2012 Annual Convention

2012 Annual Convention

By Judy Sanders, Secretary


This year's convention theme was the title of President Marc Maurer's 2008 banquet address, and the aura of excitement that permeated the convention made it apropos.

Friday, October 26

Federationists began arriving at the Radisson Harborview in Duluth Friday afternoon, where registration and exhibits opened at 3 p.m. Exhibits included:

  • the sale of NFB Louis Braille Commemorative silver dollars,
  • sale of cell phone carriers for the NFBMN Senior Division,
  • information on student financial aid for higher education from the U.S. Department of Education, and
  • information about the Duluth Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss.

    The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille in Minnesota held the first meeting of the afternoon, with President Melody Wartenbee presiding.  Jennifer Dunnam, who manages the braille programs of the NFB, talked about the various programs and the status of the Unified English Braille Code in the United States.  The Braille Monitor has printed many articles about this new code.  Melody was re-elected president and Trudy Barrett was re-elected secretary/treasurer.  Amy Baron has one more year to serve as vice president.

    The Minnesota Association of Blind Students (MABS) featured Minnesota's Lieutenant Governor, Yvonne Prettner Solon as its first speaker.  Her remarks showed that she understood the needs of blind students in this state and she recognized that the National Federation of the Blind was the place to be to work directly with blind Minnesotans.

    Frederic Schroeder, the Federation's national representative at this convention, energized the students with his remarks.  In addition, Karen Anderson represented the NFB's student division and was an enthusiastic participant throughout the whole convention.

    Jordan Richardson was re-elected as the MABS president.  Va’nasha Washington will serve as first vice-president, Hannah Furney will be second vice-president and Adrianne Dempsey will serve as treasurer.  They will elect a secretary at the semiannual convention in May.

    The Resolutions Committee, chaired by Ryan Strunk, met to review and make recommendations about proposed resolutions.  This is a key step in the process the NFB uses to set its policies and direct its actions in the future.  All resolutions brought to the floor of the convention and passed appear at the end of this article.

    Our students ably hosted the evening hospitality.  Members who paid $5.00 to show off their talent entertained us, with the proceeds going to MABS.  Appetizers, a cash bar, conversation with friends and watching talented (or not so talented) Federationists made for an enjoyable evening.


Saturday, October 27

Activities began early on Saturday with a breakfast meeting of the NFBM Seniors Division.  Richard Strong, director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) who gave a brief preview of his remarks that would come later in the convention, joined members.  The following people were elected for one-year terms: president, Joyce Scanlan; vice president, Jan Bailey; and secretary/treasurer, Pam Provost.

The last item on their agenda was a pitch for the ever-popular cell-phone carriers they sell to benefit the senior division treasury.

President Jennifer Dunnam called our general session to order.  After a welcome to Duluth from Pam Provost and an invocation from Kathy McGillivray, President Dunnam issued us three challenges to achieve over the weekend: meet someone new, teach someone something and learn something new.

Frederic K. Schroeder, first vice-president of the NFB and president of our Virginia affiliate gave for his national report.  He set a tone for the day of high expectations for what we should achieve.  Whether discussing legislation, resolutions, accomplishments, or attitudes toward blindness it is the National Federation of the Blind here in Minnesota and throughout the nation that binds us together and ensures our positive future.

Sheila Koenig, chair of our scholarship committee, introduced us to this year's scholarship recipients.  Martha Mellgren and Josh Klander said hello and would speak to us further at the banquet.

Karen Anderson, representing the National Association of Blind Students, the NFB student division, told us she got her start in the Federation by receiving a scholarship from the Nebraska affiliate; she has never looked back.  She summarized the activities of the division that included sending student representatives to state conventions to meet and encourage students, publishing the Student Slate and sponsoring monthly membership calls.  Many people already subscribe to the student listserv.

Anmohl Bhatia is a case manager at the Duluth Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss.  The Lighthouse started its existence in 1920 as a sheltered workshop; but twelve years ago, it discontinued the shop and is now exclusively an adjustment-to-blindness center, providing its training through community education and support groups.  It also sells blindness and low-vision products.  It lost a grant to serve deaf/blind individuals but was given a grant to serve seniors.

