MINNESOTA
BULLETIN

 

1

 

Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Voice:  (612) 872-9363

Website:  www.nfbmn.org

Tom Scanlan, Editor

E-mail tom.scanlan@earthlink.net

 

Volume 72, Number 2, Spring 2006

 

WE ARE CHANGING

WHAT IT MEANS

TO BE BLIND

 

 

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Table of Contents

 

Les Affaires. 1

Report of the Annual Convention. 7

We All Love Books:  Give Us More Books. 17

A Call to Join the Cause. 23

A Light in the Darkness: Blind Activist Made People See. 25

Convention Alert! 27

 

 



Les Affaires

Happiness Isn’t Just Playing the Game

By Joyce Scanlan, President

 

By the time I was three years old, I had learned a major lesson about society’s attitudes toward blindness.  We already had four children in our family, two older than I and one younger.  The word “blind” was never uttered; however, I was often asked “Can you see this?” or “Can you see that?”  Why weren’t my siblings asked that question?  That was curious, but even more curious was the reaction of family members when I answered the question.  If I could see an object or a person, everyone was clearly happy.  If I couldn’t see the thing pointed out, the response was a sad-sounding “Oh.”  People seemed unhappy.

 

Why did my family and friends seem upset when I couldn’t see something?  What’s wrong with not being able to see?  These questions were transferred off to my subconscious, but my behavior soon altered to take care of the sad reactions of others.  For the next two decades of my life, I ceased saying I couldn’t see and always said what made everyone happy.  I learned to play the game.

 

I’ve always had great admiration for anyone who could recall a joke or recite a lengthy, profound or meaningful quotation, because, personally I can’t remember any kind of humorous joke or the exact words of a pithy saying unless I write it down immediately.  A few months ago while rushing about the house with the radio on in the background, I heard a guy give a definition of happiness, which I thought made a lot of sense.  He was quoting some unnamed person who said that happiness is the feeling that your life is going well.  That struck me as so simple and yet so nifty that I rushed to write it down on a little card.  We all want to be happy; yet we wonder what happiness really is.  Of course, it probably depends on your individual situation as to the true meaning of happiness in your life.  Yet we all work hard to define happiness and have happiness in our lives.

 

All of us have had ups and downs in our lives, the dark times and the bright spots.  I’ve certainly had some gloom-and-doom times in life, as I’m sure everyone has, but all of us in the Federation today can feel that we are in a period of success and great accomplishment.  Our organization is thriving with the increasing operation of the NFB Jernigan Research and Training Institute at our national headquarters.  Almost daily we hear of a new program beginning in Baltimore.  We have a mentoring program; the hand-held reading device is being demonstrated at state conventions and is being field tested throughout the country; we had a seminar for state presidents in Baltimore; we have an affiliate action program operating throughout the year—not just during national conventions; state affiliates have benefited from the Imagination Fund, and some, including Minnesota, have received grants from the Fund for special projects, and on and on.  New people are being added to the staff at the Center; we hear that so-and-so—and any number of people—have moved to Baltimore to work at the Jernigan Institute.  A constant rush of activities and new programs come on the scene, and we’re all happy and feeling good.  Our lives are going well.  Is this happiness?  Well perhaps it is happiness for those of us in the Federation.  As members of the National Federation of the Blind, we have spent a good deal of time and effort formulating the concepts that make up our philosophy of blindness.  Our organization has benefited from the deep thinking and the extraordinary intelligence of many leaders, especially our three leading national presidents Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan and Dr. Maurer.  Many scholarly individuals have contributed immeasurably to the body of written literature which contains the basic beliefs which all of us work to incorporate into our daily lives and hold as the tenets which make us Federationists and distinguish us from others who express philosophical principles concerning the subject of blindness.  We know that the loss of physical eyesight is not the major problem we face, but, rather, the stereotypes and negative attitudes which people have traditionally held toward blindness.

 

Yes, this is our philosophy.  We strive to put it to use in our daily activities, and we attempt to impart it to others, blind and sighted alike.  Yet, if we will be honest, we will be forced to admit that we are all products of today’s society and are affected by the stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness which permeate our society, we face constant questions and doubts which threaten our positive progress at every turn.  Or, at least while they may arise less and less frequently, the doubts and questions are occasionally with us.

 

Today, I can say to you with firm conviction that blind people are competent and can achieve the same level of success in life as sighted people if given proper and adequate training in the use of alternative techniques and the chance to put said training into practice.  Now I can say that and actually believe it; however, there was a time in my life when I not only would not have said this but would have played a different game and would have steadfastly argued to the contrary.  I tell you this in truthfulness, and not with pride.

 

Although I have been blind all my life, before 1970 when I came to know the National Federation of the Blind, I would never have admitted it without cringing with shame.  Because I had some “residual” sight during my early years, the message continually conveyed to me was, “be thankful you can still see some; you’re so much better off than if you were totally blind.”  As some of you will know, it doesn’t work well when you pretend to be sighted and are not.  For example, I made some mistakes.  One day I was standing in a store with a guy named Jim; we were waiting to meet a third person.  I kept up a running conversation about something, and Jim listened.   He didn’t say anything for so long that I finally wondered to myself why he wasn’t responding when I spoke.  Finally I said, “Well, Jim,” reached out my hand and touched a mirror.  Jim had walked away.

 

There was also the incident with the purple dress.  At Dayton’s Department Store I had been smitten by a certain dress; it came in green, brown, or purple.  Because I was in a rush that day, I gave the matter some careful thought and decided later to order a purple dress over the telephone.    When the dress was delivered, I was disappointed to see that the clerk had mistakenly sent me the dress in brown instead of purple.  I called the store and had a heated discussion with the clerk about the mistake she had made.  I insisted that the dress I had received was brown.  “I never wear brown,” I told her.  She replied, “Well, I don’t know what happened between the store and your house, but when that dress left here (the store), it was purple.”  Even at that, to me the dress was still brown.  When I took it to the seamstress to be shortened and asked her the color of the dress, she said, “Oh, it’s a deep purple.”  So there it was once again.  I was still struggling with blindness, denying it and fighting to be sighted.

