Quarterly Publication of the
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Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 75, Number 2, Summer 2009
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Jennifer Dunnam, President
We in the NFB of Minnesota have certainly experienced our share of both challenges and successes during 2009 thus far. It is hard to believe the year is nearly half-finished.
For starters, our 2009 Possibilities Fair for seniors, funded in part by the grant we received from the NFB Imagination Fund, was another great success. Some 150 people attended this event on May 4 at the Ramada Inn Mall of America. They heard from Bob Gardner, who spoke most inspiringly of his journey from dependence to independence after losing his sight later in life. Attendees also had the opportunity to visit a variety of tables around the large meeting room, where they could talk to successful and well-adjusted blind people living normal lives and learn about all the resources available to them, including classes on living independently, newspapers by telephone, braille, talking devices, and of course, the vast resource that is the NFB. Kudos to Joyce Scanlan who led the planning and execution on our behalf, and a big thank you to all the Minnesota Federationists who helped on the day of the event. Thanks also to our partners on this event, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) and State Services for the Blind. We will be following up to make sure we maintain connections with this enthusiastic group of seniors!
Soon a process of hiring a new director for Minnesota State Services for the Blind will begin. The NFB of Minnesota will be involved in that process. A new director at State Services for the Blind must have an in-depth understanding of blindness and of what it takes to be successful, and must be able to instill that understanding throughout the agency, so that no blind person in rehabilitation will be limited by low expectations from the agency that is supposed to be helping.
Problems related to staffing shortages persist at the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library. We are continuing to work on this issue and will do what needs doing to see that the library for the blind can provide good library services to blind Minnesotans.
During this legislative session, a law was passed that will, among other things, require that any technology developed or purchased by the State of Minnesota meet standards for nonvisual access such as the federal Section 508 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. As you know, the NFB of Minnesota got the first such legislation passed over ten years ago, but that legislation was only a first step. We supported this new legislation, and it should help blind people get better access to jobs and information available from the State of Minnesota. We will, of course, be working to ensure that the implementation happens as intended.
As always, a delegation of Minnesotans will be attending our national convention in Detroit. This year the convention is a day shorter and is on a different schedule, with the banquet as the final event of the convention. We look forward to the work and fun of our exciting and informative national convention.
Six Minnesota teens will participate in the 2009 Youth Slam at the end of July in Baltimore. They will be among the 200 youth who will have a chance to get the kind of hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering and math activities—infused with the NFB's positive philosophy of blindness and vast network of role models—that is simply not available anywhere else.
BLIND Inc. is bustling with activity, practically bursting at the seams with people of all ages learning the truth about blindness. The buddy program for children will be starting up again, and more classes for senior citizens. Many teens will also be participating in the life 101 program this summer, and the comprehensive adult adjustment-to-blindness program is going strong.
It is time to begin working on the 28th annual NFB of Minnesota Move-a-thon. The event will be held in the Twin Cities again this year, and again we will walk around the lakes. This is the NFB of Minnesota's largest (and some say most fun) fund-raiser, supporting the work we do to help blind people of all ages. The date is September 12, so mark your calendars, start getting those contributions, and plan to be there to move around the lakes or work a checkpoint!
By the end of May, sales of the NFB Louis Braille Coin have topped 160,000. Support braille literacy programs by getting yours at the U.S. Mint Website at www.usmint.gov or call 1-800-USA-MINT (872-6468).
We are doing a lot of work in the NFB of Minnesota to spread the truth about blindness and to improve opportunities for blind people. Yet, there is always more to do and more hands needed to get it done. If there are places you'd like to get more involved, please don't be shy—we need you!
Reflections on the 2009 Washington Seminar
By Matthias Niska
(Editor’s Note: The Washington seminar is an annual event of the National Federation of the Blind, held in early February, to introduce the priority issues requiring congressional attention over the coming year. The issues are selected from official positions of the Federation and may address concerns in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income program, relevant civil rights issues, educational programs and services, rehabilitation of the blind for competitive employment, the operation of vending facilities by blind persons on public property, specialized library services for the blind, the organization and funding of federal programs, and other timely topics. Approximately three legislative initiatives are chosen for priority attention each year. Five hundred people attend from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, most of whom are blind. Matthias was one of the 14 Minnesotans to attend this year.)
I am grateful to the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota for providing the financial assistance to send me, along with two of my fellow students from Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), to the 2009 Washington Seminar. The trip was enjoyable and educational for me on several levels.
First, this Seminar was my first exposure to such a large cross-section of the blind population. I met blind people of all ages, ethnicities, education levels, and occupational backgrounds, from all different parts of the country. Even more interesting than the wide variety of backgrounds I encountered, however, was the range of travel abilities and overall blindness skills of the attendees. I witnessed a person standing at the edge of a crowded room and yelling out for someone to come and lead them around, a person with absolutely no vision moving about with complete grace and confidence, and everything in between. I had always assumed that the vast majority of NFB members have undergone comprehensive blindness skills training similar to what I am currently undertaking at BLIND, Inc. Now that I know that such training is relatively rare, I am even more grateful for the opportunity to study here.
