MINNESOTA

 

                      BULLETIN

 

Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Voice:  (612) 872-9363

Website:  www.nfbmn.org

Tom Scanlan, Editor

E-mail tom.scanlan@earthlink.net

 

Volume 83, Number 2, Spring 2016

 

WE ARE CHANGING

WHAT IT MEANS

TO BE BLIND

 

 

Table of Contents

President’s Column. 1

Sleep Shade Reflections. 3

2015 Annual Convention Report 5

Calling All Veterans. 22

Convention Alert! 22

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember 22

Background and Purpose. 23

Acknowledgements. 25

 

 

 

 



President’s Column

By Jennifer Dunnam

 

Another busy winter has turned into another busy (albeit not much warmer) spring as I write this column.  The Federation is, as always, in action on all levels, spreading the truth about blindness and getting things done.  Here are a few updates:

 

The blizzard in Washington, DC did not prevent our delegation of 13 Minnesotans from participating in the Washington Seminar and educating our members of Congress about eliminating subminimum wages, making higher education accessible, and bringing more reading material in braille and other accessible formats to all.  The crowds on Capitol Hill that week were much thinner than usual because of the weather; one office let us know that even the National Guard was not able to make their appointment that week.  We will not rest until Congress addresses these issues. 

 

Our Day at the Capitol was also once again well attended with many enthusiastic Federationists from all over the state walking the halls of the State Office Building and the new Senate Building, undaunted by the long treks, to make the case with our legislators.  We continued to build support for privacy in the voting booth as the current accessible voting machines used in our state are aging and the technology is changing.  We made our voices heard about the need for increased investment in public transportation, all over the state, so that blind people and others of all ages can move and contribute in our communities.  Our major focus was the urgent need for an increase to State Services for the Blind’s (SSB) appropriation so that seniors who are blind can get the training they need to live independently in their own homes and communities.  There has been no increase to SSB's state appropriation, aside from intermittent cost of living adjustments, for about 17 years.  Last year SSB served 25% more seniors than the year before, and this trend shows all signs of continuing.  At this writing, our bill is moving through the legislature, having made a step forward after its first successful hearing in the House.

 

Speaking of State Services for the Blind, the adjustments to policies about funding for postsecondary education and other aspects of a vocational plan were completed after a process in which input from members of the NFB of Minnesota and others was substantive and helped to improve the policies.

 

The newly elected chair of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind is our own Steve Jacobson. 

 

Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated now has year-round programming for high-school-age students.  Many of these students have also been opting to attend meetings of our Metro Chapter, and therefore getting exposure to blind adults from all walks of life as well as helping to shape our conversations and agenda.  Their energy is infectious, and they have many good ideas to help us grow and address what is happening for blind people in our world.

 

Minnesota Federationists have been attending conventions in other states, sharing what is happening in Minnesota and bringing ideas from the great work that happens in other parts of the country.  A number of us are attending and presenting at a student/teacher seminar for the Midwest region that will take place in mid-April, put on by the NFB of Illinois. 

 

I have been doing a good deal of traveling and presenting related to braille.  With the updates to the braille rules comes the need for education and coordination around the country to support a smooth transition that will enhance braille literacy for all.  I have been doing presentations related to certification of the transcribers and proofreaders who create braille for the education of students and for many other purposes.  I have also been speaking about electronically-generated braille and ways that it can be improved and used to make ever more accurate braille available to all.  In meeting people from all over, I have been sometimes horrified by the misinformation that too often drives the way that decisions are made for students, but more often, I have been encouraged by seeing the students themselves being resourceful and finding ways to take down the obstacles of low expectations that come between them and their dreams.

 

Because of this extraordinary time that we are in, related to braille and how much of my focus it requires, I am truly grateful that we are an organization of such dedicated individuals who have worked together more than ever to keep things going and see the larger picture.  Of course, our local chapters are critical to getting our legwork done, such as working with the legislatures in their areas, helping with fundraising, speaking to people on the local level about blindness, providing support and education to one another, focusing on increasing membership, and so much more.  Among other work by statewide committees and groups, we have formed a new group for parents who are blind, to serve as a resource for blind parents as well as to help when advocacy is needed.  If you are interested in being a part of it, please let me know.

 

Soon we will have another semiannual convention that promises to be full of information and fun times.  The afternoon portion will include an employment seminar, a meeting of the Minnesota Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and sessions for students and seniors. 

 

Later in May, our two-and-a-half-day regional NFB STEM2U program will occur in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Elementary and high school students will have the opportunity to engage in accessible STEM learning at the museum and provide feedback to staff and educators about how the museum could better meet their nonvisual learning needs.  In this way, participants will act as both learners and teachers and will have the chance to work with adult blind role models. 

 

NFB has released a new book called The Power of Love.  Edited by Ramona Walhof, it is a compilation of stories from people who knew and worked with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was the national President of NFB from 1968 to 1986, and who continued to work and lead until his death in 1998.  The book includes pieces by Minnesotans Joyce Scanlan and Dick Davis, among others.  Not only is the book about Dr. Jernigan, but about the impressive stories of lives that he and the NFB touched, and how these individuals went on to do important work of all sorts.  I recommend the book as a wonderful way to get a sense of the love, hope, and determination that make the NFB the strong force that we are.

