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 81, Number 2, Spring 2015
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
Here is a sampling of what the NFB of Minnesota has been up to in the last few months, and of the exciting things to which we are looking forward:
On January 21, we held our annual Day at the Capitol. Undeterred by the construction in the Capitol building, Federationists spend the day walking the halls and meeting with legislators to discuss the importance of increased investment in public transportation, and of planning resources to ensure that the growing number of seniors losing vision will have the skills and tools they need to remain living independently in their homes and communities rather than assuming that blindness will force them to move into costly assisted care. As a result of these efforts, bills have been introduced in both houses (HF 2012 and SF 1595) to increase the appropriation to Minnesota's State Services for the Blind to provide better coverage throughout the state and increased capacity for adjustment-to-blindness training for seniors.
Fourteen Minnesotans attended the 2015 Washington Seminar, and all actively participated in this initial push to get the 114th Congress to pass laws on the following issues: 1) The Transition to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act, HR 188, which would repeal § 14C of the Fair Labor Standards Act that currently allows people with disabilities to be paid less than the minimum wage; 2) The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act, which authorizes guidelines to help colleges and universities better identify accessible instructional material and meet legal obligations that protect blind students’ rights to equal access; and 3) The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually-Impaired, or Otherwise Print-Disabled. If ratified, this Treaty calls for other countries to adopt copyright exemptions similar to ours so that accessible published works can be made around the globe and distributed across national borders to reduce the book famine plaguing far too many blind or other people with print disabilities.
Since the publication of the winter edition of the Minnesota Bulletin, I am pleased to report that there has been more progress in the work of building our strong statewide organization so that we can carry out our important work throughout the state. We have revitalized our Riverbend chapter, with Jack Rupert as its president and a group of energetic members of all ages from college students to seniors. In addition, we have organized a new At-large chapter of the NFB of Minnesota, with Aaron Cannon as its president and another group of committed Federationists from various parts of the state who are not near chapters but who want very much to participate in the activities of the Federation. The at-large chapter meets monthly by conference call. Each of our six chapters plays a critical role in our work, so we must all continue to recruit and support members of the chapters.
Excitement is building around the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, which we will celebrate at this summer's national convention in Orlando, July 5-10. In 1940, representatives from seven states gathered in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania to unite their state organizations into a national vehicle for collective action to improve the prospects of the nation's blind citizens. Minnesota was one of the states represented at that founding convention. For this anniversary convention, our affiliate is part of the host committee, and our members will be part of helping to make this one of the best and most memorable conventions yet!
Mark your calendars! Our Rochester chapter will again be hosting our Walk for Opportunity, our state's largest fundraiser, on September 12. Make plans to help us put the fun in fundraising!
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) has replaced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Among the changes are strengthened requirements for focus on transition-aged youth, to ensure that they have the foundation and skills to be ready for the world of employment. Minnesota State Services for the Blind is working to put resources into providing work experiences for blind youth and to help them have the skills of blindness so they will be college-ready. The NFB of Minnesota stands ready to help with this much-needed effort.
There is always plenty happening all over the country in our organization. Here are just a few of the ways to keep up with it all:
· Check out our regularly-updated YouTube channel for interesting and informative video content at https://www.youtube.com/user/NationsBlind
· Follow our state and national twitter feeds @NFBMN and @NFB_voice
· Read our monthly magazine, The Braille Monitor https://nfb.org/braille-monitor,
· and of course this Minnesota Bulletin http://www.nfbmn.org
· Subscribe to the various listservs at www.nfbnet.org
· Take time to talk with your fellow Federationists!!
By Lori Peglow
CMC-NFB President’s Message
In the March 2015 presidential release, by Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, there was a statement that caught my attention. The statement was, "We have a right to participate and live in this world.” For 75 years now, the NFB has fought hard to teach the world that those of us who are visually impaired are persons who have rights, and that we are individuals who can make a contribution and difference in society. The NFB has labored continuously to enact laws, provide educational opportunities, and to promote awareness as to who we are as blind individuals with our unique gifts, talents, and abilities like any other person. It is not he or she that has lost vision, but rather a person who doesn’t see another individual’s potential that is truly blind. The NFB has been dedicated to helping the visually impaired and disabled reach their potential.
In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10 verses 46-52, there is an account of a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus, and his encounter with Jesus. Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus with the gift of sight. This gift from Jesus gave Bartimaeus a fresh participation in society and in the life of the culture of that day. The NFB, through the enactment of laws, providing educational opportunities, and training, has given thousands of us the same in our world today.
In just a short time now, we will be celebrating Easter. The Christmas message was that God in the person of Jesus Christ came down from heaven, and became one of us, fully participating in our humanity. Easter is a time that we are presented with the fact that Jesus died for our sins on the cross. He paid for our sins in full. Easter Sunday is when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and that Christ has given us spiritual life that is ours for all eternity as a gift of faith. Easter demonstrates to us God’s love for each one of us as individuals. God is for all of us, and we are to be for others in our mission and witness here on earth. The message is clear in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life.”
May you participate and live — it is your right to do so in this world, remembering by faith, God has also given us eternal life. God bless!