Secondly, I had the chance to see several of the notable sights of our nation’s capitol, and to bask in the history and grandeur of this wonderful city. One afternoon, I set off on my own and walked westward along the Mall, taking in the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. On a different day, I had the opportunity to take guided tours of the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol building. Walking around the political and historical hub of our nation, and seeing where our laws are made and shaped, inspired a profound sense of pride and awe in me. I now understood what I’d always been told about Washington D.C., how a person can feel the power and dignity of that place simply by being there.
Last but certainly not least, this trip gave me new insight into blindness-related policy issues and the process by which blind people can advocate for themselves and effect progress in the political arena. I have always been interested in politics, but not really from the viewpoint of making positive changes in the lives of blind people. Witnessing and being part of the process of articulating the NFB’s position on issues such as silent cars, Social Security reform, and a Technology Bill of Rights to lawmakers and legislative aides definitely sharpened my interest in this area of law and public policy. Wherever my career path takes me, I will always maintain an interest in these types of issues, and I hope the same can be said for many of my fellow 2009 Washington Seminar attendees.
By Brenda Johnson
(Editor’s Note: We have come to know Brenda Johnson through our Saturday School. Her son, Austyn, has been attending and she has jumped into Federationism with both feet. She has not only been a prolific baker for our bake auction, but is very active in our parents division and is helping plan future events for the division.)
I have three children; my youngest, Bailey, is five. Bryce is 11, and my oldest, Austyn, is 12. Austyn is blind.
In 2005, Austyn qualified to go to the Braille Challenge in California. We lived in upper Michigan at the time, and there were no real services for him. Austyn had received occasional services; every couple of months we would get a visit from a blind therapist. But when he went to the Braille Challenge in Los Angeles, it was a completely new world to us. We realized there were kids just like him. He had never met a blind person, let alone a child or playmate. Austyn didn’t place that year in the competition, but we did learn there were schools for the blind.
We started looking and came to Minnesota because we found that the school here was wonderful. Austyn does attend the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind (MSAB), but goes to public school for most of his day. He does go to the Academy for braille class and is on the swim team there.
Since we’ve been in Minnesota, we’ve gotten involved with the NFB. We’d never heard about the NFB before. There was a flyer at the Academy about the Easter egg hunt near the Capitol. That was the first time I met Carrie Gilmer, Steve Jacobson, and Jennifer Dunnam. With Carrie’s help, I’ve gotten involved with the Parents of Blind Children, including the Saturday School. It’s one of Austyn’s highlights to attend there.
We had the opportunity last year to go to our first NFB national convention. It was amazing! It was overwhelming! I took part in the leadership program there and I learned we need more parents and children to get involved in our organization. As parents, we need to be the voices of our children, since we know our children best and we know what they need. We need all the parents to come together so we can support one another, share ideas, find resources, and find answers to so many questions that we all have. I have already been able to answer some questions, but there are many more to be answered.
One thing I have learned is that I need to be my son’s advocate. I am his biggest cheerleader. We also need to teach our sighted siblings (Austyn has two of them). Our blind children need to know that they are not different. They can do anything. My five-year-old loves to walk with Austyn, uses her own white cane, and wears sleepshades as she walks down the street with him. She is going to be a travel instructor because she knows how to make the rainbow with her cane and she walks right alongside Austyn. She holds his hand and makes sure he is never left behind. She takes his hand if we’re somewhere new and he never is left behind. I’m sure that as time goes on, we are going to have to let Austyn go and be more independent.
By coming to the NFB’s monthly meetings, the Move-a-thon, and the National convention, I see how blind individuals are very independent. To be able to fly alone and get around in that hotel, especially that one in Dallas where I was lost, you just amaze me! I asked you for help to get around. I hope I can teach my son to be just like all of you. You have given me the hope, strength, and courage to be able to say to him “Yes, you can do it” and not let him give up because now I know it is possible—anything! I want to thank every one of you as you have paved such a great path for our children and us as parents. There is still a lot to be accomplished, but I’m so glad I’m on a team and that we can accomplish anything. Thank you all!
An Update from the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind
By Robert Duncan, Interim Director of Education, Minnesota State Academy for the Blind
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota semiannual convention on April 18, 2009.)
It’s certainly a privilege for me to be here this morning to share with you about the academy and what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years since I’ve been there. As you may know, I’m in my second year of a one-year interim position.
I’m pleased to announce that they’ve found a permanent director who will start on July 1. Alice Woog. She is employed until June 30 as an administrator for the Perpich Center for the Arts, which is a residential middle school. She’s very familiar with a residential school setting, working with the state, and certainly a setting such as our academy. She did very well with all the groups that interviewed her and it was a unanimous selection. One of the things I’m going to do is encourage her to meet with you so you can get to know her and she gets to know you. That way, we can continue to develop our working relationship between the Academy and the Federation.
Al really did a nice job of giving me a tour of this beautiful facility here and all the activities that go on here. What I'd like to do in the twenty minutes I have with you this morning is to go through the structure of the academy, our student population, some of the program development we’ve been working on, and our future focus. If time permits, I certainly would be open to questions at the end. One of the things I have to be careful about though is one of my present bosses is in attendance, Nadine Jacobson, who serves on our governing board. So I need to make sure everything I tell you is honest and true. And Jan Bailey serves on our site council, so I have to be doubly sure that what I’m telling you is exactly true or they’ll stand and correct me.