 

Much later when I had been a Federationist for several years, there was the incident involving Judy Sanders’s red hair.  I sent our secretary to the airport to meet Judy when she moved to Minnesota.  The secretary asked, “How will I know her?”  I said, “She’ll have a white cane like mine, and—she has red hair.”  Well, the secretary found Judy, and when they returned, Judy informed me “Joyce, I don’t have red hair.”  I was absolutely certain I had seen red hair on her head.  Just another incident when I refused to admit I was blind.  There are many such stories, but I have long since figured out that I’m blind and that’s OK.  I think that’s why I can understand and have some feeling for those who are struggling.  I’ve been there.  I could easily match those who are struggling in stubbornness and refusal to accept where I was.  That gives me good hope for others and the chance that they’ll come around to a more upbeat frame of mind and will accept themselves for who and what they are.  Our great American humorist, Mark Twain, said, “Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”  I sincerely hope that the strugglers aren’t in that position, for I sincerely believe that when they begin coming to Federation activities, they are actually in search of a better way of life.  They may not even be able to articulate exactly why they are coming.  I only hope that they’ll realize that the Federation is for them, that they will accept themselves for the intelligent, potentially-capable people they are and will learn, as we have, what happiness really is.

 

It’s true that we all live with our mistakes, at least until we find a better way.  Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is the name so many people give to their mistakes.”  I come from the era in which almost everyone attended a residential school for the blind.  For me, that school provided an opportunity to observe how others who were blind were treated.  Remember, I, at the time, had some usable sight.  At that school, tasks were consistently divided into two groups, those which required sight and those which did not.  For instance, on Girl Scout camping trips, the sighted kids did the cooking over the campfire, while the blind ones had the job of washing the dishes.  The sighted kids always served the food and cleaned up the table afterwards.  The blind kids were always led by a sighted person.  There were several blind teachers on our staff.  It was apparent to all students that blind teachers were regarded as less competent, and more responsible tasks were assigned to sighted teachers.  Our superintendent was also blind.  His wife served as his secretary.  All students recognized that the sighted secretary had a stronger voice in the operation of the school than the blind superintendent did.  I never observed a blind teacher walking outside the school building alone.  They were always with a sighted guide.  Spending twelve years in this environment created attitudes which were difficult to overcome.  So, you see why I can understand somewhat where those who struggle with Federation philosophy are coming from.  Their environment has been different, but they have come out having learned some of the same negative attitudes I learned.

 

After spending elementary and high school in the cloistered setting of the residential school, I found college to be a real challenge.  The competition with many other students who were not blind, new social situations to deal with, having to resolve issues with instructors and other students on my own were all serious challenges for me.  Most of the time, I tried to bluff my way through by pretending to be sighted.  I drew the line on this though when it came to the requirement that I take swimming classes.  This was probably my most shameful moment in college.  I had never been interested in anything athletic, so when the sophomore year came along with swimming required for an entire semester, I went to the dean and petitioned out of it on the basis of my “subnormal vision,” as the doctor put it.  The saddest part of that was that it worked; I was excused from swimming, and I still have not learned to swim.  I wonder if the college would handle that differently today.  I know for sure I would.

 

It took many years, but I was eventually able to use that experience to benefit others—to turn a lemon into lemonade, so to speak.  When I was the director at our training center, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. and conducting seminars with students, this swimming—or non-swimming—experience served as an example for students of what not to do.  It served as an example to them that I wasn’t perfect, and they could learn from my mistake.  Students often feel guilty and don’t want to reveal their shortcomings; they think we expect them to be perfect.  I showed them I, too, was human and had to relearn some things to have a better life.

 

My days of “bluffing” eyesight I didn’t have  had come to an abrupt end one day when, although I had recognized there was some drastic problem with my eyesight, I was rushing to the door of the classroom with the attendance slip and crashed into another teacher who was coming in to talk with me.  She was wearing a bright red dress, and I hadn’t seen her. That was the moment I at least intellectually threw in the towel on pretending to be sighted.  I knew for a fact that I was blind.  What had just happened is not acceptable or appropriate or professional or anything else.  One does not bump into a colleague in a wide open space with nothing else around.  How would you explain it?  “Oh, excuse me; I just realized I’m blind.”  I could have said, “Excuse me, I didn’t see you.”  Her response could have been, “But, you were looking directly at me.”  Then I might have said, “But I wasn’t paying attention.”  I could have said these things, but I didn’t have my wits about me.  Looking back on that incident, I know that that was my moment of reckoning, my turning point.  I knew deep down, at least intellectually, that I had to do something different.  Emotionally, I had many miles to go.  I left teaching, because I had attributed every bit of success I had enjoyed to the fact that I could still see a little.  My only reference was the blind people I had known while in school.

 

For the next four or five years I floundered around struggling to regain my self-confidence and my ability to again be self-supporting.  This was my very first contact with actual rehab training.  To the state-agency rehab counselors, I must have presented quite a problem, because I asked so many questions that they couldn’t answer:  Why are there no blind people teaching?  What really is your job?  Why are so many blind people working in sheltered workshops?  As you might expect, the fine counselors took no responsibility for anything; things were so bad because blind people just weren’t willing or able to do very much.  How very sad.

 

For the first time, I began to give serious thought to blindness and what it meant.  And when I experienced that first National Federation of the Blind convention in Minneapolis in 1970, I was thrilled with what I found.  Change is possible; great benefits can come to blind people as we educate the broader public and ourselves about positive approaches to blindness.  Our expectations for blind people are high and becoming ever higher.  It is “realistic” to expect meaningful lives for all of us.  Many people over the years have clung steadfastly to a gloomy outlook on blindness and are not likely to change their views or their outlook.  They refuse to permit themselves to learn anything new and more accurate about blindness.  They dwarf education and hide in the past, selling themselves and other blind people short.    They are struggling, and we should help them find a better way of life.  I am also one who learned late, but thank goodness not too late, a better way of dealing with blindness.  If I can learn to deal with changes, after the difficult struggle I had long ago, anyone can.  Most of us have had missed or lost opportunities.  I could have and should have been aware of the Federation long before 1970.  The Federation was active in the ‘50s and ‘60s working to benefit me.  I turned my back and lived the life of a hermit.  The Federation was organizing students and fighting court cases on behalf of teachers, making it possible for blind people to be employed as teachers.  I was snooty and uppity and wouldn’t admit I was blind.  I insisted on fighting my battles alone.  The Federation also was standing up against the rehabilitation system to make it more effective for blind people.  But I again wanted to wage a personal war.

 

It was the National Federation of the Blind and the people I have met through the organization that have changed my life forever.  The best of all I know and believe about blindness, I learned from the Federation.  It is my sincere desire that all blind people will come to accept our Federation philosophy and will join with us as we change what it means to be blind.  I have great faith that the future belongs to the Federation.  Our beliefs are taking hold among thousands of blind people, and eventually we will capture the hearts and souls of the hard-core of the world.  Working as a training-center director, I learned long ago that those who struggle the most make the best progress.  That certainly was my experience.  Everyone deserves to experience real happiness.  Federationists can’t be lazy; we can’t complain; we can’t give up.  The Federation is in line for major progress in the years to come.  Everyone deserves to feel that their life is going well; everyone deserves happiness.  Let’s stay on track and make our dreams come true!!!

