Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 80, Number 2, Spring 2014
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Jennifer Dunnam
I cannot resist starting out this column with a shout out to spring in Minnesota! Many of us thought it might never arrive, but it is finally, finally here, and with it plenty of news and activities in the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.
Following the retirement of Richard Strong in December as director of State Services for the Blind (SSB), there occurred a long process of recruiting and hiring a new director for our rehabilitation agency for the Blind in Minnesota. Because we believe it is critical for the SSB director to be able to set the right tone and support good decisions that affect people's lives, the NFB of Minnesota was involved all along the way, and we appreciated the fact that our involvement was welcomed by the management of SSB and the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Over the past decade or so, consumer organizations have been able to engage in the process of selecting the right leadership, but outside of that, SSB has not always met our suggestions and requests with open arms, so this is something we cannot take for granted as administrations change. We provided a list of criteria to use to help make the hiring decision, submitted suggestions for interview questions, observed interviews, and provided feedback. In mid-March, DEED announced that Carol Pankow, who had worked in leadership at SSB for the past couple of years and acting director in the interim, permanently fills the position. Carol has a long career in public service and rehabilitation, a common sense approach, and a strong belief in the capacity of blind people and the importance of good training as the foundation for rehabilitation. We look forward to good things from SSB under her leadership and, as always, will continue to let her know how things are going from the consumer perspective.
Fourteen Minnesotans attended the Washington seminar, and all participated in making the case for our bills to our representatives and senators. Here is the status of Minnesota members of Congress who are cosponsoring bills as of early April. It is good progress, but we need to continue to contact our legislators to urge them to get on board.
· HR831 Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act (bill to eliminate subminimum wages): Of the 77 cosponsors, one is from Minnesota, Representative Keith Ellison
· HR3505 Technology Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act: Of the 31 cosponsors, two are from Minnesota: Representative Keith Ellison and Representative Rick Nolan.
· The bill to permit veterans who were disabled during service to be eligible to travel on military aircraft as are retired members of the military got a good deal of support from Minnesotans (Senator Klobuchar and Representatives Ellison, McCollum, Walz, Peterson and Paulsen were cosponsors). Although this was not one of our primary issues during the Washington Seminar, work continues on this issue, and the strong support from legislators everywhere will no doubt see it into law soon.
March 11 was our Day at the Capitol in Minnesota. An enthusiastic and hardworking crowd gathered to inform our state senators and representatives about the need for legislation dealing with the following issues:
· Ensure that all working Minnesotans receive the minimum wage by removing disability-related exemptions in state contracts. A bill (HF3269) would prohibit contracting with entities that hold special certificates permitting the payment of subminimum wages to workers with disabilities. Although this bill is late in the session, it will be a very helpful tool as we work to build support on this issue. Thanks to all who worked and continue to work to make the case with our legislators on this and all of our issues. This work is important, both for the short term and for the long term.
· Ensure that seniors losing their vision can live independent lives in their communities by increasing resources for services to blind seniors through Minnesota State Services for the Blind.
· Improve opportunities for blind Minnesotans and others by increasing investment in public transportation.
We have worked over many years to make sure that blind citizens have the opportunity to vote privately and verify their votes via accessible voting machines. We have also worked to be sure that the new online voter registration system is also accessible to blind voters. We continue to give feedback to governmental and other purveyors of online content to let them know if their web sites present barriers to nonvisual use.
The National Federation of the Blind Imagination Fund provides support for the work of the Jernigan Institute and local Federation chapters and affiliates throughout the United States. The Imagination Fund is a way to ask our friends and acquaintances who are not already involved with the NFB to help. We now have a special page where we can send people we know from Minnesota to contribute. They can either
1. visit this link app.mobilecause.com/public/social/10150 to make a donation, or
2. text the word Minnesota to 71777; they will then receive a text message reply with a link to Minnesota's fundraising page where they can then view the progress and make a donation. Please help spread the word by sharing this on Facebook and Twitter and by telling everyone you know. Since we will be raising funds through our Walk for Opportunity coming up this summer and fall, now is a good time to focus on the NFB Imagination Fund.
We will hold a Possibilities Fair — a seminar just for seniors — on August 12, 2014, at the Radisson in Roseville. Please help spread the word to seniors who are losing vision and need to know that they can still live independent lives.
The Walk for Opportunity, our state's largest fund-raiser, will be in Rochester on September 6. The following weekend will be the Gala and other events hosted by BLIND Inc. and the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building of the Charles Pillsbury mansion and to raise funds for the building and for our programs.
Mark your calendars. The 2014 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota will be in New Ulm October 30-31 and November 1. Our conventions include something for everyone, and we need everyone's help, so you won't want to miss it.
In other news, besides all of the many other ways that one can get the Braille Monitor, our monthly national magazine, it is now available via Podcast. Just search for "Braille Monitor" on iTunes or other podcast directories to subscribe.
Several cars have been donated from Minnesota in the vehicle donation program. Let's keep that up. www.nfb.org/vehicledonations
We now have a new program much like our Free White Cane program that offers free slates and styluses. The details are at nfb.org/free-slate-program.
I hope to see everyone at the semiannual convention on May 17 at our headquarters building in Minneapolis. Happy spring to all.
