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 82, Number 4, Fall 2015

 

WE ARE CHANGING

WHAT IT MEANS

TO BE BLIND

 

Table of Contents

President’s Column. 1

Low Tech Solutions for Employment of the Blind. 3

High Contrast Foliage. 6

Refreshers Are Always Good. 10

Decisions. 13

The Advocacy and Awareness Train Rolls On. 14

Convention Alert! 16

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember 16

Background and Purpose. 17

Acknowledgements. 19

 

 

 

 


 

President’s Column

By Jennifer Dunnam

 

We have just completed our 95th annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota — that exciting time when we all put on our thinking caps and work together to set our direction, to teach and learn from one another, and strengthen the cohesiveness of our organization to make it an ever-stronger force to get things done.  I look forward to working with everyone, and having fun while we are at it.   

 

It seems not so long ago that we completed our enormously successful and wonderful 75th anniversary national convention.  Since Minnesota was one of the seven founding states in our national organization, this affiliate assisted with the hospitality suite, with the convention opening ceremonies, with various aspects of the celebratory Diamond Ball, and more.  Of course, many Minnesotans were among the 2,480 people who, at the dawn of July 8, simultaneously raised high our blue and white umbrellas to set the Guinness World Record for the largest umbrella mosaic (which showed our logo and spelled "Live the Life You Want.”  I urge everyone to read the August-September edition of the Braille Monitor to get the full roundup of convention details. 

 

Speaking of reading recommendations, the book commemorating the 75th anniversary of our national organization, announced at the national convention, was released in early September!  Building The Lives We Want, edited by Deborah Kent Stein, is filled with interesting tellings of various aspects of our history, written with input from some 29 authors, with quotes and comments from many more Federationists.  It includes links to further reading, audio, photos, videos, and more.  I cannot recommend the book highly enough; every Federationist can benefit from reading it to learn about the past, present and future of this organization.  As someone who has been steeped in the breadth of history and activity of the NFB for almost thirty years, having read just about everything I could get my hands on, I still learned a great deal from reading the new book.  Its presentation is accessible, lively, and informative.  The book can be downloaded free of charge and read using all sorts of methods (desktop computer, portable reader, iPhone, Kindle, and more in various digital formats, from nfb.org/pubs/building-the-lives-we-want.   

 

In far less joyous news, as of October 1, Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB) has been required to implement an "order of selection" for its vocational rehabilitation unit.  Order of Selection is a system or method for prioritizing the customers a vocational rehabilitation agency intends to serve if it anticipates that it has insufficient resources to serve everyone who is eligible for service.  Increased federal requirements for spending on services to transition-age youth, among other factors, have created a shortfall in SSB's VR budget going forward.  This means that most people who apply for services from SSB after October 1 will go on a waiting list.  At this point VR services will only be available to people who are assessed as being in the category of people having five or more barriers in the areas of "mobility, communication, self-care, self-direction, interpersonal skills, work tolerance, and work skills) AND require multiple services over an extended period of time.  The Federation will be offering opportunities for people to learn more about the effects of the order of selection.  We will also be assisting SSB with advice and ideas for what can be done to get the agency off the order of selection.   

 

Several weeks ago, SSB held a public hearing regarding the order of selection.  Here are comments that I made at the hearing on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota:

 

“The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, with hundreds of members and with chapters in every large community around the state, has worked very hard, for many decades, to protect and to improve rehabilitation services for blind people of all ages here in Minnesota.  We therefore have a great deal of concern, not only about the pending lack of access to rehabilitation services for people who need them to be able to get on with their lives, but also about the long-term ability of this agency to provide the full spectrum of services that have been put into place over time and are needed by people of all ages. 

 

“As you look toward solutions to open up categories of service and to put in place a sustainable plan for the future, here are a few important things to consider:

 

“First, look inside the agency for ways to make cuts that will have less of a direct impact on blind people.  Don't jump immediately to cutting back on direct services to blind people.  Those front-line services should be the last place to look to find money savings, not the first. 

