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-mailtom.scanlan@earthlink.net

Volume 72, Number 3, Summer 2006

WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND

Table of Contents

Les Affaires

Black, Blind and Beautiful--Breaking theChains of Paternalism

How I Became a Federationist

Blind Athletes Compete InTriathlon

Report On the SemiannualConvention

Greetings from the Mayor of St.Cloud

Progress at SSB in DEED

Convention Alert!

Les Affaires

Blind Children Have Dreams to Realize

By Joyce Scanlan, President

(Editor's Note: This was the keynote speech at ourparents' seminar on May 6, 2006.)

When we opened for business with four or five studentsat Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions(BLIND), Inc. in January of 1988, we were amazed to discover thatwhen students were asked to discuss their plans for the future in seminarsessions, they absolutely could not articulate anything about their hopesor dreams for their lives down the road. The staff of adult blind peoplespoke of their plans for writing books, traveling, owning homes, retiringone day, and all the usual things Americans look forward to doing. Butthe students--who were mostly quite young, some of them having been blindsince birth and others losing their eyesight very recently--were totallysilent with only the "I don't know what I'll be doing" as a response. Aswe all became better acquainted, students began to open up and tell us ofhow they had never been asked such a question before and they werestruggling to express what they had always thought was impossible. Thosewho had become blind more recently said that they had given up on theircareer plans and any thought of fulfilling previous dreams for theirfuture. Everyone eventually did gain confidence and begin looking forwardto a bright tomorrow and a meaningful life ahead. This may seem to be asad story, but I think it tells us something of the life many blindpeople, even today, lead. It tells us something of low expectations,dashed hopes, wasted lives, dreams unrealized, and much more.

Today, we're all going to focus on the future of theblind children, who are known to us, and consider what each of us can doto make sure that their futures are as rewarding and as fulfilled as theirinnate abilities and their imaginations can realize. Let's go along withThomas Jefferson who said, "I like the dreams of future better than thehistory of the past." Let's remember that "Empty pockets never heldanyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that." The winnerof the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921 gave the following advice: "Toaccomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not onlyplan but also believe." What can we do? What can we dream for the blindchildren we know? What beliefs must we have in order to plan well so thatthe dreams of today's blind children will come true?

I came into the world as the third of five children,all born within a period of seven and one-half years, I was the firstchild in our larger family of cousins, etc. to have an imperfection; I wasblind with congenital cataracts. Both my parents were devastated whenthey learned I was blind. My mother couldn't talk about it at all; shewept for three weeks. When she finally decided to take me to the doctorand learned that I really was blind, she gathered up her inner strengthand decided that I would have as normal a life as she expected for all herchildren. When surgery was performed on the cataracts when I was ninemonths old and my mother realized that I could see, she wept again--thistime for joy. As I remember, my life was as normal as everyone else's,although I was always legally blind. When I was three years old, I felldown a long flight of stairs carrying a glass--and it was glass--of icewater. The scar on my head just above the hairline is still there. Welived in that upstairs apartment for another two years and I was neverstopped from carrying my glass of ice water down that long set of steepstairs. My brothers and sisters taught me to roller-skate and ride abike, and I was always included when we built a tree house together ordecided to run away from home to camp in the woods at the end of ourblock. We played school, and my older brother and sister taught me toread. Now, my grandmother and my mother had disagreements about whetheror not I should be allowed to do all these "dangerous and challenging"activities, but I was never held back, as my grandmother wished. Incidentally, when I was four years old, I spent the summer with mygrandmother; one day, I locked her in the basement for quite a long time;so I think she may have learned not to lower her expectations for me justbecause I was blind.

Education was always important in my family. In thelong-ago dark ages of the 1940's when I was ready for school, there wasonly the option of the state residential school for the blind. Specialeducation for blind kids didn't come to my hometown until 1960--too latefor me. My parents' determination that I be educated outweighed theirsadness and anxiety about sending me 200 miles away from home to receivethat education. My mother wept again--and I did, too--when she left me atschool the first time. As a shy kid--many won't believe that--I found ithard to adjust to my new environment, meeting all new friends and adaptingto the rigors of the school routine. Five girls were in my class thatfirst year. We played together on the playground, roller- andice-skated, climbed trees, went exploring in the surrounding countryside,played in the deep, deep snow during the long, cold winters, and got allwet and muddy when the snow finally melted in late May. Several decadeslater four of the five women are still in touch, although our lives havedefinitely gone in different directions.

In those days, every child, even those who were barelylegally blind as I was, were taught to read Braille. Now, I had alreadylearned to read print in the home school with my older siblings asteachers, so I was not at all interested in those little bumps that youread with your fingers with no pretty pictures to look at. So, I lookedat the Braille dots, and my teacher, Miss Ada Mark, covered my hands so Icouldn't read the Braille with my eyes. I actually flunked the first sixweeks of Braille reading with a score of 54; remember 75 was passing, so Ireally failed. Nevertheless, Miss Mark won out; she taught me to readBraille. According to Oprah Winfrey, "The key to realizing a dream is tofocus not on success but on significance--and then even the smallest stepsand little victories along your path will take on greater meaning." Learning Braille was one victory for me, one that I didn't totallyappreciate until long into adulthood. And by the way, I abandoned Brailleand denied having knowledge or skill until after I had lost most of mylegally-blind eyesight at about age 28.

Two important points about the residential school weresignificant: the academic education was excellent and prepared me wellfor college and a successful career; residential schools may be quitedifferent today. And the social life in my day was good. I had closefriends during my life there, and I am in touch yet with several of thosechildhood friends. It's a myth that the residential school experiencedenies one social contacts. Many blind children are lonely and isolatedin the mainstreamed system.

There was one very negative aspect of the residentialschool: we all learned some very bad attitudes toward blindness. Nowsuch attitudes may also be prevalent in the public school system, but Ican tell you they were big-time bad in our residential school. Because ofcertain practices at the school, we all learned that our value in life isin direct proportion to the amount of eyesight we had. The pecking orderwas that those with the most sight were at the top of the totem pole, andthose with zero eyesight were at the very bottom. Tasks were divided intotwo categories: those requiring eyesight and those which did not. Thestudents with some sight did everything that required moving around, thelifting, the moving of furniture, verifying information, being sightedguide to the blind kids, etc. The totally blind folks did the sedentarythings such as washing dishes and just eating. That sort of instructionaround blindness set most of us off on a track which made us do just aboutanything to avoid thinking of ourselves as blind. While in school thoseof us with some sight were the kings and queens of the world; however,when we left the cloistered life of the residential school, we weresuddenly thrust onto the lower rung of the visual-acuity ladder, becausemost of the others around us were sighted. The bad attitudes were thenegatives at the residential school, but remember, in those days theresidential school was our only option. Today, we have more choices forlearning opportunities.

I loved school very much--so much that I continuedthrough the bachelor's and master's degrees with five years of teachingexperience during the school year. When I developed glaucoma and lost agood bit of eyesight, I soon left teaching, mostly because of fear that Icould no longer be successful. I also was alone without any role modelsto give me support and encouragement. This should have demonstrated to methat trying to hide out from blindness just doesn't solve anything.

Those were dark days in my life. The state rehabpeople said that they would help me find employment only if I went totheir adjustment-to-blindness training center. When I finally caved inand said I'd go, the adjustment center people threw me out after only onemonth of training. I told the BLIND, Inc. students that I thought thatwas one of the best things that had ever happened to me. They seemed toenjoy hearing that I had been kicked out, and I really enjoyed tellingthem about my negative experience there. So you might say that beingtossed out of a training program became a useful experience for me.