 


Report of the Annual Convention

October 7-9, 2005

By Judy Sanders, Secretary

 

National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of Minnesota conventions offer something for everyone having to do with blindness.  Friday's agenda is an example.

 

The day began with a seminar conducted by Jennifer Dunnam and Al Spooner.  Jennifer and Al are recent graduates of "Training to Organize People for Service (TOPS)."  This was a new seminar sponsored by the NFB, and Jennifer and Al brought a mini version to us in Minnesota.  It involved a spirited discussion and role playing to make us all aware of how we can more actively recruit members into the NFB.  This seminar served as a reminder that we all have a responsibility to share the Federation with other blind friends and interested parties.

 

Friday evening brought a choice of three meetings and hospitality.

 

The Minnesota Organization of Parents of Blind Children, under the leadership of Carrie Gilmer, met to share thoughts and ideas to benefit their blind children.  Blind adults were there to add the benefit of their experiences.  The extensive literature from the NFB was available and parents took full advantage of it.

 

Next door to the parents meeting, those interested in Braille met for the annual meeting of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), Kathy McGillivray president.  Elections yielded the following results:  president, Kathy McGillivray; vice president, Melody Wartenbee; secretary, Trudy Barrett; and treasurer, RoseAnn Faber.  NAPUB members look forward to promoting the "Braille Readers are Leaders" contest and urging all of Minnesota's blind children to be a part of it.

 

These meetings were followed by the Resolutions Committee meeting chaired by Jennifer Dunnam.  Two resolutions were referred for passage to the convention, one requesting the Department of Education to modernize its rule regarding eligibility for special-education services to include the word "blind" and another resolution thanking Senator James Metzen and Representative Jim Knoblach for their efforts in leading the way for passage of funding for NFB NEWSLINE®. 

 

Our Saturday morning general session was called to order promptly at 9 a.m. by President Joyce Scanlan.  Throughout the convention, the possibility of winning door prizes added to the excitement.  Trudy Barrett and her team of crack door prize experts kept us hoping that our names would be drawn.

 

Another longtime tradition at NFB of Minnesota conventions is our bake auction.  Al Spooner ably coordinated this auction; we had numerous baked goods and offers of scrumptious dinners to auction off and Al's crew did a heroic job in getting the maximum amount of money possible out of all of us.  The NFB of Minnesota treasury was the beneficiary.

 

Tom Scanlan read a proclamation from Governor Tim Pawlenty designating October as "Meet the Blind Month" in Minnesota.   See the Governor’s proclamation in the Winter 2006 issue.

 

We were pleased to welcome Carlos Servan, assistant director of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and former member of the NFB board of directors, as our national representative.

 

Words of welcome were offered by Jennifer Dunnam, president of the Metro chapter, followed by some spirited singing of NFB songs.

 

Our first speaker of the morning was Mr. Olda Boubin, the new director of the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault.  Mr. Boubin introduced himself to us by telling of his harrowing childhood in Hungary and his good fortune in becoming a refugee to this country.  He became an educator of blind children because his mother was legally blind.  He believes that legislation should be passed requiring every school district to identify every visually-impaired child; determine if the child needs a teacher of the visually impaired; determine if Braille should be taught; and assure that Braille material is provided at the same time as the material for sighted students.  If this is not possible, is the technology available to make the material available in another format?  There should also be a determination of whether the child should attend the school for the blind.  Can the child read at grade level by third grade?  He believes the Academy for the Blind should unify all vision teachers and that expectations for blind children should be higher.

 

We next heard from Chuk Hamilton, the director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB).

 

The report was a celebration of SSB's partnership with consumers like us.  133 customers were successful in finding or keeping employment last fiscal year.  SSB is increasing its marketing and outreach to seniors and children.  The Communication Center works cooperatively with the Minnesota Resource Center for the Blind and Visually Handicapped to provide technology for testing blind children so that their teachers and families can determine what might be helpful in their education.  Chuk commended the NFB for its political savvy as shown by our leadership in getting funding for NFB-NEWSLINE® and Dial-in-News.  See Chuk’s complete report in the Winter 2006 issue.

 

Our next speaker, Jean Martin, Director of the Minnesota Resource Center for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, is supporting our request that the rule governing eligibility for special-education services for blind children be amended to use the word blind in addition to visually impaired.  This change should not be controversial and will not require a hearing.  Jean continues to work with Mary Archer, supervisor of the Braille unit in the Communication Center to evaluate each question that is to appear on standardized tests for Minnesota students.  They are determining if there is any bias in the questions that would be difficult for a blind student.  If they find that a question could not be transcribed into Braille, it is eliminated from the test.  The Resource Center has established a partnership with the Pennsylvania School of Optometry to teach a distance learning course that trains potential orientation and mobility instructors.  This helps alleviate a shortage of instructors in the public school system.  Braille textbooks are transcribed by the Communication Center.  This service is paid for by local school districts on a per child basis.  They pay the Department of Education who then pays SSB.  If a school district opts out of this program, they must pay full price for each book they need.  The Resource Center is also partnering with SSB to loan assistive technology to blind children so they can determine its usefulness to them.  See Jean’s complete report in the Winter 2006 issue.

 

Jennifer Dunnam, chair of our resolutions committee, read a resolution supporting amending the special-education rule to include the word blind.  The resolution passed unanimously.

 

Our morning session closed with a demonstration of the new handheld reading machine that is being developed through the NFB Jernigan Institute in cooperation with Ray Kurzweil.  Carlos Servan explained how this machine will work and Jennifer Dunnam demonstrated it.  It was available for examination throughout the convention.

 

During the latter part of the morning our speakers had to contend with noise coming from a room next door to our meeting room.  The raucous laughter of children could be heard emanating from the activities of the "Saturday School" sponsored by the Minnesota Organization of Parents of Blind Children.  This is an activity that is open to all blind children and usually takes place at our headquarters in Minneapolis on the second Saturday of each month.

 

The Minnesota Association of Blind Students met over lunch and elected the following officers:  president, Jeff Thompson of Fridley; vice president, Kotuma Kamara of Minneapolis; secretary, Jordan Richardson of Blaine; and treasurer, Bryce Samuelson of Hayfield.

