MINNESOTA BULLETIN

Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota,Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
(612) 872-9363

Tom Scanlan, Editor

Volume LXV, Number 2, Fall 2000

WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND

Table of Contents

Les Affaires

Why Free Isn't Free After All

Rave Reviews: The 2000 SemiannualConvention

State Services for the Blind Makes SomeChanges

Beyond The Aisles And TheHallways

Ready, Aim, Fire

DES Commissioner Wilson Reveals HisTrue Feelings About SSB

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires
Students Are Our Future
By Joyce Scanlan, President

When this organization, now the National Federation ofthe Blind of Minnesota, began in 1920, its primary focus was to addressthe problem of discrimination in housing which blind people recognized atthat time. The direction pursued by the small group of blind men andwomen taking this radical step was to purchase property, construct abuilding and provide housing to blind people who came to the Twin Citiesseeking independence and self-supporting lives. The Home and Center,which was the product of their efforts, served a very useful purpose formany decades.

As time moved forward and blind Minnesotans becamemore and more successful economically and socially and more activepolitically, the Federation's efforts shifted to addressing changes instate laws so that housing and employment and other forms ofdiscrimination were prohibited. As Federation members and others who wereblind experienced less and less housing discrimination, and employment inthe mainstream became more and more available to blind adults, the needfor the Home and Center diminished; and it became clear that theFederation needed to make a change. The property owned by theorganization for sixty years was sold in 1980, and the Federation movedforward to tackle new and more pressing issues of the present era, broadercivil rights and public attitudes toward blindness. In 1995, when we inMinnesota celebrated our seventy-fifth anniversary, we had the opportunityto look back over our history and recount our many accomplishments. Ourrecords showed that we had continuing campaigns to resolve seriousproblems - in library, rehabilitation, and special education services, andwe stayed with each issue until our goal was met. We joined with blindpeople throughout the nation when the National Federation of the Blind wasorganized in 1940. As a people's grassroots organization, we have alwaysbeen able to move on to the next matter requiring our attention. We havea history rich with constant change, vibrant energy, forward-lookingmovement, and proud people eager to contribute their best efforts to thetask at hand.

Our members came into the organization in waves. Those who established the organization in the early 1920s remained activefor many years. We had large membership growth in the 1930s, 1950s,1970s, and now again in the current decade. Those of us who came along inthe early 1970s were welcomed by a membership which recognized that it wasadvancing in years. The national convention held in Minneapolis in 1970stimulated growth in the Minnesota affiliate and brought about thecreation of the first student division. These were years when most peoplefound a reason to move into action. There were causes aplenty, andeveryone stepped forward to lend help of any kind - financial,intellectual, or muscle. All of us were needed and we all wanted toparticipate.

Since students are a fast-moving population, they tendto pass very quickly from studenthood to the next stage of life, usuallyemployment. They settle into their jobs or family life and don't want tothink any longer about their lives as students. This has happened with ourstudent division in Minnesota. Each group works hard for four or fiveyears and then most drop out of the student division - some even move outof the state, and we are in a constant search for new leadership to keepthe student division going. Some of our student presidents have been MaryHartle, Tom Scanlan, Curtis Chong, Scott LaBarre, and now Thomas Philip,as well as others too numerous to mention. Most who have served aspresident are still very active Federationists throughout the country, ascan be seen from the previous brief list. Students are very important tothe future life of the National Federation of the Blind.

We are now privileged to have a revival of our studentdivision in Minnesota. Under the very capable leadership of PresidentThomas Philip, we have a steadily growing and very eager group ofstudents. I have known Thomas for almost two years and know him to bearticulate, intelligent, and brimming with energy to build the studentdivision to greater strength than ever before. Thomas comes from Africawhere he experienced the struggles of blind people who had no vehicle forcollective action as we in America have in the National Federation of theBlind. With wars going on all around him in Africa, Thomas had to fleefor his life and come to this country. He has experienced the need tofight for his beliefs and to be concerned for his brothers and sisters. He has a genuine interest in others and the deep caring necessary to leadour student organization into the next millennium.

And what will our Minnesota Association of BlindStudents do in the coming years? They will do as all students have done;they will study the National Federation of the Blind; they will learn ofits history and accomplishments; they will learn of what worked in thepast and what didn't work. And they will identify the problems of the dayand take concerted action to address these problems until the matter isresolved, and then they will move on to the next major problem andundertake efforts to knock down that barrier. I have often heard blindpeople make comments such as, "Today's high school and college studentshave it too easy; they are totally self-absorbed and have become lazy anddon't know how to fight a battle." Well, I don't agree with that at all.

Many of us who have been around for a long time, andperhaps have attended about thirty national conventions, tend to forgetthat today's issues for blind students are not the same as they were threedecades ago. We even joke about how the students may come asking theFederation to establish another home for the blind. And what will we dothen? Of course, we realize that the concerns for students who are blindtoday are very different. Although we may be on the verge of anothercontroversy to protect the autonomy of our Minnesota State Services forthe Blind (SSB), blind students do have some fair rehabilitation servicesto assist them in dealing with blindness-related problems. Technology hasmade it possible for students to be more competent and independent incarrying out their studies. The Federation provides scholarships forstudents and is available to advocate for changes in testing procedures oractions to ensure that students have full choice in the selection of theircareers. There are offices for students with disabilities which providevarying levels of services to blind students; some offices are concernedwith providing relevant services; others are less so. I never had to dealwith an office for students with disabilities in my college days. I alsonever had a cassette recorder either. I also never had anything but atypewriter to do research papers. No computers at all. We know that muchis different today, and students will identify their issues. They willtake hold and move all of us into the future with strength and commitment.

And what of us old folks? What will we do in thefuture? Our future may be shorter than that of today's students, but Ibelieve we must also make some commitments. We will stay around and workas hard as we can for as long as we can. And when you are ready, we willdo just as the folks thirty, fifty, and seventy years ago did when newpeople demonstrated energy and dedication to the cause of blind people. We will lend our remaining strength and wisdom to support resolution ofproblems you bring forth. We will work with you; we will encourage you,and we will build the National Federation of the Blind to even greaterstrength and commitment in the next century.

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Why Free Isn't Free After All
By Janiece Duffy

A while back a friend, I'll call her Gail, droppedover for supper and a few hours of catchup chat. We had not seen eachother for a couple of months, being from towns sixty-five miles apart withno bus service between them. On this day, Gail was returning home from atwo-week vacation and had been picked up from the airport by friends andbrought to our home while these friends tended to errands of their own.

As Gail talked excitedly about visiting another oldfriend, whom I'll call Ellen, the same theme kept emerging. Ellen hadwanted to see her so very much that she, Ellen, had paid for her airlineticket to California. Ellen had paid for all meals eaten out, insisted ontaking Gail shopping, had bought her new clothes, makeup, CD's andluggage. Gail accumulated so much new stuff that she had to ship it homeby UPS since not all of it would fit in her new luggage. Every day was anew adventure. The two gals took trips around the state, Ellen paying alltravel expenses and motels. Movies, concerts and community events were apart of this two-week splurge.

At first, as my friend went on and on about thisgenerous woman, I experienced a few seconds of envy. After all, most ofus do enjoy gifts. We love being pampered. But this had the smell ofsomething very different. If my friend Gail had not been blind, would thesituation have been the same? Did Ellen often take sighted friends andpay for their clothes, cosmetics and personal items? I think not.

The fact that Gail is blind led this well-to-do womanto pity her. She believed that Gail was special all right, in a specialclass of folk without money, with out-of-style clothes, and inadequateaccessories. Ellen, it turns out, had worked with the blind years ago andhad a "special love" for blind people. Her ambition was to work somedayat a guide-dog school or a live-in rehab facility. She undoubtedly feltthat she understood blind people well. She had no idea how insulting herbehavior was.

I had been blind since infancy, as had Gail. We hadboth grown up with good families and both attended schools for the blindin separate states. Yet I was prepared better by my family to live in thereal world. Gail was sheltered from the small storms life brings and notexpected to do common household tasks. A family friend bought heranything her heart could long for and she became used to getting thingsfree. She felt loved. It has never occurred to her that there is a priceto pay.

