Report on the Semiannual Convention

Report on the Semiannual Convention

By Judy Sanders, Secretary

Seventy-six Federationists gathered at our NFBM headquarters for our 2014 semiannual convention on May 17, 2014.  It was a rare beautiful spring day, but these Federationists were dedicated to working together to change what it means to be blind.

Because of the many people who preregistered for the convention, the line moved quickly, allowing everyone to get to the coffee and doughnuts sooner.  Thanks go to the NFBM Seniors Division for the breakfast.

Our morning business session began promptly at 9:30 a.m. with the call to order by President Jennifer Dunnam.  She began by reminding us that because we were in our own building we had the opportunity to help put the building’s furniture back in order at the end of the day.

Rob Hobson, our Metro chapter president, welcomed all to Minneapolis, gave a special shout-out to the staff and students from Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), and introduced us to BLIND’s new executive director, Dan Wenzel. 

President Dunnam challenged us to do three things during the day: meet someone that we had not known previously, learn something we had not known before, and teach someone something new.

Throughout the morning, we were given pro tips that were hints from blind people sharing how they accomplished particular tasks:

Jan Bailey presented Pro Tip #1.  Ms. Bailey told us about the one-second needle for sewing.  Sold at fabric stores and online it is very simple to use.  Bailey had one with her to demonstrate.  (Note: This needle is different from the self-threading needle.)

President Dunnam began her report to the membership by introducing suggested ways of encapsulating the NFB message into thirty-second sound bites.  How can we improve our first contacts with people so they will want to know more?

Example: “The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future.  Every day we raise the expectations of blind people because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.  You can have the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.”

We will be introducing a new logo at the national convention.  There is a contest to create a new NFB song.

We continue our advocacy efforts, and Dunnam will be attending a hearing where the district is doing everything it can to keep a student from receiving Braille material in the classroom.

Candice Chapman is a national scholarship winner for this year.  She will be attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota.  Ms. Chapman has been organizing our NFB literature so that we know what we have and can make good use of it.

We have been working with an organization called Minnesota Association of People Supporting Employment First.  They are affiliated with a national organization that has signed on to support HR831, our bill to eliminate subminimum wages.  We look forward to working with them at the state level to pass legislation preventing Minnesota from contracting with holders of special subminimum wage certificates.  As a result of our Day at the Capitol, such a bill was introduced during the last legislative session and will be the basis for further action.  Two other issues were discussed on that day: expanding monetary resources for services to blind seniors and support for funding of public transportation.

Congressman Keith Ellison is a sponsor of HR831; we must continue to seek additional cosponsors.  The TEACH Act (Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education) HR3505 has two cosponsors: Representatives Keith Ellison and Rick Nolan.  We need to meet with members of Congress when they are home to garner further support for our issues.

We were urged to submit articles to Tom Scanlan, editor of the Minnesota Bulletin.

There is a Minnesota discussion listserv where we can share thoughts about the Federation and blindness issues.

The Imagination Fund is a way to ask the public for contributions to our national organization — some of that money is funneled back to state affiliates.  For a short time, Minnesota has a web page that facilitates donations.  People can also text their donations.  These methods are valid until the end of May.

Stickers are available in abundance to advertise our vehicle donation program. 

NFBM’s annual convention will take place on October 31-November 2 in New Ulm. 

Sheila Koenig presented Pro Tip #2.  What do you do if you want to read aloud in public, your Braille is not up to the speed you might want and reading print is awkward?  Ms. Koenig uses Braille in the classroom where she teaches ninth-grade English but does not feel her speed is up to oral reading.  She is using an app on her iPad mini called “Plain text” which allows reading her document line by line.  She has turned her iPad into an audible prompter.  While she does not feel this replaces Braille, it works for her.

Our treasurer, Tom Scanlan, presented his yearly treasurer’s report and a proposed budget for the coming year.  Our fiscal year begins on April 1 and runs through March 31.  Because of a large bequest, our year ended in the black.  The budget, which reflects many of the same expenses we incurred last year, along with the treasurer's report was approved.  In the motion to approve the budget, the state board of directors was given permission to make any necessary changes during the year. 

