MINNESOTA

                      BULLETIN

 

Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Voice:  (612) 872-9363

Website:  www.nfbmn.org

Tom Scanlan, Editor

 

Volume 74, Number 2, Spring 2008

 

WE ARE CHANGING

WHAT IT MEANS

TO BE BLIND

 

 

Table of Contents

 

President’s Column. 1

Life 101. 5

My Parents Assumed; I Naturally Followed. 11

No Excuses: Former LP Resident Focuses On Capabilities. 13

Blind Navigate With A Little Help from Friends, Technology. 20

Convention Alert! 22

Chapter Meeting Dates to Remember 22

Acknowledgements. 23

 

 

 

 



President’s Column

An Open Letter to Parents, Teachers of Blind Students,

And Rehab Professionals

By Jennifer Dunnam, President

 

I am moved to write the following plea in part by the experiences of my first six months as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota—advocating with parents of blind children at education planning meetings, hearing stories of blind “customers” dealing with counselors at State Services for the Blind (SSB), etc.  More importantly, this writing comes from the long years and vast collective experience of many thousands of blind people around the country, from all walks of life and with all kinds of individual experiences in the school system and the rehabilitation system,  who have organized to improve opportunities for ourselves and for those who come after us.  It comes from our concern, and it comes from our hope.

 

The special education system and/or the rehabilitation system has failed far too many of our thousands.  When I say "failed," I don't mean that the system has failed to "find us a job" or "give us an education."  Rather, the "system" has in large part failed to maintain a foundation of sound knowledge about blindness and high expectations for blind people.  Some problems exist which can only be dealt with collectively, on a large scale.  However, individual people who work with the blind have much power to influence for good.  The direction of the future is set one decision at a time, and you can make a big difference.

 

There's no denying that you who are parents, teachers, and counselors have a tough job.  Besides the challenges of working within budgets, measurable outcomes, busy schedules, and timelines, you also have to work hard, just as I do, to keep the overwhelming societal misconceptions and even fear about blindness from affecting you too much.  How will your blind child live on her own if she can't see things very well, much less one day be able to get around an airport independently or grill steaks for a group of friends as her sighted brothers and sisters will do?  Is it really true that blind adults travel independently in a busy city and can be responsible for children of their own?

 

Obviously, there are some big differences in the needs and the resources for children in school and those for adults in rehabilitation.  However, the ultimate, overarching outcome toward which the efforts are directed is the same for both—to help someone be a successful blind adult.  As you deal with the challenges of the day-to-day, it is critical that you also keep in mind this ultimate goal.  It cannot be placed on a back burner if one is to avoid getting stuck in doing just what is necessary to get them through this school year or to help them get to that first entry-level job. 

 

Following are some important points for supporting a blind person on the road to success.  They may seem obvious, and may not always be easily measurable, but if you are keeping them in mind and infusing them into the work you do, it makes a huge difference.

 

Blindness is not "mastered" quickly, either by a blind person or by someone in training to work with blind people.  The process must be started as soon as possible.  There is a wide variety of alternative techniques to sight, but they are not mastered overnight.  Braille literacy, independent travel, computer use, techniques of managing daily life—they take time to acquire and can best be acquired in an environment where everyone believes in blind people.  The process of acquiring them must be interwoven with the process of learning to be confident in oneself as a blind person as well as knowing how to deal with public attitudes about blindness.  A person must come to understand, through experience, that when one has ten percent or less of full sight, she will function much better using alternative techniques than using just that little bit of sight alone.  A person must learn to advocate for what is needed and, just as important, to decline what is not needed, and how best to go about doing both.  Adjusting to blindness is not an easy or quick process, but if done well and with the help of people with plenty of experience in blindness, the person who goes through it is a person ready not just for the first entry-level job that comes along, but ready to be a valued employee in a good job, who may even become the boss.

 

Blind people need other blind people, and so do parents, teachers, and counselors.  Skills and tools are not enough.  As much as blind children and blind adults need skills and tools, just as important is exposure to successful, well-adjusted blind role models.  Misunderstandings about blindness are well entrenched in society.  A blind person may be the only one in his school or town and be viewed as "different” and less capable than others, or even “special” and “amazing,” so often that he loses a sense of how he fits in with other people.  A blind person needs a support system and a way to measure him or herself in honesty and accuracy. 

 

You who work with blind people need this exposure too.  If we who are blind need from time to time to be among successful, well-adjusted blind people to get our batteries re-charged and get new ideas, then how much more so does a parent, a teacher, or a counselor who may not deal with successful blind adults as a matter of course.  I heard recently of a teacher who, when the rest of the class was doing an art project, didn't think the blind child should worry about learning to use scissors, saying, "She'll never need to know that in real life."  An extreme example?  I hope so, but I fear not.  At least this particular incidence did not happen in Minnesota, fortunately, and I hope no such thing ever does.  The teacher was someone who did not know much about what life is really like for the blind person.  She never considered that this blind child will be packing and unpacking when moving to a new apartment or house, wrapping birthday gifts, cutting tags off their children's clothes, or teaching someone else how to use scissors. 

