On July 26, 2001, at a ceremony held in St. Louis,Missouri, Lawrence (Larry) Kettner became the recipient of the RegionalHourly Associate of the Year award presented by his employer, CompassGroup North America, Chartwells Division, which is responsible for schooldining services K-12. Larry has held a utility position with Compass forthirteen years and has worked at Blake School in Hopkins, Minnesota, forten years. He says, "I work in the kitchen and do whatever they ask me todo; I clean counters and equipment, wash dishes, crack eggs, peelpotatoes, scrub pots and pans--anything at all." At the celebration inSt. Louis, Larry received a trophy and a check for $1,000. The exquisitetrophy depicts a figure of a man reaching for a star, which is suspendedabove his head, with the inscription on the base saying "ABC" for "aboveand beyond the Call (of duty), "Lawrence Kettner, July 26, 2001."
Larry and his boss, Kimberly Chase, director of schooldining services for Blake School campuses, were scheduled to go to LasVegas, Nevada, on November 27 for the national party to recognize the sixregional 2001 employees of Compass; however, the terrorist attacks ofSeptember 11 caused the cancellation of the national event. Instead,Larry and his boss were invited to Charlotte, North Carolina, where onDecember 5, Larry, clad in the traditional white suit, carried the flamingOlympic Torch for one-quarter mile of its long journey to Salt Lake City,Utah, for the 2002 Olympic Games. He now proudly displays his trophy, thewhite suit and a model of the Olympic Torch as symbols of his personalsuccess and of his employer's recognition of his value on the job.
And all of us in the National Federation of the Blindwho have known Larry as an active and very dedicated member since 1974say, "Congratulations, Larry; the honor you have received is welldeserved." We have known Larry Kettner as an enthusiastic national andstate Federation convention attendee, as an energetic fundraiser, and as aFederationist who recognizes the importance of spreading the word to thepublic about the capabilities of blind people in the job market, of theirright to independence and equal participation in the community and oftheir need to give back to the community for what has been received. Larry understands and appreciates the concept of collective action and thebenefits to be gained if one is willing to give back. His own personalstory of struggle to achieve, putdowns by rehabilitation agency personnel,and of overcoming attitudinal barriers to reach ultimate triumph is onefrom which everyone can learn an important lesson. The honor bestowedupon Larry by his employer of thirteen years is much deserved, and itcomes after twenty-seven years of fierce conflict with private agencystaff and rehab counselors and perseverance to succeed at a job he knew hecould do.
Born in 1934, Larry Kettner was diagnosed with Usher'ssyndrome when he was in the eighth grade. He was already legally blindfrom retinitis pigmentosa, and his hearing would gradually deteriorateover the years until today he is totally blind and can hear only with theassistance of two very strong hearing aids. He was a farmer in CarverCounty in Minnesota and loved that job until 1973, when he decided to quitbecause of his decreasing vision.
The hard work of farm life had been daily routine forLarry; he had experienced challenges and overcome barriers on a regularbasis. Although he felt that he could not operate his farm asindependently as he wished, he was certain that he could be successful infinding suitable employment. Larry was determined to be self-supporting. He would not settle for a welfare check; he would pursue a competitive jobin which he would carry his weight and earn his keep. Nevertheless, Larrycould never have anticipated the rocky road which lay ahead of him as hestruggled to make his dream come true.
He was referred to Minnesota State Services for theBlind (SSB) in 1973 and was referred to Sharon Grostephan, arehabilitation teacher hired by the NFB of Minnesota, for travel training. At the same time he was sent to the Minneapolis Society for the Blind, nowVision Loss Resources (VLR), for work evaluation and possible employmentin the sheltered workshop.
It was at VLR in 1974 where Larry encountered majorunfair treatment and job discrimination. The National Federation of theBlind was at the height of its battle with the National AccreditationCouncil for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) atthat time, and VLR was a NAC-accredited agency, one of the stalwart NACsupporters in the blindness field. An examination of the evaluationdocuments on Lawrence Kettner in the sheltered workshop revealed that hehad been making steady improvement in speed and productivity; yet, hisevaluation was suddenly terminated, and he was certified as being able toearn only eighty percent of minimum wage. Larry was forced by VLRofficials, who ganged up on him in a closed meeting where he had nosupport, to sign a minimum-wage waiver. At the same time, Larry andSharon Grostephan had found a job for Larry in the open job market at paywell above minimum wage. Larry signed the VLR waiver because he neededthe money owed him and feared he would not be paid if he didn't sign. Hisstory was told in the article "NAC Unmasked: The Kettner Case" at the1974 National Convention in Chicago. His story was instrumental inpersuading the Rehabilitation Services Administration commissioner todiscontinue federal funding of NAC, a major step forward in our efforts toreform or destroy NAC.
An appeal of Larry's VLR evaluation results was filedwith the U.S. Department of Labor, Wages and Hours Division, and theinvestigation revealed that the VLR evaluation had been flawed. VLR wasordered to back-pay Larry for the difference between the evaluation figureand the actual pay he should have received. Of course, Larry remembersthe struggle to make VLR pay up, but he eventually was paid. Many workerswould have given up the fight, but Larry knew he had earned the money andheld out until he received it. The late '70's and early '80's brought amixture of success and further problems to be solved. Larry wassuccessful in his employment setting; however, his eyesight continued todeteriorate, and he needed further training. In 1978 he attended theSouth Dakota Rehabilitation Center in Sioux Falls. This was notproductive either because, again, the staff did not understand Larry'sinnate drive. He would not be broken down by insult or outright rudenessor personal disrespect. One staff person actually told him to "Shut up." He would not settle for the sheltered workshop system's approach to hissituation--work at routine and repetitive manual labor for a paltry payfar below the minimum wage and accept treatment as a second-class citizen. Larry continued to pursue his goal of full-time employment in thecompetitive workforce.
In 1985 Larry Kettner took the daring step ofreturning to VLR for rehabilitation training. He had a very supportiveSSB counselor, who did everything possible to ensure fair treatment forLarry. Several VLR directors had come and gone, and many staff changeshad taken place. And Larry was desperate to be employable. As soon as theword that Larry was a member of the National Federation of the Blind wasout at VLR, no one would even speak to him. He was isolated, excludedfrom certain VLR program activities, and insulted by agency staff. Onetravel instructor made a highly-inappropriate, but very derogatory, comment regarding Larry's appearance one day on a lesson. After a shorttime, Larry had enough and he left.
At this point he began to learn sign language toassist him in communicating with others. He also was referred to severalplacement programs to help him find a job. He was now living fullyindependently and was not about to give up on his ultimate goal. In 1988,success came. Larry's friend found an ad for a utility job inMinneapolis. With the assistance of his SSB rehab counselor, MaureenToonkel, and a referral agency, Larry was hired for the job, and that iswhere he has remained for the past thirteen years, at Compass Group USA,Chartwells Division, working in the school dining services now at BlakeSchool in Hopkins. Throughout his years of struggle, Larry looked to theNFB for encouragement and direction. He called when he experienced unfairtreatment and felt down. We did what we could to help; however, it wasLarry's incredible drive to reach his goal of meaningful full-timeemployment that led to his final victory. He remembers well the names ofall those professionals who worked with him, those who were unfair andcondescending, as well as those who gave him support and positiveassistance. In addition to his membership in the National Federation ofthe Blind, Larry has belonged to the Lions, the Eagles, the Elks, and theMoose clubs in Minneapolis. He seizes upon every opportunity to educateothers in these organizations about blindness. He also promotes theFederation and solicits contributions for NFB whenever these groups arehaving fundraisers. Today, Larry is living independently in a high-rise inSt. Paul. He leaves for work every day at 4:30 a.m. and is paid wellabove $10.00 per hour for his full- time job, far more than the unjustsubminimum wage VLR officials had judged him capable of earning in 1974. He loves his work and all the people who work with him. Larry is a veryloyal employee, and obviously, based on the reward bestowed upon him in2001, he is greatly appreciated by his peers and his supervisor.