 

“Second, one thing that blind people throughout this state have long agreed on is the importance of the separateness of this agency from general VR, statutorily and otherwise.  We've seen all too painfully what happens when administrators have tried to "find efficiencies" by somehow linking SSB more closely with the general VR agency.  When that happens, blind people are the ones who lose out.  The costs and the types of services needed to deal with blindness are very different.  To try to make them fit together with general vocational rehabilitation does not work well for anyone. 

 

“Thirdly and closely related, please keep this agency particularly focused on the unique services related to blindness that are not needed by others or available anywhere else.  Other segments of society do not need braille, cane travel, screen readers to access technology, and a host of other nonvisual alternative techniques that make it possible for us to live independent lives.  Please do not cut down on our ability to be trained in these blindness specific skills and techniques and or on the availability of resources that simply cannot be obtained elsewhere. 

 

“Fourth, before considering redirecting dollars away from other state-funded blindness programs to fill in the shortfall in vocational rehabilitation, look at the spending within the VR program itself to be sure that the dollars there are used to best purpose.  Services to blind seniors, for example, are already absolutely scant, and the needs are ever increasing.  As mentioned earlier, a lot of work has been done for a long time to build an infrastructure in this state.  Although it has certainly not been perfect, it should not be chipped away in the quest for short-term answers. 

 

“Thank you and we look forward to being involved in helping to find solutions.”

 

Low Tech Solutions for Employment of the Blind

By Jan Bailey

 

(Editor’s Note:  Jan is a retired counselor for State Services for the Blind.  She serves as our Rochester Chapter president and a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors.)

 

There is a plethora of technology in our world today, and it is certainly important in helping blind people to become employed, but often the simple low-tech solutions are never thought of.

 

When I got my first job, I was a college student and the job was splicing movie film in the dark room.  I was one of the first people hired, so we started out working on fake film to practice, but when the real film came in we had to prioritize the processing of the film, first doing the one-day film, ending with the film that would go back to a small town drugstore where they promised the customer to have their film back to them in a week.

 

These films were labeled on a card on the inside of the box of film, and my boss soon called me in.  He said they liked me, and told me I did a good job, but said they would have to let me go.  When I asked him why, he explained that they couldn’t ask another employee to get my film for me, and the A film had to be done first, then the B film and then the C film.  Since I couldn’t read the cards, I had to go. 

 

Now, on my own, I had begun to realize this was going to come up, so I started thinking about a solution in advance.  I explained to my boss that the system he had in place was time consuming and ineffectual, but I told him that in a nice way.  I explained that since we were in the dark room, a blindness technique would work much better.  I told him people were wasting a lot of time taking film off the conveyer belt, going to the front of the room, removing the card, picking up the flashlight, moving away from the film, turning on the flashlight to read the card, and then if the film wasn’t an A film, they would have to turn off the flashlight, put the card back into the box of film, put down the flashlight, pick up the box of film, and try to remember where they got it off the conveyor belt.  I told him it would be much easier if he would buy 3 one-hole paper punches for the people out front who prepared the trays of film for us.  They could write on the card for the people out in the light, but for us they could punch holes in the card, one for A, two for B and three for C.  I suggested they make a space between the punches so that people who weren’t used to doing things tactually could easily feel these holes.  He loved it, adopted my technique, and I kept my job.  My technique was faster too, because we could just go up and down the conveyor belt feeling the cards without removing the trays of film.  It was a major time saver, and everyone continued to use it long after I left.

 

The next job I had was as a social worker in a nursing home.  One of my jobs was to make quarterly case notes on all the residents in the nursing home.  At that time, I used a typewriter, as this was in the late seventies.  I knew I could type the notes, but I had to figure out a way I could recognize my own sheet in the chart, and how I would know where I had left off in my typing.  I did a search and found some paper that was perforated in four places.  I simply put this paper into the typewriter, typed the first quarter’s notes, and put it in the chart.  When it was time to do the next quarter’s notes, I simply put the same piece of paper back into the typewriter, and went down to the next perforation.  The charts were in numerical order at the nurse’s station, so I never had a problem finding the correct chart, but because this paper was perforated, I was able to find my sheet very easily, because I could easily feel the perforations.

