MINNESOTA BULLETIN

Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
(612) 872-9363

Tom Scanlan, Editor

Volume LXV, Number 1, Summer 2000

WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND

Table of Contents

Les Affaires

An Adventure

My First NFB Experience andAwakening

A Whole New World: The NFB NationalConvention

Some More Service Restored at SSB

Airports on the Road to Equality

A New Threat to Services for TheBlind

Walk Ten in Two Thousand

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires
By Joyce Scanlan, President

(The following report was presented at the 2000Semiannual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesotain Rochester on May 6. It prophesies the situation in which Minnesota'sblind citizens find ourselves in July, 2000, with respect to StateServices for the Blind, the agency which provides rehabilitation servicesand training to blind people.)

It is said that those who do not remember theirhistory are bound to repeat it. We in the National Federation of theBlind know that history does indeed repeat itself. Ever since 1920 whenthe blind of Minnesota first organized, our historical records havecontained details of a fairly constant stream of confrontations betweenblind people and the state agency serving them. Our organization's Boardof Directors and State Convention minutes from the beginning of ourexistence to the present time tell a story of one conflict after anotherover services to be provided, where State Services for the Blind (SSB)should be located within State government, qualifications of SSB staff,SSB's mechanism for receiving input from customers, and many, many otherissues. And here we go again!!!

C. Stanley Potter was a long-time director ofMinnesota's SSB. For more than forty years, although he was not a memberof the Federation, Mr. Potter cooperated with us to maintain the separateidentity and program integrity of SSB. We did not always agree on theservices the agency should provide to blind people, but Mr. Potter'spersonality was such that neither politicians nor fellow bureaucrats daredto challenge his position related to SSB. Mr. Potter was also able tofend off the creation of any policy-making or advisory entity throughwhich blind people could lend their voices to participate in the agency'soperation throughout his entire tenure. Not until Mr. Potter retired in1985 did blind Minnesotans finally win a formal mechanism through which wecould express our views to SSB. If there was any problem with arehabilitation counselor, or a blind person was dissatisfied with servicesfor some reason, we of the Federation could always go to Mr. Potter, andthe matter would be resolved. (In most instances, this was true.) Manytimes during Mr. Potter's administration, NFB members went to theLegislature to seek changes in the administrative location of SSB withinthe governmental structure. I believe that although he was not allowed togive open support to our proposals, Mr. Potter agreed with us and secretlysupported our actions. Remember that Stan Potter was never a member ofthe NFB.

To put all of this in perspective, I should tell ofone more revealing incident. Early in 1976, when we were again working ona bill to break SSB out of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), JohnBuzzell, Mr. Potter's boss, again instructed him not to support our bill. Mr. Buzzell was the usual career bureaucrat with the sole concern ofkeeping his paycheck coming. We had had numerous heated discussions withMr. Buzzell on the subject of how SSB did not fit with DPW, and one dayjust after a legislative hearing on our bill, about twenty blind peopleheld a very loud and angry confrontation with Mr. Buzzell right outsidethe legislative hearing room. We all let Mr. Buzzell know in no uncertainterms what we thought of him. Our session went on for perhaps fifteenminutes. When the air cleared and Mr. Buzzell had gone on his merry way,I learned that Representative Bruce Vento had been on hand observing theentire scene. Mr. Vento and I did not discuss the matter at that time,but I can tell you that that was the last time I ever saw John Buzzell. He was quietly transferred to some other job in State government in whichhe would not again deal with blind people. This is a record, and this ispart of our history. Remember, history repeats itself.

One thing can be said for Mr. Buzzell. He was openand straightforward and did not hide out from blind people or pass thebuck to his underlings when a situation became tense. Mr. Buzzell did notseem to dislike blind people; he was really just a bureaucrat.

(A footnote on Bruce Vento is relevant at this time. Bruce first became our friend in the State Legislature in the earlyseventies. He carried our bills to establish a separate Commission forthe Blind or to create a Division of Services for the Blind. He alwayssupported our issues. Bruce ran for Congress from the Fourth District andwon in 1976, where he has served ever since. He always met with uspersonally on our annual trips to Washington, D.C. We always enjoyed hislectures as we presented our current legislative agenda. Although Brucewould argue all angles of an issue, he would give us his support andcosponsor our proposals. Visiting his office was always a highlight ofour trip. However, on our last scheduled visit, Bruce was not there tosee us. We were informed that he was ill. The following day we all heardthe announcement that Bruce had been diagnosed with lung cancer and wouldnot be running for another term. Since then he has had surgery to removeone lung and has undergone chemotherapy. We all wish him well and willmiss him in Congress. He has definitely been one of our long-timefriends.)

When Mr. Potter retired, we inherited Rick Hokansonfrom another area of Job Service as director of SSB. His style was verydifferent from what we had had. He joined all the organizations of theblind and although he at first knew nothing about blindness, he made greateffort to learn and became a good listener. He tried very hard to findconsensus among blind people and would have been very happy if we allcould have agreed on everything. Rick was a likable guy who came tounderstand several important principles regarding blindness. Herecognized the importance of quality services to blind people; he realizedthat listening to blind people was necessary; and he knew how to fill thatpivotal role in communication between his boss, the Commissioner, and theblind community. Because he couldn't get everyone to agree on everything,Rick quickly wore out and left after seven years. His greatestcontribution to Minnesota's blind community was that it was during hisadministration and with his firm support thatBLIND, Inc. was established as anew training option with a positive philosophy of blindness.

