Quarterly Publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Voice: (612) 872-9363
Tom Scanlan, Editor
Volume 78, Number 3, Summer 2012
WE ARE CHANGING
WHAT IT MEANS
TO BE BLIND
Table of Contents
By Jennifer Dunnam
At this writing, 87 Minnesotans have recently returned from Dallas, where we attended one of our best national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. We worked hard, learned much, participated in shaping the future direction of our movement, and had a good time while we were at it. Whether or not you attended the convention, I encourage everyone to read about the proceedings in upcoming issues of the Braille Monitor. Many of the speeches and other important activities will be printed there. I also encourage everyone to join us next year at the convention, which will be in Orlando, Florida. Our national convention serves many important purposes and helps us all get a broader view of our movement.
Of course, one of the major issues discussed was our ongoing effort to get the exemption removed from the Fair Labor Standards Act so that blind people and others with disabilities must be paid at or above the minimum wage just like every other worker in the U.S. Powerful presentations were made at the national convention by Anil Lewis, Fred Schroeder and others about why this exemption must be eliminated once and for all. There are currently 81 co-sponsors of our legislation on this matter, H.R. 3086, and we thank Minnesota Congressmen Peterson, Ellison, and McCollum for being among them. We are working to get a hearing on this bill. We are also boycotting Goodwill International to urge them to relinquish their certificates of exemption and support real pay for real work for people with disabilities.
Mere days after we returned from the convention, an article about sheltered workshops appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The article provided a very skewed picture of this issue. It contained many quotes from management of facilities with subminimum-wage positions, painting a picture of people unable to do real work, being protected from expectations that might be too high, and being grateful for jobs that pay a pittance. We have, of course, contacted the paper to help them understand the full story, and we look forward to continued work with the press as this issue unfolds.
It is another busy summer. At Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc., our own adjustment-to-blindness training center, the buddy program for children and the Post-secondary Readiness & Empowerment Program (PREP) program for teenagers are in full swing. On June 23, BLIND, Inc. was the featured organization at the Minnesota Lynx game; the staff and students in the PREP program were on court at half-time, so all in attendance got to learn about the important work and positive, progressive philosophy of blindness.
In the recently-released book The Pillsburys of Minnesota by Lori Sturdevant, there is a photograph of our headquarters building, which was once the town home for the Charles S. Pillsbury family, and the author of the book mentions the work of BLIND, Inc. as the building's current everyday use.
Remember that our 31st annual Walk for Opportunity will take place on September 8th in Rochester. A mailing will be sent to all members with the details. We hope that you can join us, but if not, you can still help by soliciting donations from your acquaintances to help us fund our activities to improve the lives of blind people. Please make plans to be a part of the Walk for Opportunity!
Be sure to check out the summer activities of our local chapters as well. A very good summer to all!
The National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota is an organization focused on consumer advocacy for blind people and promoting a positive philosophy of blindness. We are also a family. Here is a column that we print from time to time, containing items that would not normally be sent out on our membership listserv but which are noteworthy and of interest to members. Did you or a Federationist you know get a new job? Go on a major trip? Win an award? Have a child? Something else important to you? If you have news you would like shared in this column, send it to the bulletin editor, Tom Scanlan, and he will pass it along. Here’s the news since our last issue:
We are happy for Randi Strunk, who now has a full-time job at Target Headquarters, working to ensure that Target's web site is accessible.
This has been a busy spring for Megan Bening. She again participated in the national Braille Challenge at the Braille Institute and was a finalist at the varsity level. She also graduated from high school this year. All the best to you, Megan, as you meet the adventures of your future.
In April, Steve and Kallie Decker's new baby girl, Kyra, came into the world. All are doing well — congratulations to Kyra and to her parents!
Many of us are familiar with the astoundingly beautiful items of all sorts that George Wurtzel can make out of wood. Now he has his own business, making furniture. For more details, visit his Web site http://www.gmwurtzel.com
If we have missed some noteworthy news here, please send it along for the next column. Happy summer to all!
By Patrick A. Barrett
(Editor’s Note: Pat is a board member of the NFB of Minnesota, and a past president of our Metro Chapter in which he is very active.)
January generally means mounds of snow and plates piled high with spaghetti in St. Cloud, Minnesota. For many of us in the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBMN), we have looked forward each year to the Central Minnesota Chapter’s successful spaghetti dinner fundraiser.
This year was their 25th annual event. The chapter members did a super job with planning and putting it together. The spaghetti and garlic bread were delicious. Yet, our long-time friend and leader Andy Virden, was missing. He was hit and killed by a car in March 2011.