The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is an organization focused on consumer advocacy for blind people and promoting a positive philosophy of blindness. We are also a family. Here is a column that we print from time to time, containing items that would not normally be sent out on our membership listserv but which are noteworthy and of interest to members. Did you or a Federationist you know get a new job? Go on a major trip? Win an award? Have a child? Something else important to you? If you have news you would like shared in this column, send it to the Bulletin editor, Tom Scanlan, and he will pass it along. Here’s the news since our last column:
Dan Wenzel, the new executive director of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), has purchased a home in Bloomington, and his family has joined him from Baltimore. We are glad to have wife Jennifer (a graduate of BLIND), and children Roland, Stephen, and Tanner with us in Minnesota.
This month our loss will be Illinois's gain — Hannah Furney will be heading off to seek her fortune there. Hannah has done great work in this affiliate supporting the student division, helping with door prizes at the conventions, and generally being willing to step in with any needed help. We will miss you, Hannah, and hope you'll come back to visit sometimes.
We look forward to welcoming another new Federationist very soon — Adrianne (Andi) and Frandi Dempsey are expecting a little one who will be here before we know it!
If we have missed any noteworthy news here, please send it along for the next column!
By Richard Strong, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Strong presented this item at the NFB of Minnesota Annual Convention on October 26, 2013.)
Thank you Ms. President.
Once again I have to say how very much I appreciate the opportunity to be here and speak with the membership of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota--the largest organization of blind people in the state.
Over the 31 years I’ve been at SSB (State Services for the Blind), the Federation has always invited SSB’s Director to its convention.
And I believe that he — or she — has, with rare exception, attended.
And also with very, very rare exception, the director has been welcomed warmly.
And there’ve been convention sessions, on occasion, that were VERY warm not only at the welcome but also during the question and answer period following the formal presentation.
Now some of those VERY warm segments were more than a bit uncomfortable for some directors.
However, the warmth — o.k. — the heat — was generated by genuine concern by Federationists about SSB’s direction on issues important to blind Minnesotans.
Issues such as:
· Metro Mobility and the need for positive expectations that, with proper training, blind people, as first class citizens, can and ought to use mainline bus transportation;
· The importance of solid Adjustment-to-Blindness training and the importance of value-driven Center-based services;
· The critical role of Intensive Training Under-the-Blindfold for SSB staff:
o so they gain an “in-the-gut” appreciation for and profound understanding of the positive role solid alternative skills training can play in the lives of blind people,
o and so they also understand the consequences and often-times downward spiral of despair, low self-esteem and low expectations that can result from poor ATB training.
· The need for a separate and distinct organizational agency for the blind here in Minnesota; and
· The need for SSB, as an employer, to hire competent blind people.
These and other issues generated varying degrees of heat at past Conventions and I’m certain there will be issues in the future that will provide much warmth.
Let me be clear, much good work has been done at SSB over the years and yet, much remains to be done.
And let me also be very clear--let there be no doubt, SSB appreciates and listens to your input, suggestions and ideas.
Your president and vice president meet with me frequently to share concerns, ideas and suggestions on how SSB can be better.
I thank them for their insights, perspective, wisdom and candor. It’s through such dialogue — their willingness to engage and SSB’s willingness to seriously participate — that we can change things for the better.
In so many areas, we can move from how things are towards how things ought to be.
We can indeed continue changing what it means to be blind in Minnesota.
And a special thanks to those Federationists who serve on committees at SSB and help in other ways for SSB to become a better agency for a better Minnesota.
· A number of NFB members have volunteered as readers of cookbook and knitting books in the Braille section, helping get these books to customers more quickly.
1. Charlotte Czarnecki
2. Chelsea Duranleau
3. Cindy Lien
4. Melody Wartenbee
5. Emily Zitek
· Jennifer Dunnam, your president and Steve Jacobson your vice president along with Rob Hobson and Emily Zitek serve on the State Rehabilitation Council and its various committees, offering solid advice to SSB.
· Amy Baron, Pat Barrett, Dick Davis, Kathleen Hagen and Ryan Strunk, all serve on one or more committees of the Council.
Thank you all for your advocacy, your active participation in the council and its committees and the valuable assistance you — individually and collectively — provide SSB to help improve services to blind Minnesotans — and helping secure a future better than our past.
Some of you know I’m not from here, I’m from New York — and I habitually reference the words of great New Yorkers, even some who were not originally from there.
It was more than 40 years ago, Robert Kennedy, my senator from New York at the time, stood to address the U.S. Senate. (This was back in the day when congress managed to keep the government running.)
Along with members present that day in 1965, Kennedy addressed his remarks to the blind and visually impaired citizens present to recognize the 25th anniversary of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind.
Quoting Sophocles, Kennedy said:
· “A Greek philosopher once wrote ‘What joy is there in day that follows day, some swift, some slow, with death the only goal?'
· “What we are interested in — those of you that are here, and those of us who are in the Senate of the United States, who feel strongly about this problem - is to make sure that you can live out your lives making a contribution to society, and live your lives in dignity.”
The work we do at SSB is really about dignity.
