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 80, Number 1, Winter 2014
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
Happy New Year to all. As I put the final touches on this article, winter is well and truly upon us — temperatures in the Twin Cities are at 22º below zero (not to mention the wind chill of minus 45), and it's much colder in the Twin Ports area. Yes, we Minnesotans are hardy souls to get through winters such as these. Our hardiness comes into play right now for other reasons, too. There is much transition underway in our community and field, from which we will learn and grow stronger.
In early October, Shawn Mayo, who served as the executive director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) for ten years, announced that she would be leaving at the end of the year. Under Shawn's leadership, BLIND, Inc. grew and thrived, continuing to be recognized throughout our nation and beyond. Shawn worked very hard to help individuals gain skills and think through their approach to blindness so that they can live their lives as others do and give back to their communities. She has been a strong proponent of mentorship, and her efforts to raise the bar have improved the landscape and the lives of people in significant ways.
In December, we held a party to celebrate Shawn's work and wish her well in her new life in Iowa. A crowd of Federationists, many of them alumni of BLIND, Inc., as well as leaders and counselors at State Services for the Blind and others, came from throughout the state to share memories and good wishes. The presidents of the NFB of Minnesota and of the board of BLIND Inc. presented Shawn with a beautiful plaque in both print and braille. She also received a freedom bell like the one presented to students when they graduate from the training center. Refreshments were plentiful, and the event was a fitting way to honor the great person and the important work that she has done. We know she will stay in touch with us in Minnesota as she continues to participate actively in the NFB.
Dan Wenzel will become the new executive director of BLIND, Inc. Dan is a long-time Federationist who served for several years as the state president in Wisconsin and as a member of our NFB national board. He believes deeply in the work of the Federation and in our training centers as an expression of the Federation. In addition to a strong background in Federation philosophy and action, he brings a great deal of leadership experience to the position. He is currently working as manager of youth services at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. Prior to that, he directed the Wisconsin Center for the Blind, served as an assistant director at the Colorado Center for the Blind, and held various other leadership positions in his employment and in the communities in which he lived. He also worked for several years as a cane travel instructor. Dan will bring great enthusiasm and commitment to this work, and, of course, I know we will all stand ready to provide help and support.
By the time you read this, he will be here, and his wife and three sons will move here in March. Fortunately, Dan will have the opportunity to get up to speed and training before jumping right into things. Dick Davis, who has been assistant director for employment for many years, will serve as the interim director while Dan completes training.
Another leadership change occurred in December with the retirement of Richard Strong, who worked in various capacities at State Services for the Blind for more than 30 years, most recently as its director. Presentations he gave at our conventions have appeared in these pages, so Bulletin readers are familiar with his approach. There is still plenty of work to do to get things to where they should be at our rehabilitation agency here in Minnesota, but because of Dick's strong belief in the capability of blind people, his deep knowledge of rehabilitation for the blind, and his valuing of the importance of consumer input, significant improvements were made during his tenure as director. His retirement celebration was also well attended and a testament to his long and dedicated work. He will be missed. At this writing, the search for a new SSB director is in process, and as is customary when leadership is being sought for programs working with blind people, the NFB is providing input.
The changes, of course, do not slow us down but inspire us to redouble our efforts at our usual important work on legislation, advocacy, public education, teaching each other, and all of the other activities that make us who we are. Fourteen Minnesotans will attend the Washington seminar to win the support of our Congressional delegation for fair wages, for access to educational materials, and for equality in the use of airlines. No doubt many more Federationists from throughout the state will be part of our day at the Capitol to work on legislation here in Minnesota. Our semiannual convention will take place on Saturday May 18 in Minneapolis, and it is never too early to start obtaining contributions for our Walk for Opportunity held in September in Rochester.
Also in September will be a major celebration of the 100 years since the completion of the building of what is today our headquarters, the Charles S. Pillsbury mansion.
As we start up a new year full of opportunities, I urge each of us to stay informed — read The Braille Monitor and this Minnesota Bulletin; attend chapter meetings; follow our Twitter and Facebook feeds; watch our members’ listserv; and keep aware of what is going on in our local communities that could affect blind people in particular. We need the perspectives, ideas, and help of all our members to get our work done. No doubt 2014 will be an exciting year of strengthening and
By Lori Peglow
Message from the CMC President
The Central Minnesota Chapter National Federation of the Blind (CMCNFB) held our annual elections in October of 2013. Kevin Horodenski was elected as the president of the CMCNFB. Two of Kevin’s goals as the new president are to make our name more publicly known and to get new members into the chapter before the next chapter elections. One way to do that is to take Beth Moline’s idea for celebrating Louis Braille’s birthday. He, Beth and several other members of the CMCNFB will be having a presence at the St. Cloud Library on the first Saturday of January. We will pass out brochures and share technology at that time.
Kevin also welcomes other ideas for making our chapter known in the community and hopes to do his best for our chapter. There is no excuse for saying that I can’t do it because I am blind. With today’s technology, no one can say that anymore. There is a whole world out there with assisted equipment and technology for us. I think the saying goes, “No I can’t turned into I can do”.
Meet Members of the CMCNFB
Gayle Gruber-Bengtson has been a member of the CMCNFB since its inception in 1971. Gayle has been blind since birth. She attended Washington Elementary School in St. Cloud. Washington Elementary School had a Sight Saving Resource room. The teacher believed strongly that the sooner a sight-impaired person learned to get along in the sighted world, the better off they’d be. The teacher had the students sit in a circle. Using a flute ball that beeped, she had the students roll the ball to another student who would then say their name. If the ball rolled outside the circle, the student had to go find it by listening for the beeps. This was an effective tool to teach great listening skills. The teacher also had the students use a raised relief globe. This allowed the students to feel the continents and mountain ranges, etc.
Gayle also learned to type in the 6th grade. The only problem with this was that if you made a mistake, it went right past you unless you had a sighted person point out your errors so you could correct them. She used a tape recorder to tape her lessons. Then Gayle would translate the important notes using Perkins Big Brailler.
Gayle had several jobs after finishing school. One of her favorite jobs was working for the Minnesota Migrant Council. She made copies for the staff. Gayle came up with the idea of having masking tape on the copier to mark the top and bottom of the papers to be copied so she got the right sized copies. She also had just enough vision to see the lights on the phones so she was able to answer phones and type up messages.
Another special job was when Gayle started an answering service business. That is where she met her husband, Jim. Jim was very special to Gayle and very helpful. He would label her belongings and would often use humor on the labels. One example was the use of “shampooey” on her shampoo bottle. Jim passed away five years ago.
Gayle uses a number of tools in her home, such as talking clocks and talking thermometers, the ones that tell the outside and inside temperature as well as one that tells your body temperature. She uses Window-Eyes on her computer. She likes to listen to The Legend and Minnesota Radio Talking Book on her computer. The Legend is a program started by a blind person and all the presenters are blind as well.
Gayle has attended several national conventions. One memorable one for Gayle was held in Louisville, Kentucky where she was able to tour the American Printing House for the Blind. She met one of the readers while on the tour.