 

My next job was as a rehabilitation counselor at State Services for the Blind, where I worked for 31 years.  I had a client who wanted to be a dishwasher, but after his work evaluation, his job coach told me that he couldn’t be competitive as a dishwasher, because he wouldn’t be able to walk across the room carrying a stack of clean dishes to put them away.  I simply suggested that he could place all the dishes on the cart, probably more than the average person could carry, and then pull the cart behind him as he walked across the room using his cane.  He was successfully employed as a dishwasher at a large hotel.

 

I had another client who was going to work as a station aide in a nursing home, and he, too, was working with a job coach.  He filled water pitchers, made up and delivered bedding packets, and took the residents down to their meals.  They were going to let him go, because they wanted him to mark off that each resident had eaten their meal on a printed list they gave him.  He couldn’t read this list, and no one could figure out a solution.  We met and I asked him how many tables were in the room.  He said there were fifteen tables.  Four people sat at each table.  I asked him if he knew who sat at each table, and where they sat, that is, what side of the table they sat on.  He said he did.  He could read very large print, and could read Braille, but not fast enough.  I asked him if he could read very large numbers.  He said he could.  So, I suggested his wife could make up fifteen cards on 5-by-8 cards.  She would number these cards 1 through 15, and then draw four circles in magic marker on the card, and fill in the names of the residents.  She would put these fifteen cards in order on a large ring.  Then, since he knew where each person sat, he would simply make an X on each of the four circles, and hand them in.  After three days of this, they said he didn’t have to keep doing that, but it saved his job. 

 

Too often, I see people deciding that a blind person can’t do a job because of one small thing, when just a little ingenuity could save the job.

 

High Contrast Foliage

By James Oliver Smith Jr

 

(Editor’s Note:  James is an active member of our Metro Chapter.)

 

Sitting on the bench at 31st Avenue and Franklin Avenue waiting for the bus, I marvel at the sunshine: bright, incandescent yellow, angled low from the south.  It highlights newly fallen leaves from nearby maples, basswoods, hackberries and the mulberry tree extending above my head, still and glistening from the nighttime rain.  The leaves on the sidewalk are huddled together in thick clumps, a scrum of nature’s flight from the warmth that has started its own migration to the south, following birds, the sun and long days.

 

Each leaf seems to be suckling on the effervescence of an October morning.  For a moment, in this light, with the high contrast canary flash of dead leaves soon to be buried in urban compost bins I am deluded into thinking my vision has turned back to that golden realm of crisp, clear acuity.  It's a fleeting experience, because the moment that sensation arrives I move my one partially functioning eye to the intersection signals, the signs on the restaurant on the opposing corner and the architect's office across the street.  Reality creeps back into my compromised visual cognition.  It's as distorted, incomprehensible and confusing as it was just before that moment of perceived clarity.

 

I reprimand myself for once again falling for that trick of high contrast juxtaposition of daylight, strongly defined shadows, edges and well understand patterns.  Forty-five years of full-featured stereoscopic vision, combined with a bonus of an extra fifteen years of reasonably normal monocular vision has given me a good sense of how things should look.  I've become all too aware of how well my visual cognitive self can create the perfect image I want to see.

 

I stare at the white cane held vertically between my hands.  Its tip rests on the sidewalk.  I navigate the tip to the leaves resting peacefully in their morning nest of fresh rain and traces of mud.  A twinge of nostalgia settles in and I reminisce of falls past, the season when I'm driven to reflect on all my 64 years, years when vision was a loyal companion across ten states, forty-five moves, two marriages and several careers.  I can replay videos in full color and sound.  Even the smells, tastes and tactile experiences are embedded, but the images were the key to tying memories together.  The world was normal and routine.

