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

Web site:

www.nfbmn.org

Tom Scanlan, Editor

Volume LXVIII, Number 2, Spring 2004

WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND

Table of Contents

Les Affaires

Stepping Out In All Weather

Northwest Airlines Responds Positively

Juggling Work, School, and the Federation

Ensuring Equality For Blind Students In Minnesota's Schools

Convention Minutes, October 31-November 2, 2003

Resolutions Adopted by Annual Convention

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires
By Joyce Scanlan, President

Have you ever noticed that whenever you meet people who were your fellow students in high school, the primary topic of conversation too frequently becomes the days you spent together during those early years? This seems especially true for those who attended a residential school for the blind and after graduation, returned home to live out the rest of their lives with their families. Sad though it may be, this was reality for many blind people for far too long. Certainly there are exceptions, but generally it can be said that many residential school graduates reminisce extensively about the events that occurred during the "good-old days" when they were in school together. In other words, they tend to look back rather than ahead.

Then, there are others who move forward to focus on chosen careers, meet new people, choose new and more challenging careers, and search for richer and more meaningful lives--always dreaming of a brighter future. As far as my life is concerned, it was the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) that made the difference. It was from NFB that I learned a new and far more positive approach to blindness: blindness doesn't need to be negative; it is, after appropriate training and opportunity, merely another characteristic, which can be dealt with as we deal with our other characteristics--I happen to be left-handed; blind people have the right to dream and set high goals to strive for; while problems may arise from time to time, we as an organized group can face those problems and take concerted action to solve them.

Minnesota Federationists have every reason today to feel grateful to our organization for giving us the tools to face many storms, most recently those numerous trials and tribulations caused by our state rehabilitation agency between February, 2000, and December, 2003. Review the "Les Affaires" columns in the Minnesota Bulletin throughout those years and you will read of the shabby and dishonorable treatment Federationists received, of the reduction in services to older blind people at SSB, the complete termination of services to children by SSB, the cut-off of adjustment-to-blindness training to new staff at SSB, the buildup of management positions at the agency, how the "well was poisoned" by the highest SSB official so that legislators were reluctant to talk with blind people, how the atmosphere at SSB council meetings was so soured with sarcastic and hateful comments from the then assistant commissioner, and the total failure of the SSB top official to fight for SSB's funds when state cuts came along. We all know that it was Federationists alone who went to the legislature in 2003 to plead for the return of $629,000 for SSB, while others spent their time criticizing the Federation. We knew that on July 1, 2003, SSB would be transferred to the newly created Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and that staff changes would come about.

It was welcome news when we learned early in December that Chuk Hamilton, a longtime figure at SSB, was to be the director of our state agency in DEED. Chuk's 27-year track record with the agency gives blind Minnesotans some assurances: he has had long experience working in the field of blindness; he knows blind people personally and treats them with respect and courtesy; we can count on him to be honest and fair with blind people; he knows the legislative process as do we; and we have every reason to believe that Chuk Hamilton will work in partnership with Minnesota's blind community, including the NFB of Minnesota.

NFB of Minnesota was asked to submit questions to be asked of the two finalists in the SSB director-selection process. One of the five questions we submitted, which was included in the final interviews, was this: "How will you administer an agency serving a community with very divergent philosophies of blindness in a manner that meets everyone's needs and promotes unity and not conflict?" While some of the interviewers presented this question with some rather snide additional comments--"you'd have to be a saint," the two candidates took the question seriously and responded appropriately. I believe that all of our five questions were addressed very well, perhaps in somewhat different terms but with the meanings intended.

When I received notice of Chuk's appointment from Bonnie Elsey, I sent the following message to her:

"We are very pleased to hear that Chuk Hamilton has been chosen as the next SSB director. Congratulations to him and to those who made the selection. He has a fine background in the field of rehabilitation, and he also knows blind people and has a good grasp of what blind people need in the way of rehab services. We hope that in his new position he will have the latitude to apply his vast knowledge and experience in the field of blindness in making key decisions relevant to SSB. He is highly respected and trusted by blind people in Minnesota and throughout the country."

So, a difficult era has passed. We must, however, recognize that some of the previous players remain with us and in higher positions. SSB was never important to those people; they never felt inclined to advocate for blind people and the services they need. While the SSB director's position is now one notch lower than it was in the Department of Economic Security and there will most certainly be budget cuts in the future, we can rest assured that we have a manager in the person of Chuk Hamilton who will advocate for blind people and will work in partnership with blind people to ensure the budgetary and program integrity of SSB.

Thanks so much to the NFB for giving us the courage to endure the difficulties of the past three years and to survive until the Age of Terror had passed. Thanks also to those Federationists who came to help in our public demonstration in August 2002 and to every Federationist who gave words of encouragement throughout this difficult time. But, most of all, thanks to the Federation itself for the positive philosophy and the belief in ourselves which allows us to look to the future with hope and confidence. We know there will be challenges; we know we must take risks. And we know that in the end we will win!!!

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Stepping Out In All Weather
By James Baxter

(Editor's Note: This is the winner of the 2003 Metro Chapter essay contest.)