 

Blind people need not only one path, but a whole landscape.  The structured-discovery method of teaching independent travel, when correctly applied, leaves the student able to use his or her travel skills in any situation (familiar or unfamiliar); able to go anywhere at any time, independently and comfortably; able to handle it when things don't go as planned; and never needing re-training.  This is a metaphor for a much larger approach to education and training.  A successful adult, blind or sighted, knows what the resources are and how to use them, can apply what she has learned in one situation to others.  The most successful people know how to learn, to discover, to figure things out, and to solve problems.  This is how blind people become decision-makers,  plan the agenda, teach the class, run the meeting, serve on the city council, raise a family—in short, shape our own future, with good information, and not from a status of victimhood or a view that the world owes us something.  Certainly, these are not necessarily traits that can be taught per se, but they can be fostered by laying a good foundation.

 

Society needs successful blind people.  Businesses, schools, churches, and organizations need top-notch people with good skills to get the work done.  Some of those excellent employees (and volunteers) need to be blind people.  To get those jobs blind people need not only the skills to get the work done, but also the skills to fit in well with co-workers, to deal with customers, to get from place to place, generally to be a contributing member of the team.  Businesses not only need good workers—they need leaders, managers, CEO’s.  A blind person without a strong foundation in basic skills can never hope to be among those who shape policies and set directions. 

 

Blind people are a cross-section of society.  Some are brilliant, some lazy; some motivated, some street-smart; some dishonest, shy, outgoing, mechanically inclined, politically astute, and on and on—with a huge diversity of strengths and weaknesses and varying characteristics.  The one trait we have in common is blindness, and that trait means that we all face a society that, while well-meaning and improving in some respects, is still largely convinced that blindness makes us less capable, more in need of help and protection and pity, and even not responsible for ourselves.  These wrong ideas are the most severe problems of blindness, much more than the lack of sight.  To be successful, any blind person, regardless of other strengths and weaknesses, needs to know how to fight against these negative attitudes and keep them from taking over.  Parents, teachers and counselors need to know how to combat these things too.

 

If future opportunities for blind people are to improve, there must be strong belief in the capacity of blind people by those working in the blindness field.  You have immense opportunity to help shape what the future will look like for blind people.  May your every decision be made with the ever-present certainty that this blind child will be a grown-up before we know it, that this newly blinded adult will soon need to resume a normal life and contribute to society, and that this person will need to stand on his or her own two feet without your help (and what’s more, will need to be able to help others stand on their own too, just as sighted people are expected).  Visualize the child, or the customer, getting around independently, raising children, cooking a thanksgiving dinner for a family, managing the finances, being on time and meeting deadlines, running errands for herself or for others, supervising employees, taking care of aging parents, and on and on.  Many blind adults do these things on a daily basis, just as sighted people do.  With high expectations and good resources, so will your child or your customer.

 

Please take the time to become and remain grounded in real-life blindness experience.  If you read this and want to know more about how to help your children or your customers, we in the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota are happy to talk to you and work with you.  Additionally, if you read this and say to yourself that in the system you work in there aren't enough resources to consider these things, then ask yourself if that would be a good enough answer for your own child if he or she were blind, for a blind family member, for you if you became blind.  If it is not good enough, then it is time to re-think, to re-tool, to demand what is needed.  We, the organized blind, will help you.

 

(Editor’s Note:  The NFB philosophy of opportunity and equality is not just a theory or dream.  As the following articles by and about blind people show, it is based on our own lives.  The people in these articles are real, and two of them have physical challenges besides blindness.  From a teenager continuing her education, to people well established in their careers, to a woman running her own business, they all have applied that philosophy to lead full, successful lives.)

Life 101

By Sarah Leon

 

The airplane began to creep down the runway.  I sat rigidly, gazing out the window and hoping for a safe flight.  Little did I realize that I was about to embark on one of the most exciting episodes of my life.

 

My story really begins long before this, on a night in March when many events were set in motion.  My mom spent that night sleeplessly tossing and turning, worrying about my future.  I was a junior in high school just beginning to look into possible colleges, yet I was utterly unprepared for any college experience.  When, where, and how could I find the skills I needed?  At last, the idea of a school for the blind occurred to her.

 

The next morning, she asked me what I would think of attending a school for the blind.  This was not a new topic of discussion between us; I knew that I was limited in many ways.  Never having learned even to cross an intersection, I was totally inadequate in travel, and I had never really worked with computers.  Quickly, I decided that a school for the blind could be the answer I was looking for.

