Quarterly Publication of the
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 74, Number 4, Fall 2008
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Joyce Scanlan
(Editor’s Note: Joyce Scanlan is the founding Executive Director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), and served in that position from 1987 through 2003. She also served as NFB of Minnesota president from 1973 through 2007. She gave this address at the banquet of the 20th anniversary celebration of BLIND on October 25, 2008.)
Sometime during the final days of the year 1970, immediately following the semiannual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (then fondly called Minnesota Organization of Blind or MOB), blind people embarked on an important mission to reform the only training program then available to us in the state, the Minneapolis Society for the Blind (MSB, now known as Vision Loss Resources). Our goals for what we would actually accomplish were pretty basic; but our ultimate dream underwent numerous transformations throughout the ensuing years.
Our single goal in 1970 was to have a voice in the operation of the Society’s programs, because at that time, there wasn’t a single blind person serving on the MSB board. Remember, this was the era in which racial minorities and women, as well as people with disabilities, were speaking out about their right to representation on boards serving them. We had passed a resolution calling upon MSB to appoint a mere three blind people to its board—a very modest request indeed. The response, of course, was “No, we must have board members who can contribute,” and they made it clear that they meant “contribute financially.”
MSB was the only show in town, and clearly it was operating as a traditional charity to help the poor, unfortunate blind people of the region learn of their limitations and make the most of their pitiful lives. The MSB sheltered workshop was the primary job placement for those who went through the adjustment-to-blindness training program.
My personal experience in 1965 was that on my first day in the training center seated across from the program psychologist, I was told, and these were her exact words, “If you’re good with your hands, maybe they’ll give you a job in the sheltered shop.” The “if” and “maybe” rang in my ears for several years to come. Needless to say, this was the first of many turn-offs for me with that program. I had regarded myself as a successful teacher in the public school system for several years prior to becoming blind, and English teachers think they’re pretty smart, especially if they’ve taken the effort to earn advanced degrees, although they may be reluctant to admit their snootiness or uppitiness openly. So I found those words quite insulting. Things went downhill from there, and I was sent home to feel sorry for myself within a month.
I don’t want to dwell on our campaign to secure seats on the MSB board; it was a very long, drawn-out business lasting ten years with litigation, picketing, etc. Ultimately, eight of our guys were actually elected to the MSB board, but they tolerated it only two years before realizing that MSB was in no way going to abandon its tradition of charitable, custodial, old-fashioned methods of serving blind people. After 1982, the Federation took a new approach and directed our efforts toward educating the public to better understand our positive philosophy of blindness.
However, to better explain our motivation in pursuing the need for improved training for blind people, I do think it is necessary to say a bit more about MSB’s treatment of the people who participated in the various programs it offered.
One of the highly objectionable methods MSB used to make sure blind people were paid low wages in the sheltered workshop was to do very unfair speed and time tests to make sure new workers would not qualify for the minimum wage. Larry Kettner’s case was one of many for which the Federation advocated. Larry was forced to sign a waiver saying that he was capable of earning only 79% of the statutory minimum wage while his speed tests showed that he was becoming faster and faster. At the same time, he had been hired in a competitive employment job in private industry. After several years of appeals, etc., MSB was forced to pay Larry back pay to make up for the faulty figuring contained in the waiver he was forced to sign. Larry knew it was wrong, as did many others who were slapped with that minimum wage waiver.
We also heard many unsettling stories of abusive treatment of workers in the sheltered shop. Supervisors enforced silly rules. For instance, in one small area of the shop where traffic was very light, there were two routes to access—one with a few steps, and the other with a small ramp. The bosses said, “The law is that if you’re blind, you take the ramp, not the stairs.” Needless to say, several of us (who were blind) chose to use the steps regardless of “the law.”
Those in the rehab center were also sold short. Any rehab program can be stressful. Federationists worked very closely with and gave our best support to those we knew going through the MSB training program. If any “trainee”—for that was what we were called in those days, not “students” as we now call our program participants—thought he/she could escape the negative counseling available, that person was mistaken, because those in charge made it abundantly clear that everyone was going to get counseling whether or not the person wanted it. Several of our members who were “trainees” in the program ultimately committed themselves to the mental health units of local hospitals.
The stress “trainees” were put through was unbelievable. Disparaging remarks about the “organized blind” were frequently blurted out such as “They (the organized blind) condone begging” (referring to the white cane fundraising drives conducted by the Federation). Also, center staff spoke of “a typical Federationist as one who sat around in his rocking chair with his stereo on one side and his talking book machine on the other.” Such comments were quite effective in convincing many of us that we didn’t want to have anything to do with such an outfit. Later we learned that this was just one of the many “divide and conquer” tactics used by traditional rehab professionals to wield control over their customers.
The overarching problem with everything about MSB was its absolutely and utterly negative attitudes toward blindness. The entire environment, whether in the sheltered workshop or in the adjustment-to-blindness training center, was fraught with negativism toward the very characteristic that brought people to the programs in the first place—blindness. Comments such as “It’s hell to be blind;” “You can’t do that when you’re blind;” “Find a sighted person to help you;” “How much can you see?” “Let Mary do it; she can see better;” “Stay away from areas of construction or places where children may be playing because workers won’t help you, and wagons and tricycles will block your path;” were heard on a daily basis. Everyone was measured by the amount of eyesight they had. Anger permeated the premises, and the general attitude throughout the building was one of unhappiness and a lack of friendliness. Depressing and negative all the way.
Nevertheless, Federationists were not deterred from our hope of finding better alternatives to the training currently available. Our next step was to persuade our state agency that blind people should have the opportunity to attend rehab centers in other states: Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, Missouri, and Louisiana, when that center opened in 1985.
Then in 1985, our longtime SSB director, C. Stanley Potter, retired, and we found that position open for the first time in more than forty years. I applied with the definite knowledge that someone else would certainly be hired. It was Rick Hokanson who was actually hired to direct SSB.
Federationists decided to visit our friendly Governor Rudy Perpich. He asked us to prepare a written report on what we saw as problems with Minnesota’s services to blind people. I just reviewed that lengthy report we sent to Rudy at the governor’s mansion. (A friend had slipped us the information that if you wanted Rudy to see a letter or any report, you’d better send it to the governor’s mansion, rather than to his office at the capitol.) We actually had two meetings with him within two weeks. But one of the things we said in our report was that blind people needed a new option for training. As you might expect, Rudy Perpich made no promises.
