MINNESOTA BULLETIN

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

Tom Scanlan, Editor

Volume LXIV, Number 1, Fall 1999

WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND

Table of Contents

Les Affaires

The Gift and the Challenge

Going Off Order of Selection

The Camel's Nose

Reflections on Past and PresentTraining

A Minnesota Guide to ComputerLingo

Here We Go Again

Are They Really Equal?

Charitable Giving Tax Relief Act BecomesMinnesota Law

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires<
By Joyce Scanlan, President

In 1998 our annual state convention took place in St.Cloud, Minnesota. Our usual atmosphere of excitement and anticipation atgetting together for another weekend of planning and decision-making andsocial interaction was dampened by the recent death of Dr. KennethJernigan, our long-time teacher and friend. At the memorial service weheld on Sunday morning, many Federationists spoke of their personalmemories of Dr. Jernigan and of his influence on their lives and the livesof all blind people.

During the next year we had several additionaloccasions to remember and celebrate the life of our dear friend at thememorial service held in Baltimore in December, as we read the memorialissue of the Braille Monitor in January/February, and as weparticipated in the memorial service held at the 1999 National Conventionin Atlanta. It has been a long period of deep sadness for all of us. Istill think of Dr. Jernigan often: when I give a national report at astate convention and bring greetings from the National Office; it's stillhard for me to realize that Dr. Jernigan isn't there directing nationaloperations as usual and offering philosophical instruction to everyonearound. Or when I am working with students at the Center, Dr. Jernigan isstill my guide as I search for ways to inspire students to take moreresponsibility or to come to believe more in themselves as blind people. And sometimes when I call the National Center to seek information, I mustcatch myself not to ask for Dr. Jernigan, because he was always soavailable to me when I needed help or advice. As I say that, I can hearDr. Jernigan's hearty laugh; then he'd say, "Come on, Joyce, you have tostop that. There's important work to do." And I know that's absolutelytrue.

At last year's convention we were just beginning tounderstand the full significance of the financial problems of StateServices for the Blind, SSB. Even in October of 1998, wheels were inmotion for SSB to go on an Order of Selection in serving vocationalrehabilitation customers. Many Federationists attended and made commentsat public hearings and Rehab Council meetings concerning the Order ofSelection, which ultimately went into effect on December 19. Althoughthis action was very difficult for all blind people of Minnesota, thingswere to become more difficult as the legislative session came along andhearings on the much-needed appropriation increases were held. Based onthe behavior of several Rehab Council members representing the AmericanCouncil of the Blind of Minnesota and a few others claiming to be"unassociated" with any organization of the blind--those who were newappointees to the Council in 1998, we should have anticipated some kind ofscrewball actions at the legislature; however, we always try to maintainoptimism and hope for the best. The Rehab Council had voted unanimouslyto support the SSB appropriation requests in the governor's budget; no onevoted against or abstained. Yet when the legislature began working on theappropriations for SSB, Tom Heinl and Walter Waranka of the ACB and WallyHinz and Shelli Nelson, who describe themselves as "independent," showedup at hearings to speak in opposition. They called for an investigationof SSB and a financial audit of the agency, and they made all sorts ofattacks on various SSB programs such as the older blind project and thestaff adjustment-to-blindness training. Federationists found itinteresting that although some criticism of the older blind project andstaff training had been voiced at Rehab Council meetings, there had notbeen a single word from any of these four people that they planned to callfor an audit or an investigation of SSB. For a time it looked as thoughwe might have trouble in the legislature because of the adverse lobbyingof these folks. However, Federationists stepped up our efforts, madenumerous calls and wrote letters explaining the great need for the fundsand the strange behavior of the opponents who had maintained silence inRehab Council meetings and then spoken in opposition at public hearings inthe legislature. We spent numerous hours at the Capitol nabbinglegislators or just hanging out while committee members considered SSB'sappropriations. We had a major setback when the House of Representativestacked a tax bill onto the Deficiency Bill, killing its progress in theSenate. We were compelled to stage a rally in the Capitol rotunda and paya visit to the Majority Leader of the Senate, Roger Moe, who promised tointroduce a new deficiency bill which would pass within the week. SenatorMoe was as good as his word; the deficiency bill passed the Senate, and wewere home free. This rally was one of our finest Federation moments. Wehad appropriate songs, people to speak, and good press to tell the public. The legislature responded.

All appropriations requests for SSB were granted: the$370,000 for deficiency funding, the $2.4 million for the CommunicationCenter, and the $800,000 increase in baseline funding for SSB for the nexttwo fiscal years. This was a great accomplishment. No one can explain inany rational terms the behavior of the ACB and their "unassociated"partners. Even officials in the governor's office found it strange thatblind people would oppose appropriations that would provide services toblind people. Nonetheless, Federationists can stand proud of our role inthe legislative effort; our conduct has always been respectful anddignified. We accomplished our goal of securing the necessary funding forSSB.

Another emphasis Federationists decided upon for 1999at last year's convention was to reactivate our student chapter, MABS. Astudent seminar was planned for November 14, and temporary officers wereelected to get the ball rolling. A few student meetings were held, but onAugust 8, permanent officers were elected, and since that time, theMinnesota Association of Blind Students has been very active. ThomasPhilip is the new president, and under his leadership, the student chapteris thriving. A newsletter has gone out; students had two more seminars,one on September 26 and another at the state convention; Thomas hasattended a student seminar in California and state conventions inWisconsin and Illinois; and regular meetings of MABS are now being held. We had several students at the convention. I know we will see greataccomplishments by our Minnesota students. This is really exciting.

Further emphasis on membership has begun in theRiverbend and Metro Chapters. Chris Cuppett who had been president of theRiverbend Chapter moved away to return to college to study radiobroadcasting. Charlene Childrey and Tom Mertesdorf are currently leadersof that chapter. We are contacting blind people in that area to build upmembership. The Metro area is also launching a membership campaign. Weknow that membership recruitment is an ongoing activity, but somehow wehave frequently let it slide. We must make every effort to bring newblind people into our movement. The Federation has so much to offer; weall know that, so let's keep that as a goal for the future. We all knowmany blind people who, for whatever reason, have not become a part of ourorganization. We need them, and they need us. Let's get out there andfind them and bring them in.

A parents' seminar was held on May 22. There weremany positive comments from parents on that event. We are finding manyparents who are very interested in our movement. Carrie Gilmer and herson Jordan came to our National Convention in Atlanta, and I know it was avaluable experience for them; they will be with us in the years to come. Parents who have learned that their child is blind call our office forhelp. Just recently I received a call from a mother of an eight-month-oldchild who is blind. She had just moved from North Carolina to Minnesotaand was searching for help. I told her of our parent's seminar and of theactivities of our parents' division. I told her that we had goodinformation to help her and that there are services available. She was ina hurry and couldn't talk further, but we agreed to be in contact soon.

Minnesota has had large representation at theWashington Seminars and at National Conventions. One of the WashingtonSeminar issues for some time has been restoring the Social Securitywork-incentives linkage between seniors and blind people. We in Minnesotaare proud to be one of only three states having our entire Congressionaldelegation, two senators and eight representatives, as cosponsors ofHR1601 and S285. Iowa, Maryland, and Minnesota only belong to the 100%club by having all of our Congressmen as cosponsors. In Atlanta thisyear, Minnesota had seventy-three registered delegates. While that isgood, we can do better. The 2000 National Convention will again be inAtlanta. Attending the National Convention and the Washington Seminarsinspire our people to get involved and work hard in the Federation. Whenwe help people to attend these events, it is one of the best uses of ourfunds, and we benefit for years to come. Let's bring new members in andassist them in attending the 2000 National Convention in Atlanta.