CMC-NFB President Reverend Ronald Mahnke
Meet the Members
Todd McKee is a 49-year-old member of the CMCNFB. He was elected as treasurer in the fall of 2014. Todd was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 2012. In January of 2014, a current member, Marv Heck, invited Todd to the annual spaghetti dinner of the CMCNFB. Todd attended the monthly meeting the next month and joined the CMCNFB.
Though he was raised in southeastern Minnesota on a dairy farm, Todd started working for the 401(k) and profit sharing program. This job brought him to the St. Cloud area. He worked in that field for 20 years. For a while, he worked at different jobs and businesses. He wanted to move out of the area, but he had four children and later two stepchildren and they didn’t want to leave the area. So, in 2010 Todd started his own business, Rise N Shine Blinds. It’s been a good fit for Todd.
Todd has been receiving the lucentis injections in his right eye since being diagnosed with macular degeneration. The injections have helped improve his vision in the right eye. One of the technologies he is excited about is the use of the Google car coming in the future. This car drives itself using GPS technology. Todd still has vision and can drive, but this technology will give vision-impaired people independence. They won’t have to wait for buses or depend on others to take them to appointments, shopping, etc. The Google car has been used recently in California with great success with fewer accidents than other drivers have.
Todd has enjoyed being part of the CMCNFB. He has learned so much from the members. He has so much respect for the abilities of visually impaired people to overcome their disability. For example, Ron Mahnke, the president of CMCNFB, doesn’t have his vision but he has strengthened his memory. He knows where each person at the meeting is sitting and remembers it. He has a tremendous capacity to remember numbers, details and phone numbers. And Todd appreciates the way members use their brain power more and exercise their memory more to compensate for their vision loss, like when Ron or Marv can run the meeting without their agenda because they remember what was on it even if they can’t see it or don’t have it. He even appreciates the humor brought to the meeting, like Ron’s joke about which Tator takes the longest to prepare? The Hesitator.
Going along with the theme of Todd’s business, Rise N Shine Blinds, his advice for visually impaired people is to rise and shine. Don’t let your disability get the best of you. This is who you are. Embrace it, and make the best of it. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Stay positive.
Annual Events in the Area
On Saturday, April 11, 2015, the Minnesota State Board of the NFB will hold their meeting in Waite Park, MN. The meeting will be held at 10:00 at the American Legion in Waite Park.
This summer the CMCNFB will hold their annual brat sale. The date, time and place will be announced in a later newsletter.
By Joyce Scanlan, Past President
(Editor’s Note: Joyce presented this testimonial at the banquet of our Annual Convention on November 1, 2014. Tom served as treasurer from 1974 to 2014. Joyce served as president from 1973 to 2007. Together they led this organization to its current position as Minnesota’s largest, most effective force for improving the lives of blind people. In recognition of their service, they are Life Members.)
1974 was indeed a banner year for Tom Scanlan and for me. In May of that year, Tom was elected treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBMN). Earlier that same month, we became engaged to be married. The wedding took place in September, which means we just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. Therefore, the year 2014 ends Tom’s 40th year serving as treasurer. He made the decision not to seek another term. Yes, he’s stuck with the marriage that also began 40 years ago.
Let me tell you just as briefly as I can some of the outstanding memories of our life together — especially as they relate to our involvement in this fine organization.
Tom wasn’t easy to get to know; I mean that in the very literal sense. We were both at a birthday party in October 1965. We did not actually meet. Nobody even introduced us. 1965 was an extremely dark time in my life; I was struggling with becoming blind, unemployed, and not greatly eager to participate in any celebration whatsoever. And then in 1968, I again heard of this Tommy Scanlan who worked for the state over at the Highway Building in St. Paul but once more did not meet him. And yet again in 1970, both of us attended the National Convention of the Federation at the Leamington Hotel in Minneapolis; and yet again, we did not meet. Finally, in October of 1970 at a Halloween party at the home of a mutual friend, Craig Anderson, we actually did meet. (Now I know this is contrary to what Braille Monitor readers were told; we did not meet at the National Convention, although Dr. Jernigan said, “that made a better story.”) The truth remains the truth. And, of course, as we both became involved in the local NFB affiliate, we kept running into one another time after time after time and again and again — if you get the point.
Tom was first elected president of the newly organized student division. I was elected secretary. We both served on the joint legislative committee (jointly with the United Blind or UB); and the grievance committee which dealt with problems experienced by workers in the sheltered workshop of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind — now Vision Loss Resources (VLR). We both ran several times for state offices before winning election. I was elected vice president in 1972 and president in 1973, and Tom was ultimately successful running for treasurer in 1974.
As you can probably guess, Tom and I had a period of adjustment in 1974 as we became accustomed to our married life and to our work together as treasurer and president of an organization we both held in high esteem, but about which neither of us knew a whole lot. We, together with many other younger members, had come into the outfit because of its vibrant philosophy of blindness that we had picked up at that 1970 National Convention: Blind people were normal, first-class citizens, competent, independent, and deserving of all the rights and responsibilities of such citizenship. We had rights equal to those of every other citizen. Probably most of all, “it is respectable to be blind.”
