MINNESOTA

 

                      BULLETIN

 

Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Voice:  (612) 872-9363

Website:  www.nfbmn.org

Tom Scanlan, Editor

E-mail tom.scanlan@earthlink.net

 

Volume 77, Number 4, Fall 2011

 

WE ARE CHANGING

WHAT IT MEANS

TO BE BLIND

 

Table of Contents

President’s Column. 1

Keeping Braille Alive. 5

Blind Flier Stuck With Fee. 7

Conquering the Darkness. 9

A Garden from the Rubble. 12

Report on the Semiannual Convention. 14

Convention Alert! 20

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember 21

Background and Purpose. 22

Acknowledgements. 23

 

 

 

 


 

President’s Column

By Jennifer Dunnam

 

Members of the National Federation of the Blind have said repeatedly that one of the most important and sometimes unexpected benefits of joining and participating is that this organization challenges and stretches its members.  It asks things of us that we never imagined being able to do.  Meeting these challenges strengthens us as people.  Such stretching opportunities are not reserved for our newer members, either — they can happen to any of us. 

 

When I first met the National Federation of the Blind, I was a young teenager attending public school.  In general, my blindness skills were reasonably decent, and I had the beginnings of positive attitudes about blindness even though there was plenty I did not know yet.  One essential skill, however, was lacking — my ability to go independently from place to place.  I knew the technique for using a white cane, which I learned at age 12, but beyond walking in the halls of school, there was not much place or opportunity in which to practice using my cane.  My family lived out in the country where there were no sidewalks, so I did not have much experience with how to understand traffic patterns or street crossings.  The only way I could get anywhere other than to my classes was to be either driven in a car or led on someone's arm.  My family and I were well aware that other teens my age were doing far more, but we did not know how I could do so as a blind person.

 

What a shock it was for me upon attending my first NFB student seminar when I headed off on an errand in a car with a few students, to find that the person who knew most about how to get there was in fact not the driver of the car, but one of the blind students.  He navigated, telling the driver exactly where to go, pointing out landmarks along the way, without any visual clues.  How could that be?  What was I missing?  I was determined to find out.

 

Becoming more involved in the NFB and getting to know the members gave me glimpses of a whole world of possibilities that had been previously unimaginable.  I eventually received some excellent cane travel training involving frequent trips to unfamiliar places.  I learned to be comfortable with asking a passer-by for information if needed, or popping into a nearby business to ask directions if I was not sure of them.  I learned how to ask artful questions to elicit just the information needed without getting too much unwanted help that would inconvenience others or me.  I learned about the many ways to get information about a new place, including using a print map and a human reader.  I learned about forming mental "big pictures" so that if I did not end up on some exact pre-determined route, I could have enough information to get to the destination.  I learned a great deal about how to avoid getting lost or disoriented, but at the same time I got lots of practice actually getting lost and figuring out how to get back on track, which did much to make me a better and more confident traveler.  However, because my travel skills were not really developed until I was practically an adult, I sometimes still have to concentrate very hard to travel well, especially if I am tired. 

 

Since the time of my training, the travel skills have been put to the test.  I traveled abroad for several summers during college.  When I worked at the University of Minnesota, I was involved in a program that required me to go to parts of campus that I had never visited before to interview people.  This was not something I had imagined when I first took the job, but I had the foundation and knew how to find out as much info as I could ahead of time, ask questions along the way, leave a little extra time in case I took the long way there, and arrive poised and ready to do the interview, without taking someone else away from their own work to help me get there.

 

In my current job, I travel coast to coast, constantly going alone to airports and cities where I have never been before.  I can do this with ease now, and sometimes on these trips, I find myself remembering how things were when I was younger and thinking how far I've come.

 

Earlier this year, I was asked to be the coordinator of the marshals for the 2011 NFB Youth Slam, our summer science camp for several hundred blind teens and mentors.  The "marshals" are the people who facilitate the process of getting large groups of people, who are unfamiliar with the geography, from place to place by standing at strategic locations and acting as "talking signs".  This method works much better than having individual guides to get each person around as is done in some other summer experiences for blind youth.  For some, it also provides their first taste of walking independently using a cane.

 

Besides developing the plan of action for the marshals and coordinating the people, one of the roles of the coordinator was to teach the marshals and the mentors how to get around the campus of Towson University, in Maryland, where the NFB Youth Slam was held.  Surely, with all my experience traveling to places I'd never been, this should be a piece of cake!  I must admit, however, that I was rather apprehensive about this particular task.  I had confidence that I could get myself around the campus, no problem — but a group of a couple hundred people, the vast majority of whom were no more able to look at a print map than I?  That was a different matter.  The occasional detour when an individual is heading for a destination is no big deal, but with a group that large, it is best to be precise.  College campuses are generally large and not particularly symmetrical, full of crazy angles, wide-open spaces, and multiple possible paths to get anywhere.  I would be able to make only two visits to campus before the Youth Slam began — just two short tours of the area we would be using for the Youth Slam. 