 

Sleep Shade Reflections

By Seymour Clearly, (as told to Patrick A. Barrett)

 

I was adopted by the Boise County School District in Idaho when I was two years old.  I first met Pat Barrett in 5th grade.  His itinerant teacher, (vision teacher is in vogue today), was Elsie Geddes.  She was teaching Pat Typing and Braille.  No offense meant to Catholic readers, but she could have rapped knuckles with the best of nuns armed with rulers.

 

Elsie insisted that Pat wear me when learning these important communication media.  It helped that the typewriter keys were capped so Pat couldn’t cheat and look underneath me.  Today, he uses the computer keyboard daily at work, and when writing articles for essay contests.  He does 50-60 words per minute.

 

Braille was more challenging for Ms. Geddes, Pat, and his parents.  Pat would get stuck on touching a letter, then try to see it beige-on-beige.  I would get shoved up above his nose so he could put it closer to the paper.  I lost some weight through these push-up workouts.  Pat got a tongue-lashing and knuckle rapping from Elsie.  Pat’s parents weren’t sure how far to push him:  he could still read large print,

 

In 1975, I teamed up with Pat again at the Idaho Commission for the Blind (ICB).  His Braille teacher, Lorin Schmitt, was blind.  Lorin and the other great instructors, blind and sighted, saw my importance to be trusted as a learning tool.  Pat’s braille reading was improving, and I got flabbier from less up-and-down exercise.  I got dusty in shop, sweaty from boiling spaghetti, and pensive in Philosophy on Blindness.

 

Why did Pat’s attitude and skills improve?  Pat’s mom and dad, (and probably Elsie) had not met the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) back in the ‘60s.  The NFB’s basic beliefs in blindfolds and blind people built great training centers like the ICB in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. in the ‘80s.

 

Eighteen years later, after so many wearings, washings and dryings, I retired.  My daughter, Faith, continued in my Eyelids.  Pat had not taken the opportunity back in the summers of ’75 and ’76 to get the full, comprehensive sleep shade training.  At BLIND, Inc., Jon Benson (with State Services for the Blind), and Joyce Scanlan, then Executive Director of BLIND, Incorporated, (Joyce liked “incorporated” written out because there’s no such thing as “blind ink”), gave Pat a second chance. 

 

He honed his hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching senses through faithful use of his sleep shades.

 

The training in alternative techniques of blindness over the next nine months gave Pat increased confidence and tapped into a greater wealth of self-esteem.  Sleep shades, used daily for nine months, were like a prescription for the pursuit of happiness.  Benefits included (1) faster Braille reading and writing, (2) increased confidence in cane travel, (3) enjoyment of cooking and grilling, and (4) better job options due to increased computer skills.

 

To those of you who are either thinking about or currently taking blindness skills training, sleep shades work!  Have faith in them as a cheap but invaluable learning tool. 

 

As I wrap around, (you would say “wrap up”), I would like to share one of Pat’s favorite lyrics from the band Earth, Wind, and Fire’s song “Shining Star”;

 

“You’re a shining star,

No matter who you are.

Shining bright to see

What you can truly be;

What you can truly be.”

 

Blind people have spent so many years learning from others what they cannot do.  Relying on me, many months of hard work, and having faith in themselves, are their re-education.  Do you want to see more clearly?

 

2015 Annual Convention Report

By Judy Sanders, Former Secretary, and Jennifer Wenzel, Secretary

 

On October 9-11, 2015, 116 registered attendees gathered at the Ramada Mall of America in Bloomington for the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota.  The convention theme was, “We are ensuring that we can live the lives we want.”

 

On Friday Afternoon, registration and the exhibit area opened at 2:30.  Those who pre-registered made a quick stop to pick up agendas and meal tickets.  Over thirty people registered at the convention.

 

For the first time at a state convention, we offered daycare for the children of parents attending the convention.  The children had toys, snacks and walks around the hotel for their entertainment.  Amber and Chase Holladay were responsible for providing this service.

 

Another first was the availability of convention sessions for download so that those who could not be with us could experience the spirit and fun of a convention.  In the past, we have streamed convention sessions but this hotel was not equipped to allow for that.  Thanks to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated for making this possible and to Tim Aune for recording the files.

 

Our exhibit area offered things to see and things to buy.  Louis Braille Commemorative silver dollar coins were available; only the proof version remains for $42.00.

 

Jack Rupert was on hand to exhibit and sell his handcrafted leather products.  Jack’s wife, Jane, also makes lovely crocheted needlework items.

 

Voting Independently and Privately: This was an exhibit of interest to almost all attendees.  Thanks in great part to the work of the NFB, blind voters have been able to cast their ballot without any assistance since 2006.  In Minnesota, we have been using the AutoMARK to achieve this independence; but many of the machines are wearing out and the company no longer manufactures them.  Dakota County has purchased a new machine for its precincts and they brought it to our convention for us to try it out.  Everyone was encouraged to comment on what he or she thought about the Dominion Voting ImageCast Evolution.

 

Edward Cohen, a member from Rochester, has designed a large-print calendar/Planner that is easy to see and to carry about.  He formed a company, EZ2See, to design products that solve inconveniences like the calendar. 

 

Vanda Pharmaceuticals is dedicated to raising awareness about Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder.  In addition to that work they support and empower the blind community in our advocacy.  They not only exhibited at our convention but also were a generous sponsor.