The press release Larry's employer circulated at thetime he flew to Charlotte to carry the Olympic torch is indicative of thehigh regard for him his supervisor and colleagues feel. In that release,Ms. Chase says "Larry is a true team player. For large catering events,Larry helps our team with chopping vegetables and skewer meat, preparinghors d'oeuvres, and contributing recipe and menu ideas. When it comes tosanitation, no one can get past Larry without thoroughly washing theirhands and running the silverware twice."
Those are very complimentary words, and Larry hasevery reason to feel proud of his success. He has worked hard for manyyears to achieve this goal. Although he is now almost sixty-eight yearsold and could retire if he wanted to, Larry will continue to do the workhe enjoys. And all Federationists will join him in celebrating the honorhe has received and the many years of active and dedicated service he willcontribute in the future.
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(Editor's Note: This is the winner of the 2001 MetroChapter essay contest.)
Late last fall my sister Mandie called me to tell methat she was getting married. I was thrilled for her. I had met herboyfriend, Ben, several times. He's a great guy and they are adorabletogether. She asked me if I would stand up for her. She said that shewanted our other sister, Kim, and I to both serve as her maids of honor. I felt very grateful, but a little nervous. I couldn't remember the lasttime I had been to a wedding and I had no idea what it was like to be amember of the wedding party. And knowing Mandie, I knew this weddingwould be complicated and extravagant. Mandie is like a younger, louderversion of Martha Stewart.
Within a few weeks, I learned that my first task wouldbe to write a poem that I would then read during the wedding ceremony. Icouldn't refuse, but I felt really uncomfortable. Mandie was having herwedding in my parents' church - the church I had grown up in. I hadn'tbeen in the front of that church since the seventh grade and I had had nointention of ever getting up there again.
When I was a child, I had essentially the same visionI have now. I was blind, but I could see well enough to read print sothe-powers-that-be decided that I didn't need to learn any blindnessskills. I wasn't given a cane. I could manage in good lighting, but Iwould stumble a lot in dark places.
Every year, our Sunday School would present aChristmas Eve program. We would memorize lines and the children who werein band would play their instruments. When I was in seventh grade, I hadto recite my lines at the lectern and then cross in front of the alter towhere my saxophone was waiting. The lights were low and I couldn't seewhere I was going. I stepped on the leg of the second grader who wasplaying Mary and tripped. I was so embarrassed. When Christmas camearound the following year, I was so afraid that it might happen again thatI couldn't bring myself to perform at all, so I faked a stomach ache andstayed home.
After college, I received adjustment-to-blindnesstraining and learned to use a cane and read braille. I joined theNational Federation of the Blind and developed a positive attitude towardblindness. I now use a cane and have even taught cane travel. I oftenget up on stages at coffee houses and literary centers to read my poetrywithout a second thought. But there was something about going back tothat place - it brought back that memory and made me really nervous.
I finished writing the poem the day before thewedding. I knew the best thing to do would be to memorize it, pound itinto my brain so that my nerves wouldn't get the better of me. But I hadvery little time left and I knew with all the last minute preparations Iwould have to learn it on the go. So I wrote it out in Braille and tookit with me everywhere I went. I read in the car, at the beauty shop whileI was getting my hair done, at the church between photographs. But Iwasn't satisfied that I wouldn't freeze up or forget a line, so I put myBraille copy on the lectern just in case.
The rehearsal was the night before the wedding. Mysister had eight bridesmaids and her fiancée had only six groomsmen. Soit was decided that my dad would walk Kim and me up the aisle and thenwalk out the side door to meet Mandie. I had been wondering what I wasgoing to do with my cane. I knew that I needed it. There were some veryodd shaped steps between where I was supposed to stand and the lectern. Iknew I couldn't have another incident like the one in seventh grade.
But I also knew that I wanted to have it with me. Growing up, I not only lacked blindness skills, I also had no idea thatbeing blind could be anything but embarrassing or shameful. People alwaysseemed to talk about my blindness with whispered euphemisms, referring tome as "the Wharton girl who can't see very well." So I did everything Icould to hide my blindness. I pretended to see things that I couldn't,like slide shows or people's outfits. I even scored poorly on historytests because I couldn't read them fast enough and was too embarrassed toask for help. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't totally hide myblindness and I would end up frustrated, exhausted, and miserable.
When I learned the skills of blindness and joined theNational Federation of the Blind, I learned that I didn't have to put allthat effort into hiding my blindness. I met competent, confident blindpeople who showed me by example that being blind is okay. They taught methat being blind isn't shameful, it is perfectly normal. This lifted ahuge weight off my shoulders. It was a wonderful relief to enter a roomwithout having to wonder "do these people know I can't see?"
There were going to be at least 350 people at thewedding (which is a third of the population of the town). I wanted themall to see that I am comfortable with being blind. I wanted them to knowthat they don't have to whisper anymore. But I wasn't sure how my familywas going to react to me carrying my cane up the aisle. Just as it hadbeen a difficult process for me to become comfortable with my blindness,it had been difficult for them. They had to learn to let me do things formyself. They had to hear me talk about blindness and see me walk aroundwith my cane in order to really know that it was okay. They had made agreat deal of progress, but I live 250 miles away and they only see memaybe five or six times a year, so they sometimes have a tendency to seeme as I was and not as I am now.
My mother was the first to broach the subject. Shesaid, in a roundabout way, that I probably wouldn't need my cane since Iwould have my dad's arm. But Mandie, the real decision maker at thisevent, didn't seem to worry at all. She told me to do whatever made memost comfortable. This made me feel very happy and helped me to relaxquite a bit.
The whole ceremony went off beautifully. I made it tothe lectern and back easily and delivered the poem smoothly - though myvoice quivered from trying to hold back tears. When I left the sanctuaryI was elated. Mostly I was happy for my sister and the wonderful new lifeshe was beginning, but part of my happiness was for myself. I felt asthough I had written over those childhood memories of fear andembarrassment with memories of confidence and grace. I was able to do mypart to make my sister's wedding a beautiful day she will always remember. But I don't think I could ever have done this if I hadn't learned to use acane and read Braille. And I know for certain that I could not have donethis if my friends in the National Federation of the Blind hadn't shown methat it really is respectable to be blind.
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(Editor's Note: Bonnie Elsey, Assistant Commissionerof the Department of Economic Security responsible for State Services forthe Blind, presented this item on October 27, 2001 at the NFB of Minnesota2001 Annual Convention. It is presented here in its entirety becausehaving the skills to live as a blind person and get a job is critical tothe lives of all blind people, and State Services for the Blind iscritical to getting those skills.
Adjustment-to-Blindness training is learning thealternative techniques such as Braille, use of a white cane, and theself-confidence to function without eyesight. Gilmore training isjob-placement training given to the SSB staff.)
First of all, I want to talk about adjustment toblindness because there is a huge misunderstanding. Gilmore training andjob placement has absolutely nothing to do with adjustment to blindness. Let me explain why. First, I'll give you my view on the importance ofadjustment to blindness. To me, adjustment to blindness is first of all abelief in yourself. If we can't believe in ourselves and believe that wecan do things, we're never going to get anywhere in life - whether theissue is a loss of vision, or the issue is a loss of a spouse, or the lossof something else. It's about change. For some people, you were bornblind, and for others it's a huge change in the way that you have toaccess your world. But it starts with your own personal beliefs, and ifyou don't have a strong belief that you can do what you want to do anddream what you want to dream, and take an active part in society, notraining is going to help you in any area. So, I want you to understandthat the very first thing, to me, is that a person has to adjust to theirbelief in themselves.
Once they start believing in themselves, they need tostart diligently working on adaptations to their environment. If you arenewly blind, you have to learn new ways and new techniques to do things. You can't go to any kind of training until you can start being mobileagain and you can start taking care of yourself again.