About that same time, the first consumer advisory council for SSB was appointed, and I, representing the Federation, was one of the members. Some time in 1986, Rick Hokanson announced that a new training center would be created with an establishment grant from SSB. Rick and I talked about it, and we agreed that the state of Minnesota should not operate the training center. We never were specific about why we felt that way, but I was thinking of the state bureaucracy and total lack of flexibility, the rigid union contracts, and all sorts of meaningless restrictions on important matters and outrageous and irrelevant regulations in other areas. Rick had visited both the Missouri and the Louisiana centers and apparently had some sense for how a state agency wouldn’t be appropriate to operate such a program.
Federationists had numerous weighty discussions of the potential center. How should this be done? Who should run this new program? Now, we had been accused again and again of being determined to take over the Society or some other agency already in existence. We did agree, I think, that the Federation shouldn’t directly operate a rehab program, that this new program should be a completely separate entity from the Federation, which should remain in its advocacy role as it had always been.
Some of the fine details of our extensive discussions have faded from my memory, but I do remember when three of us were on that airplane on our way to New York City for a NAC demonstration, and we figured that this would be our best chance to come up with a name for this program we were hoping to create. Because the Minneapolis Society for the Blind had changed its name so often, and always to avoid the word “blind,” we were determined that our program would proudly include that word in its title. We decided that the name of the organization should be BLIND, and that those letters would be an acronym and would mean Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, a very lofty name, I would say, making us stand out in the litany of programs serving blind people. Even among the Federation centers, we are unique. Now, granted, our fancy name has caused problems for some folks: they forget BLIND is an acronym for Blindness, Learning in New Dimensions, and they insist on calling us Blind Ink instead of BLIND, Incorporated. We don’t say Dur or Murs for Dr. or Mrs. Why can’t we say Incorporated when we see Inc. with BLIND, Inc. Well, it’s probably best to write out the entire word to help those with such problems.
Many hours of Council meeting time were spent in designing the program that would be included in the request for proposals to be sent out late in the summer of 1987. Responding to the RFP meant writing an actual book. I don’t know how it happened—it was totally unexpected, but BLIND, Incorporated was the only submission, so we were awarded the establishment grant to operate the program as described in our proposal. That was a very big surprise.
The final months of 1987 when we undertook the challenges of actually bringing the program into existence by putting into operation all the fine words describing the proposed program included in our written proposal presented us with a true challenge. Determination and perseverance do pay off, and we certainly had both. We needed a location for the program; we certainly needed students; we needed staff to teach and operate the center; we needed equipment and supplies; we hadn’t a stick of furniture; and we needed MONEY.
Federationists once again came to the rescue. Everyone searched their garrets, basements, cupboards, drawers, and shelves to gather all the personal items they no longer needed or could get along without. The Federation also provided our first grant of $10,000; we also received $8,000 from Northern States Power Company. We thought we had been greatly blessed. Together we planned and hoped and dreamed and worked hard and hoped and dreamed some more. It was all very rewarding work. I feel very blessed to have been a part of it and all of us should be extremely proud of everything we together have accomplished in designing and bringing into existence this very fine training facility with its outstanding students and staff.
It was great to see Rick Hokanson here today. He was SSB director until about 1992, then he moved on, and today both of us are retired. Rick cut the ribbon when we had dedication ceremonies of our downstairs location at the Skyway News Building. He visited our program many times while he was SSB director. Rick, we really are grateful to you for your role in launching BLIND, Incorporated. I’m sure you were faced with criticism and many hard knocks for supporting us. I certainly know what it’s like being the lone voice in the wilderness carrying the minority message with the majority screaming against you. Tonight in this crowd, you can feel comfortable that you are with the majority. In our book, you will go down in history as the hero who stood up for blind people under very difficult conditions. You should know that we appreciate what you have done and will always hold you in highest esteem.
Everyone has spent this day reminiscing and reviewing the history of BLIND, Incorporated. My employment as executive director began on October 15, 1987—White Cane Day. Five additional staff were hired to teach braille, travel, home management, residential coordinator, and office manager. All six of us gathered for one week of staff orientation on January 4, 1988, the coldest day of the year, in the offices of the NFB of Minnesota in the Chamber of Commerce Building. And one week later, two students and the six staff members gathered in a small two-bedroom apartment on Lyndale Avenue. By the end of the first month, we had five students and needed to move again to a one-bedroom apartment two blocks away to carry out the training classes on 24th and Garfield. The remodeling of our new quarters on the third floor of the Skyway News Building in downtown Minneapolis was not completed until the third week of February. We moved to the first floor of the Skyway News Building in November of 1989 and finally, after purchasing the Pillsbury Mansion on December 27, 1993, we moved in on March 26 the following year. Our mortgage on this building will be paid off within the next year—a reason to have another celebration.
I have 16 years of memories as executive director of this fine program, and if you’ll allow me just a few minutes to review just a few. Some do stand out.
In the early days when we had only four or five students, things would occasionally become a bit dreary; gloom pervaded the classrooms. We decided one day to send the students and staff out to the parking lot to have a snowball fight. Everyone came back energized and ready to move forward. When I later asked one of the students why she thought we had sent everyone out for a snowball fight, her answer was, “So that you could evaluate us.” That person had clearly experienced a traditional training program in her past.
Our first student activity was a trip to St. Cloud on the first Friday night to enjoy the Central Minnesota Chapter’s spaghetti dinner. We rented a van and the students, driver, and one other person took off. Somewhere along the way, the van went into the ditch, and the group had dinner at Fuddruckers. I received a message that “the van had gone into the ditch, but everyone was o.k.” That was all. Needless to say, my blood pressure remained high with worry until everyone returned to the apartments.
Then, there was the day when Melanie, our first student, asked to bring two cats into her apartment. Everyone knows my feelings about such animals. I gulped a few times, extracted some commitments from her about the role of the cats in the training program, and ultimately agreed that she could bring two cats to her apartment. Somehow, those two cats were helpful to Melanie in moving forward with her training. However, to you current students don’t bother to request such a privilege. Animals are now prohibited in the program.
Our camping trips every summer were always eventful and lots of fun. Many of our experiential learning adventures were new to some staff also; I never did rock climbing until we did it as a program activity. Our trips to the Amanas in Iowa were always exciting.
I thoroughly enjoyed the student small meals and seemed to eat lots of lettuce, my “favorite” food.
Selecting the eagle and the freedom bell as our program symbols remain today as historic items specific to BLIND, Incorporated. I remember when Larry Iverson rang the freedom bell with such vigor that the bell broke and had to be replaced. The bell you see out there in the entry way is bell number two. That bell has been instrumental in celebrating countless student accomplishments in travel, braille, home management, industrial arts, and jobs. We have always been proud of the accomplishments of our students.