 

Beth Moline, a member from St. Cloud, displayed and sold hats that she makes on a round loom.  She not only was available on Friday but she brought her hats to each session and kept working to make more.

 

While people perused the exhibits, there was business to do.  The meat of all NFB conventions is the setting of policies that influence the lives of all blind Minnesotans.  Developing these policies begins with resolutions submitted by members who have thoughts about how to improve opportunities for all of us.  Ryan Strunk and his committee, Candice Chapman, Jan Bailey, Dan Wenzel, and Steve Jacobson joined other interested Federationists to review resolution written in advance.  They recommended these resolutions to the convention, and they appear in the previous edition of this publication.

 

A short time before our convention, State Services for the Blind (SSB) announced that it would be going on an order of selection that would affect future potential customers seeking services to gain employment.  A seminar entitled “Order of Selection: What Is It and How Does It Affect Services from SSB?” was presented by Dick Davis, chair of the Employment Committee for the NFB and Associate Director for BLIND, Incorporated and Natasha Jerde, a counselor supervisor at SSB.  They gave advice on how to fill out applications for service and answered many questions.

 

The Minnesota Association of Blind Students heard from three college graduates, Jennifer Dunnam, Chelsey Duranleau, and Judy Sanders, who shared how blindness affected their academic and social lives on campus.  The newly elected officers are Cody Beardsley, president; Jessica Katzung, first vice president, Megan Bening, second vice president; Quinn Haberl, secretary; and Candice Chapman, treasurer.

 

The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) held a meeting at which Jennifer Wenzel shared her experiences using braille throughout her childhood.  Jennifer Dunnam manages the braille program for the NFB and is president of the Braille Authority of North America, reported on the conversion to Unified English Braille (UEB), the new braille code that goes into effect in January 2016.  Our NAPUB would like to sponsor a braille-reading contest for adults next year.  NAPUB in Minnesota has elected Ben Moser as vice president.  Amy Baron, president, and Trudy Barrett, secretary/treasurer have one year remaining to serve.

 

“Unleash the Power in Mobile Devices” provided for an informal hands-on session for learning about new and useful applications and tips and tricks to use on mobile devices.  The KNFB Reader and iPhones were prominent. 

 

A rowdy evening of hospitality hosted by the Metro Chapter ended the day.  There were plenty of snacks and trivia questions keeping everybody paying attention.  As always, there was a fundraising component to the evening.  People made donations to see Matt Langland and others eat ghost pepper candy.  For those who don’t know pepper ghost candy is extremely spicy; and for those who don’t know Matt Langland’s eating preferences, he thrives on Minnesota hot dish!

 

On Saturday, convention activities start early for Federationists.  Our senior division gathered for their breakfast where they heard from Ed Lecher, director of the Senior Services Unit at SSB.  He brought us up to date about what they are doing to serve an ever-growing population.  To spread the word about how our organization can help seniors, this division is developing a brochure that will let seniors and their families know about resources available to blind seniors.  Jan Bailey was reelected vice president of the division; President Joyce Scanlan and Secretary/treasurer Pat Barrett have one more year to serve.

 

President Jennifer Dunnam called the Saturday morning session to order.  The first order of business was the pledge of allegiance.  President Dunnam then asked who was here for their first convention.  Several voices responded.  Metro Chapter president Ryan Strunk then gave a brief welcome.  As everyone applauded, Strunk urged them not to applaud yet as they had not heard the welcome.  He thanked everyone for coming to hospitality the night before.  There was much applause and cheers for Matt Langland's digestive prowess during the ghost pepper challenge. 

 

Charlotte Czarnecki was the coordinator of the bake auction and explained how the auction works.  Ms. Czarnecki thanked Maurissa Becker for helping her and said that others would be assisting throughout the convention.  She mentioned that baked goods and handcrafted items such as Jack Rupert’s leather goods and a quilt would be sold. 

 

Dunnam urged everyone to set goals this weekend of meeting someone new and to teach someone something new about the Federation.  This will further our movement. 

 

The first speaker of the morning was our national representative, Patti Gregory-Chang.  She earned applause by mentioning the Guinness record activity of building the largest umbrella mosaic during our national convention as a membership building exercise.  She asked questions about this activity for points and gave an Illinois raffle ticket to the person answering most of them.  The questions covered the number of world record participants and the message on the mosaic. 

 

We have released a book and album of recorded NFB songs for the 75th anniversary that are available on our website, www.nfb.org.  She also talked about the Braille Monitor and how to receive it in its various formats.  Presidential releases are usually played at chapter meetings and can be accessed at any time on the new national channel through NFB-NEWSLINE®. 

 

Because of action taken by the NFB, Amazon lost a huge contract in the New York City public schools when the schools understood how inaccessible the technology would have been.  We must stay as aggressive as Amazon is so that we can keep inaccessible technology out of schools.

 

Our national legislation continues to emphasize eliminating subminimum wages, working to require equal access to the classroom in college, and supporting the Marrakesh Treaty that would allow countries to share accessible materials.  These are just a few of our legislative efforts.

 

There is now a stand mode for the KNFB reader app.

 

We received an immediate call to action because the Department of Justice made the Internet a place of business in 2010, but they have still not issued the regulations.  The action was to contact the White House with the message to issue regulations to apply the public-accommodations requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to the Internet.  This would mean that Internet websites would have to be accessible just as brick-and-mortar stores. 