It seems that in Minnesota--it's probably trueeverywhere, but we hear more about it locally--there is a neurosis in thepublic sector about blindness and organizations of the blind. Wheneverappointments to some council or committee are to be made or legislation isbeing considered, officials go bonkers about what to do. We all know theNational Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is by far the largest andmost active organization of blind people around here. We have proof inour membership numbers, and if anybody really paid attention, we are themost visible at the Legislature and whenever any public policy related toblindness is being addressed. The Federation has been participatingrecently in another group gathering about audible traffic signals. Everywhere we go, someone from the ACB, even if they deny any affiliation,is on hand to demand that more audible traffic signals be installedthroughout the Metro area. They circulate all kinds of misinformation suchas that these signals are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act,ADA. We spend most of our time straightening out their untruths and makingsure that officials know the facts. Tom Heinl loves technology and isadvocating vigorously for more audible traffic signals. We'll work withthat as we need to. We do not oppose such traffic signals out of hand,but we believe careful thought must be given to install such technologyfor useful purposes only.

A few weeks ago, we received word that Shelli Nelson,who claims to be "unaffiliated" with any blindness organization but votesconsistently with the ACB representatives at all SSB Rehab Councilmeetings, was scheduled to be on KSTP talk radio with Jason Lewis, a radiohost who hates government and the ADA, a very conservative guy. Shelliwas going to discuss "State Services for the Blind and the NationalFederation of the Blind." She is a member of the Rehab Council, but she isnot unassociated with any blindness outfit. More about that in a minute. Shelli is known to us. When I heard Shelli was discussing the Federation,I alerted about twenty-five Federationists to listen in and be ready tocall if needed. We all know that Shelli has never attended a Federationfunction. I don't know that she has read any Federation literature. Idid know that she had become blind from diabetes about fourteen years agoat around the time she was ready to take her state board exams to be aregistered nurse. We knew of her efforts and gave assistance to herattorney supporting her right to take the exam and be certified as aregistered nurse. This was a real breakthrough for blind people, and weall applauded her efforts and rejoiced when she was successful in passingthe exams and becoming certified. We rejoiced even more when Shelli washired by a local hospital as a nurse clinician. She works with heartpatients and others before and after surgery and has been lauded in thepress for her fine work. This is the kind of story that makesFederationists happy. We would like such people to be with us. But Shelliisn't.

Now while Shelli doesn't hesitate to say that she is amember of the SSB Rehab Council, she does not tell that she is the Boardsecretary of Vision Loss Resources, VLR, formerly the Minneapolis Societyfor the Blind. She received her blindness training at VLR, and that'swhere she learned all she knows about the National Federation of theBlind. We all can understand the quality of her education about theFederation provided by VLR. It was probably hostile, since VLR maintainsits traditional philosophy of the "helpless blind person" in operating itsprograms, which are in competition withBLIND, Inc. for business fromSSB. We know that BLIND, Inc. takes its philosophy directly from theFederation, so Shelli can attack both the Federation and BLIND, Inc. atthe same time. The courts in the 1970's agreed with the Federation in thedecision that the MSB, now VLR, had violated the law and must open itselfto include blind people in its operations. And that's of course howShelli is able to have her position as secretary of the VLR board. TheFederation made it possible. So everything Shelli knows about blindnessand about the National Federation of the Blind came from VLR.

Shelli went on the radio and talked with Jason Lewisfor one hour. She attacked the older blind project and the staffadjustment-to-blindness training programs at SSB. She and the talk showhost shared a very negative attitude toward blindness in discussing theservices they thought were appropriate for SSB; they said something likethis, "Instead of teaching blind people Braille or making them use whitecanes, SSB should be helping them read their mail and get to the grocerystore." They also agreed that "These are the things the blind peoplereally need help with, because they're not going to read or go anywhere orreally be independent." It sounds like the old approach of handing outfish on a daily basis, rather than teaching a person to fish so they caneat for a lifetime. Shelli learned her philosophy at VLR; she serves ontheir Board as secretary, and she opposes SSB because it teachesindependence rather than dependence, and she also wants SSB referrals tocome to VLR instead of to BLIND, Inc, so the blind people will learn moreof her type of philosophy. This sneaky way of handling competition isvery unfair, and we must all make sure that Shelli's connection with VLRis exposed. She never mentioned her VLR Board position on the radio, justas she never mentions it at Rehab Council meetings. I realize that manywho heard this talk show were very upset by it. It was totally unfair.The host was well primed in advance to support Shelli, and time did notallow many of us to call in. Steve Jacobson and Rosemary LaBerge bothwere excellent in representing the Federation when they called in. Mostof us were unable to get through the busy signal. We can't let this rest. Shelli's behavior is absolutely unacceptable and can't be allowed tostand. I propose that we have a letter-writing campaign to KSTP and JasonLewis and the Governor's office objecting to her negative attitudes towardblindness and asking that she be replaced on the Rehab Council; blindpeople deserve much better. Her whole approach to blindness is insultingto blind people and rehab counselors alike.

Finally, I would like to say a little aboutBLIND, Inc. 1998 was a greatyear for us financially. We even built up quite a reserve. Everyone knowsthat this year, 1999, has seen a downward leap in our referrals because ofthe financial shortfall at the state agency. The reserve of 1998 hascarried us through this year fairly well. If it is true that on November1 SSB is taking the first category of people off the Order of Selection,we may be in fair shape; that is if referrals pick up soon. If they donot, I am concerned about what we can do, because our reserves are aboutgone, and unless we begin to lay off staff, I am not sure of where else wecan cut our expenses. We haven't wanted to do that, and I hope we won'tbe forced into doing it. We need more full-time students, and we needmore older blind classes. It seems that everything has just dried up thisyear. We have been looking in other states, but I can tell you that otherstates are very reluctant to make referrals outside their state borders,and most other states are very slow to pay. These are the downsidepoints.

There are many very positive accomplishments atBLIND, Inc. this year. Our graduates are having greatsuccess in their lives. Of the twenty full-time students who completedtraining in 1998, fifteen are now employed in a variety of fields; fourare in college, and some of them are also working in jobs. Only one from1998 is still seeking employment. That is an outstanding record. Weshould all be proud of their success. Please pick up copies of the 1998annual report for BLIND, Inc. I know you'll find itexciting.

BLIND, Inc. also now has a web site,www.blindinc.org. Check it out;you will find it has good information, and we are receiving inquiries andrequests for information because of our web site. We want to thank EricSmith and Laura deMarais for their help with the web site and for theirfine work on the information booth at last summer's convention. It hasbeen very productive for us.

I also want to give credit to our BLIND, Inc. staff,all of whom have been with us now for more than one year. Last year wehad several new staff people, and they have all hung in and are with usyet. They are a very strong group who give students every bit of supportand challenge they need to make progress in a very rigorous program. Theyare all doing a great job, and I hope they will be with us for the longhaul.

As you can see, this has been a very busy year for theNFB of Minnesota. We continue to respond to requests for information overthe telephone. Emily Fuselier, our receptionist and information andreferral person keeps busy giving assistance to those who call. She nowhas a computer to keep track of her contacts. (By the way, I also have anew computer and a scanner. I'm happy.) We have much to do in the comingyear, so let's work together and find hundreds of new members, make surewe have a strong vibrant program at our own training center, keep SSBhonest, expose the Shellis for what they are--pawns for VLR, and make surethe voice of the National Federation of the Blind is heard everywhere, inthe legislature, in Congress, in Minnesota and throughout the land. Thatshould keep us busy. I know we can do it.