However, we were now greatly involved in an organization that operated a home for the blind. Problems with unfair and discriminatory housing practices in the Twin Cities early in the century were the impetus for the establishment of the organization in 1920. The Home and Center for the Blind was the pride and joy of the group and in the minds of many members in 1970 gave the outfit its reason for existing. The members had a long record of accomplishment in building and supporting the Home and Center for the Blind. They had worked hard, were very tough fighters, and had gained great skill in fighting to get what they wanted even if it meant squabbles with one another. Nevertheless, they had kept the organization going, even when their pet project, the home, had become outdated, losing money, and no longer needed.
Jim Gashel used to tease me after I became president about how I “operated a Home for the Blind in Minnesota.” He was joking of course, but there was also a kernel of serious intent within all of that.
So, already, as new officers of an organization with a long history of blind people working together and accomplishing many goals very dear to them, Tom and I, together with many other new members, had a serious learning curve as to what we could do. We had two definite challenges: first, how to work constructively within our own organization; and second, how to meet the challenges presented us by the problems blind people faced with VLR, all those grievances brought to us by our members and others in the community.
So here we were with a bunch of newer, very vocal members longing for major changes, together with some seasoned fighters determined to maintain a very favored project. Quite a challenge facing new leadership without experience and lacking a thorough understanding of the best techniques to deal with a difficult situation!
Now, both Tom and Joyce were very determined, strong-willed people, to say the least. So our always-very-public discussions about strategy and tactics (but not personal issues) were viewed as “fights” and we were, at least according to our friends, definitely headed for the divorce court. Our friends seemed to think that we must have had even more heated discussions after the meetings ended and we were in private. Other couples may do that. Not so Tom and Joyce. Or at least Tom, as I would say. What people didn’t realize was that they had already seen it all. The discussion, or argument as they saw it, was over. Throughout our years together, Tom and I had far more serious discussions over Federation matters than we did over any personal disagreements. I’ve tried without success to change Tom’s insistence on public disagreements. They persist to this day, but so has our very happy and successful marriage.
Closing the home for the blind and selling the property required the vote of a majority of the membership, which took place only after several failed attempts. It did finally occur in 1980.
After 1970 when Minnesota had a great upswing in membership, the organization began pressing for a greater voice in the operation of both public and private agencies serving blind people. VLR was a definite target, because at that time it had no blind people on its board of directors. Also, Federationists learned that we could pay $5 to become members of VLR and have a vote for board members at its annual meetings. A number of us joined, including Tom Scanlan. When we attended the next annual meeting and indicated interest in changing the agenda to make nominations, etc., the president abruptly adjourned the meeting. In a very courteous, business-like manner, Tom challenged the president, to no avail. Next, the VLR’s board voted to throw out its blind members they could identify, which led to the filing of the lawsuit against VLR for discriminating against its blind members and violating its own bylaws. There were six or seven plaintiffs including Tom. Preparation for trial took five years with two more years for the state supreme court to render a final decision. So it was 1979 before we saw meaningful results from the lawsuit. The court decision ordered that VLR follow its original bylaws, which it had violated by expelling the blind members. According to its bylaws, the court-ordered election would be nationwide. I can tell you truly that we worked hard on that campaign. Our national president, Dr. Jernigan, was of great support and help as we fought for proxy votes from throughout the country. He called us every day to encourage and bolster us, to keep our spirits up, and to check our progress. It was a very exciting but scary time for our entire Federation family. We had threatening phone calls, IRS audits of our personal income tax returns, expensive newspaper ads prepared and paid for by VLR’s big bucks, and the bosses of our employed members approached by VLR officials pleading that they fire their blind employees. Tom Scanlan was included in that group. His boss just laughed when he told Tom about it. So, you see that Tom is a very fine educator. He had already taken care of the matter of helping his boss to understand what was really going on. His employer was well prepared to deal with the VLR approach. It was a very intense time.
Besides that, at this time, Minnesota had the dubious distinction of being the only state in the union with two separate affiliates of the NFB. The United Blind (UB) and NFB of Minnesota did work cooperatively on legislation, and we were definitely members of the same national organization. By 1976 when the VLR lawsuit was in full swing, VLR was pressuring the UB to give its support to VLR. The UB bowed to the pressure and dropped its affiliation with the Federation. The NFB of Minnesota was now the only Federation affiliate in this state. YEA!!!
Remember that we had originally asked for just three blind people to be placed on the VLR board. Yet, in 1979 with this court-ordered election, we had won eight seats on the VLR board. Today that might not sound like much, but for us then, that was a crucial victory. We had eight fine people to send to two years of VLR board membership, including Tom Scanlan, Nadine Jacobson, Mary Hartle, and Curtis Chong, (some of you may know Curtis). They served valiantly on that board for two long years until it became clear that VLR was definitely not interested in making necessary changes in its views and in its treatment of blind people. Our guys resigned and publicly circulated an extensive position paper outlining the problems VLR needed to address before worthy blind people could participate on its board.
At this point in our review of Tom’s Federation history, we were able to celebrate three major accomplishments: We were the sole Minnesota NFB affiliate; we had won an unprecedented victory over a very custodial institution holding great mis-placed public acclaim; and we had sold the home for the blind and now had $533,000 (equivalent to $1,518,000 today, as Tom would point out) available to help us move forward. So, what could we do to improve opportunities for blind people?