 

I look in the direction of the Franklin Avenue bridge over the Mississippi and watch the obscure figures I know are cars, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians.  A cyclist slips by.  Her body somehow manages to move without head, arms and limbs.  Only a torso with a skirt flapping in the wind sits, balanced, on a dark frame.  The wheels flicker in and out of visibility.  At times, it appears to be a frame and torso floating in air as they slide smoothing over asphalt and cement.  I've become used to these broken scenes, images of the impossible, signs of a brain that just can't make sense of the data coming back from the retina that is doing its job to gather light and package it for further processing in the brain, where the fiction we call vision takes place.

 

The bus will soon appear and I'll be on my way to the Pow Wow Grounds coffee shop on 15th and Franklin for a day of writing, but not before I've had to remind myself of how fragile my sense of normalcy is.  I've become obsessed with these glimpses of perceived visual clarity.  They form a divide between the sighted "me" and the vision-impaired "me", but not the blind "me", at least not yet.  I've known for twenty-six years that there was no cure for pigmentary glaucoma; just delay tactics.  This has been the mantra I throw out to others as an explanation for why there are so many signs of my exit from the world of the fully, normally sighted. 

 

The first big sign was the elimination of cycling from my life after running into the back of a parked truck on Como Avenue in 1994.  I snapped the handle bar, bruised my thigh and was quick to blame everything but my vision: my attention, my helmet, the truck itself.  That was eight years after my initial diagnosis.  There were no discernible effects of pigmentary glaucoma at that time.  The ointments I used initially and my first laser surgeries had more of an impact on me than my pigmentary glaucoma had.  Both eyes seemed to be working fine.  When fall arrived, all of the trees were fully absorbed by my stereoscopic vision and appreciated.  But I gave up my bicycle anyway.  There was something about my vision that seemed to be deficient, but I couldn’t quantify it to myself or anyone else.  It was easy to give up cycling since it was a pastime that had no bearing on my professional, family or artistic life.  I could still shuttle my children to their events and videotape their activities.  I could still work and I could still write and play my bass trombone. 

 

Between 1994 and 1999 my left eye deteriorated to the point in which there was no data coming into the brain.  The 1.2 million optical nerves from the left eye were no longer functioning.  My vision became monocular and I adapted.  I could still design software and there was still a demand for my skill set, but I was becoming less comfortable with driving.  There were too many unseen cars, pedestrians and cyclists in my diminishing visual field even though the acuity in my right eye was still correctable to close to 20/20 on the Snellen Vision Test Chart.  I gave my car to my mechanic and started using public transportation, another step in the direction of what was starting to become inevitable.  For me, it was easy to justify not having a car.  My years in Boston in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s gave me respect for the value of public transportation.  I never really liked cars after that.  Giving up the car was framed as a personal victory for my desire to ride public transportation.  Sitting on benches, waiting for buses was a great opportunity to observe the fall’s palette.  The leaves, the trees themselves, the groves were all still visible in my right eye.  I could still write and play my bass trombone in community bands, so I told myself that if this was my future, I would be OK with that.

 

By 2001, reading the music on band charts had become so difficult that the pleasure of playing was being eclipsed by my inability to read the notes, making it increasingly frustrating to try to play the horn I once wanted to play professionally.  The decision to give up the bass trombone I had carried across five states over 30 years was my first emotional adaptation to decreasing vision.  I didn’t think I would want to have anything to do with playing music again.  I donated that horn to a small high school in northern Wisconsin.  There was finality to that decision that was disarming.  Now, my vision loss to pigmentary glaucoma was becoming personal.  It was encroaching on the things I enjoyed most, my music and my writing, for even the use of a pen and paper was starting to become difficult. 

 

However, I am a computer scientist.  I was quick to adapt technologies available to me to continue writing software, increasing contrast and font sizes.  I could still write, but it was becoming difficult and far less convenient.  Computers were still large and cumbersome.  Even laptops were heavy and not very flexible.  Nonetheless, fall was still beautiful.  I could still tell the difference between oaks, hackberries, maples and basswoods.  I could still reflect on good times and look forward seeing familiar faces, recognizing neighborhoods and using computers with ease.