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The Gift and the Challenge
By Jennifer Dunnam

(Editor's Note: This is the winner of the 1999 MetroChapter Essay Contest.)

During the past year, our NFB literature hasoverflowed with moving, thoughtful tributes to Dr. Jernigan. We couldfill countless volumes with expressions of how important and far-reachingwas his work. In my few pages toward this effort, I'd like to talk not somuch about the details of his life or his work, but about something heleft with us - the gift and the challenge to love.

I am among the Federationists who had only a few briefpersonal encounters with Dr. Jernigan but who came to know him through hiswritings and speeches, in which he showed us his mind, and through talkingwith those who knew him better, from which we learned about him as aperson. I'm certainly no model or fount of wisdom. What I offer here issimply my observation of what seems to be a key element in building andstrengthening the National Federation of the Blind.

So what is it I'm talking about when I use the word"love?" After all, we all know that here in Minnesota, we just don't usethe L-word in public! That's to say nothing of the fact that the word"love" has become a fairly all-purpose word whose numerous meanings aremostly steeped in ambiguity. But what I mean when I say "love" in thecontext of what Dr. Jernigan had and what he taught us about is this: Dr.Jernigan had a way of exuding warmth, respect, genuine interest, and adesire for good to occur in people's lives.

Someone said recently of Dr. Jernigan that he knew howto love people into seeing something new. What a powerful approach toeducation! I'm told that it happened frequently as he worked to change oropen the minds of his students at the Iowa orientation center. I know itto be true as he taught and encouraged other Federationists over theyears. I also know that many, many Federationists have learned from Dr.Jernigan and practice the principles of loving people into new ways ofthinking - and that's a major factor in what keeps the NFB going.

The obvious truth about love, however, is that it isnot easy; actually, it's often downright hard. It involves work, and ittakes lots of energy. Love often means going very far outside ourselvesand our own circumstances to engage with someone else. Dr. Jernigandevoted his entire life to strengthening the NFB and to improving thelives of blind people. It's a rare person who can give the level of timeand energy that Dr. Jernigan did to the NFB, but we don't all have to beDr. Jernigans to carry on the work and to have a major impact on people'slives.

Every time one of us has made the effort to love herein our Minnesota affiliate marks another thread in the strong fabric ofour Federation. When we welcome and get to know a new member, when weseek out a person who has not been to meetings for a while, when we helpadvocate for an individual, when we take the time to contributeconstructively to NFB e-mail discussion lists, when we help someone learna new skill, when we encourage someone to try something they think theycannot do ... not only do we go a very long way in helping an individual,but we nurture our Federation as well by making sure its membership isstrong and keeps growing.

I once read a wise saying that goes something likethis: Love is not about gazing intently at one another but gazing intentlyin the same direction. I think this truth can apply very well to the NFB.The basis of our organization is our sound and specific philosophy of whatblindness is and what it is not. Our effectiveness for our cause lies inour common understanding and our ability to work together.

I'm certainly not saying I believe love is all weneed. Clearly, the Federation cannot function without people's time,skills, money, good ideas, and - most of all - people's understanding of,belief in, and willingness to act upon what the Federation stands for. But whether we good Minnesotans admit it or not, love is a big part of howwe got to where we are as an organization and of how we obtain all theother things we need. As individuals, someone along the way cared enoughabout us to invite us to a student seminar or to see that we got our firstcopy of the Braille Monitor, to advocate for us when we faceddiscrimination or to notice our talents and help us find where they couldbe used. Sure, we all have different reasons for sticking around; theFederation's philosophy of blindness makes sense, the organization has aspecific focus, it gets things done, etc. But I think the relationshipswe develop with the people we meet can have a significant effect on ourlevel of commitment and our depth of understanding of what the NFB isabout. From the most long-term leader to the newest recruit, we all havesomething to offer to each other. Dr. Jernigan gave us an excellentexample of how to go about building with love. Minnesotans have learnedthe lessons well. Love is not a simple matter, but I have no doubt thatwe will keep the gift alive by continuing to meet the challenge.

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Going Off Order of Selection
By Richard Davis

A year ago, I promised Minnesota's blind citizens thatwe would eliminate Order of Selection at State Services for the Blind(SSB) if we got the increase we requested in our state funding. Well,we're going to keep that promise! On November 1, 1999 we opened Order ofSelection Category A, "Eligible Individuals with the Most SignificantDisabilities." Anyone on the waiting list in that category, and any newapplicants put in that category, will be able to immediately develop anIndividual Plan for Employment (IPE) and receive services.

When each plan is written, we will also get acase service spending projection for the rest of the fiscal year. Theseprojections will be put together and updated monthly using a new computerprogram which we developed for this purpose.

We will compare the data received to our spendingprojections. If we are on track, we will open Category B, "EligibleIndividuals with More Severe Disabilities," on January 1, 2000, and followthe same process, serving all persons in Categories A and B, including allnew applicants assigned to those categories. If our spending projectionscontinue on track, we will open Category C, "Other Eligible Individuals,"on March 1, 2000. After this, we will be off Order of Selection.

What if things don't work out this way? In that case,we have a contingency plan. During the first four months of this fiscalyear (starting October 1, 1999), we will spend very conservatively in ourother programs so we can add money to case services if we need to.

We want to thank everyone who kept the faith andsupported us in the Legislature, and in a whole host of other ways, overthe past year. And special thanks to our staff and our customers fortheir dedication and patience.

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The Camel's Nose
By Joyce Scanlan, President

Shortly after the adjournment of the 1999 legislature,rumors began to circulate concerning plans to reorganize the Department ofEconomic Security (DES), the state department in which State Services forthe Blind (SSB) is located. This happens every few years, whenever wehave a new administration. We began to hear about the possibility thatSSB and the general rehab agency--also in DES, might be merged. As usual,we were assured that this would be only administrative changes, nothingthat would affect programs. Don't worry--the same old story.

Federationists met with Commissioner Earl Wilson onMay 27 to discuss many issues, mainly the threat of merging the two rehabunits. We received the usual response. "Oh, don't worry. It's justadministrative reorganizing to promote greater financial efficiency." Afollowup letter was written to the Commissioner providing further detailedinformation on why we oppose any merger of SSB with general rehab. Hereis that letter:June 18, 1999Mr. Earl Wilson, CommissionerMinnesota Department of Economic Security390 North Robert, Fifth FloorSt. Paul, Minnesota 55101Dear Commissioner Wilson:

Thank you for meeting with members of the Board of theNational Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on Thursday, May 27. All ofus enjoyed our discussions with you as we became better acquainted.

Among the important issues we discussed at our meetingwith you was the administrative location of State Services for the Blind,SSB, within state government. Throughout many years of involvement in theFederation, we have dealt with this same matter numerous times.

As users of rehabilitation services related toblindness, we are most concerned that our public and private agenciesserving blind people provide services of the highest quality and with thegreatest relevance to blindness. Through our long-standing experienceworking with service-providing governmental agencies, we as customers oradvocates for blindness-related programs have come to recognize that theagencies providing the best quality services and the most relevantservices to blind people are those free-standing, separate, governmentalunits with direct lines of communication to the Governor and the StateLegislature. Such agencies are able to make independent policy decisions,manage a budget focused on services to blind citizens and maintain aknowledgeable staff competent to deliver specialized services to blindpeople without being hamstrung by the bureaucratic red tape of a largerumbrella department.