 

Maybe, I thought to myself, I should delegate the campus orientation portion to someone else who would be better at it.  Delegation is an important aspect of leadership, right?

 

Very soon, though, another inner voice kicked in, and before long I was having a little chat with myself, just as I had done often years ago when traveling independently was new and frightening to me.  Why exactly was I considering delegating this job?  What was actually required to be able to provide an effective campus orientation to a large group?  To acquire a good mental picture of the geography, to be able to describe the geography in useful nonvisual terms, and to be able to physically go with them through the campus according to what had been described so that they could experience it themselves.  What part of that could I not do?  And who else would do it if I did not?  Every person on the leadership team had a heavy workload.  There were some people around who may have had the time, but they had even less chance to get to know the campus than I had, or less experience with giving the kind of nonvisual information that would help, or they simply weren't available at the time the campus orientation was to take place.  Obviously, the little chat became more of a lecture.  Since there were no good alternatives, besides which my biggest barrier was clearly my nerves, I set to work getting ready.

 

Since I do not live in Maryland, I needed to get started on this from a distance.  My first step was to seek out a campus map, and sit down with a human reader.  I asked questions and had the reader describe all that she could about the geography. The exercise was helpful, but the map was not a very clear one.  We next opened up Google Earth, which shows pictures of a location including details that cannot be easily represented on a map.  That turned out to be even more helpful.  Still, having something described, no matter how thoroughly, is no substitute for experiencing it for oneself.

 

The two advance campus visits occurred about a month apart, and they involved a group of people and had purposes besides helping me learn the campus.  On both, I took copious braille notes during breaks in the walking.  After each, I compared impressions with others who had been on the tours to get as solid an understanding as possible.  By the time the volunteers got there for a couple of days of training before the youth were to arrive, it seemed that this just might work.

 

First, I walked with the marshals team around the campus, so that they could get a feel for it and learn where they would be posted at various times.  It was like a rehearsal for the larger orientation, and it went off just fine, as did the later, larger orientation session.  Did everyone come away from that session with a complete knowledge of every nook and cranny?  Certainly not, but they all got enough of an understanding to work with and fill in the details as needed.  And now, instead of just a few people who knew their way around, there was a whole group who could help one another and discover all the different paths to get from place to place.  We had increased our collective experience, and when the youth joined our ranks, we did so even more.

 

The NFB Youth Slam is often a life-changing experience for blind youth.  For many it is the first time they have been able to participate directly in science, technology, engineering, and math activities.  Many have never had exposure to well-adjusted blind adult role models.  As a one-week program, it is a different experience from our summer programs such as that at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., which provides focused, in-depth training for eight weeks.  The Youth Slam allows many young people to get their feet wet, not only on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects, but about positive blindness philosophy, organizing, advocacy, and the like.  Like all of our programs, however, many of the most important lessons are not the ones they learn during classes or sessions.

 

Of course, those of us who work at the program learn a great deal and grow from the experience as well — I certainly did so.  The Youth Slam and our adjustment-to-blindness training programs provide an environment in which people believe in the student more than the student believes in him or herself.  I think that our entire organization provides this environment to its members in addition to what we work to accomplish for the larger society.  It gives us a way to measure ourselves against normal expectations, not against the low ones that society generally has of us.  Each of us, long-time or brand-new member, can grow and can help others to do the same.  To do so helps us each as individuals; it helps our organization; and it helps society in general through all that we have to offer.  It is important, this work we do.

 

Keeping Braille Alive

By Tara Bannow

 

(Editor’s Note:  This article appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on July 26, 2011.)

 

From the outside, it sounds as if someone is using a jackhammer inside the Golden Valley office of Volunteer Braille Services.


But that noise is actually huge printers — called embossers — tirelessly churning out pages and pages of braille dot coding that the company makes for schools, businesses and individuals.


Volunteer Braille Services (VBS) is the only entity in Minnesota, other than the state government, that takes books and other reading materials and transcribes them into braille.  Although the work has remained steady for the 43-year-old company, the fact that fewer blind people are learning braille nowadays is a constant source of frustration.


"It's always been kind of disappointing....  It's a literacy thing," said VBS President Dorothy Worthington.  "I know you can get a lot of things on audio and you can have your computer screen read to you, but I'm not an advocate for either."

 

New technologies, such as a computer program that reads the screen, as well as a shortage of braille-certified teachers, have contributed to the decline.