There was a time when I would have expected some relief from traveling in the cold winter months. I thought because I am blind I couldn't or shouldn't go out in the snow. Cold and blindness were always my fear before I accomplished a NFB mind. Now I know you're saying to yourself "What is a NFB mind?" Ok, sit down, make yourself available---grab a cup of something you like to drink.

A NFB mind is something that teaches you how to adjust to learning and living with independence (mind you now, I said living), by making yourself available for change, by believing life can be as fair as you want it to be. Having a NFB mind means believing when you give your best you receive the best in return. Having a NFB mind means finding enough confidence to help someone else learn how a NFB mind could change their lack of confidence to independence. When I talk about confidence here, I mean the deep down confidence that comes from hands-on experience. There's no substitute for proving something to yourself by doing it for yourself.

My story is about the cold. To me, the cold is like blindness--something that used to be a convenient excuse for not doing what I wanted to do. When winter comes around it's easy to stay inside and not go places and say it's because of the cold. It used to be that every time I said to myself "I am blind," I felt guilty like I did something wrong. After a while I became a pro at making excuses. I like to drink milk but when it came time to go out and get the milk I had excuses like "I can't see," or "I might get hurt," or my favorite "I might get lost and not find my way back." It sounds a lot like "Hey, it's too cold."

One day my brother said to me "You got to change but not for anybody else but for yourself. If mommy was alive she would make you do for your own self with help from no one."

It was then that I decided to go see a doctor. So I went downtown to a retina specialist. "Yes, your eyes are failing," he said. "There's nothing we can do but monitor the progression of the deterioration."

I suddenly felt cold all over. I went into a corner and grabbed myself like it was 10 degrees outside. After the doctor's office started closing up, I decided to walk to the visual services office to see what I could do. When I reached the front of this place I saw all of these blind people being helped on to a Para transit van. I suddenly felt cold all over again. I said to myself: "No fricking way am I gonna go through that kind of pity because I already know how to make myself feel useless."

As I was standing there looking at the van, I saw this guy in a white shirt come out of the building with this long white cane and go dashing down the street. He was moving carefully and not running into anything. For once I started to smile. I started to follow him, but while I was following him I was walking into people and walls. I saw him get on a bus like it was nothing and I thought: "Even I have trouble getting on the bus and finding a seat."

The bus pulled off and I started to feel like I should have said something to him but I was too embarrassed and ashamed of my blindness. So every day for a week I would go downtown around rush hour to see if I saw this guy again. I had no success, so the next week I decided to ask the Para transit driver who that guy was. I described him---the guy with the long white cane who was walking by himself and got on the bus--and he knew exactly who I was talking about. The driver said to me "That is one of them NFB guys."

I suddenly felt good all over. It was not as cold as it used to be, and I became motivated to find how this NFB guy learned how to do what he does so well. This was really new to me because I had never seen a blind person move and walk anywhere by themselves and I was determined to not have to depend on anybody for anything that I could do myself. So after months of long hard research and determination, I met this guy with the long white cane and he invited me to come and learn how I could get this training--the same training he got-at a NFB training center. We talked about commitment and the will to be independent and not feel cold and blind by accepting it for what it is. He gave me a list of centers to choose from. I was invited for a tour by a number of centers. That made me feel good because I was starting to get the feeling that I was not alone in this desire to change. I chose Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. in Minnesota because I used to like fishing and wanted to go to the state of 10,000 lakes. I was told that blind people fish all the time. When I heard this, I started to smile and said to myself: "This I gotta see; no way can a blind person catch fish." But I just kept remembering the guy with the white shirt and the long white cane.

I arrived in Minnesota in May of 2003. I felt nervous but not alone somehow. While waiting at the airport for someone from BLIND, Inc. to pick me up, I heard sounds that appeared to be canes. It was four blind students coming to greet me; I was excited. They amazed me. They greeted me with a warm welcome and I began to let them know how amazed I was, but they seemed somewhat reluctant to hear me go on about how amazed I was. I wasn't trying to embarrass them. I just had never seen anything like it.

So I finally get to the center and I meet the instructors who were going to assist in my training. Now I know you may not believe this, but many of them are blind. The travel instructor, the Braille instructor, the computer instructor, the director and even the secretary are blind.

"I must have been locked up in my room for a long time," I said to myself. "This cannot be happening."

Oh, but it was! I felt apprehensive but curious. No way was I going back to my cold room. No way!

So then I was introduced to the long white cane. I said to myself with a smile: "There are many like this but this one is mine. I am on my way back to feeling like I belong."

After class, a student was to show me how to get home on the bus. Another student like myself, who is blind! Once again I cannot believe this is happening. But all the while I was remembering that white shirt and the long white cane.

I have now completed my training and you will not believe how much independence I gained at the center because I am once again living amongst the independent people on this earth.

So now when I am cold, I put something else on or turn up the heat.

When I am feeling blind, I accept the fact that I am blind and do what I can to make a difference. I deal with my blindness without expecting special treatment. I remember that being independent is going to keep me out of my cold room. I am now that guy in the white shirt with the long white cane. I am not walking into people and things. I am walking into the places I want to go.