We knew we had several possibilities. The board and our membership held countless meetings at which we considered our options. For the next 4-6 years, our primary focus was educating the public. From our offices on the seventh floor of the Chamber of Commerce building on Fifth Street in downtown Minneapolis, we circulated a little newsletter called “Blindside,” which took rather a softer approach to our struggles with public attitudes toward blindness; we used a public relations firm to make sure we made the proper appearance, etc.
Our location gave us good visibility, and our members participated extensively in all decision-making and everything we did. We hired staff to help coordinate all our many activities and public relations functions. We had lots of work for everyone.
In order to obtain the list of proxy voters from VLR, we had to return once again to court; when those were available to us, we included all in our mailings. This gave us an opportunity to educate all these fine folks too. The response to “Blindside” was excellent. But, alas, we realized that our treasury had limits — again our worthy treasurer kept us on top of that. And we eventually had to begin cutting expenses. However, we really had gained great public support for the Federation and our philosophy of blindness, and we still benefit today from those efforts.
Fundraising was always included in our efforts. As you may have heard, the person who recently willed our organization a considerable sum of money learned of us through that proxy business, “Blindside,” and all our educational and financial mailings. Great thanks to her for her continued support of our work.
With all this public education, the blind community and our organization gained visibility and credibility. Our membership was thriving. While we seemed to have success reaching out to the public, effective training in blindness-related skills with a positive philosophy remained a serious problem. Many of our members were great at helping with advocacy that was frequently needed due to struggles with existing training programs. For a few years, we helped our people receive training in other states such as Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Louisiana when that center opened in 1985.
When a new SSB director came on the scene in late 1985, we seized upon the opportunity to meet twice with Governor Rudy Perpich. He asked us to prepare a report for him, which we did. In that report, we outlined the low level of training available to blind Minnesotans and the need for something much better. Very soon, the new SSB director announced that an establishment grant would be available for the creation of a new training program. Prior to that announcement, SSB Director Rick Hokanson and I had a private discussion in which we agreed that the state should not be the provider of these services. Until late 1986, we had not — as far as I remember — given thought to creating a Federation center. (If I had the time, I’d tell you why I say that; we must move on here.) We ultimately decided that not all the kind and gentle advocacy in the world could give our people what they wanted and needed; and so we decided that only we could create the desperately needed, effective training.
So along came BLIND, Incorporated, that is; not ink. BLIND is an acronym for Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, all letters capitalized, no ink whatever its color, involved at all. That’s a lofty name for a very worthy, unique, much-needed training program for learning not only alternative techniques of blindness but also positive attitudes through successful experiences. I could say more about this; however, you should also hear the true reason for BLIND, Incorporated instead of Minnesota Center for the Blind. The Federation has always said, “It is respectable to be blind.” VLR in our state passed through many phases with changing names always avoiding the use of the word blind. We felt it was important to put the word out that blind, the word and the people dealing with blindness, should not be overshadowed by some obvious bypass to give the impression that there’s something wrong with blindness. Blindness is absolutely fine; we must be comfortable with it or we’ll sell ourselves short. Some may regard me as a bit of a crank about all this; for me, it’s a serious matter and we must all regard it so. Tom has always supported me and been helpful in emphasizing the issue of BLIND Incorporated’s full and proper name. He helped us with a large personal grant when we were a new, struggling program with little cash reserve. Many times, it was a cash flow matter. Only once, when the SSB director cut out two of our major programs did we need to seek funding from our friendly Federation affiliate to do our payroll. I’m currently quite hopeful about BLIND Incorporated’s future, although I’m no longer involved in its goings-on.
Poor Tom occasionally tired of the agency talk of BLIND, Incorporated, but he made a worthy comment or sometimes he simply left the room. Tom and I were a great team. He was always there as my stalwart support and guide. I beat on him for being a bureaucrat. Yet I know that his business experience and basic good sense have given me the capacity to hang in and move on. He has kept me on the straight and narrow on numerous occasions. I was very fortunate that Tom was always there to give the solid support I often badly needed. I valued his counsel, his listening ears, and his undying support. He steered both organizations with which we worked and me through all the ups and downs of 40 years of very rewarding work and fun. Both of us were greatly blessed to have found the Federation and our lives have been greatly enriched by the opportunities we have received. We both leave you with our thanks and good wishes for a successful and fulfilling future.
I feel that today I’m the lucky one. As Tom ceases to be the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota that he has so much enjoyed, he is and always will be my treasurer. We’re still a team of two, partners and best friends. Tom, for these and many others reasons, I’ll love you forever.
By Sheila Koenig
(Editor’s Note: Sheila is a member of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, a graduate of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), and a past president of our Metro Chapter. She teaches 9th grade English at South View Middle School in Edina, and is one of the most adventurous people I know.)
It began as a seed planted in my Writing and Zen class. In talking about being attached to plans, Ted (the instructor) mused that whenever we have roadmaps, we ought to throw them away. Thus began the thread of thoughts: I like getting lost. I like the adventure. I like the stories. I like bonding with my companion in our shared lostness. But what if, I wondered, I was alone? Would I still enjoy getting lost? Would I embrace adventure and novelty, or would I confine myself to my own comfort zone? I decided there was one way to find out.