 

We must concern ourselves with access to taxis.  Taxis now have payment systems in the back that have many features like GPS.  We need this access because many cabs now use these systems. The other day Chang actually rode in one that worked and hopefully more will work in the future. 

 

NFB-NEWSLINE® was the next topic of discussion.  Telephone subscribers can now press 99 to hear an entire publication.  People can also receive emails with weather forecasts that include emergency alerts.  Subscribers can send job listings to two different email addresses such as to themselves and their counsellors.  Several newspapers and magazines have also been added. 

 

Minnesota was congratulated as one place where STEM2U will be done in 2016. 

 

Chang concluded by having us practice our one-minute message introducing the NFB to a stranger.  She urged us to memorize this as an elevator speech to share with people to show them our excitement about the federation.

 

Quinn Haberl asked for clarification about which Internet sites must be covered under the ADA.  Chang said that anything public would be affected.  Someone asked about private databases, but these would not be included.

 

Dunnam introduced Dan Wenzel, the Executive Director of our own NFB training center, Blindness Learning in New Dimensions, (BLIND, Inc.)  Mr. Wenzel took the podium to enthusiastic applause.  He gave a preview of the presentations that would be happening at the BLIND, Inc. lunch that would be about the English Language Learners classes, Travel, Communications, and Home Management.  He spoke about the youth programs that Charlene Guggisberg has been coordinating successfully.  Rob Hobson coordinated employment for these programs this summer.  The Buddy Program this summer consisted of four fifth-graders and two counsellors.  They are doing things such as making their own breakfast and picking out their own clothes for the first time in their lives.  Hopefully they start to build their own skills as they head home after their three weeks of training.  BLIND, Inc. made some major changes in the PREP program this summer such as providing job experience.  Students had paid work experiences throughout the Minneapolis area.  One worked in a dog grooming shop, one did closed captioning, one worked at a local restaurant, and others worked in other jobs in the metro area.  One summer student had been afraid to travel independently when he first came to the program but earned applause when he announced he had come to the convention using the bus.  He also cooks lasagna now. 

 

BLIND, Inc. will also be providing transition programming in partnership with State Services for the Blind.  One is a program meeting on Thursdays and Saturdays called the TEAMS program that will comprise education and activities for students in the metro area.  The other is the Transition Trails program that will travel throughout the state.  The final program is the Summer Transition and Recreation (STAR) Program.  These are weeklong summer programs which will concentrate on living independently the first week, post-secondary education the second week, and careers the third week.  Students could come to any of these. 

 

Charlene Guggisberg talked about senior prograMs. BLIND, Inc. has had three senior classes already this year.  Seniors have the skills; they just need to learn alternative techniques.  Many are also learning technology, especially iDevices.  They learn basic cane travel.  Going to a restaurant teaches them that it is fine to go out in public with their cane and ask questions. 

 

Jennifer Wenzel then talked more about the senior program and technology being taught to the current class that has been run on a grant allowing purchase of iPad Minis that they are very excited to learn to use.

 

Mrs. Wenzel turned the mike over to Dick Davis who recognized Becky Bergmann, the home management instructor who was at convention after being out for surgery for quite a while.  Mr. Davis mentioned that BLIND, Inc. is starting to have students integrate college courses into their BLIND, Inc. curriculum so that they can explore college during their training.  Davis is bothered by the fact that blind people are often prepared for brainy jobs instead of physical ones.  He introduced Robby Binns, a current student, who unloads trucks at FedEx, paying $11.16 per hour to start.  FedEx promotes from within so if he likes it he could go up in the company.  This is the first time in Davis’s knowledge that they have hired a blind person to work in this physical job at FedEx.  FedEx has promised that they will consider hiring other blind people if Mr. Binns does well in this job.  Binns then spoke about his work.  The standard is to unload one box every two seconds.  Binns beat that the first day and is now much faster than that.  He enjoys his job and is very competitive with his sighted coworkers.  Dan thanked everyone and again urged all to attend the lunch.

 

The next speaker of the morning was Carol Pankow, director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB.)  Her remarks appeared in the previous issue of this publication. 

 

Regarding finding money to get off Order of Selection, Dick Davis asked how the NFB could help.  Ms. Pankow said that we could advocate for additional funding from the legislature.  Davis congratulated SSB on their high job-placement record last year.  Davis mentioned that the Rochester VR counselor had an unusually large caseload; would it be possible for another counseling position for that office.  Pankow did not see that happening in the near future with SSB’s tight budget. 

 

Dave Wally asked about what areas of employment closures were in, and Pankow said that people were in a variety of different jobs and that three people were making over $98 an hour.  She said there were attorneys, registered nurses, teachers, and a wide variety of other jobs.  On a side note, she said that homemakers are no longer allowed as a successful closure and Minnesota usually only has one, where California has about 75 percent of homemaker closures.  Charlotte Czarnecki asked about the number of successful closures for visually impaired people vs. legally blind people and Jon Benson, director of the Workforce Development Unit at SSB, said this has not been broken out.  Ms. Czarnecki also asked if legally-blind people are actually getting well-paying jobs.  Pankow said she does not have specific data yet.  She said last year’s starting wage averaged around $17.29 per hour.  She will be prepared to share this information in December.  Megan Bening asked if Order of Selection would affect people going to college.  Carol said it would not if they are existing clients.  However, people can be transition students and not yet have been admitted with an open case and then they could be affected by order of selection when it becomes time to go to college.   