As a blind person, Gayle would like sighted people to know that the fact that blind people have the same hearing skills as a sighted person, nothing better or extra special. It is just that they have learned to rely heavily on that sense in place of their vision.
On Friday, January 17th we will be holding our 27th annual fund-raising spaghetti dinner. The dinner will be held at the Eagles Club in Waite Park, from 4:30 pm to 8:00 pm. Tickets are $7.00 for adults, $3.00 for children from 6-12 and free for children under 6.
By Ben Katzner
(Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the St. Cloud Times on January 5, 2014.)
When Gayle Gruber-Bengtson of Sauk Rapids moved into her current apartment, she had a hard time connecting with her neighbors.
Gruber, who is visually impaired, generally travels with a long white cane to help her keep her bearings. When she came across neighbors, they'd maneuver around it.
"When I came in using the cane, people were always jumping over it because they thought they were going to get hit by me," Gruber said. "It was always like 'beware the long white cane."
It's those kinds of stories that make events such as the one Saturday at St. Cloud's Great River Regional Library important.
The day saw a small group from the Central Minnesota chapter of the National Federation of the Blind convene to commemorate the birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of braille, and inform community members about what it's like to be visually impaired.
"My grandmother always told us knowledge is power — the more you know, the better," said Kevin Horodenski of Sartell.
Horodenski, the president of the Central Minnesota chapter, has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment and often blindness. His brother and sister also have it and warned him of some of the unexpected hardships.
"(They said), 'You just wait till you get all the stereotypes' ... they were right," Horodenski said. "There are a lot of stereotypes out there and people believe them and basically what I'd like to get out of this is that we can do stuff whether it be through old-fashioned technology like braille or new technology like computers and talking/adaptable items."
The event didn't draw a huge crowd, but the people gathered were encouraged by the fact that others were willing to learn. Eleven-year-old David Petzold and his 10-year-old brother, Steven, were among that group. Steven was gathering information for a Boy Scouts project about disability awareness. David was intrigued not just by the tools used by visually impaired people, but the people who use them, too.
"I like coming out here, it's fun to meet new people and my aunt is a disability specialist for the blind, so I already know a little bit," he said. "Learning my name in braille and partially learning the braille alphabet, that was sort of fun."
The boy's mother, Deanna Petzold, believes that events such as the one Saturday can have a long-lasting effect.
"We just, in our family, find it very valuable to understand what the needs are and what the issues are surrounding different disabilities so as a community we can be more of a help and less of a hindrance to people," she said.
Beth Moline, another member of the National Federation of the Blind, said the best way to learn more is by doing exactly what the Petzolds were doing — getting out and getting to know people who are visually impaired.
"I'd like to see people not be afraid to come up and talk to us," Moline said.
By Megan Bening
(Editor’s Note: This is the winner of the 2013 Metro Chapter essay contest. Megan and her parents are members of our Riverbend Chapter. Her mother, Jean Bening, is a board member of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the parents division of the NFB.)
In one of my earliest memories, my mother is playing with me, pretending to chase me as I run back and forth across our lawn. Just as she is about to catch me for a kiss and a tickle, I veer crazily to avoid her grasp. I put on a burst of speed that I shouldn’t be capable of and lunge toward the door into the house. Before she can get to me or even shout a warning, I go sprawling face-first over my petal car, sitting next to the porch steps. Immediately she is there, holding me close as she kisses my face and dries my tears.
As soon as she has reassured herself that I am OK, she carries me to the middle of the yard and sets me back on my feet, giving me a gentle nudge forward to begin our game again. But something has been lost now: I have realized that I can’t see the obstacles in my path and I am not about to let go of her. Gently, she puts her hands on my shoulders and tries to push me forward. But I am stubborn and I know the dangers now. I am not about to be budged from the safety that her eyesight offers me.
As she continues to try to get me to play again, I begin to gear myself up for the mother of all tantrums. Before I can let out even one good scream, though, an odd smacking noise catches my attention. She is standing behind me, clapping her hands repeatedly. What can she be doing now? She takes my hands in hers and continues to clap them together as she gently but inexorably guides me first into a slow walk, then into a run. As I listen, I begin to realize that I am hearing two claps: one as she guides my hands together and another as the sound comes echoing back to us. As she guides me back toward the house, I hear that the sound is changing. She takes the time to run me first toward, and then away from, obstacles until I realize that if I clap, I will hear the sounds around me and can avoid the obstacles without her intervention.
I am once again beginning to enjoy this game, starting to giggle as the tears dry on my face. Then suddenly her hands are gone from my shoulders and I am running on my own. I come to a stop, unsure how to proceed without her. She waits to see what I will do and then begins to clap her hands again. But she doesn’t reach out to me. And eventually, tentatively at first, I begin to run away from her.
At first, she stays within arm’s reach of me, ready to grab me at the first sign of danger. But I have discovered the freedom of moving on my own with no fear, and I put more distance between us. She watches me giggle and run around her, always staying just out of her reach. She stands still and watches me move further away from her, confident for the first time in myself.
Years go by and I am in first, then second, then third grade. One week my class has a substitute teacher. I am a good student and don’t cause any trouble, so she has no reason to single me out for any punishment. That is, until she gets a look at the class’s penmanship and assigns us some handwriting exercises. Without asking anyone, I decide that because the class is using pencils and paper and I can’t see to do the exercises, I shouldn’t have to. The next morning when I show up for school empty-handed, the teacher sets me straight.
That night, I come home crying to my parents, teacher’s note in hand. As usual, we don’t talk about the note until after we have eaten dinner. Finally, though, the moment of reckoning arrives.
“What is this about not being able to go out for recess because you didn’t do your homework?” Mom asks me. “Didn’t you tell us last night that you didn’t have any? You know you’re going to be grounded for this. You lied to us and you disobeyed your teacher, and that’s not OK. Do you have anything to say?”
Through my best wounded-martyr sniffles, I try to explain the situation. I cry about being absent-mindedly handed a printed sheet of paper and explain how the teacher didn’t take the time to make up a different assignment for me. I explain in my most logical grown-up tone of voice that I can’t possibly do an assignment when I can’t see the instructions and don’t know how to print. Righteously, convinced that I have won this round, I rest my case.
“Didn’t you tell me that you have a substitute this week?” Mom asks. I nod cautiously. “So she has never taught you before?” Another nod. “Then isn’t it safe to assume that she probably didn’t know you couldn’t do the assignment?” Grudgingly this time, I have to concede the point.
“Then it is your responsibility to tell her so. You have to work with your teacher to find another way to do the assignment. If you can’t figure out how to do that on your own, you ask your resource teacher or your Braillist to help you. But you do not get to choose to ignore an assignment without even trying to find a way to make the assignment accessible.”
I spend the rest of the night brailling an apology letter to my teacher, which my mom then transcribes into print. Then, in glitter pen, she shows me how to print my signature at the bottom of the paper so that I can feel the lettering. The next morning I bring my finished letter to my teacher along with the rest of my homework. She accepts my apology and we go on with no hard feelings. I never see her again, but the lesson she and my parents taught me stays with me to this day. I grumbled about my homework incessantly, tried to avoid doing it whenever possible, but I never again tried to use my blindness as the excuse.