In 1992 the Department of Economic Security (DES) wasagain searching for a new Assistant Commissioner for SSB and Richard Daviswas hired. Dick was and still is a member of the Federation. He alwaysdemonstrates the greatest respect for all blind people. He has genuinefeeling for and understanding of the needs of blind people. Hecommunicates well with all blind people regardless of their organizationalaffiliation. He will attend meetings of any organization of blind peoplearound and always treats every blind person with absolute respect anddecency.

Under R. Jane Brown, the DES Commissioner who hiredDick, relations with the NFB were O.K. Commissioner Brown seemed tounderstand that our organization strongly supported employment as a goalfor blind people. She seemed to appreciate our support in this area. However, when she had a memory lapse concerning the law under MinnesotaStatute Chapter 248.07 providing that SSB have separate identifiablestatus within DES, and she set about reorganizing SSB and RSB, the generalrehab unit in the Department, we were compelled to take opposing action. R. Jane Brown understood politics and backed off her plan very quicklywhen questioned by legislative leaders. Everyone wants to win theirbattles, and she realized her battle was destined to fall flat on itsnose.

In the election of 1998, Minnesota had anotherpolitical shift. Jesse Ventura was elected Governor and was faced withappointing a new DES Commissioner. Personally, I believe he made a poorselection. Dick and I disagreed on the appointment of Earl Wilson at thetime. Of course, I had nothing to say or do about that appointment. Iheld my breath and hoped another appointment would be made. It wasn't andwe have had the difficult task of trying to work with Earl Wilson as DESCommissioner for the past year and one-half.

Lots of people, especially Earl Wilson and hisdeputies and assistants, Al St. Martin and Mick Coleman, probablybelieve that Dick Davis told me everything that was going on in DES. Thiswas not true. I am a firm believer in having multiple sources ofinformation. Many people at SSB and in the Governor's office and in theLegislature are privy to information pertaining to SSB. But thissuspicious attitude and lack of trust on Earl Wilson's part reveal muchmore about him than about Dick Davis or about me. Earl Wilson is an oldnavy guy who thinks he is in charge of a tightly-controlled ship. Hemakes all the decisions, and his underlings or assistants carry them outwithout question. He regards blind people as far beneath him and peoplehe neither knows nor cares much about. Operating secretly, demanding thatorders be followed without question, and keeping the constituent group atbay are characteristics typical of the current Commissioner.

Since Wilson's administration began, we have seen himundertake an administrative redesign of SSB. "Oh, no, I'm not combiningSSB and RSB," we were told. Only "insiders" were involved in formulatingthe redesign; blind people were never consulted. This administrativereorganization was supposed to be for the purpose of saving money. However, very soon the Commissioner added to his administrative staff oneMick Coleman. Mr. Coleman's claim to fame and his greatest qualificationfor dealing with blind people and with SSB (as directly and publiclystated by the man himself) is that he is the father of three adolescents.This information was Mr. Coleman's opening salvo to blind people at an SSBCouncil meeting. And it did not endear him to the hearts of any blindperson present.

Early in January of this year, Dick Davis severed hisrelationship with Wilson and DES. Ever since Wilson became DESCommissioner, we have been hearing of more and more emphasis on theWorkforce Centers. SSB staff have been required to spend time at thesesites, taking them away from their SSB locations and reducing theiravailability to their customers. Toward the end of his tenure, Dick wasforced to move his office from the main SSB location down to DESheadquarters at 390 North Robert in St. Paul. This move made it verydifficult for Dick to supervise SSB staff or to be available to SSB staffwith questions. It was a clear statement from the Commissioner that SSBwas no longer important to him. Blind people and some SSB staff may havehad strong feelings about these actions, but they were of no interest orconcern to the Commissioner. His word was law, and his wishes would begranted.

Now that Dick is no longer Assistant Commissioner ofSSB, we can heave a sigh of relief that we are now free to speak out anddeal with this SSB situation. Whether Earl Wilson likes it or not, blindpeople will have a voice in decisions related to SSB. Wilson will havelimited tenure. The Federation will be here forever.

Due to a financial shortfall, SSB went on order ofselection more than one year ago for the first time in its history. Dickhad seen the financial problem coming for several years and had asked theGovernor's office, the Department of Finance, and the DES commissioners tohelp SSB secure additional funding in the Legislature. The requests hadalways been denied. Not until SSB was forced to take the drastic step ofcutting services to people and going on order of selection did thegovernor's office, DES Commissioner Wilson, and the Department of Financeofficials support an increased appropriation for SSB in the 1999Legislature. Federationists went to the Legislature in 1999 and helped toconvince that body that the funds were needed. Every dollar requested was included in the biennial budget beginning July 1, 1999, plus a$370,000 emergency appropriation to go into effect immediately. Altogether, SSB received more than three million dollars in increasedfunding last year. The entire SSB request was approved.

Yet today, May 6, 2000, SSB is still on order ofselection in categories B and C. Although we were successful in obtainingthe needed funds, SSB remains on order of selection. (Since this reportof May 6, category B was taken off order of selection on June 28, 2000. Only category C remains on order of selection.)

We have been hearing complaints from DES that SSBneeds a new computer system. Financial information is difficult to obtainwith the current system, we are told. We know of the funds provided bythe 1999 Legislature; we know that with financial cutbacks and economizingby SSB during 1999 resulted in more than $800,000 being carried forwardinto the year 2000; we know that more than $400,000 came to SSB in SocialSecurity reimbursements; and the older blind program was double-fundedthis year when the federal government provided funds to the program on aformula grant as well as a discretionary grant. With all this funding,why is SSB still on order of selection? Why are blind people on waitinglists to receive services? Where is the money going?