 

The next speaker was Brad Harper, the Superintendent of the State Academy for the Blind.  He introduced their technology specialist, Ken Trebelhorn (a member of the NFB).  Mr. Harper said that he would like to talk about technology and a track initiative.  The school has received a two million dollar legislative authorization to improve technology on both campuses.  The focus right now is on improving the speed and reliability of the network.  Students mainstreamed at Faribault High School currently receive iPads.  They will eventually upgrade to Windows 7 and then to Windows 10.  They have gone from Microsoft Office systems to Googledocs systems and have serious concerns about accessibility. 

 

They are hoping to build a six-lane running track on the campus that was not funded by the legislature last year.  They will pursue this with more energy and hope to gain funding this year.  He then opened the floor for questions. 

 

Dunnam first asked him how many students he had on campus to which he answered about 50 blind students compared to about 150 deaf students.  She next asked if he has considered doing outreach work for students in mainstream settings to provide knowledge throughout the state.  He said that they are doing some outreach with schools in the Faribault area and some other areas nearby.  Trebelhorn said that they had talked about doing some technology outreach but it would only be during the summer.  They may look at this later.  Someone asked if the campuses are separate, to which he replied that they are but that there is some movement between the two campuses because of different class offerings.  Someone asked about whether graduates go to college and he said that data collection has been very poor up to this point.  He said that many graduates do go to college while some go to trade schools, live independently, or become employed.  They will be tracking this more clearly over the next few years. 

 

Our final morning speaker was Randi Strunk.  Dunnam introduced Ms. Strunk by saying that as federationists we are well-rounded and do many activities, and Strunk would be speaking about one of those activities.  Strunk stated that she was not an athlete, and believed this for 90 percent of her life.  In 2013, she read an article that said that 42 percent of people with disabilities were obese.  That was statistically significant to her.  She thinks that with blindness it has to do with expectations and opportunity.  Many people are not allowed to participate in physical education.  They have to keep score or just jump rope in a corner.  She was allowed to participate poorly.  She has even heard about someone who played checkers in a special-education classroom.  She got her first job out of college that was a desk job and moved to Hawaii.  She did not eat well and started finding her clothes didn't fit.  She was not sure what to do, but decided to lift weights like some of her friends.  She began working with an ex-marine.  This was after she moved to Texas.  She was expected to do everything that anyone else did for the first time.  She gained a lot of confidence from this because it was quantitative, each week she made more weight progress.  Then she moved to Minnesota, came to a Metro Chapter meeting, and heard about learn-to-run classes from Michele Gittens.  She went to classes at Downtown Health and Fitness, did the Twin City 10-mile marathon, and found she was a competitive person.  Jenny, who runs the classes, encouraged her to do the Twin Cities Triathlon, a one-mile swim, six-mile bike ride and 10-mile run.  She'd like to do this again!  She needs a guide to run, bike, and spot her in swimming.  This made her struggle with guilt about finding someone to exercise with, but people in sports like this are very passionate about their sports and want to share their passion.  People like to run and train together so if you reach out and believe you can do it you will find people to run with and do other sports.  Blindness doesn't need to hold you back.  She encouraged everyone to go and live the active lives they want. 

 

  

Upon adjournment of the morning session many Federationists joined the staff and students at BLIND, Incorporated for lunch where we got an in-depth introduction to everyone currently connected with that program.  Teachers and students shared anecdotes about their classes.  They gave further evidence that there is a bright future for those who work hard learning what it means to be blind.

 

Our afternoon session began with a review of the mechanics of the Preauthorized Contribution Plan (PAC Plan) by Bob Raisbeck.  This is the primary form of giving that our members have to our national treasury.  He also introduced us to other ways of contributing.  Mr. Raisbeck wanted us to consider starting a new PAC Plan or increasing one we have.  Pledges were taken at the banquet.

 

Our next program item, “Good News from Our Library,” was presented by Catherine Durivage, the library director.  Her full remarks appear in the previous issue of this publication.  A question was asked about the availability of braille books for new English speakers.  Ms. Durivage said that there is a small inventory of high interest/low vocabulary books at the library.  Other questions regarded the mailing of audio-described movies, turning audio description on and off, obtaining software updates for digital players and determining if a book is available in braille as well as recorded.  Our library is very much in tune with technology making our reading prospects very wide.

 

We all know that our NFB of Minnesota building holds meetings and that BLIND, Inc. conducts its training there.  President Dunnam shared with us some other activities that take place there.  The NFB is under contract with the National Library Service to oversee the braille program that trains and certifies people to serve as braille transcribers and proofreaders.  Dunnam serves as administrator of this program and offices in the basement or “garden level” of our building.  In addition to coordinating over 500 students of braille transcription, this program updates the braille lessons to teach UEB and develops proficiency tests for current transcribers and proofreaders to demonstrate their knowledge of UEB.  A question was asked about why UEB was created.  The main reason is to take out the ambiguities in braille that cause errors when translating documents from a print file.  That is the short answer. 

 

The NFB of Minnesota is a member of a federated giving campaign called Community Shares of Minnesota.  As a member of this federation, we are required to raise some money for it.  Toward that end, Judy Sanders announced that there would be a 50/50 raffle at the banquet.  Fifty tickets would be sold for $2 each and the winner would receive $50 with the other half going to Community Shares.

