Semiannual Convention Report

Semiannual Convention Report

By Judy Sanders, Secretary

We held our Semiannual Convention at our building in Minneapolis on Saturday, May 16, 2015, and there is a lot that goes into the planning of NFB conventions.  Forming an agenda, inviting guests, writing the agenda are just a few of the details to be completed.  In Minnesota, our Semiannual Convention involves even more planning and work by our members.  Using our building has its advantages; but it also means we are responsible for setting up all the chairs and tables, making lunch and coffee and cleaning up at the end.  What other group of blind people could undertake all this?

The day began with our Seniors Division providing coffee and doughnuts for the convention participants.  Those who preregistered could quickly go through the line to get an agenda and a lunch token.  This made the line go more smoothly for those who registered onsite.  Seventy-one of the 102 registrants registered in advance and saved $5.00.  Those who could not join us in person had the opportunity to listen to the morning session via live stream.

Throughout the day one could purchase Louis Braille Commemorative coins, Jernigan Fund raffle tickets for a chance on an all-expense-paid trip to the 2016 national convention, and “Seniors in Charge” pins sold by the NFB of Minnesota Seniors Division.

Michelle Jackson, a massage therapist who owns and operates MRJ Massage, offered chair massages with all proceeds donated to the NFB of Minnesota.  Her generous donation of time and money helped make the day a little more relaxing for many.

President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order and introduced Ryan Strunk, the newly elected president of the Metro Chapter, for a few words of welcome. 

President Dunnam began her update to the convention by getting us ready to help host the 75th anniversary convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida.  This year founding affiliates of the Federation will take that responsibility.  Minnesota is proud to be one of the seven states represented in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at the NFB’s first convention in 1940.

President Dunnam reported on our efforts at the Minnesota Legislature to get a larger appropriation for the Senior Services Unit at State Services for the Blind (SSB).  At the time of the convention, we were uncertain if we would see an increase in the budget but we never give up until we succeed.

We are still looking for Minnesota cosponsors for TIME (Transition to Integrated and Meaningful Employment) that means eliminating the exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act allowing people with disabilities to receive a subminimum wage. 

We are urging the United States to sign the Marrakesh Treaty that would make books available to print disabled people throughout the world.  The language of the treaty has not yet gone to the Senate.

In honor of the NFB’s existence for 75 years, we worked with the rest of the country on 75 days of action where we actively recruited new members to the Federation.  We organized an at-large chapter for people who cannot get to a local chapter.  It meets by phone on the third Sunday evening of the month.  We have reorganized our Riverbend chapter; Jack Rupert attended our convention with other members from the area.  While our Twin Ports chapter is growing, we are losing a member, Anmol Bhatia, who found employment in Seattle, Washington.  We now have six chapters throughout the state.  Dunnam thanked two outgoing chapter presidents for their hard work; they are Rob Hobson from the Metro and Bryce Samuelson of Rochester.  The new presidents are Ryan Strunk and Jan Bailey respectively.

A new tradition seems to be developing at NFBM conventions.  Members share pro tips that are hints about nonvisual techniques to gain information or accomplish everyday tasks. 

Pro Tip from Jennifer Wenzel: A new free app called Redlaser is available on iPhone that functions as a barcode reader.  Scan the product and find out all you want to know about it — and even things you maybe don’t want to know such as calories.

Alice Hebert, our newly elected treasurer, came forward to give her first report to a convention of the NFB of Minnesota.  We are operating under a new fiscal year; our old one ran from April 1 to March 31.  We are now operating on the regular calendar year starting January 1 and ending December 31.  Ms. Hebert reported on our expenses and income starting with January 1, 2015.  We have a net income of close to $9,000.  The treasurer’s report was accepted.