Although we in Minnesota do not have the ideal system,Federationists have worked hard in the Legislature to ensure thatMinnesota maintain the highest possible administrative structure for StateServices for the Blind with its own agency line-item budget, and State lawdoes require that there be a State Services for the Blind. There aredefinite problems with the current structure: SSB staff are required tospend time assisting Department heads and unrelated department brancheswith duties less related to blindness. Administrative payments from theSSB budget to the Department reduce the independence of SSB'sdecision-making on where and how its funding will be used. And, also, SSBis not free to approach the Governor's office and the State Legislaturedirectly with budget and policy needs but must yield to Departmentdecisions for much of its operation. And now for yet another timeMinnesota is laying groundwork for future reorganization of the Departmentincluding SSB. It's "required" by the Federal Government that "jointplanning" be done as a result of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Thesame old terms, "efficiency" and "coordination" are being bandied about. We are being told, as we always are, that it is "only an administrativereorganization which will not affect programs of SSB." This is and hasalways been the first step. It is, however, never the final step.

Ultimately what inevitably happens in states wherethis first step occurs is that services for the blind are merged withgeneral rehabilitation within a superumbrella agency with layers andlayers of bureaucracy. There is less and less budget for services toblind people, consumer involvement units for general rehabilitation andservices for the blind are merged, and the rehabilitation counseling staffare given general caseloads with no special expertise for serving thosewho are blind. It has happened over and over again, even when blindpeople are assured that it will "never" happen.

We are very familiar with Federal law, and we knowthat these proposed mergers are not "required" at all. It is still legalunder Federal law to maintain a designated state agency serving the blind;it is still legal under Federal law to have a separate State plan forState Services for the Blind. This proposed "joint planning" is for thepurpose of coordination of employment-related services for the U.S.Department of Labor. WIA does not require any changes in the structure oradministration of State Services for the Blind.

In this year of 1999, we are finding that many statesare using WIA as the justification for merging Vocational Rehabilitationprograms, eliminating separate agencies for the blind. We in Minnesotastand firm in our opposition to this proposal. I believe that you willfind the blind community in this state totally united on this point. Anyone who has any longevity in the field of blindness knows only too wellthe negative effects of such a merger. History confirms that such a planmeans the utter destruction of programs for the blind. It has happenedcountless times throughout this country. We will not allow it to happenin Minnesota.

I hope that this helps to clarify the position of theNational Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on the matter of anypotential reorganization involving State Services for the Blind. Anyproposed changes initiated by us will involve raising the visibility ofSSB to a higher level and increasing its autonomy to operate within Stategovernment.

Thank you again for meeting with us. I am sure we canwork in partnership to further improve services for the blind inMinnesota.Very truly yours,Joyce ScanlanPresident

He did not answer the letter. Then, in July andAugust, we began to hear about the "administrative streamlining" thatrequired SSB top management (including Dick Davis) to move downtown to DESheadquarters. I sent the following letter.August 11, 1999Mr. Earl Wilson, CommissionerDepartment of Economic Security390 North RobertSt. Paul, Minnesota 55101Dear Commissioner Wilson:

Once again it is necessary for us to communicate withyou concerning your plans to "reorganize" the Minnesota Department ofEconomic Security (DES). Because what we are hearing is not consistentwith what you said to us at our meeting on May 27, 1999, we must ask forconfirmation of the information circulating throughout DES, theRehabilitation Services branch (RSB) and State Services for the Blind(SSB), as well as what we heard at the Rehabilitation Council meeting atSSB last Saturday, August 7. We are concerned that you are going farbeyond what you were proposing when we met in May.

Like all your predecessors in Minnesota and those insimilar positions throughout the entire country, you have stated firmlythat you have no plan to "change" anything which will affect the programsof SSB; you also state firmly that you do not plan to "merge" RSB and SSBinto one unit. With all due respect, I am sure you sincerely believe thisto be true.

You say that your current plan affects only theadministration of SSB and has nothing to do with programs of the agencyserving blind people. If the information that is circulating about andthe overview presented to the SSB Rehabilitation Council last Saturday aretrue, all of us concerned with the blindness service-delivery system inthis state have great cause for alarm. We realize you have beencommissioner for a rather brief time, and you may not be aware of thesophistication, the long-term experience and the vast expertise of thecommunity with which you are dealing. These are people who have beenactively involved in matters related to blindness for many, many years andwill not be persuaded by a claim that what you are doing will not affectthe services people receive. It is the same old story we've heard toooften over the years. You are taking the blind of the state down amuch-traveled, well-worn road to destruction of the agency serving theblind population. It's a repeat of the old story of the "camel's noseunder the tent," and make no mistake about it.

Your plan to "reorganize" was initiated in secret. Noeffort was made to involve blind customers in the process. This is aserious mistake and will result in strong adverse reactions as more peoplelearn about your plan.

One aspect of your plan may have merit. Assigningtasks now done by both SSB and RSB to the support branch of DES could leadto some administrative efficiency. However, reassigning tasks between SSBand RSB is not acceptable. It will blur the identity of each unit and seta dangerous precedent toward the ultimate merging of the two branches. When this happens, services to blind people will already have been lost.

While the entire concept of "Reorganizing theadministrative functions of the two rehabilitation branches" is extremelyflawed and will ultimately not save funds or improve efficiency, theaspect of the "plan" which would move administrative staff away from theSSB central office to 390 North Robert in downtown St. Paul goes farbeyond the bounds of administrative change. Many of us have long feltthat the Assistant Commissioner and other staff of SSB were required tospend too much time managing upward in the department. Many top staffhave dedicated time to the Workforce Centers and focusing on theadministrative needs of the larger department. They have not beenavailable to address staff and customer issues within SSB. Now you planto formalize this arrangement by requiring five SSB top staff, includingthe Assistant Commissioner, to spend time--who knows how much--away fromtheir accustomed offices to downtown where their attentions will befocused on departmental concerns. This will affect the programs of SSB;make no mistake about it. Because of the detrimental effects of thisportion of the plan, we would ask you to rescind that element until itseffects can be more carefully considered and better understood.

When Mr. Davis was hired as Assistant Commissioner ofSSB in 1992, many blind people rejoiced, because Mr. Davis came with longexperience in the field of blindness and a worthy body of knowledge of thesubject. He had a firm understanding of the needs of blind people, and healso knew how to treat blind people with genuine respect. We as blindpeople valued these qualities. It is regrettable that he has not beenpermitted to apply his skill more fully and more directly with SSB. However, as you know, he is totally committed to serving you as hissuperior; he will always be completely loyal to you and will support yourwishes. It appears that SSB and the blind community will be left withouta top administrator. Nevertheless, having Mr. Davis even as a titularhead of the agency is better than losing SSB to a merged SSB/RSBstructure. The issue here is not Mr. Davis; it is the program integrityand focus, the independent structure, the authority to manage the budget,and the staff expertise of the state agency serving blind Minnesotans.

At a recent meeting of the SSB Rehab Council, Mr.Wally Hinz publicly admitted that at a meeting with you a few months agowhen your plan for administrative reorganization of SSB and RSB was beingdiscussed, Tom Heinl, immediate past president of the American Council ofthe Blind of Minnesota, had said that he might be willing to supportmerging the two rehab agencies if you would "fire Dick Davis." All thosewho heard this very public announcement of Tom Heinl's willingness tosacrifice SSB to get rid of one administrator he personally hated wereshocked and angered. Mr. Hinz attempted to pass the whole thing off as ajoke; however, I doubt that even Mr. Heinl's ACB constituents wouldsupport such a statement or find any humor in it.