I recall my own feelings at getting "free stuff" as ayoung child. When I was very small, local proprietors would hand me candyor toys that they wouldn't give to other kids with me. The kids wereexpected to tolerate it since "after all, she is blind and you're not." Sometimes, extra attention or goodies were explained away as favors fromfriends of my folks who owned a business in our small town. However, aboutthe third grade, I began taking note of some things that could only beexplained one way. I was given free admission to the local movie theaterand had to insist that I pay for a ticket, just like my friends who couldsee. I was offered free tickets for rides at the local carnival and freeturns at games when our church had a summer bazaar. This "specialtreatment" became so insulting that I had to instruct my friends, theirparents and siblings that I was having none of it. Students at the schoolfor the blind were often given tickets to Twins games, concerts, and localevents just because we were blind. Very few people expressed concernabout these freebies. It had always been thus.

The final straw came during my college years. Wordhad gotten out that the newer of the three local movie theaters wasallowing blind folks admission at no charge. A male friend of mine onwhom I had an amazing crush, said to me that he was taking me to aparticular new movie because he could save money by only having to buy oneticket. That was it! I called the theater and insisted that thispractice stop immediately. This was the first time in my life I hadspoken up for all blind people.

Should a blind person accept "free stuff?" Of course,if it is an appropriate gift or service, one that you would be givenwhether you are blind or not. When I accept favors from folks, such as aride to church or to a meeting, I am careful to pay them back "in kind" bysupplying some goodies from my oven or small gifts that befit theirinterests and personalities. If I can babysit or housesit for them, I amglad to do so. In this way, we are friends who help each other, nothelper and helpee.

Great heated debates have argued which things arelegitimately free to blind citizens. Most people agree that without freepostage for heavy Braille and recorded books and magazines, few of uswould bother with them. Yet should we be able to send a cassette of musicto a friend? Free information service from the phone company makes sensebecause most of us cannot read the phone book. What about free collegetuition, government assistance, cut-rate bus fares? Which ones aregenuine and deserved? Which ones are given gratuitously and taken byblind folks simply to make life easier and less expensive?

Why do some people grow up with a philosophy more likemy own and others, like Gail, will take everything handed to them withouta whimper? I believe that many of us were Federationists long before weknew there was such an organization as the NFB. Because of ourpersonalities, our character, our experiences, our upbringing or ourinstincts, we quickly abhorred the "special" treatment bestowed upon usthat put us into a class beneath that of the bestower. The Gails of thisworld believe that because they are blind the world owes them a living. Many of the people they call their friends are really their benefactors.By taking "free stuff" without protest, they show to all who know themthat they are satisfied with their second-class status in society.

There is hope for Gail and for others like her. Byjoining the National Federation of the Blind and participating actively inevents it sponsors, they will understand the true meaning of handouts andwill blossom into equal participants in all that life has to offer.

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Rave Reviews: The 2000 SemiannualConvention
By Jennifer Dunnam, Secretary

The 2000 semiannual convention was held at the KahlerGrand Hotel in Rochester, Minnesota. The convention was called to orderat 9:30 by President Joyce Scanlan. Jan Bailey, president of theRochester Chapter, welcomed us to Rochester and especially thankedMichaela Moritz, who obtained many of the door prizes to be given outthroughout the day.

The items of business on the convention agenda thistime were tied together with the theme of drama and arranged in "acts"much like a play.

Prologue

We got into the Federation spirit by singing severalFederation songs. Then President Joyce Scanlan announced that there werestill about ten spaces left in the group of airplane tickets to Atlantafor the 2000 national convention and urged those not yet signed up toreserve their slot and take advantage of the low airfare.

Act I. The Stage is Set and the DES Plot forSSB is Revealed: Intrigue, Dashed Hopes, and Another Study

The first act was presented by President Joyce Scanlanand Richard Davis. President Scanlan began by giving an overview of thehistory of the relationship of the organized blind movement in Minnesotawith the agency for the blind. Dating back to 1920, our board andconvention minutes reflect a continuing stream of confrontations overissues including services to be provided, where SSB should be located instate government, qualifications of SSB staff, SSB's mechanism forreceiving input from consumers, etc. President Scanlan outlined theevolution of the relationship through the political shifts and variousdirectors, pointing out highlights and reminding us that history repeatsitself. She spoke in more detail as she came to the current situation. For the full text of her remarks, see the Summer, 2000 issue of theMinnesota Bulletin.

Next, Dick Davis gave a synopsis of the problems thathe witnessed as he left SSB and afterward. On the 11th of January, 2000,after a lengthy conversation between Dick, the commissioner and the twodeputy commissioners, they all agreed that Mr. Davis was not the person tolead the agency in the direction that the department wanted to go. At theend of his administration, he saw great changes in priorities. Emphasiswas shifted away from advocacy; the belief prevailed that the assistantcommissioners were not to be advocates for their specific programs or forthose people they served, but that they should manage the money in adispassionate manner. At one point, Commissioner Wilson said that hewished he had told Mr. Davis to quit the NFB of Minnesota since he feltthat the affiliation worked against Mr. Davis.

In early 1999, Mr. Davis and Mick Coleman, thenassistant commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services branch of MDES,,were given the project to study the possibility of combiningadministrative functions between Rehab Services and SSB. It was made veryclear to Mr. Davis that this was internal and did not pertain toconsumers. As a public administrator, he knew that public administrationwas the business of the public, and when a public administrator was askedto conceal something from the public, something was wrong.

In August of 1999, Joyce Scanlan wrote a letter to thecommissioner to express concerns about the outcome of the study, and thecommissioner was quite displeased with the criticism. In November, thenew administrative structure was created, with Mick Coleman as Mr. Davis'sboss. The study had initially been "sold" as a way to save money, but itsoon became clear that no money was being saved. Mr. Davis was then toldthat the changes were not about saving money but creating administrativeefficiency. The tinkering with the structure continued, and theCommissioner placed a high priority on having his orders followed. Mr.Davis expressed his concerns and misgivings, and not long afterward, inJanuary of 2000, came the conversation about him and SSB going indifferent directions. He said he does not regret his decision to resign.

Mr. Davis then gave a summary of the financialsituation at SSB. In 1999, SSB took 55 people off the Order of Selection. The 1998 over-spending was completely absorbed. With the help of the NFBof Minnesota, $800,000 was permanently added to SSB's budget; SSB nowreceived $4,717,000 in state appropriations on an annual basis. Theagency also got $370,000 to plug the gap that occurred in 1999. Some ofour "friends" chose to make it extremely difficult to obtain the moneyfrom the legislature. Also, like other state agencies, SSB got a 2.5%increase for salaries. There was also a $112,000 education grant increasefrom the Department of Children, Families, and Learning, negotiated byDavid Andrews and Mr. Davis. As the year ended and the counselorscanceled unspent authorizations, the agency was able to carry over$806,000 from 1999, bringing the agency in $806,000 under budget. As the2000 budget was being developed, Mr. Davis operated with the key principlethat the budget would include enough money to take everyone off Order ofSelection. Category A of the Order of Selection was opened in November of1999. That took about 50% of the people on the waiting list off the Orderof Selection. The plan was to open category B in January and C in March,but the Department of Finance was uneasy about opening any more until thereports came back from their mandated study; the preliminary reportsindicated that the agency was right on target financially, but thecategories were not opened. Additionally, the agency received $166,000from Social Security, which was immediately put into older blind services. Also, $116,000 was held back for contingencies. So the budget wasbalanced with money held back for contingencies and an $806,000carry-forward. In addition, just before the first of the year, due to theefforts of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, NFB, andothers, the funding for the older blind program was doubled for one year -an additional $225,000. Adding together the carry-forward and theadditional older blind funding, SSB got a $1,031,000 windfall at the timeof Mr. Davis's departure. After he left, the federal government cut theVocational Rehabilitation grant by about $114,000 - a 6% decrease - basedon a calculation of the income of the various states. Since this cut didnot come at the beginning of the year and had not been budgeted for, andsince the usual 2% increase was planned for in the budget, the cut put thebudget off by about a quarter-million dollars. There was also somefurther increase in employee salaries, which were mostly covered by theincreased appropriation for that purpose anyway. Regardless of thequarter-million dollar difference, there still should have been about$750,000 left over. Yet we keep hearing that SSB is in difficultfinancial straits and no one can go off Order of Selection. Mr. Davislearned from Bonnie Elsey that the $806,000 went, not toward services toblind people, but toward the new computer system being developed for theworkforce centers.