It’s to assist and support blind Minnesotans as they seek the dignity of meaningful work, the dignity of independence, the dignity of life lived to its fullest measure.
SSB’s had a number of successes in the year just past that ended September 30 that support dignity.
We continue to have challenges and continue to work hard addressing those challenges.
Let me touch on several results, the successes and some ongoing efforts.
The Administrative Services Unit has put in place the new monitoring process for vendors, which will continually improve services customers receive from community partners.
We’ve made aesthetic and functional improvements to our St. Paul building. And some folks here are working on what will be a great Braille addition to the display of our Mission Statement in our lobby.
We all — staff, volunteers and customers — deserve and are getting a better environment to do their important work.
Communication Center: Access to the printed word in accessible formats is critical to literacy and full participation for all.
· Audio Services launched an important pilot project to scan and format e-texts, giving students and other customers additional options for receiving print material in yet another accessible format.
· They’ve been hard at work implementing the new streamlined process to provide customers a seamless interface between SSB and the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault. We’re decreasing duplicative activity freeing staff time better to serve customers.
· The Braille section once again churned out masses of Braille pages this year, coming in at over 940,000 (941,180). They also hosted a statewide workshop for transcription volunteers and Department of Education Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
· As mentioned earlier, under the leadership of Judy Sanders, the section brought together a new group of volunteers to proofread so customers ordering leisure materials can have orders filled more quickly.
Senior Services Unit:
· This year, SSB had a unique opportunity to partner with the Humphrey Institute’s School of Public Policy to begin to answer the question of how we can serve the growing number of Minnesota Seniors with vision loss without an increase in resources. The study will hopefully generate useful insights that we’ll be assessing and hopefully begin to implement some of them over the near and mid-term.
o Draft copy of final report focused on:
§ more funding;
§ serving more with existing providers;
§ generating more providers; and
§ becoming a certifier and developer rather than direct service provider.
· With the retirement of longtime SSB employee Lyle Lundquist, the Senior Services Unit welcomed Ed Lecher as Director, and again this year reached nearly 3,000 seniors across our state.
And now for Workforce Development.
· The Business Enterprises Program, after two years of hard work, completed an update to its administrative rules.
· Marking a milestone of success for its vendors, for the first time a BEP operator exceeded $100,000 in net profits. Altogether, three operators reached this profit level. One new operator started in her business last year. And eight locations were added. The 43 BEP operators now cover 193 locations throughout the state.
· Finally, exploding past its goal, our Workforce Development Unit, including AT Staff Extraordinaire, and community partners collaborated with customers to achieve a very impressive 101 successful closures this last year.
· That number, of competitive employment outcomes in integrated settings, is the highest in the past several years. Those customers have an answer to the question: What do you do for a living?
· Positions secured include such occupations as a Graphic Artist doing bookplate engravings, animal trainer, welder and data base administrator.
Together we — SSB staff our volunteers and our community partners working with customers — truly help make a “Better life for blind Minnesotans.”
And we all can do better:
i. We are focusing training efforts on what we’re calling B2B or Back to Basics. We want customers to get the solid training they need to get solid jobs that pay living wages
1. Making sure our Workforce staff is stronger in such critical areas as assessment and business intelligence.
2. And reviewing and reinforcing the fundamentals of policy, rule and basics of rehabilitation of and for blind customers.
ii. We’ve updated our Access Technology testing instruments for vendors and most all persons needing to be retested have done so. We want to make sure there is a high level of competency in trainers we work with.
iii. And we’re working to realign our Employer Specialist Services to focus more clearly and directly on the bottom line of quality jobs for specific customers.
There are many challenges ahead for SSB and for blind Minnesotans. The needs are there:
· for more qualified providers of skills training;
· for more qualified blind people working in the private sector and in federal, state and local government, including at SSB.
· for fair wages for all workers with disabilities and an end to segregated sub- minimum rates;
· for blind youth to access a quality education leading to employment and independence rather than dependence and isolation; and
· for older blind persons to get the services needed to remain in their homes and not be placed in nursing homes or unwarranted restrictive living situations.
Over the years, a lot has been done — we’ve made great progress.
Yet, there’s a lot left to do and we're getting ready.
Seven staff have or are now participating in highly intensive leadership development activities.
We’ve worked hard at SSB to develop the next generation of leaders and to prepare our organization for the great challenges ahead.
We want to make sure we’re ready to play our part in the very important relationship with the blind community to help make a “Better SSB for a Better Minnesota.”
As you know, I’ll be leaving SSB in December. On a personal level, I want to thank Shawn Mayo for the help and support she’s provided me over the years.
Shawn, Leo Rosten was a writer and lived for a time in New York. Building on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rosten wrote:
"I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be honorable, to be compassionate. It is, after all, to matter: to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all."
Shawn, the work you’ve done has been useful, you’ve been responsible and honorable, and compassionate. You count, you certainly stand for something and you have made some — no, not some — you’ve made many, many differences in the lives you’ve touched.
SSB staff who have gone through training at BLIND, Inc. come back to us changed by the experience — changed very much for the better.
Thank you Shawn, for all you’ve done. Minnesota’s better because of you.
Madame President, thank you for the opportunity to be here today with you and your membership.