The way we’re structured at the Academy is that we have a Board of Directors that is appointed by the Governor and they can serve two three-year terms. I had the privilege of being on the first governing board of the academy. Reporting to the Board of Directors is a superintendent who oversees both academies, the Academy for the Deaf and the Academy for the Blind. I’m the director of the academy for the blind. We have shared services between the two campuses including a special education director, student nutrition, student health, business office, buildings and grounds, and human resources. For the most part, we operate pretty independently. While the superintendent is not hands-off, she’s pretty much left it up to me to make sure the Academy is headed in the right direction. We’re funded exclusively through the Governor’s budget that is approved by the legislature. We are not a parent choice school, although we are working on some legislation to perhaps change that so parents could choose to send their children to the Academy. Right now, it has to be through an IEP (Individualized Education Program) process.
Our students are ages 5-21 and are broken into basically three profiles. We have those students for whom vision loss is the least of their disabilities. We have another group of students who have vision loss plus some other type of disability, such as a learning disability. Then, we have another group of students where vision loss is the primary challenge they have. A growing number of our student population also is autistic. I think that coincides with the growing population of those with autism, nationally. Twenty-one of the students between the two campuses are deaf-blind. That’s another area of our focus where we’re trying to revamp our programs so we can provide better services to deaf-blind students. Another growing population we have is students with English as their second language. We have students from China, Burma, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and this coming year, we will have a student from India. Trying to adapt ourselves to provide English as a second language at the same time as we are teaching braille is a real challenge.
During my two years at the Academy, I’ve worked hard to make sure the Academy had its house in order. Our focus has been on making sure students can be as independent as possible. It’s been a bit of a tough sell because the people who work at the Academy work there because they have a nurturing spirit. I’ve constantly had to remind them that we need to have compassion and nurturing, but it’s of no value if we aren’t forcing students to be as independent as possible.
We’ve also focused on having quality programs and on connecting with all the groups around the state of Minnesota. Something happened over the years where the Academy got disconnected with the state of Minnesota. We’ve been working pretty hard on changing that. We still have a long way to go.
As far as marketing ourselves, we’ve been working hard at getting our Web page up-to-date. We’ve included the BLIND Inc. summer programs there so parents can look at what we offer during the summer, as well as what BLIND Inc. is offering. We’d be more than happy to have your link on our Web page if you’d permit us to do that.
And then we do have a heavy emphasis on training our staff, too. We can’t make the assumption that just because people work at the Academy for the Blind, they totally understand blindness. We’ve been working extremely hard at bringing our staff up to speed on blindness and working with students who are blind. I’ve found the staff to be most dedicated, hard-working, and cooperative.
I just want to highlight a few programs we’ve really been focusing on. One of those is braille. The Board developed a position statement on Braille which we now follow. It says all of our students will learn braille, unless it’s stated otherwise in their IEP. What we’re finding is that students who come to us have had very little instruction in braille, for one reason or another. We feel very strongly that all of our students who are capable of learning braille and can use braille should learn it to the highest level they can. This year, we’re going to try an experiment with teaching students Nemeth code and then having them use it in their science and math classes. Then, we’re going to have another group who will be taking Nemeth along with their science and math. This way, we’ll see if there is value in teaching a course in Nemeth. We’re also looking at full immersion of braille, that once students learn braille, they will be using it in all their classes. We’re working now on a position statement on contracted braille.
We’ve invested heavily in technologies such as Braille note takers; so that when students leave our campus, they’ll have experienced the braille technology they need in order to be successful. Many of you no doubt know Ken Trebelhorn who we hired this last year. He’s been a tremendous addition to our faculty. We’ve invested around $300,000 in assistive technology. It’s state-of-the art, and I want to emphasize, proven technology. There’s a lot of technology out there, but whether it’s worth the money in return for the value it brings to students is another question. We spend a lot of time evaluating. We are both JAWS and WindowEyes based, so students are learning both. We have a full lab that includes just about everything you could put in a lab; about 14 stations. We do all our own embossing, other than textbooks. We purchased a Tiger. We have talking calculators, GPS, bar code readers, and all the other different software that students need in order to be successful in their classes, their personal lives, as well as in the future.
We continue to move forward, training our staff on technology. This summer, we plan to offer assistive technology training for teachers across Minnesota. I think that is a real mission we could have on our campus is providing that kind of training for staff around the state.
Another program we’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on is our Academy Plus Transition program for students ages 18-21. One of the things we’ve been working with State Services for the Blind on, and they’ve been extremely helpful to us, is the development of a portfolio. When a student exits from our Academy Plus program, they can take that portfolio on to BLIND Inc. or the Duluth Lighthouse or wherever and that will be available so people will know where that student is with their skill sets and abilities.
In our Academy Plus program, we also have three different types of students there. We have students going from our Academy right to postsecondary; we have students who may or may not be going to postsecondary, but may be going to some type of technical training; and those students who will probably be going to some type of assisted living. So we’re trying to structure our program to work with all three. It’s heavily focused on work experiences and careers, and again, State Services for the Blind has been most helpful in developing these things.