One of the things that I have noticed in StateServices for the Blind - we have contracts with vendors. We have threemajor vendors, and all of you are aware ofthat--BLIND, Inc., which Joyceruns, Vision Loss Resources, and the Duluth Lighthouse. Our contractsare open-ended; there is no outcome base that we can actually measure. What I am concerned about, and what I want to do (and I have a meetingcoming up with vendors), is I want my staff to understand the content thatis taught at each vendor. When I say content, what I am talking about iswhat are the techniques that the vendor teaches the person: mostimportant, how to believe in themselves; how to travel independently; howto access the printed media; how to live independently. When I say "liveindependently," it means more than just to be able to take care ofoneself; it means to be able to participate in the world of work in acompetitive environment, and it means to be able to participate in everyaspect of society.
A second thing I want to look at when it comes tooutcomes of adjustment to blindness: I want the staff to understand whatthe objectives are of the techniques. Why does the vendor teach thetechnique in the way they do? What are the outcomes of their techniquesfor the person? How does it change their life? How does the person seehimself or herself after the training? How do they view their future? How do they travel independently? How do they access the printed word? Ifthey know Braille, what is their proficiency--how many words per minute? How can they access the computer? What is their proficiency in accessingthe computer? Can they live independently? What are the measures andbehaviors that demonstrate that the person is living independently? Whatis the vendor's track record in this area?
Another thing that I want to look at is the beliefs. What are the expectations that the vendor has for the person? What arethe counselor's expectations for the person? How do they go aboutteaching those expectations? What does the person believe in himselfafter the training?
The other thing that I think is critically importantis looking at the attitude and views of the vendors when it comes to theircapacity and knowledge of other disabilities. Last year, in StateServices for the Blind, about 75% of our customers had dual disabilities. So what is the vendor's capability of dealing with disabilities inaddition to the loss of vision?
One of the things that is very important to me is tostart off with the belief system. The belief is the only way that a personcan move forward. Then they need to learn the techniques.
When I say that Gilmore has absolutely nothing to dowith adjustment to blindness, it's because adjustment to blindness has tocome before job placement. If some of my staff believes differently, thatnever came from me. Adjustment to blindness is the number one step inchange if a person loses their vision. I have never said anythingdifferent from that, and it really makes me irritated when I hear thatpeople think I said something different.
What I noticed when I came to State Services for theBlind was the staff's lack of knowledge of some of these questions that Ihave just posed to you about the techniques, the beliefs, and why vendorsdo what they do. They may have been to training, but they don'tunderstand the underlying reasons things are done. And until theyunderstand that, they can't give customers informed choice. There's a lotof work to be done in this area. I can ask a counselor a question aboutthese things, and I'll get a different answer from each counselor. Wejust can't have that anymore. We absolutely have to have acontent-driven, objective- driven--we have to know what we're spending ourfederal dollars on and the outcomes on behalf of our customers.
The reason that I contracted with Gilmore was for oncea person has gone through adjustment-to-blindness training. When I saythat a person may be ready for job placement before training, I am nottalking about adjustment-to-blindness. That's a given. I'm talking aboutclassroom training--vocational training.
Some people have been through two or three vocationaltraining courses and are still unemployed. Maybe it is because they neverhad appropriate adjustment-to- blindness training. Maybe it's because,whether they had the training or not, they never adapted the belief systemthat they could do what they set out to do. That is a problem for peoplein this world, not just blind people. You all know that. People haveproblems; I have worked with many, many different people in employmenttraining programs who have belief systems that they don't believe inthemselves. It doesn't matter if they're on welfare or what their issueis: they're never going to be a productive member of society until theyhave that belief in themselves. So what are the techniques and tools thatwe can offer people to (1) believe in themselves, and (2) learn theadaptation devices or different ways of doing things so they can travel,access the printed word, and be a part of society in every way, includingthe world of work?
The Gilmore training was brought to the state becausemy staff is supposed to be vocational counselors. As I talk to my staff,they know very little about the labor market, and that's shame on us. Howcan my staff encourage and promote people to look at careers, good payingjobs, if they don't know what those jobs are themselves? This was a hugedisappointment for me to realize that these people are vocationalcounselors, and they don't necessarily have the knowledge of the labormarket and the world of work.
There's a lot of training that my staff will beundergoing. They need to have a better understanding of whatadjustment-to-blindness training really means, what the outcomes are fromthe different vendors, and what the beliefs are of the different vendorsthat we operate with. It's not just the vendors themselves; we also use alot of private rehab teachers in different areas of the state. What arethe techniques and what are the outcomes?
The other thing that the staff absolutely have to knowin order to help the customer make a good, informed choice about theircareer, they have to have a career exploration course so that people canlook at what options are available to them and really get an understandingof what kind of work is out there and what they may be able to do, so theycan make a better choice about their vocational future and what kind oftraining they want to go into.
My counselors are very good at authorizing trainingand sending people to college or vocational school. But what happensafter that? What do they know about employers? We have to change theattitudes of employers, so they realize that just because a person doesn'thave vision doesn't mean they can't do anything another person on that jobcan do. They just need the assistive technology or the adaptation to thework environment so they can do it. My staff has absolutely no knowledgeof working with the employers. I have one placement person in the wholeagency, and some assistive technology people. The staff has got tounderstand what employers are looking for.
One of the things that Gilmore taught that isabsolutely critical for all of us to believe, is that there is no perfectemployee. When you go to an employer and they tell you what the personhas to be able to do and what they're looking for in a person, they aretalking about somebody that none of us can live up to. When you go into aplace and you meet an employee and see the errors they make, you realize,how did they get hired? They weren't perfect. None of us are perfect.What I'm trying to bring to the staff is to realize what are the essentialthings the person has to do--not everything the employer says the personhas to do--and then sell the employer on the fact that your person can dothat job as well as anybody else. That's really the change and whatGilmore was intended to do. We have staff that believes that ourcustomers didn't have all of those skills; therefore they couldn't bereferred to that employer. I'm saying that none of us have all of thoseskills. The employers ask for the most ideal person, and none of us willever fit all those expectations. The purpose for Gilmore is to say thatyour person may be job-ready and you don't even know it. Your person hasthe skills, but you have to believe they have the skills. You have to beable to convince them they have the skills and tell the employer they havethe skills.
The Gilmore training is for the purpose of getting thestaff to look at how you place people on jobs, how you change the beliefsof the employers. It was never meant to replace adjustment-to-blindness. It's after adjustment-to-blindness. I don't even think vocationaltraining is appropriate until you've had adjustment-to- blindnesstraining. The question is, "Is the person job-ready, or do they needvocational training?"--not "do they need adjustment-to-blindness?" That iswhere Gilmore fits. The answer may not always be educational training,or it may be. Are the people placeable now? What skills do they have tooffer the employer? It has nothing to do with adjustment-to-blindness,because that had to come first. That's how adjustment-to-blindnesstraining and Gilmore fit--or don't fit--Gilmore was meant to beafter-the-fact.
(Here is the question-and-answer session followingBonnie Elsey's comments.)
Joyce Scanlan: I have two questions; I'll ask themboth and then give you a chance to respond.
Maybe I misunderstood you, but it sounded to me as ifyou were making a real distinction between people who were born blind andpeople who became blind later. Granted, there are some differences, but Ithink there are some commonalities that we have to recognize and that needto be dealt with. For example, whether you're blind from birth or whetheryou become blind later, you're all still affected by the same societalattitudes toward blindness. We all have to have the same skills. Maybeone who was born blind learns them earlier, but because of the effects ofattitudes of society, families and friends toward blindness, there can besome ill effects that have to be addressed as a person becomes an adultand gets into the age of employment. That's my first question: do youreally believe that the two things are very, very different?
My next question deals with adjustment-to-blindnesstraining. We expect the counselors to understand it and to make use of itfor their customers, but we are no longer asking staff to takeadjustment-to-blindness training. If the basic problem is that they don'tunderstand what adjustment-to-blindness training is, shouldn't we begiving them some training to help them learn what it is?
