President's Column

President's Column

By Jennifer Dunnam

Here is a sampling of what the NFB of Minnesota has been up to in the last few months, and of the exciting things to which we are looking forward:

On January 21, we held our annual Day at the Capitol.  Undeterred by the construction in the Capitol building, Federationists spend the day walking the halls and meeting with legislators to discuss the importance of increased investment in public transportation, and of planning resources to ensure that the growing number of seniors losing vision will have the skills and tools they need to remain living independently in their homes and communities rather than assuming that blindness will force them to move into costly assisted care.  As a result of these efforts, bills have been introduced in both houses (HF 2012 and SF 1595) to increase the appropriation to Minnesota's State Services for the Blind to provide better coverage throughout the state and increased capacity for adjustment-to-blindness training for seniors.

Fourteen Minnesotans attended the 2015 Washington Seminar, and all actively participated in this initial push to get the 114th Congress to pass laws on the following issues: 1) The Transition to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act, HR 188, which would repeal § 14C of the Fair Labor Standards Act that currently allows people with disabilities to be paid less than the minimum wage; 2) The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act, which authorizes guidelines to help colleges and universities better identify accessible instructional material and meet legal obligations that protect blind students’ rights to equal access; and 3) The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually-Impaired, or Otherwise Print-Disabled.  If ratified, this Treaty calls for other countries to adopt copyright exemptions similar to ours so that accessible published works can be made around the globe and distributed across national borders to reduce the book famine plaguing far too many blind or other people with print disabilities.

Since the publication of the winter edition of the Minnesota Bulletin, I am pleased to report that there has been more progress in the work of building our strong statewide organization so that we can carry out our important work throughout the state.  We have revitalized our Riverbend chapter, with Jack Rupert as its president and a group of energetic members of all ages from college students to seniors.  In addition, we have organized a new At-large chapter of the NFB of Minnesota, with Aaron Cannon as its president and another group of committed Federationists from various parts of the state who are not near chapters but who want very much to participate in the activities of the Federation.  The at-large chapter meets monthly by conference call.  Each of our six chapters plays a critical role in our work, so we must all continue to recruit and support members of the chapters.

Excitement is building around the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, which we will celebrate at this summer's national convention in Orlando, July 5-10.  In 1940, representatives from seven states gathered in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania to unite their state organizations into a national vehicle for collective action to improve the prospects of the nation's blind citizens.  Minnesota was one of the states represented at that founding convention.  For this anniversary convention, our affiliate is part of the host committee, and our members will be part of helping to make this one of the best and most memorable conventions yet!

Mark your calendars!  Our Rochester chapter will again be hosting our Walk for Opportunity, our state's largest fundraiser, on September 12.  Make plans to help us put the fun in fundraising!

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) has replaced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  Among the changes are strengthened requirements for focus on transition-aged youth, to ensure that they have the foundation and skills to be ready for the world of employment.  Minnesota State Services for the Blind is working to put resources into providing work experiences for blind youth and to help them have the skills of blindness so they will be college-ready.  The NFB of Minnesota stands ready to help with this much-needed effort.

There is always plenty happening all over the country in our organization.  Here are just a few of the ways to keep up with it all:

Take time to talk with your fellow Federationists!!