This fall, we had seven students attending South Central College. None of those students had ever thought about going to college. We have an arrangement with South Central College where we put students in as a traditional or nontraditional student. For students who have not passed their Acu-Placer, which is needed to get into MNSCU schools, we put them in remedial classes. Why do we do that? We do that so they can find out for themselves whether they have the independent skills to be successful, the advocacy skills, and can they handle the academic rigor. If we find out they aren’t quite ready academically, then we can focus on those academics. If they don’t have the independent living skills, by forcing them to do these things, they find out for themselves they don’t have the skills they need to get from there apartments to where they need to go. Once they find this out, they usually work a lot harder.
We work on independent living skills. We have level 2 and level 3 apartment experiences. Level 3 is where they live independently with minimal contact from our supervisors and level 2 is where they have direct instruction right in the apartment. We have a core curriculum that includes independent living skills, recreation, braille, technology, careers, blindness awareness, self-advocacy, and those kinds of things.
Finally, I’d like to highlight a few other things. We have a foundation. It’s independent of the Academy and raises money. They just completed a bike path project a year ago. We’ve just gotten our 12th specialized bike. This bike is one where our kids with CP can ride a bike independently. It’s really great to see the expression on their faces when they can ride a bike by themselves. These bikes can cost $4,000, but when I go out and make presentations, I’m amazed how someone will say they will go ahead and purchase one of these bikes.
Now we are in the process of building a sensory and fitness obstacle course and the foundation is raising $60,000 to do that. It’s going to be an outdoor course and will build self-confidence and get students working on their sensory skills, O&M, fitness, etc. It will be put in next to our playground. It’s a beautiful playground which our foundation also helped fund. We’ve also purchased 12 physical fitness pieces of equipment. We encourage our staff as well as our students to use this because we’re encouraging lifelong physical fitness and health.
What’s ahead for the academy? In my opinion, we have great potential to provide outreach services across the state for k-12 school districts. We have an opportunity, I think, to become a multistate center. As you know, the academies in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin are struggling. They are talking about closing. For those kids where a residential setting would be a good fit for them, it seems to me that Minnesota should get positioned to serve as a multistate academy. I’m not convinced after two years that a residential setting is not a good setting for some kids. It may not be for all of their schooling, but it can be good for some.
We also need to work hard on our networking, including the Federation.
We are also wanting to build another dorm so all our buildings will be connected. That would mean kids wouldn’t need to go outdoors during inclement weather which would be good. We are also working on the acoustics in the gym. This is important for our music programs.
With that, I think I’ve more than used up my time.
By Chuk Hamilton, Director, Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB)
(Editor’s Note: This presentation was given at the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota semiannual convention on April 18, 2009.)
Good morning, Federationists. It’s a beautiful day! Before I talk about training, I have to say something. I should have stood up and got the president’s attention when Bob Duncan was still here. If any of you are wondering if what we’re seeing is what we get with Bob and what he’s done over the last two years, the answer is an emphatic yes! One of the little-known stories happened during his first week or two of employment. My phone rang one day, the voice at the other end identified himself as the new interim principal at the Academy for the Blind, and he wanted to talk and learn how we could be better partners. I must admit I was surprised by it and a little skeptical. But I was certainly very intrigued. That started a relationship that has turned around our relationship with the State Academy for the Blind. As many of you know, but some of you don’t know, State Services for the Blind was actually a part of the admissions and discharge committee at the old Minnesota Braille and Sight Saving School. That ended when the first special education act came into law. It was transferred to the educational arena, instead of Human Services. I’m hopeful and confident that relationship will only be expanded in the future.
To review, the Governor did propose a budget that would cut SSB $139,000 of state general fund dollars each year of the next biennium—two years. It’s about 2% of our general fund. I have made certain decisions of cuts which would impact senior services, a child position we have, and it would impact a grant with United Blind of Minnesota. Currently, the House and the Senate are nearing the committee work of those bills and they have accepted the governor’s position as it relates to State Services for the Blind. In the environment we’re in, frankly, from where I sit, that’s a victory. That victory is not final yet, however. All of us who follow these kinds of events know that these funding bills are likely to come back and they’re going to have to redo them. Hopefully in the end, it will be limited to that amount.
I do want to talk about training. I started working for State Services for the Blind June 23, 1976. At that time in St. Cloud, the training was roughly about two weeks under the blindfold and then I was sent to what was then MSB (Minneapolis Society for the Blind, now Vision Loss Resources) for about 3 days, somewhat under the blindfold. That was somewhat the extent to my introduction and training to adjustment to blindness. It was at that time that it occurred to me that if in fact we are the experts from the public perspective (people pay taxes for our agency and look to us because many times they don’t know about the consumer groups for information about blindness) we need to be prepared to provide that. Unfortunately, it was not until roughly the mid 1990’s, under Dick Davis, that a systematic approach to adjustment to blindness training was envisioned and implemented. It lasted until the year 2000 and for approximately three years, there was no systematic approach to adjustment to blindness training for SSB staff.