As I grow and become a young woman, we go through several more struggles. My parents and teachers take the time to coach me through fighting my own battles. I attend my Individual Education Plan meetings and my parents always, always make sure that I am given a say in my educational goals. I learn how to stand up for myself, how to respectfully contradict an authority figure when I know I am right, and how to appeal when I am unfairly punished. I also learn to refuse special treatment, to fight tooth and nail for every scrap of independence I can gain, and to relish a challenge and take pleasure in overcoming obstacles as they come my way.
Throughout high school, I begin to look forward to going to college. In my mind, it has become just another challenge to overcome. My parents take me to college fairs and chauffeur me around to check out different schools. I apply to two schools in Minnesota and to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. I am surprised when I get into all three. Ultimately, I choose to stay close to home for my first year of school. My parents don’t say so at first, but I think they are vastly relieved.
Months pass in what seem like days and before I know it, my parents are kissing me goodbye at the door of my dorm. They have given me everything I need to succeed in the world without them. I have the tools to face this challenge head-on and come out on top. I fought to get here, and I will continue to fight to stay here. I smile at them and blow them a kiss as I turn and walk away, stepping into the first day of the rest of my life.
Now, I realize how hard it must have been for my parents to raise me the way they did. Given the news that their child was permanently blind and offered no solutions to the endless questions in their minds, my parents could have easily given up hope. But instead, they actively sought the answers to their questions. They kept looking until they found someone who told them “Yes, she can!” They set me on my own two feet and stepped back, even when it meant I got some bumps and bruises on the way. They realized that I needed to find my own way in the world far more than I needed them to swoop me up and protect me from all harm.
Today as I journey further into adulthood, I am more grateful with each passing day that my parents never let me take the easy way out. They loved me too much to see me settle for less than I was capable of. Today, I can look at a problem and where others say, “She can’t,” I respond with, “Watch me!” And their skepticism drives me to work even harder to succeed. By allowing me to stand on my own and to grow as a person instead of smothering and protecting me at every turn, my parents gave me the greatest gift they could have — the gift of independence.
By Steve Jacobson
On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of Congress resulted in public law 88-628 being passed which designates October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. Those of us in the Federation have been celebrating White Cane Safety Day for many years, but recently we have welcomed the increased interest of others. For several years, a number of us have participated in the White Cane Safety Awareness event held at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) in Faribault. In addition to publicizing the importance of independent travel for blind persons, this event featured a walk along some of Faribault's busiest streets, providing an opportunity to show the public how blind people can travel independently. However, a different approach was taken this year.
On October 15, members of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota participated with a number of other groups in a White Cane Safety Awareness event at the state capitol in St. Paul. This event was planned by the Minnesota Academy for the Blind and the department of Education with financial contributions by the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind Foundation, Lions of Minnesota, Manitoba and Northwest Ontario, and the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. Several busses of students and Academy staff made the trip from Faribault to participate in this event, but there were numerous other people in attendance as well, including students from our training center, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated.
We gathered in the rotunda of our State Capitol to the sounds of the MSAB students singing a song that was composed about the white cane specifically for that day. Two members of the state legislature also spoke to us. Representative Patti Fritz, who represents the Faribault area, read a proclamation from Governor Dayton's office declaring October 15 as White Cane Safety Day in Minnesota. In addition, Senator Vicki Jensen, who represents the Owatonna and Faribault area, also spoke, noting some of her efforts to assist the Academy. After the program, we braved the forty-degree mist that turned into a cold rain as we walked with canes and dogs along a route that included University Avenue and John Ireland Boulevard. Even with the less than desirable weather, spirits were high and the event was a success.
During the program, there were remarks presented on behalf of several groups. Since our president was on her way to an important meeting on braille in Louisville, I presented the following on behalf of the NFB of Minnesota:
Good morning everyone. White Cane Safety Day has long been an important activity of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. As many as forty years ago, we were distributing White Cane Safety leaflets in the downtown areas of major Minnesota cities, and we were instrumental in passing what is commonly referred to as a white cane law here in Minnesota. It is therefore with great pride that we are participating in this activity today with the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind and other supporting organizations.
The white cane is far more than a stick. It has become a symbol of independence for blind people in all walks of life; for children, college students, job seekers, and for those of us going to and from work every day. The white cane represents hope for those who become blind as adults as well, and for senior citizens who want to live independently. Whether we choose to travel with a cane or a dog guide, this symbol represents our ability to travel independently where we need to go to live a full life.
Even so, there are still blind people for whom independence is an unfulfilled dream. We need to make certain that every blind person has the opportunity to learn how to travel confidently with a cane or a dog guide. In addition, we need to work together to maintain an adequate level of public transportation so that those of us who cannot drive can go to work, pay taxes, and do our part to give back to society. In this way, the independence symbolized by the white cane can become a reality for every blind Minnesotan. Thank you.
On the weekend of October 25, 2013 over 100 blind Minnesotans and their friends gathered at the Radisson Hotel in Bloomington for the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.
Registration opened Friday afternoon where people who pre-registered could pick up their agendas and meal tickets and others could register for the convention. Additional opportunities in the registration area included the availability to purchase Louis Braille Commemorative coins and, to benefit the NFBM Senior Division cell phone carriers. On display was the Cosmo, a new classroom friendly braillewriter that is quiet and easy to use. It can perform many functions including converting a document to be printed for the teacher to read what a student wrote.
Another demonstration featured a talking thermostat for homes to control heating and cooling equipment.
Students and their families were able to peruse and take material about financial aid for higher education from the U.S. Department of Education.
Our Resolutions committee, chaired by Ryan Strunk, met to discuss and make recommendations about proposed resolutions to be brought before the convention. All were welcome to make comments and suggestions.
Sharon Monthei and Chris Foster led a session to familiarize people with Apple products and their accessibility. They learned about the latest apps and tricks to take advantage of all the technology Apple has to offer.
The Minnesota Association of Blind Students (MABS) met to plan activities for the coming year. Among other presentations, Chelsea Duranleau and Albano Berberra shared their experiences in foreign travel; Ms. Duranleau studied in Spain and Mr. Berberra traveled through Europe playing his violin. The following officers were elected: president, Va’nasha Washington; first vice president, Hannah Furney; second vice president, Quinn Haberl; secretary, Chelsea Duranleau; and treasurer, Candace Chapman.
During the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille in Minnesota (NAPUB) meeting Jennifer Dunnam reported on the progress to implement the Unified English Braille Code (UEB). President Marc Maurer received a commitment from Ms. Dunnam, (who manages the braille program for the NFB) to produce our national convention agenda in UEB. This year’s officers are president Melody Wartenbee, vice president Ben Moser, and secretary/treasurer Trudy Barrett.
The evening ended with hospitality hosted by our Metro chapter. Lively conversation, a cash bar and delicious appetizers kept everyone entertained for several hours.