Another thing is that it troubles me when I hear thatwe are thinking of making adjustments for a blind person who may not beready for work. I think we should do everything possible to make a personas ready as possible for the employment field, and not try to say "well,we have this imperfect being and we're going to put them on a job becauseno one else is perfect either." It worries me that we don't try to makeas perfect an employable person for the job market as we possibly can. Itseems to me that should be the goal, rather than thinking downward abouthow maybe the person doesn't have to be perfect. Can you respond to thosethings?
Bonnie Elsey: Hopefully I'll remember all three. Thefirst one was do I believe there's a difference between born blind andnewly-blind. I don't think there's a difference in what they need tobelieve in themselves and the techniques. What I think is different isthe word "change." A person who was born blind never saw; a person thatis newly-blind has the factor of change. Their life has changed. That'sall I meant by that. I didn't mean that their process and what they haveto learn and believe in themselves is any different, and I don't believesociety's attitudes are any different. The difference is the word"change." [People who became blind later] had learned a way ofapproaching the world that now they have to approach differently.
On the second item, it is not true thatadjustment-to-blindness training is not required of new staff. We havethree new staff right now that need to go through adjustment-to-blindnesstraining. Joe Pattison and I are working on what it is that the personneeds to learn about the vendors and about blindness, the techniques, howthey're taught, and what the objectives are. We're laying that out rightnow. It is absolutely going to be mandatory that they know that stuff inorder to give customers the right information. We don't have it puttogether yet, and we have to meet with the vendors to tell them what wewant the staff to know.
Your third question was are we lowering expectationsfor training. No, not at all. That is not what is meant by "a person maybe job-ready already." What is meant is that we have customers who havehonestly gone through two or three vocational programs and are still notemployed. Are we trying to dumb down jobs? Absolutely not. A long-rangeinvestment in a person, and the amount of money that will besaved--whether it's SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI(Supplemental Security Income) or the money they will be able to pay inincome tax--we want the best, most high-paying jobs for our people. Weare willing to make the investment in that training. The customer has tobenefit from that training also. You have to start looking back at thecustomer when they've been to a couple different vocational trainingprograms and still aren't employed. Now, it may be their beliefsystem--that they didn't get what they needed in theadjustment-to-blindness, but we have to question that and measure that. We have to start pushing--maybe they're just scared. But I would neversay that we don't believe in trying to get the very best and highest wageand benefits for the people that we work with. That's the aim of theprogram--that's why Title I of the Rehab Act exists.
Joyce Scanlan: All I can say is that we're hearing adifferent story from the counselors. More than one counselor has said,when talking to BLIND, Inc.,which does adjustment-to-blindness training, that they're going to do jobplacement first and then adjustment-to-blindness training. So it needs tobe clarified with them what kind of training you're talking about so thatthey don't push people into the job market before they've had thoroughadjustment-to-blindness training and can deal well with their blindness.
There may be people in the audience who would like toask questions and give you further information about this so you realizewe're not just crying wolf or trying to make trouble. This is a veryserious point to us, and we've had a long-standing record of promotinghigh-quality adjustment-to-blindness training and ultimately good jobplacement. We want that as much as anybody does. That's the thing thatreally counts for us, so that's how we want to see it work.
Shawn Mayo: I have a number of comments and questions. First, I'd like to let you know that for the people who have gone throughthree vocational programs and aren't employed, the problem isn't that theyhaven't had good educational training, it's that they haven't had goodadjustment-to-blindness training. That's where we have to start withanybody going in to get a job. You stated that theadjustment-to-blindness programs should be giving outcomes. I'm curiousto know what criteria SSB is using to determine if a person is ready forjob placement?
Bonnie Elsey: First of all, obviously they have to beable to travel independently and to be independent. We have a meetingcoming up with vendors to sit down and start talking about some of theoutcomes based things that we have never done. I'm not saying the centersdo not have outcomes or are not measuring, I'm saying State Services forthe Blind does not have a record of what they're getting from thedifferent vendors, what the outcomes are, what the expectations are. Fora blind person to become employed, it's no different than for anyone elseto become employed: they have to be able to follow direction, do their jobtasks, travel to work, assimilate in the work environment--I don't see anydifference from any other person.
Shawn Mayo: I would say that it is different in thatthe blind person has to be able to adjust to their blindness, have theskills and alternative techniques to do these things, have a positiveattitude about blindness and feel comfortable with themselves and theirblindness techniques. That is a difference between the sighted publicgoing to get a job and blind people.
Bonnie Elsey: But that is exactly what I said earlier.
Shawn Mayo: Thank you for clarifying. Earlier whenyou were speaking I noticed a lot of references to adjusting to blindness,which is a major part. Adjusting to blindness should be incorporated intoadjustment-to-blindness training. BLINDInc. does incorporate it into the training program, and it takestime. I'm wondering, what do you think is the length that anadjustment-to- blindness training program should be?
Bonnie Elsey: It's an individualized thing. For somepeople, it may be done in six to eight months; for some people, it maytake a year to a year and a half. I don't really know. The key is, wehave to demonstrate and be able to measure by behavior where a person is. I don't think it's cut-and-dry that it's a certain number of months or acertain number of weeks. People deal with things differently, and we haveto have a support system out there for them to make it all the way, evenif it's longer than the regular training program.
Shawn Mayo: Thank you. I'm glad to hear you say that. Counselors have told me that people don't need to come for this length oftime or stay for the entire duration of their program, because they needto get a job. They say that's the current policy of SSB. Perhaps youcould write a memo to your staff clarifying this. I think it's great thatyou believe that adjustment to blindness involves attitudes and beliefsalong with techniques. It takes time, and it has to be the first step topeople going into competitive employment with upward mobility.
Joyce Scanlan: The length of the training time has tobe individualized. That's another area where the counselors need someguidance and direction, so maybe you could clarify that with them. Thecounselors are the ones in control--they're the ones who say, "This personwill have three months of training ... This person will have just Brailleand travel ... this person will not be in the whole program." All thosekinds of things are dictates from the counselor when they come forwardwith the person to be trained. We're finding that we're not given anyvoice in the decisions, even though we have a lot of background andexperience--a lot more than the counselors probably have. There needs tobe some better direction and understanding of what adjustment-to-blindnesstraining is all about so that counselors can be helpful to theircustomers. In the end, it will make a big difference in terms of what thecustomer does for a job and whether the person can have a full career intheir lifetime or whether they will settle for some entry-level job thatthey'll get tired of in six months and come back looking for more servicefrom SSB. I see some serious issues that you could help with.
Emily Wharton: My first point concerns staff training. There's an old Sunday school class game where folks are blindfolded forone hour or one day and led around. The purpose was to teach them whatit's like to be blind, but it ended up confusing and scaring them mostly. It's very important to make sure that the training the SSB counselorsreceive is not like that--that they actually get a full and completeexperience of the program, that they have the time to really know andexperience the program. Starting out in adjustment-to-blindness trainingis scary, and we don't want SSB staff members to have the impression thatthat's the way it is all the time.
My second point has to do with technology. I teachcomputers at BLIND, Inc., and,particularly in the last couple of months, I've been receiving a lot ofphone calls and e-mails from people saying they are having a huge amountof difficulty getting their counselors to arrange for technology stafffrom SSB to come and help them, getting the technology they need for theirnew jobs, getting training or technical support for equipment theyhave--any number of problems all throughout the process. This has beenan overwhelming concern that I've seen from a lot of people, and I wantedto make sure you're aware of that.
Bonnie Elsey: I am aware of that, and we are addinganother assistive technology staff person. It is absolutely critical thatwe have people to work with our customers and also to work with employersright away when a person is going onto a job. As budget allows, that isan area that I plan on increasing. We live in a highly technical world,and technology is very important to everybody, especially blind people. When I look at filling positions, I'll be adding more people in that area.