Sharon Monthei and Steve Jacobson presented “Going Where We Want, When We Want.”  In introducing this item, Dunnam said that if she did not have the ability to travel throughout the country and the world independently she could not perform her job.  She, like most of us, did not always know that this was possible for a blind person.  Ms. Monthei told us that she had two kinds of travel training.  The first was at a school for the blind where she learned the traditional route travel.  That training did not motivate her to go anywhere alone.  She then became a student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind where a lot more was expected of her.  She was taught to figure things out for herself without a teacher bailing her out.  Monthei has attended several different colleges and traveled to at least five states.  It never occurred to her that she would need further instruction for every new trip.

Steve Jacobson recently read on a listserv a message from a subscriber that she needed to transfer from her current college and was trying to choose another school.  The woman was looking for appropriate educational opportunities and she wanted a school that could provide O&M instruction.  Mr. Jacobson, like Monthei, had the same kind of traditional O&M instruction; unlike Monthei, he figured out on his own that after he learned the skill of using the white cane his instruction was all about directions.  He began to wonder why he needed this instructor.  He learned to ask helpful questions, explored on his own, and worked with a reader to learn about signs and other information. 

Both Monthei and Jacobson were using structured discovery, the method of travel taught at our NFB centers like Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), even though they never heard those words.

Our state’s largest fundraiser is our Walk for Opportunity that is once again being in Rochester.  Jan Bailey, president of our Rochester chapter, announced that the date for the walk is Saturday, September 12.  We will travel the same route as last year and buy lunch from the chapter.  Since the NFB has a new logo, we will be investing in new T-shirts for the walk. 

Hearing about new technology has become a favorite thing to do at conventions. Randi Strunk is one of the first people to own an Apple watch.  Ms. Strunk gave a thorough description of the watch; this watch not only tells time but it serves as a  phone for texting or speaking, it can give one the temperature and it can even measure a person’s heartbeat.  It has the same VoiceOver feature of all Apple products.  It has an easy setup.  Strunk demonstrated the phone part of the watch by calling someone in the audience.

Carol Pankow, SSB’s agency director, presented her update from State Services for the Blind.  Her remarks appear earlier in this issue.

Dunnam acknowledged the large contingency of SSB staff attending our convention.  There has never been such interest.

A question was asked about whether SSB could help seniors find part-time employment; the answer was yes.

Someone asked for clarification about SSB’s placement unit.  They just changed their name to business specialists.  Ms. Pankow urges all staff to take an interest in the whole agency; if we hear of a job opening, we should share it with the right people; if someone would benefit from the Communication Center, anyone should be able to make a referral.

Dave Walle asked if there was anything new for deafblind customers.  Pankow talked about the rehab council’s deafblind committee that is extremely active in rewriting brochures to meet the needs of ASL speakers.

Our next agenda item introduced us to our new president of the Riverbend Chapter, Jack Rupert.  Mr. Rupert has turned his hobby of working with leather into a small business.  Rupert became blind in 2009 and, since he is a veteran, he went to the Hines Blind Center in Chicago.  They reintroduced him to leather which he first learned about in high school.  When he returned home he made his wife a purse that she lovingly keeps as a reminder of how much more skill he has now.  He displayed some purses of different sizes.  He also showed a cane case for a folding cane and other holders of different kinds.

He said that it takes about two weeks to complete a project and he described the various tools he uses.  He closed by inviting anyone in the Mankato area to join them for chapter meetings.

At every convention, we are reminded of the many ways we can help our movement grow financially.  Bob Raisbeck explained the mechanics of our Preauthorized Contribution (PAC) plan.  By signing up, we designate an amount of money to contribute to the national NFB by deducting it from a checking or savings account or charged to a credit or debit card on a specified day of the month.  The contributor can cancel at any time and adjust the amount whenever needed.  Mr. Raisbeck said that 43 Minnesotans are currently contributing to PAC and we are in fourth place in the country in giving with an average monthly gift of slightly more than $45.00. 

For our next order of business, the convention elected Jennifer Dunnam as delegate and Steve Jacobson as alternate delegate to the national convention.