What would the Legislature think of the fact thatorder of selection continues when all this funding has been available toSSB? Legislators believed, as did we, that the requested funds would goto provide services to blind people. How could legislators not also feelbetrayed by DES Commissioner Wilson if services continue to be denied toblind people? Services to blind people were a high priority with Dick asAssistant Commissioner. According to comments made by Earl Wilson at alegislative hearing in February, and by his assistants at a Councilmeeting when Bonnie Elsey was introduced as acting Assistant Commissioner,"public administration" is the highest priority. In fact, Earl Wilsonsaid that he would be seeking a new Assistant Commissioner with publicadministration credentials, not one who "came up through the ranks of theservice-delivery system," as Dick did. Clearly, Earl Wilson wants the SSBfunds without the requirement to provide services to blind people. Hemust fund his workforce centers by siphoning off as much SSB funding aspossible. We have a serious problem with that. And there are otherproblems we will address as well.

Concerted action by the Federation is called for. Aswe have in the past, we will now direct our efforts to salvaging SSB as aviable, service-providing agency. Bonnie Elsey has no knowledge of,experience or interest in blindness. Her primary assignment is to followWilson's orders and drain off as much SSB money as possible to support theWorkforce Centers. We are on an uphill battle to prevent SSB fromreturning to a bygone era when blind people were not heard and serviceswere primarily designed to hold us on welfare. It is our goal to makecertain that rehabilitation funds designated for services to blind peopleare used for appropriate services. Workforce Centers cannot and will notprovide services needed by the blind. Employment is our goal, and if wecannot receive services through DES, perhaps we will take another crack ata separate agency bill in the next legislative session. At least we willthen have the opportunity to air the problems we see with Wilson and SSB. We will be heard.

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An Adventure
By Jennifer Dunnam

Members of the National Federation of the Blind areoften asked what the difference is between the NFB's model ofadjustment-to-blindness training and other types of training in blindnessskills. Anyone who has ever made a comparison can tell you that, in termsof philosophy, process, and especially outcomes, the differences arestriking. One area where the differences are most clearly and immediatelynoticeable is in cane travel instruction. In the travel classes at the NFBtraining centers, the instructors--who are usually blind themselves--givethe students an excellent foundation in what it takes to travelefficiently, safely, and comfortably in all sorts of environments. Butthe real key to the success of this type of travel training--and a factorthat is not universally present in blindness training--is the strongoverarching belief in the abilities of blind people and the highexpectations for what can be accomplished. Not only are students givenchallenges designed for meaningful success, but they are also allowed thefreedom to make the kinds of mistakes that promote good problem-solvingskills and instill the confidence to deal effectively with any situationthat may arise--traits of a good traveler.

Good travel skills, once acquired, are good for alifetime and do not need to be relearned for every new environment. Thisis important because, during a lifetime, even the best travelers--whetherblind or not--occasionally encounter something unexpected or becomedisoriented. In such cases, a skilled traveler knows how to seek outnecessary information and make judicious use of resources, often turning apotentially frightening or frustrating experience into simply an amusinganecdote to tell later.

I was reminded of all this one evening when JudySanders and I attended a political event held on the University ofMinnesota campus. Judy and I are both blind, and we are both quiteexperienced at getting around independently in unfamiliar places; Judy hasheld several jobs that required her to travel routinely around the stateand the country, and I have studied and worked in several Europeancountries. On the evening in question, neither of us was particularlyfamiliar with the area of the campus where the debate was held, but we hadsome general directions about where the auditorium was located; we rodethe bus to campus and found the place without incident.

After the debate, we took the opportunity to millabout and talk with many candidates and other people working on theircampaigns. We were among the very last to leave the auditorium, and as wewalked through the large, deserted lobby area, we found ourselves unsureabout where we'd come in or whether we could exit that way at all. Wetried several options, eventually returned to the auditorium, and triedagain.

At last, we located a door that led outside. Weknew it wasn't the door we'd come in, but we were sure that once we wereoutside we'd have an easier time locating a bus stop. Joking aboutpossibly setting off security alarms, we rushed out the door with acollective sigh of relief.

Just as the door slammed heavily behind us, however,our rushing came to an abrupt halt. With our canes, we detected, justahead of us, a drop-off; on further inspection we realized that it wasabout four feet down.

A loading dock may be a nice place to visit, but thehour seemed a bit late for tourism. As I turned around to open the dooragain, I had a sinking feeling that we might be about to see much more ofthat loading dock than we'd planned. Sure enough, as I expected evenbefore I tried the handle, Judy and I were now standing on the outside ofa locked door.

First, we made the truly enlightened observation thatone of us really should have stayed inside. After all, we told ourselves,both of us are far too experienced to have made such a mistake. But, beingpragmatic people, we quickly got beyond that patch of brilliance andconsidered our one option: to seek our fortunes beyond the edge of theloading dock. This time, however, we resolved to proceed with morecaution. We agreed that one of us should go off the dock first to scopethings out, just in case there was a high fence or something else toprevent us from making our escape.

Taking my cue, I scrambled out to the edge, tossingaside my windbreaker and fanny pack in preparation for the descent. Judystood and waited, as dignified as someone locked out on a loading dockcould be.