Blind people who know braille are far more likely to have careers.  There is a 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people in the United States, but 90 percent of those who have jobs know braille, said Jennifer Dunnam, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.


"This is an issue that we have been having a great focus on for the last number of years," Dunnam said.  "We're working hard to get [braille] revitalized."


Spreading the word


Meanwhile, VBS is doing the same, partially by spreading the message about Very Bumpy Stories, its 1,200-book braille library, which includes titles from popular series like Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter.


"It's set up so they can have the experience of checking the shelves and finding a book," Worthington said.

 

VBS offers free six-month courses beginning every September for people who want to learn to transcribe text into braille.  Students begin learning to transcribe manually on a Perkins Brailler, which looks like an old typewriter, eventually moving to a computer program.  Once they've finished the course, people volunteer for VBS by transcribing on their home computers.


The classes take a lot of time, and the few who stick around until the end are those who truly love braille, Worthington said.


"Some people, they love to read and they want to share that with other people," said Worthington, who took her first braille class in 1988.  Although she didn't know anyone who was blind, she was interested in learning and wanted to contribute.


VBS's biggest clients are school districts that need textbooks in braille.  It's also done everything from church bulletins and restaurant menus to bank statements.


The irony of the decline in braille today is that although fewer people are learning it, there are actually more ways to use it than ever before, Dunnam said.  For years, the only other option was to have computer screens read out loud, but now blind people can actually read their screens in braille.


"I can read any number of newspapers in braille every day," Dunnam said.  "I could never do that before."

 

Although VBS has to charge clients so it can purchase materials and host classes, those who run the company are not in it for the money, said VBS coordinator Cindi Laurent.

 

"We're in it to keep the office open," Laurent said, "so we can continue to provide braille to those people who don't have other options."  For more details, go to www.vbsmn.org.

 


Blind Flier Stuck With Fee

By Pat Pheifer, Star Tribune

 

(Editor’s Note:  This article appeared in the regular Whistleblower feature of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on September 4, 2011.  Since Delta is the dominant airline here with its purchase of Northwest, this is relevant to all of us.  If you use Delta’s telephone reservations, remember Chris Danielsen’s statement.)

 

Susan Barton is legally blind and uses a wheelchair, a result of her 40-year battle with multiple sclerosis.  But she doesn't let her disability hamper her love of traveling with her husband.


So her dander rose when she tried to book two tickets on Delta Air Lines for a long weekend in Chicago this past June and the airline told her she'd have to pay an extra $50 — $25 per person — to buy the tickets over the phone instead of online.

 

After Barton explained that she was blind and couldn't use the website, the call center representative insisted that the fee couldn't be waived.  That person's supervisor said the same thing.  So did the two people she called at the airline's Atlanta headquarters.

 

"For years I've been arranging our travel and doing it by phone," said Barton, 64, of Minneapolis, who retired as director of human resources for the Prudential Insurance Co.  "Northwest charged me $5 extra for arranging those tickets by phone.  [Delta was] going to charge me $25 extra for each ticket.  That just seemed, quite frankly, outrageous to me."

 

"I asked, isn't there an exception for someone who's handicapped?  Their
response was, isn't there a family member or friend who could do it for you?"

 

Barton said her husband, Vincent, a retired Prudential executive, will be 80 later this month and isn't adept at navigating the airline's website.

 

When Whistleblower called Delta's corporate communications office in Atlanta, spokeswoman Ashley Black said the four people Susan Barton spoke with were wrong.

 

"Our policy is that any customer with disabilities that cannot use delta.com, that fee will be waived," Black said.

 

Black later sent an e-mail saying, "While it's unfortunate this incident occurred, we are using this opportunity to improve our processes.  We're working with our agents to ensure that they are aware of and in compliance with this policy."

 

Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, said Delta's refusal to waive the fee violated federal law.  Under the Air Carrier Access Act, an airline must waive call-center fees for a blind person if they cannot use the airline's website.  An airline also must charge a blind person the same fare that is available on the Internet, he said.

 

Delta is hardly alone among airlines for refusing to waive fees for a blind passenger.  Jonathan Lazar, a professor of computer science at Towson University in Maryland, led a study of airlines' compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act.  The study, which did not include Delta, found four U.S. airlines whose websites could not be read with screen readers, and thus were not accessible to the blind.

 

When researchers posed as blind customers, three of the four airlines refused to waive the call-center fee in anywhere from two to six of the calls.

 

Last week, a quick survey by Whistleblower found that American Airlines, United Airlines and U.S. Airways all charge a $25 per ticket fee to make reservations by phone, but all said that fee is waived for customers with disabilities.  Southwest Airlines said it does not charge a fee to make phone reservations.