One of the highlights of our conventions is hearing from Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Incorporated students.  They share with us graphic reminders of the importance of learning to understand our blindness and go forward with a positive spirit throughout life.  Shawn Mayo, executive director of BLIND, introduced a panel of students that did not disappoint us.

Adrianne Dempsey is from Michigan and had the idea of coming for training five years ago.  However, she was reluctant to wear sleepshades; so she put it off.  As she came to know people in the NFB, she gained courage and took the plunge.  She now realizes that she walks faster when she isn't trying to see everything.  As she gains in confidence, she is becoming more assertive in a positive way.

Ralph Jarrell believes that whatever one is trying to do we should each just do the best we can.  He thinks that more important than the skills he is learning is that he can feel good about the effort he is putting into his training.  He thanked the members of the NFB for their encouragement.

Marie Kouthoofd is a longtime leader who served as vice-president of the NFB of New York.  She is a professor of psychology.  Why then, with all her accomplishments, would she come for training?  Marie acknowledges that she felt she was losing her edge; her blindness was getting in her way more than it had in the past.  Her vision was changing and she needed to change with it.  For 16 years, she has espoused the Federation philosophy; now she is learning to live it and she is excited.

Nadine Jacobson serves as a member of the Board of Governance for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.  She played a role in selecting the new superintendent for the academies for the blind and the deaf, Brad Harper.  Mrs. Jacobson introduced Mr. Harper and Ken Trebelhorn, who is one of our members teaching technology at the Academy.  Ken let us know that enrollment at the school is stable and that the students are involved in many activities.  One of them involves participating in Project Search in which students find internships to gain job experience.  Other opportunities are in athletics and learning independent-living skills.  Mr. Harper has a wide variety of experience in the educational system.  His most recent stint was at Pine School in Anoka County, a school for students who had problems with the judicial system.  When he arrived at the school, he found low expectations with all courses elective and not meeting state standards.  By the time he left the school, the students were earning diplomas and no longer just passing time.  Mr. Harper made it clear that he wants to learn our stories and our dreams for the Academy kids.  He invited us to visit him at the Academy; he spends Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Blind campus.  He comes to the Academy with an open mind and an excitement that is refreshing.

Al Spooner came forward to urge us to sign up or increase our PAC (Preauthorized Contribution Plan).  This is our way of making an automatic monthly contribution to our national treasury.  Several people pledged to increase and start new plans.

Upon adjournment of the morning session, many members went to the BLIND, Incorporated lunch where they met students and staff and had a more informal look at their program.

Charlene Guggisberg coordinated an activity for teenagers attending the convention.  They walked to Lake Superior and visited the area including exploring an old-fashioned toy store.

Those interested in forming a new Duluth chapter met to make plans.  Pam Provost was chosen as temporary chair.

The afternoon session began with an update from Richard Strong, director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB).  For his complete remarks, see the Winter 2013 issue of this publication.  Among other things, he discussed staffing changes, challenges in providing services to various constituencies of blind customers, updates from the various units of SSB and budget matters.

Sharon Monthei asked how the NFB can be helpful in solving service delivery problems that occur frequently with particular staff.  Mr. Strong said the first step is to make sure the agency is aware of the difficulties.  The Administrative Rule has procedures for appeals.

Charlotte Czarnecki expressed the hope that more blind people would find employment at SSB.  When asked if there were particular jobs that blind people need not apply for, the answer was that SSB would do everything to provide reasonable accommodations where necessary, both for an interview and on the job.

Dick Davis, as chair of the NFB's Employment Committee, offered to meet with SSB to develop strategies to recruit more blind employees.  SSB is also working with state government to increase employment opportunities in the state for people with disabilities.

Kristin Oien, whose remarks also appear in the Winter, 2013 issue, is the Blind/visually-Impaired Specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education.  Her office is sponsoring many conferences and workshops to enhance the knowledge of teachers of blind children.

Jan Bailey asked if there was data indicating how blind students are faring on standardized tests.  Mrs. Oien offered to share the data with the NFB.

President Dunnam commented on the preponderance of electronic books used in classrooms; she asked if this presented a problem for the blind student in getting material.  Oien said that hard copy braille is still available and that each child's needs are considered on an individual basis.