 

Our first afternoon speaker was Catherine Durivage, director of the Minnesota Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Faribault.  Many of Catherine's remarks focused on improvements on technology allowing us to receive better service.  For instance, we can e-mail questions to librarians and receive a rapid response.  We can use our computers to research what books we may want to order and can place the order with the library.  NFB-NEWSLINE® is another example of how technology gives us greater access.  The library is adding to its descriptive video collection which is available for loan to patrons.  On a less technological front the library is adding to its collection of audio books about and by Minnesota authors.  It is hoped that the transition to digital recorded books will be completed by 2008.   See Catherine’s complete report later in this issue.

 

Carlos Servan, our national representative, began his report with an explanation of the problems we are having in the rulemaking process for IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  The specific provision that concerns us has to do with the definition of getting books on time for blind students.  States can opt out of this rule without a real explanation as to how they will comply. 

 

We continue to have disagreements with the WIA (Workforce Investment Act) legislation.  H.R. 27 downgrades the position of the Commissioner for the Rehabilitation Services Administration; we want it to remain a presidential appointment.  The Senate version, S.1021 takes our position.  We also hope to strengthen the choice provisions in WIA.  We are supporting an increase for funding for older Americans in the rehabilitation funding.  Seniors constitute over half of the blind population. 

 

We are still hopeful that we can find a way to reopen the Office for the Blind and the regional offices in RSA.

 

We are celebrating the two-hundredth birthday of Louis Braille.  In his honor, we are asking Congress to authorize a commemorative coin.  We need 290 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.  We were proud to inform Mr. Servan that all eight of Minnesota’s Congressmen have signed on to the bill.

 

We are still hopeful of raising the SGA (Substantial Gainful Activity) amount for blind Social Security recipients to $31,000 per year.  This seems a reasonable goal since older Americans have no earnings limit.

 

NISH (formerly the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped) is ever active in trying to push out blind vendors from the Randolph-Sheppard program.  So far, the NFB has taken the lead in preventing this but we must be ever vigilant.

 

In the area of Medicare legislation, we want Medicare to pay for prescription information that would be accessible to blind customers.  It is technically possible for information to come in an audio format.  We are opposed to using Medicare funds for rehabilitation services if the doctors must prescribe for them. 

 

We are involved in a lawsuit on behalf of Lynn Heitz and other college students because she is being forced to count her NFB scholarship as a similar benefit.  This cuts down on her assistance from the Rehabilitation Department.

 

Our Washington seminar will take place from January 30th through February 2nd, 2006.  We are urged to have our usual big delegation.

 

“A Call to the Cause” was an inspiring presentation made by Carrie Gilmer.  She called upon us to join her and other parents on a journey to guarantee freedom for all blind people.  Her speech could have been called “Are we there yet?”  Of course, while we have made great strides, we are not there and that is why we need the National Federation of the Blind.  See Carrie’s complete presentation later in this issue.

 

“Grab the World and Run with It” was the topic for this year’s panel of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) students.  Jana Duncan, of Maple Grove, told us about selling herself short all her life until she finally decided to take control of her own situation and became a student at BLIND.  She is now learning the skills and gaining the confidence she needs to make her own decision.

 

Amanda Swanson, from Detroit Lakes, has Usher’s Syndrome.  This means she is slowly losing both vision and hearing.  She was a student at Moorhead State when she realized she was having a problem getting around.  She came to BLIND and is learning far more than she bargained for.

 

Jeff Thompson, from Fridley, is the new president of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students, the NFB of Minnesota’s student chapter.  He had attended a rehabilitation training center but was not properly motivated to use the skills that they taught him.  He became a student at MCTC but eventually realized he needed a refresher course in many of his techniques.  He also needed a different perspective.  A friend from another state invited him to an NFB national convention; he went with low expectations but came back with the determination to become a student at BLIND.  He is now getting his life back on track and expects to live up to the higher expectations everyone has for him.

 

Shawn Mayo, the executive director of BLIND, pointed out the important role that Federationists play in making this program a success.  She introduced Zach Ellingson, the travel instructor, who told us how he came by his job.  He is a former student and this was his favorite class.  It took him many years to agree to be a student, so he is in a perfect position to relate to other students who are uncertain whether this is the right decision for them.  He is having so much fun doing his job that he considers it a bonus to get paid.  He does not feel like he is working.

 

Kathy and Larry Sebranek, from La Crosse, Wisconsin, told us of their travel adventures and let us know how easy it is to go anywhere we want.  Kathy began her travels on city buses in St. Paul where she grew up.   It was her mode of transportation to school.  She graduated to Jefferson Lines when she moved to La Crosse.  Her first airline trip was to an NFB convention.  As a vendor in the Business Enterprise Program, Larry heard about a cruise that was being sponsored by the NFB merchants division.  Larry and Kathy took that cruise and now it is difficult to find them at home.  They just returned from a Mediterranean cruise.  Larry joked that he especially likes cruises because they are equipped to handle Kathy’s voluminous amounts of luggage.

 

The highlight of any NFB convention is the Saturday evening banquet.  Jennifer Dunnam acted as mistress of ceremonies and kept things going at a lively pace.  Door prizes were handed out and bake items were auctioned off at astronomical amounts.

 

Two life membership awards were given by President Joyce Scanlan.  The first was to Jan Bailey for her outstanding career as a rehabilitation counselor where she teaches her customers to have high expectations for themselves and she puts into practice the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.  The second award was presented to Marie Whitteker.  At age 92 Marie is as active as she ever was.  She has been a Federationist since the 1940’s and has participated in every facet of the Federation’s activities.  See Joyce’s complete presentation in the Winter 2006 issue.

 

The highlight of the banquet was the speech presented by Carlos Servan.  Mr. Servan told us of how he was blinded in an explosion in Peru that also took one of his hands.  He came to this country knowing little English and knowing even less about how he would live his life as a blind person.  He is now an attorney and deputy director of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind.  His inspirational story, including the part that the National Federation of the Blind played in it, helped us all realize two things: the Federation is important in all our lives and we can surmount anything we put our minds to.

 

Joyce and Carlos urged us to contribute to a new PAC (Preauthorized Check Plan) or to make an increase to an already existing contribution.  Minnesota is currently fourth in the nation in the amount we give. 

 

Tim Lindbo was announced as the winner of this year’s Metro Chapter essay contest. 

 

Sunday morning began with members of the Federation who serve throughout the blindness community on a variety of committees or councils making reports. 

 

Steve Jacobson reported on the status of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) enforcement.  Steve is helping to make the final decision as to which voting machines the state will recommend to the counties and help purchase.