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said,"Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higherthan you think." Also remember, happiness doesn't depend upon who you areor what you have, it depends solely upon what you think. I can honestlytell you that my thinking was all bad, influenced by negative forcesbefore I encountered the National Federation of the Blind in 1970 when theorganization came to Minneapolis to hold its national convention. Thatwas probably my low point after losing my "precious partial vision." Iwas unemployed, impoverished, depressed, and without hope formy life. That convention turned my life around. I met very competent,independent, employed people in all fields, confident, concerned blindpeople who reached out to me and encouraged me to join their ranks to helpothers. They weren't ashamed of their blindness and showed genuine pridein who they were and what they were doing.

Many programs have been added to the organizationsince 1970, such as the National Organization of Parents of Blind Childrenwith its Minnesota division. I am absolutely certain that if such anorganization had been around when I was a small child, my parents wouldhave leaped at the opportunity to participate, to learn and share whatthey believed. Many people choose to run away from blindness as I did forso many years. They are convinced that distancing themselves from otherblind people frees them to be "their own person." Without the NationalFederation of the Blind and its division for parents, your young childrenwho are blind will have no way to measure their skills to deal withblindness or understand their rights in the world in competitiveemployment areas. We must teach young blind children to think high, todream big, and to know that success will be there. Henry David Thoreausaid, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life youhave imagined." A dream is your children's creative vision for their lifein the future. They must break out of their current comfort zone andbecome comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown. All of theirdreams can come true--if they have the courage to pursue them. They mustdream big and dare to fail.

Our children of today are our leaders anddecision-makers of tomorrow. They will carry forward the torch of theNational Federation of the Blind to new heights and accomplishments. Let's prepare them with the best tools to meet the challenges that willcertainly be there for them. They will have the opportunity to give backto their communities as much as they have received and more. Pope JohnXXIII gave advice which is relevant to children who are blind: "Consultnot your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about yourfrustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself notwith what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible foryou to do."

This seminar is funded by a grant from the ImaginationFund of the National Federation of the Blind. I hope your day will be atime to learn from each other and to share your ideas and experiences. Everyone has much to give.

Enjoy your day together!

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Black, Blind and Beautiful - Breaking the Chainsof Paternalism

By Chris Nisan, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

(Editor's Note: The following article was publishedin the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder on June 14, 2006. Michele Gittens,Carrie Gilmer, and Philip Richardson are members of our Metro Chapter. Michele Gittens is a graduate ofBlindness: Learning in New Dimensions(BLIND), and Jordan Richardson has attended BLIND's Buddy Programduring several summers.)

"The biggest problem we face is not being blind, it'sdealing with the public reaction to you being blind," says Michelle [sic]Gittens. "With education and proper training, blindness does not have tobe a tragedy."

Gittens is a student currently working toward amaster's degree in music at the McNally Smith College of Music. She is aprofessional R&B and jazz vocalist--and she also happens to be blind.She talked with the Spokesman-Recorder last week about some of thestruggles and challenges of being blind and Black.

Gittens also describes some of the successes she's hadin combating discrimination based on her blindness as well as the fightshe has waged to throw off the negative self-perception she had onceassociated with her blindness.

Social prejudices against the blind

Some of the biggest challenges facing blind people arethe hidden, yet very real and deep-seated social prejudices associatedwith blindness and people who are blind, explains Carrie Gilmer, presidentof Minnesota Parents of Blind Children.

"[The mainstream] media usually printsarticles that applaud the blind person who can cross the street, havefriends, or get a job as rising above great tragedy with superhumanstrength. They never want to talk about the discrimination and stereotypesand do not understand the nature of it. They do not get the often subtleforms that are nonetheless devastating," says Gilmer.

The prejudice and discrimination Gittens and Gilmerspeak of most often take the form of social paternalism toward the blindboth on the institutional level and in the realm of interpersonalrelationships.

This paternalism leads to discrimination againstsightless people in all areas of life, including employment, education,housing, and access to government services. This discrimination occursmost often under the rationalization that the blind can't do anything forthemselves and are incapable of truly independent functioning.

According to Gittens, paternalistic attitudes alsolead to some outrageous behavior toward the blind on the part of sightedpeople. "If I get on the bus and don't sit in the handicapped seats, Ioften have people tell me, 'You're not supposed to sit here,'" saysGittens. "You have people who just come up and put their hands on you. Onseveral occasions I've even had people walk up and start to pray over me."

Paternalism often has damaging consequences for theblind person in that it hampers their social, educational and personaldevelopment. "There are lots of blind people who are crippled by fear andinappropriate dependence," says Gilmer.

Gilmer and her husband, Phillip Richardson, havelearned a good deal about blindness through the experience of fightingagainst the public school system for the rights and dignity of their15-year-old son Jordon, [sic] who is also blind.

Jordan was diagnosed at an early age with blindness,Gilmer and Richardson explain. Their problems with the educational systembegan right away with professional educators, social workers and others."The expectations among educators [of the blind] are low," saysRichardson, who works as a high school music teacher.

Gilmer and Richardson explain that these lowexpectations manifested themselves in the adoption by school officials ofan educational approach that either constructively denied Jordan'sblindness--even to the point of exposing him to injury--or discouragedJordan's access to education and training that could prepare him to be anindependent and fully developed human being.

Gilmer describes one such struggle with schoolofficials over whether Jordan would be allowed to use non-visualtechniques to learn wood and metal working in industrial arts classes.Councilors and school officials objected to Jordon being instructed innon-visual methods under the assumption that he should use the smallamount of vision he had.

Gilmer explains that her son's vision teacher believedthat "any vision was better than no vision at all." Gilmer says that thevision teacher told her that they should trust her judgment to assess whatpart of the class Jordan's "vision was useful" in, and that the shopteacher could "guide Jordon (do it for him) when it wasn't."

After several meetings and a site visit to a workshopthat specialized in teaching industrial arts to the blind, schoolofficials were forced to recognize Jordon's rights.

Jordan is currently a 4.0 honors freshman. He has beenaccepted as one of the top 12 blind high school students in the nation toattend a summer science camp sponsored by the National Federation of theBlind and NASA. "I really wanted to get accepted to the Rocket On!Program; when I found out I was, I felt great," says Jordan.

Claiming humanity and dignity

The prejudice, discrimination, and negative socialattitudes associated with blindness have had devastating consequences onthe lives of the blind. "I flunked out of college, and I thought I wasstupid," says Gittens. "But I wasn't--I just wasn't getting what I neededto learn."

Just a few of the statistics on blindpeople in the areas of employment and education provide a glimpse of thescope of the socially imposed challenges confronting the sightless.According to Gilmer, in 1940 the unemployment rate among blind peoplestood at a staggering 98 percent nationally. Most of the two percent whowere employed had make-work jobs as basket weavers or broom makers inspecial industries that ruthlessly exploited them, often paying less thanminimum wages.

Today, says Gilmer, the blind unemployment rate isaround 75 percent. Only 10 percent of the blind children in U.S. schoolsreceive instruction in Braille. Gilmer also highlights the correlationbetween discrimination in education and chances for employment with thefact that 90 percent of the 25 percent of blind people who are employedare fluent in Braille.

"Not working is the biggest problem," says Gittens."It's dehumanizing."

One of the milestones in the history of blind people'sstruggle for justice and dignity was the founding in 1940 of the NationalFederation of the Blind (NFB). The organization has 50,000 members in 700local chapters and 52 affiliates, and has become the leading force in thecountry in the fight to defend the interests of the blind. According toGilmer, "The organized blind modeled their civil rights strategy andmovement after the efforts of American Blacks for their freedom andjustice and the road to first-class citizenship.