As a child, I had eagerly plunged off every drop-off Icould find, but at the more advanced age of nearly thirty, I knew I shouldpractice a bit more restraint. I prepared to climb down starting from asitting position. I sat for a few seconds with my legs hanging off theedge, getting ready.

Suddenly we heard a whooshing sound followed byfootsteps. I jumped up and gathered my belongings as quickly as I could(so that I would be dignified, too), while Judy pounded on the door andcalled out.

The door was opened by a man and a woman, who seemedto be on security duty. We offered our humiliating explanation, and theywalked with us through a maze of interconnected buildings to find an exitwith a little more potential. The woman giggled at us all the way--whichwas quite all right, since we were laughing too.

After a long time of wending our way through countlessnarrow doorways, long corridors, and up and down stairs, we asked thesecurity people how they usually exited the building. They saidthey went out at the loading dock. Judy asked if theyjumped off the dock, and one of them said, "Why, no. We just use theladder." Since it had never occurred to us to look for a ladder, what elsecould we say but, "Yes, of course. The ladder."

Finally out in the cool night air, with yards andyards of flat ground all around us, we pondered our next move. Weobviously were nowhere near the entrance we had used before the debate,and we had very dubious directions to a bus stop from the people who hadsaved us from a night on the loading dock. We started walking in thedirection they'd suggested, but as we went, there began to be less andless traffic, and things generally seemed too quiet. Just when we haddecided to turn back, we heard someone ahead of us. We asked if she knewwhere the nearest bus stop was, and she was eager to help but uncertainabout how to give directions, so she walked with us part of the way (theopposite direction we had been going). She said she was waiting for somefriends to pick her up in a car, and when she saw them driving up offeredto have them drive us to the bus stop. But her friends never saw her anddrove right by, so we figured she'd better go back to where she hadoriginally been standing in order not to lose her own ride. Afterimparting a few directions, she took off.

Several major construction projects were in progresson campus at the time, so we had to take a few detours on our way to thebus stop. We encountered various people and asked directions along theway (and walked what seemed like miles). We met and conversed with severalinteresting people; at one point, we got some particularly good directionsfrom a student on his bicycle going to see a movie at a friend's house.

At long last, we reached the bus stop. As we satwaiting for the bus, Judy quipped, "At least we didn't cry. At earliertimes in our lives we might have." How true. For much of my life, theidea of becoming even a little bit lost terrified me.

After a second thought, however, Judy revised hercomment: "Actually, we wouldn't have cried, because we never would havegone to the debate in the first place." This too was quite right. BeforeI learned that I could travel independently, I had nearly always plannedmy activities and schedule around those of a sighted person. Many blindpeople have lived that way--not because that's what blindness dictates,but because we had no idea we could do otherwise. What a life-changingexperience it was for me when I attended my first convention of theNational Federation of the Blind. For the first time, I observed blindpeople traveling about in a hotel and a city where they'd never been,making last-minute decisions about which division meeting to attend orwhere to eat or shop, and changing plans right in the middle if theythought up something better. And how liberating it was for me to spendtime at a training center run by people who expected much more of me thanI did of myself and who taught me the skills and, by example, enabled meto pursue the confidence necessary to live a full and sometimesspontaneous life.

Adventures like the one I've just described arecertainly not the norm in the lives of even the most adventuresome ofblind people. Good travel skills mean that, most of the time, we come andgo as we please, efficiently and without much worry or fuss. But if suchsituations do occur, the outcomes are much more positive if we've hadopportunities to learn to handle them with confidence and resourcefulnessand to put them in perspective.

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My First NFB Experience andAwakening
By Nicole Ditzler

(Editor's Note: Nicole Ditzler is a student atConcordia College in Moorhead, winner of a 2000 NFB scholarship, active inthe MinnesotaAssociation of Blind Students, and a student atBLIND, Inc. during the summerbefore returning to college in the fall.)

It was a Friday afternoon. My classes were over. Mybags were packed. And I had made certain to bring along the folding canethat had been stuffed in my closet for nearly the last six months. I wasabout to fly to Washington, D.C., the farthest I'd ever been from home,with Stacey Cervenka, a girl I'd met only once at the beginning of theschool year. I hadn't thought much about where I was going, or what Iwould encounter there -- for that matter, I hadn't had time even to thinkit through. But as we headed to the massive two-gate airport in Fargo,North Dakota her strength and certainty in traveling made me realize thatI was in for something I had never imagined when I decided to go on thistrip.

Our arrival that night sent out a clear messagewithout a single word being uttered. As we approached the front desk andgot our keys I knew I was entering a different world when the woman behindthe desk handed me a Braille card for a free dessert. Right off the bat Ihad to put down my pride and allow someone else to help me, something Iwasn't used to, but an event that would happen frequently in the comingdays. That night and the next day were completely overwhelming for me. Imet person after person Friday night and Saturday throughout the day, andfelt as if a few of the speakers' words were directed solely at me. Iencountered people who were challenging me to be independent, to stand upfor myself and my abilities, and to realize that the way I was living infear of crossing the street, in fear of the things I could not read, infear of living itself, was a way of life I could live without. Even morechallenging than the messages of the speakers, my first experiencetraveling on the subway to lunch accompanied by, or more appropriatelybeing led by, four people with less vision than I had. But in one trip Irealized some important things about myself. First, I was scared to gowith my friends and enjoy myself, not because I didn't trust them, butbecause I didn't trust myself and my own skills as a blind person. Second, I needed to accept myself when I could not see, put down my prideand trust my cane, because at that point I had no sighted person to relyon and the last thing I wanted to do was allow more fear than was alreadyapparent to show through. Lastly, I learned I could do it. I watchedthese people and saw that they were amazingly capable of living, and thatthey were taking advantage of all the experiences this life offeredwithout fear, without holding back because of their blindness, and theirexample showed me that I could do the same.