 

Barton's case is just one in the string of incidents in which Delta was faulted in its treatment of passengers with disabilities.

 

Earlier this year, Whistleblower described how Carrie Salberg, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a ventilator to breathe, was kicked off a Delta flight from New Orleans to the Twin Cities after the airline told her she couldn't bring her medical equipment on board.  A month earlier, Delta had told her that her equipment met the company's requirements.

 

In February, Delta was fined $2 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) after the agency reviewed 5,000 complaints filed by and on behalf of disabled passengers.  The fine was the largest the DOT has ever assessed against an airline in a case not involving safety violations.

 

Susan Barton said she and her husband travel four or five times a year, spending a few weeks in Palm Desert, Calif., Sanibel, Fla., or Hilton Head, S.C.  Most of their flights are on Delta, and, once they get to the airport, the airline has been "really very accommodating," she said.

 

Conquering the Darkness

By Kathryn Elliott

 

(Editor’s Note:  This article appeared in the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Minnesota, on July 7, 2011.)

 

Making his way across the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Mall with a white cane, eyes covered by night shades and wearing a flower in his hair, 12-year-old Ian Moon of Apple Valley, Minn., and his friends — 10 blind or visually impaired kids — drew smiles and stares from students on their way to class and work.

 

“I can kind of see but I have a tendency to run into poles,” Ian said matter-of-factly.

 

Middle school students from around the country are in the middle of a three-week summer program that has them sleeping in Comstock Hall  and riding the city bus to BLIND (Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions), Inc., where they take classes in cooking, braille, “cane-travel” and computers.

 

On the way to the bus last week, Patrick Barrett, one of the group’s chaperones, also blind, blasted his whistle four times over the sound of power drilling nearby, signaling that there was an “issue” — the need for an immediate head count of the 10 participants.

 

“That whistle kind of sounds like a bird,” one participant, 9-year-old Brandon Pickle, responded.

 

Barrett shouted above the din of construction: “We’re losing people left and right — literally.”  After a quick count, chattering resumed and the phalanx mobilized once more.

 

The purpose of The Buddy Program, BLIND Inc.’s camp for kids ages 9 to 13, is to teach blind and partially-sighted youth to have fun and be independent without using their sight.  During the program, partially-sighted youth wear night shades so they can fully immerse themselves in the training.

 

Staying away from home on a college campus adds challenges and extra learning opportunities like doing laundry, dealing with construction detours and navigating unfamiliar places.

 

“Whether you’re sighted or blind, you have to problem solve,” said Charlene Guggisberg, director of the Buddy program.

 

Fighting doubts

 

Ten-year-old Anna Walker, a Buddy Program participant from Pennsylvania, said well-intentioned bus passengers have asked elderly people to give up their seats for her when they saw she was blind.

 

“I don’t really like it when people try to do things for me,” she said.  “I like to do things by myself.”

 

Other participants must prove wrong the doubts and fears strangers have about their safety and competence in the “real world.”

 

Muzamil Yahya, a counselor for the Buddy Program who teaches cane travel, graduated from BLIND Inc.’s adult program in 2009, then came back to teach.

 

“I like to be with kids,” he said.

 

Yahya worked with Megan Shermer, 9, from Springfield, Mo., on Thursday morning, showing her how to find the side of a curb with her cane, then listen to the pattern of traffic.  Each time the light changed, the perpendicular cars stopped moving and the parallel traffic started whooshing past, indicating it was safe to walk.

 

“Keep listening,” Yahya told Megan, ignoring a frantic, agitated pedestrian who yelled, “Don’t go!” and attempted to stop oncoming traffic for them.

 

Aundrayah Shermer, Megan’s mother, grew up with blind parents and has high expectations for the blind and visually-impaired.  That’s part of her job as a blindness skills specialist through Missouri State University.  While a number of summer programs for blind youth exist, the common age for a blind child to start is about 14 years old, Shermer said.  Knowing that Megan was ready and excited to learn, the Shermers went searching out of state.

 

Their local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind also footed the program fee of $250 so the Shermers only had to buy the plane ticket.  The program fee is low because of grant support.

 

“I wanted Megan to be exposed to the big city, where she has access to the things she needs, like mass transportation,” Shermer said of her daughter.

 

“She can do anything she wants.  I needed her to see that from other blind people,” Shermer said.

 

Katie Fritz, 12, from Wisconsin, has attended the Buddy Program twice before.  Fritz said her computer and braille skills are pretty good, but she’s excited to learn cooking and other home management abilities.  At home, Fritz can wash dishes and wipe counters, but she said other chores, like sweeping, are harder.

 

“I have to remember where the pile is and not step in it,” she said.

