By Jennifer Dunnam
Since the last issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, the NFB of Minnesota has been busy at work on a variety of fronts.
Over the last several months, our student division has been working hard to put together a daylong student seminar. On March 31, 2012, an enthusiastic crowd of students gathered at our NFB Headquarters in Minneapolis for a dynamic and interactive seminar covering a variety of topics of interest to high school and college students. The morning began with a presentation from Cindy Bennett, the regional representative of the National Association of Blind Students, in which she explained a bit about the NFB, the resources that we offer to students, and how students can be an important part of our organization. Next were presentations and discussion with State Services for the Blind and with college disability services office about the services available from these entities and about how students could best work with them to get access to educational materials while also honing their skills of independence to be ready for the world of employment after education. Following were breakout sessions in which either high school or college students could focus on specific issues related to their experience. A panel presentation from three employed blind individuals followed, and then a discussion about public transportation. After lunch were more breakout sessions on obtaining employment, socializing, video description, and being healthy on campus. For the last hour, one of the large meeting rooms was transformed into an exhibit hall in which students could get explanations and demonstrations of different types of assistive technology such as Apple devices, screen readers, braille displays, portable reading devices, and other technology useful to students. There were door prizes galore, but among the most valuable takeaways from the seminar were the connections made among people and the things that everyone learned from one another — presenters and students alike. Thank you to the many people involved in helping to make this student seminar a success.
Our Washington Seminar and our Day at the Capitol here in Minnesota were quite successful as usual. As Federationists know, a primary issue on which we have diligently focused for some time now is ensuring that all workers with disabilities can receive the minimum wage for their work. As of this writing, there are 63 co-sponsors on our House bill to remove earnings exemptions from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Two of those are from Minnesota (thank you to Representatives Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison). We must all encourage more Minnesotans to sign onto this bill, H.R. 3086.
In January, after nearly ten months of sending letters and making phone calls seeking more information about the accident in which a car struck and killed Andy Virden last March, we finally received the report from the Waite Park police department documenting the investigation. Andy was for many decades a tireless and effective advocate for the rights of blind people everywhere, serving as the president of the Central Minnesota Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. He lived life every day working for the right of blind people to live independently and to come and go as others do. Minnesota's White Cane Law is one protection of those rights, and is a law that Andy advocated for directly. One impetus for the creation of white cane laws in the states was that there had been cases in which a blind person who happened to be involved in an accident was said to have engaged in "contributory negligence," simply by virtue of walking independently on the streets, regardless of the actual cause of the accident. The members of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, knowing that no charges had initially been filed in the case but without any further information, wanted to be certain that such a misguided and discriminatory principle was not being applied in this case and would not be allowed to be applied in the future. The police documentation indicates that the weather was windy with a mix of rain and snow, that the driver did not see Andy until after he had hit him, and that no evidence of negligent behavior on the part of the driver could be found. The driver was charged with failure to yield to a blind pedestrian and was fined $185.00.
During our 2011 annual convention, we discussed issues related to pedestrian safety. Out of that discussion came a work group intended to look at what the NFB of Minnesota can best do to educate the public, particularly drivers, about how blind people navigate the streets and about Minnesota's White Cane Law. The group consists of Federationists from around the state and has been working on plans to make presentations to drivers education classes. Andy's death was a terrible tragedy, and nothing can change that or make it less painful, but our active efforts in this arena are one way we can honor Andy's life by continuing the work he did to educate the public about blindness.
Those who attended the 2011 annual convention will also remember that we discussed ways we might improve our Walk for Opportunity (formerly known as the Move-a-thon). As a result of that discussion, another work group was put together to look at the time, place, and other aspects of the Walk for Opportunity (our largest state-wide fund-raiser) to sort out what we might try to make it even more successful. Now, I am pleased to announce that this year, we will hold the Walk for Opportunity in Rochester, Minnesota! The Rochester chapter has already started working hard to put together a great event, so I hope that everyone will be able to join us on Saturday, September 8 to put the fun in fund-raising! More details to come.
Our Metro Chapter has changed the time of its Saturday meetings. The meetings will still occur on the third Saturday of each month, but now they will start at 10:00 in the morning.
The Central Minnesota Chapter held another successful spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the Eagles club this year. The spaghetti and garlic bread were as irresistible as ever, as was the good spirit of the Federationists and friends in attendance.
As of this writing, we have, in collaboration with Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., held two of three planned activities for blind youth in the metro area. In January, the group of youth (along with some athletic blind adults), had a great time snow tubing for a couple of hours at Buck Hill in Burnsville. In March, an even larger group went indoor rock climbing in Minneapolis. While the young people were climbing the walls, the parents stayed back and talked with each other and with blind adults (Federationists) about a range of blindness-related issues, from the education system to the basics of braille to how to help their kids make friends. There were also hands-on demonstrations for the parents about cooking as a blind person, and when the kids returned, everyone enjoyed a lunch of homemade pizza, salad, and cookies. In late April, the activities will be centered around Stringball and other games.
Membership renewal time is here! In the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, as in all NFB affiliates, membership is on an annual basis. The membership year begins on June 1 and ends on May 31. It is now the time of year for members to renew, and if you're already a member, all it takes is $5 to renew so that you can vote on policies and in elections. By now you have probably received the letter with notification about the upcoming Semiannual Convention. Along with that letter, you received a membership renewal slip. Regardless of whether you are able to attend the Semiannual, please send in your slip with your $5 dues. You can also renew your membership at the convention.
As I say often but cannot say often enough, the work we do to raise society's expectations about blindness and improve opportunities for blind people cannot succeed without the hard work of many people. Thanks to each and every person who helps with this work in large and small ways. Every bit makes a difference, and there is so much to do — let's keep it up.