 

Since I needed blindness skills only, and since my training could not interfere with my high school education, I had to find a summer program that concentrated solely on blindness training.  Mom suggested that we look into some National Federation of the Blind (NFB) centers that she had heard of, for we could be sure of finding people there who shared our philosophy of blindness and who would give me the right kind of training.  To our delight, we discovered that all three centers had the type of program we wanted.

 

Barbara Pierce has always been a source of wisdom for me on all issues related to blindness, so I called her to ask her advice about which center I should choose. After assuring me that training was a wonderful idea, she said that all three of the centers were fantastic, and I should call them for information and make my own choice.  This I did, contacting all of the centers’ directors and finding out as much as I could about the schools.  While all of them sounded very interesting, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc.’s “Life 101” College and Employment Readiness class attracted my attention.  Since college preparation was my main purpose in seeking training, I decided that BLIND, Inc. was ideally suited to meet my needs.

 

When I called BLIND, Inc. to ask them for application information, they suggested that I contact the Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired of Ohio (BSVI) about funding for the program.  They encouraged me to apply to the center in the meantime, saying that I could let them know about the funding later.

 

While I appreciated their kind advice, I was wary of becoming involved with an agency that I knew nothing about.  Once more, I called Mrs. Pierce for her advice.  She soon explained to me the purpose of BSVI—to assist blind people to gain employment—is “Buy Ohio” policy, my right of “informed choice,” and the approval process for services.  She also prepared me for the length and difficulty of the undertaking, especially if we had to appeal an unfavorable decision.

 

Armed with this new information, I called BSVI and asked to speak with a counselor.  The counselor listened as I described my needs and desires, and then set an appointment when we could discuss these things in person.  In the interval, I successfully applied to BLIND, Inc.  Nothing remained now except to learn whether BSVI would fund my training.

 

When the day of the appointment arrived, my parents went with me to the meeting.  The counselor began by asking the usual questions—how had I been educated, what was my level of blindness skills, and what were my goals and desires in coming to BSVI?  She explained that any services I received would have to be part of an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).  I would have to set a vocational goal and show how blindness training fit with that goal before I could receive any funding.  Also, because of BSVI’s Buy Ohio policy, I would have to demonstrate that BLIND, Inc. could help me reach my vocational goal in ways that no in-state program could match.

 

Few sixteen-year-olds really know what they want to do with their life, and I was no exception.  I was strongly opposed to being channeled into a vocation too early, instead of allowing events and college experience to naturally guide me into the right form of employment.  Yet I needed the training, so I agreed to try to designate a possible future career.  My counselor then told me that I had been approved for services and assured me that she would do everything in her power to help me get funding for training.  She also asked me to compile a document listing my reasons for choosing BLIND, Inc. instead of an Ohio program such as the Cleveland Sight Center (CSC).

 

Returning home, we immediately put together the required document; explaining that BLIND, Inc. could give me sleepshade training, blind instructors as role models, apartment experience, and preparation for interacting with college professors and fellow students.  After waiting a couple of weeks without any response from my counselor, we finally contacted her for feedback.  To our dismay, we learned that what we had sent was insufficient for the purpose.  She now asked us to give her a point-by-point comparison of BLIND, Inc.’s program with an Ohio program like the CSC’s new summer program.  Excitedly she described this new program and urged us to research it in detail.

 

I was somewhat shaken, but I began at once to call the directors of both schools, collecting as much information as I could.  Each phone call only confirmed more clearly my first conclusion; the CSC program could not meet my training needs.  We laid this out in a letter, especially stressing the sleepshade training.  This type of training allows students to learn alternative blindness techniques that make it possible for them to function independently and safely regardless of further vision loss.  This training is also helpful when a student has just enough vision to be dangerous if they attempt to use it for traveling.  I fall into both these categories.  The director of CSC’s summer program told me that he did not believe in sleepshades.  Furthermore, only three of CSC’s thirteen instructors are blind, and that a travel instructor must be sighted to tell me how to move in my environment.  At BLIND, Inc., seven of the nine instructors, including the travel instructor, are blind.  Even in areas such as recreation and apartment life I found that BLIND, Inc.’s program was challenging and encouraged total independence, while CSC’s was unexciting and encouraged reliance on semi-functional vision.

 

Shortly after I sent this letter, BLIND, Inc. contacted me to tell me that they had to know within two weeks whether I could come that summer.  Not being able to reach my counselor, I was referred to her supervisor, to whom I explained the new urgency of my situation.  The supervisor told me that we would have to write an IPE and provide a cost analysis of the two programs before anything else could be done.  This was alarming, since writing an IPE can take weeks, but I sent through the cost analysis immediately.  I noticed that BLIND, Inc.’s 8-week program cost $200 less that CSC’s 6-week program.  Since my counselor had suggested BSVI might cover the equivalent of an Ohio program in funding BLIND, Inc. this was highly encouraging.