After Mr. Davis's summary, President Joyce Scanlanagain took the microphone. She said that there would be yet another studydone of SSB. A special meeting of the Rehab Council for the Blind was setby the administration for Monday morning, May 8, from 8:00 to 10:00 A.M. President Scanlan urged as many people as could to be there.

Act II. Federationists Set Policy: Consideration of Resolutions

Next the convention considered the followingresolution:

RESOLUTION S00-01

WHEREAS, published analyses of nationaldata from the Rehabilitation Services Administration as well as otherstudies have clearly demonstrated that the unique needs of blind personsare most cost-effectively addressed through specialized agencies separateand apart from services for other persons with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, State Services for the Blind(SSB), a branch within the Minnesota Department of Economic Security(MDES), is the primary agency empowered to provide vocationalrehabilitation, independent living, and communication center services toblind Minnesotans; and

WHEREAS, despite a legislativeappropriation to SSB in 1999 to meet the service needs of blindMinnesotans, rehabilitation funding remains unavailable for two of thethree categories of persons seeking essential services such as training inblindness skills for vocational rehabilitation, adaptive equipment formanaging medical conditions, etc.; and

WHEREAS, recently, the Department ofEconomic Security has further eroded the quality of services to blindMinnesotans by siphoning off funds earmarked to serve blind persons inorder to pay for administrative overhead and departmental functionsunrelated to blindness; and

WHEREAS, recent changes in theadministrative structure of SSB have been conducted in a secretive manner,without public input, and pose a serious threat to the separate andidentifiable status of SSB; and

WHEREAS, the Governor's WorkforceDevelopment Mini-cabinet has issued a recommendation of "further review"of SSB, with an underlying statement of belief that "programs that advance[increased employment] should be housed at the Department of EconomicSecurity, while programs that promote independent living should be housedat the Department of Human Services"; and

WHEREAS, clearly, vocationalrehabilitation, independent living, and communication center services forblind persons frequently overlap and are intertwined with one another, sothat during the course of rehabilitation, a client is likely to requireall of them at some point; now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blindon this 6th day of May in the city of Rochester, Minnesota, that thisorganization call upon the legislature and governor to strengthen andprotect the statutory and programmatic integrity of State Services for theBlind (SSB) to prevent its being diluted into other unrelated statebureaucracies and to ensure that it is and remains an independent andunified agency providing independent living, vocational rehabilitation,and communication center services to the working-age blind, blind seniorcitizens, and blind children of Minnesota; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demandthat any consideration of structural or departmental changes to the agencybe made only with input from consumers via their elected representatives.

President Scanlan pointed out that the resolutionrestates the position we have always held, but adds details to reflect thecurrent situation. Judy Sanders noted that we should make sure that theindependent consultants doing the study have all the information aboutwhat the Rehab Services Administration has already established withrespect to agencies for the blind. The resolution was adopted.

Act III. The Perspective on SSB from the DESCommissioner's Representative

Bonnie Elsey, acting Assistant Commissioner of MDESresponsible for SSB, next took the stage. She discussed some of the majorprojects underway at SSB. She first dealt with the study; she indicatedthat SSB was given a $200,000 grant by the St. Paul Foundation to hire anindependent consultant to take a look at the operations of SSB. Shecalled the special meeting of the Rehab Council so that the project plancould be finalized and Public Strategies could begin work. She explainedthat Phase I of the project was the planning phase, and Phase II was thedata gathering phase. Many focus groups will be conducted around thestate, and NFB will be one of the stakeholders who would have a focusgroup. Other stakeholders include SSB consumers; blind/visually impairedpersons who have not used SSB's services; vendors (e.g.,BLIND, Inc., Vision LossResources, the Duluth Lighthouse); key legislators; human servicesagencies working with disabled people; and employers. No staff from SSBwill be involved in the conducting of the focus groups; Public Strategieswill be gathering all of the information. Ms. Elsey says she hopes thatthe data gathering process will be completed by August. In the fall,Phase III will be started; this phase will involve using the data todevelop high-level strategies. The management team of SSB - people likeDick Strong, David Andrews, Chuk Hamilton, Linda Lingen - will go on aretreat with the SSB Council to form strategies based on our customerinput. After the joint strategizing is done with the Council, then actionplans will be developed; implementation of these will begin in December orearly 2001. Ms. Elsey emphasized that there were no pre-conceived ideasabout what kind of data would be obtained from the stakeholders.

Ms. Elsey said that she is also heavily involved ingathering data from SSB employees with a goal of opening up the Order ofSelection. She said that if the Order of Selection is not opened, SSBwill be under-expended this year. There is enough funding to openCategory B for this federal fiscal year, but it is unclear whether fundingis sufficient to sustain that plan into next federal fiscal year. Allinformation will be gathered and provided to the Department of Finance;that department must concur before Category B can be opened.

Ms. Elsey has also just completed an internal customersatisfaction survey to learn how employees feel about the operations ofSSB and what could be improved internally. She is now conducting sessionssimilar to focus groups with the staff for the purpose of clarifying thedata gathered from the survey and identifying solutions.

Ms. Elsey is also evaluating the SSB Store because ofnumerous complaints from staff and outside agencies about long delays inreceiving equipment and materials ordered from the Store. After anexamination of the processes used in running the Store, it is clear to herthat the current process is extremely inefficient and that the store isusing up a lot of state resources. She understands the advantages ofhaving the store, but if it is to be there, it needs to run more smoothlyand cost-effectively.

Ms. Elsey also mentioned the 21st Century fund. Thefund has received $875,000 so far - well on the way to matching the $1.4million received from the legislature. The floor was then opened forcomments and questions. A number of members spoke to Ms. Elsey about whatthe Federation is and made the point that Federationists are not onlymembers of the Federation but participate in all facets of theircommunities. President Scanlan discussed the lack of trust between theblind community and the current administration of SSB and asked Ms. Elseyhow she intended to develop trust so that blind people could again believein Services for the Blind. Ms. Elsey answered that it would take time andcontinuing communication to rebuild trust. President Scanlan gaveexamples of the betrayals of trust by the Wilson administration and thesecretive way that decisions have been made. Ms. Elsey referred to thecomplexity of SSB as compared to other areas of the department whichdeliver services mainly for workforce development. President Scanlan askedwhether dividing SSB as mentioned in the Workforce DevelopmentMini-cabinet report would be under consideration in the study by PublicStrategies. Ms. Elsey answered that she had no plans to break up SSB.Eric Smith, who is also a member of the Rehab Council, questioned Ms.Elsey about how the funding from St. Paul Foundation was obtained; Ms.Elsey indicated that the funding was offered by St. Paul Foundation andthat the first discussions happened a couple of months ago. The grant wasnot initially accepted until it was certain that an independentorganization would be able to be hired to do the study. She said that shehad not been able to discuss any of it until contracts were finalized. Eric Smith expressed the view that, with all the talk of customer focus inthis study, the customers should have been involved at a much earlierstage to determine the need and the basis for the study etc., as well asthe scheduling of the special council meeting. Ms. Elsey said that it wasnot her meeting, but it was Public Strategy's meeting and Monday morningwas the only time they were available to meet with the Council. Shereiterated her desire to focus on serving the customer and talked aboutthe ways she was acquainting herself with the day-to-day operations ofSSB. President Scanlan asked Ms. Elsey to convey to Commissioner Wilsonour concerns about his very distant style of administration and his lackof interest in blind people - that these make it very difficult for us tohave State Services for the Blind as part of the Department of EconomicSecurity. Ms. Elsey said that she has conveyed that message and that thecommissioner will be attending the next Council meeting. President Scanlanthanked Ms. Elsey for coming, for the open discussion, and for agreeing torelay our message to the commissioner. She emphasized again that wecontinue to have many concerns but that we are willing to work as partnerswith her.

Prince Nicholas of Russia Comes to America:Blind Parents and a Successful Adoption

The afternoon session began with a presentation byCharlene Childrey, president of the Riverbend chapter of the NFB ofMinnesota and coordinator of our Move-A-Thon for many years. Charlenetook us through a fascinating chronology of her challenges and triumphs inthe process of adopting a child from Russia. The success of this adoptionwas made even more treasured by the fact that only six hours after thepaperwork was finalized and Nicholas was legally hers, internationaladoptions in Russia were closed. She expressed her gratitude to theFederation for its support all along the way.