I promise you that all of this learning and selfrealization did not come without a price. The second night of theconference I sat talking with Joanne Wilson, bawling my eyes out, andpouring my heart out with all its fear. It seemed that everything hadbecome clear but I felt I had no way of working with the things I'dlearned. Talking that night offered me a new understanding of living as ablind person. I saw that my feelings were valid and that I wasn't crazy(believe me, I was wondering). But more than that, I came to understandwhat it would take for me to gain the independence that I saw exemplifiedin the people I'd met that weekend. I realized that I would have to takeon a new attitude, one that was surfacing on its own as the weekend wenton. I found myself planning for the next steps to take to become what Iwas meant to be--an independent and strong woman, living life to thefullest, without fear.

The rest of the weekend took the experience of thefirst two days and strengthened my desire to attain the life I was seeing. It also took the drastic steps of the first two days and gave me the timeto begin putting them into action while allowing myself to have an awesometime!

My desire to be an active part of the NFB and theAssociation of Blind Students leapt from a simple curiosity to the desireto experience and be an integral part of more activities. As I sat nextto Thomas Philip on the flight home, the importance of a blind communitycame into its full light.

On the flight home I thought about the things I wantedto do when I arrived. I confronted the issues of discussing my blindnesswith my fiancee and introducing my blindness to the college community Ihad hidden it from for over a year. But I also sat thinking about theimpact of that weekend's experiences and the people I had met.

In truth, I didn't fully understand the importance ofthis new community while I was attending the conference, after I returnedhome and put the things I had learned into action, or even now. Ibelieve that understanding and fully recognizing the importance of thiscommunity of people is a lifelong task. In one weekend I made friends whoallowed me to cry in facing issues I had not until that point, friends whosent me e-mails of support as I faced the changes in my college community,and friends who will be there with me as I accomplish goals throughout mylife. What I do understand is that having a community of fellow blindpeople around me has given, and will continue to give, me a strong basewith which to face and embrace life as a blind person. It givesencouragement to face situations that undoubtedly may be more difficultfor us than for others, the wisdom to realize that while those things aremore difficult, they are never impossible, and the strength to pursue thepassions we hold. The strongest memory I have of the Washington Seminarwas meeting a young boy, no more than six years old, attending theconference with his father. As a twenty-year-old woman finally coming toterms with my own blindness, seeing that young boy summed up theimportance of involvement in a blind community. That boy will grow upwith the knowledge that he is capable of everything his peers are, that hehas the right to those things, and that he will thrive throughout lifewith a community of example, wisdom, and support behind him.

I am thankful to have found that same community and tohave been accepted as a part of it. The impact it had on my life waspriceless, setting so many things into motion, and pushing me to a greaterfreedom and quality of life.

My ability was amplified that weekend, by themere change in attitude that occurred while I was there. I must admitthat this community has, in part, given me the strength to change the wayI live. While I do not have all the skills I need, and while I am stillscared of many things, I am facing them one at a time. My ability todiscern the things I need to do and the wisdom to recognize how to do themis increasing daily with the help of those who have shared their thoughts,goals, and accomplishments with me. Before the weekend began Stacey toldme that in that short time I would gain a family I never knew I had, andshe was right. As I arrived in Fargo and jumped into college life again,I realized that I have a new home, a new family full of support, love, andencouragement. And as with every good family, every once in a whilesomeone to whip me back into shape when I'm getting out of line orallowing myself to settle for less than I am capable of. Now beforesomeone tries to take me up on that whipping into shape part, the foldingcane I used at the Washington Seminar has been retired and I have beenfaithfully using the rigid cane I purchased that weekend.

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A Whole New World: The NFB NationalConvention
By Carrie Gilmer

About four years ago I received a phone call from myyoungest child's eye doctor. "Your son is legally blind," he said. "Wethink Jordan has a retinal disease and there is nothing I can do." Inshock I asked some what-do-you-mean questions and he hurriedly answered. He told me he would inform State Services for the Blind and then more orless wished us luck. I hung up the phone realizing our lives had justchanged forever. What did I know about blindness besides Helen Keller,bead stringing, and Ray Charles? Not much. I proceeded to cry nonstopfor about three weeks.

We had just moved and after my long cry I went back tothe task of unpacking. In one box I found a little book my grandmother hadgiven me. It was written by blind people. I soaked it up. I read aboutblind lawyers, scientists, parents, teachers, people living normal, happy,fulfilled lives. It gave me hope that our new road in life could be asbright as the old one had looked. I told myself I should learn more abouttheir organization. But, I got busy with the here-and-now.

Jordan was six months away from kindergarten. Theperfect age to learn multiple languages so we decided Braille should belearned alongside print from the beginning. The school agreed. Soon wehad a visit from our SSB counselor, Curt Johnson. He stressed Braillealso. Our doctor had recommended low-vision devices and Curt helped usout with that as well as giving us good advice on how to talk aboutblindness with Jordan. For nearly three years we went forward thinking weknew what we were doing and had Jordan's needs covered. But little leaksin the boat started occurring. We had Braille teachers with differentphilosophies, P.E. teachers who said he did as well as his sighted peersone week and then sidelined him for safety reasons the next. He didn't runand he hated balls. Legally blind? Try and explain legal to aseven-year-old.