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Northwest Airlines Responds Positively
By Tom Scanlan

As we were returning from the 2003 national convention in Louisville, Kentucky, a throwback to the bad old days when airlines treated blind people as helpless wards occurred. That incident goes to show that educating people about blindness is never complete. When one group or generation has seen that blind people can function as well as anyone else, a new group emerges that has not received that enlightenment.

This specific example of an airline employee thinking blind people needed special treatment because they were not as capable as other is recounted in the following letter.

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
July 16, 2003

Mr. Richard H. Anderson, Chief Executive Officer
Northwest Airlines, Inc.
2700 Lone Oak Parkway
Eagan, MN 55121

Dear Mr. Anderson:

Many years have passed since I have felt compelled to write to Northwest Airlines to call attention to a problem involving poor treatment of passengers who are blind carried out by airline personnel. Because I had personally experienced such positive and even-handed treatment by both ground and flight personnel as I travel, mostly on Northwest Airlines, all over the country, I was both appalled and disappointed at an incident which took place as I was returning from Louisville, Kentucky, to Minneapolis recently.

On July 5, 2003, a number of blind passengers had gathered at gates 10 and 12 in the Louisville Airport to await Northwest flight 873 to Minneapolis. We had all attended the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind held at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville during the previous week. Everyone was cheerfully conversing and recounting the events of a very exciting convention.

The first announcement of our flight was the routine statement by a female member of the ground crew about pre-boarding. Something about "first-class passengers and those needing a little extra time" being allowed to board at this time was said. Every blind person present quietly remained seated, because as competent and experienced travelers, we saw no reason to respond to that call. Very soon, another announcement came forth, stating "All those requiring a pre-flight briefing are asked to board at this time." Again, as people who travel by air on a regular basis, everyone remained seated.

The third announcement was given by a very stern and angry-sounding, authoritarian, male voice. This announcement was greatly escalated in tone and said something to the effect that "we have about twenty-two 'handicapped' people who need a special pre-flight briefing. We want these 'special-needs people' to pre-board at this time." Then came the most cutting and rude comment of all. The announcer went on to say, "If these 'special-needs people' do not pre-board at this time, we apologize to all other passengers for the delay this will cause in our flight today." Although I am sure every blind person in the group was thoroughly insulted by this remark, no one rose to board the plane.

Flight officials then began to board the plane in the usual way beginning at the back, and blind people boarded as their rows were called. Everyone was boarded and settled in on time for the flight to take off at its scheduled time. I repeat, THE FLIGHT TOOK OFF AT ITS SCHEDULED TIME. It should be added, however, that the flight was called back to the gate because an electrical panel had been left open and had to be closed before takeoff.

This entire event might be written off as an isolated incident involving panic-stricken ground staff on that day. Blind people were never confrontational; they conducted themselves as responsible citizens and remained calm in the face of uncalled-for rude treatment.

I urge you to provide appropriate education for your ground staff at the Louisville airport and I offer the expertise and assistance of the National Federation of the Blind in providing that education. Regardless of how many blind people may have been boarding that airplane - I heard anywhere from twenty-two to fifty - the behavior of the ground personnel was absolutely inappropriate, insulting to your blind customers, and totally uncalled-for. Such an assault on the dignity of blind customers is not consistent with Northwest Airlines service standards.

Thank you for your speedy response to this very serious matter.

Yours truly, Joyce Scanlan President

How would the airline management respond? We had worked with Northwest and other airlines in the past to educate them about the capabilities of blind people and our ability to take care of ourselves. Treatment of blind passengers had improved greatly from the "airline wars" of more than 20 years ago. But this was a new generation of managers that had not had the direct benefit of that education. Would they simply ignore the incident and not bother to respond? Would they justify the behavior as well intentioned? Or worse, would they defend the behavior as justified treatment of blind people who needed extra help? Or would the education and positive improvements have carried over from the previous management?

We did not have to wait long. The airline responded promptly with the following letter.

Northwest Airlines, Inc.
PO Box 11875
St. Paul MN 55111-0875
August 8, 2003

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

Dear Ms. Scanlan:

Richard Anderson has reviewed your correspondence that was addressed to his office and to our Customer Relations department. He asked that I extend a sincere apology, on behalf of everyone at Northwest Airlines, for the inappropriate behavior of our Louisville gate representative on July 5.

As explained in your correspondence, the gate representative for Flight 873 made multiple and insistent announcements that persons with a disability preboard our flight and indicated that failure to heed his request could result in a delayed departure. The conduct you described is entirely contrary to the level of service that we want you to receive. Our airport public contact personnel receive both extensive initial training and frequent recurrent training. They are informed that our passengers are able bodied and need assistance only to the extent that they personally request. Additionally, it is stressed that no passenger is required to take advantage of a preboarding announcement.

The actions of our gate representative have been discussed with him and while we cannot reveal specifics of any internal or disciplinary action, please be assured that we are committed to preventing a repetition of your experience.