Fourteen of us from the Metro Chapter of the NFBMN went to the dinner this year. It was a little chilly when we arrived, and so I went into the first door of the building that was unlocked. I smelled the enticing aroma of spaghetti sauce, and I went in. I was surprised that the room was a little empty. I learned later that I had come in the overflow side for the dinner. However, when I came back with my plate heaped with spaghetti, I noticed it was already filling up steadily.
I sat with Sharon Monthei, Rob Hobson, Steve Jacobson, and Jean Rauschenbach. My wife Trudy usually comes, but she was in Idaho helping her dad take care of her critically ill mother. When I was in line with Sharon, we talked about the fact that we still did not know much about Andy’s accident. We believed city officials were giving the NFBMN the run-around. There were moments when the conversation paused. I noted the absence of Andy’s laughter in the room.
I visited with a few of our Central Minnesota Chapter members. I put my arm around them, and told them they had done a great job with the event. We missed Andy. Yet, we believed Andy was viewing the event and was pleased.
I went back for seconds. I made a resolution to myself that I would not go back for thirds (Steve and I were in a contest last year to see if we could consume three platefuls apiece), because I was cutting back on carbs. When I returned to the table, Jason and his friend Paul had joined us. I learned that Jason had been a counselor with State Services for the Blind (SSB) for a couple of years in the St. Cloud area. I introduced them to everyone else. They said this was their first time at the spaghetti fundraiser, and they were enjoying it.
I checked my watch, and the van would be leaving in 20 minutes. I went to the bar for a drink in memory of Andy. He had treated Trudy and me to a soft drink last year. I ordered a Diet Coke with lime. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I do not believe in drinking alcohol. Though the drink wasn’t as strong as Andy would have preferred for himself, my thoughts were strong toward him.
It just so happened that I was sitting next to Jason and Paul at the counter. Jason and I agreed that Andy’s accident was tough on the driver. We also talked about the many service organizations for which Andy was a hard worker, and his efforts to educate the public on the capabilities of the blind.
“To Andy and his achievements,” I said to Jason.
“To Andy,” he declared. We clinked our glasses together, and drank up.
Twelve years ago, when I was at the NFB national convention in Atlanta, Georgia, I remember a great encouragement Andy had given me. I had been working at Express Scripts, Inc. for about three years, in the private corporate sector. It was my first job away from services affecting the blind.
“Not everyone should work in the blind services areas,” he counseled warmly. “I am glad we have you doing a good job in the private sector.”
Andy Virden was a great friend to blind and sighted folks not only in Minnesota but also throughout the country. He loved serving others.
By Jean Rauschenbach
It all began at the state convention of the NFB of Minnesota in October where we were reminded of the Braille Readers are Leaders contest for adults. Actually, for some of us, it began when we heard about my experiences on a team in Illinois (I participated by phone) from a previous year. At the convention, we were urged to participate as individuals and establish a Minnesota team. The first five people to indicate interest in being on the team would be its members.
We had more interest than spots on the team because the rules limited us to five members. We Little Dots wish we could have had six members on our team to symbolize the braille cell — but rules are rules! At our first meeting, we chose a captain and a name. Choosing a captain was easy — we chose Jean Rauschenbach, the team member with experience and the team member willing to keep records for those of us who are not technically savvy.
Our team name was a little more controversial. We had numerous ideas, but in the end, we were proud to proclaim ourselves "LITTLE DOTS ON THE PRAIRIE!” We then registered our team with a goal of reading five thousand pages. Our team was composed of two intermediate and three beginner readers.
Meet the "Little Dots."
We were proud and excited about our team so we sent the following e-mail to introduce ourselves to the NFB of Minnesota and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) list.
Subject: Heads up! Our team is here!
Announcing our team for the adult contest for BRAILLE READERS ARE LEADERS.
From now on, we will be respectfully known as "Little Dots on the Prairie."
Watch out! We'll leave you in the dust.
Jean Rauschenbach: captain
Pat Barrett: author of team name
Trudy Barrett: wife of team name author
Hannah Furney: the youngest dot
Judy Sanders: the senior dot
Throughout our reading time we encouraged each other by sharing what we were reading and bragging a bit about our success. We reported at our local chapter meeting how we were on track to meet our goal — and then some. Our tastes in reading ranged from a book all about plants, to Kernel Books, to classics, to historical fiction and magazines.
We decided to meet on a regular basis and read aloud with each other. We took the Fall issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, the official publication of the NFB of Minnesota and read every single page — even the title page and the Special Symbols page. We were good! We finished the issue on January 2nd.
This team effort made our reading experience more fun and helped the beginning readers grow in their reading ability. For that matter, the intermediate readers had no complaints, either.
