amazing," or "you're such an inspiration." My God! It's like a broken record, isn't it? We tell people that we live independently, work, and participate in recreational activities, and, yes, even travel by ourselves.
Just last fall, Vicki, a friend of mine from Alexandria, VA, (who is also blind), and I took a Mediterranean cruise, alone, without sighted friends accompanying us. I befriended Vicki many years ago when both of us were involved in cross country skiing events and summer recreational activities provided by an organization known as Ski for Light. We visited one another's homes and got along perfectly. We took trips to Aruba, St. Croix, and went on many cruises together by ourselves. More often than not, my sighted friends ask, "Don't you take a guide with you?" When I answer to the negative, they're quite surprised, but in the end, they're all happy for my living an active and productive life.
The Mediterranean cruise was one like no
other. In planning this trip, we decided on a seven-day
cruise, leaving out of Venice, Italy, going to ports in Croatia
and Greece. The dates we chose were from October 9th
through the 16th. We dealt with a travel agency that is
geared specifically toward accessible travel for all kinds of
disabilities and we decided, through this travel agent, that we
wanted to use Royal Caribbean as our cruise line
preference. Thanks to the Internet, which opens a whole new
world for us blind people, we made our own flight reservations
separately out of JFK in New York. Each cruise offers shore
excursions at port destinations. We booked them separately
on-line as well, informing our travel agent which tours we
selected. Each tour had a description and we did extensive
research reading about the terrain, what types of clothing to
wear, etc. She in turn contacted Royal Caribbean to inform them
that we would need assistance on these excursions. They
said they couldn't promise any help on their end for us, so
we decided that we would ask people on our tour buses to guide
us. All we needed was a helpful arm along with our
canes. I can't say enough on how friendly and helpful
these tourists were. As it turned out, both of us were
guided by married couples, Vicki being guided by the wives and I
being guided by the husbands, and we all hit it off extremely
How did Vicki and I plan to meet each other to take this trip? We both met in New York City on the day of departure, Vicki traveling up from Virginia by train and I getting there by bus, and we met at a particular hotel. We took a taxi to Kennedy Airport where we had assistance from skycaps and
boarded our plane that was to take us first to Paris, then to our final destination, Venice.
Upon our arrival at the airport in Venice, we were told that we couldn't go to our hotel because St. Marc's Square was flooded by the high tides that occur there every day from about October to February. We thought, well, how bad could these floods be? We remained at the airport for a couple of hours, then we were escorted to a shuttle which took us to the water taxi, which in turn transported us to the pier and then to our hotel. Everything was back to normal. We were told later by tourists that these tides could flood the streets with water to knee level, and in order to keep the flow of the city going, (pun definitely intended) large narrow planks that look similar to restaurant tables are put up so that people could climb up upon these and walk across them to get where they want to go.
Vicki and I thought this would be fun, so the
next day we asked someone from our hotel what we had do to
get to a particular coffee bar, purposely planning this excursion
during the time of the floods. One of the lovely hotel
workers escorted both of us across these planks and it indeed was
an adventure and a true test of our cane skills. The boards
were extremely narrow and we needed to walk single file behind
our guide, being ever cautious not to walk too close to the edge,
while at the same time being mindful of people walking on the
same board in the opposite direction.
Whew! What a relief when we reached dry land, and I have to say that the skills of our guide, who had never guided blind people before, were impeccable! And I'll bet you two-to-one that people watching us did so with bated breath!
We spent a day and a half in Venice before our
ship set sail and we made the best of every opportunity we
had. There was music every evening on the square from one
end to the other, and when one band stopped, another would
begin. We also took a gondola ride, (what would a trip to
Venice be without one of those?) and toured St. Marc's
Cathedral when it wasn't flooded over.
The most unusual part of being in Venice was that there was no automobile traffic, just boat travel and walking. We found some pretty nice restaurants, thanks to the hotel staff who gave us fine directions, and if we were not sure if we were walking in the right direction, we would ask people on the streets and they would often walk with us to our destination. It turned out that we weren't far off anyway.