Oien also indicated that there is a document analyzing the workload of vision teachers that she can provide to us and that plans are being made to fill vacancies that will occur in the future.  She ended her remarks with a promise to continue to disseminate material from the NFB about the various programs for youth and educators.  She acknowledged Charlene Guggisberg, who serves on their advisory committee.

Our next speaker, Catherine Durivage, director of the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library is the last speaker whose remarks appear in the Winter issue.  Ms. Durivage reviewed matters at both the local library and at the National Library Service.  Many changes are occurring with updated technology making books easier to receive.

Tom teBockhorst asked about book conversion from cassette to digital format of a book series or older books.  The library is slowly converting all cassette books; when a book is not in condition to convert the library must make a decision about re-recording it.  If something we want is not on BARD (Braille and Recorded Downloads) we should let the local library know and they will pass on our concerns.

Ryan Strunk asked what procedure to follow to complain about a book annotation that gives away the ending.  Again, we should share the information with the library.

Dunnam asked if the library's advisory committee had input into selections for the book collection.  NLS has a committee that seeks input about book selection.

One of the things that sets the training at BLIND, Incorporated (and our other NFB centers) apart from other programs is their desire to employ blind cane-travel instructors whenever possible.  Rob Hobson and Zach Ellingson presented their perspectives on their experiences as instructors.  Mr. Hobson told us that before he became a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind he traveled with a dog guide.  He attributed his ability to travel to the dog.  He never envisioned himself as a cane-travel instructor.  He now takes great pride in helping his students go through the stages of learning their skills and gaining self-confidence.

Mr. Ellingson took us back to 1998: b.c. (before cane.)  This was when he hit bottom; his partial vision caused many an accident including a broken nose and other mishaps.  He credits Jan Bailey, (his rehabilitation counselor then) with never losing faith in him.  It took seven years but she finally convinced him to enroll for training at BLIND.  Travel class was his favorite but he never thought he would wind up as an instructor.  Shawn Mayo recruited him and he has never looked back.  He loves his job and can't believe he receives pay to do something so fun.  He spends time getting to know his students because he believes he can better help them relax.  Hobson and Ellingson find it helpful to bounce ideas off each other; they are a great team!

Judy Sanders gave a short history of how it came to be that blind people could now vote independently and privately.  She talked about the role that the NFB played in bringing this about.  The Help America Vote Act ensures that there will be a voting machine with nonvisual access in every polling place.  Dunnam announced that there would be a national hotline sponsored by the NFB to report problems on Election Day.

The afternoon session ended with various announcements about a plethora of fundraising opportunities.

Steve Jacobson served as master of ceremonies for our annual banquet.  The following drawings and awards were given:

Community Shares of Minnesota raffle: The NFB of Minnesota is a member of Community Shares of Minnesota, which helps raise money for our treasury.  We sponsored a 50/50 raffle with half the proceeds going to Community Shares and the other half going to the winner.  Donna Jorgenson won $31.50.

Metro Chapter essay contest: Judy Sanders, Deanna Langton and David Andrews were this year's judges.  Shawn Mayo won $75 for her winning entry.  Read her essay in the Winter issue of this publication.  Hannahh Furney won a drawing among the other entrants.  Ms. Furney received $50.

Minnesota Association of Blind Students 50/50 raffle: President Jordan Richardson awarded $82 to Joyce Scanlan.

Scholarship awards: Sheila Koenig, chair of the committee, presented $1,000 to Josh Klander.  Martha Mellgren received a $1,500 scholarship.  Both gave brief remarks of thanks.

Our keynote address, given by Dr. Frederic Schroeder, did not disappoint us with high doses of inspiration, humor and thoughtfulness.  He taught us that in the NFB we come together, work together and stick together.  We come together because someone cared enough to ask us to be there.  We work together to do such things as help a blind mother keep her child.  Our strength comes because we stick together; we make a decision through democratic means and even if we are on the losing side of an issue we accept the decision and move on.

It was appropriate to close the banquet with an appeal from Al Spooner to join the PAC Plan.

The evening ended with an informal social hour.

Sunday, October 28

Our Sunday morning began with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" in honor of the many birthdays that occurred during the convention.