Now that it is all over, we can pat ourselves on the back. We won the adult category. And we beat our goal. We read around 7,500 pages.
As a person who only learned braille a few years ago, I find this contest a great way each year to challenge myself to read more and push myself. The friendly competition helps me realize that reading braille is a great way to enjoy books. When I could see better, holding a book in my hand and reading the print was very relaxing and satisfying. Now that reading print is prohibitive for long-term reading, I find that I will read more braille on my note taker. It is almost as good as reading the hard copy without the bulk.
By Brad Dunse
(Editor’s Note: Brad Dunse is a former student of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND). He is a freelance writer and performing songwriter living in River Falls, Wisconsin.)
Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. From that day forward, life has been an incredible journey of personal heartbreak, discovery, growth, joy, success, and a host of life learning experiences. One such continual lesson comes from personal behavior in reaction to events surrounding us, and the conduct of others. How and why people react the way they do in certain life situations.
Particular to this writing is my reaction to the varying effects we have as blind individuals on the garden variety sighted human. Why the varied responses to our personal exchange with them out on the street, in the workplace, or grocery store? What compels one person to physically grab your white cane, attempting to pull it in the direction they'd like you to go, while yet another will carry on a walking conversation without concern a cane is even present?
Why is it one person will awkwardly try to help, leaving you witness to their spilled purses, dropped grocery bags, or crashed shopping carts as pseudo-heroics cause them to trip for the door prior to your reaching for it? Yet another honestly addresses the elephant in the room, admitting they've never encountered a blind person before, so if help is needed, they'll just rely on you to say so?
Why is it one waitress will ask your dinner mate what it is you want off the menu as if you were an incapable toddler, while another will simply pull a pencil from behind the ear, flip a page back off the notepad, poke the pencil down on the paper, look at you and say, "Okay Hon, what can I get you?"
When I first came to learning about blindness, having much usable vision and carrying a sighted person's perspective, I may not have known or even thought of how I might handle myself in the company of a blind individual. But without question, I'd treat them with dignity and respect; in the same manner I try to treat anyone.
In this same time frame, I observed tirades from blind individuals as a result of their frustrated reaction to stereotypes and assumptions from people they met on the streets who treated them like helpless dotes.
I remember one incident involving a blind lady I knew who was getting on a city bus. A fellow passenger offered to help her. And in this particular case, the individual trying to help was really not that far out of line in my opinion. More chivalrous than patronizing. Nonetheless, the blind woman's demeanor horrifically snapped in front of the entire busload of people, really letting the well-intentioned passenger have it good. That scene was indelibly etched in my mind and caused me a considerable amount of consternation. Though I was disappointed by the reaction of this woman positioned as mentor, I was not judgmental of her; I was simply trying to understand her response to a well-meaning person.
Of course, over time I learned more about mobility skills and encountering sighted folks who reacted out of ignorance. Often times these encounters take on a belittling atmosphere of social helplessness, gaining intensity as well as audience the more it is allowed to continue. I began to understand how shear repetition of having to deal with it could become quite annoying.
The woman on the bus whose temper exploded at the well-meaning passenger reminded me of the very first time I got on an email discussion list as a new information highway passenger. My very first mass Internet communication and I was excited to try out this new medium. It was going to be awesome.
Not long after subscribing, a net acquaintance forwarded me a virus warning. You know — one of the hoaxes out there that some folks are driven to pass along ... just in case. Well, knowing no better, I passed it straight up to the email list like a helpful, responsible and yes, ignorant person might do. Within minutes, I was berated in front of the entire list, pretty badly I might add.
I was quite angry, upset and even hurt. I was only trying to help, just trying to be a responsible person, because seeing someone fall prey to this so called virus when I could avoid it was unthinkable. My first reaction was to assume "Geez! People on these email lists are rude, angry and just not very nice people at all. If that's the way they are going to be, I'll let them to their own misery!” Of course, over time and many discussion memberships later, I learned how often virus forwards occurred and how it took up people's valuable time. Such posts become repetitious aggravations, which this person happened to have had just one too many such posts with mine.
After the fact, like the person sending the nasty email, I understood the reason for the blind lady's overreaction on the bus. Still, I vowed I did not want to give that first impression to someone trying to help. Even if their help was out of ignorance, just like I was with my virus warning. Even if it was out of a needless sense of pity or inappropriate sense of superiority, I did not want to just hand over my emotional control to someone by hyper-reacting to their behavior. Neither did I want to make them feel as I had with my well-meaning yet ignorant post to the discussion list.