Once on the cruise ship, we were assigned our cabin and we were taken there. A note about cruise ships: The deck plans on these ocean liners are pretty much the same. In order to orient ourselves, we asked what side of the ship our cabin was on, either port (left) or starboard (right). Most of the ships have braille signage, which is wonderful, and as we walked down various stairways to get from one deck to another, there were even braille numbers at the bottoms of the rails to indicate the number of the deck. We used the stairs so often that more likely than not, we counted as we were going along. There are also three significant areas we pay attention to, and these are forward, midship (or central), and the back. Now, if our cabin was in the forward part of the ship, but we needed to go to the dining room in the midship a few decks up, we would walk toward the midship area and take the steps up. Or, if we had to go to a much higher deck, we would take the elevator. On the other hand, for example, the gym was toward the rear of the ship, so I would walk on my cabin deck to the rear, and then take the elevator, as the gym was always on a much higher deck.
There is generally a wonderful buffet area and we had plenty of help getting our food. The staff was most accommodating and they would give us a rundown of all the food stations. Talk about making decisions. Figgettaboutit! It was very difficult.
Also, through our orientation, we learned where a lot of the different shops were, and we ambled in and out of them, asking what they sold in each. You know how women are when it comes to shopping! We could easily annihilate the stores leaving them with almost nothing!
All the tours were wonderful. In Split, Croatia, we toured the walled-in city and later we were treated to a sumptuous lunch cooked over an open fire outdoors in the countryside. In Greece, we toured he Acropolis, walking all the way to the top. At first, the tour guide was hesitant about us going to the top, but we assured him that we were both in good shape and he was okay with that. We toured Corfu, which was a small island, Mikonos, which was considered a party island, and Katakalon which as where the first Olympics were held in 700 B.C.
On board ship, there is plenty to do. We had parts of the daily schedule read to us, and the staff in the purser’s office was very pleased to read it. I had my little digital recorder with me and recorded the items we were both interested in. The purser's office, by the way, is where people could exchange money, and where we had to fill out those almighty customs forms at the end of the cruise.
At times, though, Vicki and I would separate and participate in different activities. There's everything from Bingo to line dancing, and there was much music going on everywhere, day and night. We'd go into the cocktail lounges and ask the bartender what the drink of the day was. Gosh! He probably thought we were lushes! Both of us were really great in the "Name that Tune" trivia and, in fact, we won first prize. We would go and nab different people, asking them if they would like to be on our team, and they were more than happy to oblige. Besides, it was a way to con them into writing our selections down. We know all the tricks of the trade!
Before we knew it, the cruise came to an end all too quickly, and we reflected on the wonderful week we had on the flight home. Luckily, we had a straight-through flight from Venice to New York, and then Vicki and I went our separate ways.
In closing, I know that we all grumble and moan about sighted people's feeling that we're brave and amazing, but on the other hand, we're changing their attitudes about blindness by giving them a positive picture, noting that we're just like they are even though we accomplish our goals differently in all facets of our lives. On this particular cruise, we met people from around the world and we, too, certainly broke down the attitudinal barriers for them. We were proof that blind people could travel by ourselves and enjoy what this wonderful world has to offer us. My advice? Try it, you'll like it!
By Richard Strong, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind.
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on October 8, 2011.)
Madame President, thank you for this opportunity to update you and the membership of the largest consumer organization of the blind in Minnesota about your state agency.
When it comes to SSB it’s safe to say these are the best of times and in the worst of times.
We survived the state shutdown. SSB, like the vast majority of the rest of state government was shut down from Friday, July 1 thru Wednesday, July 20. Thousands of customers — vocational rehabilitation, older persons who are blind, and Communication Center customers were without services. Audio, braille and equipment distribution were all suspended. Minnesota RTB users and the dozens of other radio reading services that use our programming in North America were without service. And our staff statewide was all idled.
George Bernard Shaw wrote: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’" To me those lines capture the essence of a memorable set of events that began that Friday, July 1.
It was that day that the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota and BLIND, Inc. presented a petition to the Special Court master calling for the Court to rule center-based blindness training as an essential function of the state. On July 7 the court, following the recommendation of the special master who heard the petition brought by BLIND, Inc. and the National Federation, ordered blindness training be resumed. She ruled the service is a core function of government. She heard the voice of blind Minnesotans and she responded.
Because of the NFB speaking out, services resumed. Because of the NFB speaking out there is case precedent for future shut-down situations. Thank you NFB of MN for speaking out. Please keep speaking out.
Settlement of the shutdown was reached Wednesday, July 20; staff were contacted and the vast majority was back Thursday. All were on duty by Monday.
We are now pretty much dug out of the shutdown backlog and are moving forward.