We need to hear from our customers and are very glad that you brought this matter to our attention. You also have the right to contact the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Consumer Affairs if you wish to pursue this matter further.

Thank you, again, for writing. Your support of Northwest is appreciated and we hope to have the continued privilege of serving your air travel needs.

Sincerely, Richard Edlund Administrator Executive Communications

So the positive attitudes developed in the previous generation has carried over. Our hard work still bears fruit. We certainly are glad to see that, and are encouraged to know that our work had not been undone. Thank you, Mr. Anderson and Northwest Airlines, for taking swift positive action in support of your blind customers.

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Juggling Work, School, and the Federation
By Emily Wharton

In September 2002 I started work on a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Hamline University in St. Paul. It dramatically increased the number of "have-to's" in my life. I switched over to part-time work at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) taking care of the computers and took on a full load of graduate classes. I also had a four-month-old puppy who wanted to be a "have-to" and thought she should be the center of attention at all times. So I started thinking about the clock and how much time all of this takes: that's twenty hours a week of work, six hours a week sitting in class, six hours a week getting to the class, ... I started adding it up and realized I should never try to add it up. It's not to say that I'm that much busier than anyone else---just busier than I've ever been in my life---ever.

I also have a lot of things in my life that I want to do. I have a wide range of interests: I love rollerblading and playing basketball, and I adore woodworking and fiddling around on my own computer--a million things I want to do. With all the "have-tos" that have come up lately, my ability to do my "want-tos" has been limited and I've had to make choices.

In the middle of all this, the president of our NFB Metro chapter called me and asked if I would write the poem for a fundraising letter. I did not want to write the poem for the fundraising letter. The thing that flashed into my mind first was the project that was due and the readings that I had and the things I was doing for work. All these things were flooding over me when she asked me that.

I said, "Yeah." I said yes because I couldn't say no. I can't say no to the Federation because, in my opinion, it would be a selfish thing to do. How could I say no to giving my time and energy to the Federation when the Federation has given so much for me? The long and short of it is that I would not be doing all these "have-tos" if it weren't for the Federation. I wouldn't be privileged to work where I work if it weren't for the Federation. I wouldn't be going back to graduate school if it weren't for the Federation--partly because of the NFB national scholarship I won, but partly because of the confidence and belief in myself that I have gained from being a part of this organization. So when I make some choices, it doesn't seem much like a matter of choice when it comes right down to it. That's how and why I juggle school, work, and the Federation.

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Ensuring Equality For Blind Students In Minnesota's Schools
By Jean Martin

I am pleased to share with you what's happening at the Minnesota Resource Center: Blind/Visually Impaired of the Minnesota Department of Education. The name has changed from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

Most of you may know that I report to the Department in St. Paul and have an office on the campus of the Minnesota Academies.

Similar to many state agencies, MDE is experiencing some budget constraints but my responsibilities and initiatives continue to focus on educational services to blind and low vision children and youth in Minnesota.

Every year, with input from many sources including an Advisory Committee to the Resource Center, we identify priority areas of need and activities to be completed. Some responsibilities remain consistent. For example, I serve as the Ex-Officio Trustee of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) for students in K-12 public school districts. I also serve on state advisory committees, attend and present at meetings of organizations in the field of blindness.

Some activities for this year are:

Braille funding: We have had a grant for many years with State Services for the Blind (SSB) to fund Braille at the state level, although during the past year SSB went to a fee structure. This year districts are being asked to agree to withhold monies in a centralized account at the state level based on their special education child count. This count includes all special education children and youth in Minnesota. This year the amount to be withheld increased to $10 per special- education child. This money will be used to fund Braille materials and statewide tests in accommodative formats. If a district chooses to say no on withholding the child count monies in the centralized account, the district will have to pay for the Braille materials and all state tests ordered in accommodative formats. Currently, I am attempting to inform districts on the time and cost efficiency of our current system.

Due somewhat to the "No Child Left Behind Act" all students will be tested in the 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, 10th grade and 11th grade. The 4th and 6th grade tests are new and are in the pilot stage. I am pleased students who are blind or have low vision will be included in the pilot tests. Our State Test Review Workgroup continues to review the tests for item bias for blind and visually impaired students. We look at thousands of test items and do feel the items are getting better. I strongly believe our students need to be in the development stage of all state tests and test items, and should receive the same tests as their sighted peers.

There is a standard in Minnesota that if an item cannot be reproduced into Braille in a meaningful manner, it will not be included on the state test.

There are state workgroups that focus on needs of students. Some are as follows:

The Assistive Technology workgroup meets and plans activities related to assistive technology. Last year two teachers of the blind and visually impaired developed an in-service training and curriculum called "Going Beyond the Mouse" and presented to teachers who had students using JAWS. Rich Gieschen from SSB is part of this workgroup. Last year through the efforts of the workgroup, SSB and the Resource Center, four BrailleNotes were purchased by SSB and loaned to students on a quarter basis through my library. Some districts ordered the BrailleNote for their students based on this loan period.