Past Battles and Continuing Wars: A Report onNational and State Activities

President Joyce Scanlan presented a report onactivities of the Federation at the national level. She first discussedthe capital campaign for the building of the National Research andTraining Institute. She described the proposed space allocation for thefive-story structure: two levels of parking space, one level used for theresearch library, one for small meeting room space, and one floor for avery large meeting space which could also be divided into smaller spaces. The facility will cost $18 million; so far we have raised $3.8 million. President Scanlan urged everyone to make a pledge to this campaign, andshe explained the different giving levels. She encouraged us to askpeople we know to contribute as well.

Then President Scanlan discussed national legislation. Despite the fact that we had 283 co-sponsors in the House ofRepresentatives for our bill to bring back the linkage between the SocialSecurity earnings limit for seniors and for blind people, our bill nevercame before congress. The earnings limit for seniors was removed, butblind people were excluded from that legislation. Other issues with whichwe dealt this year included removing the minimum wage waiver for blindpeople under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and getting amendments to theElementary and Secondary Education Act to allow for technological accessfor blind children for books and school equipment. In March, there was acomment period for a proposal from the Federal Communications Commissionregarding video description for television networks; our position, per theresolution passed at the 1996 national convention, is that videodescription should not be mandated and that priority should be given tonecessary unspoken information displayed on the TV screen rather thandescriptions of entertainment programming. The national scholarshipcommittee has just met, and there are three national scholarship winnersthis year from Minnesota: Thomas Philip, who studies literature at theUniversity of Minnesota; Nicole Ditzler, a junior at Concordia College inMoorhead; and Stacy Cervenka, a freshman at Concordia College.

Pledges to the tenBroek Fund

The tenBroek Fund was explained, and a motion was madeand seconded that our state treasury make a contribution to the tenBroekfund matching the amount contributed by individual members; the motion wasadopted. Jennifer Dunnam asked for pledges, and the members pledged$2,070, for a total of $4,140 pledged from Minnesota to the tenBroek fund.

Biking Across the Country on a Tandem: Educatingthe Public about Blindness

Alan Wheeler, the new computer instructor atBLIND, Inc., spoke on behalf of Ron Burzese about hiscross-country bike trip made from April 25-May 27. The speech wasprepared by Ron's "agent," William McClurg, a student atBLIND, Inc. It described the 3,300 mile trip, to be made in32 days, averaging about 110 miles per day. The trip is a fundraiser topurchase tandem bikes for BLIND, Inc., and Alan encouraged usto make pledges and contributions. Ron received good press coverage onhis departure. Doug Lee explained how people could join a mailing list toreceive daily e-mails directly from the bike throughout the trip.

Election of Delegates to the 2000 NationalConvention in Atlanta.

Vice President Judy Sanders explained that a delegateis elected to be a spokesperson for our affiliate whenever there is a rollcall vote at the national convention, but that everyone is welcome and hasa voice in making policies at the convention. Joyce Scanlan was electeddelegate, and Judy Sanders was elected as the alternate delegate.

Act IV. Strategizing to Accomplish our Goals

Vice President Judy Sanders explained the purpose andmake-up of the Rehab Council for SSB. She then asked members to instructthe Federationists serving on the Rehab Council as to what message shouldbe presented at the Monday morning Council meeting. Members said that SSBshould remain intact as one organization and that they would likeinformation about why a study is being done in the first place, as well asmore details about the process used for getting the contract with thePublic Strategies group. Dick Davis read the document explaining thestudy that was sent to the members of the Council. Judy Sanders reportedthat, as an employee at SSB, she was denied the right to have vacation onMonday to attend the Council meeting or for any other purpose. Ms.Sanders's supervisor received instructions from Bonnie Elsey not to allowstaff vacation on that day.

Judy Sanders briefly reported that the MinnesotaLibrary for the Blind has a request in to the state legislature for$600,000 for shelving and a $750,000 request for a design study. It islikely that they will get the money for shelving.

Act V. SSB in the Future

President Scanlan raised some questions for reflectionabout what the possibilities might be for the future of services to blindpeople: How Will SSB Look? What Will Its Mission Be? What Will the Roleof BLIND, Inc. Be? How Can theFederation Be Positioned to Carry Out Its Role As the Voice of the BlindCommunity? Dick Davis urged everyone to talk to people and urge them tocome to BLIND, Inc. for training in blindness. He alsosuggested consideration of other funding sources besides SSB forBLIND, Inc. President Scanlan mentioned that the Federationis making an effort to get President Maurer on the agenda at the upcomingnational governors' association meeting.

President Scanlan asked for final comments beforeadjourning. Andy Virden reported that the annual St. Cloud chapter picnicwill be held August 12. Thomas Philip announced that the MinnesotaAssociation of Blind Students, in conjunction with BLIND,Inc., will be hosting a karaoke night on the first Monday of the nationalconvention in Atlanta. President Scanlan especially thanked theRochester chapter for the door prizes and hospitality.

The Convention adjourned at 4:15 P.M.

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State Services for the Blind Makes SomeChanges
By Bonnie Elsey

(Editor's Note: Bonnie Elsey is an AssistantCommissioner of the Minnesota Department of Economic Security. She isresponsible for State Services for the Blind. The goals she lays out herefor increased competitive employment and independence are completely inline with the NFB philosophy of Security, Equality, and Opportunity. Sheasks for our active involvement, and we will most certainly provide it ifgiven a true chance to do so.)

I want to share information about the facts and themesbehind the September 20, 2000 realignment of State Services for the Blind(SSB). I also want to share the results and agreements reached at theManagement Retreat held in late September.

SSB is moving rapidly to address the needs ofMinnesotans who are blind or have a visual disability. It is movingrapidly because our mission is urgent and the people we serve are entitledto improved services and outcomes.

SSB's move to improve services and outcomes is drivenby facts and includes two major elements: realigning SSB to respond tocustomer needs and putting in place a system to answer the question: "Howsuccessful is SSB at doing its job?"

THE FACTS

First the facts. Since my assignment to SSB earlythis year, I have been gathering factual information. The SSB realignmentis driven by facts - facts from customers, stakeholders, funding sources,staff, and citizens of Minnesota. It mirrors the Governor's Big Plan andbudget principles, and the department's Strategic Plan, as well asfeedback from the review of SSB performed by Public Strategies, Inc., aprivate firm SSB has been and will continue to work with in this effort.

The facts, gathered and then analyzed over the lastseveral months, include:

Results from dozens of focus groups conducted byPublic Strategies, Inc. and reviewed with the State Rehabilitation Councilfor the Blind; Comparative performance data about SSB compiled by theUnited States Department of Education's Rehabilitation ServicesAdministration; Customer Satisfaction survey results from a studyconducted by the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind; ContinuousImprovement Assessment results gathered by SSB; and Results from StaffFocus Groups conducted by me.

I want to thank all who participated in focus groupsand follow-up sessions, in the survey of customer satisfaction conductedby the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, in the staff survey,and in countless other input and fact-finding efforts. These efforts arecritical to the continuous improvement of SSB.

MAJOR THEMES AND REALIGNMENT

Four major themes emerge from a review of the facts,data, and what our customers and stakeholders are saying. These themesdrive the realignment of SSB I announced on September 20, 2000. They are:

1. Align Administrative Services and BusinessServices to improve SSB's management and fiscal systems.

"There is not enough leadership and management, noroad map or vision." (Public Strategies)"There is a need for much better communication fromSSB, internally and externally. We want SSB to educate the public ingeneral and employers in particular." (Public Strategies)"We never get feedback from the agency. We don't knowabout success, failures, or performance in general." (Public Strategies)

SSB needs to restore the confidence of funding sourcesand of external customers. It also needs to put systems in place for staffso they can serve customers in a consistent manner across the entireorganization. Communication processes that support customers and staff arekey ingredients for better services and outcomes. The AdministrativeServices section will blend branch fiscal, development, measurement, andpolicy functions into a unit that will serve all elements of SSB.Establishment and application of procedures and policies that guaranteecustomer choice and equitable access to services will be carried outacross SSB from the Administrative Services Section. The Business Serviceunit of SSB includes The STORE, the Communications Center, Homestead TaxCredit, and the Business Enterprises Program. This alignment bringstogether in an identifiable unit those programs that deliver ongoingservices to SSB customers.2. Focus on Workforce Development: Increasecompetitive employment outcomes for blind Minnesotans.In 1998 the Rehabilitation ServicesAdministration reported SSB ranked 24 out of the 25 state blind agencieson the percentage of persons with outcomes in the areas of competitive,self and BEP employment."The workforce shortage is structural in nature andwill be with us for the next 10-30 years. The opportunities for all peoplewill be there. SSB needs to be positioned to take advantage ofit." (Public Strategies)". . . only about 60% of vocational rehabilitationcustomers reported satisfaction with the help SSB provided. It was seen asa modest contribution." (Public Strategies)". . . now is the time to emphasize the positivecontributions blind and visually impaired people are capable of making inthe workforce." (Public Strategies)