Then, one day Jordan and I were laying on the livingroom floor. "Are blind people happy?" he blurted out. I realized we hada long way to go and we should start getting there quickly. I recalledthe little books I had read and contacted the NFB of Minnesota. I wasquickly contacted by Judy Sanders. She was kind and helpful and evenoffered to come to Jordan's school the next week! She stressed theimportance of role modeling for Jordan. In short she told me I couldlearn information in one week at their national convention that mightotherwise take me years to accumulate.

Jordan and I decided to go.

Right away, upon checking into the hotel, we noticedwe were surrounded by hundreds of blind people. There were so many thatthe perspective changed from noticing who was blind to who WASN'T. Thatexperience lasted all week, and was one of the greatest for Jordan. Allat once he saw hundreds of people--all colors, ages, shapes, andsizes--traveling, eating, reading, dancing, writing, walking, laughing. And all of them blind on one level or another. He learned--low-vision,partial, impaired, legally--it's okay just to say blind, no explanationnecessary.

Jordan used a cane on a scavenger hunt whileblindfolded and then kept the cane as a gift. He was told the cane washis "third eye on the ground." It would look down so he could look up. He could stand up straight and walk proud--not fearful. "Cool!", he said. He found out for HIMSELF that blindness doesn't have to be the biggestdeal in his life.

I learned all this too PLUS parenting tips, factsand myths about blindness, what a slate and stylus are, the importance ofnormal expectations, and to quit guiding his eyes with my hands. Ilearned how to make the most of the vision he has now in union withnonsighted techniques where vision fails or is unreliable. We both madelifelong friends. Judy Sanders was right; it would have taken years toaccumulate what we received in one week in Atlanta. Biggest conventiontip: bring an extra suitcase for all the freebies from the sales vendors! For us, since that convention, it really is a whole new world.

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Some More Service Restored at SSB
By Tom Scanlan

In December 1998 State Services for the Blind (SSB)imposed an "Order of Selection" in delivering vocational rehabilitationservices to new clients (see "Order of Selection at State Services for theBlind" in theWinter 1999issue of the Minnesota Bulletin). This restricting ofservices came about because of increasing costs with no increase in funds. The administration of Governor Arne Carlson had refused repeated requestsby SSB to increase its budget to serve blind people. However, GovernorJesse Ventura approved the request when he took office in January 1999. The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota vigorously supported thebudget request before the 1999 Legislature (see "Testimony Given for SSBBudget" in the Spring 1999 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin). The budget increase passed, and SSB began restoring services in November1999 (see "Getting Off Order of Selection" in the Fall 1999 issue of theMinnesota Bulletin).

But then new management took over at SSB in February2000, and the priority changed from restoring service to using the moneyfor other purposes in the Department of Economic Security such as theWorkforce Centers. To return the SSB management's priority to service,President Joyce Scanlan wrote a letter to Governor Ventura. We know thatGovernor Ventura leaves the management of departments to the people heappointed to head them, in this case Earl Wilson as Commissioner ofEconomic Security. We also know that "Service Not Systems" is anobjective of the Ventura administration. So we expected that GovernorVentura would pass on the letter to Commissioner Wilson, but thatCommissioner Wilson would do what he could to avoid restoring the service.

When we did not receive any response to the letter, weknew we needed to take further action. So we issued the following pressrelease on June 27, 2000:

PLENTY OF MONEY, BUT SERVICES STILL SCARCE, SAYSBLIND LEADER

Despite major funding increases for services for blindpeople, some blind persons remain unserved by the Minnesota Department ofEconomic Security's (DES) State Services for the Blind (SSB) division,says the leader of the state's largest organization of blind people.

In a strongly-worded letter to Governor Jesse Ventura,Joyce Scanlan, President of the National Federation of the Blind ofMinnesota, called for an investigation into the administration of DESCommissioner Earl Wilson. "Since the administration of Earl Wilsonbegan," said Scanlan, "blind people have watched SSB fall prey to threatupon threat and crisis upon crisis until today we are concerned for thevery survival of the agency itself."

Scanlan said blind persons needing services from thedepartment's State Services for the Blind (SSB) division continue toremain on two "order of selection" waiting lists, despite:

an additional $800,000 per year in stateappropriations,

$800,000 carried forward from last fiscal year,

$400,000 additional Social Security reimbursements,and

$225,000 additional federal Older Blind servicesfunding.

"Last year, we fought for increased funding for StateServices for the Blind," said Scanlan, "but the money doesn't appear tohave been used for services. The major concern of DES seems to be a newcomputer system." In the letter, Scanlan criticized Wilson'sadministration for secrecy, and for its obsessive focus on the MinnesotaWorkforce Center System. "It seems very clear that SSB as a direct-service agency is at the low end of DES Commissioner Wilson's priorities,and the blind of the state are losing out at a rapid pace," said Scanlan.The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is the state's largestand oldest organization of blind people. Through education and advocacy,it serves as the voice of Minnesota's blind citizens.

That press release got some action. We heard thatBonnie Elsey, acting Assistant Commissioner for SSB, and other SSBmanagers were very upset by it. We also heard that Governor Venturaordered Commissioner Wilson to resume restoring services to blind people. Whatever the specifics, Bonnie Elsey issued the following message to SSBstaff at the end of June 28.