At conventions, Federationists demonstrate an enormous amount of energy; on Saturday, activities began at 7 a.m. and ended early Sunday morning! The early birds gathered for breakfast for a meeting of the NFB of Minnesota Senior Division. People heard an update from Ed Lecher, director of the Seniors Services Unit at State Services for the Blind (SSB). Joyce Scanlan, president of the division, reminded everyone about the cell phone carriers that the Division is selling to benefit its treasury. Jan Bailey was re-elected vice president with Mrs. Scanlan and Pam Provost serving the last year of their terms as president and secretary/treasurer respectively.
President Jennifer Dunnam called the opening general session to order at 9 a.m. After an invocation by Kathy McGillivray we were welcomed to the convention by Metro Chapter President Rob Hobson. A proclamation from Governor Mark Dayton was read by Helen Stevens declaring October as “Meet the Blind Month” in Minnesota.
In case we were feeling the need for relaxation, May Spooner offered a quiet massage in the back of the meeting room for a small fee, with all proceeds donated to the NFBM treasury. Pat Barrett, carrying a jingling piggy bank, reminded us about buying Louis Braille coins.
President Dunnam acknowledged those members who could not be with us because of illness. Get Well cards were being circulated for Dick Davis, Becky Bergman and Ron Mehnke. The NFBM has a list of 100 ways members can volunteer their time and skills to benefit the organization. Members were encouraged to sign up for particular tasks with Jan Bailey.
Every year a bake auction livens up our annual convention. Charlotte Czarnecki explained the rules of the auction and said that she would be drafting auctioneers from the audience. Tom Scanlan announced that for the first time we could pay for our auction items with a credit or debit card.
Door prizes were given away throughout the convention. Hannah Furney and Matt Langland drew names from those who had registered — all 108 of us.
We were pleased to welcome NFB President Marc Maurer and his wife, Patricia Maurer, to our convention. Dr. Maurer said that our national convention would take place from July 1-6 in Orlando at the Rosen Center. Each blind person plays an important role in making our national conventions the focal point for the success of the Federation. This is the convention where we blind people show our resolve, our commitment and our ability to control our own future. There are many who would make us their charity (not necessarily financially), but we show them how it is done when we are in charge. Hearing speakers from all over the world in the blindness field is impressive and informative, but the key to our accomplishments starts with the resolutions we pass. It is through our resolutions that we have made one of our top goals to eliminate subminimum wages for people with disabilities in the United States. This change will not come easily, but we will persist until this inequity is no more. The battle is being fought on more than one front, with two legislative efforts underway. HR831 would eliminate Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities. There is also a provision in the proposed reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act that would allow rehabilitation services to receive credit for placement at subminimum wages. We are opposing that part of the reauthorization. On the media front, Rock Center, a news magazine that appeared on NBC TV, ran an in-depth story about this issue that was quite favorable. We provided a lot of input.
In 2012, the NFB, along with many others, suffered losses in our fundraising. Therefore, this year we are initiating some new programs. We are opening some thrift stores on the east coast, and, if profitable, we could expand to other parts of the country. We are also starting a car donation program. Dr. Maurer asked Mrs. Maurer to come to the microphone to describe it. People can receive a tax write-off by donating their cars, boats, motorcycles or any other form of transit to us. It is up to us to spread the word; there is a lot of promotional material in the form of brochures and stickers. People can make a donation by calling 855-659-9314. The website is Carshelptheblind.org.
Mrs. Maurer suggests that we join her in putting a form message at the bottom of all our e-mails about the donation program.
Fred Schroeder, first vice president of the NFB and vice president of the World Blind Union, has been working on the ratification of international treaties that deal with making braille books available worldwide and will give other countries the same protection that we have in the U.S. through the ADA. We will need approval from the U.S. Senate for both these treaties.
All of these topics and more will be on the agenda for our Washington seminar.
Cynthia Bauerly, Deputy Commissioner of DEED (The Department of Employment and Economic Development), gave us brief remarks to let us know how much DEED values the work done by SSB. She expressed an awareness of the importance of a special unit of government devoted to services for blind and visually impaired people. She also acknowledged the three community rehabilitation programs (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Vision Loss Resources and the Lighthouse for the Blind in Duluth. In addition, she praised the constant vigilance of consumer organizations in watching over our agency. Ms. Bauerly recognized each of the units of SSB and their accomplishments for 2012-13. She closed by expressing awe over the peanut butter cupcakes with fudge frosting from the bake auction.
Bauerly’s presentation was followed by remarks from Richard Strong, director of SSB. His entire speech will be printed in the next issue. Mr. Strong announced that after 31 years of service to this agency he would be retiring on December 2. President Dunnam said that Mr. Strong is leaving the agency in a better position than when he began his tenure as its director. Sharon Monthei asked about the difficulties in signing up immigrants who are not native English speakers for instruction in English through the program offered by BLIND. It is the only program specifically designed for blind students in the state. Strong suggested that contact be made with the minority outreach committee that is a part of the Minnesota Rehabilitation Council for the Blind for guidance. Many people took the time to thank Mr. Strong for his years of dedicated service.
Shawn Mayo, director of BLIND, Incorporated at the time of the convention, introduced us to three students who shared their stories about how training through this program is affecting their lives.
Albano Berberra was first introduced to a long, white cane as a six-year-old living in Greece. His father gave him the cane and told him that his job was to walk with it by himself. He thought his family was abandoning him — even though his dad was following him. He came to the U.S. while in middle school where he was once again urged to use a cane — but like many of us it did not yet stick. Before college, he had additional training at the Father Carroll Center but he was still not properly motivated. Now he is here at BLIND where he says that for the first time he is learning that he is responsible for himself; he is discovering that the only limits he has in his life are self-imposed. BLIND is unlocking his mind to what is possible.
Like Albano, Debbie Civil comes to us from the Bay state. Although she is a recent college graduate she describes herself as always having been very needy — constantly expecting her sister and others to take her everywhere. Her blind friend asked her why she thought some blind people could go anywhere by themselves and she could not. The two of them went shopping at a mall where Ms. Civil had a horrible experience running into things and generally becoming a real hazard. The next day she called BLIND and talked to Al Spooner. While she still had some misgivings she signed up to come here and has been making discoveries about herself ever since. She is slowly abandoning her neediness and is blossoming into a capable, competent woman.
Antonio Smith is from Brooklyn Park and is nicknamed Barry Sanders. He explained that his travel skills were much like that football player — run to the left, the right, goes back and gets nowhere. When he first came to training, he says that he could not find his way down the hall. Things are improving in all subject areas to the point where he is combining his classes with a part-time job.
All the students expressed gratitude for the partnership between the NFB and BLIND; they seemed to understand that all of us could keep giving back through the NFB.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Mayo thanked all current and former staff and students at the Center and members of the Federation for the confidence everyone has placed in her. Mayo is moving on at the end of the year to live in Des Moines, Iowa. While she found this a hard decision to make, she knows she is leaving BLIND with stable finances and a waiting list of students. Dunnam expressed for all of us the gratitude we feel for all that Mayo has given to this program and the NFB of Minnesota. While she will be missed here in Minnesota, we are certain that we will see her participating in our national movement. Although we are not in a hurry for Mayo to leave, the BLIND board of directors has actively begun the search for a new executive director with the right Federation philosophy. Dr. Maurer added his thanks and accolades for Mayo’s work and said that he planned to call on her to do Federation work wherever she lived.