Joyce Scanlan: Is there a policy regardingauthorization of adjustment-to-blindness training on a month-by-monthbasis or having to negotiate after each month, even though we know thatpeople are going to need three to six months and sometimes more than that? There is a counselor from out-state who authorized a full nine months oftraining, and of course, we'll use what is needed for that person, but atleast we don't have to go back and negotiate every single month to get thenext month of training. Is there anything you can do to help facilitatethe smooth flow of authorizations? We will not overuse the months if theyare not needed; when a student is ready to finish, the student will know,and we wouldn't be able to keep the student if we wanted to, so that's notan issue. Can authorizations be made for a block of three or six monthsfor a person we know will need that much training time?
Bonnie Elsey: First of all, I didn't even know we weredoing it month-by-month. Of course there are ways of doing it for a longerperiod of time. Again, the meetings that we have coming up with thevendors are absolutely critical. I want this to work for both of us. Idon't know what the line staff procedures are and what they've been doingfor years and years; I find out more things every day that to me seem awaste of time and pushing paper. We're trying to eliminate some of thatstuff. And it's "stuff"; it has nothing to do with their interaction withthe blind person or with helping that person get to work or get adjustedto blindness. We have to streamline that "stuff" they spend their time on. It gets in the way of what they're really there for.
Eric Smith: If I understood what you said, essentiallywhat we have here is a communications problem between upper management atSSB and the front line employees, counselors, and so forth. It's beensuggested by a couple of people that you could do some thingscommunicationswise to remedy it. What do you plan to do to remedy thecommunications problem within the agency? That's my first question.
My second question: on adjustment-to-blindnesstraining for new staff, do I understand you to say you will bere-instating the training program that happened until a couple of yearsago, where new staffers went to all three training centers and spent sixto eight weeks receiving actual hands-on training?
Bonnie Elsey: Regarding your first question about mycommunication plan, we have been working diligently with action planningwith the supervisors and with Joe. We've had a number of all-staffmeetings with staff. We will tell them exactly what our objectives areand what time frames we're accomplishing things in. You're right: we'vehad a huge communication problem, there's no doubt about that. But it'snot that the staff hasn't heard this. Ask Joe; ask the supervisors. Wecan give information, but they've got to be willing to accept it andreceive it. This has been very tough. There's a culture that I havenever seen before. We are working very diligently to change that culture.
Eric Smith: But ultimately it is a managementproblem.
Bonnie Elsey: Of course it's my problem; that's whyI'm dealing with it.
Eric Smith: In any situation, the managers areresponsible for how an organization goes.
Bonnie Elsey: I understand that. There has been anenormous amount of fear within the organization. That's the biggest thingI found when I took over is the fear within the organization. We'remaking progress. I can't change it overnight. Staff members need to beinvolved in the day-to-day process of change. I've always found, inorganizations that I've run, that the staff have some of the better ideason how to change the process, because upper management doesn't deal withit day-to-day. But they also believe that certain things in ourbureaucracy must be done a certain way when they really don't have to bedone that way. But that's the way they were trained. We are having moreand more meetings with staff. We have an action plan done that we'll besharing with staff and getting their feedback from.
Eric Smith: So if our people run into this excuse, wecan say, "You're wrong, Bonnie says otherwise?"
Bonnie Elsey: Of course, and I want to hear about it. I want to hear who's saying what. Joe and I have just knocked our headsagainst the wall with some of this stuff--especially this concept thatadjustment-to-blindness and Gilmore are one or the other. They never wererelated; adjustment-to-blindness always has to come first. Gilmore was tobe able to build rapport with employers; that's way down the line fromadjustment to blindness.
The second question--are we re-institutingadjustment-to-blindness training for staff: yes. Will it be exactly likeit was before? No.
Eric Smith: How will it be different?
Bonnie Elsey: First of all, the staff that wentthrough it still can't answer my questions. Just because they were underthe blindfold for six weeks doesn't mean they believe that a blind personcan do something. What I am doing is setting out objectives of what Iwant them to know about the vendors, what the outcomes are, why they teachthe techniques the way they do. They need to answer those questions. It's more than experience. It's understanding and belief in why thingsare done the way they are. I don't have the program put together yet. Iwill sit with the vendors and talk to them about that. I don't thingthere's magic in saying it's a six or eight week program. It may be a fewweeks now; it may be continuous learning over the next couple of years. It's not as simple as just sending somebody through training and expectingthat they're going to have the beliefs that you want them to have.
Eric Smith: What I'm getting at is, will it besomething substantial, and not just where somebody goes to something forthree or four hours?
Bonnie Elsey: Yes.
Joyce Scanlan: I want you to know that a couple ofyour consultants who, as I understood it, didn't have any background inblindness, came to our center for a day to learn about blindness. I wantto tell you that I don't think they got much out of it; I don't think thatthey were very interested in what was going on there. They wanted to knowmore about marketing and the general kind of things that we do rather thanto benefit from the expertise that I feel we have which is related toblindness itself and adjustment to blindness. They need to know moreabout that process. We had set up an agenda for them to follow throughoutthe day, and I don't think they were the least bit interested in it, and Idon't think it was a very good use of anybody's time for them to be there.
Bonnie Elsey: What consultants? I didn't send anyconsultants over there.
Joyce Scanlan: We had two of your consultants, and Iwas told that they were going to come to learn about what we did.
Bonnie Elsey: What were their names?
Joyce Scanlan: Stephanie Pippo and Nancy Johnson.
Bonnie Elsey: They're not consultants, they're myemployees.
Joyce Scanlan: They told me they were consultants todevelop the pilot programs for the older blind program. I think they camewith their own agenda, which was different from what we had understood wewere to do. I think there are some serious training issues. If we'regoing to have people who are new to the system of rehabilitation of blindpeople, then we need to make sure that they have appropriate training andunderstanding of what the program is all about.
Ahmed Chaing: Have you yourself had anyadjustment-to-blindness training?
Bonnie Elsey: No.
Joyce Scanlan: Do you plan to get any?
Bonnie Elsey: I believe, from the bottom of myheart--and you don't have to believe me, and you can continue challengingme and do what you want to do--that a blind person can do whatever theyset out to do. If you think that I need to go to adjustment-to-blindnesstraining to believe that, you're wrong, because I believe it.
Joyce Scanlan: I think there's a body of knowledgethat a person has to have about the alternative techniques and the ways inwhich blind people can come to deal with attitudes and make their way inthe world of work. There's a lot to that that I don't think is straightbook learning. I don't know if you've had the book learning or not, butit's more than that. A person in your position, making the decisions thatyou do that affect people's lives so much, has to have a good, solidunderstanding of what a blind person's life is if he or she does not havethe proper services from your agency.
Ahmed Chaing: My next question is about thereorganization of SSB. I have in this one year had about six counselors. Every time I call, I'm told, "you're counselor has changed." Will thatcontinue? What is the future of SSB going to be like for blind people?
Bonnie Elsey: I did reorganize SSB, but I onlyreorganized it once. One of the things I found out early on is that thestaff working with the vocational program wasn't actually spending a lotof time in it. They were spending more time with the elderly blind peoplebecause it was very gratifying and they got a lot of strokes from that. As far as they were concerned, they were busy, and their day was full.Well, that wasn't good enough. I felt very strongly that we needdedicated staff dealing with our Title I program so we can increase ouroutcomes and so our blind customers have the skills they need to be in acompetitive labor market with good wages. That's why I reorganized. Anumber of things have happened internally. We've had certain staff leave;we've had some staff take promotions; we've had staff go to other projectswithin the department because it was their choice. I will never be ableto control what a staff's decision is. If they have better opportunitiessomewhere else, they're going to leave. I'm hoping that we'll become morestable than we have been in the last year-and-a-half. Change is hard. It's always disruptive, but I have to keep my vision on the long-termgoal, and that, for me, is increasing outcomes in all of our programs, sothat the person who's receiving services from us really gets what theydeserve.