Much thought is being given to how to best make use of our generous bequest.  Our goal is to spend it on sustainable projects that can be continued once the bequest is gone.  We have a supplementary budget to consider in the following categories:

  • conducting organizational and membership development
  • sponsoring parents of blind children to attend activities of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and bring back ideas to empower Minnesota parents
  • increasing our scholarship program
  • exhibiting at expos such as Education Minnesota
  • transforming our written archives to a digital format
  • purchasing a projector to use at conventions and meetings
  • setting up procedures for online registration for conventions
  • conducting a BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) program
  • investing in building upkeep
  • conducting outreach to all parts of Minnesota
  • conducting seminars on such subjects as leadership, senior issues, employment, or technology
  • finding future funding. 

At the end of his report, Mr. Scanlan announced that after 40 years of volunteer service to the NFBM as treasurer, he would not be seeking reelection.  He attended his first national convention in 1970 and every one since.  He credits the Federation with positively affecting his career, marriage, friendships and life.  He considered it an honor to give back to the NFB from his education and experience in business, finances, and management.  He will continue to be active in the NFB in many other ways.  Dunnam expressed for all of us praise for all the behind-the-scenes work Scanlan does; for his reliability and integrity; we will be forever indebted for all that both Scanlans have contributed to this organization and for all they will continue to do in the future.  Scanlan was given a rousing ovation from the audience.

Our Walk for Opportunity is entering its 33rd year.  Once again, we will head to Rochester on September 6 for our 10-kilometer event.  Bryce Samuelson, president of our Rochester chapter, gave us details about the route and urged everyone to work hard getting pledges from family, friends and businesses. 

Ben Moser presented Pro Tip #3.  When walking the streets with our white canes and dog guides we are often given unwanted advice: “You can cross now.”  “You can make it.”  Mr. Moser suggested that we ignore the suggestions and actions of other pedestrians and listen to the traffic.  Our judgment is usually sounder.

While Smart Phones are all the rage there is a segment of the population that wants a phone that is just a phone and they want an economical pay-as-you-go plan.  Most of these phones are not accessible to blind users; with this in mind, Odin Mobile has developed the Odin Mobile VI — a simple to use talking phone with a large display screen and easy to dial buttons.  President Dunnam demonstrated the phone and introduced us to the partnership between this company and the NFB.  Odin Mobile will donate to the NFB every time a member makes a purchase.

Federationists were pleased to welcome the new director of State Services for the Blind (SSB) to our convention.  She is Carol Pankow and comes to the agency from the Department of Labor.  Her complete remarks will be reprinted in a future issue.  Dunnam began the question and answer period by complimenting Ms. Pankow on her understanding that public attitudes are the biggest problem that blind people face.  She praised SSB for its recent hires of blind employees; she emphasized that blindness by itself is not enough.  They must be qualified and it is best if they are actively involved in the blindness community.  Others reiterated the importance of counselors working with blind people as examples of what can be done.  Ron Poire asked that the Radio Talking Book newsletter be sent by e-mail.  Dick Davis expressed the hope that SSB could do more with helping employers know how they can make sure that accessible equipment is available on the job.  Pankow said that the new assistive technology work group is undertaking that very thing.  We look forward to working with Pankow and SSB on all their new approaches.

Possibilities are endless for blind people who want to lead full, independent lives.  Those possibilities diminish when one is not aware of all that blind people have accomplished.  With that in mind, we heard a report from Judy Sanders about the upcoming “Possibilities Fair” for blind senior citizens and their families.  It will take place at the Radisson Roseville on August 12 and is being sponsored by the NFB of Minnesota along with State Services for the Blind and BLIND, Incorporated.  The keynote speaker will be Diane McGeorge of Denver, Colorado who is a vibrant, active blind senior and will motivate the audience to explore all kinds of possibilities.  Federationists will be asked to help with exhibits and making seniors feel welcome.  Full information on the fair, including a registration form, is on our website at

Bob Raisbeck, chair of our PAC (Preauthorized Contribution) plan committee, reminded us that giving begins at home.  We can authorize an automatic contribution from our bank account to our national treasury.  We especially hope that first-time contributors will join those already giving.

Jennifer Wenzel presented Pro Tip #4.  Mrs. Wenzel taught us how to keep track of rambunctious children.  She and her husband Dan are raising three boys who are now long past being toddlers.  Her first tip was to put bells on their shoes.  Later, she discovered children’s leashes that she assured us are far different from those used for animals.  As they grew somewhat older, she played Simon Says to keep them close.  Simon says to jump up and down or sing a song.  All her instructions forced her children to create noise, making it easy to find the kids.