The budget resolution, from SSB’s perspective, was most positive.
SSB’s budget from the end of session, which was vetoed by Governor Dayton, contained a $150,000 increase for only the first year of the biennium with level funding for the second year. It would allow SSB to match and draw down available federal dollars for both the VR program and the OIB only for the first year.
The governor also vetoed the State Government Operations budget bill (SF1047). It had a variety of provisions including a reduction in general fund appropriations for agency operation of $94,875,000.
A context for this reduction is what happened in 2002 where there was a state operations cut in the neighborhood of $30 million, resulting in the loss of 18 positions to SSB.
The budgets coming from Special Session contained an increase for SSB to draw down federal match funding for each year of the biennium — $150,000 each year.
And the State Government Operations reduction was a relatively small reduction of $1.76 million that will have no impact on SSB.
So that’s the good news on the funding side for the near term. We’ll have to hope for continued economic recovery and stable state (and federal) funding for services to blind Minnesotans.
The federal fiscal year ended last Friday, September 30, and preliminary results are still coming in. We have until the 15th to make all data entries. Note this time around the year was basically an eleven month period what with the shutdown. In spite of that missing month it appears, as of yesterday:
· The WDU surpassed last year’s employment outcomes by 1, realizing 81 employment outcomes.
· Senior Service closed almost 200 more cases while serving just over 100 fewer persons.
· Numbers for other units are being finalized over the next few weeks.
While somewhat positive, we need to do better. And we will.
Last month key SSB staff had a conference call with the Kentucky Blind agency. Focus of our discussion was why their rehabilitation rate is so much better — on paper — than ours. Interesting to hear about their:
· team approach to services,
· financial incentive (bonus) for helping customer off Social Security benefits,
· significant number employed at application, and
· large portion referred by medical service providers.
They are going into a consolidation into one-stops and we will be sharing with them our one-stop experiences.
Since I met with you last there have been a number of staff changes at SSB.
In the Communication Center, Chris Schmeisser retired June 30 as the equipment distribution staff member and voice of the Center. In late September we brought on her replacement, Michelle Thomas.
In Workforce Development Carol Pankow, in late June, returned to her former position in state government. She did so due to pending layoffs in DEED and in light of her position being the least senior in her job classification.
Jon Benson, currently director of our Administrative Services section will be assuming the Workforce Development Director position later this month.
Nancy Madich resigned her Metro counselor position in August and we’re working to fill that vacancy as well as the lead counselor vacancy created when Nicole Schultz left us in July.
The ARRA-funded placement specialist position held by David Smith is being converted to a permanent slot, with an emphasis on corporate job development.
Stephen Larson will be our new Administrative Services Director. Stephen is a long-time department employee, having been with Rehabilitation Services for many years and a Regional Administrator in the Workforce Development Division of DEED for the last six years. He’s wrapping up his Adjustment to Blindness training at BLIND, Inc. and will be on board at SSB later this month.
Chuk Hamilton will be continuing with us at least through next August, handling a variety of important technical, policy and administrative tasks.
Very pleased to note that Natasha Lemler, Rehabilitation Counselor in WDU, has been accepted into the state’s Emerging Leaders Institute; an exclusive group of 30 rising stars selected in a very competitive process from throughout state government.
Ms. Lemler is the fourth SSB employee selected for the Institute in the last three years. Note that all four SSB participants are females, with one of them a blind person.
As folks may recall, RSA conducted a review of SSB last year. Their final report indicated a need to change SSB’s status and level in DEED.
That change, announced August 3 by Commissioner Phillips, has SSB reporting to the Office of the Commissioner with a status equal to that of other major units of the department. It means SSB has status comparable to other major units of the department and is a full participant in all leadership activities of the department.
The long process of updating and revising the administrative rules covering services to Minnesotans who are blind, deafblind and visually impaired is complete. The updated rules became effective Monday, August 8. The resulting updated rules:
· conform with current federal law and regulations,
· consolidate the former self-care and independent living programs,
· clarify and streamline numerous sections including those related to the purchase, maintenance and ownership of technology aids and devices,
· strengthen requirements related to adjustment-to-blindness training, and
· repeal those rule parts related to direct rehabilitation services to children.
Making the needed improvements in the rules was possible only because of the hard work and active involvement over the last 18 months of many, including members of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind and advocacy groups.