Without a roadmap and by myself I ventured to Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing is a community of about 16,000 people located in the South Eastern part of Minnesota along the Mississippi River. I chose it because I wanted to go to a small town, a community where I could hear stories and meet people. I simply wanted to follow where the moments led.
A few days before my trip, I discovered a new journaling app called Zentries. Each time the app opens, a new quote appears. When I opened the app to journal the night before my trip, the quote read, “The lesson is letting go. The lesson is always letting go. Have you ever noticed how much of our agony is the cause of craving and loss?” by Susan Gordon. We live in a society that clings to security and certainty. Though taking various forms, we, consciously or unconsciously, grasp for things to steady us, for permanence. For me this quote was emblematic of my trip. I was letting go of expectations, letting go of plans, and letting go of the known.
The avenues of the trip were fascinating. In my first conversation with Lauren, the concierge at the St James Hotel, I learned about a new bookstore. “I don't know why,” he said, “but you look like someone who loves books.” Amusedly I told him that I teach English. And I set out to find the bookstore. I learned about a sailing group in the Twin Cities, met a man considering a career change to Education, met a Kayak guide with a connection to the Meditation Center I attend, and learned about a science/art charter school in Napa, California. From my Kayak guide I learned about a local bakery, and at the bakery, I learned they made the crust for the pizza at the local brewery. The crust is outstanding!
My blindness mattered very little on this trip. I hired a driver to take me from Minneapolis to Red Wing. I knew that I could access most of Red Wing by foot, and I felt that part of embracing this journey was letting go of having all of the answers. Sometimes I think anticipating potential roadblocks can keep us from fully experiencing life. I could not have planned, for example, that Broken Paddle Guiding Company would offer to pick me up from my hotel because we were near the launch site of my kayak tour. I had kayaked only once before, on a small lake at a relative’s cabin, but I was determined to feed my sense of adventure without worrying about the details. As it turned out, I was the only tourist signed up for the tour. After a quick lesson on land of basic paddling strokes, I set out in my own kayak. My tour guide accompanied me in his. We paddled the backwaters of the Mississippi and navigated the flooded forest successfully. I did get tangled in some branches, but his verbal directions guided me out of the tangle. We talked about turtles, education, and meditation. My blindness was never an issue for me or for those I encountered.
Looking back on this trip half a year later, I marvel at the joys I found. I had no expectations or preconceptions. In throwing away the roadmap, I was able to be present with the moments that evolved along the way.
By Carol Pankow, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Pankow presented this item at our Annual Convention on November 1, 2014.)
Thank you. Good morning. I really appreciate the invitation for coming to your annual convention. I feel like the partnership between SSB and NFB is critically important as we work together to promote access equality and empowerment so that Minnesotans who are blind can have the opportunity to succeed in employment and in their communities. So this morning, I'd like to share some successes that SSB has had since I last spoke with you and a little bit about our plans for the future.
First off, our federal fiscal year ended on September 30. We have some very good results from this last year that I'm happy to report. In our workforce development unit, we had 116 successful employment closures. What this means is that a customer of SSB found a job and has been in that job for 90 days. This number is up 15 per cent from the year before and 43 per cent over 3 years, so I feel like we're traveling in the right direction. The types of positions that people have attained are once again really diverse and I love that. I'd like to read a little sampling of the types of jobs people had gotten in the last year: operation specialist, cashiers, bookkeepers, animal breeders, computer system operators, dietetic technician, fitness instructor, child care workers, financial analyst, registered nurses, (in fact I think we had 4 registered nurses this year) health care technicians, management analyst, graphic designer, physical therapist, and fund raisers, to name a few. So I think that's just incredible.
The other thing is the average wage for closures for those folks that successfully were employed has gone up quite significantly from the year before. This year, ending September 30, the average wage was $17.37 per hour that compared to last year, which was 15.48. And 3 years ago, we had $14.30. So we again are going up in the right direction.
I had a gentleman stop in this last week, and he was a reminder that we sometimes forget the work we do, maybe at an early age or what we've done for someone a long time ago, can have an impact on lives beyond what we know. He happened to stop by because he was bringing his child to the clinic just down the road from us. He said, "You know, I got services from you when I was young," and his parents had basically been told that he was never going to amount to anything. He got services from us early on. He got connected, learned Braille, went through school and he handed me his business card. He said to me, "I want you to know I'm an attorney today and it really was from that support at a really young age. People thought I couldn't do anything. And I am doing this. So I just wanted to say Thanks.” It was really good to hear. We’ve been hearing a lot from customers lately.
In our senior services area, we had staff provide services to 3,223 Minnesotans last year, which is up 22 per cent from the year before. Some of those folks were just looking for some magnification, but a number of people were really looking for services that are more intensive and had multiple visits from our staff.
We've also been making some changes in the Communications Center to serve our customers better. Stuart and team are looking for ways to make the Radio Talking Book more relevant to a broader group of customers and to fit with the customers that are used to on-demand types of programming while they're still meeting the needs of existing folks. So, they started a little venture in May and they have produced 25 podcasts on job searching and career planning that are available on our website and also on Audio Boom. With this change starting in May, we noticed a big uptake in people actually looking at SSB's archives. We actually archive the books and the different radio programs that we have. We used to get two or three hits a week on our different archived information. We consistently since May have been getting between 85 and a 100 hits a week on our different information, so we realize we're touching a different group of folks and that they're coming in and looking at what we have and it is something of benefit to them. So we're feeling good about that and working with Stuart and team to continue some of these efforts.