Brad Harper, superintendent of the State Academies for the Deaf and Blind, and John Davis, director and principal of the State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) talked to us about the education of blind children at their school. Mr. Harper announced that Governor Dayton recently appointed Jan Bailey to the Academy’s Board of Governance; Ms. Bailey is replacing longtime board member Nadine Jacobson. Since Bailey was formerly a member of the Academy’s Site Council, an advisory body to the Academy, a vacancy will need to be filled.
There are currently 50 students enrolled on campus and 45 students in the outreach program where Academy instructors travel to the local school districts to provide instruction. During last year’s NFBM convention, Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Pretner-Solon spoke to our student division. Mr. Harper was present during that presentation and he brought to the attention of Mrs. Solon the need for speed bumps on Highway 298 so the students could cross safely traveling to the school’s running track. Solon, along with Representative Patti Fritz and Senator Vicki Jensen, were particularly helpful in getting the money for the speed bumps. The Academy recently sponsored a rally and walk in celebration of White Cane Safety Day on October 15. Many Federationists, students, and staff from BLIND came to the Capitol to participate in the event. The NFBM contributed money toward the cost of lunches for everyone and Steve Jacobson was a speaker at the rally.
Thanks to the Academy Foundation, a recording studio was built on campus. Students are writing and producing their own music including a song that they sang in honor of White Cane Safety Day. They plan to put the recording on YouTube. The school has also procured new technology and science equipment and made improvements in the playground.
Bob Raisbeck, chair of our PAC Plan effort, explained the mechanics of the Preauthorized Contribution Plan and said that we would be taking contributions at the banquet. This program allows automatic withdrawals from our bank accounts to be sent to our national treasury on a monthly basis.
Candace Chapman, treasurer of both the national and state student divisions, closed our morning session by talking about how she became involved in this movement. She was instrumental in starting the Mississippi student division and she hasn’t slowed down since. The national division has four standing committees; the first is membership. This committee holds monthly conference calls where students can discuss such concerns as dating, how to handle classroom work and advocacy efforts. The Slate committee produces their quarterly newsletter, The Student Slate. The Communications committee coordinates their social media outlets. And finally yet equally important is their fundraising committee. This committee not only helps their own division but it aids the state student divisions.
Over 80 Federationists joined the staff and students of BLIND for lunch where we could meet them in a more informal atmosphere. The crowd was bigger than expected forcing the hotel to extend seating into the lobby area.
We began our afternoon with “Good News from Our Library” presented by Catherine Durivage, director of the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library. Ms. Durivage brought us up to date on news from both our state library and the National Library Service. Her remarks will appear in the next issue. Beth Moline asked if there would ever be a digital player where we can change the battery ourselves instead of having to return the machine. Durivage was not aware of any plans to do so but she suggested that when we no longer get a charge greater than twelve hours it is time to switch to a new player. We can request a new machine from the Communication Center while we still have the old one; when it comes, we can return the old one. Tom TeBockhorst expressed appreciation for how quickly BARD (Braille and Recorded Downloads) is keeping up with new books. Durivage said that there is a limit to how many books BARD can add each month but she is glad to hear that there is at least one satisfied customer. Jan Bailey expressed concern that certain USB drives do not work on the NLS player. NLS has not issued a list of preferred brands; they recommend using the cartridges that are sold specifically for their machines. Dave Walle asked how long we could keep our magazine cartridges; weekly magazines should be returned within a week and monthly publications within the month. Downloads are available to upgrade digital players with the most current reading flexibility such as skipping between chapters or sections. Dunnam expressed appreciation for the ability to read braille through BARD with various devices. She asked if there are still plans to expand the eligibility criteria for who can be a library patron. She was referring to a proposal to expand the definition of disability for purposes of reading books from NLS. The NFB would be opposed to such an expansion. At this time, there is no move in Congress to change the eligibility criteria. Rob Hobson mentioned that he is having trouble logging into BARD; Durivage said that individual problems could be examined with a call to the library.
Jennifer Dunnam serves as the NFB representative on the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). She gave us an update on the transition to Unified English Braille (UEB). BANA has 17 member organizations and agencies on its board and several active committees. We are making a slow transition between the current braille code and the UEB. The transition is scheduled for completion by 2016. Dunnam reviewed some of the changes that will occur. Nine contractions are being eliminated and other inconsistencies are being resolved. The Nemeth Code will still be in use. Using the UEB will make it easier to produce computer translations into braille. Ben Moser asked if print color attributes can be identified in this new code, the answer is yes but only when necessary for understanding the material.
We next heard from the newly elected president of the MABS, Va’nasha Washington, whose topic was “Advocating to Serve.” Ms. Washington always wanted to open her own restaurant until she became blind. She assumed that dream was no longer possible; but her fortunes and dreams were revived when she enrolled as a student at BLIND. Dick Davis found a program for Washington in Minneapolis called Waithouse that teaches a curriculum called Safe Serve. They may be the experts on kitchen safety but she is showing them how a blind person can combine nonvisual techniques with their safety rules. She has determination, tenacity and patience in dealing with the staff and she is making it work. She realizes that she is setting an example with the hope that other blind students will be welcome there. Will future students know that they owe their opportunity for a culinary education at Waithouse to Washington and the NFB? Whether or not they are aware of this — we know it and that’s why we continue to work together for a future where we can all have equal chances.
To answer the question: “Can I make money through eBay?” we heard from Al Spooner. Several years ago, the NFB developed a partnership with eBay to make its site more accessible to blind sellers and buyers. A class was organized for prospective blind entrepreneurs who were making a trial run figuring out what worked and what didn’t. After the class, Spooner’s next task was to decide what he could sell. He found an old piece of equipment in his closet, downloaded a teaching manual for it and was surprised to sell it for $120. What started as a curiosity has turned out to be a part-time business. He acknowledges that some of eBay’s features are visual but a truly ambitious seller could hire an assistant and make it worthwhile. Spooner is selling men’s belts and wallets, and he just bought 700 neckties for resale. He spends about 25 hours a week on this and one month he made several thousand dollars.
Jan Bailey, chair of our membership committee, facilitated a discussion about how we can better retain current members and attract new ones. She started by examining why we joined and what makes us stay. Most people joined because someone else asked them. To keep members we must help everyone find their niche so that we are contributing to our success beyond just paying dues. That is why we have developed the list of 100 ways we can help. Bailey will be sending out e-mails with examples of items on the list. We were urged to sign up at any time. Some of us stay because we are in an environment where the expectations are high and we do not have to prove our independence. We stay because our friends are here. We see problems with society’s misconceptions about blindness and we know we are the only ones who can eliminate them. In recruiting new members we must always remember to talk to the blind people we know who are not yet members and share with them why we stay.