"The National Federation of the Blind is of, for, andby blind people," says Gilmer. "Our motto is 'Security, Equality, andOpportunity.'" Gilmer, Gittens and Richardson all stress the importance ofself-organization to the blind, who have waged a lengthy struggle over thedecades for organizational independence and for a decisive voice in alldecisions that affect their lives.

Much of this struggle has been against governmentagencies and charitable organizations that speak in the name of the blindbut are led by sighted people. "This is a big business," says Gilmer."Sighted people were benevolent; they had built up charities, and who wereyou [as a blind person] to tell us what to do."

Gilmer hopes that more African Americans will availthemselves of the services and support of the local NFB chapter.

A big part of the struggle of blind people, however,is casting off the negative self-image imposed on them by societalprejudice and ignorance and realizing that blindness is not the end of theworld. "Blind people have to get rid of the stereotypes of themselves,"says Gittens.

Both Gittens and young Richardson have gone a long waytoward achieving this goal. They are two young, Black and blind personswho have fought for and won a healthy image of themselves. "I'm just me,"says Richardson. "Part of me is Black, part is blind, and all isbeautiful."

(Copyright 2006. Republished with permission of theMinnesota Spokesman-Recorder.)

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How I Became a Federationist

By Jeff Thompson

Editor's Note: Jeff Thompson is a member of our MetroChapter, a graduate of Blindness:Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), and the president of ourstudent division. He currently teaches industrial arts at BLIND. He is awinner of a 2006 NFB national scholarship, and plans to continue hiseducation in history and political science at the University ofMinnesota.)

Back in 1998 I lost my eyesight due to angioidstreaks. A State Services for the Blind (SSB) counselor came to my home,and after talking to me, told me she knew where I should go.

So I went to a rehab center part-time. They gave me awhole selection of things to choose from, so I picked what I wanted. Mydoctor said I might have peripheral vision for quite a while, so I wentwith that.

After I left there, I went to the MinneapolisCommunity and Technical College (MCTC) and got involved in things and waswinging it. I did some work in the Office of Students withDisabilities--they have a CCTV there so it was a great placefor me, because I didn't want to appear blind. I went on and got involvedin and became president of the student senate, and did other things. Ibecame vice president of the Minnesota State College Student Association,which worked on legislation, and that was kind of fun and interesting. But slowly college began to get a little tougher because I wasn't usingBraille or hardly any of the other blindness skills.

A friend of mine that I was rooming with had a friendfrom Hawaii named Virgil Stennitz. He invited us to go to the 2000 NFBConvention. He had a free room, so I went there but didn't partake in toomuch. I went to the exhibits, or the "toy store" as I called it, andlooked at viewers and magnifiers. I checked out the trains and things inAtlanta while Virgil went to his meetings, and we would meet up later.

I continued school but I was struggling due to thelack of confidence and not using blindness skills. During that time, mydad was going through Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, so I went totake care of him for two years. My sisters decided to care for him then,and I realized I could get back to my schooling, but I knew I had hit kindof a wall. I knew I couldn't do it on my own. I pulled out some oldBraille notes, but they were "Braille to me." I remembered the conventionand thought, "What if I would have gone to one of those meetings?" ... what if...

Then, in June 2005, I went online and saw that in twoweeks there would be a convention in Louisville. I thought I wouldn'tfind a good airfare, but for $191 I got a round-trip ticket. I couldn'tfind an excuse yet, so I checked and they had rooms.

First, I e-mailed Virgil and said I was coming toLouisville. That was basically all I said, because I had kept in touchwith him once in a while. He sent an e-mail back saying I was the lastperson in the world he would ever expect to see in Louisville. I gatheredup all my stuff, but at 11:30 that night, I still hadn't put it in mysuitcase. But I told myself, for $250, don't sign up for something youcan't do. So I packed and went down there, and the first thing I did wascall Virgil.

When I showed up in the meeting room, he handed me anagenda--he had it in large print and Braille, since he didn't know what Iwould use. Then he told me that there were certain breakouts and meetingsthat I had to attend and sure enough I felt he was serious. We scoutedout the whole place, and he introduced me to someone named Peggy Elliott[who is national second vice-president, president of the NFB of Iowa, andchairman of the national scholarship committee].

It seemed like she had all the time in the world onher hands, and took me aside for a couple of hours to talk to me aboutconfidence, telling me I could do it. I thought it was a lecture forawhile, but I got pretty comfortable talking, and we had a beer. She keptleading me around. I met Doug Elliott, Michael Seay, and a few otherpeople.

We ran into Eddie Bell, and he was sitting at a tablewith me having a beer. He had a question about math, and I said, "Math'seasy! I used to tutor it." I ran through the problem quick, and followedthrough as I folded napkins in geometric shapes and put a glass aroundthem showing the points touching the circumference. The next day, at aseminar, there was Dr. Eddie Bell, up there giving a speech, and I'mthinking, "Oh no, what did I say?"

I toured around, and I got around all right, but itwas confusing at times. I ran into some students from the LouisianaCenter for the Blind. I started talking to them, and they askedeverything about me. When they found out I didn't have a cane withme--well, maybe I shouldn't have told them--but they were all over that. We closed down the place we were at and had a great time. Some peoplewake up in the morning with a tattoo. I woke up with a cane and sleepshades.

Actually, I got a call at 7:30 the next morning, andthey hopped up to my room all giddy, and they took me down to get the caneand sleep shades. They had a little travel route for me to do andeverything. I had been wondering why we Brailled the back of a chair thenight before with dymotape. Well, I had to go find it. They said they'dbe close by, and they gave me a few pointers and off I went. After awhile, I found it, but before I did, does anyone remember that piano thatwas there, the one playing in the atrium? I ran into this thing, felt ita little, and figured out it was the piano. I had been cussing at thatpiano the night before. I did find the chair, and sat downand listened for about a half hour, and it was really interesting to hearall the commotion and noise around me.

Then the general session started, and I went and metup with the Minnesota group. Back when I was going to MCTC, my roommatehad these e-mails that came across with JAWS--"KathyMcGillivray"--"Jennifer Dunnam"--I heard these names all the time on thee-mails coming in. Years went by, and now I'm down there, and I expectedthese two old ladies! Needless to say, when I sat down and met Kathy, Irealized she's not an old lady! Then Jennifer came up and I met her--shewasn't an old lady either. She took five dollars from me for membership,since I said I would join. Then I met Shawn Mayo, who introduced me toAl, Zach, and Greg, Steve Jacobson, and a bunch of other people. I wentto a sleep shade dinner, carried my cane, and we had fun.

All the way through the whole convention, Virgil keptsaying, "You've got to go to BLINDInc." I just said no, I just needed some confidence was all and I'dbe OK.

When I got back from the convention, I called mycounselor at SSB, and she told me that I should just close the account andcall the Lions. I don't think she heard me too well. I called thesupervisor, who offered me a new counselor. I called him right away on mycell phone, because he was to get my folder the next day. He said hewould get back to me when he got the folder. I called Monday morning andwas told he wasn't in the office and he'd call me later. I called againthat afternoon, and he said I was on his list and what did I want. Hemade an appointment for me about three weeks out, and I got off the phone. But then I thought, "I don't have three weeks! School is starting, and Ihave to figure out what I'm going to do!" I called back and said itwouldn't work. He told me he hadn't looked at my folder yet, so I askedhim to read the cover letter I had written. I had advocated for myself,putting in there what I needed from State Services for the Blind. He saidhe would give Shawn Mayo a call. He called me back, and I started atBLIND Incorporated a week later.