 

A retinologist once told me our bodies and all their parts have reserves that sustain them through life.  When that reserve is exhausted, we lose an organ, a limb or perhaps our life.  The eyes are no exception.  When an eye has been subjected to many surgeries and regimens of therapies, they become exhausted.  Each successive surgery presents increased risk of side effects that can affect vision.  The efforts to maintain lower intraocular pressure to prevent optical nerve damage is a grueling process that takes a physical toll on the eye.  In 2010, surgery to remove a cataract and simultaneously perform an iridectomy in my right eye had finally, after 23 years, exhausted much of its reserves and my vision deteriorated significantly.  Eyeglasses now provide little acuity.  The optics from my eye is littered with distortions, low-light blindness and glare effects.  My visual cognition presents a plethora of sometimes fascinating, sometimes terrifying Charles Bonnet Syndrome hallucinations.

 

Nothing in my visual world is the same as it was during my life before that last surgery in 2010.  I am left completely in that nether world between the world of the normally sighted and the world of the totally blind, a world where nothing works in ways that are predictable or consistently useful.  Everything has to be tested, re-tested and challenged.  The world I’ve known for 64 years is still there physically but my remaining eye is incapable of getting the data describing it back into my brain.  Trees have become impressionistic blotches on a canvass of obscure, soft patterns that shift and morph with light, shadows and angles.  The universe now is a giant puzzle with many missing pieces, forcing my visual cognitive self to improvise, doing what it can with the pieces it has.  To make matters worse, every time the puzzle is restarted, a different set of pieces is missing, so whatever was learned on the previous day doesn’t work today.  Three years ago, I started to use a white cane to serve as my feeler for the world I navigate, a most direct sign that I have left the shores of the fully, normally sighted.

 

So, here I sit, looking at a single October leaf on 31st and Franklin.  The sun illuminates a shape so familiar I can reconstruct it with the clarity of a photograph, but now it is a complete fiction made up from images in the past.  Like the leaves around me, that will decompose and return as life within another plant or animal.  My life is returning to functionality in ways totally unexpected.  I have purchased a new bass trombone that I play improvisationally, visualizing notes for myself, accompanying Count Basie, Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong on audio files.  I can write now with a variety of portable digital technologies that let me write with big bright strokes that are translated directly to text I can construct into documents with vision that would otherwise be useless.

 

I clutch the white cane as the bus makes its way from the Franklin Bridge, snorting and huffing with the powerful presence of a well-fed dragon.  The rectangular door opens and I step in, waving my wallet containing the GoTo card in front of the scanner I know, and can feel, is there.  I greet the humanoid form positioned in the driver’s seat and visualize a welcome face with a smile.  I let my cane seek an open seat where I can sit, look out the window and observe the large patch of butter someone has spread on the sidewalk, next to the bench I was sitting on, knowing full well it was really a scattered cluster of fallen October leaves, cool and wet from the overnight rain.

 

Refreshers Are Always Good

By Dave Walle

 

(Editor’s Note:   Dave is an active member of our Rochester Chapter.)

 

Have you ever wanted to refresh or renew some aspect of your life?  Perhaps it was the desire to go back to school to change careers or advance your current career; maybe you wanted to take up a new hobby to fulfill the dream of building something that would both give you great pleasure and help someone else.  And you may have listened to a radio or TV ad that advertised some type of training that would facilitate the expansion of a particular area of your life activities to spur you on in having a greater amount of energy or a more positive appreciation of the things and people around you.  Refreshment and renewal in our lives — no matter what area of life is considered or what the cost in time and money may be — is always a tremendous way of improving and enhancing the quality of our experiences and relationships.  Well, I am in the mode of having a sort of “refresher course,” as I am in the process of losing hearing, which has gone on for the past four years.  Since losing one’s hearing usually means revisiting how one accomplishes activities of daily living as one who is also blind and has been so since birth, I have undertaken a review of technology skills — a two-and-one-half-month course that has helped me solidify my computer skills as well as learn the new skills of using my iPhone and the Focus 14 Braille Display that is used with this iOS device and other similar iOS devices.  In this training, I also have learned to use the Focus 40 Braille Display with my HP laptop computer.  While all this refresher training has given me better facility with the computer and has provided a new avenue of communication through the newly-acquired knowledge and skills to access my iPhone and other iOS devices, I wish to share just a little of what I have been exposed to years ago — but through the lapse of time and just not doing enough of it to stay skilled and confident — I arranged to include this activity in my refresher updates.  You ask, “And what was this activity that you haven’t done for so long that you lacked skill and confidence?”  I’m glad you asked; it’s cooking.