Steve Sawczyn regaled us with his “Adventures in India.” Many of us place limitations on ourselves that keep us from doing things that we would enjoy. Mr. Sawczyn thought he was a hotshot traveler when, at age 16, he took a trip to Germany as an exchange student. He was driven everywhere and did not have to make any decisions about where to go. As an adult, moving to Minnesota reminded him of how scary getting around could be. He came here to take a job with Target Corporation. Sawczyn was telling Randi Strunk, who works with him at Target, that he wished he could go to a Twins game at the new Target Field. He said that Mrs. Strunk gave him some very profound advice that he has never forgotten: She said, “Just go!” He did and had a wonderful time. Target sent some of its employees to India for particular projects and Sawczyn decided he would like to be one of those employees. While he had some concerns about whether he could do it, he followed Strunk’s formula and just went. He noticed that the people in India were amenable to learning what kind of assistance he might need; for instance, they did not take offense when he pointed out that he could feed himself. They did not seem overanxious when he wanted to go for a walk and they spoke directly to him instead of his companion. He was pleased that their assumption was always that he could do something even if they were curious about how he would do it.
His job with Target was not only to insure that their website was accessible to all users but he had to explain why this was an issue.
Our afternoon closed with a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” to our president, Jennifer Dunnam.
During the social hour preceding the banquet people had their last chance to buy tickets for a 50/50 drawing where the winner would win half the pot of money. The other half will go to Community Shares Minnesota, a giving federation from which the NFBM benefits. It ended with $50 for the prize.
Following a social hour, MC Judy Sanders called the banquet to order. Pat Barrett gave the invocation followed throughout the evening with bake auction items and door prizes. Mrs. Maurer drew the winning number for the 50/50 drawing. Dana Ard, a Federationist from Idaho visiting our convention, took home the money.
Sheila Koenig made two presentations. First, as chair of the scholarship committee, she thanked the rest of her committee: Michele Gittens, Jan Bailey, Ryan Strunk and Steve Jacobson. She reminded us that these scholarships are possible because of our efforts in fundraising including our bake auction. Alex Loch is a previous scholarship winner from both the state affiliate and national organizations. Mr. Loch is a doctoral student in physical therapy at the College of St. Scholastica. He received a check for $1,500. Loch talked about his work and all its challenges. He is a new member of the Twin Ports Chapter in Duluth and he finds himself as its president. He says we have a small but motivated group. He thanked the Federation for supporting him in all his successes and picking him up from his failures.
Koenig then switched hats and made a presentation as a judge in the Metro chapter essay contest. The winner, who received $75, was Megan Bening for her essay entitled “Standing on My Own.” All other entrants had their names placed in a drawing for a $50 prize and that winner was James Oliver Smith.
President Dunnam presented Alex Loch with a new charter for the Twin Ports chapter in Duluth. This chapter has written its constitution and has elected officers. We look forward to great things from this energetic group of people.
The highlight of every banquet is the address given by our national representative. Dr. Maurer met our every expectation with his remarks. He began by talking about changes in leadership and expectations for the new leader. Maurer reviewed Joyce Scanlan’s role as our past president with her many contributions and accomplishments to our affiliate and this movement. He then told us about the time in our history when Mrs. Scanlan decided not to seek reelection to the presidency, and we elected Jennifer Dunnam. There were those who had doubts about what kind of president she would make. Some wondered whether Dr. Maurer could adequately replace Dr. Jernigan. These questions are inevitable with change. Few would argue that our movement is not as strong as ever. Maurer expressed the view that although their leadership styles are quite different Dunnam has proven herself as a strong, mature leader and there is a place for both leadership styles in this organization. Maurer went on to review much of our history and many of his own personal experiences factoring into many decisions he makes. We could relate to some of his stories; others were way beyond our imagining such as dreaming of being an engineer. By the end of his speech the audience was moved to work together to do whatever is necessary to increase opportunities for all blind people and to show others how we can work together to do so.
After being truly inspired, President Dunnam asked people to think about how we could contribute financially to our movement through the PAC plan that was explained earlier in the day. We heard from several people who started and/or increased their contributions.
After the banquet, several hearty souls shared fun and frivolity into the wee hours of the morning. Even with all the fun, everyone was present early Sunday morning.
Our business session began with more birthday singing — this time for Sharon Monthei.
President Dunnam reviewed our activities since our last convention. We participated in the NFB’s efforts to pressure Amazon to make their e-readers accessible to nonvisual users. Many of us wrote letters explaining this need; three Minnesotans traveled to Seattle to join Federationists outside Amazon’s headquarters to educate the public about this issue. We have made some progress but more must be done.
We continue to work on the national legislative front gathering sponsors for our various initiatives. The students held a highly successful seminar in April where students from Wisconsin joined them. We worked with SSB to help them improve in their hiring practices of blind employees. Positive results can be seen because in the last three months three blind people have been hired. They are working in the Communication Center; we continue to advocate for customers who are having problems with their counselors; one individual was asked to close his case because he had part-time employment. With our help, he refused and, after a few months he found a full-time job.
We needed to intervene on behalf of some English language learners whose counselors were dealing with the director of the English language school instead of the student. That practice has stopped and now the students are fully involved in making decisions about their services and instruction.
Eighty-seven Minnesotans attended the national convention in Orlando. People were not just in attendance but actively participated in all areas of the convention.
Not only did we raise much needed income from our Walk for Opportunity, but we also received publicity and there was a lot of enthusiasm from our host chapter in Rochester. We received a bequest from someone who has contributed to us for many years. This has enabled us to make a sizable contribution to our national treasury and we have accepted the responsibility of deciding how best to use the rest of it wisely and efficiently. Discussions are ongoing to ensure that we plan activities that can be sustained in the future when the bequest is spent. One possibility is to sponsor a BELL program (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) for young blind children. We may try for a seminar for seniors. There are endless possibilities and we will keep all options open.
We are in the final stages of publishing a pedestrian safety brochure designed to teach drivers about the importance of the white cane and dog guides. We have a list of drivers education schools where we can offer to speak to classes. Our affiliate has a history dating back to 1920 and much of it is captured on paper. We want to find a way to archive this history in a more permanent fashion so that we can also share it with our national archives. Our future is bright if all of us do our part. Dunnam thanked us for being a part of this movement and she considers it an honor to lead us.
Ryan Strunk presented five resolutions for our approval or rejection. The committee recommended do-pass on all of them. The text of the resolutions follows this report. The subject of each follows:
A13-01: regarding removal of Section 511 from the Workforce Reinvestment Act.
A13-02: regarding the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.
A13-03: regarding MNSUR and accessibility to its website.
A13-04: regarding the TEACH Act.
A13-05: regarding services for seniors at SSB.
All resolutions passed unanimously. Mr. Strunk thanked his committee members: Steve Jacobson, Jan Bailey, Shawn Mayo and Helen Stevens.
Officers and board members serve two-year terms in our affiliate. Those up for election were the president, secretary and three board positions. The results were as follows: president, Jennifer Dunnam; secretary, Judy Sanders; board positions: Sheila Koenig, Brice Samuelson and Rob Hobson. Those with one more year to serve are vice president, Steve Jacobson; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; and board members Bev Stavrum and Pat Barrett.