Now the sleep shades came. I knew I wanted them, butit was interesting. After I got acclimated to them, they introduced me toall that white noise that you always hear. It became like the palate thatI would paint the canvas of the life around me. I know there's morewhite-white noise, so I'm starting to weed that out, but it's educationalevery step of the way.

Then I attended the chapter meetings. My first onewas interesting, and I went out to dinner--I'm finding out that everythingfollows with a dinner. I started looking around the table, hearingdifferent people talking, and I thought, "What group is this?" I keptcoming back to the meetings and doing events with other people. I startedputting the puzzle together, like each little piece, each person there;when it all comes together it's a bigger picture and is more stable thanjust one piece all alone. Looking at it and learning the history, youstart to know more about each person and what their heart is and whatthey've done in their past. Not everyone can take gates off the blindhome, but one of us (Joyce Scanlan) did.

I put all of that together, then here I come along inmy walk of life and I'm able to come this far. I was able to go to BLIND,which some of you have fought for and dreamed of having but may not havehad the opportunity to have, but the students there have now. Even inlife itself for us not to be custodialized or anything, I thank all of youwho have fought for the rights of the blind, because we are benefitingfrom it. I hope I can put in my two cents and fight for the people comingup behind us.

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Blind Athletes Compete In Triathlon

By Bridgette Bornstein, WCCO-TV

(Editor's Note: This item was broadcast on WCCO-TV onJuly 12, 2006. The unidentified blind runner in the triathlon was JeffThompson. Both Luis Thorin and Jeff Thompson are members of our MetroChapter, as well as graduates ofBlindness: Learning in New Dimensions(BLIND). They successfully completed their segments of thetriathlon on July 15, which turned out to be the hottest day of thesummer.)

Have you ever considered attempting a marathon, oreven a triathlon, and decided it's too hard? There are some athletes whomight just be the inspiration you need to say "I can do anything."

Among the field of competitors at this weekend'sLifetime Fitness Triathlon is a man who knows he probablywon't finish first. But he is a standout nonetheless.

For Luis Thorin, this is about body and mind. He willkeep pedaling and keep believing that he can do this.

"I would be really happy if more people were willingto take a chance. We're not here to win, we're here to participate," saidathlete Luis Thorin.

In last year's triathlon, Luis was the only blindathlete. His goal this year: to put together a whole relay team.

And that dream has come true. Thorin will bike,another blind athlete will do the running leg, and in the water will beAnessa Kemna.

"We're using a bungee tether between us so that shecan keep me in a straight line," said Kemna.

Kemna may depend on a guide for direction, but all themotivation comes from inside.

"It's very nerve-racking just because it's the firstexperience, but I'm incredibly excited to try it," said Kemna. "You needto try everything at least once because there's no reason not to dosomething just because of limitations. The worst that can happen is itdoesn't work."

And that's the message these athletes hope to passalong. These competitions are not easy, no matter your abilities orlimitations. The important thing is to try.

"When you have people that have a disability that areovercoming those challenges to remain active and make that commitment it'san inspiration to us all," said Team Ortho executive director John Larson.

The relay team is sponsored by team Ortho. Byparticipating, they are raising money for orthopedic research, educationand patient care.

((C) MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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Report On the Semiannual Convention

By Judy Sanders, Secretary

Over sixty people gathered at O'Hara's Restaurant inSt. Cloud on May 20, 2006 to hold our semiannual state convention andcelebrate the 35th anniversary of our Central Minnesota chapter. A daypacked full of information, fun and friendship began shortly before 9:00a.m. with coffee and rolls.

President Joyce Scanlan called the convention to orderat 9:30 a.m. We heard welcoming remarks from Andy Virden, president ofour host chapter. Two letters of greetings and congratulations were read: one from Mayor David Kleis of St. Cloud (see his letter following thisarticle) and another from Representative Larry Haws.

Joyce Scanlan gave an upbeat presidential reportfocusing on national and state matters. The Jernigan Institute isthriving with activities for children, research into new technology,seminars for adults and an affiliate action department that providessupport to all our local chapters and state affiliates. We are alsoholding workshops for professionals in work with the blind so that theycan better relate to the consumer view of what they do.

We are extremely close to seeing Congress pass theLouis Braille commemorative coin bill. Minnesotans can be proud that alleight members of the House of Representatives from Minnesota werecosponsors of the bill and were key to its passage in the House. SenatorMark Dayton was one of the first members of the Senate to sign on as asponsor. Our only holdout is Senator Norm Coleman. Several of ourmembers met with one of his staff and we are hopeful that he will stillcome to see the importance of this bill to promoting Braille literacy. Atthis writing, we only need four more Senators to sign on for this bill tobecome law. When this bill passes we will be able to purchase thesecommemorative coins in 2009. Proceeds from coin sales will be used topromote Braille literacy.

Joyce talked about the many seminars that have beenrecently sponsored by the Jernigan Institute in which she hasparticipated. Among them was the seminar for state presidents. Manyinnovative ideas came out of it and inspired our leaders to work that muchharder in the states.

Another seminar was held to examine the role ofrehabilitation centers and how the Federation should work with them. There are two schools of thought; one says that the Federation shouldwrite a manual for state agencies for the blind so that they could operatecenters with an NFB philosophy. Joyce advocated for the other positionthat we have three NFB centers in this country and we should be puttingall our support into those centers since we know that the three centerswere built after trying to reform the more traditional agencies.

Joyce also chairs the women's committee for the NorthAmerica/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union and has traveled tomeetings of that organization.

Joyce announced that seven Minnesotans applied forscholarships from the national organization. We have two winners: JeffThompson and Kotumu Kamara. Applications are now being taken for ourstate scholarship. The committee is chaired by Sheila Koenig.

Joyce also briefly mentioned our day-at-the-capitoland parents' seminars which were both discussed later in the agenda.

Web-Braille, provided by the National Library Service,has been having technical problems which have now been corrected. It wasdown for about a week.

Joyce gave us the sad news that Larry Kettner, alongtime Federationist, is suffering from pancreatic cancer. He has movedinto an assisted living center; and, of course, he is already training thestaff how to deal with blind patients. We need more members like Larry. He still plans to go to Dallas for our national convention.

Tom Anderson, a past president of our CentralMinnesota chapter, also has cancer. Tom has lived in Denver for severalyears and worked as a Braille instructor at the Colorado Center for theBlind. Our thoughts are with him as well.

We are looking forward to a great national convention. This year we will be offering a mentoring program for new conventionattendees. Our convention is large and can be overwhelming forfirst-timers.

Tom Scanlan, our treasurer, gave a report that showedwe were in the red last year. One of the reasons for this is thatcontributions through the move-a-thon were down. Tom reminded us of ourresponsibility to make it a success.

As always, we were pleased to hear an update from ChukHamilton, the director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB). See his full presentation later in this issue.

Steve Jacobson reported on the recent seminar forparents of blind children. The NFB of Minnesota received a grant from theNFB's Imagination Fund to pay for this seminar. The theme was "Imagine!The Future Starts Now." Speakers included Joyce Scanlan as the keynotespeaker (see her speech earlier in this issue); Dr. Abraham Nemeth,creator of the Nemeth Code for Braille; Dr. Ruby Ryles, renowned for herresearch into Braille reading success of blind children; and Ryan Strunk,president of the National Association of Blind Students. Several of ourmembers helped facilitate workshops; provided the lunch crew and took careof daycare.