Of course, we’ve had sadness at times also such as when our first graduate (Melanie) passed away just as she was about to reach her goal of earning her bachelor’s degree, the tragic accident on Lake Calhoun, and the day we all gathered in the conference room to watch the televised unfolding of events on 9/11. The strong support system within the program gave all of us the wherewithal to rise above these tragedies and move on.
We have enjoyed having visitors and students from many states of the U.S. and countries of the world. Our Christmas traditions of cutting down our own Christmas trees, secret Santas, and one-time-a-year dinners prepared and served by staff were always outstanding events. Shawn has graciously continued many of the traditions initiated in the early years.
Yet, to participate in the development of this unique program and consider its growth over the past twenty years is the most thrilling of all. We began as a fulltime comprehensive training program to teach working-age blind people necessary alternative techniques and positive attitudes toward blindness so that they could move on to meet challenges and achieve their personal goals. Over the years, we have added a Life 101 program for high school and college students, a Buddy program for kids 9-13 years old, training for SSB staff, an industrial arts shop, older blind classes, and now a program for English Language Learners.
We have always emphasized employment as a goal for those of working age. For many years, our annual reports have demonstrated high scores in successful employment and independence of our graduates.
We have had some outstanding staff people in our program. I remember good times with many, those in the first year, Dan Harman, Russell Anderson, Paulette, Claudia, Sharon, Jennifer, Dara, Betty, and, of course, those who are still here today, Melody, Emily Wharton, Dick Davis, Al Spooner, Emily Zitek, and certainly Shawn Mayo who is executive director. I probably hold the record—in competition with Dr. Jernigan in Iowa—for firing a large number of people. But, in my mind, the focus was always on the students, and if a staff person was causing problems, I had little patience to spend time on that. Students always held the highest priority.
If I were to suggest the aspect of this program that is most outstanding as a significant factor in BLIND, Incorporated’s history, I would say it was the very cooperative working partnership we have had with the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota and our national movement throughout the entire country. BLIND, Incorporated has definitely had ups and downs over the past twenty years; in fact, the grapevine over at SSB had us lasting only until April. They never said which April, of course. There were times when our cash flow made it necessary for staff to hold off on depositing their paychecks; they were always supportive and did not complain. Only one time, in 2002 when the SSB director had cut off spending money on adjustment-to-blindness training, staff training, and the older blind program all at the same time, did we need to seek assistance from our partner. Any time there were financial problems or difficult decisions to make, the Federation was always there to lend help and support. Grants have always been provided so that our students could participate in Washington Seminars, state, and national conventions every year. The Federation is the best gift we have to offer students. Many have benefited from the role models available and the ongoing confirmation that the Federation philosophy of blindness really does work. The Federation and BLIND, Incorporated have indeed made available a new training option never before available to blind people of Minnesota. We have more than met the goal we set for ourselves back in 1986 when we first conceived of the idea that we could actually operate a first-rate orientation-to-blindness training program.
Finally, we all recognize that the leaders of both the NFB of Minnesota and of BLIND, Incorporated have passed on to the next generation. We old fossils can withdraw with the assurance that what we helped to start years ago will move on and grow to greater accomplishments than we have seen in these twenty years of triumph we celebrate today.
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was a great mentor to me over the years he was with us. He taught me the lesson of the gates, among many other ideas about priorities in administering training programs. He said we must never run away from a fight or a difficult situation; we must always stand up for our beliefs and be willing to fight when we must. Use love when you can, and a club when you must. But always be ready and willing to stand up for your beliefs and principles.
Our struggles as blind people are not yet over. Employment today is still a major problem for our blind brothers and sisters. Technology, although helpful and wonderful, also present accessibility issues for many seeking employment. Attitudes toward blindness are still quite negative, and employers who lack understanding still too frequently do not accept competent and qualified blind job seekers. Blind people continue to face society’s low expectations and are forced to settle for employment beneath their qualifications. Hard work still lies ahead of us, and you, the next generation will carry on the battles that lie ahead. We’ll help when we can, but the leadership is up to you. I have every confidence that you’ll measure up and confront any problems standing in your way, as well as rewarding those who have been helpful. We are all very proud of everything you have done and expect great things from you in the future. I also include the current students now present as part of our future leadership. Their support and assistance with promoting this program among blind people they encounter throughout their lives is crucial in spreading the word about the benefits this program offers. May we all come together again for a 25th year celebration in the year 2012.
Let me leave you with a few quotes from some of my favorite people. These thoughts have frequently guided my actions, so I offer them to help you as you continue building and strengthening BLIND, Incorporated. Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed up in overalls and looks like work.” So, don’t be afraid of good hard work. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And then my hero, Abraham Lincoln, said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” And then here is one of my favorites from Dr. Jernigan who said, “We know who we are and what we must do—and we will never go back. The public is not against us. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it.”
Thank you very much for bearing with me as I offer just a thumbnail sketch of my reflections of BLIND, Incorporated’s 20 years of triumphs!
By Jennifer Dunnam
At a luncheon on November 6, 2008, the Minnesota State Council on Disability presented Joyce Scanlan with its Minnesota Award. Each year the Council gives this award to someone who has worked to enhance the empowerment and employment of individuals with disabilities. Joyce has demonstrated outstanding achievements in the world of work and made significant contributions that increase public awareness of Minnesotans with disabilities, particularly those who are blind.
Joyce Scanlan was elected to the presidency of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in 1973. During that same year, Governor Wendell Anderson appointed her as one of the first members of the Minnesota State Council on Disabilities. She served on the Council for ten years, representing the interests of blind people among all the various disabilities with which the Council deals.
Under Joyce’s leadership, the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota grew from a mostly-elderly membership focused on an out-dated housing program for a few blind people, to a diverse, statewide, and highly visible consumer organization focused on security, equality, and opportunity for all people who are blind. Today the Federation has local chapters in most large communities throughout Minnesota and works actively to educate all sectors of the public about the true capabilities of blind people.
Improving rehabilitation services has been one major focus of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. Until 1985, Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) was an unofficial division of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), reflecting an attitude that blind people would be more likely to receive a public dole than to gain employment. Although many of the SSB staff did not subscribe to this attitude, they were hampered by the focus of the department. In 1985, Joyce led negotiations with the legislature, DPW, and the Department of Economic Security (DES) to move SSB to DES and make it a legal division. That move not only transferred SSB from a welfare-oriented department to one focused on employment, but it provided protection to the unique programs of services to the blind.