I then began to question and discover why this happens. Why the differing reactions like the ones mentioned earlier? Maybe I'm wrong; maybe it is uniquely limited to my experience, or perhaps living these years as a blind person has yet to teach me more in this area. Or in fact, maybe it is merely a perspective that isn't an absolute, but a generalization that serves my purpose for my own outcomes and education of dealing with such sighted folks.
At any rate, I've come to believe that to others we are not blind people at all. They really do not see "us" as blind people. What they do see is "themselves" as a blind person in our encounter with them. What do I mean? The reason they react as they do is sort of a dual mirror. They see a blind person across the street happily tapping along a sidewalk, for instance. What they also see ten feet directly in front is the stone planter smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk. However, what they really see is himself or herself as the blind person, based on their own lack of experiential reference and knowledge. They know without a doubt, if they were that blind person, there would be one heck of a bloody crash. To avoid their feeling this way, they holler across traffic "Watch out for the planter in front of you!” As if you could inherently know they were talking to you in the first place. You see they don't see "us", but they see "themselves" as the blind person in our shoes.
The second mirror is this: Remember the person who grabbed your white cane to direct you while in a walking conversation? Conversely, do you remember the person in the same situation that didn't give your blindness a second thought? Think about those two people for a minute. Was the one grabbing for the cane a weak type of person who is a bit insecure? A bit unsure in life? One who is themselves dependent? A person a bit undecided in life? A soul ambling through life directed by situations surrounding them?
Or perhaps the opposite side of the same coin, someone with a know-it-all facade? Someone with a quiet or bold attitude of superiority? One appearing to be strong by always being right? Someone over the top in bold dominancy? These types are likely over compensating for those same insecurities as those outwardly appearing weak, just in a quite different way.
What then about the person who carried on oblivious to the cane and its meaning as they continued walking and talking with you? What can we say about them? Were they a solid silent type? Someone fairly sure of themselves? A competent person? A risk taker perhaps? Someone who enjoys a challenge? Perhaps themselves balanced in independency? A methodically confident person? My guess is they probably are some combination of these traits.
Respective to the above types, the same can be said for the one tripping over themselves to open a door, and the opposing one who exposed the apparent elephant in the room. Same goes for the waiter or waitress that asked your friend what you want for dinner, compared to the pencil wielding waitress with the no nonsense attitude.
So what is the usefulness in knowing this? For me, at least, it is tremendously helpful to understand another person while in conversation or doing daily business. I am forever reading other people, unfortunately forgetting their name two seconds after we meet, because I'd been reading what they are really about the whole while. But for me to understand who they are and why they do what they do, is tantamount to helping me react in a way that will empower or positively enable me to utilize the encounter to my emotional or future advantage. Even if it serves the purpose, I won't lose control, fly off the handle in the moment, or get sarcastic with them. Even if it simply keeps me on top of the conversation or situation, because I know when I get out of control, invariably fear is present somewhere.
I really have nothing to fear encountering any type of insecure sighted person as a blind individual, and can remain in control through my own security. As a result, I am free to treat them in a more constructive manner.
So you see, we are really just walking mirrors, which, when others see us, they see themselves based on their own security or insecurity in life. And the process enables us to see their reflection of themselves, with the advantage of handling the situation to our emotional gain. We decide for ourselves who really needs the pity or help in the situation, and conduct ourselves accordingly. It really is a humorous trick on our part, but since they've initiated it with their response to our presence, why not finish it using it to our gain, and truthfully the good of all.
By Emily Zitek
(Editor’s Note: Emily is a former office manager at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), and now operates her own vending business in St. Paul as part of the Business Enterprises Program. She is an active member of our Metro Chapter.)
The stories of students going through adjustment-to-blindness training are very different, but most of their stories have similarities. My story prior to training was common among others I've heard over the years. Some of the students I taught have been blind all their lives and have lived a sheltered life that allowed them to depend on Mom or Dad or their spouse. Others just recently went blind, and as a result, they felt that there was no hope of continuing life as it had been. No matter what their stories, the result is always the same — they see a light at the end of the dark tunnel of a life of dependence on others and somehow become introduced to the NFB. Subsequently, they make the decision to get adjustment-to-blindness training once they realize that this is their ticket to independence. Six to nine months later, they graduate from training, ring their Freedom bell, and say, "I did it! Now I'm independent! Now I'm free to live a normal life!” After all this effort of hard work, meeting countless goals and experiencing weeks and weeks of challenges, you as a student feel like you've earned this independence. But is it really enough?