During lunch, we were pleased to hear from Andy Virdenwith a history of the Central Minnesota chapter activities over the past35 years. Andy recognized Tim Aune as the one person in the room who waspresent at the first meeting. Andy was the chapter's first president. Healso mentioned many others who served including Tom Anderson who now livesin Denver, Colorado and works as the Braille instructor at the ColoradoCenter for the Blind. One of the first successes for this chapter wasgetting St. Cloud State University to allow blind students into itsteacher-training program. This chapter excels at political action, publicrelations and dealing with matters of public transportation.

Immediately after lunch we took care of our electionof the delegate and alternate delegate to our national convention. Theywill be Joyce Scanlan and Jennifer Dunnam respectively.

An indication of the active role ourCentral Minnesota chapter plays in the community is indicative of ourfirst two afternoon speakers. The Whitney Center is one of the mostactive senior centers in the state and Federation members are an activepart of it. John Tonta, a staff member from Whitney, reviewed its diverseprograms and services.

We next heard from Baba Oduackale, Director of the St.Cloud Human Rights Office. Mr. Oduackale aggressively helps insure thehuman rights for people with disabilities and others in St. Cloud. Hismany anecdotes showed him to be a strong advocate.

The legislative report provided information that wasas current as possible with the Minnesota Legislature still in session. On the transportation front Judy Sanders reported that we will be votingon a constitutional amendment this fall that will dedicate a certainpercentage of the sales tax on motor vehicles to public transit. It isstill unclear whether it will be a fixed rate or one on a scale thatbegins at 40 % with the remaining 60% or less going for road repair. Thefinal wording of this amendment will probably be decided by the courts.

The implementation of HAVA (the Help America Vote Act)will be initiated for this fall's election. Minnesota's townships wantedto be exempt from having to comply with using these machines that give usnonvisual access. They sought an amendment to give them their exemptionbut we, along with other members of the disability community, were able tokeep it from passing. Instead, the townships have permission to purchasetheir programming costs through a state purchasing agreement. Thecounties will make the purchases for them and they will reimburse thecounties. We will hope that this satisfies them and that they find thisnew equipment as exciting as we do.

Steve Jacobson described how the equipment will workand urged all of us to take advantage of it when we vote this fall. Theywill be available for the primary election.

Joyce reported that our amendment to add the word"blind" to the special-education rule has passed into the educationomnibus bill and we are waiting for it to pass this session. Specialthanks to Representative Lyndon Carlson and Senator Terrell Clark fortheir leadership on this issue.

Our Riverbend chapter has begun an innovative projectwith the cooperation of SSB, the New Ulm Lions Club and the New Ulm publiclibrary. They have several low vision products on display at the libraryand our members will demonstrate them to people by appointment. Shannonand Charlene Childrey are coordinating this effort; it is hoped that blindpeople in Brown and Nicollet counties will get more accurate informationabout what is available to them than they have been receiving.

Cindy Holthusen is a blind person who announced thatshe has just begun a new job with Rehabilitation Services working in jobplacement. Cindy will be helping to find employment for people withdisabilities other than blindness. She has a social work degree and haslived in the St. Cloud area for the past six years.

"Looking beyond the Rainbow" was a panel presentationgiven by BLIND, Incorporatedstudents. Ken Dobratz talked about how he came to choose BLIND for histraining. He toured two facilities and decided that the staff at BLINDwas more organized and had more spirit. He is working very hard to regainhis literacy.

Liz Williams came to BLIND after heart and kidneytransplants. She is proud of her ability to travel independently and sheis working hard on her Braille. She makes really good fudge which weexpect to have at our bake auction in the fall.

Abdirahman Nur came to the United States last year; hehad been in a refugee camp in Ethiopia; he is from Somalia. His familywas in Houston, Texas and Hurricane Rita forced them to leave and theyended up in Minnesota. He lives in Shakopee. He has been blind fortwenty years but had no skills. His SSB counselor introduced him to BLINDand now he is studying all he will need to know to live his lifeindependently.

Shawn Mayo, executive director of BLIND, Incorporated,introduced the two newest members of the staff. We first heard from GregStilson, the new computer instructor. He is the past president of thestudent division of the NFB of Wisconsin. He has been in Minnesota sinceJanuary. As a kid, he learned Braille and was also exposed to a greatdeal of technology. His teachers would give him a piece of equipment andhe would take it home so that he could take it apart and rebuild it. Henow teaches computers, notetakers and is working with the new K-NFBReader.

Jeff Thompson is a graduate of BLIND and now isworking as the industrial-arts instructor. He plans to continue hiseducation at the University of Minnesota and is an NFB scholarship winnerthis year. He thinks that he has found his niche in teaching.

Jennifer Dunnam explained the workings of the newhand-held K-NFB Reader which is being beta testing throughout Minnesotaand the nation. She took interested parties out in the hall for a morein-depth look.

Pledges were taken for the Jacobus tenBroek fund,which owns and maintains our National Center building complex. A motionwas made by Jan Bailey and seconded by Andy Virden to have the statetreasury match all contributions made by December 1st. The motion passedunanimously.

Federationist shared their experiences in vacationingas blind people. Judy Sanders told about her cruise to the Caribbean;Jennifer Dunnam talked about her trip to Arizona with no plan of what shewould do when she got there. Several years later she traveled to England. Pat Barrett took a vacation to Duluth to explore the city and visit thetrain museum. Andy Virden discussed several vacations to lakes in the St.Cloud area. Joyce talked about her honeymoon with Tom to visit historicalsites. Joyce says that she never has enough time to do all the shoppingthat she wants. Steve Jacobson talked about taking his kids to DisneyWorld. As a blind parent he knew he would be responsible for giving hiskids a fun, safe trip.

People talked about making plans for their trip toDallas and the national convention in July. The excitement could be feltas people compared about the best air fares.

Since many chapters were missing their monthly meetingthe convention closed with the playing of the presidential release fromDr. Marc Maurer. It was filled with many convention announcements.

Everyone is already looking forward to our annualconvention in the fall to be held in New Ulm.

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Greetings from the Mayor of St. Cloud

(Editor's Note: The following letter was sent to thesemi-annual convention on May 20, 2006. Dave Kleis is a long-time friendof the NFB of Minnesota; first for many years in the Minnesota Legislatureand now as the Mayor of St. Cloud. He co-sponsored ourNFB-NEWSLINE® funding legislation as one of his last acts in thelegislature before being elected mayor.)

City of St. Cloud
Office of the Mayor
May 20, 2006

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota

Dear honored guests and friends:

Although I am not able to attend your event today, Iextend a warm welcome to all of you to the St. Cloud community. I want toextend my congratulations to the hosts, the members of the CentralMinnesota Chapter of the Blind, as they celebrate their 35th anniversarythis year! I'm pleased that our local chapter has been active insupporting efforts to improve life for blind people throughout the St.Cloud area.

It is apparent that the National Federation of theBlind is a vital organization in our society providing many services andresources to our youth, students, and our senior community who are blindand offering service and support to parents and families of the blind orvisually impaired. Thank you for working on legislation to providetechnology and training and to promote opportunities to enrichso many people's lives.

Have an enjoyable and successful conference! Thank youfor hosting your event in our community. Please visit us again soon!

Sincerely,
(Dave)
Dave Kleis
Mayor
City of St. Cloud

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Progress at SSB in DEED

By Chuk Hamilton, Director, State Services forthe Blind.

(Editor's Note: This presentation about State Servicesfor the Blind (SSB) was made at the semi-annual convention of the NationalFederation of the Blind of Minnesota on May 20, 2006. SSB is a divisionof the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development(DEED).)