The APH workgroup makes recommendation to my office on Federal Quota spending and accessible materials for all blind and low vision students.

The Transition workgroup plans activities related to the Summer Transition Program (STP) and other activities.

We hope to plan other interagency activities for students and their families this year.

This is my thirteenth year as the Director of the Resource Center: Blind/Visually Impaired and the State Consultant for the Blind and Visually Impaired. There are many people I have learned much from while in this position, but today I would like to thank Joyce Scanlan for her insight, wisdom, caring, commitment and fortitude. I have learned many things from Joyce and know this learning will continue for many years to come. She is a true leader in the field of blindness. I thank her for many years and unselfish contributions she has made to better the lives of blind and visually impaired individuals.

Joyce, I want to wish you the best of everything as you retire from BLIND, Inc., and know you will continue to make a difference in whatever you choose to do.

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Convention Minutes, October 31-November 2, 2003
By Judy Sanders, Secretary

The importance of the National Federation of the Blind becomes clear when we take a look at all that is accomplished at our conventions--whether at the state or national levels. It is where we are reminded of all there is to do and of all we have accomplished to change what it means to be blind. Our last state convention was no exception. We reviewed our successes and renewed our commitment to work hard for all blind Minnesotans.

Friday, October 31

Friday afternoon was filled with division and committee meetings. Beginning with the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille in Minnesota, with the Resolutions Committee in the middle, and ending with a discussion for blind parents and parents of blind children there was something for everyone. Four resolutions were presented to the convention by the committee chaired by Jennifer Dunnam and are reprinted after this report. Our members passed all resolutions unanimously.

Friday evening brought a celebration of Halloween through the hospitality of our Metro Chapter. Each attendee received a Halloween bag of candy to go along with the food and fun that is traditional Federation hospitality.

Saturday, November 1

President Joyce Scanlan convened our convention promptly at 9:00 a.m. A cadre of people including Trudy Barrett, Bob Raisbeck and Amy Baron began the day with fun and valuable door prizes. These were anticipated with delight throughout the convention. Al Spooner coordinated our bake auction with a myriad of volunteer auctioneers. Many had a chance to try their hand at leading the charge to raise money for the Federation.

Jennifer Dunnam, president of the host Metro Chapter, welcomed us to the St. Paul Four Points Sheraton Hotel. She called to our attention that October was "Meet The Blind Month" with a proclamation from Mayor Randy Kelly of St. Paul. Similar proclamations had been made throughout the state.

AnnaLisa Anderson joined Jennifer to lead us in singing NFB songs.

Our theme for this convention was "Realizing Our Dreams Is Our Right."

Allen Harris, our national representative, was introduced to the convention. Allen is the director of the Iowa Department for the Blind and a former NFB board member. He began his report by lauding Joyce Scanlan for her many years of service as executive director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND). As of October 15th, Joyce has retired from that position. The audience joined him in acknowledging its gratitude for her many years of service.

It is with great anticipation that Allen invited all of us to attend the grand opening of NFB's Research and Training Institute on Friday, January 30, 2004. The gala event will precede our Washington seminar allowing more of us to attend.

Allen warned us of concerns that we have with the Medicare Prescription Act of 2003. Section 446, the vision rehabilitation provision, must be eliminated. This provision would allow doctors to prescribe rehabilitation services to Medicare recipients and these services could be provided by people who have no background in working with blind people. We are firmly opposed to a medical model for providing rehabilitation services. We were urged to contact our members of Congress to ask that they help us remove this section from the bill.

One of our hopes is to get Congress to establish a means to increase the likelihood that children will get their Braille textbooks on time. "Text On Time" has been incorporated into the latest provisions of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.) We must track its progress and work to see that it remains a part of the bill.

The reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act is, unfortunately, still tied to the Workforce Investment Act. This usually means that rehabilitation services take a back seat to other Workforce Center services. However, we were successful in keeping the job of commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) as an appointed one by the president and confirmed by the senate.

There is a formula which grants money to be used for rehabilitation services for blind seniors, which gave states with small populations $250,000 per year. We were able to get that amount raised to $300,000.

"Realizing Our Dreams Through Concerted Action On The Home Front: A Report To The Members" was the title of Joyce's presidential report. Beginning with a review of our legislative accomplishments from last year's session, she announced that the Federation was instrumental in restoring $629,000 to the State Services for the Blind (SSB) budget. SSB took an unusually hard hit with diminished funds during the Ventura administration and this restoration of funds was to create a more even playing field with other agencies in SSB's new Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED.)

Joyce spoke about our activities in membership recruiting throughout the state. Specifically, she mentioned the efforts of the NFB Corps who worked in St. Cloud and the Riverbend area. We are also working in the Duluth area to revive our chapter.

We are still working on the Paul Hammel case. Paul lost his job working in a cheese factory in Wisconsin because the employer maintained that it was unsafe for a blind person to work in that environment. Paul is represented by Scott LaBarre and is on appeal because we lost the first round.