I began pondering this question early in the year 2000 after living in Minnesota for almost four years. I had attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the early ‘90s, and like most students going through training, I had thought I was destined to a life of depending on my family until my training began. I was feeling really good about my skills and the accomplishments I had made since moving away from home. I could cook, clean, travel decently, use the computer — heck, I had even moved all the way across the country. I figured if that didn't define my independence, then what would?
Today, people still ask about the reasons I moved so far away from my home in Louisiana. All the reasons I provide are indeed true — that the transportation and job opportunities are better for me here. But the main reason I moved here at age 18 was for, take a guess, a guy. His motives for getting me to move here were good, and to this day, I still am thankful to him because of the fact that I wouldn't be here and the successful person I am today if he hadn't been a factor in this situation.
One of the stipulations my family had on this guy before I moved was that he would call them if things weren't working out for us in Minnesota. And I counted on this agreement so heavily that I convinced myself that this guy — I'll call him Jake — would never leave me and would always take care of me. As long as he was by my side and supported me emotionally, I had it made. My skills would carry me through all the rest. But God forbid that he would ever leave me deserted in Minnesota with no one else to depend on.
Life was great for Jake and me, up until the tail end of 1999 when I took my yearly trip to visit my family in Louisiana for Christmas. Everything seemed fine in our relationship when I left for my vacation, or so I thought. In fact, the night I arrived in Louisiana, Jake and I had a quite pleasant phone conversation. But as the week progressed, I began having a gut instinct that something was going wrong. There were a few times when I called the apartment and Jake wasn't there, and whenever we did talk, he seemed cool and distant. When I arrived home just before the first of the new millennium, I was stunned to learn that Jake no longer wanted to continue dating me, and I felt like my perfect little world had crashed in on me. This was when I began asking myself if the skills I had acquired in adjustment-to-blindness training would be enough to carry me through this crisis. Sure, I had the skills necessary to find my own apartment, shop for new furniture, meet a new group of friends, etc., but I had no clue how I would handle my own well-being and live alone once Jake was out of my life. With his emotional support, I had always felt as though I could conquer the world, but without it, I felt like I couldn't function. In fact, I had even considered moving back to Louisiana. But what would that prove to me? What would that say about my self-confidence?
Weeks later, after deciding that Jake probably wouldn't come back, I found my own place and settled into a new life with the minimal help of other people, and I started going out and meeting new friends. I was just starting to realize how nice it was to be on my own when Jake came knocking on my door, asking to come back. Of course, since I was still deeply in love with him, I gave him another chance, but things were never quite the same. Within weeks after getting back together with him, I began to realize that I no longer needed him in the same way that had allowed me to fall in love with him. I was ready to conquer the world on my own and didn't need to rely on him for support. In my time of crisis in early 2000, I vowed to myself that I would think twice before depending on one other person — no matter in which way — for anything.
I've been married now for almost nine years, but I've developed a new attitude. Some readers might think it's an unhealthy attitude, but this is why I've become a strong-willed, self-confident person. This also goes for depending on others for accomplishing concrete tasks. The routine at my house is that I take care of the inside of the house, and my husband does the yard work and other outdoor chores. There will always be tasks at which I am not as efficient as I expect, such as mowing the lawn or painting the living room. But I've always been adamant about learning as much as possible about how I would deal with getting these tasks done if my husband isn't around tomorrow.
I learned the hard way that this is a tough world. The one you love and depend on so much could die tomorrow. They might wake up tomorrow and decide that you're not the one they want to be with forever. Your parents definitely aren't getting any younger, and someday they will need to depend on you. Even after you think you have all the skills you need to lead a successful, independent life, just remember this: you can only rely on yourself for any kind of support in the end. If you think you have it made by depending on others, there will come a time when reality will strike and you realize that you need to wake up and smell the coffee.
It isn't rare that people go through training and then go back home to live exactly the way they did before training — with Mom and Dad or a relative. Those people won't be around forever, so it's up to you as to how you want to take care of you. By depending on someone else, you're allowing yourself to be given the fish. By going through an NFB training center, you're being taught how to go out and catch your own fish.
So always have your fishing pole out there, because you need to eat every day, and you'll never run out of food if for some reason, one morning, you realize that there is no one to rely on but yourself.
By Judy Sanders
(Editor’s Note: Judy is secretary of the NFB of Minnesota, and a very active member of our Metro Chapter.)
Ah, the wonders and excitement of the Minnesota Great Get-Together! I listen to the sounds — the music, the children laughing, the vendors selling and the food frying. I smell the food — the grilling, the popcorn, and Sweet Martha's hot chocolate chip cookies. I'm happy and hungry.