Seeing a serious need to improve options for rehabilitation for blind people in Minnesota, Joyce was the driving force behind the founding of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated, in 1986, and the beginning of its operation in 1988. Starting with just a few staff, two students, and operating out of a two-bedroom apartment as office and classroom, Joyce launched a new rehabilitation program employing the positive attitudes toward blindness that is the hallmark of the NFB. This organizational development required establishing a new non-profit corporation; locating and remodeling classroom and office space; acquiring an establishment grant from State Services for the Blind; hiring and training new staff; and conducting outreach to the blind community. The search for permanent space culminated in the purchase and renovation of the former Pillsbury Mansion in south Minneapolis. Joyce served as BLIND Incorporated’s first executive director from 1987 until her retirement in 2003. Thousands of students’ lives have been changed as a result of the positive philosophy of the program, and the standards of rehabilitation for blind Minnesotans have been raised. Today, as all throughout its 20-year history, BLIND, Incorporated attracts national recognition as a leader in rehabilitation services and helps its students gain the skills and confidence they need to live independent, full, and productive lives. Its graduates are empowered to compete in the world of work, and they generally achieve high-quality employment.
Joyce has dedicated much of her life to improving opportunities for people who are blind in Minnesota and everywhere, working tirelessly and vigilantly throughout the decades for high-quality education, rehabilitation, and employment. While championing the larger issues needing attention, she is also quick to give help and encouragement to individuals whenever needed in large and small ways. She has written thought-provoking articles and undeniable calls to action; taught countless people of all ages to do everything from leading a meeting to cooking a meal; mentored many in the ways of advocacy and politics; raised the tough questions that ultimately succeeded in getting things done; and led the way by her strong leadership and by her example.
Joyce did not run for re-election as president of the NFB of Minnesota in 2007, but she remains active as ever on all levels. This year she led the planning and execution of Minnesota’s first-ever Possibilities Fair for blind seniors, where senior citizens who are losing vision had the chance to get a good introduction to the types of techniques and services available to help them remain independent and productive. She also now teaches classes to seniors, who make up the most rapidly growing segment of people with vision loss. The classes provide a more in-depth opportunity for the seniors to learn useful nonvisual skills, to develop positive attitudes, and to meet successful blind role models.
In recognition of these achievements, the Council presented Joyce with a plaque in the shape of the state of Minnesota with the following inscription:
THE MINNESOTA STATE COUNCIL
Celebrates 35 Years of Service.
The Minnesota State Council
For outstanding leadership, dedication, and commitment to individuals living with a disability in Minnesota.
Signed Joan Willshire, Executive Director, David Schwartzkopf, Chair.
By Sheila Koenig
(Editor’s Note: This is the winner of the 2008 Metro Chapter essay contest. Sheila Koenig is first vice-president and a very active member of the Metro Chapter. She teaches 9th grade Language Arts at Southview Middle School in Edina, and received the 2007 Blind Educator of the Year award from the National Federation of the Blind.)
Standing in my kitchen surrounded by dirty dishes and stickiness, I wondered again why I had agreed to make lunch for 30 of my colleagues. It had all begun so innocently: a few of us chatting (perhaps over lunch) about how lovely it would be to share a meal once a week at work. For one half hour every week, the energetic middle schoolers would fade to the background as we teachers entered the lounge greeted by the smells of homemade chili, pasta, or special treats others had prepared. I had been enthusiastic then, anticipating the flavorful lunches and relaxing conversation of Lunch Bunch Wednesdays. In the excitement of the moment, however, I neglected to realize that the Wednesday would come that I would be the preparer of the lunch that others anticipated.
I stirred the five pounds of hamburger meat on the stove in front of me and took the taco seasoning out of the cupboard. I had decided that a taco bar would be a fun addition to the lunches we already had enjoyed. I could provide a variety of taco shells, toppings, salsas, and other condiments so that colleagues could create their own “perfect taco”. For dessert, I had made some chocolate chip cookies. Knowing that lunch for 30 would be difficult to transport on the bus (which is how I usually get to work), I had decided that taking a cab would be much more realistic.
Although it is stressful planning the menu and preparing such a large quantity of food, I never doubted that I could do it. I owe that confidence to my training at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Incorporated since one of our graduation requirements was to prepare a meal for 40. Vividly I recall the chaos of “the large meal” in which all items were homemade. Rolling out the pizza dough, smearing on the pizza sauce, and layering the pizzas with toppings are all memories that make me smile. But even more vividly than this, I recall labeling the ovens. You see, I had many kinds of pizza that I would be serving to my guests, and somehow, I would need to keep track of which pizzas had which toppings. In order to do this, I labeled the ovens with dymo tape. PP stood for pepperoni, S for sausage, and C for cheese. I remember frantically scurrying around the kitchen, transferring pizzas from oven to serving counter, keeping them all in their proper places. By the end of the meal, I was exhausted and worked hard to clean the kitchen. When I returned to BLIND Incorporated one year later to work the Buddy Program, the home-management instructor told me again how proud of me she was for undertaking that meal. She also told me how hard she laughed when six months after my meal she noticed a PP label still on one of the ovens.
The twenty-year celebration of BLIND Incorporated is now upon us, and it truly is momentous to recall the skills and confidence I gained from this program. I also know that there are countless others whose lives have been brightened by the months they spent learning alternative techniques. Where would we be without such a program to challenge our capabilities and stretch our expectations? Probably, without BLIND Incorporated I would not be preparing lunch for 30 of my colleagues. Likely, I would not have shined with confidence at job interviews and convinced employers to take a chance on hiring a teacher who is blind. Certainly, the dirty dishes and stickiness are emblems of the pride I feel in my accomplishments.
By Ben Cohen, Star Tribune
(Editor’s Note: Here is another person who lived the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her husband Armand were very active in the Federation in past years, and Armand was a dedicated union leader and a link between his union and the NFB. This article appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on September 23, 2008.)
Rosemary LaBerge of St. Anthony, who had little vision at birth and was blind by the age of four, helped others who were blind to live independently.
LaBerge and her husband, Armand, also visually handicapped, raised five children. The longtime Minneapolis resident, who was 81, died Sept. 11.
For almost 50 years, she was active in the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. She spoke before groups and attended hearings, giving a voice to people with disabilities, said Joyce Scanlan of Minneapolis, former president of the association.
“She was very energetic and active,” Scanlan said, and was especially an advocate for blind parents. “She taught you can't let other people tell you how to raise your kids.”
“She really had a strong sense of her independence, and she would have fought for it, if she had to,” Scanlan said.
LaBerge also served on the Minnesota Statewide Independent Living Council, which works with state agencies.
In 1950, LaBerge, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, became the first blind person to earn a degree from the University of Manitoba.
In the 1950s, she met Armand, of Minneapolis, who was attending a convention in Winnipeg, where LaBerge, a singer, was performing.