 

‘Hard love’

 

George Wurtzel teaches “industrial arts” in the basement of BLIND Inc.’s home, an old south Minneapolis mansion.  In Wurtzel’s class, students work with wood.  His workshop, full of sawdust and power tools, is similar to other craftsmen’s spaces — except Wurtzel and his students have no need to turn on the lights.

 

In the pitch black, he and his students make bird houses and wooden toys.

 

Wurtzel said that by having students with partial vision work in total darkness, he teaches them to operate the tools and machines more safely than if they were using the little eyesight they have.

 

“We’re kind of hard love here,” Wurtzel said.  “We’ll let you fail at something many, many times until you understand the task.”

 

Blind staff members who are professionals teach students in the Buddy Program that some activities can be performed most efficiently if the students learn non-visual techniques.

 

Mary Ruff, an occupational therapist in the Fairview clinics system who works at the University of Minnesota’s Eye Clinic, said relying on eyes isn’t always the best option, even though she teaches people how to use their partial vision.

 

She has referred patients to State Services for the Blind, which connects them with BLIND Inc., and says the non-visual training there is complementary to her work, not adversarial.  Her job is not to correct vision but to show people how to maximize their function.

 

Buddy Program counselor Kayde Rieken, blind since birth, teaches kids how to use computers with “screen readers” — software that verbalizes everything that sighted people would see on a monitor.

 

 The computers at BLIND Inc. look odd — just keyboards and speakers on top of the computer hardware, but without monitors.  By pressing the arrows and keyboard commands, students can use the Internet and create documents.

 

All Apple products, including Rieken’s iPhone, come with a screen reader.  Rieken’s phone, which dictates to her at five times the normal rate of human speech, also has convenient features like a currency reader that uses the camera on the iPhone to tell her what kind of bill she’s holding.

 

Katie Fritz, who lost her eyesight at age 4 because the orphanage where she was living didn’t have the resources to provide treatment, said the training at BLIND Inc. isn’t hard, but it can sap one’s energy.

 

You have to want to learn, Fritz said, but doing it with friends and pizza, like the kids did their first night in Comstock Hall, is more fun.

 

“Sometimes it’s rowdy.  Sometimes it’s normal,” she said.

 

A Garden from the Rubble

By Patrick and Trudy Barrett

 

(Editor’s Note:  Pat Barrett is first vice-president of our Metro Chapter and a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors.  This article appeared in the Windom Community News, Spring 2011, and is a good example of how NFB of Minnesota members are involved in their local community.)

 

We moved 1300 miles east to Minnesota from Idaho (not Iowa or Ohio as some confuse those state names) in the summer of 1993.  Windom Gables has been our home since then.  Our townhome is close to public transportation, shopping, and doctors’ offices.  Our apartment managers and maintenance folks have been outstanding.  Both of us are blind, and have raised our 24-year-old sighted daughter for most of those years here.

 

Eighteen years have seen many changes on the northwest corner of 62nd and Nicollet Avenue South.  This is the planned site for the Windom Community garden (not officially named yet).  Raeann, our daughter, and her friends from Windom Gables used to go to Virge’s Gas Station to get pop.  A 36-unit apartment complex was there.  Mounds of sand and rock occupied that spot during the agony and ecstasy of the Crosstown project.

 

Today, the spot sits serene, absent of machines and rubble.  Brian O’Shea, also a Windom Gables resident and newest member of the Windom Community board, is heading up the community garden project.  We, along with many other enthusiastic people, serve on the project task force.

 

Our first meeting was on May 12.  At the meeting, we came up with the following four goals for the garden:

·        Improve appearance of intersection/community

·        Build community relationships by creating a gathering space

·        Grow healthful food for our families

·        Make the garden an educational tool for neighborhood kids, and potentially neighborhood schools

 

We also identified five other benefits of the garden, in addition to the four things above:

·        Public health benefits from food and activity

·        Access to gardening for renters who may not have space

·        Potential park/play lot/green space next to garden

·        Property value increases

·        Public safety improvements through community building

 

Brian has had soil samples from the lot tested by the University of Minnesota to determine if there are any contaminating chemicals in the ground.  As of this writing, we are waiting for those results.  A hydrant is on site for watering.  The Department of Transportation owns the site, and Brian has also been working with them to transfer ownership of the space to the city.

 

We probably will not be able to plant, weed, or water until the spring of 2012, because we are waiting for all the paperwork and red tape to be completed. 

Report on the Semiannual Convention

By Judy Sanders, Secretary

 

Close to 70 people gathered at NFB of Minnesota headquarters for our semiannual convention on Saturday, May 21.  It was a mini version of our annual convention with something for everyone.