By Catherine A. Durivage, Library Program Director
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Durivage presented this item at the NFB of Minnesota Annual Convention on October 26, 2013.)
Hello, my name is Catherine Durivage. I am the Library Director at the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library. Thank you for extending an invitation to me to speak at your annual conference again this year.
As many of you know the federal government was partially shutdown for 17 days earlier this month initially affecting access to various NLS (National Library Service) websites, including BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download). However, within a few days, access was restored so BARD users could start downloading books again. Of course, during the shutdown, no new books were added, but since October 18 when NLS staff returned to work, hundreds of new books and magazines have been added.
The library did remain open during the shutdown, but we did receive a number of calls about whether or not we were open. While some of our funding comes from the federal government, our budgets were not directly affected by the shutdown. I know this was good news to all of you as it was for my staff.
Speaking of BARD, the most exciting news of recent is the introduction of the BARD Mobile app for Apple devices. I personally think it is a wonderful app right out of the gate. So far in Minnesota, 115 people have registered 158 Apple devices. Across the country there are over 5,500 people with over 7,300 registered Apple devices using the BARD Mobile app.
To use the BARD Mobile app you must have an Apple device running iOS software version 4.3 or later and you must have registered for a BARD account.
Up to five devices are allowed per BARD account, but you do not need to register iOS devices like you do commercial talking book players.
No synchronization across devices is possible at this time, though this could be a future enhancement.
You need to possess a basic understanding of VoiceOver. There is a user guide built into the app. There are other apps and websites you can use to learn about its features and operation. These are highlighted in the user guide.
VoiceOver can be turned on or off by clicking the home button rapidly 3 times. You must first set it up in Setting->General->Accessibility->Triple Click->VoiceOver-ON.
If you have a cellular service make sure is set to on in the BARD app when Wi-Fi is not available and you want to download a title. The default is Wi-Fi only.
If you find that audio books stop playing when you close the app go to BARD settings and change the Background Playback option to on.
There is no sleep option. You can use a clock app to set a timer. All iOS devices come with a clock app.
We suggest that you turn off the VoiceOver speech (the audible voice) when reading braille.
You will need a refreshable braille device with Bluetooth in order to read braille titles.
Things are automatic in the app. BARD Mobile automatically unzips books when it reaches about 85% of the download. BARD mobile will contact BARD again to verify user information. If you receive an unable to read message, contact the library.
It is not possible to logout of the app. You can go into your user account settings and erase your login information if you plan on sharing devices.
Downloads from BARD mobile and a computer are the same size.
Wish List – Cannot search directly from the BARD app, but you can search BARD proper. Once NLS beefs up search features, you will be able to search BARD directly in the app.
An app for Android devices is at least six months out. NLS is working with Google to work on the accessibility issues.
Overall, I think the app is great. I hope those of you that are using it agree. Of course, there will be future enhancements, but the app is off to a great start.
We still receive inquiries about when locally-produced content will be available on BARD. NLS is conducting a pilot test now and hopefully sometime next year, titles produced by regional libraries will be available to download from BARD.
Last year when I spoke, I mentioned that cassette magazines would be transitioning to digital cartridges. Well, that transition is over. All NLS-produced audio magazines are now available on cartridges or BARD. I would say the biggest challenge with this transition has been getting people to return their magazine cartridges including cartridges that contain Talking Book Topics. This is a change from cassette magazines and one that longtime users of the program are having difficulty remembering. Generally, a good rule to remember is that if there is a reversible mailing label included with shipped materials, you need to return it. The only exception would be print catalogs. Print catalogs do not need to be returned. If you fail to return audio magazines in a timely manner, all your subscriptions will be placed on hold. We have been sending postcards or contacting patrons with overdue magazines, but this is very time consuming, so it would help us out if you would remember to return audio magazines.
If you are a BARD user and want to no longer receive magazine cartridges, contact the library so we can cancel your subscriptions. Remember, there are no due dates with BARD titles. Yeah!
We loan out a number of audio magazines that are produced by other regional libraries. We are in the process of re-evaluating how we send these digital audio magazines directly to our patrons. Currently it is one issue per cartridge. We are looking at producing one cartridge for each magazine subscriber that contains all the available audio magazines received in a given month. We are waiting for some enhancements from our library software vendor before we can pursue this further.
Last year, Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, presented to Congress a report on this service. NLS was directed to:
1. Take a close look at the future of its legacy programs, and
2. Conduct a detailed study of the entire mix of products and services examining how changing demographics are influencing the customer base and new technologies offering new and different service alternatives.
According to the report, there are over 800,000 reader accounts and over 367,000 individual patrons actively use this service. Sixty-three percent of NLS patrons are 60 years or older and 85% of patrons still use traditional formats and specialized talking book players.
NLS outlined in the report the following patron-focused priorities:
1. Maintain the highest quality standards possible for all NLS products and services.
2. Enhance the reading experience for all NLS patrons by leveraging current and future technologies to improve the reading and delivery systems.
3. Expand the scope and quantity of titles available in alternative formats throughout the NLS system.
4. Take a leading role in positioning braille as a viable, practical, and achievable literacy medium for all blind Americans.
