MINNESOTA

 

BULLETIN

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quarterly Publication of the

National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Inc.

100 East 22nd Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Voice:  (612) 872-9363

Website:  www.nfbmn.org

Kathy McGillivray, Editor

E-mail gilgal63@gmail.com

 

Volume 84, Number 1, Winter 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

Table of Contents

PRESIDENT'S COLUMN.. 1

MN State Services for the Blind Director’s Remarks. 2

Update from the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library. 9

MN Department of Education Update. 14

A Perspective on Privilege. 16

Resolutions Passed at the Annual Convention. 21

Convention Alert! 26

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember 27

Background and Purpose. 28

Acknowledgements. 30

 

PRESIDENT'S COLUMN

By Jennifer Dunnam

 

2016 has continued to be another busy and productive year for the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. Our Annual state convention took place in Rochester, and the approximately 118 people in attendance made an energetic, interesting, and joyful gathering.  Elsewhere in this and future issues of the Bulletin, you can read further details about the many activities that took place, the things we learned, the positions we passed, the work we got done, and our plans for the future. Thanks to all of the many people whose hard work and creativity made the convention a success!

 

On September 12, we held our 35th annual Walk for Opportunity. In addition to being another excellent event hosted by our Rochester chapter which has had such a busy year, it was one of our best fund-raisers yet.

 

One of the resolutions we passed at the convention dealt with a fund-raising campaign involving asking people to make videos of themselves trying to accomplish everyday tasks while blindfolded. Although medical research is important, fund-raising should not be done in a way that perpetuates the low expectations that keep blind people from being hired for jobs, being allowed to parent our children without interference, and all the other ways we participate in the world. We have learned over long experience that short simulations of blindness most often add to the fear and misconceptions that so many hold about blindness. The outcry against the damaging effects of this video campaign was strong and persistent all around the country. Federationists from all walks of life spoke out with powerful videos of our own, telling the stories of how real blind people, with the right training and opportunity, get things done safely and effectively and live our lives to the fullest every day. As a result of our efforts, the campaign was ended early with promises to assist with giving real information about the capabilities of blind people.

 

In the Federation we work very hard to break down barriers to our ability to access the information we need to do our jobs, complete our class work, and engage in countless other activities that are now done using technology. Our work on these issues is absolutely essential if we are to participate on an equal basis with the rest of society. Yet, this video campaign reminds us that other barriers that are older, sometimes less obvious, more artificial, and yet more persistent, must continue to be torn down. We must work together to learn how these affect us internally so we can understand and counteract the effect they have on society at large.

 

The National Federations of the Blind of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio have joined together to offer the Great Lakes regional Braille Readers Are Leaders contest for kids, grades K-12. Contestants compete to read the most braille pages, going against other kids in similar grades across all five states. The contest runs from December 1, 2016 to January 20 2017, encouraging children to be proud of their braille reading ability and to work to improve their skills—while possibly winning prizes in the process. For the complete contest rules, registration form, and the reading log form, visit http://www.nfbofillinois.org, then go to the link called “Great Lakes BRAL Contest.”

 

Mark your calendars for an exciting milestone coming up! Our Central Minnesota chapter will host its thirtieth annual spaghetti dinner fund raiser on Friday, January 20th, 2017. Everyone should come and enjoy some of the best spaghetti you'll ever eat, while supporting our work in the Central Minnesota area!

 

All of our chapters throughout the state have been finding fresh and effective ways of raising expectations about blindness and of reaching more people who need the support and education we have to offer. Activities include helping to organize and engage blind people who are part of the Somali community, planning an event to give information and support to blind seniors, and hosting a craft show. Everyone keep up the great work!

 

May this holiday season be joyous and rejuvenating for us all!

 

MN State Services for the Blind Director’s Remarks

By Carol Pankow, Director of MN State Services for the Blind

 

(Editor’s Note: Carol Pankow has served for the past four years as director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind. Following is the presentation she made at this year’s state convention in Rochester.)

 

A while back, Dan Wenzel told me a small story about one of those everyday successes that takes place at BLIND, Inc. It was just the simple story of a student at a fast food restaurant who figured out how to carry his tray from counter to table while using a long white cane. It’s not at all remarkable, but it was something that this student had never done before, and it was one of those small confidence boosters that had a big impact.

 

It’s one of those things that most people here in this room don’t even think twice about. At the same time, it is something that can be intimidating if you’re not used to being independent as a blind person, or if you’re just starting out learning how to do things nonvisually.

 

But, think for a minute what it means to carry a tray to a table while using a white cane. It doesn’t just open up the possibility of eating a lot more fast food. I don’t know who this student was, or what they went on to do after BLIND, Inc., but let’s just play out a few scenarios.