They married in 1957 and settled in Minneapolis. She was advised not to have children because of her disability, recalled family members.
She worked in hospitals in Winnipeg and in Minneapolis for several years as an X-ray developer.
She sang in several church choirs and groups. She had taught herself piano when she was growing up and could accompany herself.
Friends, neighbors and family marveled that a blind woman could raise five children, said her daughter, Jocelyn of Minneapolis.
“Curious people would ask: 'Who tucks you in? Who makes dinner? Who does the laundry?'” Jocelyn said. Her children would reply, “'My mom does it.' It was normal for us.”
LaBerge always knew where the kids were.
“She could hear everything. It was hard to get stuff by her,” said her daughter. “She was just cute, soft-hearted and probably thought of herself as being strict, but no.”
In addition to her husband and Jocelyn, she is survived by her other daughters, Natalie Thompson of Plymouth, and Liz Grazulis of Blaine; sons, Charles of Richfield, Philip of St. Michael; sister, June Stilborn of Ottawa, Ontario, and seven grandchildren.
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
Our 2008 annual convention at the Kahler Grand Hotel in Rochester on October 3-5, 2008 will long be remembered for its continuance of long-held traditional values and its forward thinking approach to changing what it means to be blind. People began arriving early on Friday to get ready to participate in the myriad of activities where there was something for everyone.
Convention registration opened in the early afternoon where people could not only purchase banquet and breakfast tickets, but had the opportunity to own their very own T-shirt displaying that "we are changing what it means to be blind." (Note: There will most likely be other chances for you to invest in your own T-shirt).
The AutoMARK voting machine was available right next to the registration table for people to practice and be ready to vote in the real election in November. This is how Minnesota citizens can have nonvisual access to the ballot. Kallie Decker and Judy Sanders, both employees of the Secretary of State's office, were on hand to provide instruction and register any voters so they could vote in the general election.
Our afternoon activities began with a seminar directed at making us better self-advocates and letting us know how we could help others work within the complicated Vocational Rehabilitation system. It included tips on writing your own Individualized Plan for Employment and working successfully with Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB). Dick Davis and Jan Bailey conducted this seminar.
The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille in Minnesota (NAPUB) met to talk about how we can promote braille to those who have not had the chance to learn it and to play some fun games using braille. NAPUB had the following election results: president, Melody Wartenbee; vice president, Amy Baron; secretary, Trudy Barrett; and treasurer, RoseAnn Faber.
Resolutions are the cornerstone of our conventions because they set our policies and priorities. Steve Decker chaired this year's Resolutions Committee that recommended resolutions for referral to the full membership at the convention. Other committee members were Jan Bailey, Charlene Childrey, Shawn Mayo and Joyce Scanlan. Resolutions appear at the end of this report.
The Minnesota Association of Blind Students played a lively role in our convention. Under the leadership of President Amanda Swanson, they had a spirited meeting. The following people will serve as officers in the coming year: president, Jean Rauschenbach; vice president, Brianna Gowan; secretary, Paradise Morgan; and treasurer, David Dunphey.
At 5 p.m., it was time to gather for a strategy meeting to receive instructions for how we would conduct an informational protest about the new movie "Blindness." This was the opening day for this movie produced by the Miramax Corporation. This movie portrays blindness in an insulting, degrading and erroneous fashion. Protests would be occurring throughout the country. After our planning meeting about fifty Federationist left the Kahler Grand Hotel with picket signs in hand to parade in front of the Chateau Theater and let the public know how harmful this movie is to our lives. We received television coverage from a local station and members of the public were most interested in what we were saying. A more detailed article about this will appear in the Braille Monitor.
The evening ended with friendly hospitality hosted by our Rochester chapter. Food, fun and a rehash of our energetic evening gave us a high-spirited end to our first day.
President Jennifer Dunnam called our convention to order to begin a day of information, thoughtful discussion and deliberation that are the hallmarks of any NFB convention. Throughout the day, on a less serious note, door prizes were given and the bake sale auction brought out the high-spirited competitiveness and desire to raise money for the NFB of Minnesota. Thanks to Michaela Moritz for her successful gathering of numerous door prizes donated by our Rochester chapter.
Kathy McGillivray opened the session with an invocation.
Jan Bailey, president of our Rochester chapter, welcomed us and a proclamation was read from Governor Tim Pawlenty declaring October as "Meet the Blind Month" in Minnesota. Jennifer reported that our activities for "Meet the Blind Month" began in an exciting way with our information protest at the opening of the movie "Blindness".
She then introduced our national representative for his report. We were honored to have Dr. Marc Maurer, the Federation's president, at our convention. Dr. Maurer began by reminiscing about the first time he ever served as a national representative. It was right here in Minnesota and our very own Joyce Scanlan critiqued his first speech.
The national convention will be in Detroit beginning on July 3-8. We are shortening the convention by one day as an experiment. We will eliminate the tour afternoon and people can stay the extra day to do their own touring. The convention will adjourn at the end of the banquet. In 2010, we will be back in Dallas.
One of our immediate concerns in this Congressional session is funding for the digital Talking Book program through the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS.) It looks as if no funding bills will pass during this session; therefore, this will be a key issue during our Washington seminar. The Librarian of Congress has not been as supportive as he promised, but the House offered the program as much as $34 million; the Senate's last figure was $12 million.
Many soldiers are coming back from Iraq facing injuries that result in blindness. We are seeking funding to help with their adjustment to blindness training through our NFB centers including Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Incorporated (BLIND.)
Our Washington seminar will begin on February 8, 2009. It will end on the 11th.
The next prototype of the KNFB Reader will be able to take a picture of text in one language and speak it in another. This version should be out in the next few months.
At last year's March for Independence the Louis Braille coin was unveiled by a representative of the U.S. Mint. It will be available for purchase this spring and the proceeds from it will go to develop braille literacy programs. We want to double the braille literacy rate by 2012. Another program sponsored by our Jernigan Institute is the YouthSlam. The kids may have the opportunity to help with the research to develop a car that a blind person can drive. People interested in being a mentor for this program should contact the Jernigan Institute. It is evident that the money we raise through the March for Independence is a valuable investment.
One of the most valued traditions of an NFB of Minnesota convention is the reporting from agencies for the blind in Minnesota. It is their way of reporting to the consumers they serve and it is our opportunity to share with them how we feel about the services they provide. The first of these reports came from Chuk Hamilton, director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB). His remarks will appear in the next issue of this publication. Here is a brief summary.
After sharing with us some year-end statistics (the fiscal year ends September 30), Chuk talked of enhancing the efforts for employment of deaf/blind individuals and partnerships with the STAR program to help with assistive technology. He acknowledged that tours of the adjustment to blindness centers are down this year. SSB is working to analyze why this may be happening.