Joyce Scanlan: The federal fiscal year ended September30th, and I'm wondering, how many closures did we have for Minnesota forthe year 2001. Do you have those figures for us?
Bonnie Elsey: No. With the strike, we didn't evenhave any staff for a while. The staff has promised it by November 5.
Dick Davis: Bonnie, you talk a good line. We've hearda lot of nice things from you today. But you eliminated the older blindprogram--a program that had measurable outcomes and definedcurriculum--and you replaced it with what appears to be nothing at all. You hired a bunch of new supervisors and you didn't send them fortraining, and they don't have any experience with blindness. One of thethree does, but the other two don't, and they haven't gone and had anytraining. Yet they're supervising people delivering services. You'vehired new staff people. We understand that your own management team votedto discontinue the staff adjustment-to-blindness program. You say you'reworking on it, but it hasn't been replaced with anything. Your jobplacements, we hear, are dropping like a rock. It takes forever to getthings done. I have to personally call your rehab counselors every month,and if not, I call Joe Pattison--you can verify that with him--becausethey don't even have the ability to generate authorizations on timewithout reminders. It seems like everything is chaos and everything isfalling apart at SSB. I think you've injected this chaos with all of thereorganizations and all the stuff. I think the place is going down thetubes. I'm sorry to say that, but I think that it's true.
Bonnie Elsey: I definitely am going to respond tothat, because that is extremely unfair. (1) Will our outcomes be less? Iwould expect they would be, and they're not less because of policies andprocedures at SSB. We shut off enrollment in the program for two years. And if you think order of selection doesn't affect who's coming out acouple of years down the line, you don't know anything about the program. I'm saying that very firmly and strongly, because let me tell you, ifyou've got a four-year college, and all of a sudden you don't accept anyfreshmen, and next year you don't accept any freshmen, now you don't haveany freshmen and sophomores, pretty soon you don't have any juniors andseniors. Order of selection and the financial difficulties at SSB werebefore my time. Do they have an effect on our outcomes? Of course theydo. This coming year, you are going to see a big difference in ouroutcomes, and I can promise that.
Dick Davis: We'll see.
Joyce Scanlan: I think that order of selection hasbeen used as the scapegoat for a long time, and order of selection hasbeen off for a whole year on the final category, for more than a year onthe middle category, and for almost two years on Category A. There's beena lot of time to deal with overcoming the problem with order of selection,and I don't think that's a viable thing anymore.
Sheila Koenig: My question pertains to the older blindprograms. If I were a client wanting to go through a full six ornine-month program, but if I didn't have a vocational goal as an olderblind person, because my life has changed due to the fact of losing mysight, I'm wondering if you would authorize me as a senior going through afull-length program--not just a six or eight week training plan?
Bonnie Elsey: I would authorize whatever you need. What are your objectives, what are your goals, what do you want, what doesit take to get that? I don't make those decisions on what you can have andwhat you can't have. We're here to meet your needs. That's why we exist. It all has to do with where is the person at, what are their objectives,what is it they want to learn, and then we need to find those services.
Joyce Scanlan: So would you authorize, for example, aperson who is older and not wishing to go back to work but wantingtraining, would you authorize adjustment-to-blindness training for acertain number of months?
Bonnie Elsey: I don't know the particulars. That's ahard one.
Joyce Scanlan: I think that's probably where we'dbetter end for today. You see that we have people with a lot ofconcerns. I guess I'd like to see you take it more seriously than youseem to. I know that you have this determination to disregard what we sayand what we think as an organization. If you look at the RehabilitationAct, it says that you will work with consumer organizations of the blindand that you will work with community rehabilitation facilities aspartners. So I guess I'd like to see some of those things change in thenear future, because I think that you can get a lot of help, if you'rewilling to accept it, from this organization. But I guess it's yourdecision, you will make it, and you will do what you do. I want to thankyou for coming today. We appreciate your spending time with us, and Iwould like to see us work together better. Thanks a lot.
(Editor's Note: A meeting was held with trainingvendors in early November, but nothing came of it and there have been nofurther meetings or discussions. Three months later, as far as we know,there has been no communication to SSB staff to correct the confusionabout the Gilmore training, nor about staff training. Counselors still sayadjustment-to-blindness training comes after placement, and they continueto use month-to-month training authorizations. Bonnie Elsey said somevery good things. We look forward to the day when the deeds match thosewords.
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TheMinnesota Parents ofBlind Children is organized around supporting each other inparenting our blind children. We offer advocacy information andeducational opportunities. Please contact us for information.
Congratulations to all the children who participatedin the National Federation of the Blind Braille Readers Are Leaderscontest for blind children from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The datesfor the 2001-2002 contest were from November 1, 2001, to February 1, 2002.Encourage your child to read and participate in the contest next year!
Insights Vision Program offers opportunities for TwinCities area families with a blind child. Monthly meetings welcomeparents, blind children and siblings to participate in informationalevents. Contact Carol Wagner at (651) 429-7293 for more information.
Slate Pals, a pen pal program for blind youth, is anopportunity to learn about another person and another part of the country. Improve writing skills, and share the experience of being blind. SlatePals, 5817 North Nina, Chicago, Illinois 60631.
The Rush Miller Foundation will purchase tandembicycles for blind children. Contact them at (719) 386-9912 if you areinterested and have a need.
The Braille Institute has a no cost programdistributing Braille children's books. Familiar, classic, traditional andnew children's literature is available through a mailing sent out fourtimes each year. Call 1-800-BRAILLE.
As you parent your child during this stressful anduncertain time in our nation, I urge you to find joy in the everyday,little things of sharing life with those you love. Encourage yourchildren to voice their concerns and fears, and support them with theknowledge of your commitment to and love for them, and by sharing your ownsource of support of them. Keep routine and tradition alive, and nevermiss an opportunity to tell them how much they mean to you
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The fall convention of the National Federation of theBlind of Minnesota, on October 26-28, 2001, had something for everyone. Beginning on Friday afternoon, those wishing to understand therehabilitation system and how to write their own Individual Plan forEmployment (IPE) had the chance to attend a seminar conducted by Dr.Frederic K. Schroeder, former Commissioner of the Rehabilitation ServicesAdministration and Richard Davis, Assistant Director in charge ofemployment services at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions(BLIND). This seminar wasfollowed by a meeting of the Minnesota Association of Blind Students, ameeting of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and ameeting of the Resolutions Committee for the Federation that began theprocess of writing our proposed policies.
While all these activities were going on, the Metrochapter of the Federation was hosting a delightful hospitality eveningwith snacks, a cash bar and lively conversation. Kathy McGillivray evenbrought out a guitar for some sing-along.
Saturday morning began the official business sessionof the convention. Jennifer Dunnam, president of the Metro chapter,brought us a unique welcome with the help of several of the chaptermembers. They sang a version of "Chopsticks," renamed "MinnesotaChapsticks," cleverly written by Peter Berryman naming many of the townsand cities in Minnesota. People from throughout the state listenedcarefully to see if their town was mentioned.
Of course, the convention was filled with theexcitement of the bake-sale auction conducted by Sheila Koenig and herauctioneers and the chance to win door prizes donated by many of ourmembers and given away by our door prize chair, Kasondra Payne.
Joyce Scanlan, president of the National Federation ofthe Blind of Minnesota, introduced us to the theme of the convention,"Claiming Our Future." Dr. Schroeder, our national representative,presented our first item, Claiming Our Future Through National Effort. Hebegan by talking about the research he is now doing at San Diego StateUniversity and Louisiana Tech. He joked that commuting from his home inVirginia was quite a job and maybe it would be more convenient to live inMinneapolis. The audience heartily approved.
Dr. Schroeder began his report explaining the extremeneed for services to older blind individuals. The rehabilitation systemonly gives enough money to help 1.5 per cent of this population. Therefore, the Federation is supporting legislation that would allowmedicare funds to help with rehabilitation costs. There are a couple ofversions of this bill in Congress. The Federation is supporting H.R.2674,the Medicare Equity Act for the Blind. We must get our Minnesotacongressmen to become cosponsors.