When the director’s position came open, I did apply and I was interviewed. It included questions from you all and others and one of the things I made very clear at that time was that we were going to reinvigorate an adjustment to blindness training program for staff. We have done that with the support of the National Federation of the Blind, the State Rehab Council for the blind, other consumer groups, as well as staff. It was a step in the right direction at the right time. However, none of the management at State Services for the Blind felt it was the best it could be. With what was happening in the community and because this subject unfortunately had become such a lightning rod, I did decide to move ahead with what we could at that time (the buck stops with me.) We implemented Phase I training that applies to all, underscore all, State Services for the Blind staff. That is a series of readings, DVDs, and discussions with others regarding basic information on blindness, consumer groups, adjustment to blindness skills, low vision, the different services State Services for the Blind provides, and all those basic backgrounds kinds of things you and the public would expect staff to have.
We also had a Phase II level. Phase II was intended for those individuals who had direct contact with blind people. That Phase II training amounted to two two-week training activities at different facilities. Additionally, Phase II training included some deaf-blind training, and low vision training, but those aren’t the pieces that have gotten the most scrutiny. We’ve had roughly five years of experience with that. We did have to go through a procurement procedure—a request for proposal—that was put out in the state register to ask the public “Here’s what we want, can you provide this, and at what price?” There were two community rehabilitation programs, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND Incorporated) and the Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind, who responded. We did arrange with both and still do currently send staff to both locations.
We did do some surveying along the way as people returned from training. Because those proposals had a five-year lifetime, we need to formally look at what we are doing, how we are doing it, ask for input internally and externally, and then the management of State Services for the Blind is going to have to decide if there are going to be any changes. I suspect there will be.
Regarding the survey we just did, there were 57 staff surveys with a 73.7% response, not too bad for a survey. We did divide them into some groups. We wanted to look at the different groups who went through training at different times. We did want to be able to look separately at those staff who wanted to go, but who don’t have direct contact with customers. There was another group of people who went through the 1990’s training that was six weeks at one of three locations, and one week at each of the other two programs. There were 17 individuals who received the survey for that and 10 responded. The final group were people who did not participate in either of those periods, but probably came to us with some other training or felt they had significant training. About 2% of those responded.
We asked for input from consumer groups and received nine comments. There were three from community rehab programs, one from a consumer organization (I wonder who that was) and five from individuals. I was a little surprised by the number of comments. I thought there might be more.
We have that and I have staff who are trying to compile and organize it. Next week, management will look at this. It doesn’t mean management doesn’t already have some opinions about it. We do want to ask those who have participated and those who are providers, as well as consumers and consumer groups who have strong interest in this. Hopefully, we will have a policy soon. I don’t have an exact date for you. Clearly, it is our goal to have staff who have appropriate training for this.
As Joyce Scanlan has reminded me on more than one occasion, the skills are important, but it’s not just about the skills; it’s about the attitude, the outlook, the motivation, and what we do with those skills that is important. I have committed to the president and board of the NFB to work actively with them. We are very aware of the bill that is at the legislature and the two-year life cycle (Editor’s Note: he is referring to bills HF737 and SF1246 proposed by the NFB of Minnesota establishing training standards for SSB counselors and the two-year term of the legislature). I’m appreciative of the decision to give us an opportunity to put something together to improve that training and I’m optimistic and confident that we’ll be able to do that.
I do have two other things. I was informed this morning, for people who use the Radio Talking Book and are waiting for the digital receivers, it is a strong likelihood that on Monday morning production will begin. We have space for those and we can’t wait for that to happen.
Finally, this is likely to be my last visit with you as director of SSB. It is my intent, it has been no secret, to step down this summer. One of the things I certainly will be doing internally is to impress on the leadership to involve the community in the appointment process. I do intend not to retire. I do intend to work. I do intend to do things that are productive, hopefully with the blind community. We’ll see how that works out. There are a couple of possibilities. I am very appreciative of the support I have received from the NFB, as well as the guidance I have received. I’m sure succeeding directors will come to you for the same.
By Judy Sanders, Secretary
A lively crowd was present for our semiannual convention at our headquarters in Minneapolis on April 18, 2009. People arrived early for registration, rolls and coffee.
President Jennifer Dunnam called the convention to order promptly at 9:30 a.m. The president of the Metro Chapter, Pat Barrett, gave welcoming remarks. He acknowledged Dave Starnes and his crew for setting up the room. He urged people to partake of the refreshments and feel free to ask questions throughout the day.
Jennifer told us that we could look forward to many door prizes throughout the convention. Another fun activity that occurred throughout the program was a lively game of Jeopardy to test everyone's knowledge of NFB history. It came complete with the Jeopardy music. The first question was:
In the category of braille: the first state to pass a braille literacy bill. Answered by Jan Bailey: What was Minnesota? It occurred in 1987.
Our first speaker was Dr. Robert Duncan, director of education for the State Academy for the Blind in Faribault. Dr. Duncan announced that a new director would begin her tenure at the school on July 1. She is Alice Woog from Golden Valley. She currently administers the Perpich Arts Middle School that is a residential school for students from all over the state. Dr. Duncan will be finishing the second year of what was supposed to be a one-year interim term.