 

Many people took advantage of advance registration making our line move smoothly and allowing people to get to the doughnuts and coffee more quickly.

 

Everyone was urged to purchase Jernigan Fund Raffle tickets to try to win an all-expense paid trip for two to the 2012 national convention.  The Minnesota Association of Blind Students (MABS) sold chances on an iPod Touch® (won by Nancy Fritzam) and our seniors division sold cell phone carriers.  People were signing up for the PAC (Preauthorized Check Plan) and registering for the Race for Independence that raises money for our Imagination Fund.  May Vang, (a student at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) and a professional masseuse) was offering back massages for a dollar a minute with all proceeds donated to BLIND’s student fund.  People examined jewelry boxes made by Jim Cecil, one of our members, which were to be auctioned off later in the day.  NFB literature was also available.

 

President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order at 9:30 a.m.  She called upon Sheila Koenig, president of our Metro Chapter, to welcome us.  Dick Davis told us about the massages offered by May Vang.  Dick was also selling Louis Braille coins and announced that the price of silver is up making the uncirculated coins more valuable.

 

Convention attendees introduced themselves with one sentence about what they are doing in their lives that is of interest.  The purpose of this was to emphasize the normal lives that blind people live.  Whether mentioning their employment, hobbies, or being a foster mom there was a wide variety of statements.

 

In her presidential report, Jennifer began with legislative matters.  Late in the legislative session a bill was introduced to take away any state provisions in special education that are not federal requirements.  For blind students, that would mean reducing the requirements for teaching braille.  The bill was not heard during this session, but it will be followed and opposed by us during the next one.  As the regular session ends SSB's budget bill is not finalized.  Funding for public transportation is also in limbo.

 

Strong advocacy is one of the hallmarks of the NFB.  We continue to negotiate for customers of SSB to see that they receive the services that will be most helpful to them in finding employment.  In the process of these negotiations, we have the opportunity to educate new SSB counselors.  Whether helping a senior stay in his own home or improving nonvisual access in the college setting, the NFB is everywhere there is an issue relating to blindness.

 

Jennifer asked for a moment of silence to remember Andy Virden, the longtime president of our Central Minnesota Chapter, who was killed crossing a street close to his home.  See a beautiful tribute to Andy written by Joyce Scanlan in the Spring issue of this publication.  An example of Andy's activism was the announcement that the St. Cloud Times newspaper is now on NFB-NEWSLINE®.

 

The agenda for our upcoming national convention was available online; hotels were filling fast with the main hotel already sold out.  We were urged to register and ask our friends to support the NFB through the Imagination Fund.

 

One of our recent legislative successes ensured that counselors employed at State Services for the Blind (SSB) would receive in-depth adjustment to blindness training so that they could relate more effectively with their customers.  One counselor did not deal well with this training and we expressed concern to Richard Strong, SSB's director, about counselor qualifications.  Mr. Strong promised in a letter to President Dunnam that he will impress on all new counselors the importance of this training.  A resolution dealing with this issue follows this report.

 

The NFB played an active role in helping SSB update its administrative rule that governs its policies.  These updates will bring the rule into compliance with federal regulations and with its current budget.  Among other issues, the NFB helped develop language making clear when a counselor can close a case.

 

Our treasurer, Tom Scanlan, reported that our budget shows an increase in income over last year.  A motion to approve the budget for the upcoming fiscal year was passed unanimously.

 

George Wurtzel conducted an auction for the boxes made by Jim Cecil, a member of our Central Minnesota chapter, resulting in over $100.  George donated and auctioned a product of his own making — a cherry vase.  You pay your bid, even if you do not make the final bid in this “Chinese auction”. 

 

September 17th will be the day for our annual walk to educate the public and raise funds.  This is our 30th walk and we are unveiling a new name and a new route.  The "Walk for Opportunity" will take us on a 10-kilometer route near the Stone Arch Bridge and will be followed by a picnic hosted by the Metro Chapter.

 

Shawn Mayo, executive director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) introduced three students who shared their hopes of what adjustment to blindness training would do to help them fulfill their dreams.

 

Mike Drake became blind through retinitis pigmentosa; his progressive loss of sight gave him too much time to mourn his lost vision.  He thought he had done something wrong in life and was being punished.  He sees his training at BLIND as a new chapter in his life where he is becoming proud of himself as a blind person.  He dreams of becoming an audio engineer and he is willing to work hard to achieve his goal.

 

Brice Lennes spent 26 years pretending he was not blind; then his retina detached and it scared him.  He went to SSB for help and they brought him for tours of two training centers.  The minute he arrived at BLIND, he knew he found the right place.  He now knows that he is blind and he is okay with it.  Brice wants a professional career as a singer.