The convention elected Jennifer Dunnam as delegate to our national convention with Steve Jacobson as our alternate delegate.

We were introduced to Dan Wenzel, the new executive director of BLIND, Incorporated.  He thanked Dick Davis for his service as interim director and expressed appreciation that Mr.  Davis would return to his position as careers instructor and assistant director.  There are currently 18 full-time students and 10 of them are Minnesotans.  Al Spooner, the other assistant director, is outstanding at recruiting new students.  Mr. Wenzel acquainted us with some staff changes.  Rob Hobson has worked as the residential manager, but now the Hobsons (Rob and Debbie) are buying a new home.  BLIND has hired Mark Erickson, a graduate of the program, to fill that position.  Mr. Erickson will have the assistance of his wife, Michele Jackson, who is also a graduate.

Zach Ellingson has been a cane travel instructor for about 10 years; he has decided to move on and teach privately.  He will continue to spend 60% of his time working for BLIND during the transition to a new instructor.  Quinn Haberl will also be helping teach during the interim.

Helen Stevens will be working more with BLIND’s internal computer network so Martha Harris, another graduate of the program, will begin teaching communication skills in August.

Wenzel introduced Chelsey Duranleau, the other new communications instructor.  She replaces Chris Foster, who is moving back to California.  After graduating from her training at BLIND, Ms. Duranleau decided she wanted to stay in Minnesota and find work.  She was first hired in a temporary position when Mr.  Foster took over teaching in the English Language Learner program.  This seemed a perfect fit for her because she wanted to enroll in graduate school after some work experience.  She discovered that she loved teaching — interacting with students and finding that she continues to learn as well.  In particular, she thanked Helen Stevens for her mentorship.

John teBockhorst explained a new learning tool established by Mr.  Wenzel.  The more experienced students become guardian angels for the newer students.  Their status as such is acknowledged with a black beret worn by the angel.  The angels do such things as help the new student get to class and answer any questions that might arise.

A tradition at our semiannual conventions is that Minnesota Federationists make pledges to the Jacobus tenBroek Fund, which owns our National Center for the Blind.  The NFB of Minnesota matches these pledges.  This year $1,515 was pledged by our members and a motion was passed to match that amount from our state treasury.

Steve Jacobson presented Pro Tip #5.  Mr. Jacobson called his tip presentation “Of Mice and Men and Women” and he wasn’t talking about computers.  He referred to those critters that occasionally inhabit our homes.  He offered three suggestions for doing away with these creatures.  He recommended the mousetraps that have jaws that open when you squeeze the other end of the trap.  Second, tie your trap with string to something stationary so that the mouse doesn’t drag it off somewhere.  Tugging on the string also lets you know if the trap is empty or full.  When there is a mouse, empty the trap by putting your hand in a zip lock bag, reach into the trap and lift your gift out of the trap and into the bag.  Don’t forget to zip it back up. 

Dick Davis gave one last announcement reminding us to purchase Louis Braille coins with the motto that “We are blinding what it means to be change.”

Kathy McGillivray announced that she has accepted a position at Augsburg College where she will direct the Center for Learning and Accessible Student Services (CLASS).  Ms. McGillivray further announced that we are restarting what used to be called the Computer Club, and is now the Technology Group.  This will give the chance for everyone to explore what’s new in technology.  People can have their questions answered and new attendees can be introduced to the NFB.  These sessions will occur on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. at our building.  We hope to find a way to involve people around the state.

Final door prizes and announcements led to our lunch break and the afternoon workshops.  Our student division once again provided their famous “academic” lunch as a fundraiser.

In the afternoon, we divided into four workshops.  Below are reports from each of them.