 

Two days later, my counselor called me.  Excitedly, she told me that I had been approved for 100% funding of the BLIND, Inc. program, and she did not mention the IPE.  Gratefully, I thanked her for the wonderful news, thrilled that BSVI had come through with the funding just in time.

 

One month later, after much happy anticipation and preparation, I was saying good-bye to my parents and boarding a Minneapolis-bound plane.  I had not flown since I was a little girl, and because of my close friendships with my siblings, I had never spent even one night without someone from my family.  Perhaps these were the causes of my nervousness as I sat looking out the tiny window.  Yet we landed in Minneapolis without the slightest incident.

 

After sitting in the gate for a long time, waiting for someone from BLIND, Inc. to come and get me, I at last called the center to find out where my escort was.  They told me that someone was waiting for me at baggage claim.  After another long wait, I secured one of the airline staff to accompany me downstairs.

 

There I met Dick Davis, the assistant director of the school, who drove me to the school and gave me what felt like a whirlwind tour of its lower floor.  Then he took me to my apartment, giving me a long, terribly confusing explanation of the route the students took to school.  Not until he had dropped me off at my apartment did I begin to feel at home, as I unpacked and made friends with my roommate.

 

My impressions during those first few days are a whirl of activity and directions, most of which I did not comprehend.  Minneapolis was like a vast labyrinth of streets, names, and routes.  The buses seemed terrible to me.  It was like a strange game, where I had to leap on and off at exactly the right instant, or be sucked into the heart of the beast.

 

Still, from the first day that I began my training, I fell in love with the center.  It is difficult to say what caused me to feel this way.  Perhaps it was the practical new skills I was learning daily which were revolutionizing my ability, or perhaps it was the novelty and challenge—yet I found myself enjoying the experience immensely.

 

Intermingled with this enjoyment was the incredible amount of work that I was doing.  I had not realized just how much I didn’t know until I arrived at the center, and I wanted to learn as much as I could in the short time I had.  When the staff saw my hunger to learn, they pushed me at a faster pace, doing everything in their power to assist me.  Their efforts were undoubtedly what allowed me to accomplish as much as I did.

 

My instructors were willing to sacrifice even their own personal time to give me the training I needed.  For instance, the shop instructor stayed for hours overtime, helping me to finish a beautiful Norwegian-style bookcase.  On another occasion, my last day at the center, I reminded my computer instructor that I had not learned how to do e-mail, and I had only an hour and a half left.  He immediately dropped what he was doing, leaving his break early, and taught me how to work my e-mail account.

 

The staff’s impact went far beyond teaching me skills, however.  They completely changed my ideas of independence and blindness.  Before coming to the center, I had unconsciously set limits for my independence, but the daily exposure to blind instructors who lived truly independently shattered those limits—an experience that I could never have gotten from sighted instructors.  Sometimes it was the little things, like watching the guys run down the stairs, which affected me most.  They inspired me to learn to live independently as well, and I eagerly accepted the challenge.

 

My training was not free of difficulties.  One day, after I had spent two miserable hours wandering around on what should have been a one-hour assignment, I shared my frustrations with my travel instructor.  To my shock, he replied, “Well, that’s wonderful!”  As I stared at him in disbelief, he explained, “I like all my students to have at least half a dozen similar experiences before they graduate.  Look at what happened; you got lost, but you used your knowledge and creativity to get unlost.  That’s really valuable.”  From this, I realized that part of BLIND, Inc.’s training philosophy was that experience, even if it is failure, is the best teacher for life.

 

Interspersed with the work and the challenges of my training was a lot of laughter and fun.  One day, the entire school went out to a water park.  One of the rides there was an alpine slide, a long concrete and fiber glass track which ran in a series of curves and drops down a small mountain, down which one rode on a small sled on wheels.  When we arrived at the top of the hill after a long ski lift, we ran across the platform and grabbed our sleds.  I was wearing my sleepshades, since this was a school recreation event, and I could only hear the others whiz down the track into silence.  Then I was off, nervously holding my brake at half-throttle.  After two fun and uneventful rides, I decided to make the third one worth remembering.  I shot down the slide, going as fast as I dared and careening around curves at a thrilling speed.  Suddenly I felt the ground level beneath me, and I pushed the speed full-throttle.  My friends turned around just in time to see me come shooting down the last stretch of track and collide into the all-too-solid safety cushion at the track’s end.  For one breathtaking moment, I was airborne.  Then I landed once more on my sled, amid the others’ hysterical peals of laughter.

 

The climax of my training came during my last week at the center, when I was given a drop-off.  The drop-off, to me, is really a symbol of the entire BLIND, Inc. philosophy, a philosophy that says that students should be placed in lifelike situations where they learn problem-solving skills, build confidence, and discover new blindness techniques, also known as the “structured discovery method.”  BLIND, Inc. does not believe in making things artificially easy for its students; instead, it gives them a wide base of practical knowledge and experiences which they will draw upon for the rest of their lives.