5. Increase the number of eligible individuals participating in the program.
In the year since the report was commissioned, NLS held a Braille Summit at the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library. We are still waiting for a report from this summit. They conducted a nationwide patron survey and they have contracted with other commercial audio publishers to make even more titles available.
The report, released this past September, is available to the public on the NLS website, www.loc.gov/nls.
This past January, the Faribault Lions Club contacted us about partnering again to raise funds for our large-print collection. Over $5,500 has been raised so far. We have purchased almost 300 new large books since May and will continue to expand our offerings of new titles.
Last year I also spoke about continued activities with our partner, State Services for the Blind. A couple of weeks ago, staff from Audio Services in the Communication Center visited the library to brainstorm ideas on how we communicate to others about this service. A number of fantastic ideas were shared including using more social media and targeting outreach to service agencies and organizations that serve eligible patrons. Staff from both agencies appreciated having an opportunity to meet each other.
If you haven’t visited our new website, you are encouraged to do so. We continue to update content. We now have pages devoted to audio and braille books, magazines, descriptive videos, MN BARD, equipment and music. To find out what’s available visit www.mnbtbl.org.
It has been a pleasure being here today. If there is time, I’ll entertain questions.
By Carol Braithwaite
(Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from the Winter 2014 issue of The Focus, the newsletter of the NFB of Alabama.)
In case I run the risk of reinforcing for anyone reading this article the myth that blind people are by virtue of their blindness dumb, inept, unsafe to themselves, or a danger to others by being in charge in the kitchen, that is NOT my intent. I strongly disagree with this myth because I have learned that good training of a blind person makes them just as able as a sighted person to cook. I just want to share with you some funny things that have happened in my kitchen, with the hope of illustrating what happens when a person with low vision cooks with the same techniques as if they had full vision without knowing that there is a better way. Sighted people and blind people alike have bizarre stories to tell. We are all human, and as the old bumper sticker from the sixties said, “…it happens.” With that said, read on.
I began adventuring in the kitchen early. My parents knew that I had limited vision, but they believed I should do anything a fully sighted person could do short of driving anything with wheels and a motor. Even though I was visually a bit klutzy, Mom was patient and let me try. Mom taught me to bake sugar cookies and brew hot tea at age 8 and she allowed me to serve snacks to my friends in the neighborhood on her treasured childhood aqua china tea set. Special times. My Scout leader taught our troop to make Bisquick doughnuts at my house. Watching those puppies puff up as we dropped them into the Dutch oven full of hot grease was awesome. Life was good. My fudge, the result of a flopped icing recipe at age 10, became legendary in our extensive family and is still asked for today.
I decided to make oatmeal for our family of seven one Saturday morning. I got involved in watching Tom and Jerry cartoons, the oatmeal boiled over, and I cleaned up the mess only halfway and boiled another pot. As the old gas stove heated up, what had leaked down beneath the burners into the stove’s infernal guts adhered permanently to whatever it contacted. My mother discovered the charred goop a couple of hours later, and as I remember, I narrowly escaped a beating with a pancake turner and spent the rest of my Saturday scrubbing cold fused oatmeal off 25 stove parts.
Mom had to spend five nights locked in a downtown hotel during jury duty for a murder trial when I was 12. I was the designated cook for my dad and us five voracious Watson kids. My dad could barely boil water, so I did what I had watched Mom do — skillet fried pork chops, green beans, boiled new potatoes, fruit salad. We all chewed hard and got the meat and crunchy beans down. Potatoes and fruit were great, except I forgot to pit the cherries and my dad broke a tooth. He praised me anyway.
Before I married, I worked for some months as kitchen help at a Bible study center in North Carolina. I was a whiz at making bread, pancakes and biscuits from sour dough starter, which I had to “feed” weekly with some sugar, flour, and milk. My biscuits would come out golden brown, uniformly round, and about as fluffy as hockey pucks, but they had great flavor piled with blackberry jam. The head cook begged me to tame the starter or banish it the day I forgot to use enough of it up and it blew the lid off the container and left stalactites and drool all over the fridge.
I was a really experienced cook by the time Tom and I got married in my mid-twenties. I had learned to make all kinds of bread successfully. Tom and I together made my own recipe of apple butter and my grandmother’s dark marmalade. We canned them for Christmas presents for our family and friends that first Christmas as newlyweds. Canning is great fun. The first time we had a friend over for dinner, though, I let the water boil out of the steamer full of fresh zucchini squash and by the time she arrived, I was fanning smoke out the frosty kitchen windows and she had the rare treat of hearing the dinner veggies flushed down the toilet. Celery, tomatoes and onions were quickly chopped and seasoned as a replacement and my pride was baptized in mirth as we tried to eat while holding our noses.
Once our children started coming along, life got really interesting at mealtime. Our son Rob at age two got into my sewing supplies without my knowing it and somehow transferred some needles and thread into empty Tupperware containers in the bottom kitchen cabinet. When I stored leftover vegetable soup in some of the containers, I did not notice foreign objects in them. The next time I served soup Tom pulled a needle out of his mouth and I followed with a long red thread hanging out of my mouth — attached to a needle lodged under my tongue!