 

When I first went to the Iowa Commission for the Blind Orientation Center (now the Iowa Department for the Blind) in September, 1967, I had cooking as part of the home management curriculum.  Then, through my nine months of training there, I worked on a little of everything related to cooking — from the preparation of various types of foods to serving and presentation at the table to buying food and setting up a household budget toward the end of my nine-month stay.  It was strongly suggested by the Home Management Instructor that students at the center live in an apartment for a short period of time, and since the Home Management Department became an apartment after classes were over for the day, I had my turn to live in the apartment for almost a month as one of the final experiences of my training  While living there evenings and weekends, I was responsible for preparing my meals, keeping the apartment clean and neat, and getting it ready to become a classroom facility each morning and at the close of each weekend.  That apartment living experience gave me the assurance that I could carry out the necessary activities of living independently in this way, and it prepared me for all the apartment living I did years later when I was on my own.

 

While I carried out light cooking in the places I lived during my years of teaching and during my seminary internships preparing for the ministry, it was not the same as when I was going through the Orientation Center.  I had learned when I got married how to use a microwave oven, but that approach to preparing food wasn’t quite the same as using ingredients such as raw meats and vegetables to cook on the stove or outside on the grill.  Using the microwave was (and still is) a handy approach for a blind person to prepare foods designed for that device, and it certainly can save time when one is living alone as I did before I was married, but it doesn’t substitute for all the healthy ways one can and should prepare food when a wholesome, nutritious meal is desired.

 

Since cooking is part of my current refresher rehabilitation, I am truly engaging some cooking that I’ve been exposed to in the early years, but I’m also learning some new tools and techniques that I haven’t used at all beforehand.  Jan Bailey, as a cooking instructor with a contract through State Services for the Blind (SSB), has skillfully demonstrated for me that I must depend on my touch and not be afraid to get my hands into the ingredients to determine how the process of cooking is coming along.  Jan has shown me with each cooking session that a blind person (and especially a blind person who is losing hearing) must be able to touch the cooking pan lightly, for instance, to tell when the hamburger or other types of meat is getting brown or fully and properly prepared.  In several lessons, I learned how to use a tool called the Rotato, an electronic gadget that peels potatoes and apples.  The difficulty with using this particular tool is to get the two specific parts engaged in cutting the potatoes and apples straight into one side so that the Rotato can appropriately peel away the top layer that one wants to get out of the potato or apple.  Then, with the right amount of layers peeled away, there comes afterward the peeling by hand of additional skin that the Rotato couldn’t peel away.  After getting everything necessary peeled from the potato or apple, one can slice the foods into small pieces.  With the apple, the goal was to place the fruit into the apple pie mixture for baking.  With the potato, the goal was to get it sliced and seasoned so that it could be mashed to be cooked as part of a meal called Bangers and Mash, mashed potatoes and sausage, a British dish that has become quite popular over here in the United States as a menu item in many restaurants.  My wife Ellen and I enjoyed the bangers and mash meal very much.  With the apples in question I was describing as part of my training to use the Rotato, I made a Dutch apple pie, and I made a dessert called Coleen’s Apple Bottom Spice Cake.

 

In addition to the inside cooking I have been working on, there has been some exposure to grilling outdoors as well.  The first time I attempted grilling hamburgers with vegetable packets, it was very apparent that I was having trouble turning the burgers over in a reasonable amount of time and with ease.  So, with both Jan and Ellen seeing this difficulty throughout the entire process, it was suggested that I get a type of meat holder that would make turning over hamburgers and other types of meats on the grill more successfully.  With hamburgers, I can place four patties on the rack at once, thus making the process of turning them over a more continuous and steady action, without getting my hands too close to the flames on the grill.  Regarding the vegetable packets, consisting of potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and red peppers, I have learned to place the packets on the grill beside where the burgers will go.  With respect to preparing the vegetable packets, I have learned the art of folding and tucking the corners of the packets in tightly so that the vegetables will retain their natural juices in the process of grilling.  The vegetable packets and hamburger meal has become a favorite for both my wife and me.