Workshop for Braille Readers on Unified English Braille

By Jennifer Dunnam

(Sponsored by NAPUB in Minnesota)

Unified English Braille is an update to the Braille code which will
become the standard for Braille in the United States as of January
2016.  During this lively two-hour workshop, attendees learned about
and discussed the specifics of the changes as well as the reasoning
for them.  Those present received several handouts prepared in UEB,
including a short list of new symbols and a copy of A Definition of
(a speech by Dr.  Kenneth Jernigan), and they had plenty of
opportunity to read and ask questions.  Two prize drawings were held
with the winners each receiving a one-volume book in UEB.  Participant
comments following the session included “This will take some getting
used to, but I understand the logic of it,” and “I'll miss some of the
contractions, but this isn't so bad.”  More information about Unified English Braille is available at

Navigating Minnesota’s State Employment System

By Steve Jacobson

One of the challenges we face as blind people is finding a job.
This workshop, facilitated by Carol Pankow, SSB Director,  and Dacia Normandin, Job Placement Specialist, was a one-hour session designed to make that task just a bit easier.  They reviewed the associated web site, discussed how to enter resumes on that sight, described the overall hiring process, and explained the importance of carefully matching the data presented about oneself with the requirements of the job.

There were numerous questions from the audience, some of which
reflected experiences and concerns that have surfaced in the recent past as expressed in our convention resolutions.  Some of the questions raised were:

  • Why do some announcements require a driver's license for jobs having duties that do not include driving?  There is an internal effort underway to explain to those creating positions that requiring travel is not the same as requiring a driver's license, and that the potential employee should determine the method of travel. 
    • What specifically constitutes "a related area of study?"  The definition of a related area of study for a given job is not defined in a way that is readily available to a job applicant.  If an applicant is counting on a related area of study or experience to be considered for a particular position, one should contact the hiring manager for that position to be certain they meet the criteria
  • Why do some position descriptions specify, "Must be able to do the job with or without accommodations?"  It was explained that the intent of such language is strictly to clarify that the applicant can perform the position, including doing the job with the assistance of accommodations.  It is not an attempt to force the applicant to disclose the need for accommodations at that point.

This is just a sample of the wide-ranging information and discussion.
Those attending left with a significantly clearer picture of how to present themselves on an application for a job offered by the State of Minnesota.

Minnesota Association of Blind Students

By VaNasha Washington, President

The Minnesota Association of blind students convened an informal meeting.  At this meeting, we had BLIND Inc.'s new director talk about this year's summer programs that it offers for kids.  We followed this with an icebreaker that was more of an introduction for getting to know everybody who attended the meeting. 

We had two panel discussions.  Ryan Strunk and Sheila Koenig talked about ways of being a part of your community and socializing outside of the blindness community.  They both discussed how they participated in dancing and acting classes.  The next panel was related to school with Candice Chapman, VaNasha Washington, and Quinn Haberl talking about ways of being active in school outside of the blindness community.  After that, we had the room open for any questions of discussions that they might have.  We had one particular new BLIND, Inc. student talk about receiving tutoring on certain subjects that might cause problems.  So, Candice and I suggested different ways that we can get involved in study groups.  Even though we are blind, we still can receive that type of assistance without having to pay for a reader. 

NFBMN Senior Division

By Joyce Scanlan, President

The meeting of the NFB of Minnesota Senior Division was called to order at 1:30 on May 17, 2014 in conjunction with the Semiannual Convention.  Fifteen members attended.

After introductions of attendees, Linda Povlitski gave a very interesting presentation on baking bread.  She has baked all her bread for the past years — ever since she watched her mother do so.  Linda brought buns she makes on a regular basis, so everyone could sample her work.  Homemade bread baking is a rare activity in our gathering, so Linda’s presentation and samples proved enjoyable and a great inspiration for everyone to go home and follow her example.

Next was an announcement of the upcoming national senior division conference calls with numbers for joining a conversation with Jennifer Wenzel of Minnesota speaking on cooking by touch.  This call was the third in a series of calls sponsored by the senior division to bring those dealing with losing eyesight together to learn about the National Federation of the Blind and its activities.  Minnesotans were urged to join the calls and participate.

Attendees next discussed the digital players provided by the National Library Service.  The basic machine provided to seniors may be simple, but it does not make moving around books and other documents at all easy.  The advanced machine should be requested.

Systems Access was discussed as a speech for accessing computers.

Jan Bailey and Monica Buboltz then spoke of their businesses providing services to seniors.

The senior division still has eight device carriers to sell.

We then considered the best possible time and setting for our senior division meeting in conjunction with the state convention coming up this fall.  It seemed to be the consensus that we would prefer a breakfast meeting but in a separate room, not in the hotel restaurant.

Steve Jacobson demonstrated the Odin Mobile VI phone.

The meeting adjourned at 3:30.