Good morning everybody, I am pleased to be here. Itseems not so long ago we were in St. Cloud, hosted by the CentralMinnesota Chapter and my old and good friend Andy Virden. Today isdifferent and a little bit special in that it is the 35th anniversary ofthe chapter. So I am especially pleased to be here, and having been aresident I am even more pleased. Some people don't know that I began mycareer at State Services for the Blind here in St. Cloud. I coveredCentral Minnesota, from the Cities to the South Dakota border, and then upto Fergus Falls a long time ago, and it is good to be back.

I am leaving a handout here today, both in Braille andin ink-print. It is our 2005 SSB annual report. We did somethingdifferent this year. Over the last 5 or 6 years the report was basicallya photocopied document put on the web site that had lots of good numbers. You need numbers as a part of accountability, to show what you do, but itwas frankly rather boring. This year we identified customers who wantedto say something. There are some people from Central Minnesota who hadsomething to say about services. They were interviewed, and it was puttogether with assistance from the Department of Employment and EconomicDevelopment. That document has actually won a national award this year. (Note: You can receive a copy of this document from SSB.)

There are a number of things I want to alert you to,to let you know what we have been doing. I hope that you agree with thedirection we're going. One of the things that I do have to address is asoftware project within SSB called Workforce 1. It has been pointed outat some previous NFB conventions that we were using a software systeminternally that was inaccessible for blind staff. That has been going onfor some time, and it was an embarrassment.

The good news is that over the last two years therewas a product being developed within the department, with our help. Notonly would it bring all the software in the department, including StateServices for the Blind, to a better platform with better software, but itwas also going to be accessible. I am pleased to announce that on April 1of this year the product did go into production, and I am even morepleased to indicate that it is accessible. Our blind staff are using iton an equal basis with their sighted peers, and that's the way it shouldbe.

There are still some things, as with any newcomprehensive software--bugs and reports and such--and we will get throughall that. The key in any major project is how many complaints you getabout it, and how many people are after you. I have to tell you, not oneperson has come to me and made a complaint, so that's a good thing. Certainly it was an embarrassment, we were right to be criticized, butwe've completed the project and it's now accessible, so I'm very proud ofthat.

In the fall of 2004, when we were downtown for theconvention, one of the subjects was NFB-NEWSLINE® and how to fundit. Some of you who were here will probably remember that a guest ofyours was Representative Jim Knoblach, who wanted to know more about whatthis thing was. You all, as well as SSB talked with him, and last yearthe legislature passed a bill that found a permanent funding source forboth NFB-NEWSLINE® as well as the local Dial-In News. It came upfor re-funding this year--not at the legislature, but with the PublicUtilities Commission. Our budget for that project was again approved bythe Public Utilities Commission. There will be stable funding for thenext year. It is a little early, but we need to remember that there is asunset on that in 2010. Joyce and Judy were told during the hearings bysome other consumers from different disability groups that they wereconcerned that a raid on this particular fund, which was first andforemost meant for deaf people, would be problematic. That is not thecase; in fact, this year we learned at the Public Utilities Commissionhearing that they are reducing the surcharge that the Public UtilitiesCommission can put on telephones across the state to fund programsprimarily for the deaf. There is also a proposal, which I will learn moreabout today as to whether it's funded, in which the Commission on Deaf andHard of Hearing is trying to get $150,000 out of that fund for their basicadministrative funding. While we were told before that there was someproblem related to using that for NFB-NEWSLINE® and Dial-In news,it seems there is sufficient funding and interest.

With the budget this year for NFB-NEWSLINE®and Dial-In News, and in cooperation with our Communication Centercommittee of the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, the plan is to addan additional newspaper on NFB-NEWSLINE®, as well as to trysomething a little bit different with Dial-in News. In places where thereare smaller numbers of people, where it wouldn't be warranted or eveneconomically feasible to put the papers on NFB-NEWSLINE®, we dohave the Dial-In News communications network onto which we could upload alocal newspaper, say from Brainerd, for example, and use the TAM(Telecommunications Access Minnesota) fund to pay for the toll-freecharges. I want to try one of those as a model to see if it will work insmaller communities to get access to local newspapers farther away fromthe population centers.

One of the things the National Federation of the Blindhas talked about with us in the past related to NFB-NEWSLINE® andDial-In News also has been a mentoring project. It is no secret thatwhile people are signing up for these services, the usage tends to be notwhat we all think it could be and should be, so the subject of a mentoringproject has come up. It has not moved as fast as I would like, but it isstarting to move. Some of the mentors are in this room, and a largenumber of them are members of the National Federation of the Blind: TimAune, Joyce Scanlan, Jennifer Dunnam, Judy Sanders, RoseAnn Faber, JaniceBailey, and Craig Anderson. There have been other ad hoc efforts as well. I would like to see some more organization put to it internally withinSSB, so that we make sure that when people sign up they know immediatelywhat is available to them, and hopefully they will take advantage of it. That is something that needs to develop a little more.

Some of you know a lot about the Senior OutreachProject, but there are people in the room today that I don't know, and Iwant to make sure everyone is on an equal basis of information here. Thesenior outreach is a project that we fund with private dollars--giftfunds-to get the word out about the Communication Center as well as theSenior Services area. It is a combination, and that's what sold thegrants to some community foundations. It combines several perspectives,trying to get services out to individuals. The project started inFebruary of 2005, and it has been going a year. I had it extended becausewe got more money until the end of September. We received one more grantrecently. I have some concerns about how much further we're going to begoing past September--frankly, it's an outstanding project. We have hadmore outreach for State Services for the Blind in the last year and a halfthan we have had in the last five years all together. We have a thousandletters out to optometrists and ophthalmologists. I have a spreadsheetmade up by Ed Lecher, who is in charge of the project, that shows where wewent, what we did, who was there, who was responsible, what was themessage, what was the outcome, etc. There are seven printed pages ofactivities in the last year and a half all across the state. It is a goodthing, and I would like to find a way to continue it. I will come back tothat thought at the end of my comments.

We are currently working on our funding with theDepartment of Education for Braille--some tape but mostly Braille--for thegrade school through high school population. It is something that StateServices for the Blind did before it was funded, and because we were goingto have to cut it back in 1991 or so, the Department of Education finallyconcocted a formula with special education money to provide support. Thathas changed over the years, and we are at the end of the current agreementand hope to continue it. There are roughly about seventy children rightnow receiving our Braille services. It doesn't mean they are not gettingBraille from elsewhere in certain districts, but the Braille that they aregetting there is more for short-term, not for textbooks.

We have heard about the Twenty-FirstCentury Project every year, and frankly, it is one of those topics that Ihope soon we will be announcing that it's all done. The big picture isthat the audio digitization is the part that has languished and has been abit of an embarrassment. There are a lot of reasons why it has taken solong, and that's fine and dandy, but it has to be done. I just extendedthat contract until December. We are seeing some productive results;there was a demo on Friday, and there will be more demos. Hopefully thatwill be done this fall. That is more of an internal piece in terms of howwe do things and prepare the material for delivery to our customers, butit's an important part for the future, because everything is digital.