In President Dunnam's report to us about matters occurring since our semiannual convention, she told us that three Minnesota members of Congress were cosponsoring our bill to eliminate subminimum wages paid to blind and disabled workers.  We brought attention to this issue through the news media and having a visible presence in front of Goodwill Industries.  When the public becomes aware of this issue, they are as outraged as we are.

Our pedestrian safety task force has almost completed a brochure and presentation for drivers-education classes.  Our other new task force finds ways to increase contributions toward our "Walk for Opportunity.”  At their suggestion, we moved the walk to Rochester where we had a successful event and raised over $5,000.

We continued our advocacy work.  Several English Language Learners complained to us that at their school the teachers were making decisions for them without discussion.  These decisions included not letting them use a braille writer in class and making them use a cassette recorder to take tests.  Our intervention has eliminated these practices.  One gentleman came to us to intervene with his family so that they would allow him to keep control of his finances.  These are just a few examples of our advocacy efforts for blind individuals.

We continue to publish this Minnesota Bulletin under the capable editorship of Tom Scanlan.  Dunnam urged us to submit articles for this newsletter that has circulation throughout the country.

We had a good crowd at our meeting for those interested in forming a Duluth chapter of the NFB.  They have planned their first follow-up meeting.

Dunnam announced the formation of some new committees.  They are:

Social Media: This committee will find ways to enhance our presence on such things as Facebook and Twitter.

Fundraising: This committee will find new ways to add funds to our treasury.

Publicity: This committee will find ways to make us more visible beyond the social media.  An example is Meet the Blind Month.

Membership: This committee will focus on recruiting new members to our organization.

Our elections yielded the following results: vice president, Steve Jacobson; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; first board member, Bev Stavrum; and second board member, Pat Barrett.  Those with one year remaining in their terms are president, Jennifer Dunnam; secretary, Judy Sanders; board members, Brice Samuelson, Sheila Koenig, and Rob Hobson.  Dunnam gave special thanks and acknowledgment to Joyce Scanlan who did not seek another term on the board.  Mrs. Scanlan will be a shining example of continuing to be active in the Federation without holding office.

Tom Scanlan's treasurer’s report showed that we are currently raising a little more that we are spending.  We must always be vigilant.

Our local chapters and divisions all reported on various activities such as communicating with their local elected officials, fundraising and membership recruitment.  There were many educational activities as well.

Judy Sanders urged adults to participate in the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest.  Participants can read individually or form teams to compete together.  Last year, Minnesota's team, Little Dots on the Prairie, won the contest.  This year we hope to have more than one team.

Dick Davis reported on changes to Social Security.  There will be a cost-of-living increase to benefits.  Blind recipients can earn $1,740 per month and still receive Social Security Disability.

Jan Bailey serves as our representative on the Site Council for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.  This Council has three committees: one plans the annual White Cane Day walk; one works on their website and one is investigating finding ways to interest students in various careers.

Charlene Guggisberg serves on the Resource Center advisory committee.  They are trying to anticipate a shortage of teachers for the blind and braillists for school districts.  This committee serves as a venue for passing the word about our many activities for children and teens.

Brice Samuelson, our representative on the Library Advisory Committee, told us that there might be a move to broaden the eligibility criteria for services from NLS.

Tom Scanlan is the NFB representative on the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind that advises SSB.  Many people also help the council and SSB by serving on their various committees.  Mr. Scanlan's term will be ending and we have recommended that Jennifer Dunnam succeed him.  The Governor makes all appointments.

Dunnam gave us an update on the progress to unify all the braille codes.  They include the literary code, the Nemeth code and the computer code.  The Braille Authority of North America has the ultimate responsibility of finalizing any changes to the braille codes.  At last summer's national convention the NFB passed a resolution that supports the adoption of the new code for literary braille, keeping the Nemeth Code and that the implementation of these changes be gradual to ensure as little disruption to a child's education as possible.  Many groups have followed the Federation's lead in supporting these changes; the only real opposition comes from transcribers who are worried about learning all the new changes. 

Tom Scanlan reported that we made $2,560 on our bake auction.  Other fundraisers going on at the convention raised close to three hundred dollars.

Our convention concluded with brief announcements, closing remarks from Dr. Schroeder and door prizes.