The NFB played an important role in the effort. Members involved include your president, Jennifer Dunnam, Judy Sanders, and Steve Jacobson, representing the SRC-B, Shawn Mayo from BLIND, Inc. and Kathleen Hagen, Client Assistance Project.
Their input, along with that from other community members, was valuable, seriously considered and helped shape the product as it developed.
We are now aligning policy manuals for both programs (VR and SSU) with the new Rule, updating forms and WF1 — our management information system — and myriad procedures as we train staff on their use.
We are working with the other users of the WF1 to ensure future system viability. WF1 is written in Visual Basic 6, for which Microsoft will no longer provide mainstream support after 2013. DEED is moving to rewrite WF1 in Visual Basic dot net. The 18 plus programs using the system, including other DEED and DHS units, are looking at cost estimates for the rewrite and how to fund the effort. We are watching this effort very closely, needing to be certain the value we receive is proportionate to what we pay and that the system is accessible to blind users.
SWIFT (Statewide Integrated Financial Tool) continues to be very problematic for all state government and for SSB in particular. We will be bringing on several temporary positions to help lessen the increased work load resulting from SWIFT. Our VR techs are spending nearly all their time on the SWIFT activity which historically has taken no more than 10-15% of their time.
By now it's tough to find anyone who does not expect bad news from the December revenue forecast two months from now. But any fresh holes in revenue projections revealed then won't be actionable by the Legislature until the figures get revised in March. From that point onward, the 2012 session is likely to be overtaken by a reprise of the budget standoff that ultimately ate up seven months of the 2011 session.
SSB has had very positive preliminary discussions with Ms. Oien of the Department of Education regarding our interagency agreement that supports braille provision to K-12 students. We look forward to those discussions being ongoing as we together look for ways to optimize our capacity for and funding of braille.
SSB will be continuing with ensuring Assistive Technology instructors have the skills needed to provide quality instruction to blind Minnesotans. Updated performance evaluations have been developed and we’ll be working with providers to bring certifications up-to-date.
Finally, SSB needs your help. We have a standard expectation that all new SSB employees shadow a competent blind person who uses the skills of blindness in their work environment. We need additional volunteers who are willing to have new SSB staff shadow them for a day and experience first-hand the importance of the skills of blindness in everyday life. Staff feedback on their shadowing experience has been excellent and it makes a significant difference in how new staff, often not at all familiar with blindness, start their experience at SSB. Please contact me directly if you would like to be considered for this important role.
Thank you for this opportunity to meet with you today!
By Catherine Durivage, Director,Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on October 8, 2011.)
Thank you, Jennifer. Hello. My name is Catherine Durivage. I am the Library Director at the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library. Thank you for extending an invitation to me to speak at your annual conference again this year.
Over the past few years when I have come to speak to you about the library we seemed to be facing some type of budget and/or service challenges. This year was particularly challenging because we were closed in July during the state government shutdown. It was painful to tell you that we were closing and unable to provide you library service for what ended up being close to three full weeks. When we came back we were faced with 37 mail bins, 79 voicemail messages and almost 100 emails. And, we had one less person on staff due to a retirement at the end of June. However, everyone chipped in and we were able to clear the majority of our backlog by the end of August. We are not caught up on everything, but all the incoming mail received during the shutdown has been processed, primarily because we are sending more digital books out than cassettes. It does not take as much time to inspect a digital book, making the over inspection process quicker.
And speaking of digital, we have turned a corner in that digital circulation now exceeds cassette circulation. Final numbers are not quite ready, but our circulation from Faribault for the year ending September 30 was over 314,000 items. This figure is slightly less than last year, but our closure in July accounts for this difference.
BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) usage continues to increase. We have over 740 individual BARD users and now Institutions can access BARD. Since October 1 of last year almost 43,000 books and magazines have been downloaded by Minnesota BARD users. As an aside, the most popular book download in September was Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, DB073300 and the most popular subject was suspense books. Last month, mystery and detective books was the most popular subject, so it can vary from month to month.
The National Library Service plans to merge Web-Braille into BARD by year’s end. They also plan to make some improvements to search options and BARD’s overall interface, though there is no exact timetable on when changes will be implemented.
NLS is still investigating converting audio magazines to digital. There will probably be a pilot project sometime next year, at the earliest. In the meantime, magazines will continue to be sent by mail on cassette. You can also download current and back issues of magazines from Minnesota BARD.