Our audio group transcribed nearly 140 thousand pages into audio this year, and then they built capacity to provide materials in e-text. We're finding that the e-text is becoming a preferred method for many of our college students and so last year we did transcribe 99 titles or more than 3500 pages into accessible user-friendly e-text. And then, finally, Braille. Braille remains the mainstay for many and once again, our Braille section turned out close to 1 million pages of Braille — even as they prepare to switch to UEB in 2016. Our Braille team is also researching and experimenting with some new technologies for producing 3-d modeling and other tactile graphics. We're somewhat excited about what that may hold.
This has been just a quick review of what we've accomplished and now I want to focus on some structural changes we're making to improve how we do business and serve our customers. I don't think it's any secret that there are issues with our customer service. Sometimes we can be slow and bureaucratic and I really want to make sure that those who need our services know how to find us, and that we can get the services to them in a timely fashion. We've developed actually six different work groups. I spent a lot of time last year listening to people — including the Federal Rehab Services Administration that governs us, customers who would call or drop me a note, staff, and just other folks out and about, with suggestions as to what we needed to do. It was really interesting as I took a lot of notes, things kind of fell into six different buckets. So I created six cross-agency work groups that are charged over the next 18 months to come up with plans and to implement those plans and evaluate them. So I don't want it to take 18 months to come up with an idea. I want us to figure that out, implement some of the things and then see how that's working.
Our first group's our outreach group. We realized that we weren't always maybe sending a consistent message about what SSB could do. And so we've a group of folks looking at our messaging and also looking to make sure we're getting at the right constituent groups, and building some stronger connections — especially in our minority communities, with our eye care professionals, other state and local agencies, the vision professionals in schools, and potentially even our RTB listeners. We want folks who need our services to know about them and we want to make sure we're messaging in the correct way.
The second group is our intake group and this really has to do with how anybody touches our services, whether you're coming in through the Communications Center, or Senior Services or Workforce Development. We want that to be seamless. We don't want you to have to wait a long time for a call back. And we don't want it to be crazy and how do we do the application, that's seven pages long on the Internet. So we're really looking at that whole process.
We have two work groups focused really around our Workforce Development unit, a little bit about how the jobs happen and how we're structured. We have a placement working group who've been talking to other states about how can we live up to our model this year for jobs, more jobs and better jobs. They're looking at other states coming up with some ideas for us on how we can better connect folks and get people working because we know we have a highly educated motivated and skilled workforce that have a lot to offer the state and the economy. The team model work group is actually looking at how we're structured internally when we're working with a customer. Right now, the pattern primarily is the individual working with their rehab counselor. We're looking at whether other staff members could be more part of the team the whole way through, bringing in the placement people early on, the assistive technology people, and keeping them on your team so that it's just not an in-and-out process. So we're looking at that.
And then we have our data work group. We've been told that we have so much data, but what do we do with it. How do you use it to make decisions? Does the data talk to each other? Does everybody even know what data we collect? We're trying to look at that data, what it means, and make sure that we're using it in a meaningful way.
And our final group is the assistive technology group. They really have three main goals: improving training for staff and customers, providing timely updates on changes and trends, and finally, we want to make sure we transform SSB, DEED, and the State of Minnesota to a recognized leader in accessibility. They have many big ideas around this area.
SSB is definitely an agency with a lot of moving parts and one thing that can happen in an agency like ours is that we can get really segmented and so if you're working in the Communications Center you're sort of just thinking about that area and Workforce Development is doing their own thing and Senior Services is off in another group. We really are looking at trying to break out of that silo mentality and so I've made a structural change to the organization and have instituted two deputy directors. I have one over program services, Jon Benson, he is here with us today; and he's in charge of Senior Services and the Workforce Development unit. And then I've hired Brianna Holman and she's actually in ATB training now at BLIND, Inc. She came on board as a deputy director of operations, which will also include the Communications Center.
In closing, I just want to mention a few more initiatives that are going to shape the future of SSB. Governor Dayton has called for state agencies to increase employment of persons with disabilities in the state workforce 7% by 2018. We're actually behind Iowa and Wisconsin in this, so we want to take advantage of that order and promote the skills of our customers and needs of accessibility within state government. We've done a variety of things in this area. We've met with all of the HR directors in the state for one, to promote that, "Hey, we're here!" because they didn't necessarily know it. We can work with existing staff that are maybe experiencing some vision problems so that they can continue in their work, as well as helping state agencies as they're really looking to recruit a good workforce. We've met with the ADA coordinators in the state, again to help tell them about what we can offer regarding accessibility in that we have a whole department of folk that have some really good expertise so they don't have to feel they are alone when they're working with customers or employees with different needs in their particular agencies.