Another issue that is of current concern is nonvisualvoting accessibility for the blind. Dr. Schroeder said that thetechnology is available to make this possible and that it is up to eachstate to bring this technology into use. This item was dealt with lateron the agenda.
The groundbreaking for our National Research andTraining Institute took place on October 19th. We have raised over $11 ofthe $18 million needed to create this institute. This dream of Dr.Jernigan's would seem to be a reality. Dr. Schroeder gave us examples ofwhy we are not just raising money for a building; it is true we need aplace to carry out our work; we will do the kind of research that ismeaningful to improving the lives of blind people. One example of theludicrous research that is done now is the study that proved that blindpeople could not lip read as well as the sighted. The kind of research weare already starting is far more practical. We are investigating thepossibility for blind people to drive. While it seems an impossible dream,if it can be accomplished it would be extremely practical.
We were reminded to make plans for both our upcomingWashington seminar and our national convention in Louisville.
Dr. Schroeder ended his report with a call forstudents who wish to obtain their master's degree in Orientation andMobility. Louisiana Tech is offering a program where everyone is taughtto use blindness techniques. All instructors, blind or sighted, teachtheir classes as blind people. That means the sighted instructors wearsleep shades. People interested in the program should contact Dr.Schroeder or Dr. Ruby Ryles at Louisiana Tech. If you are accepted, youwill receive your tuition and a stipend of one thousand dollars a month.
Our next speaker was the Honorable Mary Kiffmeyer,Minnesota Secretary of State, who brought us up to date on "Voting,Privacy and the Blind." She applauded the Federation for its vigilance inworking with her at the Legislature to bring about a pilot project to testnonvisual access in the voting booth. The legislation permits at leastone machine in each county to allow for nonvisual access; we can thendetermine how well the machines work and will eventually seek a mandate touse them everywhere. A resolution (see below) deals with this subjectpledging our willingness to help test these machines and to train blindpeople in their use.
Joyce Scanlan, president of the National Federation ofthe Blind of Minnesota, gave us a detailed account of matters at StateServices for the Blind (SSB). She went back to 1998 when the UnitedStates Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act. This state'sreaction to the Act has been to dilute services to the blind to the pointthat we no longer have an emphasis on teaching alternatives of blindnessto senior citizens who need them; counselors and supervisors no longer areallowed to develop an expertise in blindness; and SSB has been reorganizedso many times that most people need a score card to keep track of theircounselor. Joyce urged us to judge the effectiveness of the currentassistant commissioner, Bonnie Elsey, by her actions and not her words.
Catherine Durivage, director of the Minnesota Libraryfor the Blind and Physically Handicapped, reported on progress at thelibrary. They have completed two of four projects with their new compactshelving giving them more room for Braille volumes and cassettes. She hadhoped that she would produce four newsletters this year, but because of awater main break which flooded the basement of the library, a possibleshutdown by state government and a strike by Minnesota state employees shewas only able to produce two newsletters. Other accomplishments includedcooperative efforts with SSB's Communication Center (the machine lendingagency for NLS) and the library to reach out to people in nursing homeswho might value their services. Both agencies hope to continue theircooperative efforts. It is interesting to note that as we consider whereSSB should be located in state government we are told that we shouldco-locate with workforce services because we can have better cooperationto get blind people jobs. Maybe government officials could learn from theCommunication Center and the library. These two agencies work welltogether and are not in the same department.
Thomas Philip, the immediate past president of theMinnesota Association of Blind Students, talked to us about his currentemployment as an instructor of English to people who speak something otherthan English as their primary language. He spoke about current trends inteaching this subject-one of which is that it is no longer called ESL(English as a Second Language) because English may not even be the secondlanguage. It might be a person's fifth language. He also talked abouthis training at BLIND and how itprepared him to be creative in finding techniques that work for him in theclassroom. He also attributed his success on the job to his involvementin the Federation. He referred to his Federation family as having givenhim the confidence to undertake this job.
During lunch, parents of blind children had the chanceto get advice on bringing up their blind children from Dr. Schroeder. Heshared with them ideas he has developed over long years in the field ofeducation of blind children.
Our afternoon began with a talk from Bonnie Elsey,Assistant Commissioner of State Services for the Blind (SSB). She wasasked to address how adjustment-to-blindness training is compatible withthe Gilmore method of job placement. SSB staff has recently undergonetraining in job placement techniques promoted by Gilmore and Associateswhich promulgates reframing the employer to accept people for theirstrengths and work around their weaknesses. Counselors have suggestedthat job placement comes before adjustment-to-blindness training; thetraining can be done later. Mrs. Elsey was unequivocal in her support ofadjustment-to-blindness training before job placement. Federationistsquestioned why her staff had a different understanding. With regard tostaff training about blindness, Mrs. Elsey said that they are trying todetermine the best way to accomplish this. It has not been discontinuedbut it is being redefined. (For her complete presentation and thequestions and answers that followed, see the article"Adjustment-to-Blindness and Gilmore Training Work Together" earlier inthis issue).
"Claiming Our Future Through the Location in StateGovernment of SSB" was the item presented by Barb Yates, staffrepresenting the Governor's transition team that has been given theresponsibility of reorganizing the Department of Economic Security. Actually, that department is being disbanded and its agencies are beingplaced elsewhere. The transition team must recommend how this is to bedone. In the case of disability-related agencies such as SSB, Barb andothers met with various councils and organizations to get theirrecommendations as to what should happen. Because of legislationconceived by the Federation, the transition consulted with four entitiesconcerning blindness: the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind, the UnitedBlind, the American Council of the Blind and, of course, the NationalFederation of the Blind. Barb discussed the various recommendations madeby the various groups that were consulted. She presented a myriad ofopinions that appeared far more diverse than it really is. She includedin her report the opinions of all the councils and organizations having todo with disabilities. Leaving out the blindness organizations, there wasa view that all disability-related government entities should remain inthe same department. However, all the blindness-related groups wanted aseparate entity even if they did have different ways of describing how toget there. The Federation, of course wants a free-standing agency for theblind in state government. Other organizations wanted a separate agencybut were willing to see it as a part of the Department of Administration. Rehabilitation Council members pointed out to Barb that her report did notproperly acknowledge that the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind hadtaken an almost unanimous vote to make a free-standing agency its secondchoice. Its first choice, to be a part of the Department ofAdministration, was a very close vote. We wanted the transition team tobe aware of this. We also wanted the team to understand that it was notthe concern of other disability groups as to the disposition of SSB. Anexample of how every Federationist can make a difference came to lightonce again when a member of the audience, John, introduced himself as astaff member from State Senator Ellen Anderson's office. He came at theinvitation of Michael Brands who is one of her constituents. John waswith us for most of our afternoon session and said that he would haveinteresting matters to share with the Senator.
History is an important part of our movement. Toremind us of its importance, Andy Virden, president of our CentralMinnesota chapter, gave us his perspective on our movement. Andy joinedthe organization in 1951; he told a story that sounded familiar to many ofus. Having nothing better to do, he came to a convention with a friendand found that he admired the people who were taking part in the sessions. That was the beginning for Andy and he has never looked back. He not onlyreviewed our history but set some expectations for the future. He hopes tosee Minnesota with a free-standing state agency for the blind; he hopes wewill continue to involve and encourage young blind people; he points outthe need to do more for seniors and he even hopes that we will havechapters in every corner of the state.
A panel to discuss the Unified English Braille Code(UEBC) made an interesting presentation even to those who do not readBraille. Jennifer Dunnam began with a history of Braille. Most peopleknow that Louis Braille invented it. But we learned about the manysystems that were in competition with it and how controversial it wasthrough the 1800's and early 1900's. In 1991 Tim Cranmer and Dr. AbrahamNemeth wrote to the Braille Authority of North America to recommend that aunified Braille code be developed that would combine literary, computerand math codes. The idea was expanded to include all English codes. Thatwas the beginning of what we now know as the UEBC.