The other part of the Twenty-First Century Projectthat is languishing for reasons beyond our control is related to newdigital radios for the Radio Talking Book. When this idea was conceivedin the late 1990's and was pushed ahead by Minnesota Public Radio, it wasenvisioned by everybody in the radio business that the radio industryitself would have advanced into digital radio by now. Now in TV we talkabout digital cable, high definition and such, and it is becoming somewhatmore common, but in radio that is not the case. David Andrews was able togo to San Diego several weeks ago at the International Association ofAudio Information Services, which is all the radio reading services andother audio electronic services across the country and in Canada. He wasable to hear and observe HD radio. It is digital and is an improvement;they tested it and it sounded great auditorily, but there are stillproblems in delivering that signal to radios. One of the things withdigital radio will be that you either get the signal or you don't. Withanalog radio, like the ones we have today, when we are a short distancefrom the tower, by and large if we're in the right direction we get astrong clear signal; as we move away from the center of the tower, thesignal gets less clear, scratchier, and there is cross-talk with otherradio stations, etc., but you can still hear it. With the digital, youeither get something good or nothing at all. It is likely that somedaywhen these radios are available, we will experience that and there willprobably be some complaints. Today, there is no digital radio that we canpurchase within the price point that we have-not even at twice or threetimes the price point we have. The money is there-there is $1.3 millionsitting in the St. Paul Foundation that was raised a number of years agofor this purpose. We are hoping that the radio industry continues todevelop, and at some point will be where we can actually go to the digitalradio, or a hybrid. We haven't sat still; our engineers have put outRFP's to get people to develop radios specifically for our market. Therewere two bidders; one dropped out, and the second one's test moduleshaven't worked out. We need the broader industry to get moving on that.

Talking about the marketing activities for ourcommunication center, for our senior services area, we are seeing anincrease. We know that seniors are out there; we know and you know thatthe statistics say that the majority of the people with a vision loss ofany kind are seniors. That is why we wanted the outreach project, and weare starting to reach those people. The Senior Services unit indicatesthat we have a record year this year in terms of the number of peoplereferred for services and with whom we have had contact. We look forwardto seeing their numbers. Along those lines, I would like to mention acollaborative effort between State Services for the Blind, the NationalFederation of the Blind Riverbend Chapter in New Ulm, and spearheaded byShannon and Charlene Childrey, related to their project down in New Ulm. I had the pleasure of being invited down there yesterday to an event with the Public library, as well as the local Lions Club. The model is onewhere the local library is housing equipment, and circulating equipmentusing their bar-coding equipment, for aids and devices for people to try. We provided the equipment, and the library is providing the circulationand storage, as well as marketing. Shannon and Charlene as well as otherswill be providing the local volunteer effort, having office hours, gettingpeople down there to try things. The Lions club is funding things inpart; if Shannon has his way, they will be funding more in the future. Weare pleased to be involved with that; I look forward to six or eightmonths from now seeing what impact it has on the community and theextension of services across the state, if it is a model we should bepushing elsewhere.

We are happy to be a part of the Kurzweil-NationalFederation of the Blind Reader. Joyce made an offer to me earlier thisyear (after she had her reader, of course) that there would be oneavailable if we were interested to be part of the beta test. I told heryes right away. Dave Andrews was scheduled to get one in June, and he gotimpatient, saying he knew people in high places, and made a phone call,and his was delivered. He was able to demonstrate it to the CommunicationCenter committee of the Council this past Thursday night. We intend notonly to test it, but also to get out and demonstrate it. I intend to haveit demonstrated at the next Rehabilitation Council for the Blind meeting. I especially want people to see this because of its size andwhat it does. Instead of the large copy-size reader of years and yearsago that was near fifty grand, this one will be about three thousand, andcan be carried around in a pocket. We are pleased to participate.

We are involved in things related to the DeafBlindcommunity. We have spent a lot of effort and some money recently, andwill do more in the future, related to persons who are deaf and blind. That also means people who have any level of vision loss and any level ofhearing loss. We had a training session a few weeks ago which was part ofa five-year grant we were able to write and receive from theRehabilitation Services Administration related to DeafBlindness. Themessage is that people aren't just deaf or blind or both, but there's alot of variation in between, and that the community has some differentnames and identification that they prefer. This was an opportunity totrain our vocational rehabilitation staff in DeafBlindness as part of whatour DeafBlind committee of the council is interested in having, andfrankly, it's the right thing to do.

Part of the reason we got this grant was because of amanager I was able to steal away from the general agency about a year ago. You may have met her-her name is Cathy Carlson. We had an opening, and Iwas able to cherry-pick, and take the best. She has been toadjustment-to-blindness training atBLIND (Blindness: Learning in NewDimensions) Inc. and in Duluth, plus other training. I think thosewho have come in contact with her also see her as a welcome addition toState Services for the Blind.

We also sponsored a DeafBlind expo. There were acouple of people in this room who went to that. I was unable to attendbecause I had a legislative hearing-fancy that! But there were about 40people who attended, and it was held on April 29th from 1:00 to 4:00 atthe new Department of Human Services building in St. Paul. It was aneffort that took a lot of people to put together, from State Services forthe Blind, DeafBlind Services of Minnesota, the Department of HumanServices, and other community members. I'm told it was a success, andthat the people attending were quite pleased. I know that your own HazelYoungman was there. We were pleased to be part of those activities. Thatwill go on for about five years-it is not different training each time,because there will be some repetition as we take on new staff.

I want to give you feedback related toadjustment-to-blindness training. I gave this draft report at the lastRehabilitation Council for the Blind meeting back in April. Withoutgetting too technical, each state agency in partnership with its StateCouncil needs to do what is called goals and priorities. While we havelots of things to do, we are asked to identify some specific directions tomake greater impact for customers. One of those that the Council saidabout two years ago was the adjustment-to-blindness informed choice issuefor consumers. The issue was are consumers being provided sufficientinformation on which to make their own choice about where they're going. Through activities of consumer groups, the Council, the agency, etc., wedeveloped a policy of what we were going to do and how to track it. Personally, I would like people to visit every rehabilitation centerbefore they make a decision. I know that that's Pollyanna, and there arelots of reasons why an individual may or may not want to do that, but Ithink that needs to be the goal. We spend a lot of public dollars onthis, and it is an important decision. People need to have all theinformation available to them. In speaking with Joyce before this wasdeveloped a couple of years ago, she told me "Chuk, I just want theplaying field level." That was the underpinning behind this. The reportthat I gave at the Council was a draft, and it still is because JoePattison has not edited all of my work. During the one-year period ofFebruary 2005 to February 2006, for people who were going to half-time ormore adjustment-to-blindness training, 31 people toured Blindness:Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), 31 toured Vision Loss Resources (VLR),9 people toured the Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind, one person toured theSouth Dakota Rehabilitation Center in Sioux Falls, and one person touredthe North Dakota Center. There will be a written report coming back tothe council to finalize that piece. My concern was that in the first sixmonths there were too many people who were not going to more than oneplace. Again, there's still informed choice, and people don't necessarilyagree with me. If someone says, "Chuk, I only want to go to BLIND Inc.,and I'm not going to tour somewhere else, in spite of what your counselorsays," then that is the informed choice of that consumer. There arethings like that that happen, so I don't think we'll ever be at 100%. Ithink in the first six months it was about half, if I remember correctly,went to more than one, and for the whole year it was about 39%-roughlyfour out of ten people. That is just some general feedback.

Another cooperative thing I want to mention briefly,something fairly new. Most of you are aware that SSB is apart of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, and that isthe department that runs the workforce centers. That is where our officesare housed also. In those workforce centers there are resourcecenters-places where people come in, by and large, to get some training onjob seeking skills and such, as well as use computers for differenttraining packages as well as surfing the job bank. They had a lot ofcomputers that became available because they were upgrading the fleet, soto speak. We were able to snag a bunch of those, and my idea was to getthem out to customers who, for example, may be going toadjustment-to-blindness training. We would have the hard drives clearedand do some basic things to them, and then the community rehabilitationprograms (CRP's) could put the access software on for the customers sothey could have them at the apartments or the home or some other place-thegoal being that practice, practice, practice makes perfect. I sent out anote several weeks ago to the CRP's, and we are pleased to be bringingfive of those computers for BLIND Inc. for the use of the staff andcustomers there. We are pleased to be involved.