We just sat on a panel of all of the state recruiters; there are 102 state recruiters; so one of our placement staff sat on a panel with some of the other groups like from VRS and Deaf and Hard of Hearing, talking to them about the things that are getting in the way of getting folks in the door like do you really need somebody to drive? Or is it just that you need somebody to get from point a to point b. Because some of the things we do limit and keep people out. So we're really trying to push on that and get agencies to keep thinking. By going out and talking to these groups we've actually had agencies ask us to come in and talk with their supervisors and managers. We've had invitations from both the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Department of Revenue to go out and talk to their folks, and we are glad to do that because if we can get those hiring managers and supervisors to open their minds and their eyes to this great workforce, we're hoping to make a dent in getting more people employed in state government.
We also have this new federal law change called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Jon and I are attending a conference in a week through our CSAVR, Council of State Administrators of Voc Rehab programs, and we're going to get a better understanding. We're meeting with staff from the Rehab Services Administration and we're looking at what the implications of this act will mean to SSB. We do know that there is a significant effort to focus on students that are transition aged, and so there will be some implications for the agency and I'm really excited about that, so we've been doing some internal work grouping and we're going to get a lot more information in a week on this.
Finally, we also know our baby boom generation is going to bring a significant amount of seniors our way, and it's really coming quickly. It's almost going to double the amount of people that could potentially access our services by 2020. We're bringing forward a proposal for some legislation to address these needs. I don't know if it will make it through the whole process; we have an election next week, but I know we've been working all summer on this and I look forward to at some point being able to discuss this more with you.
As the 25th anniversary of the ADA comes up this next year, my hope is to continue the work of Senator Harkin; (he's the ADA author) to insure we swing open the door of full participation of people who are blind visually impaired and deaf blind in our neighborhoods, our work places and in our economy.
I really appreciate working with you, and for you, I want you to know I have an open door. I really have appreciated your thoughts, ideas and concerns. It helps to make for a better SSB. So I want to keep that good working relationship going and I really thank you for the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.
By René Perrance, Public Services Librarian, Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Perrance made this presentation at the Annual Convention on November 1, 2014.)
In Catherine’s stead, I am representing the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library today. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I recognize a number of faces but am certain that I would recognize many more voices.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) sponsored a Braille Summit in June 2013. As a result of the summit, Tamara Rorie was hired by NLS has as its braille development officer. NLS will send a representative to BANA meetings.
NLS will continue to provide braille on BARD. They have encouraged other braille producers to add brf files on BARD.
NLS is aware of the need for a reasonably priced refreshable braille device. They are investigating this possibility but it is very early in the process. New regulations would have to be in place to allow NLS to provide refreshable braille displays to individuals.
NLS is trying to expand the number of braille producers they use. They are also exploring changing the dimensions of braille titles to make books smaller and easier to handle.
The Future of Braille summit report is available on the NLS website. The address is http://www.loc.gov/nls/other/futureofbraille.html
Catherine Durivage and Annette Toews from the Communication Center attended the NLS conference held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from May 3-8, 2014.
BARD accounts continue to grow. In May there were more than 60,000 BARD accounts.
In the NLS Fiscal Year 2013, 168,000 braille items were downloaded. At the conference in May, 2014, 193,000 items had been downloaded since October 1, 2013.
Minnesota patrons have 166 braille accounts and 612 audio accounts. Minnesota BARD patrons downloaded 5,340 braille items and 61,205 audio items for the NLS Fiscal Year 2014 which ended September 30, 2014.
The recent Apple upgrade to iOS8 quickly presented several challenges to BARD mobile patrons. We received many calls from BARD mobile patrons unable to move beyond the first screen to search for books or magazines. At 3:00 yesterday afternoon, the National Library Service technology staff notified the network libraries that they temporarily removed the check box on the first screen of the BARD mobile software. This is hot-off-the-press, good news! Patrons can now search the BARD, add items to their wish list and download. This is great news to share with you!
As of November 1, 2014, 475 Minnesota patrons have requested access to BARD mobile. The NLS staff continues to work with the BARD mobile software so that the Android products will also access BARD. They hope to have something available within the next few months.
I am sure that you have noticed that the NLS staff altered the arrangement of the Talking Book Topics. Titles are listed by category. The order forms should now match this new arrangement.
The library is working closely with Communication Center, State Services for the Blind, to improve our services to patrons. We are developing a joint application that will be easier for people unfamiliar with our services.
The NLS is working with the U.S. Bureau of Engraving to provide a currency reader to patrons wishing to receive one. If you wish to have your name added to this list, please contact us. We have not been given information regarding the shipping date of the currency readers. At some point, we will be asked to submit our patron’s names and addresses. The currency readers will be sent in the mail. Anyone who wishes to receive this reader should verify that we have his or her current address on file.
The library is taking applications for its Advisory Committee. Mr. Bryce Samuelson currently is a Committee member. At this time, meetings are quarterly.
All open vacancies for state advisory committees are found on the Minnesota Secretary of State http://www.sos.state.mn.us/index.aspx?recordid=41&page=19) website. The following information is taken from the Secretary of State’s website.
“The Open Appointments Application (http://www.sos.state.mn.us/index.aspx?recordid=41&page=19) may be completed and submitted online; or, Open Appointments Application (downloadable) may be printed, completed and submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or in person or by mail to:
Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State
180 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155-1299
Phone: (651) 297-5845
Applicants may also submit a cover letter, resumé or other information that might be helpful to the appointing authority. Applications become public information once submitted."