So I decide to venture through the fairgrounds to find one of the new food items this year sold by Famous Dave's. They're pork cheeks. I'm taking a chance that they taste better than they sound.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have a lot of work to do. Still too many blind people do not know that they can enjoy the fair by themselves. In addition, most members of the public can't imagine how we do it.
I begin by asking at an information booth about where the Famous Dave's dining area is located. I then head in the direction indicated. Using a long white cane at the fair is very handy as it is in any travel situation. Some people get out of the way; others don't. But everyone is in a good mood and no one seems to mind when he or she encounter my cane. Periodically, I ask for directions to make sure that I am still headed the right way. I arrive and wait in line to place my order.
The paper tray in which my feast is sitting is quite heavy. Is it all the food or the stick?
I sit down and tentatively check out what I have. It is several huge chunks of tender pork with lots of gooey BBQ sauce on it. I dig in and find that it is delicious. But I need to ask another customer where I might find a supply of napkins. Finishing all of it, I am thinking that I really should stop eating. But then I think about the roasted corn, and how it is the last day of the fair and my last chance to indulge.
So I reverse my steps to find the corn. I think I am close and decide to confirm this. An older couple, resting on a bench, confirms that I am heading in the right direction and offer to go with me. I tell them that it is not necessary, smile, and keep going. The corn is just across the street.
There are two lines at the corn booth: one for purchasing a ticket and one for getting the corn. I am listening to determine which line gets me a ticket when the lady from the bench comes up to me and says that her husband is getting me a ticket. I know they are trying to be kind but I am embarrassed by accepting this. So I ask her to tell her husband not to do this but she says it is already done. What to do?
My initial reaction was to get three dollars out of my wallet and give it to them. But I only had a twenty and I could hardly ask them for change. I then remembered Dr. Kenneth Jernigan's eloquent "Don't Throw the Nickel" speech. He talked about knowing the right time to accept a gift gracefully that was given in kindness. So I smiled and said thank you.
Why did they buy the corn? Did they think to brighten my day? Did they think that I could not afford the corn? Whatever their mind set it could not have been because of high expectations for blind people. The corn didn't taste as good as it might have. As I said, we have lots of work to do in the Federation.
Have we made no progress in changing public attitudes? We've made plenty. I think of the number of people that I passed at the fair and they felt no obligation to help me. And there were others who were courteous when asked for directions. There were curious children who asked their parents about my long stick and I found a teachable moment. I hope I always remember the nickel but never lose sight of the important lessons we teach and learn through the National Federation of the Blind.
By Kristi Lovejoy
One day while on my way to work, driving of course, I stopped at a stop sign and proceeded to turn left on to a four-lane highway. At the same time, a small minivan was making a left-hand turn from the highway on to the road I was on. I proceeded to hit him right in the center of his van. That was the day I realized I really was blind.
I had been “legally blind” since 1993, but until this moment I never came to terms with my blindness. I always felt that I could see just as good as anyone else, and I had myself convinced of that fact. I even had little tricks to get around town and at work so no one really knew. But on that day when the police checked my driver's license and registration, I sat there wondering what I was doing. I decided at that point that I shouldn’t drive anymore, and I needed to get some professional help.
I didn’t know where to start. I looked through my MaxiAids catalog and decided to buy a white cane. I didn’t know how to use a cane, or what to look for when purchasing one, but I called them, and the customer service representative was quite helpful and assured me that I was getting the equipment that I needed. When the cane arrived in the mail, I still couldn’t face the fact that I was blind. It couldn’t be me. So I put the cane in the corner of my bedroom and tried to make friends with it for the next year. Then one day, I started having problems with my ears. As these problems kept persisting, I realized how much I used my ears for my eyes.
At that time, I really realized I was blind. So I was bound and determined to get some help. I called Montana Blind and Low Vision Services, and they sent a representative. I asked him for help in coming to a school I had learned about, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Inc. And after a couple months of paper work and discussion, I am finally getting to learn how to use my cane. I’ve finally come to terms with my blindness, embracing it as I go and learning something new every day. I am very thankful for this opportunity that I’ve been given, and cherish my days ahead as a blind person.
By Stephen Larson
(Editor’s Note: Stephen Larson is the new director of administrative services at State Services for the Blind. Most new employees are required to take six weeks of training in blindness skills to give them knowledge and confidence in the capabilities of blind people, followed by one week of low-vision training. As part of his training, he chose to go for his six-week emersion training at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Inc. Here is what he has to say about his experiences.)
In the fall of 2011, I participated in seven weeks of Adjustment to Blindness Training at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Inc. and Vision Loss Resources in Minneapolis. It was a tremendous learning experience and a difficult one at that, given the fact I was born without arms and use my feet to perform most activities of daily living.