Currently, our bylaws require a secret ballot for elections. Dunnam wanted to know if there is interest in amending the bylaws to begin with a voice vote and if it is uncertain, then vote by ballot. The consensus seemed to be to leave the bylaws as they are.
Tom Scanlan reported that our treasury has a surplus because of the large bequest. Without that, we would have had a deficit.
Many of our members serve on advisory committees to agencies that deal with blindness services. Jan Bailey is new to the Board of Governance so had no report.
Dunnam is the NFB representative on the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind advising SSB. All are welcomed and urged to attend the open meetings that occur the first Thursday of odd-numbered months and to take part in the active committee structure that support the council.
Melody Wartenbee reported on NAPUB activities that have been mentioned earlier in this article. Va’nasha Washington did the same for the students and Joyce Scanlan reported for the seniors.
Charlene Guggisberg reported for the Resource Center Advisory Council. Their focus is recruiting teachers and braillists for local school districts. There is a shortage of applicants.
Our chapters reported on a variety of activities including fundraising, distributing literature in the community and the Metro chapter sponsored a seminar on Social Security.
Tom Scanlan announced that we received $3,199 in the bake auction and May Spooner donated $114 from her massages.
The convention adjourned with good cheer and with promises of hard work in the coming year.
WHEREAS, in July of 2013, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP Committee) introduced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), a reauthorization vehicle for the Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, a provision of WIA amends Title V of the Rehabilitation Act to include a newly-added Section 511, which outlines conditions which rehabilitation agencies must follow in order to place workers with disabilities in subminimum-wage employment; and
WHEREAS, the antiquated, discriminatory and abusive practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wages is authorized in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and has never previously been authorized by, linked to, or statutorily noted anywhere in the Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, while Section 14(c) of the FLSA has been excluding people with disabilities from the same workforce protections as all other Americans for the last 75 years, rehabilitation agencies authorized under the Rehabilitation Act have not been allowed to count placement in sheltered employment or subminimum-wage jobs as a successful employment outcome since 1994; and
WHEREAS, the purpose of the Rehabilitation Act is to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, strengthen and fund a system for states to increase the employment of people with disabilities, and prepare Americans with disabilities for competitive employment in the mainstream workforce; and
WHEREAS, no matter how limited or well intentioned, adding Section 511 to the Rehabilitation Act links the immoral practice of subminimum wage employment with the very law that is intended to reverse discrimination for people with disabilities, reinforcing the antiquated practice and providing legal flexibility and justification for rehabilitation agencies to place clients in subminimum-wage jobs; and
WHEREAS, in August of 2013 Samuel Bagenstos, Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Justice, released a legal analysis on the proposed Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act included in WIA and concluded that the provision “entrenches sheltered workshops and the subminimum wage—and for the first time recognizes them as acceptable under the rights and provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, our Nation's first disability rights law,” calling it a “stunning step backward;” and
WHEREAS, even though Senator Harkin has claimed his intention for including Section 511 in WIA is to provide limitations for placement in subminimum-wage jobs, reducing the number of young people placed in sheltered employment, the link created in Section 511 will, in reality, encourage rehabilitation agencies to see this option as a viable training and job-placement-service for people with disabilities as well as legally authorize subminimum wages in another statute; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind strongly advocates the repeal of Section 14(c) and the elimination of any subminimum wage employment for people with disabilities, believing all disabled Americans have the capacity for mainstream, competitive work and are entitled to the same workforce protections as every other American citizen; and
WHEREAS, 17 additional organizations of and for people with disabilities oppose the provision of WIA that adds Section 511 to Title V of the Rehabilitation Act: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization urge Senator Harkin to fix WIA by removing the provision that adds Section 511 to Title V of the Rehabilitation Act, and keep any mention of subminimum wages out of the very disability rights law meant to remove discrimination in employment for Americans with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon Senators Klobuchar and Franken to vote against WIA if it is brought to a vote with Section 511 still written into the bill.
WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) currently permits approximately 3,000 employers to obtain Special Wage Certificates allowing them to pay workers with disabilities wages below the federal minimum wage, herein referred to as “subminimum wages;” and
WHEREAS, among these 3,000 employers with certificates, over 400,000 workers with disabilities are paid subminimum wages, some as low as 3 cents per hour, perpetuating the myth that people with disabilities lack the capacity for competitive, integrated employment; and
WHEREAS, employers with the Special Wage Certificate argue that they cannot afford to pay their workers with disabilities the federal minimum wage, but these same employers have enough revenue to pay their executives six-figure salaries and hire professional lobbyists to advocate for the perpetuation of this discriminatory provision; and
WHEREAS, other employers of people with disabilities operating in similarly situated industries, working with comparable populations of employees with disabilities, are able to maintain successful businesses without the use of the Special Wage Certificates, proving the assertions and threats of subminimum wage employers to be false; and
WHEREAS, Goodwill Industries admits that 101 (almost two-thirds) of its 165 affiliates pay their workers with disabilities the federal minimum wage or higher, while the remaining 64 affiliates take advantage of the Special Wage Certificates to pay their workers with disabilities subminimum wages, illustrating that the subminimum wage business model is not a necessary evil but a hypocritical business choice; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Gregg Harper has introduced the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, HR831
, in the United States Congress, which would stop the Department of Labor from issuing new Special Wage Certificates, responsibly phase out the use of current Certificates over a three-year period, and finally repeal Section 14(c) of the FLSA; and
WHEREAS, HR831 has 43 cosponsors and is endorsed by over 50 national and local organizations of and for people with disabilities who aggressively oppose the use of subminimum wages and any perpetuation of this discriminatory provision: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that we condemn and deplore the actions of all employers in the state of Minnesota that take advantage of the unfair, discriminatory, immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge Minnesota delegates to the United States Congress to cosponsor the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the United States Congress to act swiftly and boldly to pass this critical legislation.
WHEREAS, MNSure is the state-operated Insurance Exchange portal used by Minnesotans to obtain health insurance coverage under the affordable health care act; and
WHEREAS, both state law and federal regulations require that websites such as MNSure be useable by blind persons with the proper equipment; and
WHEREAS, the website as implemented in October has characteristics that make it unnecessarily difficult or impossible for blind persons to use, such as an audio CAPTCHA that cannot be accessed in some cases; and
WHEREAS, at least some of the difficulties seem as though they should have been easily detected with adequate testing and do not appear that difficult to correct; and
WHEREAS, although alternatives exist to using the MNSure website and revisions to the web site are said to be pending, additional attention must be focused on MNSure accessibility in order to be sure that all Minnesotans who need to do so can obtain or update their health coverage by January 1, 2014: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013 in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota that this organization call upon MN.IT, the agency responsible for information technology within state government, to expedite the promised corrections to this site so it can be efficiently used by blind persons; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that MN.IT refine their processes to insure that accessibility to websites such as MNSure be developed and tested as early as possible in the development cycle.