 

Thus, one morning, I found myself standing on an unknown street corner in Minneapolis.  I was allowed only one question to get me back to the school, and it could not be, “Where am I?” or “What street is this?”  Quickly, I began to walk back towards the nearest busy street and located a bus stop.  When the bus arrived, I rode it for a short time, figured out where I was and walked the rest of the way back to the school.

 

Still buoyed by the extra confidence that this success gave me, I left the center at the end of the week, but I did not leave as the same person who had arrived.  I carried away with me a host of new skills.  From not knowing how to cross an intersection, I had progressed to my first drop-off.  From knowing nothing of computers, I had mastered the basics of Microsoft Word and been introduced to the Web.  Finally, I had discovered my love for woodworking, improved my Braille speed, and learned new cooking techniques.

 

Supporting me in these new skills was a valuable network of friends and instructors.  Such resources should not be underestimated, since difficulty and discouragement does not cease after graduation from an NFB center.  As I discovered, it is all too easy to begin to let go of one’s independence without the support and challenge of others. 

 

By the time I left the center my confidence and freedom had been transformed.  This time, when my plane landed, I walked alone from the gate to baggage claim to meet my parents.  I carried with me a new zest for the unknown and the challenging.  Even my perception of myself as a person who is blind had changed.  The burdening belief that my blindness was a weakness was gone, replaced by a healthy knowledge of my ability and independence.  Finally, I left the center with the living knowledge that whatever my dreams are, whatever God’s calling is upon my life, I can pursue those dreams and that calling unhindered by my blindness.

 

My Parents Assumed; I Naturally Followed

By RoseAnn Faber

 

(Editor’s Note:  RoseAnn is a past president of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter, and is currently the president of the board of directors of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc.)

 

My parents learned early on, when I was in kindergarten I think, that education would be important for me.  Consequently, they assumed I would go to college.  I attended Saint Paul Public Schools for kindergarten through high school.  Kindergarten was in a special education program for children with physical disabilities.  I have cerebral palsy that affects my right arm and leg.  Until my early thirties, I could read most print if I could get close enough to the materials. 

 

For first through eighth grades, I was in sight-saving classes.  We were bussed from throughout the city to an elementary school.  The teacher for the sight-saving class provided materials in alternative formats and taught some subjects.  As we moved from grade to grade more and more time was spent in classes with children for whom this was the neighborhood school.  Exposure to the curriculum and competing with peers without disabilities was helpful in high school and college. 

 

In grades nine to twelve, I attended regular public school classes without the support of a special education class.  One of the concessions I was allowed was to leave class five minutes early so that I could move to the next class without getting trampled by the crowd.  This concession had a couple of drawbacks.  First, if the teacher took attendance at the end of class, I might find myself in the principal’s office accused of skipping class.  The second drawback was that if the teacher gave the assignment at the end of class, I might be caught unprepared for the next day or had to spend time checking with friends to learn whether an assignment had been given.

 

As an eighth grader, I was exposed to an electric typewriter.  This was a new piece of equipment at the time.  The special education teacher thought I would have no reason to learn to type.  I was not happy with this response and set out to find a way to do it.  I had read about a technique for typing with one hand.  As a ninth grader, I chose a class that combined instruction in general science for half of the year and typing for the rest of the year.  Fortunately, the typing instructor was able to find an instruction book.  I practiced using the keys assigned to the left hand when typing with both hands while we were waiting for the book to come.  Once the book arrived, I learned the home row position for a one handed typist.  The home keys are f, g, h, and j, which place the hand in the middle of the keyboard.  Once I learned all the key locations and to which fingers they were assigned, I was expected to complete the same typing assignments as my classmates.  I used this technique to type papers in high school and college.  It has served me well as I moved to the use of computers at work and at home.  My parents supported me in this learning process by purchasing a used manual typewriter for me to use at home.  When I got a job at Cambridge Regional Treatment Center during the summer after my freshman year in college, I purchased an electric typewriter.

 

I am the oldest of three children, having two brothers.  My parents expected me to do a variety of household tasks.  I had a friend through high school, who also was expected to do many things, who served as my role model.  I watched my father go off to work every day and saw my brothers hold jobs as paperboys, working in gas stations and fast food restaurants as teenagers.  In high school, I babysat for a couple of neighborhood families. 

 

I have been active in the National Federation of the Blind for many years.  I learned braille as an adult from several Federationists including Judy Sanders, Jan Bailey and Tim Aune, who volunteered to teach a Braille class for a number of us who had not had the opportunity to learn as children.  I use it for some record keeping and taking notes in meetings.  Nothing beats a good book in braille when I have reached my tolerance level for recorded or synthetic speech. 