"This is to officially notify you that SSB is openingthe order of selection to include Applicants identified in Category B. Imet with [the Department of] Finance again today and they concur that wecan open Category B. At their request, I have also agreed to meetquarterly with Finance to review the financial status of our programs toassure we do not find ourselves in future deficit spending. My analysisincluded projecting the ability to sustain the new plans as well asprojecting salary increases next year. Please notify all of the people onthe waiting list and I will send an official notice to the Council andadvocacy groups tomorrow. I know you will be as pleased as I am that wecan expand our services to more citizens who can greatly benefit fromthem."

The next day (June 29) Bonnie called Joyce to notifyher of the restoration of service. She clearly was not happy. However,she did ask Joyce to write her a letter advising her on getting alongbetter with the blind community. To wrap up the whole affair and get theword out, we issued the following press release on June 30.LETTER FROM BLIND LEADER PAYS OFF:MORE BLIND PEOPLE TO RECEIVE SERVICES

A month after she wrote to Governor Jesse Ventura tocomplain about the Minnesota Department of Economic Security (DES), JoyceScanlan's efforts have borne fruit. Yesterday the agency informedScanlan, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota(NFBM), that one of the agency's waiting lists will be opened and a numberof blind persons will now receive services.

"According to our estimates, about 100 blind personswill now be able to get the services they need to become employed,independent Minnesota citizens", said Scanlan. "The money has been therefor months; I don't know why they took so long!"

Scanlan said she received a telephone call from DESActing Assistant Commissioner Bonnie Elsey, who heads its State Servicesfor the Blind division, informing her of the news. "She was prettyunpleasant, and it was obvious that she didn't like the letter one bit,"said Scanlan, "but blind persons shouldn't have to write to the Governorto get the services they need!"

Scanlan said DES still has blind persons remaining onone "order of selection" waiting list. "We're going to keep after themuntil these waiting lists are a thing of the past!" said Scanlan.

The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota isthe state's largest and oldest organization of blind people. Througheducation and advocacy, it serves as the voice of Minnesota's blindcitizens.

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Airports on the Road to Equality

(Editor's Note: Stacy Cervenka is a student atConcordia College in Moorhead, winner of a 2000 NFB scholarship, andSecond Vice President of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students.)

It was a typical goodbye scene that day at O'HareInternational Airport. Dozens of couples standing at the terminalpreparing to go their separate ways, promising to call each other everyday, reminding each other that Thanksgiving was only a few months away,kissing each other one last time before heading off to distant collegesand universities. Brandon and I were no exception. As we stood at hisgate, waiting for the loudspeaker to announce the departure of his flight,we could have been a hundred other overly sentimental young couples in thebustling terminal that day. His flight number was announced, we huggedone last time, he leaned over and whispered, ...

"Do you folks need assistance?" came the intrusivevoice.

I looked up in annoyance at the airport employeestanding nearby. "No, we definitely do NOT need assistance." I stated,none too politely. "In fact, of all the times in my life, I think this isthe one where I have LEAST needed assistance, but thank you for asking."

Although you could have probably filled buckets withthe sarcasm dripping from my voice, this good Samaritan in the form of aUnited Airlines agent didn't seem to get it.

"Are you sure? We're preboarding now if the young manwould like to follow me." Without even waiting to see if that were allright with us, our helpful little friend called out across the terminal,"Gayle! This young man needs assistance! Could you please call a flightattendant out here?"

Well, I guess it's superfluous to say that the romanceof the previous moment had pretty much evaporated by then as we stoodwide-eyed and mortified as heads turned to stare.

Ah, yes. Just another day at one of our nation's finemajor airports. Nowhere else is there such a cornucopia of diverse peopletraveling to and from such a variety of destinations. Nowhere else isthere such a charge of excitement in the air as travelers prepare to takeon the world in exotic new adventures and embark on hard-earned vacations. And nowhere else can a blind person encounter such ignorance anddisrespect for personal dignity.

I'm sure many of you have a very good idea of what I'mreferring to. I've been traveling alone since I was fifteen years old andI can honestly say that, in that four years, not one trip to the airporthas not left me with a profound sense of how long the road ahead of us, asblind people, actually is before we reach our rightful status as firstclass citizens in the minds of the public.

Fighting for equal treatment has become as much a partof traveling by air as obtaining a boarding pass and checking in luggage. It's absurd. From being asked to preboard with the young children tobeing reseated in a non-exit row aisle to overbearing flight attendantswho insist on escorting one anywhere they need to go, the airportexperience can be full of unintentional discrimination.

Now, please don't misunderstand me. I do very muchenjoy air travel and do not mean to say that all sighted people who workfor airlines are guilty of discrimination, but it has become an unvaryingundertone. As nice and respectful as I try to be to thesegood-intentioned people, it is a bit embarrassing for a healthynineteen-year-old girl to be asked if she'd like to be pushed in awheelchair to get from one connection to another because "it would befaster."

In conclusion, it is my opinion that this issuereasserts the fact that we mustn't rest on our laurels. The road ahead tobeing thought of as equals is still long, but not nearly as long as theone that has already traveled. We must use our indignation productivelyuntil a blind person is seen as just another face in the terminal.

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A New Threat to Services for TheBlind
By Tom Scanlan

Protecting government services for blind people is anongoing effort and a major focus of the National Federation of the Blind. We believe that blind people are best served by a separate state agencywith a wide range of services. This belief is based on the experience ofblind people in all parts of the country under many types of governmentstructures.