 

Joyce Scanlan represents us on the advisory committee to the Minnesota Resource Center.  This committee is supporting the rule amendment to add the word “blind” to the special-education rule.

 

Jennifer Dunnam serves as chair of the Rehabilitation Advisory Council for the Blind.  She was involved in selecting the new director of the Communication Center, Richard Strong.  This is a tough time in rehabilitation services because of the federal government’s lack of support.  It is too early to determine how the many changes the Rehabilitation Services Administration is making will affect SSB.  The regional office in Chicago has already closed and we do not yet know who the new Washington contact will be.  Steve Jacobson and Judy Sanders are newly appointed members of the Council.  Jennifer thanked RoseAnn Faber for her six years of service on the Council.

 

Jan Bailey and Janiece Duffy serve on the Site Council for the Academy for the Blind in Faribault.  Jan represents the Alumni Association and Janiece represents the NFB.  Jan was a member of the interview committee that chose Olda Boubin as the new director of the Academy.  Jan needs to resign her position and is looking for a replacement for the Alumni Association.

 

The minutes of the 2005 semiannual convention were approved as printed in the Minnesota Bulletin

 

The treasurer’s report was accepted as read by Tom Scanlan.

 

Jana Duncan invited everyone to a Halloween bash sponsored by the students at BLIND.  Everyone was urged to come in costume on October 28th.

 

A resolution was passed thanking Representative James Knoblach and Senator James Metzen for their authorship of our NFB-NEWSLINE® funding bill and thanking the legislature for its unanimous support.

 

The NFB of Minnesota elected the following officers:  president, Joyce Sanlan; secretary, Judy Sanders; board members, Charlene Childrey; Jan Bailey and Beth Moline.  Those who were not up for election this year are vice president, Jennifer Dunnam; treasurer, Tom Scanlan; and board members Pat Barrett and Steve Jacobson.

 

Chapter reports indicate that we are growing by leaps and bounds throughout Minnesota.  Our newest chapter is the Runestone Chapter.  At the banquet Dick Sammons was presented with their new charter but he was unable to be present for his chapter report.  All chapters are actively participating in “Meet the Blind Month” activities. They range from handing out literature in public areas, to tables and displays of NFB-NEWSLINE®, to demonstrations of assistive technology, to a scavenger hunt at the Mall of America. 

 

The Rochester chapter will be selling calendars and food and the members will wear name tags that say “I am blind.  Ask me a question.”

 

The metro chapter is hosting new-members diners in chapter members’ homes.  At chapter meetings they often read Kernel Book stories and follow with a discussion. 

 

The St. Cloud chapter held a garage sale that netted $200.  This is in addition to their spaghetti dinner in January. 

 

The Riverbend Chapter credits the move-a-thon with giving them more visibility in the community of New Ulm.  They receive more calls from people wanting information about blindness.  They were proud of the senior event that they hosted in the spring.

 

Tim Aune announced that people can hear excerpts from this convention on “Speaking for Ourselves” which airs on the Radio Talking Book the last Sunday evening of the month.

 

This was our most successful bake sale.  We netted more than $3,100. 

 

The convention adjourned shortly before noon.

 

 

Resolution A05-01

Regarding the Inclusion of the Word "Blind" In Special Education Definition

 

WHEREAS, all children who receive special education services in Minnesota because of legal blindness or other irregularities in their vision must be qualified for such services under Minnesota Rule 3525.1345; and

 

WHEREAS, such services may include anything from Braille and cane travel instruction to modification of seating arrangements in the classroom; and

 

WHEREAS, while "visually impaired" as defined in the rule includes some who are not legally blind, the rule is also clearly intended to apply to students who are blind; and

 

WHEREAS, the rule contains several references to "visually impaired" but never uses the word "blind" in the title or the text; and

 

WHEREAS, the  equivalent rule covering hearing-impaired persons is titled "Deaf and Hard of Hearing" making the absence of the word "blind" a conspicuous omission; and

 

WHEREAS, the title of this rule, "visually impaired", which is used to categorize students receiving special education services, is a prominent part of the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and influences the options considered therein; and

 

WHEREAS, an instance recently occurred in which education officials cited the absence of the word "blind" in the Minnesota Rule to support their refusal to refer to a student as blind in his IEP; and

 

WHEREAS, understanding and accepting blindness is an important part of developing positive attitudes about blindness, both for the student who is blind and for the professionals who work with the students; now therefore

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota on this eighth day of October, 2005, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization seek (and support efforts to seek) legislative authorization to make a non-controversial modification to Minnesota Rule 3525.1345 for the purpose of adding the word "blind" to its title so that it reads "Blind/Visually Impaired"; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that after approval to modify the rule has been received, this organization work with the appropriate entities to ensure inclusion of the word "blind" in the rule title.

 

 

RESOLUTION A05-02

Regarding Commendation for Legislation to Fund NFB-NEWSLINE®

 

WHEREAS, NFB-NEWSLINE® is a telephone newspaper reading service offering access to over two hundred newspapers and magazines for blind and other eligible individuals unable to read conventional print; and

 

WHEREAS, NFB-NEWSLINE® was previously funded in Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, but this grant expired on April 15th, 2005; and

 

WHEREAS, The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota requested that the Minnesota Legislature approve funding for NFB-NEWSLINE® through the Telephone Access Minnesota (TAM) fund; and

 

WHEREAS, Senator James Metzen and Representative Jim Knoblach served as chief authors of this legislation and shepherded it through many committee hearings until, in the end, it passed unanimously in both Houses – a most unusual occurrence at the Legislature; now, therefore

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this ninth day of October, in the city of Bloomington, that this organization express its gratitude to Senator James Metzen and Representative Jim Knoblach for their unwavering support and leadership in seeing to the passage of funding for NFB-NEWSLINE®; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization thank the Minnesota Legislature for their unanimous vote to fund this service, which provides unprecedented access to daily newspapers and magazines for blind Minnesotans.

 

We All Love Books:  Give Us More Books

By Catherine Durivage, Director, Minnesota Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Faribault

 

(Editor’s Note:  This report was made at the NFB of Minnesota annual convention on October 8, 2005.)

 

Good afternoon.  Somebody asked me if I am delayed, and I wish I could have said what I said on Wednesday, after I hit a raccoon on the way to work.  That raccoon left a mark on my car to the tune of $2,000.  Anyway, I don't have that kind of excuse today, nevertheless I am glad to be here.  I appreciate Joyce asking me to return, and I also appreciate the opportunity to give you an update about the library.