NLS is looking into developing a BARD app for smart phones. It is definitely one of their priorities going into 2012. So, for those of you that have a computer and access to the Internet we really encourage you to register for Minnesota BARD to download books and magazines. You have 24/7 access to over 22,000 titles. For more information about Minnesota BARD visit https://nlsbard.loc.gov/MN1A.
We continue to contact patrons about the new digital players. The National Library Service developed some nicely designed postcards that we are sending to people who have yet to receive the new machines. The postcard has been much more successful than any other method of contact we made other than calling people directly on the telephone.
As I mentioned last year, NLS ceased cassette production as of October 1, 2010, so we have not received any new cassette books since that time. But, since we are now only receiving audio books on cartridges, we have increased our checkout limit for digital books. The maximum number of digital books one can have out at a time is 25. Now, if you use BARD, there is no checkout limit.
We still receive questions about keeping the cassette players. We strongly recommend keeping your cassette player since it will be awhile before our collection of digital titles will be sufficient in quantity. NLS did recently announce that they plan to convert to digital all cassette titles except for those that are obsolete in terms of content, like medical or law books, or those titles whose original analog recording is not of significant quality to convert to digital. NLS may instead re-record those titles. It will be quite a number of years depending on funding before the majority of our cassette collection will be available in digital format. All retro titles produced from cassette to digital will be available to download on Minnesota BARD.
NLS recently published its annual catalog of audio books. They changed its name from Cassette Books to Digital Talking Books Plus. The 2010 issue is expected to be mailed by month’s end. If you would like a large print copy, let us know. It will eventually be available on a digital cartridge and on Minnesota BARD to download.
As for other library news, NLS sent their network consultant to the library in August for their biennial visit. MaryBeth Wise, a former NLS narrator, spent two days at the library meeting with staff. She also spent a day at State Services for the Blind to meet staff involved with machine distribution. She will prepare a report of her visit and provide us recommendations for service improvements. We expect her report later this year. Overall, it was a great visit. She was duly impressed with our efforts to get through the shutdown backlog in record time.
Our Advisory Committee is seeking two new members to fill openings in 2012. You need to complete an application available at the Secretary of State’s website or contact the library if you would like a copy emailed or sent by mail. Members of the Advisory Committee meet quarterly, generally in Roseville at the Minnesota Department of Education, to discuss library issues and concerns. Members are paid a per diem and travel expenses. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me directly.
The Library received a federal grant to help re-instate our local volunteer recording program. Some of you may remember that we previously recorded the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Minnesota History and books about Minnesota. Due to budget and staffing issues, we ceased this program in 2009. It has always been my goal to resume production of locally recorded books, so with this grant, we hope to begin this process again in 2012. Hopefully, next year at this time I will be able to share with you our first digital recording.
As I mentioned earlier we have an open position due a retirement. We hope to be able to fill this position and are committed to continuing efforts to increase staff here at the library.
It has been a pleasure being here today. If there is time, I entertain questions.
By Kristin Oien, Blind/Visually-Impaired Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was read by Kathy McGillivray on behalf of Ms. Oien at the Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on October 8, 2011.)
Greetings Minnesota Federationists,
My apologies for not being able to join you in person today. We’ve been busy this week with hosting Low Vision Clinics in the Metro and St. Cloud, as well as holding the first of four Minnesota Orientation & Mobility Specialists (MOMS) and State Vision Network (SVN) meetings at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Having been the MDE specialist for students who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) for just over a year, I have a much better understanding of how educational services are delivered in Minnesota. As the MDE BVI Specialist, I am responsible for providing support, training and technical assistance to teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility specialists, and other stakeholders who provide services to students with disabilities and their families. Along with being the manager of the BVI Resource Center in Faribault, I am also the American Printing House (APH) for the Blind Ex Officio Trustee for the State of Minnesota Department of Education.
Our vision at MDE is that all children get necessary support for healthy development and lifelong learning. The special education policy division’s mission is to provide leadership to ensure a high quality education for all Minnesota’s children and youth with disabilities.
Last year I visited every region of the state and spent time with each regional low incidence facilitator discussing regional specific concerns, successes, and needs. I also attended many regional meetings and conferences throughout the year, gaining insight into specific areas and the programs they provide. MDE also developed and provided the BVI field with a strengths-and-needs survey in order to plan professional development, training, and mentoring opportunities throughout the state. The results of the TBVI & COMS strengths and needs survey from the Daves and Associates Research Company were clear. The three main recommendations were to implement a mentorship program, provide more training options for assistive technology needs, and build awareness of and strengthen the community of practice groups. My main focus this year will be to address these three recommendations, along with other BVI initiatives and trainings.