Information and data all point to improving employmentoutcomes for SSB customers. We can and must do better. By creating a unitcentered on customers with employment as a primary goal, and a second unitfocused on the older blind, we can better concentrate our efforts to meetthe special needs of members of each group. We need to leverage technologyservices so they are optimally available to both older blind customers andto persons seeking employment. The employment group includes children andyouth - who will be part of the workforce of tomorrow. We are becomingmore customer focused.3. Focus on Self-Sufficiency: Continue to assistolder blind Minnesotans to gain and maintain independence."No single force will affect SSB like the agingof the Baby Boomers. If 64% of SSB clients are over 55 years of age now,just chart out what the numbers will be in 10 years." (PublicStrategies)"With the focus on closing rehab cases, there hasbeen less emphasis on services to seniors and other ages." (PublicStrategies)"SSB employees feel isolated within EconomicSecurity, especially those who primarily serve clients with independentliving goals. We don't see how we fit with the overall mission of theagency." (Public Strategies)

The older blind population in Minnesota is increasingat a rapid rate. SSB needs to refine existing methods and develop new waysto assist these customers in reaching their goal of personal independence.It needs to act on the lessons learned from a close assessment of thegroup model of service delivery. It also needs to maximize the appropriateuse of volunteers and internal staff in providing exemplary services tothese individuals. The Self-Sufficiency unit will be pivotal in addressingthe needs of this growing group of Minnesotans.4. Seize the opportunity technology presents forblind people of all ages."Technology holds great promise in the workenvironment, but only if adaptive technology is available as soon asemployment begins." (Public Strategies)"There is a huge opportunity for technology toenhance independent living, but it is not clear that SSB will takeadvantage of it." (Public Strategies)"Need to reinvent Radio Talking Book and be willingto give up old technology. There is tremendous opportunity if SSB makesdecision and focuses." (Public Strategies)"As blind individuals, we were able to compete in DOSor test-based environments, but the icons and pull-down menus that areactually functions do not allow us to browse. The advent of the Windowsenvironment and touch screens has left us behind again." (PublicStrategies)"Adaptive technology in the workplace is great, butit takes too long to get it in place - we lose six to nine months ofproductive work while we wait to get it in place." (Public Strategies)

Technology holds great promise to empower blindMinnesotans of all ages. It can lead to equal opportunity for blindcustomers seeking employment and for those wishing to continue as activemembers of their families and society. It is essential that we capturethe opportunity to use technology to assist customers working towardvocational and personal independence.

The new organizational alignment captures thisstrategic opportunity to recognize and respond to customer needs. The neworganizational units will focus on Workforce Development (Joe Pattison,Acting Director) and Self-Sufficiency (Linda Lingen, Director) throughcustomer choice. Business Services (Chuk Hamilton, Director) andTechnology (David Andrews, Director), and Administrative Services (RichardStrong, Director) enhancement will also be a focus.

MANAGEMENT RETREAT: NEXT STEPS

An additional important activity this fall was thetwo-day Management Retreat conducted with Public Strategies. Tom Lijewski,Chair of the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, joined with the newlyformed SSB Management Team at this event.

We began our session by reviewing strategicopportunities that could move SSB into the next decade. We evaluated theopportunities against established criteria and selected those we felt arethe most important and will have the most impact on SSB. The first twoaction steps will be:

1. Define Success.

What outcome measures are there for each line ofbusiness? In other words, how will we know we are doing a good job?

Each line of business (Workforce Development,Self-Sufficiency, Business Services, Braille, Audio, Radio Talking Book,Engineering, the Store, BEP, and Homestead Tax Credit) will establishtheir own measures of success that will be communicated to allstakeholders. Committees of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blindand staff of SSB will be active players in this process

2. Choose Service Delivery Strategies thatDeliver.

How will we achieve our measures of success?

Design teams will be formed along each line ofbusiness. These teams will design, create, and put in place the servicedelivery strategies and system of the future. These strategies and systemswill be explicitly focused on achieving the outcome measures of successidentified in action step one.

These are the major facts, themes, andactivities at SSB that will have profound impact over both the short andlong term on blind Minnesotans. Certainly not all issues are resolved. There are many, many unanswered questions and concerns. The events andactivities outlined above are part of a process - a process focusing SSBon understanding and meeting customer need. In the days, weeks, and monthsto come we will identify, address, and resolve numerous issues of how weconduct our business, keeping primary focus on our customers - Minnesotanswho are blind or have a visual disability. I ask for your support andactive involvement in these most important efforts to improve services andoutcomes. Working together we shall succeed.

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Beyond The Aisles And The Hallways<
By Sheila M. Koenig

(Editor's Note: Sheila Koenig is a graduate of BLIND,Inc. and teaches English at South View Middle School in Edina. This isthe winner of this year's Metro Chapter Essay Contest.)

Wobbling down a vacant aisle at a local Wal-Mart, Itentatively had meandered forward on a trial pair of roller blades. I hadbecome increasingly interested in experimenting with this new hobby, andon that particular day I had been contemplating a purchase. I found thatI could stand and balance successfully without jeopardizing the items onthe shelves. But I knew that I could not become the roller bladingaficionado in an aisle of Wal-Mart.

One morning I discussed my impending purchase with acolleague, a science teacher on our 7th grade Discovery team at JarrettMiddle School in Springfield, Missouri. She had known me well enough atthis point to know that, occasionally, English teachers are prone to fitsof temporary madness, but I was persistently sane in my desire to purchaseand use a pair of roller blades. Insistently she had said that a blindperson could not roller blade, and she brought a pair of roller blades towork to confirm her suspicions. During our prep time, I eagerly strappedthem on, and to give her some comfort I slid the wrist guards on as well.I stood up and roller bladed across the hardwood floors of my classroom;then I ventured into the hallway. Sliding my cane from side to side infront of me, I traveled the short distance of our 7th grade hallway,relishing the moment. I reluctantly handed the roller blades back to mybemused colleague, and as the bell signaled the students to their nextclass, I instantly heard the ripples: "Ms. Koenig was roller blading!"

Few things are as exhilarating as generating your ownspeed and rhythm to feel the resulting breeze rush through your hair. Butroller blading now is far different from skating as a young girl. As agirl on skates I stared at the cracks in the sidewalk, holding my breathin a silent prayer to remain on my feet. The awkwardness of squinting atthe barely visible cracks and holding my breath quite continuously wore meout. It's a wonder I continued the daily ritual at all. As a child Ihadn't considered myself blind; I just had trouble seeing. I scrapedprint books along my nose in a sad attempt to keep up with my sightedpeers. The ink stain left on my nose displayed my shame for everyone towitness. And I didn't use a cane, so I stared at the ground when I walkedand squinted when I skated.

Then I met the National Federation of the Blind. Isaw people using long white canes walking with their heads held high. They read Braille faster then I could read print, and reading Brailledidn't leave an ink stain. I wanted to be like them. The summer beforestudent teaching I attended BLIND Incorporated in Minneapolisto learn alternative techniques of blindness. I learned how to readBraille, use a long white cane, work speech systems on computers, andprepare meals for over 40 people. More importantly I became confident.

Now when I roller blade along the path at LakeCalhoun, I smile into the breeze I have created. I arc my cane from leftto right, always touching the edge where cement meets grass, holding myhead high instead of holding my breath in. Long past are the vacantaisles of Wal-Mart. But longer past are the days of shamefully wearing anink spot or squinting at cracks in the sidewalk.

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Ready, Aim, Fire
By Judy Sanders

Shorty knew it might happen - hoped it wouldn't - butit did. Last spring Shorty Hertell became blind because of a centralretinal vein occlusion.

Shorty, from Cokato, has always been extremely active. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he has also been a competitive shooter ofrifles for over forty years. His first thoughts upon becoming blind werethat his active life was over.