 

Because of balance issues, I walk with a single forearm crutch.  I use the crutch in front of me rather than off to the side.  This style of crutch has a cuff at the top through which I place my arm.  The cuff comes to just below my elbow.  I adjust the crutch height to its longest length.  The shaft of the crutch is white.  Before I found the crutch in white, I would cover the crutch with white contact paper.  While the crutch is not a perfect substitute for a white cane, it has kept me from falling off curbs and down flights of steps.  I vary the angle at which I use the crutch depending on the walking surface and the number of people in the area.  If the surface is wet, uneven or there are many people about, I use the crutch in an upright vertical position closer to my body.

 

I have worked for the State of Minnesota for over thirty years.  For much of that time I was an employee of the governor’s Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities.  I provided staff support to a Council committee that made recommendations concerning state plans and legislation affecting persons with developmental disabilities.  Currently, I work for the Minnesota Department of Human Services reviewing/approving screening documents for persons seeking services through Medical Assistance Waivers and other state funded health programs.  I have an undergraduate degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota, Morris and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  

 

I believe strongly in the Federation philosophy that it is respectable to be blind.  Using alternative techniques is just as relevant for someone who has additional disabilities.  There is more than one way to accomplish a task! 

 

No Excuses: Former LP Resident Focuses On Capabilities

By Ivan Raconteur, Staff Writer, Delano Herald Journal

 

(Editor’s Note:  Maureen Pranghofer is a member of the NFB of Minnesota Metro Chapter.  This article is from the Delano Herald Journal of February 12, 2007, and I have edited it slightly to remove date-specific events that have passed.)

 

Maureen Pranghofer might claim she is just like everyone else, but one look at her life reveals that she is anything but ordinary.

 

The former Lester Prairie resident is a speaker, songwriter, and author.  She has spent her life helping others and reaching out to those who are going through difficult times.

 

Her warmth and sense of humor engage one from the start, and it would be easy to forget that she happens to be blind and a functional quadriplegic.

 

Although she is physically confined to a power chair, there are no limits on her spirit or her creativity.

 

Pranghofer (formerly Maureen McGowan) has written a children's book, "Ally's Busy Day - The Story of a Service Dog."  The book, geared toward preschool through early elementary students, shows the many ways a service dog helps the person for whom it works.

 

Pranghofer said the book describes the role of her service dog, Ally, and she hopes that the book will help to educate not only children, but also parents who might read the book to their kids.

 

She also hopes the book will generate conversations about disabilities and capabilities, about teamwork, and about how service animals can help people remain independent.

 

Pranghofer’s sister, Chris (McGowan) Hubly of Tucson, Ariz., illustrated the book.

 

Collaboration on the project was done entirely through e-mail.

 

Pranghofer sent the text for the book, along with photos of Ally performing various tasks, and notes on what she wanted for the illustrations, to Hubly.

 

Hubly, a graphic artist, then created drawings based on the photos, and sent them to Pranghofer.

 

Pranghofer said a portion of the proceeds from each book she sells will be donated to Service Dogs of Minnesota, the school that trained Ally for her.

 

Ally helps Pranghofer with a wide variety of tasks around the house.

 

If she drops something, Ally is there to pick it up.

 

Ally can open doors, and can even help Pranghofer remove her coat.

 

Training Ally is an ongoing process.  The next task Pranghofer hopes to teach her is to retrieve items from the refrigerator. This is done by using a special container that belongs just to Ally, for the sake of consistency.

 

"When we do that, we have to make sure the other food in the refrigerator is covered up.  She is still a dog after all," Pranghofer commented with a smile.

 

She explained that part of the motivation for the book was the fact that she constantly had to educate people about the difference between a guide dog and a service dog.

 

“When a guide dog is at home, it is just a dog.  A service dog is always on duty, and 90 percent of their work is done in the home," she explained.

 

Did fate bring them together?

 

Pranghofer spent four-and-a-half years looking for a dog training school that would allow her to use a service dog in her circumstances.

 

Every school she talked to told her that she could not use a service dog because she is totally blind (the concern is that the dog might pick up something that is dangerous to itself or the person for whom it works).

 

Pranghofer had given up hope of ever getting a service dog when trainer Kim Hyde found Ally in an animal shelter.

 

A chance encounter saved Ally's life, and provided a solution for Pranghofer.


Hyde had been looking for a different kind of dog for another client.

 

While she was in the shelter, she happened to drop her keys.

 

Ally immediately picked them up and gave them back to her.

 

This gave Hyde the idea that she might be able to train Ally to fit Pranghofer's needs.

 

The incident happened the day before Ally was scheduled to be euthanized.

 

Pranghofer has overcome many challenges in her life.

 

She was born three months premature, with a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity, which meant she was legally blind.