 

It was just about a year ago that I was here, and I think I let everybody know that we had some retirements—last fiscal year we had three people retire.  In a staff of twelve, that's a lot.  We were lucky that we were able to re-hire our reference librarian Renee Parent, so she's back on staff as of February of this year [2005].  The two other retirements that we had were both thirty-year-plus employees.  That's a lot to lose.  Cheryl Peterson retired in February—she was here thirty-four years.  I think that the only job she ever had was working for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.  She's now spending time with her grandkids.  The other retirement we had was Ramona Reichert, who was one of our customer service specialists—you probably spoke to her on the phone.  She retired in May.  We are in the process of re-hiring those two open positions, and hopefully yet this calendar year we will get two more people.  Please be patient with them when they come on board, as there will be a lot for them to learn with the system and the service as it is now.

 

As many of you know because you have called and we explained, we have a new automation system at the library.  When I interviewed for the job back in May of 1999, it was my goal to upgrade our software.  It took me six years to do that, but I am very pleased that we have a computer system that is a lot more responsive, not only to what we do every day, but to people that use the service.  One of the biggest things that we can offer now is access to your library account online.  If you are an internet user and want to order your books yourself, to view your library record, to see what you have checked out or for magazine subscriptions, place books on hold or request, you can do that now right from your computer.  It is a big improvement for us to be able to offer that.  We can give you all the information if you call or e-mail us.  I know some of you are using it now, and what we would appreciate, is that if you have any feedback about the software, positive or negative, let us know.  This is software that virtually every network library is using now.  There are very few other options for network libraries in terms of computer software, so we have a lot of power with this vendor.  If we don't like something because you don't like something, we will let them know, and the more they have to go on and the more they hear from us through you, the more changes can be made.  Use your leverage, and we will use ours with the company.  We're still learning—the system was installed in May.  We had about a month before we had to shut down because of the partial government shutdown.  It took over a month to get caught up from the backlog, from where there were twenty-five mail bins waiting for us when we got back in July.  That was a bit of a setback, as we had momentum going with the software, so now we had to backtrack a little.  Another advantage to each of you as well is that we can now send books in series order.  If you have a favorite series you like and want to read those books in order, just let us know—we can do that now as we couldn't before.

 

Another advantage is, say you don't like books by a certain author and don't want to read those—you're tired of, say, Nora Roberts or John Grisham.  We can tell the system not to send you books by that author.  Just tell us and we will let the system know that.  If you like particular authors, let us know that as well.

 

We can also tell the system not to send a book by a particular narrator.  Some people don't like some of the narrators, because of the tone of the voice or they can't understand them, so we can tell the system not to send those too.

 

As I mentioned, you have online access to your record now.  It is web-based—no more Telnet! Once you get into the system, if you don't like the password, you can change it at any time.  If you forget your password, we can change it for you; you don't even have to tell us what the old one was, just tell us what you want it to be.  There are help screens on every page within the software online.  I think they're pretty good help screens, but if you have a question or something doesn't make sense, let us know that.

 

We appreciate your feedback.  We do know that there are some problems with the online catalog, and because we have leverage with the other network libraries that are using the system, I'm confident that those changes and improvements will be made.

 

For your information, and I can make sure to send this information, the website address for our new software is http://www.klas.com/mnbph.  You might wonder why it says klas.com.  Our software is hosted by our vendor, so they maintain our software and our database.  The abbreviation stands for Keystone Library Automation System.

 

Some other things that we are doing, we are adding more descriptive videos to send out.  Being a little short-staffed, we're a little behind on getting them inventoried, but we are purchasing more and will continue to do that.  We'll buy whatever we can get.  Some are moving to DVD's, and we will purchase those as well, so you don't have to worry about whether we will go to that format—we will.

 

One other thing that I haven't talked about in previous opportunities is that we have a volunteer recording program at the library in Faribault.  We have volunteers in the area that come in and read the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer and the Minnesota History Magazine.  We've been doing that for a very long time.  Because we have maybe five or six regular volunteers that read for us, we haven't always been able to get too many books read in a given year.  I'm happy to say that we've picked up, and there is more and more interest in recording for us.  This year, we have worked on a book about a Minnesota doctor—I think it was a veterinarian, but don't quote me on that.  We're also doing a book on the state Capitol, because it is the hundredth anniversary of the Capitol.  That is unusual for us to get some books done that quickly, but the more people we have record for us, the more we can expand our selection.  Those will be coming out hopefully this year.  Not everybody understands that when we record something, we have a monitor that sits right in front of the glass where the narrator is reading the material, and then we have someone review it.  Then corrections are made.  It is somewhat of a time-consuming process, but we want the final product to be good, and that's what you expect, so we don't want to short-change you.

 

I know I talked last year briefly about an online virtual reference service called Info-Eyes, on which Jennifer [Dunnam] last year was the guinea pig for me at a library conference that I went to.  I wanted to let you know that there have been some changes in that service.  I know some of you might have used it.  I know that I even got an e-mail question from someone at State Services for the Blind, so I know it is being used here in Minnesota.  It is a virtual reference service.  You can now, Monday through Friday during normal business hours, click on a link that says “chat with a librarian," and either that same day or very shortly, someone contacts you to set up an opportunity that you can talk live with a librarian.  If you don't want to do that and you just have a question, you can e-mail us, and a library staffer will research your question for you and send back through e-mail a response.  Yesterday, I had five e-mail questions come in.  I can tell you that there was one on "what is podcasting?"  I had a question of "give me information about Isaac Newton."  I didn't know which one, because I found three, so I sent them biographical information on all three.  Those are the kinds of questions that we might get and you may be able to ask us.  It was fun, and that's the most I've answered in any given day.  It's still a service that exists.  A lot of public libraries and university libraries offer virtual reference, but unfortunately, the software they use is not accessible.  We are working with these companies, particularly one, to make the software accessible.  As a round-about or alternative, we offer this Info-Eyes service, where you can go in and chat with us, and the software is accessible.  It is provided by Talking Communities, and maybe some of you have used their software.  There are eleven network libraries participating in this project, and the goal is that we won't be around, because we want these other companies to be accessible, and we are using some of our leverage to make that possible.  I'm a little more involved in this project now because I am the co-coordinator of it.  Between me and the Perkins School in Massachusetts, we will now be co-coordinating the service for the next two years.  I do have a passion about this and want to see it get off the ground, and then actually go away, so that you can go to your public library research service and not worry about whether it's accessible or not.

 

I want to give everyone a big thank you for NFB-NEWSLINE® funding.  That was a big accomplishment.  I am happy to let you know that we still have people registering.  I think I signed up three people just this week.  Almost daily we are getting people signed up for NFB-NEWSLINE®.  It is our goal to keep that publicized, and to get more users and more active users as well.