 

Kayla Weathers, a former NFB scholarship winner, interrupted her college education for her training.  She expressed gratitude for all that the NFB and BLIND have given her; her dream is to work in special education and teach blind children about the Federation and give them true independence.

 

The convention elected Jennifer Dunnam as delegate to the national convention and Steve Jacobson as the alternate delegate.

 

Every year the NFB of Minnesota raises money for the tenBroek fund that funds the upkeep of our national center.  Our state treasury matches donations made by our members.  Members pledged a total of $965 to the fund.

 

Dr. Michel Cramer Bornemann is with the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at the Hennepin County Medical Center.  He is involved with a sleep study of blind people.  After explaining the premise for the research, he met with individuals interested in knowing more.

 

Richard Strong, director of State Services for the Blind, gave brief remarks to the convention.  His time with us was short because he was celebrating his daughter's college graduation.  He was proud to say that her degree is in special education.

 

He focused on SSB's budget, the administrative rule, staffing, and structure changes at SSB.  Note: Since his speech, SSB has a budget, the administrative rule has been adopted and our director now reports directly to the Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).  Along with other staff changes, Jon Benson will be the new director of the Workforce Development Unit at SSB.

 

The Minnesota Association of Blind Students provided lunch.  They sold their "academic lunch" as a fundraiser.  Among other things, people had time to purchase Louis Braille coins, register to raise money for the Imagination Fund through our Race for Independence, and get information for the Walk for Opportunity.

 

Our afternoon session consisted of a series of workshops and meetings. Below are summaries for each of them.

 

Senior Gathering

By Joyce Scanlan

 

The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota Senior Division gathered immediately after lunch.  Our overly-ambitious agenda consisted of an update on SSB funding for seniors, with no final solution because the legislature was still in session; tips for doing wills; truly exciting vacations taken over the past six months; fundraising progress in the sale of cell phone/Victor Stream carriers; Senior Link-age answers to questions on available transportation for seniors; how we can help others; and a proposal that NFB should develop more technology to help blind people using walkers, etc.  Attendance increased and decreased as time moved on.   

 

Leadership Secrets

By Jennifer Dunnam

 

An enthusiastic group of Federationists met to discuss the nuts and bolts of leadership in the Federation.  Members who were quite new to the organization as well as those who have belonged for many years added to the discussion, and it was emphasized that a member can be a leader whether or not he or she holds elected office.  Some examples of the topics discussed include

·        The philosophy of the organization

·        The purpose of a constitution

·        How policies are made in the Federation

·        the purpose of minutes and other items related to meetings

·        Current laws of interest to Minnesotans, and how to affect legislation

·        State and national issues on which the NFB is working now

·        How political influence is earned within the organization

·        Importance of collective experience in guiding decisions

·        The resources available through the organization

 

Because every member should be informed about the vast array of resources we offer, these were mentioned extensively throughout the session, and there were quiz questions to spark the discussion on items including 

·        Eleven NFB programs specifically focused on braille

·        Divisions and committees

·        Free white cane program

·        Adjustment-to-blindness training centers

·        Magazines and newsletters

·        Programs for children and youth

And much more.

 

National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) Report

By Melody Wartenbee

 

President Melody Wartenbee answered questions about reading and writing braille.  Members and other participants also played games that required the reading and writing of braille such as Scrabble and Scategories provided by Pat and Trudy Barrett.

 

And Then There Were Students

 

The Minnesota Association of Blind Students presented two panels to offer information and inspiration.

 

Tim Kamenar from Disability Services at the University of Minnesota and Kathy McGillivray from Bethel University explained how they enhance the independence of students with disabilities — with particular emphasis on what is available for blind students.  The other two members of the panel were from State Services for the Blind.  Donna Marhoun, manager of the Braille Section, and Katie Johnson with Audio Services explained procedures for obtaining textbooks.

 

The inspiration came from three students who told of their experiences in furthering their education.  Jean Rauschenbach covered her undergraduate work at North Central University, Michele Gittens represented graduate school from McNally-Smith College of Music, and James Sloan shared his adjustment to blindness experiences at BLIND.

 

Don't Forget Technology

By Mike Sahyun

 

Following the student meeting, a technology seminar was held for both students and the general membership.  This meeting consisted of various technology stations with examples of accessible technology, including several braille displays, mobile technology, and accessible software such as bill readers.  Members were encouraged to chat one on one with those explaining the technology in an informal atmosphere.

 

By 4:30 p.m., members were rearranging furniture into place, cleaning the kitchen, and already making plans for the next convention!