Ah, yes — soup stories. There was the time I had my family’s favorite beef barley soup simmering in an open kettle on the stovetop. Rob, a hulking teenager by then, came through the kitchen sniffing the aroma and stopped to stir the pot with the ladle. Suddenly he exclaimed, “What’s this, Mom? Sock soup?” and pulled a nylon knee-high out of the broth. No worry — it was clean laundry I had lost as I headed from the dryer to my sorting table in the garage. The knee-high had just gone airborne as I whizzed by. Anyway, boiling things always kills them germs!
My crowning escapade with soup occurred one weekend when I invited my parents to come for homemade split pea soup and cornbread. I had soaked dried peas for an hour and boiled them with carrots, celery, onion, bay leaves and ham. It smelled scrumptious! But it tasted a bit different. My dad asked if there were lentils in the soup. I looked puzzled and asked why he wanted to know. He said he just wondered what the dark chewy things were.
I got to the bottom of my bowl and realized there were a lot of them. By then my husband Tom was finishing his third bowl. With horror, I began to realize the “lentils” were weevils! My mother realized it at the same moment and gulped, laughed and said, “This is the first time I’ve had third-world soup!” Now I put any dried beans, rice, flour and the like that might have potential hatching-out critters growing up in them into the freezer. The whole world is blessed with unwanted protein in our food, folks, but luckily in the U.S. we have the luxury of arresting some of it in the larval stage. Yuck!
Another time we invited the head of our home-schooling association to stay for dinner one night. I had made a good Southern meal of baked chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens, black-eyed peas, sticker salad and cornbread. Conversation was lively around the table. Marjorie suddenly yelled, “No, Mom! Don’t eat that!” and plucked a large stewed cricket out of the forkful of greens I had raised to my lips. We only encountered one in that pot that time. I always wash my fresh collard greens in a laundry bag in the washer on the cold rinse cycle to remove any dirt and grit, and I always tear them before putting them into the pot, so I don’t know where that critter came from.
As we collected more kids underfoot, serendipities got pretty frequent. My vision was worsening steadily and my tactile sense was not as developed as it is now. I would miss those blasted stickers the grocers started slapping on every apple, pear, plum and tomato I bought. They ended up incorporated into our salads so frequently that to this day the family refers to my fresh creations as sticker salad. I also got more vigorous in putting salads together as I hurried to multi-task my way through meal preparations, homework supervision and answering the inevitable dinner hour phone calls. Marjorie, our middle child, recently said as she peeled fresh spinach off the sink backsplash and window over her sink where I had prepared salad, “Mom’s given a whole new dimension to the meaning of the words ‘tossed salad’.” No, I’m not a tidy cook even now — but I’m good!
One summer day I learned the hard way that I MUST check the contents of the oven before turning it on. Our youngest child Erin, then age four, was a fervent admirer of Barney, the singing purple dinosaur. She had put her plastic Barney in the oven on a cookie sheet, and without peeking in there first, I preheated the oven for roasting potatoes while barbecued chicken was on the outdoor grill. A vile smell began wafting out the kitchen window.
I ran to find its source and noticed smoke oozing from around the oven door gasket and an orange glow through the window in the door. There lay a purple puddle with two eyes staring upwards mournfully. “Oh, Lord, get me outa this fiery furnace!”
Now I teach cooking classes to blind people as part of my rehab teaching profession. How did that happen? First, I refused to take myself too seriously and chose to laugh along with my family and guests at my culinary mishaps. A good sense of humor went a long way towards keeping me from being intimidated by myself and ditching the idea of cooking.
More importantly, I learned from my friends in the National Federation of the Blind that being blind was not the root cause of my difficulties. My problem was not that I was blind, but that I was using the wrong techniques to handle my blindness. I wish I had known as a child that I was depending on my vision for doing so many tasks that I could have performed best using non-visual skills. I did not have the opportunity to get the training in non-visual skills I needed. All I knew was to do what I could visually as a sighted person would, grin and bear it if I goofed up and was made fun of, keep trying to do normal tasks “normally” (meaning visually), and avoid the ones I was pretty sure were not possible without full vision. This approach served me pretty well, since vision loss was a slow progression for me, but my life could have been more self-confident and free.
If NFB-style training under a blindfold and with a cane had been available and considered needed by my parents, I would have known early on, for instance, to tactually check to see if there were any needles in my empty Tupperware containers or if I had little things crawling around in my package of dry split peas. I would have been taught not to use my vision to remove stickers from the fresh fruit. And I would have put my hand in the cold oven to check for any stowaways such as a plastic Barney before pre-heating the oven.
Most importantly of all, if the better way of non-visual skills is not taught and used, the blind person with some usable vision tries to function as a person with full vision. This leads to lack of self-confidence, worry and sometimes failure. A blind person’s inability to succeed while using full-vision techniques leads to being ashamed of being blind because they have not learned to do all things as well as fully-sighted people. They have not learned that it is respectable to be blind and how to convince the general public of this. I am so grateful to the National Federation of the Blind and to my encouraging sighted family who know that those of us who are blind, given the right training and unbiased opportunities, can be competent, independent and joyful people — whole people who just happen to have the characteristic of blindness.