WHEREAS, the integration of technology in the educational sphere has fundamentally altered the teaching and learning processes, allowing curricular content once available only in textbooks and during lectures to be disseminated through electronic books, web content, digital library databases, advanced software, and mobile applications; and
WHEREAS, this intersection of technology and education creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation by print-disabled students and allows universal access to mainstream educational products for all students; and
WHEREAS, in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Congress authorized a commission, the Advisory Committee on Accessible Instructional Materials for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education (AIM Commission), to look at the status of accessible educational technology in postsecondary education; and
WHEREAS, in 2010 the civil rights offices of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter, reminding institutions of higher education of their legal obligation to procure and deploy accessible educational technology and that equal access in the classroom is a civil right guaranteed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and
WHEREAS, in 2011 the AIM Commission published its report, finding that manufacturers have failed to embrace accessibility solutions for their products; institutions have failed to minimize the impact of inaccessible technology on their disabled students; and, because of this proliferation of inaccessible materials, blind and other print-disabled students experience a variety of challenges including blocked access to enrollment and educational opportunities; and
WHEREAS, in the five years since the AIM Commission’s authorization, technology has evolved rapidly, creating more and more innovative solutions for accessibility and full participation; and
WHEREAS, the commission’s findings show that manufacturers and institutions of higher education have completely failed to take advantage of this opportunity and are perpetuating the separate-but-equal approach to education; and
WHEREAS, technology exists to make digital instructional materials and their delivery systems fully accessible, but most postsecondary institutions are claiming the technology is too expensive, while manufacturers are saying there is no demand for it; and
WHEREAS, the AIM Commission report recommends correcting this problem with the development of accessibility guidelines for instructional materials, which would provide clarity to manufacturers and postsecondary institutions about what accessibility looks like and which materials are acceptable when it comes to equal access for print-disabled students and the institutions’ legal obligations under the ADA and Rehab Act; and
WHEREAS, in response to this recommendation, the National Federation of the Blind has drafted model legislation called the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH), which calls on the U.S. Access Board to develop accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education, deems compliance with said guidelines as compliance with the ADA and Rehab Act, and establishes a minimum usability standard for alternatives or modifications; and
WHEREAS, the model language of TEACH has been endorsed by the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Association of the Deaf, the National Council on Independent Living, the Association of American Publishers, and seven other organizations; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Tom Petri has committed to introducing the bill in the coming weeks; and
WHEREAS, several institutions of higher education have taken action without the TEACH guidelines, proving to be role models by committing to accessibility and taking steps from the top levels of administration to ensure that campus-wide digital educational technology and information will be accessible to their blind students and faculty; and
WHEREAS, these institutions include the California State University, Pennsylvania State University, and George Mason University: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this twenty-seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization commend Congressman Petri for his leadership on this critical issue; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate to introduce and pass the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act to protect the civil rights of blind and print-disabled students fully and to put a stop to the separate approach to education that is unnecessarily perpetuated by inaccessible educational technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge institutions of higher education in the state of Minnesota to be proactive about meeting their legal obligations and prove to be leaders in the field of education by adopting accessibility policies that only call for the development, procurement and deployment of fully accessible technology.
WHEREAS, Minnesota State Services for the Blind's (SSB) Senior Services Unit provides services to blind seniors in the state of Minnesota, especially crucial adjustment to blindness training in the home or through group classes, as well as access to information and resources; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of the pending increase in the number of senior citizens who will require services, SSB, along with the public and nonprofit leadership center at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, has embarked on an exploration of redesigning its senior services, with a goal to double the number of customers served with the same or fewer resources over the next few years; and
WHEREAS, experience has long shown that senior citizens who are losing vision can best maintain independence and quality of life if they receive specialized adjustment to blindness services and if those providing the services have specific knowledge of blindness; and
WHEREAS, adjustment to blindness issues are not medical issues but pertain to learning new skills for independence, building self-confidence, and developing positive attitudes about blindness; and
WHEREAS, some of the possible solutions explored by the current redesign effort would, if implemented, decrease the quality of services to seniors, relegating them to lives of dependence or even costly assisted care; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this -seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization call upon SSB to use the following considerations in any redesign plan for services to senior citizens:
· service providers have a strong background in blindness;
· all seniors have timely access to quality training in alternative techniques so that they can gain the skills and resources to function independently in the home and in the community;
· seniors have the opportunity to be in contact with well-adjusted blind “role models”;
· resources are maximized by equipping the senior to function even if further vision loss occurs;
· the quality of services is improved from what is currently available; and
· seniors are not required to deal with multiple state agencies to obtain needed services related to vision loss.
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 17 2014 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 the first week of July 2014 in Orlando, Florida. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin 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 or November 2014, possibly in the Mankato area. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — 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, 17 2nd Ave. N.
Twin Ports Chapter — Duluth area; meets at 11:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at Jitters Café, 102 W. Superior St.
Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend. This group meets on the first, second, and third non-holiday Tuesday of the month from 4:30-6:30. Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users. Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one. Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail email@example.com.
Activities for youth — Several times a year, the National
Federation of the Blind of Minnesota holds
educational/recreational activities for blind youth. These
activities provide opportunities for the youth to learn new
skills, to connect with one another and with confident,
well-adjusted adult blind role models, and to have fun while
doing so. Meetings and other activities for parents
also take place in conjunction with these events. For more information, contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is two-fold — to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind. By providing public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families, members of the NFB strive to educate the public that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality.
No one understands blindness as well as those who live with it daily. To apply this knowledge to solving the problems of blindness, blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM). NFBM is the state's largest and oldest organization of the blind. It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.
As blind people, we know the loss of eyesight is not the major problem of blindness. The real problem is the misunderstandings that surround blindness. The NFBM overcomes this problem through education of the sighted to the reality of blindness and through mutual help among blind people. Such activities make blind people fully‑participating members of society. They earn their living, raise families, and take full responsibility for their own lives.
The NFBM began in 1920 as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind. It is a membership organization open to everyone who believes in the capability of blind people to help himself or herself become full participants in the community.
In 1940, Minnesota and six other states founded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Today, the NFB numbers over 50,000 blind people. It has organizations in every state, and local chapters in almost every sizable community.
During these many years, we have made strong progress toward equality. We have improved employment opportunities and education for blind persons in the state of Minnesota and in the nation.
Most of our members are blind, and their knowledge of blindness comes from their personal lives. Other organizations get their information on blindness through the reading of textbooks or other secondhand techniques.
For a complete listing of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, visit www.nfbmn.org/board.html.
There are several ways to keep up with, as well as interact with, the most active group of blind people in Minnesota:
· Join the discussion list for Minnesota on NFBNET at www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/minnesota-talk_NFBNET.ORG
· Follow @nfbmn on Twitter at twitter.com/nfbmn
· Like us on Facebook by searching for National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota at www.facebook.com/
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
· Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
· Sharon Monthei makes corrections to the braille and print editions and transcribes the braille edition.
· Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
· Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc edition.
· Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.
· Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
· Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition, mails the print edition and other tasks as needed.
· Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails the braille and audio editions.