Questions from the audience involved such matters as an interest in seeing the Rochester Post-Bulletin available on NFB-NEWSLINE®; trying to get referrals from Social Security and the VA; scanning of books by the Communication Center; and concern about counselors who prematurely close cases. Most of these matters are being dealt with but the scanning of books is not currently going to be done because of budget considerations. A question was asked about what is being done to support transition services for teens. Chuk mentioned a summer program that SSB sponsors with public school special education teachers. SSB agreed to cosponsor a Possibilities Fair for seniors with the NFB. No exact dollar amount has been set for group model training for seniors. Chuk pledged to talk about individual complaints with SSB privately and deal with them.
Jean Martin has been the longtime director of the Resource Center for the Blind and a longtime friend of the NFB and has always had high expectations for blind and visually impaired students. As of October 1, Jean has retired from this position—so we were hearing her last report to us. She reported that an interagency agreement between the Department of Education and SSB has been renewed for two years. It means the Department of Education has a budget of $490,000 to provide braille for students from grades K-12. Jean indicated that she recently had a problem ordering braillewriters with the American Printing House (APH) Quota money that is used for supplies for blind students. She was told that there might be a problem between APH and Howe Press, the manufacturer of the braillewriters. However, David Andrews, chief technology officer for SSB, said that they would still be available.
The Resource Center is working cooperatively with SSB to provide assistive technology on loan to students to try it out. Jean expressed thanks for the opportunity to speak to our conventions for 21 years. Although she retired, she plans to stay active in the field. We can all be grateful for that.
Our last representative of a state agency for the blind was Catherine Durivage, director of the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library. Catherine says that we are beginning a new era at the library. The library is missing some key staff because of the hiring freeze in state government; this means that certain changes must be made. The telephone will be answered between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Otherwise, a message can be left on voice mail or by using the library's online service. In 2009, an opening will be filled to serve on their advisory committee. Applications can be made through the Open Appointments process in the Secretary of State's office.
There are delays in the implementation of the new digital talking book program. However, it is still possible to sign up to be on the waiting list. Preference is given to veterans and those patrons who are over 100 years of age (82 patrons are in that age category). There will be two kinds of players—a standard player and a more complicated advanced player that will allow the reader the ability to skip around in the book. People can go online and download books to read on the new Victor Stream and some other compatible devices. When readers start using the digital books it is not necessary to turn in a cassette player. A simple way to try something that is close to a digital book is to try a "playaway" book, a self-contained book that comes with ear buds for listening.
Catherine closed by complimenting her staff and saying that without them we would not get our books.
Our morning session closed with announcements about various chapter fundraisers.
During lunch, our Parents of Blind Children met informally.
We began our afternoon hearing from Chuck Ackerman representing Senator Amy Klobuchar. He explained the best way to schedule an appointment to see Senator Klobuchar. He suggested laying the groundwork with her Minneapolis staff.
Tom Scanlan, NFB of Minnesota treasurer, reported that we have a net income of over $9,000 for the first six months of our fiscal year.
Jeff Thompson next gave us some pointers on how to get to know our legislators. Our expertise in doing this is why the NFB of Minnesota is the go-to organization for issues concerning blindness. Getting to know them begins with knowing who they are. Then go and introduce yourself. Remember that their staff is important as well. Be on time for an appointment and make sure they know that you are a part of the NFB.
An item called "What Do You Do" allowed each member of the audience to introduce themselves and give a brief explanation of their careers or volunteer activities. It demonstrated how actively Federationists are involved in the community and what diverse careers we have.
Shawn Mayo reported on the activities at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated reinforcing why this training opportunity sets itself apart from traditional training programs; this training offers the fastest road to freedom for those who want it.
Harrison Hoyes grew up in Singapore and, at age 15, he and his family discovered that he was slowly losing his sight. His parents had no idea what to do; he never got positive answers until he met Al Spooner at a student seminar at Penn State. He thinks he made the best decision of his life by choosing to participate in this training opportunity. He came here to gain the skills of blindness; he will leave here with the ability to help change what it means to be blind for all of us.
Jonathan McClung first tried to be a student at the Chris Cole training center in Texas. For some reason, they refused to accept him, but he eventually found our program and is on his way to success.
C. J. Wallace talked about the foibles of learning the skills of blindness and how he can learn to solve his own problems.
Andy Virden, a longtime leader in the Federation, was unable to be with us so he addressed us via cell phone regarding transportation issues in St. Cloud and throughout the state. We must continually advocate for better public transportation since it is an essential part of all our lives and is equally important to the public as well. While he had the floor, he promoted the annual spaghetti dinner held each year by our Central Minnesota chapter.
Sharon Monthei has a long career in teaching alternatives to blindness, and is newly certified in teaching English Language Learners (ELL). She is spearheading a new program at BLIND to teach blind immigrants a beginning to the alternatives used by blind people, the rudiments of English, and other academic skills, thus preparing them for a more advanced program. She works cooperatively with the Lehman Center, which is the largest ELL program in the state. Since most ELL programs teach by showing pictures, she has adapted her course to allow hands-on experiences in learning to identify objects. There are currently six students in this program.
The NFB is composed of many special-interest divisions. One of them is the Performing Arts Division. David Dunphey introduced us to its varied activities including their production of a CD available for sale through their website.
Parents are an integral part of our Federation movement. Brenda Johnson has a twelve-year-old son, Austin, who is blind. He is a student at the State Academy for the Blind and he has two siblings who are sighted. Through the NFB, Brenda has learned the importance of being a strong advocate for her son and she has learned how much easier that is to accomplish when she works with competent blind adults to make positive differences in her son's life. Federationists are coming to know Brenda for her numerous baked items that she and her family bring to our baked auction.
The NFB has been a strong advocate for making websites accessible. One effort has involved a lawsuit against the Target Corporation. Since their corporate headquarters is in Minneapolis, Steve Jacobson, a computer expert, was able to represent the NFB and was deposed by Target's lawyers. When this suit was first undertaken, a blind person was unable to purchase a product on their website. Because of our efforts, Target will now be making its website accessible to the blind, and other corporate entities will learn from Target’s experience and open their doors (or websites) to us. Steve explained not only what our success means to us but he brought home to us why it was necessary to do this. Jacobson's remarks will be in a future issue of this publication.
Harry Krueger is a recent graduate from one of the Older Blind classes being taught at BLIND. Harry leads a busy life taking advantage of the varied activities in his senior community. He now acts as a mentor to other students in the classes. His only condition for taking the class was that he be home in time for happy hour.