By Emily Zitek
I have been a blind vendor in the Business and Enterprises Program (BEP) of State Services for the Blind for almost seven years. Because of the misconceptions that still exist regarding this program, I have been asked, more times than I could count if being a vendor is a real career.
Many people who have known of the vending program for a long time remember it as it used to be many years ago. The Randolph-Sheppard Act was enacted when World War I soldiers were blinded from mustard gas. As a result, those soldiers could no longer work in the jobs they had had before the war. For those who don't know about this program, the Randolph-Sheppard Act is a federal law that states that a blind vendor has the first right of refusal to service vending machines and certain other food preparation in any state or federal building, before any other private vendor. Even as recently as 20 years ago, there were probably 80 or more "vending stands," and many of the vending and store locations serviced by blind vendors in Minnesota made net profits of $10,000 a year, or even less. It wasn't uncommon to see a blind man running a newspaper stand in the skyways in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul. All they had to do was sit behind the counter all day and collect money while distributors stocked their store and someone else filled their machines. The vending program was a less-than-ideal job that rehabilitation counselors often used as a last resort for clients who couldn't find any other employment. This program used to be classified along the lines of a sheltered workshop, where people usually worked in factory settings, doing repetitious tasks and were paid substantially below minimum wage. And I have to say that with the way things used to be in the vending program, a sheltered workshop wasn't too far-fetched.
But let's get with it! This is 2014, and things have drastically changed! We no longer have "vending stands," but the 45 or so blind vending operators in the BEP of Minnesota have "businesses" that make an average net profit of about thirty thousand dollars a year. Some of the smaller vending locations combined to make larger, more desirable business opportunities. More and more applicants look at this program and see that they can make a good living. Back in the day, there really weren't many prerequisites to get into the vending program. Ten years ago, you had to have decent math, reading and writing skills, be in decent physical shape in order to lift and pull cases of pop around, and have good travel and computer skills. But even since then, the requirements to become a BEP student are much more challenging. Before an applicant even starts vending school, that applicant must take two MNSCU college courses: one in basic accounting, and another in an introduction to small business. Then there is a daylong certification course on food safety.
I like to call myself a sole proprietor, which means that I own a business and am responsible for every aspect of that business. Many people assume that it is easy to be a vendor; after all, the only thing they think we have to worry about is filling vending machines and stocking the store. But keeping products in stock is only one piece of the pie. Although technicians are available to fix equipment, we have to have enough mechanical knowledge and ability to make some repairs on vending equipment, which isn't always easy and requires more than just using a screwdriver. If a vending machine isn't working properly, you are losing money until that machine is repaired. Everything about your business, good or bad, reflects upon you as a blind vendor. One of the most challenging things I have to deal with is keeping track of expiration dates on products. I use a talking bar code reader to identify products, but there is currently no technology that provides an instant read-out of those expiration dates. Situations like this sometimes call for sighted assistance. In this industry, time is money. So if it takes me half an hour to do something by myself, when I could use a reader to help me get that same job done in five or ten minutes, I'm obviously saving time by using a reader.
There are good and bad things about being a sole proprietor. If I have a doctor's appointment next week or want to take a week off to go to Hawaii next June, I don't have to consult with my boss about it. However, taking time off will cost me, no matter how I handle the situation. I could either close my store and leave the vending machines unserviced during my time off or hire someone to do the work while I'm gone; either way, it is money out of my pocket. When I had been a salaried employee, I could take a week off and didn't have to worry about a thing. The work would still be there when I got back. Even when I'm on vacation, I'm still on call. This means that when I get a call about a coffee machine leaking water or a pop machine freezing up, I still have to designate somebody to fix the problem and arrange for refunds, if necessary. An advantage is that many vendors can keep their own hours. In my case, since I have a store location, I have to work around store hours to get the vending machines filled. Unlike being a salaried employee, I am responsible for taking taxes out of my own paycheck. In fact, when I got into this program, I never knew that so many kinds of taxes existed. There is sales tax, personal income tax, and tax on hired help; then there is the workers' compensation insurance that is required when you have an employee. Medical insurance and retirement are solely my responsibility. Each year, vending machines that sell food or coffee have to be licensed with the city, and food safety regulations have to be met at all times. Rain, snow, or sunshine, people still expect their pop to be in the machines. There are days when I am pulling 10 or more cases of pop, outdoors, from one building to another, which isn't always fun and relaxing. Responding to service calls as soon as possible is very important to the customers and building management, and there are times when I'm just about ready to go home for the day but have to respond to a call about a machine not working properly. One of the biggest mistakes people tend to make when they first come into this business is managing money. It's easy to pull wads of money out of a vending machine and think, "Now I have all this money for myself.” Let's say you pull $100 out of a pop machine. By the time you pay for new products, overhead expenses, operational charges that go toward new parts and equipment, sales tax, hired help, and sometimes commission, you might only get to keep $15 or $20 of that money.