I will wind down here, to leave time for questions. Igot a question before I got up here, related to the 2007 federal budget,and what impact it will have on SSB. There are many different budgets outthere. There are three or four small rehabilitation programs-migrants,supported employment, and two more-and, in the President's budget, theirline-item funding would be removed and made part of the overall vocationalrehabilitation budget. However, the overall vocational rehabilitationbudget would not be increased by the amount of those four smallerprograms. The large VR budget would stay the same plus the cost of livingincrease that it gets under law. So on one hand, there is no cut to theVR budget, and on the other hand there may be these four programs foldedin. That is the impact of the President's budget. However, what thePresident wants to do-and I don't think it will pass-is cut the Departmentof Labor programs called Title I programs, which are work-relatedprograms, but then target a significant portion of the remaining dollarsand put them into a concept called Career Advancement Accounts. The ideathere is, up to a certain amount like $3,000 a year, a customer of thoseother Department of Labor work programs could use the money to buy theservices they want. What does that money already go for, after it's evenbeen cut about a third? It goes for the other programs that are in theworkforce center and workforce center support. A Department of Laborofficial has circulated a letter indicating that the workforce centers area thing of the last century. I didn't know it was that long since itchanged!-in fact the bill that set those up was in 1998. The idea wasthat these career advancement account vouchers could be handed out atcommunity colleges or senior centers, or other existing community outlets,and that the workforce center system wouldn't necessarily need to be theplace for the future. States could stay invested in workforce centers ifthey so desired. There seems to be some change afoot, after they justchanged at the federal level. I don't know where that's going to go;there is lively discussion among states across the country includingMinnesota about what would happen to workforce centers. That is the longanswer to say it probably isn't going to affect us directly. The fourareas where the President intends to make cuts amounts to about $60,000,and that would probably be the most impact. Rehabilitation dollarscontinue to be steady with a slight cost-of-living increase each year, butas I will indicate as I wrap up, the increases don't match the increasesin other costs. It is still better than what the Title I general laborprograms are experiencing.

I will be unable to stay for lunch and the afternoonas I had planned, because of the legislative activity this afternoon. Legislators are afraid that voters will remember this time, and they wantto find solutions. There is nothing at the Capitol that State Servicesfor the Blind is directly involved with related to blindness. There are acouple of items there that I will not talk about because Judy will talkabout them later. We support your position on having the word "blind" inthe education language. My involvement this year at the Legislature hasbeen with helping the department get some housekeeping things throughbased on my experience working at the legislature and being part of alegislative team. It's taken a lot of effort and a lot of time, and it'sgoing to cut my day short here. I do anticipate, however, that next yearit will be desirable to be active. I have informed the Council over thelast year, and I believe I have said it at these events and to Joyceprivately is this: what I noticed over a year or so ago is that our incomeand expenditures are not equal. This means the expenditures are more thanincome. I have been watching the information and receiving comprehensivereports on the budget, etc. The good news is that our number oneexpenditure in our vocational rehabilitation program isadjustment-to-blindness training. In fact, over the last three years,from 2003-2006, case services in total have gone up one-and-a-quartermillion dollars. For a small agency, that is a sizeable amount at 20%. Iwould also tell you that the question I'd have if I were sitting in yourchair is how much has your administrative expenses gone up,and that is about 5%. We are trying to hold the line on that. For thelast year-and-a-half, we have looked at positions that become vacant. Forexample, we had a VR counselor retire in Bemidji. That is an area that issparsely populated by blind people. We have made some tough decisions-weare not going to replace that position and will be using a technicalsupport staff person up there. We will use a rehab counselor out of theHibbing office to cover more territory. We will be looking at those kindsof things as positions turn over and making the cuts where we can andwhere it is wise to do so. There are a couple of spots within StateServices for the Blind other than in our Workforce Development Unit thatuse federal dollars. One of those is the Communication Center, a servicethat everyone loves. A substantial amount goes into our blind vendorprogram as well. I anticipate that if no action is taken, either by asignificant reduction of expenditures or a significant increase in income,we will have to take some significant steps effective October 1, 2007. Right now, what I'm thinking about although it's not final-I'll do onemore quarter's worth of data before moving ahead with it-but I will try todevelop an initiative within the Department of Employment and EconomicDevelopment, to attract some state dollars for the Communication Center,and move the vocational rehabilitation dollars into the vocationalrehabilitation program. My first hurdle will be within the department. Once I make that proposal, it will probably become "under wraps", becausethat is what happens when we develop a biennial budget. Next year, thatis the job of the legislature, to do a biennial budget that starts on July1 2007. The timing is good for people to take a look at this, to considerit, and make an informed judgment. There is an election this fall, sowhat we propose and whether it's approved internally, meaning thedepartment and the governor's office, will be held tightly after thissummer. It depends on who gets elected-if it's a sitting governor, themechanics are already there to move on these requests and get things inplace. If it's a new governor, from historical perspective, it takeslonger to do, but then the governor would have the opportunity to acceptor not accept what was there, and then bring it to the Legislature.

Have we done something like this before? Yes. Back in1999-2000, when Dick Davis was Assistant Commissioner, we did have adeficiency, and we went to the Legislature, and got those dollars, andthey went to the seniors program. It allowed us to have probably one ofthe best seniors programs, from a funding perspective, in this country. We moved all the seniors out of our VR program and into senior services. This happened one other time back in 1991 or so. At that there was amillion dollars difference between expenditures and income. That is thetime I referenced earlier, when money from the Department of Education forkids in our Braille unit was come up with for that. We did not cut thatbut we did cut other positions back then. We are not a heavily-burdened,over-administered agency. If you are a manager or supervisor at SSB, youdon't do one thing. Cathy Carlson remarked the other day about notknowing there were so many things to do over here with so little staff. Cathy runs basically everything now administratively. In a larger agencyone would have a narrower slice. I don't want to scare anybody, butpeople who know me know that I like to put things out in front, have timeto talk about them, get community involvement, come up with a plan, andmove ahead.

I was planning to save the best for last, but thenMadam President stole my thunder. I am pleased to announce, however, thatI will be attending the 2006 National Federation of the Blind conventionin Dallas. I asked Joyce if she would get it changed to Dallas inDecember, and she tried, but even the vice president of the NationalFederation of the Blind has limits. I know why there are such good ratesat the hotel-because it will be warm! There will be lots to do, and I amlooking forward to it--I've never been at one before.

Thank you very much.[BACK TO TOP] [BACK TO TOP]

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 Conventionwill be held September 29 through October 1, 2006 at the Holiday Inn inNew Ulm. However, rooms must be reserved by August 30. A room with twodouble beds is $90.00 plus tax, and a room with one king bed is $85.50plus tax. This is a two-story hotel with no elevator, but there arehandicapped-accessible rooms on the first floor. The address is: HolidayInn New Ulm, 2101 South Broadway, New Ulm, MN 56073. The telephone numberis 507-359-2941. Our Riverbend Chapter is looking forward to hosting thisconvention in addition to the fine job they do on our Move-a-thon. Members have received a letter with the details, andthe letter is on ourwebsite at

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The Semiannual NFB of MinnesotaConvention will be held in April or May 2007 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before theconvention, and the letter will be on our website atwww.nfbmn.org.

The National NFB Convention will be heldat the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia during the first week ofJuly 2007. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in theworld. The full convention bulletin will be in the BrailleMonitor, and on the www.nfb.orgwebsite under the Conventions link.