I'd be lying if I were to say this training was easy for me because honestly, it was a lot of work requiring trust in the instructors and no small dose of courage. However, transformative life experiences typically require effort of this sort. Being without arms and using my feet to navigate the physical realm is challenging in and of itself; but using sleep shades adds an entirely new dimension. Not having hands to sense tactilely the environment around me, my poor fine motor skills and the limited tactile information I received from my cane through my prostheses all contributed to the challenge, not to mention the strenuousness of using my legs and feet more than usual in communications, home management and industrial arts classes.
I am a product of Minnesota's vocational rehabilitation program, and I have worked as both a counselor and manager. However, since there is a separate agency for the blind in Minnesota, I have never had the privilege of working with persons with blindness or other visual impairments. The training revealed to me the unique path that persons with blindness and low vision must take to achieve greater independence and employment: a path in some ways different from my own or that taken by persons with other types of disabilities.
One of the differences is the critical role that mobility plays for the blind to be engaged and active in their communities. Mass transit and well-developed orientation and mobility skills are essential as well as access to new technologies, the opportunity to integrate their functionality into their activities of daily living, the mental mapping of spaces and acute attention to auditory stimuli are key in the development of alternative strategies.
Similarities include the importance of emotional support, strong interpersonal skills, the capacity to problem-solve, occupational certification or licensure as well as multiple and varied educational or vocational experiences. This learning experience reinforced my opinion that for those with a severe disability, personal traits other than sheer intelligence or academic proficiency determine largely if one is to live a full and meaningful life.
I believe that student success often equates to employment success. When I was a student, I always considered my schooling a full-time job, as did several of my fellow students at BLIND, Inc. and Vision Loss Resources. An article from the New York Times by Paul Tough (September 14, 2011) entitled “What If the Secret to Success Is Failure,” examines characteristics which appear to be highly correlated with student success: “Students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class.”
These skills alone do not guarantee success, but I would argue that especially for persons with severe disabilities and those without the benefit of significant family resources, a “safety net” so to speak, they lie at the very foundation of success. Consider the role that optimism, self-control, persistence, the ability to recover quickly from negative experiences and social intelligence play in your life.
We all carry our own “cross”: adversity or traumatic life experiences. Some are able to carry the load while others unfortunately succumb to it. Few of the students I attended training with will succumb for they are no less than warriors in my estimation. They anticipate and accommodate adversity every day, forging a “battle-hardened” confidence. Accustomed to what many persons without disabilities and some persons with disabilities would consider insurmountable hardship, they "roll with the punches" and most emit a positive, optimistic aura that ripples throughout their physical and emotional environment. This charisma or positive energy often has a profound effect on his or her emotions and those of others.
Paul Tough's article also mentions the work of Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania who has researched the concept of self-control (the ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and feelings in the service of valued goals) and she coined the term “grit” to describe perseverance and sustained interest in long-term goals. Duckworth and her collaborators developed a grit test that they administered to more than 1,200 freshman cadets as they entered West Point. The military has its own assessments, but the more accurate predictor of which cadets persisted and which ones dropped out turned out to be Duckworth's 12-item grit questionnaire.
Dr. Martin Seligman, also of the University of Pennsylvania, and other researchers have identified a set of strengths that were especially likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement. They settled on a final list: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.
Some schools are actually beginning to attempt to teach these character strengths and are finding significant success in doing so. The importance of these characteristics permeates these schools with T-shirts that bear the slogan “Infinite Character” and Seligman's 24 character strengths. The walls are covered with signs that read, “Got self-control?” and “I actively participate!”
These types of conversations are not academic instruction or discipline, but rather a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that involves using the conscious mind to understand and overcome unconscious fears and self-destructive habits, using techniques like “self-talk” putting an immediate crisis in perspective, the struggle to pull yourself through a crisis, to come to terms on a deep level with your own shortcomings and to labor to overcome them.
The essential conclusion is that what kids or adults need more than anything is a little hardship or challenges in life that they can overcome and ultimately demonstrate to themselves that they are capable of doing so. Considering the adversity and hardship that many persons with severe disabilities experience, many possess a competitive advantage already by having developed these same types of personal characteristics.
Our vocational rehabilitation programs often do their best to achieve modest outcomes with the modest resources they are provided, but after all of my years in advocacy what I mourn the most is the comparative absence of persons with severe visible disabilities in leadership positions in our society. There are some, of course, but how many do you know or have you met outside of organizations that serve the disabled? We must collectively (among advocacy groups and service organizations alike) make a concerted effort to tie education and training opportunities to industry recognized credentials, start early in heightening the expectations that parents have of their children with disabilities and provide opportunities for youth to explore careers and develop technical competencies before high school graduation.