Dr. Duncan familiarized us with the structure of the Academy; a Board of Governors appointed by the governor governs it. Nadine Jacobson currently serves on that board. A superintendent administers both the school for the blind and the deaf. Students can attend the school if their IEP (Individual Education Plan) allows it. Dr. Duncan said that they are considering support of legislation that would allow parents to choose this form of education for their child. Many of the students are dealing with additional challenges to their blindness such as autism, deafness and there are an increasing number of students whose primary language is not English. Dr. Duncan stressed that they must help their students be as independent as possible; he constantly reminds a caring, nurturing staff of this. He is working to reconnect the Academy with the blind community. He feels we have lost touch during the last several years. They are updating their web page to include information for parents such as a link to Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated and its summer program for kids.
Their Board of Governors passed a resolution that reaffirms the law in that all students will learn braille unless their IEP specifically says that they will not. There must be a good reason for its exclusion. They are developing a position paper on contracted braille and they are experimenting with when is the best time to teach the Nemeth Code—does it need its own class or can it be integrated into math class?
They have made a heavy investment in assistive technology; they recently hired Ken Trebelhorn to work with this program. This summer they will offer assistive technology training for teachers.
They are working with State Services for the Blind (SSB) with their summer students who are between the ages of 18 and 21. Students will leave with a portfolio that tells other providers of services what they have learned.
The school is doing a great deal toward improving its infrastructure including building a new dorm, remodeling existing dorms, buying accessible bicycles for children with physical disabilities, and building a new recreation area that includes an obstacle course.
Jennifer concluded this item by affirming that we want a continued partnership with the Academy, and would be happy to have a link to their website on ours.
This is the year for the unveiling of the Louis Braille Commemorative Coin in celebration of the 200th birthday of Louis Braille. Congress, because of the advocacy of the NFB, authorized the minting of the first coin to have real braille on it. NFB receives $10 from each coin sale for funding a national "Braille Readers Are Leaders" literacy campaign. A short promotional video for the coin and our literacy initiative was shown.
Carrie Gilmer followed with a presentation introducing us to two Saturday School participants. Rakeeb Nugussie told us about learning more of Louis Braille's life and taking trips on the bus to get ice cream. Austyn Johnson said that he appreciated increasing his independence. He is a frequent participant in our children's "Braille Leaders are Leaders" program.
We also sponsor a Teen Night, coordinated by Jeff Thompson with help from many others. Jeff said that not only do the teens have the chance to participate in fun activities but they can also talk about their concerns and solutions. The kids say that sometimes at school, they feel left out but when they come to Teen Night, they feel on top of the world! Five teens will be attending NFB's Youth Slam this summer.
JEOPARDY ANSWER: From the category of braille: BANA. Question asked by Charlotte Czarnecki: What is the Braille Authority of North America?
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of braille: 26-02. Question asked by Steve Decker: What is the number of the first resolution passed by the NFB in Minnesota calling on all teachers in the state to teach Grade 2 braille? The 26 means that it was passed in 1926.
Dick Davis is in charge of our efforts to promote braille in Minnesota and purchases of coins from the U.S. Mint. The Mint sold 60,000 coins during the first week of availability. Dick reviewed activities that have been occurring throughout the state to acquaint the public with the coin and our efforts to increase braille literacy.
Have you ever wondered about all the jobs that need doing in the NFB? Jennifer distributed a list of 100 possibilities, and asked us to look at the list and sign up for those things we would be willing to do. This is one way to become more involved and for us to take advantage of people's talents.
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of date: 1951. Question asked by Andy Virden: When did Andy Virden join the NFB?
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of alphabet soup: HAVA. Asked by Nadine Jacobson: What is the Help America Vote Act?
Chuk Hamilton, director of State Services for the Blind, spoke regarding staff training about adjustment to blindness. Specifically, how will SSB improve its training in this area? Before talking about this issue Chuk took time to compliment the work of Dr. Duncan at the Academy for the Blind. He also told us that the governor's proposed budget had a cut in funding to SSB of approximately $139,000, which is about 2% of its state budget. The budget bill was not final at the time but as it stands there will be cuts in senior services, elimination of the child services positions and no more funding of the advocate position grant to the United Blind of Minnesota.
Chuk reviewed the history of staff training on blindness telling us that there was no real systematic training of staff until the 1990's under Dick Davis's leadership. SSB did not provide training for approximately three years, but revived it in 2005 under Chuk's leadership. Under Dick's leadership, a person had a total of eight weeks of training. Chuk inaugurated two phases of training. Phase I was for all staff and required a lot of reading, viewing of videos and group discussions. Phase II was for staff who would have direct contact with blind customers and involved two two-week sessions: one at BLIND, Inc. and one at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Duluth. These two facilities were under contract because they responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP) to provide the teaching. These facilities were under a five-year contract that is now ending.
It is time to look at the effectiveness of the training and for SSB to issue another RFP. So that management could better evaluate this training and find ways to improve it, they surveyed 57 staff members who have undergone training at some point in their careers at SSB. Forty-two people returned their surveys. The public was also invited to submit comments. Nine comments were received: three from facilities, one from a consumer organization (the NFB) and five from individuals. These responses are now being evaluated and Chuk hopes to have a new policy soon.