Government officials and legislators seldom understandwhat it is really like to be blind and what services enable blind peopleto lead full and independent lives. The usual bureaucratic action is tocombine service to the blind with vocational rehabilitation of otherdisabilities in the name of administrative efficiency. Governor GeorgeBush recently did that in Texas.

However, the blind in other states such as SouthDakota, South Carolina, and Florida fought off such actions. Even better,the blind of Nebraska got a separate agency for the blind. Here inMinnesota, the NFB of Minnesota got legislation passed in 1985 thatprotects State Services for the Blind (SSB) from being combined with otherservices.

Since the Department of Economic Security cannotcombine SSB with general vocational rehabilitation, it seems to haveselected a new approach. That method would break up SSB, keeping thevocational rehabilitation program and moving the other services back tothe Department of Human Services (where SSB was located until 1985). Mostof SSB's money comes from the Federal vocational rehabilitation program,so Economic Security would expect to keep that money. However, most ofSSB's clients are served by the other programs. So, under this plan,Economic Security could keep most of the money and get rid of most of theblind people.

As an expression of our knowledge that blind peopleneed a wide range of services from an organization that can clearly focuson the real needs of blind people, the NFB of Minnesota passed thefollowing resolution at our last Semiannual Convention in May.RESOLUTION S00-01

WHEREAS, published analyses of national data from theRehabilitation Services Administration as well as other studies haveclearly demonstrated that the unique needs of blind persons are mostcost-effectively addressed through specialized agencies separate and apartfrom services for other persons with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, State Services for the Blind (SSB), a branchwithin the Minnesota Department of Economic Security (MDES), is theprimary agency empowered to provide Vocational Rehabilitation, IndependentLiving, and Communication Center services to blind Minnesotans; and

WHEREAS, despite a legislative appropriation to SSB in1999 to meet the service needs of blind Minnesotans, rehabilitationfunding remains unavailable for two of the three categories of personsseeking essential services such as training in blindness skills forvocational rehabilitation, adaptive equipment for managing medicalconditions, etc.; and

WHEREAS, recently, the Department of Economic Securityhas further eroded the quality of services to blind Minnesotans bysiphoning off funds earmarked to serve blind persons in order to pay foradministrative overhead and departmental functions unrelated to blindness;and

WHEREAS, recent changes in the administrativestructure of SSB have been conducted in a secretive manner, without publicinput, and pose a serious threat to the separate and identifiable statusof SSB; and

WHEREAS, the Governor's Workforce DevelopmentMini-cabinet has issued a recommendation of "further review" of SSB, withan underlying statement of belief that "programs that advance [increasedemployment] should be housed at the Department of Economic Security, whileprograms that promote independent living should be housed at theDepartment of Human Services"; and

WHEREAS, clearly, Vocational Rehabilitation,Independent Living, and Communication Center services for blind personsfrequently overlap and are intertwined with one another, so that duringthe course of rehabilitation, a client is likely to require all of them atsome point; now therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blindof Minnesota on this 6th day of May in the city of Rochester, Minnesota,that this organization call upon the Legislature and Governor tostrengthen and protect the statutory and programmatic integrity of StateServices for the Blind (SSB) to prevent its being diluted into otherunrelated state bureaucracies and to ensure that it is and remains anindependent and unified agency providing independent living, vocationalrehabilitation, and Communication Center services to the working-ageblind, blind senior citizens, and blind children of Minnesota; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demandthat any consideration of structural or departmental changes to the agencybe made only with input from consumers via their elected representatives.

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Walk Ten in Two Thousand
By Charlene Childrey

September 9, 2000 will be the nineteenth annualMove-A-Thon in New Ulm. The event will begin at 9:00 a.m. at HarmonyPark. This year there will be a $5 charge for lunch. The lunch willconsist of a sub of your choice from Subway along with chips and a cookie. The beverages, as well as coffee and rolls for the morning breakfast, willbe provided by the Riverbend chapter. There will also be fruit and othertreats provided along the route.

The route is 10 kilometers through a scenic andhistoric town. There will be three checkpoints along the walk, one ofthem being a stop at the local brewery for a cool drink.

This year there will be door prizes for those who turnin $25 to $99 cash the day of the event. If you turn in $100 or more youwill be entered in a drawing for bigger prizes.

There will be a bus from the Metro area that willleave at 7:00 a.m. sharp. Please call your reservations in to our stateoffice (612-872-9363) by Thursday, September 7. This is to place yourorder for lunch as well as to let the Metro chapter know if you will beriding on the bus. Tom Mertesdorf will collect your lunch money when youarrive in New Ulm. Remember this is our only state fundraiser, and evenif you can't come to the event you can still get contributions from yourfriends, co-workers, and neighbors. So come and walk 10 in 2000 and enjoythe fun with your Federation friends.

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Convention Alert!

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

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held inOctober 2000 in Mankato. Members will receive a letter with details abouta month before the convention.

The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will beheld in the Metro area in April or May 2001. Members will receive aletter with details about a month before the convention.

The National NFB Convention will be held at theMarriott Renaissance Hotel in downtown Detroit, Michigan during the firstweek of July 2001. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and seriousbusiness. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blindpeople in the world. The NFB of Michigan promises "Loads of Fun in 2001." Full details will be in the November or December 2000 issue of theBraille Monitor.

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