 

An important observation one can make concerning learning to cook as a blind individual is that one’s own home is certainly a positive and healthy environment in which to gain facility and confidence.  And while it may have been many years since I have cooked independently, it is truly a refreshing reality to be able to now take part in the regular ongoing meal preparation along with my wife.  Although hearing loss is the primary reason I have undertaken some training in the important skills of blindness and deaf-blindness, cooking is now — and hopefully will always be — a skill that enables me as a blind person to share the important responsibilities within my marriage, my home, and my entire life experiences — especially while I have my life, my health, and my independence intact.  Yes, refreshers can always be good, particularly when they improve life skills and enhance the quality of life in ways beyond one’s imagination. 

 

Decisions

By Judy Sanders

 

(Editor’s Note:  Judy is an active member of our Metro Chapter and the immediate past secretary of the NFB of Minnesota.)

 

Who would have thought that there could be so many decisions to make when using transit to get from one place to another for a blind person?  Let’s begin with trains.  I have the least amount of experience with them.

 

I have taken two eight-hour train rides.  The first was with a friend who required a decision about whether to use the two-for-one fare offered by Amtrak whereby one blind person pays full fare and the second passenger (the guide) travels free.  Since my traveling companion was blind, we would have had an argument about who would be the guide.  And then there was the issue of whether Amtrak would accept the notion of a blind guide.  We both paid full fare.

 

The second train ride was alone.  I was not very experienced in traveling alone so I was somewhat timid about the whole thing.  At first, I thought all I would have to do is sit in my seat for eight hours.  But calls of nature and hunger got to me.  What to do?  Food is a powerful motivator for me so I decided to explore the train.  All one has to do to get around a train is walk in a straight line.  I found the snack car, bought a hot dog, chips and drink, carried it back to my seat and dug in.  I was so proud of that meal!  No one brought it to me.  I got it all by myself.  By the way, calls of nature are also a powerful motivator.

 

And then there are city buses.  Using buses comes with even more decisions.  They, too, have discounted fares for people with disabilities, including blind people.  Should I use the mobility-impaired card for half-price fare, a stored-value card that deducts a fare every time it is used or an all-you-can-ride card?

 

I thought about the mobility-impaired card when I was unemployed and trying to stretch my budget.  But there was nothing in the criteria about financial need.  And the name of the card bothered me.  My mobility was not impaired if I had a bus to ride on.  Or did they mean that the card was impaired?  Whatever they meant, I decided to forgo that option.

 

My first card was a stored-value one.  I learned that drivers could adjust the amount of money deducted and, without my asking, they decided that I was more mobility impaired than I was.  The only way I discovered this was that my card lasted longer than it should have.  So I gave up on that card and switched to an all-you-can-ride card.  I pay for it in advance and can fight with the clerk about what I should pay.  When in public I try to always battle with clerks and keep a smile on my face at the same time.

 

After paying the fare, there is the problem of where to sit.  There are signs in the front of every bus that says to give seating preference to the disabled and senior population.  I have always interpreted this to mean that we should save those seats for people who would have difficulty in making it to the back of the bus.  So far in my life, I am still agile enough to keep going past the front seats.  But most passengers have other ideas.  There seems to be a mass exodus toward the back of the bus when I get on.  I hear everyone saying “There’s a seat on your right; no, on your left.”  I used to stop and say, “No, thank you.”  But then they want to argue.  So now, I just become deaf as well as blind and I keep walking.  If I am with my regular bus riders who seem to know me they will say, “She doesn’t like to sit up here.”

 

I have a theory about where the best seats are on the bus.  They are in the middle.  Why?  The rowdy people go to the back and the inebriated passengers can’t get any further than the front.