 

One thing that the National Library Service (NLS) did this year, and it was the first time they've ever done this, is they awarded a network library of the year award.  I was very lucky to be a participant in reviewing applicants for this award.  It was interesting, and hard to make a choice, but this year's recipient was the Braille Institute in Los Angeles.  They were determined among all the applicants to be the winner, and it's kind of fitting, as they are the precursor to the programs of the National Library Service.  They won recognition, and a thousand dollars from the National Library Service gift money, so you don't have to worry about your state or federal tax dollars paying for that award.  It's a nice honor.  Next year, there will be two awards.  It was found out that there are some subregional libraries, like branch libraries in other states, which are really doing remarkable things.  Only having one network award seemed very limiting.  They're going to give a regional library award and a subregional library award.  Anyone can nominate a library, there is a form, and there are requirements that have to be met to be selected or move past the nomination stage.  It recognizes what we do in a way above and beyond what the National Library Service requires us to do.

 

Another thing that NLS has started doing in the last couple of years is honoring patrons that are a hundred years old or older.  They are calling it the Ten Squared Club.  We are working to do that here in Minnesota—there will be PR and an opportunity that every recipient would receive a plaque indicating that they are chosen for this recognition.  We have quite a few people that use the service that are a hundred years old or older.  I think that will be really neat, and we hope that at least one of them can come down from the Metro area to Faribault where the library is.

 

There is a lot on the horizon with digital talking books.  I know that there are issues out there of people thinking that the Library Service is moving way too slow in getting a digital player out and a digital format.  Working as part of this program, and also as a person that uses an MP3 player, I understand the issues involved and how people feel that we should be further along.  When you look at how many people use the service, how many cassette players are out there, just the logistics of changing to a new format, and doing it within the budget that they have—I think it's next year or the year after that they have to ask the Congress for an additional $70 million to get this new format going—that's a lot.  It's a lot of money, and we really don't want to have to backtrack if something isn't right.  They want all their ducks in a row, and to make sure of the format we're going with, which is digital and is most likely a flash memory type like you would use in a digital camera.  2008 is the deadline, not too far away.  I understand from reading that they might be able to offer some things as early as 2007, maybe for download through the internet—we'll have to wait and see.  If you don't already, try to use some digital service out there, not necessarily through the National Library Service, but there's audible.com, Bookshare, other online services where you can purchase or download materials, or even through the mail get things back and forth in a digital format.

 

I just got an e-mail a couple days ago about a new audio book called Play-away, which will be introduced possibly this holiday season, where the book and the player are one.  If you go buy this audio book, the player itself is there, so you don't have to buy anything else, and when you want to listen to that book, you just press play.  It's digital, and there's nothing you have to carry around with you other than that book.  I think it's pretty cool.  I'd like to see one in person, because they didn't give dimensions on the website, but there's a play and rewind, a start, you can do some searching, things like that.  The navigational buttons are limited, like what's on a cassette player.  They estimate the cost to be about $40 per book.  It seems kind of high, but then an unabridged CD of a book can be $30 to $40 also.  It holds one book, and its sole purpose is to play that one book.  It's another thing out there for people to have and use.  We will keep up with that and keep information in our newsletter.

 

Someone asked when the next newsletter comes out—that will be when I write it.  With the staff shortage and everything going on I have to admit that hasn't been at the top of my list, but it's something that I will get out before the end of the year.  We will devote some of that newsletter space to the digital talking book.

 

Public libraries offer e-books.  We're not the only game in town, and I think that's fine.  That gives you the opportunity to have more books and more resources at your disposal.

 

We did receive this week the 2004 Cassette Books catalog.  If you were wondering why they were so late, so were we.  There were production delays, but we have received those catalogs.  If you haven't gotten one and you ordered one, be patient, it should be coming.  If you want one, please let us know.  We have the large print ones, and we'll get the cassette copies probably in a month or two as well.

 

The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is part of the Department of Education, as a lot of you know.  It seems like every summer, they decide that they're going to revamp their website.  I don't know why they do that in time for the state fair, but they've revamped it again, and as a result, not a lot of our content was moved over.  If you go to the website and find us, you won't find as much as you did prior to August.  I apologize for that.  I will give the department kudos on making the site easier to put things on, but if you don't have the staff or the time to do it, then that doesn't necessarily help you.  We are slowly tackling it, because we had information about our catalog, we had the descriptive video catalog online, in large print, Braille, and an MP3 recording of it so you could listen to it through your computer or save it and play it on another device.  I will try to do a lot more of that.  Be patient with us as we are making changes to the website.  The best thing to do to get to the website is to go to education.state.mn.us, that's the main department's website.  On the left-hand side of the screen, navigate down until you fine State Library Services, click on there and then you'll find us.  I ask them every year to put us on their home page—why should you guys have to go burrowing through the website to get to us—that's ridiculous.  So I've asked to have our link right on the home page, and I hope we can do that—I don't see why they won't—but call them or e-mail them and tell them you want a link on the main page.  I'd rather have it come from you guys than just me if that's important to you.

 

That's my update on the library.

 

A Call to Join the Cause

By Carrie Gilmer, President, Minnesota Parents of Blind Children

 

(Editor’s Note:  This presentation was made at the NFB of Minnesota annual convention on October 8, 2005.)

 

Every time we get ready to go on a trip my kids ask me, “How long will it take to get there?”  Sometimes it seems we are barely out of the driveway and the questions of “how much longer” begin.  Inevitably, 15 to 20 minutes later, my youngest child, Maya, will ask, “Are we there yet?”, and 20 minutes after that, “How long until we get there, Mom?”  Although it is an annoying question at times, it is a reasonable one.  It is difficult to endure a journey when you don’t know how far you have come or how much there is left to go. It is hard to be patient on a journey if where you are going doesn’t seem relevant to you.  It is also hard to be patient on a journey if you really do want to get to your destination, and its relevance to you is clear.  Those are the times you feel so excited you can’t wait to get there.

 

When getting ready for a journey you prepare yourself differently for a one hour trip than you do for a whole day’s journey.  If you are going for a whole day, or longer, you need rest stops and refueling—you need to stop for food, and you probably have to switch drivers too.  You need things to keep you occupied along the way.  Sometimes on a long journey delays can occur.  The vehicle may break down; maybe a storm comes along.  Time is spent repairing or just holding your ground.