He had been working with the Minnesota WorkForceCenter to find employment. So when he became blind, he immediatelynotified them that they could take him off the mailing list. Althoughthey did not tell him that it was possible for him to return to work, theydid refer him to State Services for the Blind. He met his counselor at afortunate time. BLIND, Inc. was about to begin an Older Blind class andShorty was just the right age. State Services for the Blind (SSB)bureaucracy can work quickly, when it wants to. Shorty was enthusiasticabout getting on with his life and Stan Keith, his counselor, realizedthat waiting might dampen his spirit.

Shorty entered his class where he met three women whoprobably enjoyed watching him learn about the challenges of cooking andthreading a needle. Recognizing the practical side of life, Shortyacknowledged that while his wife could sew on his buttons it was handy forhim to have the skill.

Shorty's favorite thing was learning to use his whitecane. His teacher, Charlene Childrey, was impressed with how quickly hewas walking around town with it. He says that since he started using hiscane he has only found one light pole the hard way.

Along with his competitive shooting Shorty was a gunsafety instructor and part-time gun smith. Learning more about himself asa blind person, he began to realize that he might not have to give upparticipating in gun-club activities. He found that he could easilycontinue his work as an instructor and he has found ways to continue hisshooting. He has turned his cowboy action shooting over to his daughter,and is giving her first-class instruction.

Shorty wanted to share his favorite hobby with theother class members. Their field trip to his sportsmen club occurred on aday when this author was visiting. This activity was a first for me. Shorty said that his objective was to let us know that we did not have tobe afraid of guns if we followed proper precautions. He explained exactlywhat would happen and then issued us our ear plugs. The person shootingalso wore safety goggles. Before we were to shoot, Shorty had us examinethe gun and the bullets. He, however, loaded the gun.

When it was actually time to shoot, Shorty stoodbehind us with his hand on our shoulder and the other helping us supportthe gun. A cowbell was attached to the target to help us know where topoint. By the way, pointing is different from aiming.

We shot two different guns: a hand gun and acombination .22 and .410 gauge shotgun. We ran out of time before wecould do the rifle. I understand the class went back for their graduationand at least one person tried the 50 caliber muzzle loading rifle.

While I don't think I have found a new hobby, therewas something exhilarating about having done this. Maybe it was becauseit was the first time for me or it might have been that this is not anactivity normally associated with our Older Blind classes. Whatever itwas, Shorty is on the right track in returning to being an instructor.

What does Shorty's future hold for him? By the timethis article is published, Shorty will have participated in the VeteranAdministration's deer hunt for disabled vets at Camp Rippley. Who knowswhat else Shorty will do? He is just beginning to discover his potential.

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DES Commissioner Wilson Reveals His TrueFeelings About SSB
By Joyce Scanlan

Since January of 1999, members of the NationalFederation of the Blind of Minnesota have been keenly aware of a risingtide of hostility toward State Services for the Blind (SSB) and blindcitizens of Minnesota. At the Semiannual Convention held in Rochester onMay 6, 2000, I presented to the membership a review of the history of SSBand our relationship with each of the department commissioners and chiefadministrators of SSB over the past thirty years. That report wasincluded in the Summer 2000 edition of the MinnesotaBulletin. Many people who read the article commented on itsfairness and factual accuracy.

However, Earl Wilson, commissioner of the Departmentof Economic Security (DES), who is by law the designated administrator ofSSB, was not happy with the "facts" of the report. Late in August, webegan to hear rumors that Commissioner Wilson was preparing a letter tosend to the Federation, and his very angry letter, dated August 31, 2000,indeed arrived. The copies of the letter, as stated in the cc: to themembers of the SSB Rehabilitation Council were delivered before the letterto me, which was mailed to our office. Thus, I began to hear about this"nasty," "ill-tempered," and "scathing" letter several days before theletter actually appeared.

Here is DES Commissioner Wilson's letter (note that,despite his interest in facts, he could not spell my namecorrectly): August 31, 2000

Dear Ms. Scanlon:

There are two serious threats to the continuousimprovement of services to individuals with disabilities and workforcedevelopment in general. First, Congress, and to some degree statelegislatures, have declared victory and do not see the need to sustainprogram funding, and secondly, categorical programs needlessly drain evenmore resources by operating redundant administrative systems, at theexpense of service to the customer in the interest of preserving autonomy. These two challenges can only be overcome when the facts are presented tothe budgeting bodies. Rhetoric can be effective in gaining attention.However, facts are the only reliable means to bring about change. InVolume LXV, Number 1, Summer 2000 Minnesota Bulletin, you, and Tom Scanlonhave bylines for several selections of rhetoric. With an apparent licenseto revise history and permission to fill in blanks with fictionalcharacterizations of what is occurring, you balance the budget for StateServices for the Blind and set priorities for the remainder of theadministration. Now I would like to have your assistance in dealing withreality. Even more so, rather than assassinate my, or any of mystaffs', character with your continuing vitriolic attacks andunprofessional tactics, consider burying the hatchet so that you do notfurther jeopardize the funding for services through your well known "myway or the highway" approach to serving people.

The fact is, we are finalizing a strategy based on areport from Public Strategies Group, Inc. that laid out facts from allperspectives as it relates to current services for the blind. This reportwill assist greatly in the enhancement of operating polices that will beused for delivering services. I'd like to hear that you are consideringthe same approach for your provider business and perhaps your advocacywork also. My reason for this suggestion is because I am told that thework of the two major national organizations is not as divisive andhostile in other states as it is in Minnesota. I am told that very oftenthe two national organizations even agree on critical policy and budgetmatters. I've heard the tired old story of the blind waiting forDemocrats to get along with Republicans and other such comparisons. That's good rhetoric, but the fact is there are places where blindservices are advancing. I think it is time the National Federation of theBlind considers whether its Minnesota organization is helping orhindering. Facts aren't as entertaining as deeds, but in the end they areall we have.Sincerely,Earl WilsonCommissionerCNational Federation of the Blind, Baltimore, MDState Services for the Blind Council Members


During the summer of 1999, I had written two lettersto Commissioner Wilson; he did not respond. Only when he read the reportin the Minnesota Bulletin did he feel inclined to write tous. I immediately began preparing a response to the commissioner onbehalf of the members of the Federation. Here is the letter we sent:

  • September 13, 2000
  • Earl Wilson, Commissioner
  • Minnesota Department of Economic Security
  • 390 North Robert Street, Fifth Floor
  • St. Paul, MN 55101
Dear Commissioner Wilson:

I have received and carefully reviewed your mostfanciful letter of August 31, 2000. It is curious that your inspirationto communicate comes when you have had an opportunity to read theMinnesota Bulletin, the newsletter of the NationalFederation of the Blind of Minnesota.

While your reaction is disappointing - consideringthat you have never accepted our invitation to appear before a StatewideConvention so that you could inform and educate yourself about the needsand desires of blind people and the services appropriate to provide them,it is not surprising in light of your behavior toward blind people eversince you became Commissioner of the Department of Economic Security (DES)and the chief person in charge of State Services for the Blind (SSB), thedesignated state agency providing services to blind citizens. Both thetone and content of your letter speak volumes in explaining the basis forthe extensive rift between you and the blind community.

I say "fanciful" with respect to your letter, becausethere is such a large quantity of pure fantasy in it. I found this veryironic, given the emphasis on "facts" in your letter. Whatever you agreewith is labeled "facts;" all else, because you dislike it or disagree withit, is labeled "rhetoric."

In your opening paragraph, you describe two majorthreats to continuous improvement of services to persons withdisabilities: that Congress and the state Legislatures don't seem to seethe need to sustain program funding, and that categorical programs drainaway money for redundant administrative systems to simply maintain theirautonomy.

In other words, if lawmakers would just give you moremoney, and if blind people would just stop trying to preserve theintegrity of the programs serving them and turn all the money over to you,letting you spend it on other workforce investment programs, everythingwould be just fine. How self-serving can you get?

Commissioner, you really must get out of yourfifth-floor office at 390 North Robert Street and start breathing the sameair as the rest of us! I would suggest the real threat to services topersons with disabilities is the DES, and to be more specific, youradministration. Since you like to talk about "facts," here are some foryou:

Until the middle of last year, the Federation was asupporter of DES. When Wally Hinz, Tom Heinl, Shelli Nelson, and otherpersons affiliated with Vision Loss Resources and the American Council ofthe Blind of Minnesota opposed Governor Ventura's budget and tried tointerfere with increased funding for SSB, we, the Federation, fought forthat funding. One of our members literally camped out in RepresentativeMcElroy's office until he would listen to her. The positive effect of ouractions could be seen between the first and second SSB budget hearings. At one point, the SSB deficiency funding was dead in the water until theFederation held a rally in the Capitol Rotunda and the funding bill wasrevived.