The following is a list of workshops, trainings and meeting dates for this school year that have been offered to Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists.
· 09/20/11 Communication Matrix Training with Dr. Charity Rolland
· 10/04-05/11 Low Vision Clinics: Metro & St. Cloud
· 10/07/11 SVN at MDE
· 10/14/11 White Cane Safety Awareness Day at MSAB
· 10/27-28/11 MDVI Statewide COMS and Vision Conference
· 12/02/11 SVN at MDE
· 01/20/12 SVN at MDE
· 03/23/12 SVN at MDE
· 04/22-24/12 Charting the C’s Cross Categorical Conference
I am also excited to announce that the Minnesota Resource Center: BVI Advisory Committee has been reconvened, and a special thank you goes out to both George Wurtzel and Charlene Guggisberg for volunteering to be members of the committee.
Now for an update of current data regarding school age students who are BVI in the state of Minnesota. The 2010 MDE Unduplicated Child Count indicates there are 415 students from birth to 21 who are blind and visually impaired in Minnesota. However, the American Printing House for the Blind 2011 Federal Census data indicates there are 779 students from birth to 21 who meet the definition of blindness. The disparity in these numbers comes from the MDE child count only indicating the primary eligibility category as BVI, while the APH census takes into account students with multiple impairments who are also blind. IEP teams strive to provide each of these students with the supports and strategies necessary to meet their individualized educational needs.
It is my overall goal that youth who are blind and visually impaired in Minnesota receive quality instruction that will lead to their independence and success. Thank you so much for sharing this information from me today. I want you to know that I welcome suggestions for effective change. Please feel free to contact me with concerns or ideas for the future. My email address is Kristin.Oien@state.mn.us and my phone number is 651-582-8843.
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 May 19, 2012 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be June 30 through July 5 2012 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin is in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in October 2012 in Greater Minnesota. 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.
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at the American Legion in Waite Park
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend. This group meets at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis on the first, second, and third non-holiday Monday of the month from 4:30-6:30. Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users. Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one. Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail email@example.com.
Activities for youth — Several times a year, the National
Federation of the Blind of Minnesota holds
educational/recreational activities for blind youth. These
activities are designed to provide opportunities for the youth to
learn new skills, to connect with one another and with confident,
well-adjusted adult blind role models, and to have fun while
doing so. Meetings and other activities for parents
also take place in conjunction with these events. For more information, contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is two-fold — to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind. By providing public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families, members of the NFB strive to educate the public that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality.
No one understands blindness as well as those who live with it daily. To apply this knowledge to solving the problems of blindness, blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM). NFBM is the state's largest and oldest organization of the blind. It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.
As blind people, we know the loss of eyesight is not the major problem of blindness. The real problem is the misunderstandings that surround blindness. The NFBM overcomes this problem through education of the sighted to the reality of blindness and through mutual help among blind people. Such activities make blind people fully-participating members of society. They earn their living, raise families, and take full responsibility for their own lives.
The NFBM began in 1920 as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind. It is a membership organization open to everyone who believes in the capability of blind people to help himself or herself become full participants in the community.
In 1940, Minnesota and six other states founded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Today, the NFB numbers over 50,000 blind people. It has organizations in every state, and local chapters in almost every sizable community.
During these many years, we have made strong progress toward equality. We have improved employment opportunities and education for blind persons in the state of Minnesota and in the nation.
Most of our members are blind, and their knowledge of blindness comes from their personal lives. Other organizations get their information on blindness through the reading of textbooks or other secondhand techniques.
For a complete listing of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, visit www.nfbmn.org/board.html.
There are several ways to keep up with, as well as interact with, the most active group of blind people in Minnesota:
· Join the discussion list for Minnesota on NFBNET at www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/minnesota-talk_NFBNET.ORG
· Follow @nfbmn on Twitter at twitter.com/nfbmn
· Like us on Facebook by searching for National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota at www.facebook.com/
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.
Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc edition.
Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.
Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
Judy Sanders proofreads and provides
corrections for both the print and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition and other tasks as needed.
Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails all editions.