Be assured that the blind community is absolutelyunited in its determination to maintain a separate and identifiable SSBand to support Mr. Davis as its chief administrative officer. There areno bargaining chips in this matter. This is the unswerving position ofthe National Federation of the Blind. I doubt that you will find itotherwise anywhere in the statewide blind community.

I believe that you are fully aware of the position ofthe Federation with respect to proposed changes affecting SSB. We wish towork in partnership with you and offer our extensive knowledge andexperience as you move forward on any changes relevant to that agency. Please understand that we cannot and will not support any proposal whichdiminishes in any way the visibility, the separate status as provided incurrent statute, the identifiable leadership, or the blindness-specificfocus of the agency serving blind people in this state.Very truly yours,Joyce ScanlanPresident

No response was ever made to either letter. Copies ofthese letters were sent to the Governor. No response there either.

Copies of these letters were then mailed to allmembers of the Minnesota legislature, and we began to see some interest. At the same time, more data on potential changes became available. Weheard that five top officials of SSB were to be moved from the SSB centraloffice over to 390 North Robert, the location of general rehab and theDepartment's commissioner. This was more bad news. We have been receivingsome support from legislators. Representative Rukavina, our good friend,will write a letter of inquiry to Commissioner Wilson. Senator Metzen,Chair of the Governmental Operations committee will write a letter.Representative Rhodes, chair of the House Gov Op committee is very upsetthat the Commissioner is not responding to us and is writing a letterchiding him for not being responsive. We have been asked by theadministrator of the House Human Services committee to write a paperexplaining our position on the appropriate administrative location instate government for SSB. You can easily see that Federationists have ourwork cut out for us. Assistant Commissioner Davis and his assistants havemoved to their new quarters at 390 North Robert in St. Paul. Just as amatter of curiosity, five SSB people moved over to be near general rehabor the commissioner, while their space at SSB will be taken up by staff ofa project on work incentives, funded by Social Security, which is movingfrom 390 North Robert. How do they explain that? More bureaucraticmumbo-jumbo for sure.

We sent letters to both Governor Ventura and DESCommissioner Wilson inviting them to our state convention. Wilson neverresponded, and upon inquiry, Governor Ventura's office sent a letter ofregret.

Then, after the convention, we received the followingletter:November 8, 1999Dear Ms. Scanlan:

Governor Ventura asked me to respond to your inquiryregarding the changes made as the result of the RehabilitationServices/State Services for the Blind Support Services Project. GovernorVentura and Commissioner Wilson both understand the importance of aseparate State Services for the Blind (SSB) to Minnesota's blind citizens. Neither has any intent of merging the department's SSB Branch with itsRehabilitation Services (RS) Branch. Commissioner Wilson and DeputyCommissioner Al St. Martin have, on multiple occasions, stated theirintent to not merge the two branches.

What is different about this project from those ofother states? First, from the beginning, it was limited to "backroom"support functions, such as processing of payments, report generation,processing of requests for Social Security reimbursements, provision ofInformation Technology services, and use of department research andprinting functions. When you look at the results of the project, you willsee that most of these functions were transferred to the Department ofEconomic Security's Support Branch. In the case of payment processing, wehave already eliminated one step, which should result in quicker paymentsto our vendors and customers.

Second, where program expertise was needed, eachbranch retained its own analysts. For example, although we gave up anaccounting technician and an account clerk, we retain our own accountingofficer, who reports to me. RS kept a similar position, as well as ahigh-level computer analyst; if SSB needs such a position, we can have onetoo. Third, the only support service that is shared between the twobranches is processing of requests for Social Security reimbursements. This is not a major change, as the RS staff member we now share used toobtain the wage detail data we needed to process the payment requests, andwe have come to respect her expertise.

Fourth, there is the possibility of significant costsavings in high cost items. SSB and RS are currently looking for acustomer information and financial system that can serve both, sincecurrent systems need major upgrading or replacement. The cost to onebranch of a new system would be unmanageable, but it may be manageable ifboth branches purchase it together. Of course, "firewalls" would beinstalled so that staff in one branch would not be able to view thecustomer and financial data of the other.

Finally, you express concern about the relocation ofSSB administrative and financial staff to the department's headquarters at390 North Robert Street. There are beneficial reasons for doing this,including a higher level of visibility of SSB in the department, moreimpact on high level decisions, and better coordination with the SupportBranch and other branches. We are free to schedule our time between hereand 2200 University, in order to meet the needs of the persons we serve. One indicator of the department's sensitivity toward the issues you raiseis the Deputy Commissioner's refusal to house us on the first floor withthe Rehabilitation Services Branch, even though there was space available. Instead, we are in temporary quarters on the third floor, and we will allmove to the fifth floor when our offices there are ready.

I hope this information answers any concerns you haveabout the current and future status of SSB. It continues to be the intentof the Minnesota Department of Economic Security that State Services forthe Blind remain a separate organizational entity within the department asrequired by Minnesota law.

If you have additional questions, please do nothesitate to contact me.Sincerely,Richard C. DavisAssistant CommissionerC: Governor Jesse VenturaCommissioner Earl Wilson

That certainly seems to be an encouraging letter, andI believe it reflects the current situation. However, mergers in otherstates have also begun in the name of administrative efficiency and costsavings. Then they went further and further until the blind hadcompletely lost critical services. One need look no further thanWisconsin to see such a merged administrative-efficient agency in whichblind people have lost out. Blind people don't get the benefit of thereputed savings, and we shall closely watch to see what savings therereally are in this administration merger.

Governor Ventura has repeatedly talked about reformingstate government to make it more efficient. He has set up a mini-cabinetto come up with ways to do so. He has also published a "Big Plan" that ishis vision for government, and there is no mention of services to blindpeople. We could get squashed between his mini- cabinet and his Big Plan.

The National Federation of the Blind is ever vigilantto protect services to blind people. What has happened in other statescan happen here. We will watch this current action, andensure that it does not develop as we fear it might.

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Reflections on Past and PresentTraining
By Jan Bailey

I recently completed my six weeks ofadjustment-to-blindness training at BLIND as part of theServices for the Blind (SSB) staff-training program. I have been employedat SSB as a rehabilitation counselor for over 20 years. Having alwaysbeen blind, I had some training in the past. I went for training at theMinneapolis Society for the Blind (now known as Vision Loss Resources)during the summer when I was sixteen and again for summer training when Iwas seventeen. That original training came about because I was tired ofhaving to wait to go with someone when I wanted to go anywhere outdoors. I went to my SSB counselor and asked for training in the use of the longwhite cane. He said this was not generally given until a blind personreached the age of eighteen, but after some persuasion by me hereluctantly agreed to my training.

Now here I was 31 years later setting out for moretraining. Some might ask why. What could you learn? You've been blindall your life. Why should you have to have more training? I didn't lookat it that way. Many things have changed since I had my training. Computers especially. I was thrust into the computer age in 1993 and wasself taught. One day a lot of technology was shipped to me and I had totry to figure out how to use it. Considering everything, I did quitewell, but now I needed to change over to the Windows environment so Idecided this would be a wonderful opportunity to do this. Here is whathappened when I went for my training, and here is how my present trainingand my previous training were so different from each other.

I set out for the student apartments on Saturday, May15, 1999. I decided to live at the student apartments, because I wantedto get a real sense of the whole training experience, and I found it mosthelpful. I got settled in a matter of about three hours and spent time onSunday getting my computer set up and meeting a couple of the otherstudents.