Nadine Jacobson explained some of the proposedchanges. The idea is to take out any ambiguity in the codes. This meansthat many contractions would be eliminated because they have more than onemeaning. DD and dis would be eliminated because dots 2-5-6 wouldrepresent the period. Nadine gave other examples.
Sharon Monthei talked about the different positionsthat have developed in different quarters regarding the code. Somepeople say to accept the entire code as it has been recommended. Otherssay take the literary changes but keep Nemeth Code. Still others do notwant any changes, and we have probably not seen the last of thesuggestions.
Jennifer distributed a sampler of the code and askedthose who have not already done so to look at it and express theiropinions about it. She also had a few copies of the more technicalsampler that demonstrated math.
The highlight of all our conventions is the banquetwhen we hear an address by our national representative. This conventionwas no exception. Fred Schroeder inspired us with his low-key, humorousstyle reminding us that we never stop receiving encouragement from eachother. His many stories reiterated that we have a lot to give to eachother and that each of us benefits from what the rest of us do. This iswhy we will always need a National Federation of the Blind.
Sunday morning, following the BLIND breakfast, ourmorning session began with a panel of BLIND students. The panel,moderated by Assistant Director Shawn Mayo, included Joe Callandra, JackieBatista, Elizabeth Mohnke and Chris Childrey. Each, in their own way,told us what the benefits were of being a student atBLIND, Inc. Some told ofstruggles with the rehabilitation system to obtain their training; otherstold of encouragement that they received. In the question- and-answerperiod that followed, Thomas Philip asked what they hope to do with whatthey have learned. Joe said that he hoped to give back to others a partof what he gained. Jackie said that she plans to go back to New York andspread the word about this training. She hopes that others will be sparedmuch of the grief that she experienced before she found this program.
To tell us the many ways we can add to our NFBtreasury, we heard from our treasurer, Tom Scanlan. Since the early '80'swe have sponsored a move-a-thon that has raised several thousand dollars. In the past few years it has been ably chaired by Charlene Childrey andhas taken place in New Ulm. However, participation has decreased and wemust consider whether to continue with it. Another method of fundraisinghas been our mailings to the general public. Many organizations try thismethod and say that it is becoming more difficult. Our hope is that otherorganizations will give it up and leave the field clear for us. We alsohave had some luck with grants from foundations. Although Tom did not sayso, there is skill in applying for these grants and Tom has done anexcellent job in doing this. We are also pleased to be a part of theCommunity Solutions Fund. They are working hard to increase theirvisibility and become a giving choice in more work places.
Elections followed Tom's report with these results: President, Joyce Scanlan; secretary, Judy Sanders; board member, CharleneChildrey. Jennifer Dunnam will continue to serve as vice president, TomScanlan as treasurer, and Jan Bailey and Eric Smith in board positions. The convention expressed the members' thanks to Janet Lee for her serviceon the board. Janet chose not to seek reelection; but expects to continuewith her many contributions in diabetic education and in her vigilance inworking as a part of our legislative efforts.
Our various chapter reports indicate that our chaptersare active in fundraising, membership recruitment and community projectsthat teach the public that we are changing what it means to be blind.
The meeting ended on a positive note. We had justshared a productive and fun weekend with many of the students atBLIND. The students had the opportunity to learn about therole they can play in keeping it respectable to be blind. We mustcontinue this healthy relationship; the Federation must be there to ensurethat we always have the means to encourage other blind people to reachtheir true potential.
The bake auction netted approximately $2,500. What ayummy way to raise funds!
Reminding us that our semiannual convention will takeplace in the metro area the convention adjourned at noon.
WHEREAS, every American has the right to a secretballot when voting for elected officials; and
WHEREAS, blind voters have never been able toexperience privacy in the voting booth because ballots come in printedformat and must be read to the blind voter by another person; and
WHEREAS, Minnesota law allows blind voters the maximumamount of privacy possible while providing for reading assistance whenneeded; and
WHEREAS, technology enabling nonvisual access toballots is now available and would allow blind voters the same privacyafforded to other citizens; and
WHEREAS, Minnesota Statute 206.81 (Subsec. B), passedduring the special session of July 9th, 2001 and taking effect on January1, 2002, requires that the Secretary of State license one or moretouch-sensitive direct recording electronic voting systems forexperimental use at an election before their approval for general use; and
WHEREAS, at least one of the voting systems under thisstatute must permit blind or visually impaired voters to cast a ballotindependently and privately; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has theexpertise to guide the Secretary of State in promoting and evaluatingnonvisual access in voting machines; now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blindof Minnesota, in convention assembled this 27th day of October 2001, inthe city of Bloomington that this organization offer its expertise toassist Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer in advancing the availability ofnonvisual access in voting; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization offer totrain blind and visually impaired individuals in the use of this newvoting equipment.
WHEREAS, for many years, contractions in braille havebeen the standard for the English-speaking countries of the world and arevalued for the space they save and especially for the increase in readingand writing speed they allow; and
WHEREAS, the vast majority of braille books arecurrently produced in contracted (grade 2) braille; and
WHEREAS, there has recently come to be a feeling amongsome educators of blind children that these children might be best servedby learning and using uncontracted (grade 1) braille for a time beforebeginning gradually, if at all, to learn the contractions of grade 2braille; and
WHEREAS, advocates of this approach speciously claim,among other things, that grade 2 braille is too complex for many studentsto learn and blame this alleged complexity for declining braille literacy;and
WHEREAS, the collective experience of thousands ofblind readers over many decades resoundingly refutes this claim; and
WHEREAS, given this experience, it is clear thatincreasing the commitment to teaching braille rather than watering downthe standards is ultimately a more effective approach to improvingliteracy among the blind; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blindof Minnesota in convention assembled this 28th day of October, 2001, inthe city of Bloomington that this organization support access to thehighest standards of literacy in grade 2 braille for the blind children ofMinnesota; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization offer asa resource to educators of blind children our collective and individualexperiences related to learning, teaching, and using braille.
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Following that last issue of the MinnesotaBulletin, Bonnie Elsey sent me a letter objecting to some of JoyceScanlan's article. There is not enough space in this issue to publishBonnie's letter and Joyce's response, so it will appear in the next issue. However, here is the opening of the letter and response (in parenthesis)to perhaps give you something to look forward to.
September 24, 2001
Tom Scanlan, Editor
National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.
100 East 22nd Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
Dear Mr. Scanlan:
The article entitled "Les Affaires Bonnie ElseyProclaims Neutrality" (NFB Volume LVI, Number 1, Summer 2001) raiseslegitimate concerns about the accuracy of its content. I welcome theopportunity to respond.
(All statements in the Les Affaires segment to whichMs. Elsey refers are true and correct to the best of our ability. Ourevidence comes from blind people who are customers of SSB and SSB staff,regardless of Ms. Elsey's denials. Her customary pattern of behavior isto swoop down and make giant changes and then deny what she has done orblame someone else. Ms. Elsey does not communicate with the NationalFederation of the Blind of Minnesota. She has bailed out on hercommitment to meet with me every month. So, if the statements in theBulletin are not to her liking, she should look to her own communicationstyle. She prefers that the Federation be excluded from involvement withSSB; however, this will never be. Ms. Elsey cannot disregard the largestorganization of blind people in the state.)
Exciting times are coming in NFB conventions. Keepthese in mind as you plan your activities throughout the coming year.
The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will beheld in May in the Metro area. Members will receive a letter with detailsabout a month before the convention.
The National NFB Convention will be held at the GaltHouse Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky from Wednesday, July 3, throughTuesday, July 9. This is a whole week of friends, fun, and seriousbusiness. It is a chance to be part of the largest gathering of blindpeople in the world. Full details are in the DecemberBrailleMonitor.
The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be held inOctober in Greater Minnesota. Members will receive a letter with detailsabout a month before the convention.
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