Being a vendor is very hard work. Some days when my muscles are sore, I find myself missing the desk job I had in the past. College education is now a requirement, and you have to be able to work independently and make decisions on a daily basis. You have to maintain good stamina and be in good enough physical shape to lift cases of pop, haul products from building to building, and be on your feet while walking sometimes miles a day. It isn't as easy as people make it out to be, but it is rewarding. I can make my own decisions and educate people out in the community about the philosophy in which I believe. This job allows me to show the people out in the community that I can do anything I set my mind to, and that my blindness is just another characteristic, like having brown hair and brown eyes. Right now, I have one convenience store and over 30 vending machines in five different locations throughout downtown St. Paul. I do everything on foot, which means I do not use a driver and a vehicle. I know I've worked hard when Friday afternoon comes around and I can hardly go up and down the stairs without my joints hurting, but that hurt is a good hurt. It reminds me that I put in an honest week's work. When a new staff member is hired at State Services for the Blind, they are sent to my locations for a day of job-shadowing. This part of their training is a requirement so that they can see that with the right attitude, skills, and confidence, a blind person can be successful and independent in whatever career they choose. The vending program in Minnesota has evolved from being just a petty little job for someone who needs something to do to a career consisting of successful blind people with substantial, gainful employment. If this isn't a true career, then I can't think of much else that is.
Courtesy of the Seniors Division of the NFB of Minnesota
As I was lying in bed pondering the problems of the world, I rapidly realized that I don't really give a rat's hiney. It's the tortoise life for me! And here is why.
1. If walking were good for your health, the postman would be immortal.
2. A whale swims all day, only eats fish, drinks water, and is fat.
3. A rabbit runs, hops, and only lives 15 years.
4. A tortoise doesn't run and does nothing, yet it lives for 150 years.
And you tell me to exercise? I don't think so.
I'm retired. Go around me.
God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the perception to tell the difference.
Now that I'm older and wiser, here's what I've discovered:
1. I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it.
2. My wild oats have turned into prunes and all-bran.
3. I finally got my head together, and now my body is falling apart.
4. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.
5. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.
6. If not all is lost, where is it?
7. It is easier to get older than it is to get wiser.
8. Some days, you're the dog; some days, you're the hydrant.
9. I wish the buck stopped here; I sure could use a few.
10. Kids in the back seat cause accidents.
11. Accidents in the back seat cause kids.
12. It's hard to make a comeback when you haven't been anywhere.
13. The only time the world beats a path to your door is when you're in the bathroom.
14. If God wanted me to touch my toes, He'd have put them on my knees.
15. When I'm finally holding all the cards, why does everyone want to play chess?
16. It’s not hard to meet expenses — they're everywhere.
17. The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.
18. These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter — I go somewhere to get something, and then wonder what I'm here after.
19. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.
20. DID I SEND THESE TO YOU BEFORE--??????
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 is May 17 2014 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members have received a letter with details, and the letter is on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention is July 1-6 2014 in Orlando, Florida. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin is in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be October 30-November 1 2014, in New Ulm. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at the American Legion in Waite Park
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester
Twin Ports Chapter — Duluth area; meets at 11:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at Jitters Café, 102 W. Superior St.
Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend. This group meets on the first, second, and third Tuesdays of the month from 4:30-6:30. Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users. Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one. Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail email@example.com.
Activities for youth — Several times a year, the National
Federation of the Blind of Minnesota holds
educational/recreational activities for blind youth. These
activities provide opportunities for the youth to learn new
skills, to connect with one another and with confident,
well-adjusted adult blind role models, and to have fun while
doing so. Meetings and other activities for parents
also take place in conjunction with these events. For more information, contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is two-fold — to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind. By providing public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families, members of the NFB strive to educate the public that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality.
No one understands blindness as well as those who live with it daily. To apply this knowledge to solving the problems of blindness, blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM). NFBM is the state's largest and oldest organization of the blind. It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.
As blind people, we know the loss of eyesight is not the major problem of blindness. The real problem is the misunderstandings that surround blindness. The NFBM overcomes this problem through education of the sighted to the reality of blindness and through mutual help among blind people. Such activities make blind people fully participating members of society. They earn their living, raise families, and take full responsibility for their own lives.
The NFBM began in 1920 as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind. It is a membership organization open to everyone who believes in the capability of blind people to help himself or herself become full participants in the community.
In 1940, Minnesota and six other states founded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Today, the NFB numbers over 50,000 blind people. It has organizations in every state, and local chapters in almost every sizable community.
During these many years, we have made strong progress toward equality. We have improved employment opportunities and education for blind persons in the state of Minnesota and in the nation.
Most of our members are blind, and their knowledge of blindness comes from their personal lives. Other organizations get their information on blindness through the reading of textbooks or other secondhand techniques.
For a complete listing of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, visit www.nfbmn.org/board.html.
There are several ways to keep up with, as well as interact with, the most active group of blind people in Minnesota:
· Join the discussion list for Minnesota on NFBNET at www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/minnesota-talk_NFBNET.ORG
· Follow @nfbmn on Twitter at twitter.com/nfbmn
· Like us on Facebook by searching for National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota at www.facebook.com/
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
· Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
· Sharon Monthei makes corrections to the braille and print editions and transcribes the braille edition.
· Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
· Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc edition.
· Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.
· Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
· Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition, mails the print edition and other tasks as needed.
· Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails the braille and audio editions.