 

Pranghofer was also born with a rare bone disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which affects the way her body uses collagen.  As a result, her bones are brittle and she has suffered more than 100 fractures.

 

Pranghofer's parents, Bill and Celine McGowan, brought the family to Lester Prairie when she was in fifth grade.

 

Despite her health problems, Pranghofer was a good student, and graduated fourth in her class at Lester Prairie High School in 1972.

 

The school district helped her by ordering books on tape and large-print versions of books from the Minnesota State Services for the Blind.

 

Her school counselor was instrumental in converting a little-used room at the school for her to work in.  Prior to that, she had not had much to do during the school day because she was unable to see blackboards or read textbooks, but had large amounts of homework each night.  Having a room that she could work in during the day, with a typewriter and tape recorder, allowed her to balance her workload.

 

Pranghofer said it was nice growing up in Lester Prairie, because it was small enough for her to get around with her limited vision.

 

"At that time, most families sent blind children away to a school for the blind.  My parents refused to do that.  They treated me the same as the rest of the kids.  My mom was a very forward-thinker," Pranghofer said.

 

After high school, Pranghofer went on to college and earned a degree in music therapy.

 

She worked as a therapist for a few years before going to the University of Minnesota to start work on a master's degree in medical social work.

 

Before she finished, she left to take a job teaching amateur radio for Courage Handi-Ham Systems, an international non-profit organization that helps disabled people become licensed amateur radio operators.  This was a way to help them feel less isolated, Pranghofer said.

 

She first became interested in amateur radio when one of her role models, her Lester Prairie science teacher, Gordon Houk, happened to mention in class that he was an amateur radio operator.

 

She worked for the organization for 12 years before going back to school to finish her degree.  She had just two quarters left when an elevator accident on campus in 1993 left her totally blind.

 

She said this was especially devastating to her, since cataract surgery in 1984 had improved her vision enough that she could watch television, read, and navigate in familiar places without a cane or guide dog.

 

Following the accident, she went to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., an adjustment-to-blindness center run by the National Federation of the Blind.  She learned to read Braille proficiently, use a long white cane, and do household chores such as cooking.

 

She admitted that, for a blind person, cooking can have some interesting results.  Once she made some Jell-O with fruit that didn't set up quite right.

 

When her husband got home, he explained that this was because she had used gravy mix instead of Jell-O.  The boxes were the same size, and she hadn't bothered to make braille labels for them.

 

She started her own business, Hidden Gifts, doing braille transcription and public speaking.

 

Pranghofer faced another setback in 1996.  A spinal cord injury and multiple fractures caused by an automobile accident left her a functional quadriplegic.  She has good use of her left hand and limited use of her right hand.

 

After the accident, Pranghofer and her husband thought they would have to move because their house was not handicap accessible and they could not afford modifications that would be needed.

 

When their neighbors heard about this, they told the Pranghofers that they couldn't move, and got together and donated their time and labor to make the home accessible so the Pranghofers could stay in the neighborhood they loved.


Pranghofer said she has always enjoyed music, and in 1988, she began writing songs and giving them to the music director at her church.  Some of those songs were recorded and included on CDs produced by the church.

 

She described her music as contemporary Christian.

 

"My faith is the basis for my life.  My passion is to write songs for people who are hurting, people who are in a difficult place," she said.

 

She continued writing songs, and two CDs of her original music are available.

 

The first, "Some Run the Race," is dedicated to her husband of 29 years, Paul Pranghofer.

 

He, too, has overcome many challenges.  He was born with no arms and one shortened leg.

 

He retired after working 34 years as a software developer.  He volunteers at Noble Elementary School in Golden Valley, and is a part-time referee for the Minnesota High School League adaptive sports program.

 

Pranghofer's friend, Sara Renner, coordinated production of the CD, which includes songs that Pranghofer wrote, performed by other musicians.

 

Pranghofer wrote and sang all of the songs on her second CD, "Arise," which was released in 2005.  She said all of the songs on the CD were written for people who are "grieving, hurting, healing, and recovering."

 

"Almost every song is based on an experience I had.  I think I can put that into words.  You may be going through a difficult time now, but things will get better," Pranghofer said.

 

Over the years, Pranghofer has spent much of her time educating people about issues related to people with disabilities.

 

"The big thing that I want people to know is that people who are disabled have lives just like everyone else.  They have the same emotions, the same needs, and they do the same ordinary things like going to the grocery store."

 

The only difference, she said, is that the lives of disabled people can be much more complex, and they may require more planning to do simple things.

 

"You have to get creative about problem solving," Pranghofer commented.

 

"Some people think there are disabled people and there are other people, and they are separate but they are not," she said.

 

She added that some people do not want to think about people with disabilities.