A sad note to Joyce's report was a remembrance of the loss of one of our BLIND, Inc. buddies. Brianna Nelson drowned last summer in a tragic accident. Not only did we have to deal with her loss, but also some very irresponsible blind people tried to make political hay from this tragedy by saying that the accident was caused because Brianna was in the care of blind counselors. None of the authorities thought this to be the case; nor did Brianna's parents. Joyce said that the BLIND, Inc. staff and other buddies would not have gotten through the tragedy without the support of numerous Federationists and other friends throughout Minnesota and the nation.

Joyce announced her intention to run for another term as president of the NFB of Minnesota. This announcement was greeted with applause. She said that her priorities for the coming year would be in membership recruiting and advocacy.

Chuk Hamilton, acting director of SSB, began his report with information about a documentary that is being produced by DEED called "Focus On Ability." It is designed to teach people employed in workforce centers to be more comfortable with people with disabilities. Many Federationists had a hand in its production.

Chuk stated that DEED's first Commissioner, Mark Cramer, wants excellence in the provision of services from SSB staff. He takes an interest in what the blindness community has to say about the agency.

There are many vacancies on the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind. The governor fills these vacancies and people should apply through the open appointments section of the Secretary of State's office. The governor is particularly looking for outstate Minnesotans who meet the federal mandate for filling certain categorical representatives such as member of the business and labor community.

Chuk credited the Federation for leading the charge in getting the legislature to restore the $629,000 previously mentioned in Joyce's report. With this money, some staff positions will be reinstated; two new counselors will be hired in the Senior Services Unit and two positions will be created to work with children.

The Homestead Tax Credit program is being transferred to the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Hopefully, blind property owners will not notice a difference.

SSB is opening a hub for seniors to drop in and get information. He squelched the rumors that there will be no more home visits to seniors; however, whenever possible they will be urged to come to the hub.

Staff training for SSB counselors and Business Enterprise Program supervisors will be reinstituted although the training will not be the same as the previous program. Details will be forthcoming.

Chuk gave us a report on the selection of a new director for SSB. There are four finalists who include Chuk and Dave Andrews. A panel composed of Rod Haworth, chair of the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind; Wally Hines, vice chair of the council; Bonnie Elsey, director of workforce services for the new department; Howard Glad, director of rehabilitation services; and Dennis Yecke, assistant commissioner of DEED.

Chuk asked Dave Andrews to join him to bring people up to date on the conversion to digital radio talking book programming. Dave is hopeful that there will be clearer reception with these radios and that we can have two channels and double the programming. NFB-Newsline® is now being administered by SSB and paid for by the Library for the Blind in Faribault. The expenses for this year's service were less than expected and it is hoped that the excess money can be carried over for next year. Provisions are being written to determine a means of clarifying who is qualified to teach customers about assistive technology. As it stands, almost anyone can get on the list as a provider of this service. SSB has hired a professional fundraiser to help raise money for the Communication Center. She is hopeful of raising $200,000. In the question and answer period that followed, Tom Scanlan raised the issue that it seemed wrong for a fundraiser for a state agency to compete with nonprofits like ours who have no other recourse. Chuk expressed the hope that we would be seeking funds from different pots of money.

Jean Martin, as its director, gave a report on activities at the Minnesota Resource Center for the Blind. She explained an incentive program for school districts to help cover the cost of Braille material for students in grades k-12. Each district must contribute $10 for each child enrolled in special education; four dollars of that amount will be used to cover the cost of Braille. If a school district opts out of this program they are responsible for the entire cost of all Braille. She also told us about a committee that is working to ensure that there is no test bias that would make it unfair for blind students to participate in benchmark testing. This committee reviews each question on the tests to make sure that all of them can e answered by everyone--whether they are reading the tests in Braille or print.

Randall Cutting is the geographic information specialist for the Secretary of State's office. He appeared before our convention to bring us up to date on the implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). There are pilot studies throughout the state to determine which machines will work best to ensure private access to all citizens at every polling place. Of course, our special interest is in nonvisual access. Toward that end, we reminded Mr. Cutting that the National Federation of the Blind has money from HAVA to evaluate machines to determine how well they are in compliance with HAVA. We suggested that the secretary take advantage of our expertise. Secretary Kiffmeyer will be seeking authority from the legislature to begin implementation of HAVA. A vendor fair will be held in the near future to display the various machines that might be used.

During lunch, the Minnesota Association of Blind Students met to hear wisdom from Allen Harris and to plan the coming year. They want to spread the word about our national scholarship program and work on recruiting.

"A Vicarious Report on Library Services" was brought to us by Catherine Durivage, director of the Minnesota Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Faribault. A previous commitment kept her from joining us in person so we listened to her report on tape. She was pleased to begin by telling us that the mold problem in the Braille collection has been cleaned. Very little permanent damage was done and they are now able to send out books from the collection. All Twin Vision books and books with catalog numbers above 9000 were saved. Renovations to the heating system should keep the problem from reoccurring. Approximately 1,500 people will be receiving a comsumer survey from the library. We were urged to fill it out. They care about what we think. Ms. Durivage is looking forward to attending a meeting at the National Library Service (NLS) where she will learn more about digital talking books. Over 528 users are taking advantage of NFB Newsline (R). The Minnesota library is now circulating books broadcast on SSB's Radio Talking Book. They are added to NLS's system so that they can be used throughout the country. The library's new e-mail address is: mn.lbph@state.mn.us.