 

Ms. Sanders then went on to talk about voting privately and independently in local, state, and national elections.  The NFB was instrumental in getting Congress to require that ability in every voting precinct.  Since 2006, we in Minnesota have been using the AutoMARK machine that reads the ballot audibly or uses an enlarged touch screen.  The AutoMARKs are breaking down and are no longer being manufactured.  So what is next?  Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Steve Simon, is very concerned about keeping our right to privacy and independence available; Sanders and Steve Jacobson serve on an advisory committee that is helping to find the next iteration of voting machine.  Some things being considered are ease of setup for election judges, whether ballots are compatible with county ballot counters and, if machine-produced ballots are a different size than manually marked ballots.  See the resolution about voting options to know the NFB of Minnesota’s position on how to proceed.

 

Candice Chapman is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota studying school counseling.  Ms. Chapman will spend this year beginning her practicum, which means real work experience supervised by real counselors.  She is working at a high school and middle school in northeast Minneapolis.  She performs a variety of tasks that teach middle schoolers how to make decisions, help high schoolers find scholarships for college or investigate transitional housing for teen moms.

 

Jennifer Wenzel talked about parenting as a blind person.  She is a mom who is, with her husband Dan, raising three boys.  Ms. Wenzel was prepared to deal with how professionals might cope with her blindness, but she was not ready for the reaction of the public.  There was the well-meaning lady on a bus who decided that to stop Wenzel’s baby from crying she would tie his shoe.  Wenzel cannot explain why she felt the need to explain to this woman that the untied shoe was not the reason for the crying.  Or there was the helpful person who wanted to stop a child’s tantrum for candy by slipping him a piece without the parent’s knowledge to quiet him.  Wenzel knows that the NFB is an invaluable resource in helping her educate members of the public about blind people living the lives they want.

 

President Dunnam’s report to the convention began with an update about our membership growth in the past year.  Our Riverbend Chapter was revitalized with Jack Rupert as its president.  We have formed an at-large chapter that consists of members who are not able to attend a local meeting.  They meet by conference call on a monthly basis just as any chapter would.  David Andrews is its president. 

 

In honor of the Federation’s 75th anniversary the seven founding affiliates served as hosts for our past national convention in Orlando.  Minnesota is one of the founding states.  See the BRAILLE MONITOR for more information about the convention.

 

We continue to work for passage of our national legislation but must work harder to garner support from Minnesota congressmen and senators.  At the state level, we continue to emphasize the importance of public transit to all Minnesotans and we sponsor an initiative to help blind senior citizens get the services that would ensure their independence.  While the initiative did not garner the increased appropriation for State Services for the Blind, we know that our efforts will continue and we are creating awareness among legislators about this need.  We will be back next session.

 

Our NFB of Minnesota history extends almost 100 years and we are embarking on a project to digitalize our paper documents to preserve that history.  It will also be more accessible to us.  Minutes from the 1920s and other such documents are fragile and must be handled by a professional.  Upon completion of this project, we will be able to share it with our national archives and everyone can revel in our past to make a more positive future.

 

Our Walk for Opportunity, hosted by our Rochester chapter, was another huge success.  We netted more than $5,000.

 

We completed our first BELL program, (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning.)  It, too, was reported on later in the convention.

 

In our new book extolling our 75 year history there is a chapter written by Steve Jacobson on parenting and one written by Dunnam on employment history.  Joyce Scanlan is quoted in the section about the National Accreditation Council.

 

In the coming year we will be helping people work through the Order of Selection process at SSB and will continue to work with them to solve this sad state of affairs.  Whatever solutions we find we must ensure that SSB stays a separate entity so it can focus on the services that only it can provide such as teaching braille and cane travel. 

 

On October 15, we will be staffing an exhibit table at the Education Minnesota statewide conference.  This is a chance for us to share with all teachers how they can educate their students about the true characteristics of blindness.  There will be other exhibit opportunities throughout the year.

 

We were reminded to think about contributions we might make to the  Minnesota Bulletin, which is one of the leading state affiliate publications.  It is important to read it thoroughly and stay up-to-date with our many national publications.

 

We continue to advocate for children who are denied a proper education in the alternatives of blindness.  More and more parents seek our assistance.

 

Dunnam closed by urging us all to be involved.  It takes all of us to make the Federation the success that it is.  She can send anyone the document “One Hundred Ways You Can Help.”  There is a place for everyone.

 

Ryan Strunk served as master of ceremonies for our banquet.  Following an invocation from Kathy McGillivray, he introduced the people at the head table.  Throughout dinner, the audience was paying attention to hear their names drawn for door prizes and to bid on delightful baked goods.

 

Sheila Koenig made two presentations.  Ms. Koenig chairs the Metro Chapter essay contest.  The author of the winning essay won $75.  Emily Zitek’s winning essay appears in the previous issue of this publication.  The other seven contestants had their names in a drawing for a second prize of $50.  Matt Langland was the lucky winner.  Koenig thanked Chelsey Duranleau and Jesse Kitchens for serving as judges with her.