A favorite tradition at our convention is to hear from staff and students from our partners at BLIND, Incorporated.  Executive Director Dan Wenzel began the presentation reporting that the student enrollment is near capacity; as soon as students graduate, there are others to take their place.  He praised Kotumu Kamara who teaches the English Language Learners Program; many of the students go on to the full training program.  This summer’s Buddy Program still has some vacancies; this is geared for children in fifth grade through middle school.  On the other hand, the PREP program for high school student is at capacity with a waiting list.  For the first time, these students will have a work experience for the last two weeks of their stay with us. 

Latim Matenje is an intern from Malawi.  Mr. Matenje is the program manager of the Malawi Union of the Blind; his story is compelling and will be reprinted in a future issue.

James Gagnier is the new network administrator who came to us from Iowa.  He has been blind since 1997; he is a Canadian native but he came to this country because he married an American.  He loves making websites accessible.  He has developed websites that cater to blind people with games, conversation and support groups.  Tim Aune runs one of the new groups for blind parents. 

Michelle Gip is joining us for the summer to work with Charlene Guggisberg running the PREP program.  She has a degree in psychology from Louisiana Tech and intends to study for a Master’s Degree in teaching blind children.  Last year she worked with BLIND teaching cane travel and this year will work as the assistant coordinator.

Roz Strimling is a member of the most recent class for seniors.  Ms. Strimling says that the students range in age from their sixties to their eighties and they are learning everything wearing sleep shades.  She began by listing many of their challenges.  They learned braille numbers so they could read elevator panels.  They learned to thread a needle and sew on a button.  They will be growing herbs and they will take a field trip to a restaurant using their white canes. 

During their first session, the ladies compared notes about what they could or could not see.  They found they had much in common and the more they talked the more they were sharing solutions such as labeling lipsticks. 

In her first foray into the kitchen, she discovered that cutting a tomato was easier to do using one’s fingers to feel where to cut. 

She concluded by saying how empowering she found the experience; the class plans to meet once a month to continue to take on projects and share.  She invites future graduates to join them.

The tenBroek Memorial Fund is our national organization’s building fund for the National Center for the Blind.  Each year members make pledges and our state treasury matches those contributions.  This year we pledged over $2,400.

The Minnesota Association of Blind Students participated in a regional conference in Chicago last April.  President VaNasha Washington joined Marissa Becker and Candice Chapman to represent Minnesota.  There were panels discussing offices for students with disabilities, sports such as judo and beep ball, braille in college, self-advocacy and much more.  Ms. Chapman participated on a panel about graduate school.  They were instrumental in planning the seminar and will use those skills here in Minnesota.

After a closing door prize, the convention adjourned to eat the students’ academic lunch and take advantage of the various fundraisers.

In the afternoon, there were four breakout sessions from which to choose.  Below are reports from each one.

Our day ended with an energetic cleanup crew putting the building back in order. 

Seniors in Charge

By Joyce Scanlan, President

NFBM Seniors Division

Our Seniors Division met at 1:30, and had a wonderful and full agenda of topics.  Twenty-three people participated.

We heard first from Ed Lecher, Director of the Senior Services Unit at State Services for the Blind (SSB).  Ed talked about the Minnesota Olmstead Plan to carry out a court order to provide services for disabled people, and the increasing number of seniors that SSB must serve in the future.  He expressed his appreciation to the NFB for working with the state legislature to increase funding for senior programs.

Jonathan Campbell, the Assistive Technology Specialist with SSB’s Senior Services Unit, gave an informative yet lively demonstration of some of the assistive devices available to blind seniors.  This included the “Say When” for pouring liquids, a talking thermometer, and a pen that produced tactile markings.

Throughout the meeting, comments from many participants recognized the value of the group model used in classes for seniors currently being conducted by BLIND, Inc.