 

"Instead of backing away, people need to think about disabilities and what they would do if they became disabled.  That does not mean they should live in fear of what might happen, but they should be prepared.  Unless they die suddenly everyone will have to deal with some form of disability before they die," she said.

 

Pranghofer is available to speak to church or community groups.

 

She said she tailors her presentations to the needs of each group.

 

She and her husband work together during speaking engagements and often answer questions from audiences.

 

"We make a really good team," she commented.

 

Pranghofer said she has also been hired by businesses to talk to employees about how to deal with customers who have disabilities.

 

One recent presentation was made at a church that asked her to speak about how it could welcome people with disabilities into the church.

 

Pranghofer runs a braille transcription service from her home in Golden Valley.

 

Clients send her documents, usually via e-mail, and she produces documents in braille.

 

Pranghofer said she works on a wide variety of projects.

 

Many of her customers are businesses who ask her to produce things such as theater programs, brochures, or restaurant menus in braille.

 

She also does work for people who may want to send a gift or a wedding invitation to a blind friend or relative.

 

Health challenges have not slowed Pranghofer down, and she said she enjoys the variety in her life.

 

She never knows what each new day will bring, or what project she will take on next.

 

"Right now, my vocational dreams are coming true," she said.

 

The braille transcription business keeps her busy, and the public speaking, the music, and now the book, have given her creative ways to spend her time.

 

"It is kind of cool," Pranghofer commented.  "I am never lacking for things to do."

 

The book and the CDs are available through Pranghofer's web site, www.maureensmusic.com.

The book is also available through www.amazon.com.

 

Braille transcription service is available through Pranghofer's other web site, www.BrailleIt.com.

 

Questions?  Contact Maureen at (763) 522-2501.

 

Blind Navigate With A Little Help from Friends, Technology

By Sarah Shonyo, Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

 

(Editor’s Note:  Jan Bailey is a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors and president of the Rochester Chapter.  She is also a rehabilitation counselor in the Rochester office of State Services for the Blind.  This article is from the Rochester Post-Bulletin of April 11, 2008.)


By most measures, Jan Bailey had a normal childhood.

 

The fourth of nine children, Bailey credits much of her independent and outgoing personality to growing up among so many siblings.

 

One distinguishing characteristic, however, has always set her apart.  Bailey is blind.

 

Bailey was born with sight three months premature in St. Paul.  Her tiny body, however, was given too much oxygen while in the incubator, causing her retinae to detach.  This disorder, known as retinopathy of prematurity, has resulted in thousands of infants losing their sight, including musical legend Stevie Wonder.

 

"I have no memory of sight," Bailey said, "but that never stopped me from wanting to do the same things as my siblings."

 

Bailey's parents didn't treat her as disabled.  They encouraged her to learn and do the same things as her sighted peers.  This expectation of achievement carried Bailey through adolescence and into adulthood.  After graduating from college in 1978, Bailey moved to Rochester and began her career as a rehabilitation counselor for the blind.

 

"I work with people who are either blind or severely visually impaired," Bailey said.  "A lot of what I do is adjustment to blindness training."

 

Adjustment to blindness training refers to the practice of showing people who either face inevitable blindness or who have recently gone blind new methods of doing things.  This process has become far easier with improved technology.

"Technology has made it possible for me to independently use e-mail, fill out electronic forms and research on the Internet," Bailey said.  "I can do 98 percent of my paperwork without any assistance."

 

Even household activities such as cooking and laundry are possible through a combination of technology, such as a talking timer, and personal cues.

 

"I know that when I turn my stove on, it's at 175 degrees," Bailey said.  "Then I turn it 37 clicks to reach 350 degrees."

 

Bailey uses a cane while walking whenever she leaves her home. 


Marvin Langanki of Rochester, on the other hand, prefers to use a service dog.

Langanki lost his sight after a 1982 head trauma and has used service dogs since 1987.

 

Merc, Langanki's 7-year-old black lab, responds to voice commands directing him to, among other things, move forward, stop or turn right or left.  Even something as seemingly innocuous as crossing the street requires a complex system of communication between Langanki and Merc.

 

"My dog is basically there to protect my life," Langanki said.  "I have to trust him to keep me safe."

 

Convention Alert!

 

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

 

The National NFB Convention is June 29 through July 5, 2008 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas.  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 in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.

 

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention is October 3-5, 2008 at the Kahler Grand Hotel in Rochester.  Room rates are $69.00, plus tax.  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 Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in April or May 2009 outside the Metro area.  Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

Chapter Meeting Dates to Remember

 

Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis

 

Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Charlene Childrey at 507-354-2250 for meeting location

 

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

 

Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud

 

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

 

Acknowledgements

 

Many people are involved in getting this issue to you.  The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file.  Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.

 

Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition.

Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.

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

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

Tom Scanlan marks up the website edition.

Emily Zitek runs the copies for the braille edition, deals with the printer for the print edition, and mails all editions.