Blind students are no longer limited to fields of study such as English or history. Cary Supalo, a recent BLIND, Inc. graduate, who shared with us his experience in studying chemistry, demonstrated this. He challenged us to do the unexpected. Our greatest limitations come from a lack of creativity in finding alternatives to take the place of sight.

Shawn Mayo is the new executive director of BLIND, Inc. She began her remarks by thanking everyone for coming to Joyce Scanlan's retirement party. Many people from throughout the state came to pay their respects to Joyce for her seventeen years of service as BLIND's executive director. To demonstrate the creativity and enthusiasm of last summer's Buddy kids Shawn read the words of an original song written by the children. They have high expectations for themselves and it appears that there will be no stopping them from achieving their goals. During October there were eighteen adult students in the program. This includes a couple of staff members from SSB who were being trained in adjustment to blindness. However, it seems that the professional staff does not take the training as seriously as the blind students. David Carter, a graduate of BLIND, is organizing a benefit concert with people from the St. Paul Chamber orchestra. David will be playing the cello.

"Rallying the Troops to Action: A Legislative Report" was given by our legislative chair, Judy Sanders. At the end of last year's session we worked with Senator Scott Dibble to draft a model separate agency for the blind bill. We will be strategizing about when it should be introduced. Judy suggested that at January chapter meetings each member identify who his/her legislators are. This is not an idle exercise; one reason the NFB has been successful at the Legislature is that we get to know our elected officials.

A highlight of our conventions has come to be a presentation from the current BLIND, Inc. students. James Baxter, a student from Pennsylvania, had serious doubts about his abilities when he first arrived. However, he was duly impressed with Cary Supalo--the blind chemistry student. It caused him to rethink his view of the limitations (or lack of them) that come with blindness.

Kotumu Kamara, recently arrived from West Africa, not only finds herself deciding how to handle her blindness but she is learning English. When she first arrived in Minneapolis, she met Nadine and Steve Jacobson and she decided to follow their example of independence.

Chapin Mahoney's perspective is different. Growing up blind, he heard rumors about "those militants in the NFB" and was not sure that he wanted anything to do with us. He was hesitant about accompanying other BLIND students to the NFB's national convention. However, he did attend and it opened all kinds of doors for him. He is now considering a nursing or teaching career.

Joyce made us aware of a potential issue at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) in Faribault. Last summer Elaine Sveen, the former superintendent of MSAB, resigned to take a comparable position at the school for the blind in Maryland. Budget cuts to both MSAB and the Academy for the Deaf are causing the governance board of the school to consider hiring one superintendent for both schools. We must be ever vigilant to see that this does not happen. See our resolution elsewhere in this issue.

BANQUET: Allen Harris taught us, through an uplifting banquet address, about the three responsibilities of leaders in the Federation. First, they must convene a group of people with a common purpose: changing what it means to be blind. Second, our leaders must convince us that there is merit in working for change. Third, they must convert us to wanting to be a part of creating that change for us and for others.

Jennifer announced that James Baxter was the winner of the metro chapter's essay contest. A fun evening of karaoke followed the banquet.

Sunday, November 2

Sunday morning was filled with reports and business that indicate the Federation has a busy year ahead. Members of SSB's Rehabilitation Council began with a report on its activities. Jennifer Dunnam told us that it has been a year of much change for the Council. It has a new chair who is new to not only this position but to the blindness field. Rod Haworth is not blind and has never been involved in the blindness community. Most of the work on the Council involves paperwork such as creating an annual report. Committees do the primary work. Eric Smith added that the Council is hard at work trying to develop a mission statement. RoseAnn Faber reminded us that there are several vacancies to be filled on the Council and people were urged to apply. There are also openings on the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC.) Even though these councils seem irrelevant, Allen Harris stated the importance of our involvement.

The resolutions committee, chaired by Jennifer Dunnam, presented four resolutions. The text of these resolutions appear below; however, their subject areas were NFB Jobline which has been discontinued in Minnesota, training in adjustment to blindness for SSB staff, the status of the position of superintendent of the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, and elimination of Section 446 of the Medicare bill currently in Congress.

The Central Minnesota chapter presented a suggestion that state board meetings be moved around the state so that more members could attend them. It was agreed that one meeting a year, at a minimum, should be out of the metro area. The March board meeting will be in St. Cloud. It was also agreed that board meetings should be announced through our e-mail list and that people could request to be notified by phone.

Election of officers brought the following results: president, Joyce Scanlan; secretary, Judy Sanders; and board member, Charlene Childrey. Other board positions not up for election this year are vice president, Jennifer Dunnam; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; board members, Pat Barrett and Eric Smith.

Chapter reports from throughout the state show diverse activities ranging from membership recruitment, to fundraising, to an interesting array of guest speakers.