Joyce Scanlan teaches these classes with Laurie Brown, instilling in the students the idea that their life can go on as blind citizens. They are introduced to cooking, braille, using a long white cane and leisure activities. Most important, however, the classes instill confidence in people who thought they would have to give up control of their lives.
The highlight of all our conventions occurs at our banquets. Jan Bailey served as mistress of ceremonies. We were honored to hear from Dr. Marc Maurer. He took the opportunity to share with us a personal view of his life and how he grew to understand his blindness and the value of the part that others played in that understanding of his blindness. All of us could identify with his life experiences, so we came away knowing that we are not alone in dealing with our blindness. The NFB will always be there for us, and we must be there for others.
Jeff Thompson came to the microphone to announce the winners of the Metro chapter essay contest. Sheila Koenig was the winner and Judy Sanders received the runner up prize. Each winner received fifty dollars.
Dr. Maurer came back to the podium to urge us to contribute to the PAC (Preauthorized Check Plan) as our way of making a financial commitment to the organized blind movement. Many increased their monthly gift and others started a new pledge.
Lively hospitality from the Rochester chapter followed the banquet. A disc jockey was present with a variety of music and the evening turned into a karaoke night.
On Sunday morning, many of us rose early to attend the Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated breakfast. This was a further opportunity to meet board members, staff and students.
We began our Sunday morning session with remarks from Representative Tina Liebling, who represents Legislative District 30A in Rochester. She introduced us to government trends and the importance of being involved in the political process. In her introduction, Jan Bailey, president of our Rochester chapter, told us that Rep. Liebling always sees us when we come to the Legislature to make our issues known.
Steve Decker came forward to introduce this year's resolutions for discussion and passage (or defeat). These appear at the end of this report.
There were four resolutions. Resolution A08-01 dealt with problems in staffing for the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library. It urges the Department of Education and Governor Tim Pawlenty to find a way to fill those positions.
Resolution A08-02 dealt with the problems created for blind students with online testing. It urged the Commissioner of the Department of Education to ensure that no tests are biased against blind students and that they are made accessible.
Resolution A08-03 recognized the valued service of Congressman Jim Ramstad and the many years of support he has given to the members of the NFB.
Our final resolution, A08-04, dealt with the minimal qualifications for State Services for the Blind (SSB) counselors to have an understanding of the needs of blind customers and our solutions so as to enhance their qualifications. The resolution points out that tours of adjustment to blindness programs are down for this year among other problems.
The NFB of Minnesota website has resolutions for the last ten years. It is an excellent way to familiarize oneself with NFB policies.
Tom Scanlan serves on the Minnesota State Rehabilitation Council-Blind as NFB's representative. Tom knows that it is his job to act as a strong advocate. He continually challenges SSB to be accountable to its blind consumers. As a result, Chuk Hamilton will be checking into why tour requests for training are down; why are there so many unsuccessful closures and why are there fewer referrals from the Social Security Administration. Judy Sanders and Steve Jacobson also serve on this Council and work with a unified effort to keep SSB accountable.
Judy's position on the Council is as a liaison between that Council and the Statewide Independent Living Council. She expressed pride in the organized efforts of the blind community through the NFB as advocates. The eight Independent Living Centers act as strong advocates for people with disabilities other than blindness and there is probably room for a strong partnership with them.
Judy and Steve Jacobson also serve on an advisory committee to the Secretary of State on how to make the whole voting process accessible.
Steve reported for Nadine Jacobson regarding the State Academy for the Blind. Nadine serves on the Academy's Board of Governors and Jan Bailey represents the school's alumni and SSB on the school's Site Council. There is a vacancy for an NFB representative on this Council.
Our chapters continue to be active around the state. Our chapters keep us going with the nitty gritty work of the Federation in between spirited conventions. Whether working on transportation issues or that ever popular fundraising, members are busy through their chapter work. Our activism is not just through our chapters, and our parents and students play an active role in our successes.
Our elections yielded the following results: vice president, Steve Jacobson; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; board positions, Joyce Scanlan and Pat Barrett. Other board members are president, Jennifer Dunnam; secretary, Judy Sanders; board members, Jan Bailey, Jeff Thompson and Charlene Childrey.
Jennifer closed the convention with a reminder of our successes in the past year. They include the elimination of the sunset provision for NFB-NEWSLINE® and Dial-in-news, and the publicity we received about the danger posed by quiet cars. We continue to work on advocating for customers of SSB and working with parents in Individual Education Plan meetings. Our teen night and Saturday School allows us to play an active role with the next generation of blind adults. There is lots of hard work to come.
Tim Aune announced that we still have a show on the Radio Talking Book aired on the last Sunday evening of the month. It is called “Speaking for Ourselves.”
Our bake sale netted us a record $4,217.
The last door prize given by the Rochester chapter was a gift certificate to Target. What a fine way to end our convention.
Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library Staffing
WHEREAS, The Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault, referred hereinafter as the Library, has for more than fifty years been the public library for blind and other persons who cannot read the printed page; and
WHEREAS, there are currently more than twelve thousand active patrons while there are many more who do not know they are eligible to use this library under the law; and
WHEREAS, over seventy percent of those served by this library are also senior citizens for whom this service has added significance as they often have lost their vision later in their lives; and
WHEREAS, this library circulates nearly three hundred thousand books and magazines in braille, talking book, and large print formats each year; and
WHEREAS, the Library has, in theory, 11.5 positions with which to provide this service even though library standards suggest that they need more than twice that number to handle this level of circulation; and
WHEREAS, circumstances over the past four years have resulted in the Library most commonly operating with three unfilled positions with these positions being continuously unfilled since the end of 2006; and
WHEREAS, the library received permission after clearing a number of hurtles to fill these positions in January, 2008, only to once again be caught by circumstances in the form of a state hiring freeze which prevented this from happening; and
WHEREAS, this hiring freeze appears to be interpreted differently by various parts of state government, with some believing it is intended to limit staff expansion while others believe it prevents the filling of positions that simply happened to be unfilled at the time of the freeze as is the case for the library; and
WHEREAS, two of the three positions the Library is prevented from filling are funded by federal dollars and therefore do not even impact the state budget; and
WHEREAS, this on-going problem of unfilled positions is resulting in a reduction of service and heavier workloads for the remaining staff with no end in sight; Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this fifth day of October in the city of Rochester, Minnesota, that this organization call upon the Department of Education and the office of Governor Tim Pawlenty to allow the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library to proceed to fill the three positions that happened to be unfilled at the time of the hiring freeze, only one of which impacts state dollars; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that if some resolution of this problem is not set in motion before the end of 2008 that this organization seek a solution through legislative activity by raising the awareness of the legislature regarding this unfair situation or by causing legislative action to be taken.