When Monday morning came, I went with one of the otherstudents to the center by bus. It's funny how we get so used to ourenvironment that we just do so many things automatically. I suddenlyfound myself in a position where nothing was familiar. I hadn't been inthat position for over 20 years. That was the hardest part of the firstweek: learning where things were in each classroom, learning my way aroundthe area and where things were in my apartment and in the apartmentbuilding.

I took all the classes. Since I had Braille in thepast, I decided to concentrate my efforts on learning the Nemeth code andthe computer Braille code since neither was in existence when I had myoriginal training. When I was through with that I spent time reading abook about the Internet. During my first round of training as a teenager,I learned grade-three Braille since I was already a fluent Braille readerwhen I went for training. I was also fluent with both the slate andstylus and the Braille writer.

When I took training as a teenager I remember my firstcooking class. The instructor informed me I had two hours to make Jello. I told her I had been making Jello since I was eight years old and that Iwanted to do something a little more challenging. She finally reluctantlyagreed to let me make up a cake mix. I told her I would have it in theoven in ten minutes, but she acted like she didn't believe me. Tenminutes later I came to her and told her the cake was in the oven. To myshock she got up and went over to look in the oven. I spent the rest ofthe two hours reading recipes. After that the instructor spent some timeasking me what I wanted to do. I spent that summer working on sewing,which I discovered I hate with a passion, and making such things ashomemade bread, and a pie using caned pie filling. They spent three weeksevaluating me. I had to, with them watching me: load and unload adishwasher, wash a window, clean a bathroom, vacuum a floor, scrub afloor, sweep a floor, make a bed, iron, do laundry, etc. I felt veryinsulted when no one would ever believe me when I said I could dosomething. I had to prove it. Now that isn't all bad, but a more subtleapproach might have been better.

At BLIND, Inc. students mostly work oncooking in class, or perhaps some sewing, but have their apartmentsinspected each week. If problems are noted then the Home Managementinstructor works with them in those areas. This is a much betterapproach. This time for Home Management I wanted to do some challengingthings so I learned to use a pressure cooker, made, filled and frosted alayer cake, made a pizza from scratch, made a pie totally from scratch,made a soufflé and made an omelet. Some of these things I had never doneand some of them were things I had trouble doing. I also had to prepareand serve a formal meal for six. In my previous training specialequipment was heavily emphasized. At BLIND I noticed thatBetty, the Home Management instructor, stressed using alternativetechniques with regular kitchen tools. I teach some home managementskills to some of my customers and I learned some very good andinteresting techniques from Betty, ones I plan to employ in my teaching.

Industrial Arts was probably the most difficult classfor me. I have never worked around tools very much and it was the mostunfamiliar to me. I probably won't go out and buy power tools, but Ibelieve the experience was good for several reasons. That class teachesmany good transferrable skills: spatial relationships, organizationalskills, some manual dexterity, and good problem solving skills. Oneproblem I had at first was taking verbal instructions without havingsomeone physically show me what to do. I later decided this was becauseit is the rare person who can give good oral instructions, so they have toshow a person what they want done. I got better at following verbalinstructions as time went on. I successfully made a CD rack by the end ofmy training. I had some training in the area of industrial arts when Iwas sixteen and my instructor was blind. Having had that experience, Iwasn't afraid of the tools and he was a good role model. Sad to say,though, I don't remember very much about what I learned, because I neverused those skills again. But at the time, I did make a footstool and ajewelry box. Again, Dara, the Industrial Arts instructor atBLIND, stressed using regular tools with alternativetechniques except the click rule, a measuring device that clicks at eachsixteenth of an inch. This training will be very valuable to me becauseI work with many older individuals who have wood shops in their basementsand believe that, because they are blind, they must now sell all theirtools. I always encouraged these individuals to continue working in theirshop, but now I can have a more meaningful discussion with them on thesubject. In computer class I learned how to use Windows 98, Jaws forWindows, how to use a scanner with Omni-page, how to use Microsoft Word,how to do e-mail and a little bit about the Internet. I still have a lotto learn, but I got an excellent start. Of course, I had no equivalentclass 32 years ago.

In life class I worked on handwriting, something I haddone when I was sixteen. I had not kept up with my writing, but wanted tolearn enough so I could write a short note to someone. It was easier tolearn the second time around, because it was not totally unfamiliar to me. I had learned cursive writing and printing when I was sixteen but myinstructor Emily and I decided to concentrate on printing since it isoften more legible. I also spent some time with Emily looking at howblind people can access the workforce center information on the computer,a project she is continuing to work on.

In seminar class we had many interesting discussionson blindness. We discussed the pros and cons of the long white cane, thefolding cane, and the dog guide. We also had a discussion in which we hadto identify one advantage of being blind and one disadvantage. The firemarshall came to discuss what to do in case of a fire. Dick Davis, theAssistant Commissioner of SSB, came and talked about what an employerlooks for and asked many thought-provoking questions that generated a gooddiscussion. There was no equivalent class in either of my previoustraining experiences.

Travel class was the class that was the most notablydifferent. When I had my first training, technique was highly stressed tothe point that it took a long time to be able to go anywhere. It took metwo weeks of training to get my first cane because I had to learnprotective techniques, sighted guide, and trailing techniques first. Itold my instructor I thought this was a waste of time since, when Ireceived my cane, I would not use these things, but I soon realized therewas no getting out of it so I just tried to hurry and learn it so I couldmove on. I only had ten weeks of training that summer and I wasted two ofthem on evaluation and learning these awful techniques I told myinstructor I was never going to use. Then I spent the next two weekswalking up and down the Minneapolis Auditorium hallways practicing my arcuntil my instructor said it was satisfactory. I was very irritated bythis, because I was very bored and time was passing. Now I was only goingto have six weeks to learn enough so I could go back home and walk a mileto school.

One experience I had after my second week of my firsttraining experience illustrates the attitudes of my instructor. The movieSound of Music came to St. Paul the Saturday after my secondweek of training. I convinced a friend of mine to go with me. We wereboth blind and she hadn't had much more training than I. I really had totalk her into it because she was afraid to go. I told her I would callthe bus company and get the necessary instructions and that we would askfor assistance crossing the streets because we hadn't learned how to dothat yet. She reluctantly agreed. We were helped by fifteen differentpeople but we went to the movie, found a restaurant and had dinner and gotback home. We had just one small problem. When we got on the bus webegan discussing going to the movie. Then the bus driver informed us thatwe had taken the wrong lettered bus and that we were going to have to walkeight blocks to the theater. Now I came from a small town where we didn'thave buses and I had never taken a bus in my life. I didn't know aboutletters on the bus routes and the person I had spoken to at the buscompany didn't tell me about that. My friend immediately said she shouldnever have agreed to come. Before I could worry too much, a couple on thebus said they were going to the same theater and said we could followthem. When I got to the center Monday morning I enthusiastically told myinstructor what we had done. She grew very angry and said we had no rightto do such a thing. I argued and said that we had asked for assistance. We had told the people who helped us that we were students in training andthat we had not yet learned how to cross streets. I said that if we hadtried to cross alone that then she would have had a valid complaint. Itold her she should be glad we were trying to get out on our own, but allto no avail. My solution was never to tell her about any of the otheradventures I had after hours.

Ron, my travel instructor at BLIND,encouraged me to venture out. He didn't make a big deal over every littletechnique he taught. He was just very matter-of-fact about it. Hedefinitely taught technique, but it was a means to an end: getting whereyou wanted to go. We always went somewhere meaningful, usually somewhereone of us needed to go. When I had my previous training I always wentone-on-one with my instructor. At BLIND I often had two orthree other students in my class. This was good, because students oftenhelp each other. A new student is encouraged to see more advancedstudents able to do more, and you often learn tips from other students. In my previous training I rarely went anywhere. I just walked up and downsidewalks and often crossed the same corner repeatedly until I was dizzy. They stressed technique, not succeeding.