In closing, I would like to thank my employer, Minnesota State Services for the Blind for this opportunity to learn. I wish to acknowledge and commend the high degree of professionalism demonstrated by BLIND, Inc.'s and Vision Loss Resources' instructors and administrative staff who are clearly committed to the education of their students. Mostly, I appreciated what I learned from my fellow students. This learning will significantly influence my opinions and practice in the arenas of vocational rehabilitation and disability policy for years to come.
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 October 26-28, 2012 in Duluth at the Radisson Hotel, 505 West Superior Street, Duluth, Minnesota 55802. Room rates are $79.00 per night for any number in the room, plus tax. For reservations call 800-333-3333 by September 26. 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 in May 2013 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis. Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter is on our website at www.nfbmn.org.
The National NFB Convention will be the first week of July 2013 in Orlando, Florida. This is nearly a week of friends, fun, and serious business. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blind people in the world. The full convention bulletin will be in the Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.
Metro Chapter — Twin Cities area; meets at 10:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month at NFB of MN Headquarters, 100 East 22nd Street in Minneapolis
Riverbend Chapter — New Ulm area; meets at 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday of every month in New Ulm; contact Monica Buboltz at 507-354-5680 for meeting location
Rochester Chapter — Rochester area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester
Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:30 on the second Saturday of every month at the American Legion in Waite Park
Runestone Chapter — Alexandria area; meets at 1:30 on the third Saturday of every month at First Congregational Church in Alexandria
Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend. This group meets at the NFB of Minnesota headquarters at 100 E. 22nd Street in Minneapolis on the first, second, and third non-holiday Monday of the month from 4:30-6:30. Its purpose is to improve braille skills and get better acquainted with other NFB braille users. Attendees bring their own book or magazine or borrow one. Contact Melody Wartenbee at 612-870-9484 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Activities for youth — Several times a year, the National
Federation of the Blind of Minnesota holds
educational/recreational activities for blind youth. These
activities are designed to provide opportunities for the youth to
learn new skills, to connect with one another and with confident,
well-adjusted adult blind role models, and to have fun while
doing so. Meetings and other activities for parents
also take place in conjunction with these events. For more information, contact Charlene Guggisberg at 507-351-5413 or e-mail email@example.com
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is two-fold — to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind. By providing public education about blindness, information and referral services, scholarships, literature and publications about blindness, aids and appliances and other adaptive equipment for the blind, advocacy services and protection of civil rights, development and evaluation of technology, and support for blind persons and their families, members of the NFB strive to educate the public that the blind are normal individuals who can compete on terms of equality.
No one understands blindness as well as those who live with it daily. To apply this knowledge to solving the problems of blindness, blind people formed the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota (NFBM). NFBM is the state's largest and oldest organization of the blind. It provides self-help programs for blind people of all ages and activities.
As blind people, we know the loss of eyesight is not the major problem of blindness. The real problem is the misunderstandings that surround blindness. The NFBM overcomes this problem through education of the sighted to the reality of blindness and through mutual help among blind people. Such activities make blind people fully‑participating members of society. They earn their living, raise families, and take full responsibility for their own lives.
The NFBM began in 1920 as the Minnesota State Organization of the Blind. It is a membership organization open to everyone who believes in the capability of blind people to help himself or herself become full participants in the community.
In 1940, Minnesota and six other states founded the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Today, the NFB numbers over 50,000 blind people. It has organizations in every state, and local chapters in almost every sizable community.
During these many years, we have made strong progress toward equality. We have improved employment opportunities and education for blind persons in the state of Minnesota and in the nation.
Most of our members are blind, and their knowledge of blindness comes from their personal lives. Other organizations get their information on blindness through the reading of textbooks or other secondhand techniques.
For a complete listing of the NFB of Minnesota board of directors, visit www.nfbmn.org/board.html.
There are several ways to keep up with, as well as interact with, the most active group of blind people in Minnesota
· Join the discussion list for Minnesota on NFBNET at www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/minnesota-talk_NFBNET.ORG
· Follow @nfbmn on Twitter at twitter.com/nfbmn
· Like us on Facebook by searching for National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota at www.facebook.com/
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.
Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.
Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc edition.
Jennifer Dunnam transcribes the braille edition.
Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape and Compact Disc.
Judy Sanders proofreads and provides
corrections for both the print and braille editions.
Tom Scanlan marks up and posts the website edition.
Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition and other tasks as needed.
Emily Zitek embosses and collates the copies for the braille edition and mails all editions.