If you have further questions about the Advisory Committee, please contact
Catherine A. Durivage
Library Program Director,
Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library
388 SE 6th Ave
Faribault, MN 55021-6340
We have a small stack of book request lists that do not have the individual’s name on them. Braille book orders are particularly vulnerable to anonymity. Please be certain that your name and address is on any book request forms you send.
It has been a pleasure being with you today. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with you and hope to visit again in the near future.
By Kristin Oien, Blind/Visually-Impaired Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education
(Editor’s Note: Ms. Oien presented this item to our Annual Convention on November 1, 2014)
Good Morning Minnesota Federationists,
Thank you for inviting me here to share with you today. My name is Kristin Oien, and I am the specialist for the blind & visually impaired at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). My responsibilities at MDE include providing support, training, and technical assistance to teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and other stakeholders providing service to students with disabilities and their families. During the past few months MDE has organized, funded, and carried out several initiatives to support professionals in the field and the children they serve.
During the last two weeks of July, a brailler-repair training class was held at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB) with Peter Avery, the Perkins Repair Trainer from Massachusetts. Five individuals were certified as brailler-repair technicians, and we hope to establish a brailler-repair program at MSAB in the near future.
In August, MDE hosted a BVI Specific Mentor Training day where we introduced 10 mentors to 14 protégés who will be working together through the 2014-2015 school year. The 10 mentor teams will be meeting face to face, have opportunities to observe instructional lessons and assessments, and attend the Charting the Cs Cross-Categorical Conference together in the spring of next year. They are focusing on targeted areas of the expanded core curriculum that may include specific skills in assistive technology, Career Education, Compensatory/Access Skills, Independent Living, Orientation & Mobility, Recreation & Leisure, Self-Determination, Sensory Efficiency and Social Interaction.
On September 26th we held our first Statewide Vision Network meeting which focused on recent mandates for ACT testing, Unified English Braille Implementation, organizing statewide activities for our students and developing an early childhood vision screening tool to be used across the state.
This month the 50th Anniversary of White Cane Safety Awareness was celebrated at MSAB on October 15, and two representatives from the Minnesota Department of Corrections attended the National Prison Braille Forum with me in Kentucky to learn about the possibility of establishing a prison braille program in Minnesota. Just last week the Minnesota Division on Vision Impairments Fall Conference was held and focused on BVI specific assistive technology and accessibility.
This coming week we will be hosting three low-vision clinics at MDE, District 287, and Fergus Falls. We have 76 students scheduled to receive at no cost, a quality low-vision exam, prescribed hand-held low-vision aids and devices, an opportunity to try a wide array of low-vision assistive technology, and meet with a representative from State Services for the Blind to learn about transition and post high school supports. These low-vision clinics provide valuable information to students, families, and IEP team members regarding increased visual access that carries into every aspect of the students' lives.
Current challenges that we are facing in the field include equal access to on-line adaptable tests, addressing the looming teacher shortage, and ensuring that Minnesotans who read and teach braille are prepared for the transition to Unified English Braille (UEB).
Our Minnesota Resource Center Advisory Committee members have chosen test accessibility and teacher shortage issues as their main focus this year, and we are working toward creating and sharing collaborative and useful supports in these areas for the field. We are also exploring the opportunities and challenges of developing a much-needed Minnesota based university program for teacher development. We are identifying stakeholders, champions, and needed resources to determine how best to move forward. While this will take significant time and energy to develop, we know that it is important to support students in our schools. The Statewide Vision Network members have also created a UEB Community of Practice group that is focusing on creating supports for the current implementation plan that Jennifer Dunnam and other key players in the state helped create. Thank you Jennifer!
With that being said, I’d like to borrow a version of a quote that was shared by Dan Parker at your NFB Convention. “We do have problems to solve, but rest assured, know that we are in the game!”
My overall goal continues to be that children and youth in Minnesota who are blind and visually impaired receive quality instruction and supports that will lead to their highest level of independence and success. Thank you so much for inviting me to share this information with you today. Please know that I welcome suggestions for effective change. Feel free to contact me with concerns or ideas for the future. My email address is Kristin.Oien@state.mn.us and my phone number is #651-582-8843.
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 16 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention is July 5 through 10 at the Rosen Centre Hotel 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 in the Metro Area in October. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
At Large Chapter — Meets by conference call on the third Sunday
month; contact Aaron Cannon at (319) 400-0157 or email@example.com
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 — Mankato area; meets the second Thursday of every month from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, at the American Legion Post number 11, 223 East Walnut St., Mankato, MN 56001. Food is available for ordering prior to the meeting
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 6:00 p.m. on the second Monday of every month at Pizza Luce, 11 E Superior St, Duluth.
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 non-holiday 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology Group — This group gives the chance for everyone to explore what’s new in technology, and have their questions answered. These sessions will occur on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. at our building. We hope to find a way to involve people around the state. For further information contact Kathy McGillivray at 612-822-9174 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 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 and activities for blind people of all ages.
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, transcribes, and embosses 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 collates the copies for the braille edition and mails the braille and audio editions.