Did you berate those persons who made it harderfor SSB to get its appropriation and thank those of us who helped you? Not a bit! In fact, you and your deputy had at least two special meetingswith those who opposed the appropriation, and worked to address theirissues. Perhaps one reason for your interest is that they offered tosupport your proposal to merge SSB and the Rehab Services Branch (RSB) inexchange for your getting rid of Assistant Commissioner Dick Davis, amember of the Federation. At the same time, two letters from me to youexpressing the Federation's concerns went unanswered. Moreover, at thevery time we were struggling to get funding for SSB through theLegislature, you commissioned a secret reorganization in an attempt tocombine the administrative functions of SSB and RSB. When your movesbecame public and we disagreed with the outcome and asked you toreconsider your decision, you ignored us. Clearly, it was "your way orthe highway!" Almost four years before, when you were DES deputycommissioner, you and your current deputy, Al St. Martin, led an attemptto combine SSB and RSB into one branch within DES. That attempt was alsohandled in a secretive manner. When the blind community, led by theFederation, literally caused the plan to blow up in your face, your boss,Commissioner R. Jane Brown, sent you to the Legislature to explain that noreorganization was intended. Given this history, I imagine it wasinevitable that you would try the same thing again when you becamecommissioner. In fact, when you saw the blind community divided over theissue of funding for SSB and therefore weakened, I am not surprised youchose that time to make your move. I am sure that is why you gave aid andcomfort to those blind persons opposing the Federation and made a point ofemphasizing the disagreement between the two blind organizations. It iscalled divide and conquer, and as a former military officer, you know howit works. However, this divide and conquer tactic never works with theblind community, so your plan became a mere smoke screen behind which youcould hide in order to blame the blind community for the problems youyourself were causing.

Now you are engaged in yet another reorganization ofSSB, based on a study by Public Strategies Group. As a matter of fact,you postponed the August Rehabilitation Council for the Blind meetinguntil September 7, allegedly to give Public Strategies Group more time tocomplete the study. Since you have examined the results and completed areorganization plan (which you plan to reveal to the world late inSeptember, 2000) it is obvious that the delay gave you time to accomplishthis without the inconvenience of having to deal with the blind community.

Besides being one of the most politically unsavvydocuments to come from a public appointee's desk, your letter is totallylacking in clarity and specificity. In your third paragraph, you refer to"finalizing a strategy based on a report from Public Strategies Group,Inc. . . ." You say that "This report will assist greatly in theenhancement of operating policies that will be used for deliveringservices." The only clear point is that this is a threat from you to dosomething to SSB, a fact of which we have been well aware for some time. You seem to be tossing out some further barb about how you'd "like to hearthat (I am) considering the same approach for (my) provider business andperhaps (my) advocacy work also." What "same approach?" Be specific.

You ask us to consider following your lead inaddressing the results of the study by Public Strategies Group, a studywhich you commissioned and controlled. How can we do any such thing whenwe don't know the results of the study, or the nature of yourreorganization plan? What we saw only last week, in the form of handoutsfor the upcoming Rehabilitation Council for the Blind meeting, is so vaguethat you could do anything you want to SSB. We do not know whatscientific methodology (if any) was used in conducting the study, the sizeand validity of the study sample, the procedures used, or anything elsethat would cause us to regard its results as valid.

What exactly is your problem with advocacy work? Itis clear that you don't approve of advocacy work, although any enlightenedagency administrator understands and appreciates its value in bringingabout improvements in program services. You are aware - although youcan't admit it - it was Federation advocacy work in the 1999 Legislaturewhich made it possible for you to have the requested funding for SSB. Perhaps you do not understand advocacy work.

Your next point about the work of the two majornational organizations not being "as divisive and hostile in other statesas it is in Minnesota" is most interesting coming from you. Unless youknow something of which I am unaware - again because your letter is in noway specific, the major issue upon which both major national organizationsof the blind agree is that agencies serving the blind should have separateidentity, budgets and funding, and separate service delivery systems fromthose serving people with other disabilities, the very issue with whichyou disagree so vehemently.

Commissioner, you have absolutely no control orauthority over the work of the National Federation of the Blind. The workof the Federation is simply not your business. You don't understand it orcare to learn about it. So "tend to your own garden" and carry on as bestyou can. Direct your attention to SSB, the one agency dealing withblindness for which you have been assigned responsibility. Where in theworld did you get the idea that we are "waiting for Democrats to get alongwith Republicans?" That is your own rhetoric, I guess. Then you go on tosay, "but the fact is there are places where blind services areadvancing." Where is this? Please be specific. Please name just onestate in which "services are advancing." The only state where it mightpossibly be construed that "services are advancing" could be Nebraska,where the agency serving the blind has just been legislated out of anumbrella organization such as yours into a completely separate department. How could you, Commissioner, possibly regard that as "advancing," in lightof your well-known opposition to that new structure? You have so much yetto learn. You are uninformed and out of touch with reality. In fact, asexperienced advocates, Federationists have witnessed many times in thepast in numerous states the very same problems we are faced with inMinnesota under your administration. Statements such as "It's just anadministrative change" or "it won't affect services" have been heardrepeatedly only to be followed by deterioration and reduction of servicesuntil there is very little left. That is why you are not trusted. Thatis why blind people cannot believe what you say. Very frankly, you havebeen anything but truthful with blind people. In presenting your goalsfor SSB and in setting your reorganizational plans for SSB in motion, youhave been secretive and underhanded. You and your top administratorschildishly tease your staff and the public by making frequent referencesto your proposed changes, while you refuse to divulge the details of yourplan until a later date. If you indeed can't discuss the plan, whypersist in talking about it, only to claim secrecy when asked forspecifics?

Already you are reassigning duties to SSBrehabilitation counselors; you are "dumping" the older blind program,which has been by far one of the SSB programs with which customers havebeen most satisfied. You have not been at all honest in reporting toblind people on the financial status of SSB. You held category B on Orderof Selection far longer than necessary, and category C is still on awaiting list. You are causing fear and intimidation throughout the SSBstaff. The very charges you level against me in your letter (e.g., in yourreference to "your well known 'my way or the highway' approach to servingpeople") could more appropriately be raised against you. SSB managementand staff are so traumatized by your treatment of the agency that theyjust shake their heads and wait for the next stroke of your "redesign"hatchet.

Perhaps it would be well for you to look to your owndoorstep before you accuse others. Just examine your behavior and youmay realize why blind people are angry with you, why they don't trust youand why you find it necessary to make such violent attacks against theFederation. You have made zero effort to learn anything about or come tounderstand blindness, services appropriate for blind people, or the blindcommunity with whom you should be working in partnership. Instead you firesarcasm and bitter attacks against the Federation and its leadership andgrab for smoke screens, blaming blind people for "not getting together." And then you wonder why we are angry with you and do not trust a word yousay and have no hope for any good you will do as the chief administratorover SSB. And if you regard this as sarcasm, again, look to your owndoorstep and read the letter you mailed out on August 31 to me.

Commissioner, in 1997, we had legislation introducedto make SSB into a separate agency. In an explanatory meeting withCommissioner Brown which you also attended, we said if SSB was not aseparate agency, we would prefer to have it remain in DES. Because of theactions of your administration, we can no longer say that. Any otheragency of state government would be better. You have made it clear thatwith respect to SSB, it's either "your way or the highway." We choose thehighway, and in the upcoming Legislative session, we will do our best totake SSB with us. And, rest assured, we will vigorously resist any effortto reorganize SSB which results in reduction of services to blind people,any merger with other DES units, or any effort to siphon off SSB fundingto support the Workforce Centers or your own expanding administrativesystems. In a nutshell, sir, we don't trust either you or youradministration. Your modus operandi, demonstrated in three separateinstances, is to go behind our backs and make decisions that affect blindpersons and the services we need, without consulting us, then getdefensive when we don't like what you have done. In short, you don't carewhat we think, unless it happens to agree with what you want to do. DESunder your direction will never earn public trust or respect until youdrastically change your approach.