I won't pretend it wasn't difficult uprooting myselffor six weeks and interrupting my life, but it was a very good experience. It reminded me that it isn't always easy being a student.

If I had to put in a nut shell the difference betweenthis training and my previous training it would be this: In my priortraining technique was highly stressed, but too often the instructorsacted amazed at what I could already do. This sent a message that itwasn't normal for blind people to do everyday tasks. AtBLIND the instructors just expect that a student can dosomething and they instill that belief in their students. The skills ofblindness are certainly taught but, just as importantly, students aretaught that it is respectable to be blind.

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A Minnesota Guide to ComputerLingo
Contributed by Jennifer Dunnam

Here We Go Again
By Joyce Scanlan, President

We recently received the following letter from StateServices for the Blind Assistant Commissioner Dick Davis about an "issuesteam" being set up at the behest of Department of Economic SecurityCommissioner Wilson (Dick's boss) in an effort to "bring the NFB and theACB together." These are my words, not Dick's.September 15, 1999

Ms. Joyce Scanlan, President
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Mr. Walter Waranka, President
American Council of the Blind of Minnesota
2886 Highland Parkway
St. Paul, MN 55116

Dear Ms. Scanlan and Mr. Waranka:

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of testifyingat a legislative hearing in favor of the largest appropriation request inthe history of State Services for the Blind (SSB) - $3.37 million inGovernor Ventura's budget. An important part of this was $370,000 indeficiency funding to prevent the immediate loss of services to olderblind persons. Given the size of this request, the need for it, and itsbenefit to our customers, we believed every consumer organization andblind individual in the state would support us.

However, some persons saw the legislative hearings asa forum in which to air their suspicions and complaints regarding SSB,other organizations of the blind, and me personally. Had their testimonycaused legislators to lose confidence and vote against the governor'sbudget, services to blind and visually impaired Minnesotans would havebeen irreparably damaged. Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and we gotthe money, along with a study designed to address the concerns raised.

Right now, we should all be congratulating ourselveson our good fortune. I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, thereremains a high degree of polarization within the blind community, withaccusations of favoritism and attempts to place blame on others. Thispolarization falls clearly along organizational lines, with personssupporting either the position of the National Federation of the Blind(NFB) or that of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) on how servicesshould be delivered. Even those who describe themselves as "unaffiliated"have taken a side.

There is a lot of value in strong, well-definedphilosophies of blindness, and plenty of room for differences of opinionon how services should be delivered. However, there is no need for thosedifferences to generate animosities so severe that they break out duringthe legislative session and put services to blind persons at risk. We mustfind a constructive way to deal with differences in philosophy andapproach, and produce win/win rather than win/lose solutions. If we donot do this the real "insiders" at SSB, the blind and visually impairedpeople we serve, will be the ones to suffer. In a meeting with the ACB inAugust, Commissioner Earl Wilson suggested an "issues team" as a mechanismto eliminate the atmosphere of accusation, mistrust, and win/lose thatseems to surface with every effort undertaken at State Services for theBlind. We feel it is time to charter such a team. Its charter is asfollows:

Charter of State Services for the Blind IssuesTeam

The purpose of the State Services for the Blind IssuesTeam is to create a forum in which the National Federation of the Blind ofMinnesota (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind of Minnesota (ACB)may candidly discuss with the Assistant Commissioner of SSB and his staffthe issues each group has in the delivery of services to blindMinnesotans. The team has three objectives:

identify issues NFB and/or ACB have that aresignificant to what, how, and where a service is delivered

develop a plan that NFB, ACB, and SSB agree to be anobjective means to present the options, with the least amount of confusionto the people selecting the service

develop recommendations for measures that willensure people selecting services have received an objective presentationof choices

NFB and ACB will each identify two people who willrepresent their organizations and have the power to make decisions forthem. The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner will identify two SSBstaff to be participants. The Assistant Commissioner of SSB will convenethe group, with the assistance of a facilitator provided by the office ofthe Deputy Commissioner. The authority of the issues team is to providerecommendations. The responsibility of the SSB Assistant Commissioner isto incorporate those recommendations into SSB operations, or give areasonable explanation to all parties why the recommendations were notimplemented.

I am inviting each of you to submit the names of twopersons from your organization to be members of the State Services for theBlind Issues Team. Please provide their names, addresses, and phonenumbers to me prior to the close of business on September 30, 1999. Wewill have our first issues team meeting soon afterward.

This approach, which will respect the philosophies andcontributions of both consumer organizations, should result in healthydiscussions, resolution of longstanding problems, and better relationshipsbetween all the participants. If we can use the meetings to understandeach other better, sort truth from rumors, and address problems as theyoccur, we will take a giant step forward. The blind and visually impairedpersons of the state cannot help but benefit as a result.Sincerely,Richard C. DavisAssistant Commissionerc: Earl Wilson, CommissionerAl St. Martin, Deputy Commissioner

As I was writing the response to Dick concerning theissues team, I discussed the matter with many individuals and at ourSeptember Metro Chapter meeting to get some sense for what people werethinking and to measure my own mental equilibrium in the matter. Here isthe letter sent to Mr. Davis:September 22, 1999Mr. Richard Davis, Assistant CommissionerState Services for the Blind2200 University Avenue West, Suite 240St. Paul, Minnesota 55114Dear Assistant Commissioner Davis:

I have received your letter of September 15, 1999, toMr. Walter Waranka as President of the ACB of Minnesota, and to me asPresident of the NFB of Minnesota, and I must say to you that, withrespect to the Federation, I find both the tone and the substance of yourletter absolutely appalling.

You open your letter with the statement, "Earlier thisyear, I had the privilege of testifying at a legislative hearing in favorof the largest appropriation request in the history of State Services forthe Blind (SSB)--$3.37 million in Governor Ventura's budget." You make itsound as though you were the only one who testified in favor of thisappropriation and that you alone carried the appropriation bill throughthe legislative process to successful passage.

May I point out to you that at every legislativehearing throughout the 1999 session in which this appropriation wasconsidered and testimony taken and at every general session of the Houseor Senate in which the appropriation was on the agenda, at least oneFederationist was present to give supporting testimony or to be asupportive observer. Many of us took time off our jobs to come to SSB'ssupport at the legislature. At times when it seemed that the deficiencyappropriation was at a standstill, Federationists in large numbers madephone calls and wrote letters of support. We held a rally to revive thedeficiency appropriation bill when it seemed dead in the water. Yet, youmake sanctimonious and sweeping reference to the deficiency bill as thoughyou alone carried it through the legislature. You seem to have easilyforgotten that Federation members supported this appropriation in everyway all down the line. You have absolutely no cause to imply as you dothat Federationists provided anything but the strongest support for theSSB appropriation throughout the entire legislative session.

You complete your opening paragraph with "Given thesize of this request, the need for it, and its benefit to our customers,we believed every consumer organization and blind individual in the statewould support us." Here you make no effort to distinguish between who didand did not support SSB. You go on to rail upon "some persons" who "sawthe legislative hearings as a forum in which to air their suspicions andcomplaints regarding SSB, other organizations of the blind, and mepersonally." You make no mention of the fact that it was people from ACBof Minnesota who did this, or that members of the NFB of Minnesotasupported SSB and did not see the legislative hearings as a forum "inwhich to air suspicions and complaints regarding SSB, other organizationsof the blind," or you personally. It seems that DES officials somehowdon't have the political willpower to be straightforward and honest inpointing out that the ACB, not NFB, was guilty of behaving in the negativemanner you describe. Your words and ideas are carefully crafted to focusblame on everyone; no matter what the Federation did to support SSB, youfeel no need to acknowledge in any way. In your over-generalized mannerof expression, all of us, Federation and ACB alike, are painted with thesame brush. We are all your enemies. We all received the same letterfrom you.