Online Testing for K-12
WHEREAS, the administration of state assessments and other tests for school children in grades K-12 in web-based or other electronic formats rather than on paper has rapidly increased in recent years; and
WHEREAS, teachers of blind students, parents of blind children, and others in the blindness field have brought to our attention that these online tests are increasingly presented in formats that cannot be accessed via a screen reader or other nonvisual method and, further, are increasingly difficult to convert to any format that is accessible; and
WHEREAS, for many years, a state review committee has been doing a commendable job of evaluating state assessments to ensure that the items in these tests do not contain biases against students who read braille, but the administration of state tests in online formats poses new challenges to the work of that committee; and
WHEREAS, an inaccessible or biased test not only adversely affects the student’s ability to succeed on the test, but can have far-reaching consequences including impeding the student’s ability to move to the next grade or to graduate from high school; and
WHEREAS, such barriers in the education process only serve to contribute to the persistent high employment rate among blind people; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this fifth day of October, 2008, in the city of Rochester, Minnesota, that this organization call upon the Commissioner of the Department of Education to take all possible steps to ensure that all tests administered online in Minnesota can be rendered in a format accessible to blind K-12 students and that the test items are not biased against students who read in a nonvisual manner.
Recognition of Representative Jim Ramstad's Service to the Blind
WHEREAS, Representative Jim Ramstad of Minnesota's Third Congressional District has decided not to seek another term after serving in that capacity since 1991; and
WHEREAS, he served for ten years before then in the Minnesota State Senate; and
WHEREAS, Representative Ramstad has consistently supported efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, not unquestioningly, but after warm and thorough discussion of the issues; and
WHEREAS, he was instrumental in assisting us to get blind persons who were interested in starting small businesses included in programs of the federal Small Business Administration that offers assistance to mainstream small businesses including loans and advice from persons with relevant knowledge; and
WHEREAS, Representative Ramstad has been helpful, including co-sponsoring legislation, as we seek to remove work disincentives in the Social Security system; and
WHEREAS, his support of our position regarding these work disincentives was not automatic, but came after personal interaction with members that including probing and insightful questions illustrating his ability to be open to other positions and new information; and
WHEREAS, Representative Ramstad has almost without fail arranged to meet with our members personally when we go to Washington, DC to visit Congress; Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this fifth day of October, 2008, in the city of Rochester, Minnesota, that this organization commend Representative Ramstad for his decades of exemplary public service; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we express to him our deepest appreciation for his long and fruitful relationship with the National Federation of the Blind and for the true understanding and active support he has shown for the needs of blind people.
State Services for the Blind Staff Qualifications and Training
WHEREAS, Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) is a separate and identifiable agency within state government with primary responsibility to provide rehabilitation services to blind persons, and is therefore an essential first step on the road to independence and competitive employment through its counselors and other staff members and through its financial support of adjustment-to-blindness training and other services; and
WHEREAS, SSB’s success and the success of its customers is heavily dependent upon its staff having a complete and thorough understanding of the importance of adjustment to blindness training and the techniques used by blind persons to live and work independently; and
WHEREAS, the current entry-level requirement for SSB counselors includes very little specific knowledge of blindness; and
WHEREAS, experienced counselors and supervisors who leave SSB are frequently replaced by counselors having little or no experience with the very services that their customers need; and
WHEREAS, one method of dealing with the lack of staff experience with the training and techniques used by blind persons was to provide eight weeks of exposure to adjustment to blindness training, but this component of counselor orientation training was completely eliminated for several years by the previous director of SSB and then restarted by the current director at a much lower and less effective level; and
WHEREAS, the rate of counselor replacement has increased during this decade and will likely occur at an even higher rate as the workforce ages, making more blindness-specific staff training imperative for the delivery of high-quality rehabilitation services; and
WHEREAS, we know of blind persons who have qualified for counselor positions within the general vocational rehabilitation agency but who cannot qualify at SSB, even with their specific experience with blindness, because of more restrictive requirements; and
WHEREAS, we have been hearing increasingly unsettling stories from SSB customers and have been directly involved with several cases where the priority seems to be closing the case with as little money spent as possible, even when the closure does not result in employment; and
WHEREAS, we note a disturbing trend to provide technology and other "quick-fix" solutions in cases where comprehensive training in the skills and alternative techniques of blindness would be far more appropriate, illustrating a lack of understanding of the importance of blindness skills; and
WHEREAS, thirty-six of SSB's customers toured Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) and Vision Loss Resources last year in preparation for adjustment to blindness training (a number similar to previous years), but only six have taken tours through the first ten months of this fiscal year—a drastic decrease that cannot be explained by a changing population or trends; and
WHEREAS, not only has the number of successful case closures decreased steadily over the past five years, but an unusually large number of cases are being closed because customers were said to "refuse services" or to be "uncooperative"; and
WHEREAS, these quick fixes and quick closures are natural outcomes of a lack of understanding of the value of adjustment to blindness training and are not conducive to true independence or competitive employment; and
WHEREAS, a reorganization of counselor case loads in 2002 has not resulted in improvement in the number or quality of cases being closed and has resulted in more time spent in traveling by counselors in greater Minnesota; and
WHEREAS, the number of blind persons hired as counselors and in management has decreased during this decade; and
WHEREAS, the major reason for the need for an identifiable and separate agency providing rehabilitation services to blind people is so that it can bring to bear the qualifications and experience with aspects of rehabilitation that are unique to blindness—qualifications and experience which are currently lacking in much of SSB's staff; Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this fifth day of October, 2008, in the city of Rochester, Minnesota, that this organization call upon the director of State Services for the Blind to develop a plan to improve the blindness-specific training of SSB's staff in direct contact with customers, as well as supervisors and managers, by significantly increasing the number of hours and quality of exposure to adjustment to blindness training using nonvisual techniques and sleepshades; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the director of SSB to change the requirements for new staff having direct contact with customers as well as supervisors and managers, by favoring those with specific blindness-related experience, and by aggressively seeking out persons who meet such requirements; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the director of SSB to increase the direct participation of consumer organizations in staff training activities, and to emphasize the quality of case closures over the quantity or speed; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Commissioner of the department of Employment and Economic development to support and assist the implementation of these changes; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization both assist in this process and also pursue other avenues to see that these changes are brought about with all due speed.
Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in April or May 2009 at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention is July 3-8, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin will be in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in October or November 2009 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Charlene Childrey at 507-354-2250 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace Church in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition.
Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.
Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up the website edition.
Emily Zitek runs the copies for the braille edition, deals with the printer for the print edition, and mails all editions.