 

Koenig also chaired our scholarship committee.  She presented a $1,500 scholarship to Kelsi Watters, a student at St. Mary’s in Winona studying psychology and pastoral ministries.  In her acceptance of the scholarship, Ms. Watters said that while she was grateful for the check she was just learning how much more the Federation can give her.  Watters is now a member of the Federation.  Koenig acknowledged her committee of Jan Bailey, Michele Gittens, Steve Jacobson and Ryan Strunk.

 

President Dunnam made a special presentation.  She announced that Judy Sanders had decided not to seek reelection as secretary of the NFB of Minnesota.  In recognition of her many years in that position, and for the myriad other tasks she has performed she received a lifetime membership to the NFB of Minnesota and a plaque that reads:

 

Presented to Judy Sanders

With deep appreciation for your extraordinary dedication and service

So that blind people everywhere can live the lives we want.

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota

October 10, 2015

 

In accepting her awards, Ms. Sanders said that everything she has ever done in the Federation was so that she could live the life she wanted and she is certain that she had received far more than she could ever give.

 

The banquet address is usually the highlight of every state convention, and this year's address by Patti Gregory-Chang was excellent.  She is an attorney in Chicago who has been in the Federation for 38 years.

 

Chang talked about reflections and transitions.  She has lost some vision in the past year, not that she had much in the first place.  But this has caused her to deal increasingly with the attitudes of the public about her blindness and to rely on her Federation philosophy.  She has found great inspiration in the “Nature of Independence” speech by Kenneth Jernigan.  There is no crime in taking someone’s elbow when it makes her more efficient, as long as she knows she can travel independently when she wishes. 

 

Chang can remember a time when blind people were not allowed to travel on Greyhound buses without a companion.  The bus company was generous enough to charge only one fare for the blind person and their "babysitter," which did not make up for this indignity.  Now Chang can travel with or without her spouse anywhere she chooses.  She is disturbed, however, by the increasing number of people who change seats each time she sits down on the train with her cane.  There may be many reasons for this, but she is wondering if her blindness is a factor.  She also still suffers the grabber.  She told a story of walking to board her train in the Chicago transit system, which required her to descend many steps.  A man grabbed her arm near the bottom of the last flight of steps, and when she told him to let go he insisted indignantly that he was helping her.  She wondered how she could have made it to the bottom of all those steps without his assistance and how he could not have realized that it was disconcerting to be grabbed without being told that he was going to help her in this manner in a crime-filled subway system. 

 

A regular bus driver recently paid her a compliment when a passenger needed to find the courthouse.  He pointed to her and told the passenger to follow her because she worked there.  The next day the driver told her that other passengers were talking about how well she got places. 

 

She is sure that we as blind people have made progress in parenting and family.  She and her husband Francisco have been married for over 30 years and have two adult children, Jonathan, who works and goes to school full-time, and Julia, who is currently studying in London.  When they became parents, people would constantly ask her if her children were hers.  This is exacerbated by the fact that her children are biracial and look more like her husband than she looks, but it is also indicative of the public's attitude about blind parenting back then.  She told a story about her son's second or third visit to the doctor.  She took him to his physical that began with the usual questions.  The doctor asked if the baby was hers and then if she knew what race the father was!  She also told a story about traveling with one of her baby children in a front pack.  She was the subject of a discussion between two teenagers.  One of the teens finally said, "Well, they must get pregnant just like we do!"

 

There are other signs of progress for blind people that are a result of the Federation’s influence.  She is now guaranteed the right to a secret ballot.  She will always recall the sense of empowerment she felt the first time she experienced that right.  Sighted people have experienced that right for decades, but blind people first experienced this in 2002. 

 

We have much more reading material available than when she was young.  She was content to read whatever magazines or books she received.  We are no longer starved for accessible reading material she said.  She talked about how we are making inroads into fields long thought closed to us.  Our STEM programs and scholarship classes help make these advances year after year, and she sees students studying in fields she can't even pronounce.

 

Our work is far from done.  The NFB continues to work on travel issues such as quiet cars, and must always be careful so that new technology does not steal our right to travel independently.  We need to make sure that all people have a living wage so that we do not suffer the stigma of lowered expectations. 

 

She reminded us that only those who demand power have it.  She urged us to keep up our public education programs.  She is waiting anxiously for an entire week when the grabber does not assume she cannot travel on her own and grab her to "help.”  She spoke about how we have the right to attend school but that many of the schools do not teach blind children to read or write.  She said that she is an admirer of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy.  When she thinks of the NFB, she thinks of Lincoln's plea for how government works for us.  We are living the lives we want because we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  This is the way we can truly make progress.  We, with our sighted partners, need to be speaking for ourselves.  She wants everyone to ask what you can do for the NFB to help us move forward, where can you contribute, how can you pick up the torch.  No one can pick up that torch for us.  What can you reasonably do to help us travel forward as an organization of the blind, for the blind, by the blind. 

 

The banquet closed with the drawing for the 50/50 raffle for Community Shares of Minnesota and a plea for people to sign up or increase their contributions to their PAC plans.  Matt Higgins was the winner of the raffle and seven people either started or increased their contributions to the NFB. 

 

Several people relaxed after the banquet with conversation while they listened to recorded music.  All were in mind that activities would continue Sunday morning.

 

The Sunday morning session opened with an invocation from David Walle, a member of our Rochester chapter.  Ryan Strunk followed with the presentation of this year’s resolutions.  The three resolutions that passed the convention appear in the previous issue of this publication. 