Moreover, you have made it clear that you areinterested in using more SSB money and staff in running your WorkforceCenters. I believe you would use SSB rehabilitation funds to pay forgeneric services for all job seekers if the Rehabilitation ServicesAdministration did not oppose its use for this purpose. Your argumentabout SSB administration drawing money away from services is equallybogus. Remember, you did a reorganization last year. Initially, we weretold its purpose was to save money which would be redirected to services. Later we were told there would be no cost savings, just "administrativeefficiencies." We have seen neither.

Furthermore, Commissioner, if you are truly tired ofthe public criticism your past behavior has brought, and if you are trulyunhappy with blind people reporting in their newsletters about yourmisdeeds and destructive plans for SSB, there are some corrective stepsyou can take:1. Begin to tell the truth. Cease lying to the blindcommunity. Strive to build up trust and credibility.2. Cease your secret decision-making and communicateopenly with the blind community and the public. Demonstrate some respectfor people.3. Quit launching into childish temper tantrums andthe use of cheapshots when communicating with constituent groups. Itsimply does not become you as a Governor's appointee to a high publicposition to vent hysterical rage as you did in your letter of August 31,2000. Such behavior discredits you, the Governor, and your own staff.4. Set about learning something concerning blindpeople, how they live and work, how they set goals and dream of successfuland fulfilled lives, and try to understand the proper role you and SSB canplay in making those dreams reality.

Believe it or not, Commissioner, you will need to havesome friends in the blind community who can help you down the road. Inthis letter, I have made a valiant effort to give you guidance and help. You have made countless errors in the past. What you do in the future, ofcourse, could be very different. The choice is yours.

In the meantime, we in the Federation will moveforward advocating for the rights of Americans who are blind to haveproper training and other necessary services so that we can take our placein the world, participating and contributing, using our many skills andtalents.Yours truly,Joyce ScanlanPresident

p.s.: Thank you for the opportunity to share thesethoughts with you. Have a pleasant day!

You will remember that according to his cc:, thecommissioner sent a copy of his August 31 letter to our NationalFederation of the Blind President, Marc Maurer, in Baltimore. Immediatelyafter I received the commissioner's letter, I called President Maurer todiscuss the letter. I was surprised to learn that he had not received theletter as indicated. In fact, the copy of the commissioner's letter wasapparently never forwarded to President Maurer. Therefore, I sent copiesof the commissioner's letter and our response to Dr. Maurer. WhereuponDr. Maurer sent the following letter to Commissioner Wilson with copies tothose indicated.

  • October 1, 2000
  • Mr. Earl Wilson, Commissioner
  • Minnesota Department of Economic Security
  • 390 North Robert Street, Fifth Floor
  • St. Paul, Minnesota 55101
Dear Mr. Wilson:

I serve as President of the National Federation of theBlind, the largest and oldest organization of the blind in the UnitedStates. I have now received a copy of the letter you sent to Mrs. JoyceScanlan dated August 31, 2000. I received the letter from Mrs. Scanlan,not from you. I mention this because your letter shows that a copy wasforwarded to me. However, I did not receive one from you. I wonderwhether all of the allegations of "fact" in your letter are as accurate asthe one at the end which purports to show that you did me the courtesy offorwarding a copy of your letter to me. Of course, you may blame the postoffice for the failure of your letter to arrive. I have practiced law nowfor over twenty years. I have found a number of people willing to blamethe post office.

In your letter you resort to name calling withoutsupporting evidence. You say that Mrs. Scanlan is willing to makevitriolic attacks against you and members of your staff. You accuse Mrs.Scanlan of fantasy in reporting. You go on to say that she makes upuntruths and that she revises history. You accuse her of characterassassination and a failure to accept reality.

Mr. Wilson, it would be difficult to imagine a lettercontaining more vitriol than the one you yourself sent. You are a publicofficial. You get your salary from tax dollars paid by Minnesotans. Youhave a responsibility to respond to the wishes and needs of those inMinnesota. Mrs. Scanlan as the president of the largest and oldestconsumer group of blind citizens in Minnesota has a right to ask you toaccount for your stewardship as a public administrator of programsestablished to serve the group she represents. It is written that thereis a right to peaceable assembly and to petition the government for aredress of grievances. You are responsible to Mrs. Scanlan, not the otherway around. The blind of Minnesota have no obligation to tolerateintemperate behavior from you. You have an obligation to treat those youare appointed to serve with courtesy and civility. If you do not, theconstituents who have a right to expect good service from you may feelcalled upon to seek your resignation from office and to ask for areplacement who will behave responsibly.

With respect to the allegation in your letter thatspecialized services for the blind are damaging, I offer this observation. Your letter makes an assertion which implies a certain belief that cannotbe supported. Your assertion is that categorical services for the blindare wasteful and damaging. Such a claim is without foundation whenprograms for the blind are properly administered. Specialized services forthe blind are absolutely necessary for blind people to competesuccessfully in society. Furthermore, the need for specialized servicesfor specialized groups is almost universally recognized. This principalis so universally known that it is hard to decide which example toemphasize. Consider, as an illustration, the experience of lawyers andministers. There is a specialized school established for each of them. It may be desirable for the ministers to know something about the law, andit may be desirable for the lawyers to know something about divinescripture. However, the demands of each specialty require specializedtraining. These demands are sufficiently distinct from each other thattraining at separate schools with separate administrations is demanded.The blind have this same characteristic. Specialized services for theblind demand special attention. Reading Braille, traveling with a cane ora dog, communicating, using devices that provide information with speechor refreshable Braille, and other matters associated with these areessential for the blind to become self-supporting. The statistics showthat better than ninety percent of blind people who come to know Braillefluently are employed. Better than seventy percent of blind people arenot employed. Current educational systems (most of them not specialized Imight add) provide Braille training to fewer than ten percent of blindstudents. These numbers indicate a tragedy in the making. Your lettersuggests that you want to make this tragedy worse. You want to depriveblind people of the training essential for their success.

You say in your letter that Mrs. Scanlan uses rhetoricrather than logic. You seem to favor positive action. I would point outthat your own letter is almost entirely a rhetorical statement. Theaction you recommend is to diminish special services for the blind - apositive danger for blind people. It is worthy of recognition that Mrs.Scanlan has taught more blind people Braille than you have. The next timeyou decide to write a "broadside," I urge you to begin by getting thefacts straight. Then, you may embellish your screed with whateverrhetoric takes your fancy.Very truly yours,Marc Maurer, PresidentNATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

  • cc: The Honorable Jesse Ventura, Governor
  • Members of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation
  • Members of the Minnesota Legislature

(Editor's Note: For those who don't have a dictionaryhandy, screed is "a long list or discourse; sometimes, atirade; diatribe.")

Thus, it is clear that we are in a major battle. Atthe September 7th meeting of the SSB Rehabilitation Council,Federationists attempted to circulate print, Braille, and tape copies ofthe Minnesota Bulletin that was the target of thecommissioner's letter. We knew Council members had received thecommissioner's letter, so we thought they should also receive the articleshe attacked. We were, however, prevented from presenting the information. Bonnie Elsey ordered the copies picked up from the Council members andreturned to us. At that same meeting, it was apparent what we are facedwith: an administration with little interest in blind people and serviceswe need to be independent and self-sufficient and major interest inplaying the game of bureaucracy by counting the dollars and relabeling thelittle boxes. To the Wilson DES management team, SSB is not blind peoplecoming to receive appropriate services so we can be independent andemployed; instead, SSB is fourteen million dollars to play with and seehow much more can be collected from other governmental units to build uphis new computer system and Workforce Centers.

If these words sound harsh, re-read the commissioner'sletter. It speaks volumes (without details) of how he really feels towardSSB, and he also makes it abundantly clear that he has no respect forblind people. We will all remember that the commissioner's time in officewill be limited. The Federation will not deviate from our mission ofadvocating for the needs of our blind brothers and sisters. When thecommissioner and his assistants are gone - and they will one day be gone -we can rebuild SSB to a viable, service-providing agency of which all ofus can be proud.

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Convention Alert!

Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keepthese in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.

The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will beheld in the Metro area in April or May 2001. Members will receive aletter with details about a month before the convention.

The National NFB Convention will be held at theMarriott Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the first week of July2001. The convention has been moved from Detroit since the hotel therecould not finish its renovation in time. This is a whole week of friends,fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largestgathering of blind people in the world. And imagine the Fourth of July inPhiladelphia! Full details will be in the November or December 2000 issueof the BrailleMonitor.

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held inOctober or November 2000 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letterwith details about a month before the convention.

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