Our final speaker was Elisabeth von Berrinberg, author of a new autobiographical book The City in Flames.  We met her first at our Senior Possibilities Fair last August.  This event was co-sponsored by the NFB of Minnesota, BLIND, Incorporated (Blindness:  Learning in New Dimensions), and SSB.  She shared many enthralling stories of her experiences in Nazi Germany at the end of World War II.  SSB will record her book and Braille it upon request. 

Beautiful “Seniors in Charge” pins were also sold.  We have more for a minimal charge of $5.00.  Contact Joyce Scanlan at 612.920.0959 to wear your own proudly.

Tactics for Job Search and Success

By Dick Davis

This breakout session was dedicated to jobseekers, and was moderated by Dick Davis, Associate Director and Careers Instructor at BLIND, Inc. and national Chair of the NFB Employment Committee.  A large number of blind people and two counselors from SSB listened to Dacia Normandin, Holly Dugal, Brook Sexton, Tom TeBockhorst, and Antonio Smith talk about job seeking skills and their personal jobs.  Holly, a Certified Nursing Assistant, talked about her job working in an assisted-care facility and her difficulty finding a job as an occupational therapy assistant.  That prompted Dacia, who gave a lengthy presentation about how to get a job in state government, to reach out to her and offer State Services for the Blind’s help in finding a job more in line with her skills.  

The networking continued with Brook’s discussion of her job as an accessibility specialist at Target Corporation Headquarters, and Antonio’s impressive presentation on his community outreach and empowerment job for the City of Brooklyn Park.  In fact, he did a mini-lecture on community empowerment that resonated with the attendees.  Tom TeBockhorst described his customer service job at Apogee Retail, in which he sets up pickups of donated items, which are then resold in thrift stores to benefit nonprofit organizations.  Both Tom and Anthony are proud graduates of BLIND.

Tim Wheeler, also a graduate of BLIND, Inc., talked about his experiences as a personal trainer and Yoga instructor.  He even had the audience stand up and go through some Yoga postures to help them loosen up from a long day sitting.  

There was lots of time for questions and answers by the participants.  The two SSB staff were impressed by the diversity of jobs held.  Given the large number of positive comments received from all the participants afterward, this was a very popular event.

NAPUB Report

By Amy Baron, President

NAPUB’s meeting covered the Braille Club, the Braille Enrichment for Learning and Literacy (BELL) program, Unified English Braille (UEB) and updating restaurant menus.

The division decided that we would encourage members to attend Braille Club and try to bring new people to it.  This club helps people improve their speed and receive encouragement from each other.  It meets on the first three Tuesdays of the month from 4:30 to 6:30 at our building.

This is the first year for the BELL program in Minnesota.  The BELL program provides fun with braille for young blind children.  We look forward to its growth in future years.

President Baron announced the availability of a resource guide about UEB through the Braille Authority of North America (BANA).  A list of names of people wanting a copy of it was made and President Baron will take care of ordering the guides.

We discussed how we could update the restaurant menus in the metro area.  Baron said that she would talk with the president of the Metro Chapter to see how this could be a joint project between the two.   

Baron will bring back information from NAPUB at national convention and report to everyone in the fall.

Amy Baron can be contacted by phone at 612-822-8711 or e-mail her at  

Minnesota Association of Blind Students

By VaNasha Washington, President

The Minnesota Association of Blind Students (the NFB of Minnesota student division) conducted a discussion on self-advocacy in which various students from BLIND, incorporated, and students from colleges and universities participated.  Some shared their experiences dealing with this issue in and around the classroom, whereas others gave advice.  A good discussion lasted a few hours.  Most of the students in attendance were shocked to realize others have been through the same thing. 

In conclusion, Candice Chapman talked about Dr. Jernigan’s speech about not throwing the nickel.  She brought this up in reference to us not being so unkind to those who want to help — even when we are not seeking it.  (Note: The speech is on the NFB website and is entitled “Don’t Throw the Nickel.”)