 

Now that I have made all these decisions about using public transit, I can enjoy my rides.

 

The Advocacy and Awareness Train Rolls On

By Larry Lorenzo

 

(Editor’s Note:  The following article is reprinted from Que Pasa, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico.)

 

After the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, the task of educating society about both the letter and spirit of the law was taken on by numerous advocates.  Title III of the ADA, which addresses places of public accommodations, is a good example.  "Reasonable accommodations" were required in order to assure that people with disabilities had access to goods and services.  After many years of advocacy efforts, one would think that the objective of awareness and education had been met.  However, the truth is that advocacy and increasing awareness is an ongoing process.

 

Recently, a legally blind individual asked for my help in a case of denied access.  These are the basics of the situation: the individual went to a doctor’s office for an appointment that had been made well in advance.  The receptionist asked that he update some paperwork.  When he told her he was legally blind and needed assistance, she told him to take the form with him, fill it out, and reschedule the appointment.  Aside from causing inconvenience, the receptionist’s unreasonable request put this person in a real bind because he required a refill of medication. Consequently, this delay had potential medical implications.  Understandably, he was beyond frustrated when he contacted me.

 

I prepared a letter detailing the specifics of Title III of the ADA.  I suggested that a "reasonable accommodation" would have been that the receptionist or other staff member take a few minutes to help the individual update his information so he could keep his appointment.  This letter was hand-delivered to the doctor's office with a personal, confidential notice on the envelope.  Within two days, the individual was asked to come in for an appointment.  The doctor expressed concern over the situation and agreed to be more accommodating.

 

What concerns me is the frequency with which such events seem to be occurring.  A quick survey of advocacy organizations indicated that this was not an isolated case.  It is not acceptable for people with disabilities to be denied services because of clerical barriers.  In an effort to be reasonable and understanding, we acknowledge the time pressure of clerical staff.  What other options can be considered?  Providing electronic copies of required forms is possible.  Also, if time permits, sending such materials via traditional mail may be considered.  Offering assistance in the office should always remain a consideration.  Of course, any option offered should be appropriate for the individual and the situation.

 

 These cases are typically addressed on an individual basis.  A more effective approach may be to address a professional organization and promote awareness and education as a systems issue.  This strategy is being considered at the time of the writing of this article.

 

Much progress has been made in changing what it means to be blind and increasing awareness of all disabilities.  But let's not forget that years of myths and misconceptions won't change without ongoing effort.  The Americans with Disabilities Act is not an entitlement program: it is Civil Rights legislation.  There is more work to be done before we can claim equality and enjoy the opportunities of first-class citizens.

 

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 2016 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 the first week of July 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  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 in October 2016.  Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember

 

At Large ChapterStatewide consisting of those who live outside a chapter area and/or cannot attend a meeting in person; meets by conference call on the third Sunday of every month; contact Dave Andrews at 612-730-7931 or dandrews@visi.com for meeting details

 

Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:00 on the second Saturday of every month at the VFW in St. Cloud

 

Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis

 

Riverbend Chapter — Mankato area; meets the second Thursday of every month from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, at the American Legion Post number 11, 223 East Walnut St., Mankato, MN 56001.  Food is available for ordering prior to the meeting

 

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 

 

Twin Ports Chapter — Duluth area; meets at 6:00 p.m. on the second Monday of every month at Pizza Luce, 11 E Superior St, Duluth

 

Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend.  This group meets on the first, second, and third non-holiday Tuesdays 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@gmail.com.

 

Activities for youth — Several times a year, the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota holds educational/recreational activities for blind youth.  These activities provide opportunities for the youth to learn new skills, to connect with one another and with confident, well-adjusted adult blind role models, and to have fun while doing so. Meetings and other activities for parents also take place in conjunction with these events.  For more information, 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.

 

·        Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.

·        Sharon Monthei makes corrections to the braille and print editions, transcribes, and embosses the braille edition.

·        Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.

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

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

·        Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.

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

·        Emily Zitek collates the copies for the braille edition and mails the braille and audio editions.