Allen Harris gave us closing remarks congratulating us on our spirit and dedication to making a better life for all blind Minnesotans. We can meet the many challenges that lay ahead of us with a positive outlook.

We raised $1,914 in our traditional bake auction.

The NFB has a long, proud history. Much of it is told in song. It was fitting that we closed with one such song that has been written and was performed by Meralee Devery.

Our convention adjourned at 11:45 a.m.

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Resolutions Adopted by Annual Convention

Resolution A03-01

WHEREAS, America's Jobline® is a public service provided free to any job- seeker by state agencies, with assistance from the National Federation of the Blind and the United States Department of Labor; and

WHEREAS, JobLine® is an accessible and useful tool not only for blind people, but also for any job-seeker who has difficulty accessing a computer or printed material, or who prefers to use a telephone to search current information about job openings and apply for jobs electronically; and

WHEREAS, the Minnesota Workforce Center system funded JobLine® for a number of years, but in July 2003, this valuable service became unavailable to Minnesotans because the workforce center system partners wrongly concluded that it was not used enough to justify continued funding; and

WHEREAS, many blind job-seekers in Minnesota did use and depend on JobLine® for the ability to conduct informational research and perform job searches independently; and

WHEREAS, the workforce centers deliberately did not promote JobLine® as they promoted their other services---most of which are not usable by the 74% of working-aged blind people who are unemployed or underemployed; Now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this 2nd day of November, 2003, in the city of St. Paul, that this organization call upon Minnesota's workforce Center System to reinstate America's JobLine® in Minnesota and to publicize far and wide its availability and benefits for any job-seeker with a telephone.

Resolution A03-02

WHEREAS, rehabilitation counselors who work at State Services for the Blind (SSB) are responsible for assisting customers in determining a vocational goal and the services required to reach that goal; and

WHEREAS, in order to assist blind customers effectively, rehabilitation counselors and their supervisors must have a positive attitude about blindness and more than superficial knowledge of the details of the services from which a customer can benefit; and

WHEREAS, in the recent past, direct service staff and supervisors at SSB received eight consecutive weeks of blindness-specific training which provided adequate background in blindness, but this training was discontinued and not replaced with a comparable program; and

WHEREAS, SSB has hired a large number of new counselors within the past three years; and

WHEREAS, SSB has provided the new counselors and supervisors, who often have little or no background in blindness, with very minimal and often piecemeal training which specifically relates to blindness; and

WHEREAS, the results of a recent customer satisfaction survey conducted by the Department of Employment and Economic Development show that a significant percentage of customers felt that their counselors were not sufficiently knowledgeable about blindness; and

WHEREAS, these findings are acknowledged by SSB's Director of Workforce Development as indicative of an area that needs attention and improvement at SSB; now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this second day of November, 2003, in the city of St. Paul, that this organization call upon State Services for the Blind to implement a program of concentrated and comprehensive immersion training on blindness for its rehabilitation counselors and their supervisors; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization offer its assistance and expertise in designing such a training program.

Resolution A03-03

WHEREAS, the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) have unique missions within Minnesota's education system; and

WHEREAS, because the educational needs of blind children are vastly different from those of deaf children, MSAB and MSAD have historically been identified as separate entities, each with its own superintendent; and

WHEREAS, since the resignation of the superintendent of MSAB in July, 2003, the superintendent of MSAD has served as acting superintendent of MSAB; and

WHEREAS, a committee consisting of members from the site councils of the two schools and the governance board of MSAB was formed to make recommendations to MSAB's governance board about the vacant superintendent position; and

WHEREAS, The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, along with others in the community, has long maintained that the students at MSAB are best served when the two schools remain separate; now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the national Federation of the blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this second day of November, 2003 in the city of St. Paul that this organization reaffirm and advise the site councils committee of our long-standing position that the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind should have a superintendent separate from the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the speedy appointment of a new superintendent of the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.

RESOLUTION A03-04

WHEREAS, many working-age blind individuals are eligible to receive assistance through the federal Medicare program; and

WHEREAS, Section 446 of the Senate Medicare prescription bill would allow doctors to prescribe various non-medical services to people who are blind or visually impaired; and

WHEREAS, enactment of this provision would force many blind people to obtain such services through the Medicare system and deny them the opportunity to receive vocational rehabilitation services from existing agencies that specialize in assisting people who are blind or visually impaired; and

WHEREAS, doctors lack the knowledge and expertise to assist blind people who are seeking employment and trying to live independent lives; now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this second day of November 2003, in the city of St. Paul, that this organization urge Senator Mark Dayton and Senator Norm Coleman to oppose the enactment of Section 446 of the Senate Medicare prescription bill.

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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 held on April 17, 2004 in New Ulm. Members have received a letter with details about the convention.

The National NFB Convention will be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia from June 29, 2004 through July 5. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The base room rates are $59 for singles and doubles, and $65 for triples and quads. The hotel is now accepting reservations. The full convention bulletin is in each issue of the Braille Monitor.

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held in October or November 2004 in St. Cloud. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention.

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