The NFB has a bill in the Legislature to mandate training for counselors to be certified to work in Minnesota but it is on hold while we see if SSB can solve this problem on its own. If that does not happen by next year's session, we will revive the bill.
Chuk announced that the manufacturing of the new digital Radio Talking Book player would begin in late April.
Chuk gave us the news that this would be his last address to us as director of SSB. While he hopes to keep working, he is retiring from this position soon. He gave no date.
Jennifer thanked Chuk for his many years of cooperative effort with us. She pointed out that the reason for our staff-training bill was to keep training policies from being promulgated at the whim of any particular director.
Jan Bailey asked if stimulus dollars coming to SSB through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act could be used for training. Chuk said that it could and that SSB was working on a list of possible uses.
Joyce Scanlan made the point that a person's advancement at SSB should be tied to their success in their staff training.
Monica Buboltz acknowledged how a good counselor with a positive philosophy can affect a customer. She gave special credit to her counselor, Jan Bailey.
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of miscellany: Three Minnesotans that were held for over an hour at Six Flags Amusement Park in Atlanta because they would not give up their canes. Question asked by Sheila Koenig: Who were Mike Sahyun, Zach Ellingson and Brandon Ball?
Judy Sanders gave people information about how to register for the March for Independence and raise money for the Jernigan Institute Imagination Fund. "March For Independence: Walk for Opportunity" is the theme for the Detroit march. People can march in person or raise money without actually marching. Judy reminded everyone that NFB of Minnesota receives some of the money raised, and it goes into our general fund or funds things like the Senior Possibilities Fair. Meralee Devery gave an example of how easy it is to raise money. Her dentist's office gave her $150 just because she asked.
Technology is becoming more available and necessary to many of us. David and Phil Weber, with Second Vision are dealers for much of this new portable but powerful equipment. David listed several pieces that were available to examine over lunch. They included the BrailleNote, DeafBlind Communicator, the Breeze (a GPS device) and the KNFB Reader Mobile.
We saw a video of a public service announcement from Terry Bradshaw, one of the chairs of our Braille Readers are Leaders campaign.
Several activities occurred over lunch. They included:
· See the latest in technology;
· Braille questions could be answered by Melody Wartenbee, president of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille in Minnesota;
· Fill out the NFB jobs preference list;
· Sign a petition protesting the national Author's Guild opposition to Amazon Books making e-books accessible to blind and print-disabled individuals;
· Take a tour of our building;
· Examine the Louis Braille coin;
· Register to raise money for the Imagination Fund; and
· Purchase a raffle ticket to support the Jernigan Fund and win an all-expense trip to the 2010 national convention.
In addition to all those choices, people took time to socialize over our third annual "academic lunch" prepared by our Minnesota Association of Blind Students (MABS) under the leadership of Jean Rauschenbach.
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of NFB Publications: The name of the first Kernel Book. Tom TeBockhurst asked: What Color Is the Sun?
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of NFB Publications: The name of the parents’ newsletter of the NFB. Kathy McGillivray asked: What is Future Reflections?
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of miscellany: Minnesotans closed down a ride at this park because they were prevented from riding the Corkscrew. Ron Poire asked: What is Valleyfair?
Our afternoon session began with hearing more about technology. Jon Swenson Tellekson is with Speech Gurus, the successor to Freedom of Speech. This company focuses on speech recognition devices and the Kurzweil 1000. He told us that the latest scanner could help us fill out forms. It cannot do complicated forms. It also has an appointment calendar; it is more accurate than ever and can scan more things. Dragon Naturally Speaking has become of such a high quality that doctors are using it. It can be combined with JAWS.
Charlene Guggisberg will once again spearhead our planning of the annual move-a-thon. We will return to Minneapolis to travel around the lakes on Saturday, September 12. Many jobs need doing to make it a success. Think about people and/or corporations to approach for pledges; think about walking; think about helping with cleanup. It is not too early.
Tom Scanlan gave a treasurer's report that indicated we had a good fiscal year ending March 31, with income of $64,253 and expenses of $50,390. We ended the year with assets of $174,324. A motion was made to accept the treasurer's report and another motion was made to approve a budget of $52,100 for this year. Both motions were passed unanimously.
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of banquet addresses: The title of the 1997 banquet speech. Johnny Ott asked: What is "The Day after Civil Rights?"
Federationists went around the room to introduce themselves and identify their place of employment or their job status. We found a wide variety of jobs and people who were between jobs or retired.
Emily Zitek is a new vendor in the Business Enterprises Program. In less than a year, she took a vending facility that was ready to go out of business and turned it around to be a thriving success. Emily talked about the intricacies of running your own business; she works hard to be successful and she knows that people have high expectations for her. Emily is now training others. Her enthusiasm, we hope, will be contagious.
Shawn Mayo, executive director of BLIND, Inc., told us that we would soon be having a mortgage burning party. She then introduced us to four students who talked about their journey through adjustment to blindness.