Furthermore, you, like so many others, fail torecognize the difference in the size of the two organizations you areaddressing, ACB and NFB. You know that NFB has three-to-five times themembership of the ACB. If the ACB has two members on the Issues Team, theFederation should have six. But, you insist upon ignoring that and allowboth organizations the same numbers on the issues team. Our members areoffended that you seem to regard the ACB and the NFB as equal in everyway.

Despite your failure to recognize our past support,despite the fact that you equate us with those who stood against you inthe legislature, and despite your unwillingness to confront your realopponents squarely and tell the ACB that they have behaved dishonorablytoward SSB in the legislature--despite all this--the members of the NFB ofMinnesota will put all these matters aside and will continue to do ourbest to work with you. Let us find out whether or not the ACB willconduct itself any differently than it did in the past when its membersand supporters on the SSB Rehabilitation Council voted unanimously tosupport the SSB appropriation at a Council meeting and reversed theirposition when they testified at the legislative hearing. What will ittake for DES officials to realize that the patronizing and condescendingtone taken toward the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota inyour letter of September 15 will not win SSB friends in the blindcommunity.

The following two people will represent the NationalFederation of the Blind of Minnesota on the proposed Issues Team:

Janet Lee, (address and telephone number); and JoyceScanlan, (address and telephone number).

If you wish to discuss with me any of the commentscontained in this letter, please feel free to call me at (612) 872-9363.Sincerely,Joyce ScanlanPresident

That's the very gentle letter we sent to our friendDick Davis. Since then I haven't heard of any scheduled meeting orfurther word on the subject of the issues team.

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Are They Really Equal?
By Tom Scanlan

Several years ago there was a movie titled "The Mousethat Roared" about a small country that declared war on the United Statesin hopes of getting attention and economic aid. Today there is areal-life mouse that roars in hopes of getting attention and making peoplethink it is big and important.

The American Council of the Blind (ACB) is a groupthat splintered from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in 1961. Its main goal is simply to oppose the NFB, even if that harms blindpeople. For instance, when the NFB testified before Congress that blindsheltered-shop workers should be paid the same as sighted workers, the ACBtestified that 75% of the sighted workers pay was good enough for theblind workers.

The ACB of Minnesota was formed by the MinneapolisSociety for the Blind in 1971 when blind people tried to get on theSociety's board of directors. The ACB dutifully supported the Society inits efforts to keep blind people from choosing their own representativeson the Society board.

Today the ACB of Minnesota likes to claim it is equalin size and importance to the NFB of Minnesota. It insists on equalrepresentation in activities, study groups, or boards. That generallymeans that it wants to have one ACB member and one NFB member.

It is one thing to claim equality. It is quiteanother to measure that equality by facts and data. Based on publicinformation from the ACB's own reports and information from the MinnesotaAttorney General's office, their claim doesn't stand up to the facts.

From the ACB's own report of its membership, it is nowclear that the NFB of Minnesota has five times more members than ACB. Wehave known for a long time that the ACB meets far less often than NFB andis localized to the Twin Cities, while the NFB meets monthly and hasseveral chapters throughout the state. Having only 20% as many memberscertainly does not make ACB equal.

So what if they don't have the membership. Maybethey're just as equal in public support and activity. Well, not accordingto information from the Attorney General's office.

Activity takes money for printing, postage, meetings,travel, and other costs of bringing information to the public andadvocating for blind people. So the money raised and spent is perhaps themost objective measure of activity available. It certainly beats boastsand bravado.

By this measure of activity, the NFB of Minnesotaraises and spends more than ten times as much as the ACB of Minnesota. This is public information from the Charities Division of the AttorneyGeneral's office.

So if the ACB of Minnesota has only 20% of the membersand only 10% of the activity of the NFB of Minnesota, how can they beequal? Beats me.

Yet they stand up before the Legislature and claim tobe equal, or even larger than, the NFB of Minnesota. State Services forthe Blind insists they have equal representation on its Advisory Council(one member each of course). The president of the ACB of Minnesotacomplains when more NFB members than ACB members turn up for a study groupand wants the extra NFB members thrown out.

Are the two organizations equal? Hardly. The factsspeak for themselves beyond any wild claims, bravado, or rhetoric. It istime we make these facts more widely known.

Any time the NFB has less than five times as manyrepresentatives as the ACB, the NFB is underrepresented. No longer willwe settle for any pretense of equality. The NFB of Minnesota is theoldest and largest organization of the blind in this state and we intendto make sure we get the representation that age and size gives us. Themouse can continue to roar on but it won't change the facts.

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Charitable Giving Tax Relief Act BecomesMinnesota Law
By Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

Minnesota gets the honors for another "first" -passage of a state tax deduction for those who don't itemize deductions. Legislators included the Charitable Giving Tax Relief in the 1999 Tax Billand it is now a permanent part of the Minnesota Tax Code. Two years ofenergetic efforts on the part of nonprofits led to this landmarklegislation.

Minnesotans give generously because they believe inthe work that nonprofits do in our communities. Now donors really do geta tax deduction for their contributions even if they are nonitemizers anduse the short form when filing tax returns.

Now that the Charitable Giving Relief Act is law, whatdoes it do? Now the Minnesota Tax Code provides a 50% tax deduction fornonitemizers for charitable contributions over $500. After an individualor couple who are nonitemizers donates over $500 in money or goods to anycombination of charities, additional contributions are eligible for the50% deduction. For instance: a couple that donates $1000 to nonprofits in1999 will be able to deduct 50% of everything over $500. So that taxpayerwould get a $250 deduction from his/her taxable income.

Which nonprofits are eligible charities? Any 501(c)(3) is an eligible organization. This means that contributions to NFB,NFB of Minnesota, BLIND, or any public charity (includingchurches, synagogues, mosques) can receive contributions that make thedonor eligible for the tax deduction.

What do taxpayers need to do to claim the deduction? Taxpayers should save receipts for goods and monetary contributions. Taxforms for 1999 and for all subsequent years will include instructions anda line where nonitemizers can report their charitable giving for the year. Add up all donations and follow directions for reporting the amounts toadjust taxable income.

Nonprofits appreciate the strong legislative supportthat this measure has had in Minnesota. The nonprofit sector workedtogether for this victory and shares great pride in this public policychange. Now organizations have a significant opportunity to encourageincreased giving and raise resources that strengthen our ability toprovide programs and services in a wide range of areas that touch peopleslives and strengthen communities: human services, arts, education, health,environment and civic participation.

Passage of the bill demonstrates what nonprofits canaccomplish when we take a stand. Thanks to all who helped with this effortand who are prepared to continue to work on initiatives that keep ourorganizations and our communities strong.

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Convention Alert!

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

The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will beheld in Greater Minnesota in April or May 2000. Members will receive aletter with details about a month before the convention.

The National NFB Convention will be held at theMarriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia during the first weekof July 2000. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in theworld. Full details will be in the November or December 1999 issue of theBrailleMonitor.

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held inOctober 2000 in Greater Minnesota. Members will receive a letter withdetails about a month before the convention.

BACL TO HOMEPAGE