 

We took a moment to remember those members who we lost during this past year.  B.  Hodgkiss Castleman was a longtime Federationist who delivered door prizes and baked goods at conventions.  Our moment of silence included her and any others of whom we might not be aware.

 

Alice Hebert presented her first treasurer’s report for the NFB of Minnesota.  This report gave us figures for the first nine months of 2015.  The report was accepted and is on file.

 

Elections yielded the following results: president, Jennifer Dunnam; secretary, Jennifer Wenzel; board members, Bryce Samuelson; Rob Hobson; and Sheila Koenig.

 

Jack Rupert not only serves as president of our Riverbend Chapter but also was elected as first vice president of the National Association of Blind Veterans at the last NFB convention.  Mr. Rupert invited veterans to be a part of the Veterans division and he offered to assist those who may not know how to access services from the Veterans Administration.

 

Brook Sexton coordinated our first BELL program last summer.  She told us that recruiting for this program is difficult because it is new to Minnesota but we know that there is interest from people who were not able to come last summer.  Two very lively kids participated — playing games like Braille Twister, where one uses hands and knees to form braille letters.  This program makes reading fun and supplements what children should be getting at school.  We should let Ms. Sexton know if we have names of potential students.

 

STEM2U is a program to stimulate blind teens in the sciences.  Candice Chapman told us that this drew her to the Federation.  STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — all subjects that have been off limits to most blind students.  Usually these STEM classes are at our national center, but, in cooperation with science museums, we have a core of young adults who will take the show on the road.  We will be in St. Paul in May.  This program involves elementary and high school students.  The older teens come to our national center for the first part of the program where they learn to be apprentices who will teach the younger ones.  Chapman served as a leader for these kids.

 

Braille Readers Are Leaders is back!  Patterned after the old national contest, the NFB of Illinois has invited Minnesota to join them in sponsoring a regional reading contest for children.  We have accepted the challenge and will wait for the fliers and start publicizing it.  Next year there may be an interest in expanding it to adults as promoted by NAPUB in Minnesota.

 

Our local chapters and divisions all report that they are growing, energetic and very present at this convention.  They have been active in different ways for Meet the Blind Month and have exciting plans for the months to come.

 

In between conventions not only does our board meet to carry on our business but there are several committees and work groups that handle specific topics.  Deanna Langdon reported for Pat Barrett, who could not be present, on behalf of the pedestrian safety group.  Their main objective is to develop material for educating the public about the white cane law and the methods blind people use to travel independently.  They have developed a brochure for this purpose and are now looking to share it with drivers-education classes.  They hope to make a Youtube video to help with spreading this message.

 

Sheila Koenig reported on our social media presence throughout the year.  An example is that Ryan Strunk was tweeting tidbits about the convention as it occurred.  Koenig keeps our Facebook page up-to-date and she urged us to follow, like and pay attention to all our messages.  We should add these messages to our own pages.

 

Judy Sanders reviewed all our public relations tools that include a brochure, a book about capable senior blind people and periodically writing letters to the editor.

 

Tom Scanlan, as our webmaster, reported on the content of our website and urged local chapters and statewide committees to give him information that keeps it current.

 

Alice Hebert reported that we made more than $2,000 on our bake auction. 

 

Federationists not only work hard in internal committees but we serve on committees and councils that advise state agencies.  Dunnam serves for the NFB on the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.  Their focus at the present is to figure out how to get off Order of Selection.  She is part of a group of council members meeting with Carol Pankow to brainstorm what to do.  Dunnam takes guidance from our NFB resolutions and discussions to give her advice.  She urged us to attend these meetings and participate from the audience. 

 

RoseAnn Faber serves as liaison between the Rehab Council for the Blind and the Statewide Independent Living Council.  This council advises statewide independent-living centers. 

 

Tim Aune serves on the site council for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.  We will be participating on the upcoming cane walk for White Cane Day.  There is an open position for alumni of the school.  Interested parties should contact Tim to find out how to apply.

 

Our convention closed with the drawing for a KNFB Reader won by Jeff Young and a $50 prize for Jennifer Dunnam.

 

Calling All Veterans

 

The National Association of Blind Veterans, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, is seeking members from Minnesota.  Jack Rupert from Lake Crystal is first vice president.  Interested veterans should contact Jack by e-mail at jerupert@outlook.com or telephone at (507) 276-4640.

 

Convention Alert!

 

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

 

The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention is May 14, 2016 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis.  Members received a letter with details, and the information is on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

The National NFB Convention is June 30 through July 5, 2016 at the Rosen's Shingle Creek 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 October 2016.  Members will receive a letter with details, and the information will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember

 

At Large Chapter — statewide, consisting of those who live outside a chapter area and/or cannot attend a meeting in person; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the third Sunday of every month by teleconference call.  The telephone number for the call is 1-605-475-6700 with access code 9458023.

 

Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:00 on the second Saturday of every month (with an optional lunch at 11:00) at VFW Post 428, 9 18th Ave N in St Cloud

 

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 at 7:00 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month by teleconference call.  The telephone number for the call is 1–712–432–0926 with access code 1005345.

 

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 mlwartenbee@gmail.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 cguggisberg@blindinc.org

 

Background and Purpose

 

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/

 

Acknowledgements

 

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

 

·        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.