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President's Update: Help—I Need Somebody!

Greetings, fellow federationists,

One of the things that makes our organization great is how much we do on the individual level. Instead of a few people at the center of things doing all the work, we all come together when needed to make incredible things happen for blind people.

This was most recently the case with our Spring convention, which was a testament to the hard work of many of us. From set up to clean up, and all the work between, this event would not have been possible without dozens of people coming together to create the event. I offer my sincere thanks to everyone who made our Spring convention the success it was.

As you know, however, our work is ongoing, and I want to highlight a few opportunities in this update on how your involvement can make a difference. Giving just a few minutes of your time this week to tell your story will have an impact on blind people everywhere.

In addition, there are important updates from around the Federation this week you’ll want to be aware of, so strap in, take notes, and let’s get to work.

Commenting on Subminimum Wages

We have been fighting for equal pay for equal work for a long time. We know that it is unfair and unjust for people with disabilities to receive subminimum wages for doing the same work as everyone else. Over the past few years, we have even started to see some real success in this arena as states and cities pass legislation outlawing the practice of paying subminimum wages.

Now, the Department of Labor is seeking comments on the practice, and they need to hear from us. Here is what they say:


The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), through its ePolicyWorks initiative, is hosting this national online dialogue to gather perspectives on Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Please share your ideas, individual stories, and personal experiences illustrating the impact of Section 14(c) on the employment of people with disabilities. The goal of this online dialogue is to capture perspectives about Section 14(c) based on individual input from those "on the ground." Information gleaned from the comments will then be summarized to provide ODEP an overview of Section 14(c) at the state and national levels.


In essence, they would like to hear from people with opinions on this subject, and they will use what they learn from these comments to inform possible policy going forward. The National Federation of the Blind knows what the right policy is, but many people do not. Arielle Silverman, a long-time federationist, has analyzed the comments on the site so far, and what she found is shocking:

  • 92% of the 71 parent/family members who commented are in favor of special wages.
  • So are 82% of the 39 disability service providers who commented (including people who work for agencies holding special wage certificates).

But …

  • 82% of the 17 commenters who said they are actually disabled themselves are opposed to special wages.
  • So are all four of the community employers who commented, describing their inclusive hiring practices and the benefits of an integrated workplace.

Here’s where we come in—not when we can get around to it, but right now. Of the total comments we can track so far, 45% came from family members, while only 11% came from actually disabled people. This means we need to get onto that website and share our stories. We need to tell the world that we, the people who are affected by these policies, are opposed to subminimum wages, that we want to work, and we deserve to be paid for that work.

Please make your voice heard as soon as possible by going to and submitting comments. I would love to hear from you once you have done so.

The Next Step

After you make your online comments, there is one more thing we need to do right now in the fight against subminimum wages.

Congress is back in session now and will continue to work up to the Independence Day holiday. Before we get together in Las Vegas for our national convention, members of Congress need to hear from us about this issue.

We have national legislation calling for a phase-out of subminimum wages: the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (H.R. 873 and S. 260). Please call your representative and senators and ask them to cosponsor H.R. 873 or S. 260. Currently we have forty-one cosponsors in the House and six in the Senate. You can contact your legislators by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Again, please let me know when you have done so.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to do this work. It is critical to what we do.

Exhibit Hall Volunteers Needed

One of the highlights of our national convention for many is the exhibit hall. In addition to scoping out the latest tech trends and services available, many members also appreciate the ability to shop for products at the Independence Market tables. All these tables are staffed by volunteers from around the Federation, and we need to do our part as Minnesotans to help things run smoothly.

If you are coming to the national convention, and you are interested in helping to demonstrate items at the Independence Market, please send me an email at to let me know.

Latest Minnesota Bulletin Available!

Did you know The Minnesota Bulletin, our local publication for sharing stories about blindness and updates about our organization, has been around since 1934? Happy eighty-fifth birthday, TMB. You look as vital as ever.

Thanks to the efforts of our proofreaders, Braillists, and—of course—authors, the Summer release is now available. I particularly want to recognize Kathy McGillivray, our executive editor, for gathering and compiling everything that went into this issue.

You can read it at

Getting a Fascinating Lyft

We are excited to announce that we have partnered with Lyft to hold an autonomous vehicle demonstration at national convention. This means you could ride in a self-driving car! A select number of attendees will have the opportunity to ride in the Lyft vehicles and provide important feedback on the technology. Participants will be randomly selected from our list of preregistered attendees. However, the opportunity for riding in Lyft’s autonomous vehicles is still available for people in Las Vegas even if you didn’t preregister. If you use Lyft while you are in Las Vegas, you can check the option on the app to participate in the autonomous vehicle rideshare service. Keep in mind, however, that not all Las Vegas Lyft cars are autonomous vehicles.

Member Spotlight

If you would like to be featured in an upcoming member spotlight, please send me a brief bio or a few notes about you, and I’ll be sure to include you in a future update. You’ll notice that the below update has a lot of info—which is great. If you want to share, however, but you only want to send me a paragraph, I’ll happily publish it.

This week we get to know Jack Rupert, an active member of the Riverbend chapter and someone passionate about helping blinded veterans to live the lives they want.

One of 5 siblings, I was born and raised in Kansas in a small farming community.

I graduated from high school in May 1969. I enlisted in the United States Air Force in December 1970 and served until June 1978.

I'm married to Jane Rupert, and we were married on June 14, 1974. We have 2 children—both have careers, and we are blessed to have 5 grandchildren.

I attended what is now South Central community college in Mankato, Minnesota from 1982 to 1984, graduating with a certificate in sales and management. For a short time I was employed in the ag industry.

In 1986 we moved to Houston, Texas where I was employed in several different sales and management positions, returning to Minnesota in 1991. I continued to work in different retail positions, and eventually I got my state insurance license and sold insurance.

I was declared legally blind in August 2009.

I have received some training through State Services for the Blind. As a veteran, I became eligible to receive veterans’ benefits, so I attended blind rehabilitation school in Chicago Illinois.

Shortly after returning from blind rehabilitation school I joined the National Federation of the Blind. I have belonged to the Riverbend chapter ever since. I have served as president and vice president of this chapter. I also joined the National Association of Blind Veterans, where I have served as the first vice president.

As a hobby and a 2nd occupation, I do leather work, which I was reintroduced to while attending blind rehabilitation school. It is something that keeps me busy and I enjoy doing

This week, you get to make a difference.

Ryan Strunk, President

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