We first heard from Matthias Niska. Although he has been legally blind all his life, he faked it all the way through his undergraduate work. Nearing college graduation in 2004, he discovered that he was losing vision in his better eye. He stuck to what he thought were safe careers (such as trying to write a novel) but eventually came to grips with his situation. He realized that if he wanted to have a family he was going to have to be more independent. His initial visit to BLIND gave him pause. He did not like the idea of using a white cane and sleepshades. He eventually decided to try this and acknowledged that the training has changed his life. It is not just the skills but also the attitudes toward his blindness that have changed. He will enroll at the University of Minnesota Law School in the fall.
David Dunphy knew that he wanted to learn the usual skills of blindness; home management, cane travel, industrial arts, etc. But he had no idea what he didn't know. For Halloween, it was decided to carve out a pumpkin; David never did this as a blind kid so found this a great experience. He appreciates the feeling of equality and high expectations that everyone has for him.
Harry Hogue has learned that the sky is the limit. Dog sledding was new to everyone this year and it helped teach Harry to raise the bar for what he can accomplish. We can do what we want if we decide that we can. We make our own opportunities.
The last speaker was Joan Lombard. She is not only dealing with blindness but also has severe neuropathy. She became so cold and her leg was numb during last winter. Her travel instructor pulled her out of travel class but she begged to be let back in. She participated in the dog sledding and actually drove the sled. She said that her counselor tried to talk her out of coming to BLIND but she insisted. And now she'll never look back!
Shawn introduced Zach Ellingson who talked about how much he loves his job. He joked that you have to be somewhat sadistic to be a travel instructor; you have to love sending a student from Guam out on a cold winter's day. Zach introduced us to Rob Hobson, who has joined the staff as the second cane travel instructor.
Rob is from Illinois, went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and was urged to get a degree from Louisiana Tech to teach cane travel. In spite of the cold, he is glad to be here.
Every year we pledge money to the Jacobus tenBroek fund that supports the maintenance of the National Center for the Blind. Al Spooner led us in making our pledges and the NFB of Minnesota will match our donations. We will be donating a total of $2,450 if all pledges are fulfilled.
The NFB of Minnesota will be sending Jennifer Dunnam as its delegate and Steve Jacobson as our alternate to the national convention. This is only important for roll call votes on the convention floor.
Many people were involved in monitoring and influencing this year's legislative session in St. Paul. One of the issues from our Day at the Capitol was the loss of personnel at the Braille and Talking Book Library in Faribault. The Federation has sought help through letters from legislators to the Department of Education wanting an explanation of why new personnel cannot be hired with federal dollars. We have attracted enough attention that we understand officials came to visit the library to learn more about what they actually do.
The Federation lent its support to a bill that would guarantee accessibility of equipment and websites purchased or used by the State of Minnesota. We were not the initiators of this bill; however, NFB first brought passage of a bill that began requiring accessibility to all products purchased by the State. This new bill is an improvement on current standards and deals with captioning on audible websites for people who are deaf. Funding for this bill will come from the Telecommunications Access Minnesota (TAM) fund that currently funds communication devices for the deaf, NFB-NEWSLINE® and captioning of television in rural Minnesota. At the time of our convention, there were still negotiations in process on funding.
Joyce Scanlan helped us to get ready for the annual Possibilities Fair for Seniors. This is our second fair with two other partners: State Services for the Blind and BLIND, Incorporated. The Fair is scheduled for May 4 in Bloomington. The committee is Joyce Scanlan as chair, Shawn Mayo, Judy Sanders, and Harry Krueger. In addition, the people from SSB are Dick Strong, Lyle Lundquist and Ed Letcher. We are expecting 125 people. They will be able to peruse exhibits and hear from a keynote speaker, Bob Gardner, a graduate of BLIND and a senior. At lunch, Bill Laack, a longtime Federationist and a professional musician, will entertain the audience.
We were reminded to make plans for the national convention including preregistration online or through the mail and buying airline tickets. Hotel reservations information is in the Braille Monitor.
We agreed to start an NFBMN listserv. This will be strictly for news announcements. Dick Davis announced that Social Security is hiring many people; for more information, contact Dick.
Tim Aune reminded us about our monthly show on the Radio Talking Book, "Speaking for Ourselves."
Andy Virden announced that the Central Minnesota chapter's annual picnic would be at the home of Koyla and Bob Frasier.
JEOPARDY ANSWER: In the category of publications: The year the first Minnesota Bulletin was published. Joyce Scanlan asked: When was 1934?
With a big thank you to everyone who helped put this convention together, we adjourned and Jennifer promised to go right to work planning our annual convention in the fall.
Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keep these in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in October or November 2009 in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be April or May 2010 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details about a month before the convention, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be during the first week of July 2010 in Dallas, Texas. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin will be in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.
Chapter Meeting Dates to Remember
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 2:00 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-354-2250 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace Church in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at Old Chicago Restaurant in St. Cloud
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Many people are involved in getting this issue to you. The writers can write and the editor can edit, but until the material is printed, brailled, recorded, and distributed, it is just a computer file. Therefore, we owe great thanks to the following people for the work they do in producing this publication.
Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition.
Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.
Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
Kathy McGillivray transcribes presentations from convention recordings.
Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up the website edition.
Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition.
Emily Zitek runs the copies for the braille edition and mails all editions.