 

I was thinking of all this as I was thinking about how the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children are vehicles for collective action.  We are on a journey together. Our destination?  Freedom for the blind!  A day where it is well to be blind anywhere.  A place where blind people are automatically and unquestionably considered normal and are expected to do normal things.  A time when all blind children are expected to read, travel about independently, and be known—not for their blindness—but for their own unique contributions to the community around them.

 

Are we there yet?  How long until we get there?  I want to be there so very badly and I often feel like I can not wait.  I feel this especially when I meet a child who has been denied the right to read, or pushed to use vision beyond all reason, or raised and educated with the very lowest of expectations because there is no vision at all.  At these times I feel impatient.  The journey seems long, the vehicle needs maintenance, storms have come and there are trees down in the road.  On those days, it feels like we’ve barely gone a few miles on a journey I can not measure.

 

But then I think of someone like Marie Whitteker or Andy Virden or Larry Kettner or Georgia Bredesen—riding the NFB bus for 50 or 65 years—some of the first passengers on the bus.  And here they are today—still helping in the collective, making time and effort to come to the meetings, and bringing items for the auction too.  I think of all of us—how we love and encourage one another.  How we feed each other and fight for each other. And then, the singing breaks out and we have joy together on the journey.

 

I talked with someone not too long ago.  I have seen this person around for a number of years.  I was very surprised to learn he wasn’t an NFB member.  When I asked him why, he talked about the journey and how the NFB vehicle hadn’t gotten us there yet.  He said he would join us when we got there!  At first, I hardly knew what to say.  Good grief, I thought!  Then I told him how we might get there so much faster if he joined in and helped with clearing the road, or coming up with a song to sing, or paying for the gas, or pumping up a flat tire.  Wait until we get there?  No!  We need every voice, every effort—and we need it today!  And guess what.  We are the ones who will get you there—even if you don’t help at all.  When we arrive, all blind people will arrive.  No one will be left behind.  That is the destination—freedom for all, security for all, opportunity for all, equality for all.  So you see; it is vital for all.  It is not possible to truly attain these things and leave someone out; you are riding along whether you like it or not.

 

You heard the kids having a great time in Saturday School this morning.  Do you know what they were excited about?  They were writing little plays to practice educating others about themselves as blind people and the tools that they use.  Then, they acted the plays out.  They were applauding themselves and each other.  They were so excited about who they are and the tools that they use.  They had a great sense of humor!  The scenes were woven with comedy and were realistic with a casual straight forwardness—not one was a tragedy. They also had some seriously amazing depth to their scenes and displayed how the public often reacts.  They were excited to come up with words and to talk about it!

 

We have come a long way since I spoke of the present state of children’s education in Minnesota at the annual convention last October.  We would not be this far without collective effort.  I thank you with all my heart.

 

As I said this summer at the National Convention, if we really want to change things for blind people in the future, we must change things for the education, expectation and opportunities of blind children today.  If we change these things we will be very near the destination of our journey.  I ask those who are listening to join us.  We are the only ride to the true destination.  We need you and, whether you realize it or not, you need us.  For all my co-passengers, thank you for picking up my family along the way and making the ride full of love, hope, joy and laughter.

 

All Aboard! Get on the NFB bus!

 

A Light in the Darkness: Blind Activist Made People See

By Jenny Dolan, La Crosse Tribune

 

(Editor’s Note:  Kathy (Sullivan) Sebranek grew up in Minnesota and found employment in La Crosse, Wisconsin with the Wisconsin Bureau for the Blind.  I knew her as a friend and dedicated Federationist for 35 years.   Even after moving to Wisconsin and helping create the NFB of Wisconsin, she maintained her membership in the NFB of Minnesota.  She and Larry were regular attendees at our conventions.  Her friendship, dedication, and commitment were outstanding examples for all of us.  I, Joyce, and many others will certainly miss her. This article was published in the La Crosse Tribune on January 24, 2006).

 

Larry Sebranek met his wife, Kathleen, after he went blind.

 

Sebranek was a dairy farmer in Hillsboro, Wis. when a hereditary disease blinded him.  Sebranek gave up farming and moved to town.

 

A rehabilitation counselor visited him, helping him adjust. She, too, was blind. Sebranek had never met another blind person.  He wasn't sure what blind people could or could not do.

 

"You should learn Braille," the counselor, Kathleen, told him.

 

"You're kidding me," Sebranek said. "These farmer hands couldn't feel Braille if they were spikes."

 

Sebranek liked this woman.  He wanted to impress her.  Six weeks later, Sebranek had mastered grade-two Braille.

 

Five years later, Sebranek married Kathleen.  Like hundreds of others, he benefited from her empowering message: blindness is a challenge to overcome, not an excuse to fall back on.

 

Kathleen, who for 32 years worked for the Wisconsin Bureau for the Blind, died unexpectedly on January 14, possibly from a pulmonary embolism.

 

She spent most of her life visiting the visually impaired at their homes, convincing them that they could be independent.

 

She would arrive in a state car packed full of magnifiers, white canes and special lamps.

 

Some people put up a fight, Larry said.  They assured Kathleen that their children or their spouse would take care of them.  Their spouse would pay the bills, do the banking, shop for groceries.

 

"What if your wife drops dead tomorrow?" Kathleen would say.

 

She could be blunt, Larry said.

 

"She had the unique ability to make you feel good about yourself and also make you accountable," he said.

 

Kathleen went to Washington D.C. 20 times, Larry estimates.  She lobbied for better treatment and programs for the visually impaired.  She often took Larry along.

 

"She didn't want people to become passive," Larry said. "I was her best project."

 

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 May 20, 2006 at O’Hara’s Restaurant in St. Cloud in honor of the 35th anniversary of our Central Minnesota Chapter.  Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

The National NFB Convention will be held at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas during July 1-7 2006.  This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business.  It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world.  The full convention bulletin is in the Braille Monitor, and on the www.nfb.org website under the Conventions link.   An important new feature this year is pre-registration by mail, fax, or online until May 31st.  Those who pre-register receive a $5.00 discount on registration and a $5.00 discount on the banquet.

 

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held September 29 through October 1, 2006 at the Holiday Inn in New Ulm.  However, rooms must be reserved before August 30.  A room with two double beds is $90.00 plus tax, and a room with one king bed is $85.50 plus tax.  This is a two-story hotel with no elevator, but there are handicapped-accessible rooms on the first floor.  The address is: Holiday Inn New Ulm, 2101 South Broadway, New Ulm, MN 56073.  The telephone number is 507-359-2941.  Our Riverbend Chapter is looking forward to hosting this convention in addition to the fine job they do on our Move-a-thon.  Members will receive a letter with details about two months before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org