 

Resolution S11-01

Regarding training for State Services for the Blind

rehabilitation counselors and supervisors

 

WHEREAS, in 2010, through the work of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, a provision was added to Minnesota Statutes 248.07 requiring that anyone hired as a rehabilitation counselor for the blind in Minnesota complete a six week training program under sleepshades at an adjustment to blindness center before practicing as a rehabilitation counselor; and

 

WHEREAS, the intent of this law is to provide these new counselors with a foundation and resources to equip them to help their blind customers to overcome the overwhelming public misconceptions about blindness that result in barriers to independence and employment; and 

 

WHEREAS, to support the intent of the legislation, it is essential that those who manage and supervise the work of rehabilitation counselors for the blind also possess a strong belief in the capabilities of the blind and an understanding that the real problems of blindness are due to misconceptions rather than lack of eyesight; and

 

WHEREAS, it recently came to the attention of the  National Federation of the Blind that a newly hired counselor at State Services for the Blind (SSB) had a great deal of difficulty with completing her staff training, particularly with the wearing of sleepshades; and

 

WHEREAS, the director of SSB has informed us that measures are being put in place to improve the hiring process so that new hires have a clear understanding of the purpose and importance of the training before they begin; and

 

WHEREAS, it is also important that, in follow-up to the initial training, the new counselors receive ongoing education as well as support from their supervisors; Now Therefore

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this 21st day of May in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, that this organization call upon the director of State Services for the Blind to take all necessary steps to ensure that rehabilitation counselors for the blind are capable of conveying a positive attitude to their customers about blindness and about the importance of comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness training; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the SSB director to require that those who supervise rehabilitation counselors for the blind undergo the adjustment to blindness training required for the counselors they supervise.

 

Convention Alert!

 

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 May 2012 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis.  Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

The National NFB Convention will be during the first week of July 2012 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas.  This is nearly a 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 held in October 2012 in Greater Minnesota  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.

 

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember

 

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 Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location

 

Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester 

 

Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at the American Legion in Waite Park

 

Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria

 

Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend.  This group meets at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis on the first, second, and third non-holiday Monday of the month from 4:30-6:30.  Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users.  Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one.  Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail mlwartenbee@gamil.com.

 

Saturday School — Every third Saturday of the month from 10:00 a.m.-Noon at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis.  Saturday School is geared generally for blind children K-6 to find confidence and normalcy by learning to do everyday things from blind people who lead normal lives doing those things everyday, and to come to know blind people are really just like everyone else.  Contact Steve Jacobson at 952-927-7694 or e-mail steve.jacobson@visi.com.

 

Teen Night Transition Club — Every third Friday of the month 6:30-9:30 p.m.
at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis.  Teen night is driven mostly by the teens!  It is an opportunity for blind teens ages 13-18 to network and socialize with each other and with young adult blind mentors.  Once they come, teens don't want to miss it!  Contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail cguggisberg@blindinc.org

 

Background and Purpose

 

The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is two-fold — to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind.  By providing public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families, members of the NFB strive to educate the public that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality.

 

No one understands blindness as well as those who live with it daily.  To apply this know­ledge to solving the problems of blind­ness, blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM).  NFBM is the state's largest and oldest or­ganization of the blind.  It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.

 

As blind people, we know the loss of eyesight is not the major problem of blindness.  The real problem is the misun­derstandings that surround blind­ness.  The NFBM overcomes this problem through education of the sighted to the reality of blindness and through mutual help among blind people.  Such activities make blind people fully‑partici­pat­ing members of society.  They earn their living, raise famil­ies, and take full responsibility for their own lives.

 

The NFBM began in 1920 as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind.  It is a member­ship organiza­tion open to everyone who believes in the capability of blind people to help himself or herself become full participants in the community.

 

In 1940, Minnesota and six other states founded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).  Today, the NFB numbers over 50,000 blind people.  It has organizations in every state, and local chapters in almost every sizable commun­ity. 

 

During these many years, we have made strong progress toward equal­ity.  We have improved employment opportunities and educa­tion for blind persons in the state of Minnesota and in the nation.

 

Most of our members are blind, and their knowledge of blindness comes from their personal lives.  Other organi­zations get their informa­tion on blind­ness through the reading of textbooks or other secondhand techniques.

 

For a complete listing of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, visit www.nfbmn.org/board.html.

 

There are several ways to keep up with, as well as interact with, the most active group of blind people in Minnesota

 

·        Join the discussion list for Minnesota on NFBNET at www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/minnesota-talk_NFBNET.ORG

·        Follow @nfbmn on Twitter at twitter.com/nfbmn

·        Like us on Facebook by searching for National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota at www.facebook.com/

 

Acknowledgements

 

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.

 

Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.

Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc 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 and posts the website edition.

Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition and other tasks as needed.

Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails all editions.