 

Let’s say this BLIND, Inc. student goes on to college. There, they will be able to navigate through the cafeteria, or go with friends to McDonalds. Let’s say they’re invited to a social gathering with a buffet line, or a party where everyone is standing and holding small plates. Let’s say they go on to get a job, and they go out for lunch with colleagues and there’s a salad bar. Let’s say they’re on a date with someone they want to impress, and they go out on a picnic. Little things like carrying your own tray can make a big difference.

 

It all adds up. Learning braille, how to catch the bus, safely cross a busy road, giving a PowerPoint presentation, working a room, finding your way to a new address, reading the newspaper.

 

None of those things are directly related to getting a job, just like you don’t need to know how to carry a tray to get a job, but they are the building blocks of confidence, independence, and competence that make a person a good hire.

 

And, even though we at SSB have a big focus on employment, it’s not all about the job. It’s just that having work that you like, and getting a paycheck makes it all the more possible that you can live the life you want, the way you want to live it. I think that ultimately, what SSB is about, is not how many people get jobs, or even how many braille pages we emboss or books we produce, or seniors we serve, but it’s about being the kind of place where blind, visually impaired and DeafBlind Minnesotans can get hooked up with resources for empowerment.

 

As you may know, October 1 is the start of the federal fiscal year, so it’s our New Year. This is why I brought champagne for everyone.

Ok, I’m just kidding about that.

 

Usually, this would be the time that I would give you the numbers round up. In brief, in fiscal year 2016 we had about 141 successful employment closures, and served about 3,750 seniors. But, I want to use most of my time to talk about empowerment, and what we’ve been doing over the past year and hope to do in the year ahead in order to be known as the kind of place where you can go and get what you need in order to live your life your own way.

 

I have a whiteboard in my office that lists the many, many projects we are working on, but at the top of that board I have written “Exceptional Customer Service” and at the bottom of that board I have written “Sense of Urgency.”  This has been on my heart and part of what has driven us that past year to fine-tune what we do to make it more relevant and user friendly for our customers.

 

A process that has bugged me particularly is the intake for customers who want to get a job. We have people start only to quit a few months later, or people have lots of misunderstandings from the beginning because they didn’t understand what a VR program is and what it isn’t.  We’ve re-tooled our intake process so that folks have a better idea about exactly what we can and cannot do when they become a customer of ours in our Workforce Unit. We’re doing more work up front, so that the process of becoming a customer is smoother, more consistent, and clear to our customers.  This is so important to us that we reorganized the counselors and have Meredith Larson working with the entire intake process.  She is providing informational training two times per month and is also managing our waiting list.  And speaking of the waiting list, we currently have zero people waiting as we opened it up to let everyone in this past month.  With the amount of people leaving successfully we have some room for those people.

 

All staff have been personally trained by myself in customer service with a presentation and materials I have developed over my career in state government.  I know most people think you can’t get customer service in state government but I want to prove that theory wrong.

 

Some other places impacted by my sense of urgency is in our BEP program.  We are not satisfied with the status quo or laying low when dealing with entities such as the VA or even other state agencies that are not operating in the best interests of our operators. We have been standing up and standing firm on a number of issues.

As you may know, another big push for us this last year has been in the area of Pre-Employment Transition Services. Pre-Employment Transition, in government speak, refers to kids between the age of 14 and 21 who are still in school. Pre-Employment Transition services include specific activities to help young adults make a successful transition to the post-high school world, whether that be college or vocational school, or work. You know, and I know, that sometimes that transition can be really rough. There are still blind kids who grow up without learning the skills for independence and advocacy that they’re going to need as an adult. Well-intentioned family members might do quite a bit of care-taking, not letting their blind kid develop their own skills.

 

For a long time, there have been various summer programs, like the PREP program at BLIND Inc., that teach skills for independence. While these programs are great, there’s been a real gap in programming for students during the rest of the year. For the first time, SSB has been able to support programs for students year-round, so that those new skills are being regularly reinforced and built on. The TEAMS Program at BLIND, Inc., is one excellent example of this.

 

We’ve also been focusing on helping students get real-world work experience. You can have all the self-confidence and independent living skills in the world, but if you don’t have something to put on your resume, it will be hard for an employer to take a chance on you.

 

Just a few weeks ago we hired Tou Yang as a Work Opportunities Navigator who will work exclusively with our students. Working with Sheila [Koenig], our Transition team, and the rest of our employment staff, Tou’s job will be to connect students with summer and part time jobs, paid and unpaid internships, job shadowing opportunities, and anything else that brings together kids and work. This year, SSB has been fortunate enough to have student interns working in three of our departments. We hope that we’ve provided them with an opportunity to hone some job skills, and we’re certain that they’ve been a tremendous asset to us. If you’ve ever spoken with Lisan Hasnane for more than two minutes, you already know that he has more poise, confidence and professionalism than most people two or three times his age.

Again, even though our focus is on employment, we know that what matters here is giving blind, visually impaired and DeafBlind young adults a real shot at a bright future, so they can live the lives they want.

 

At the other end of the age spectrum, we’ve also been working hard to make sure that our services are meeting the needs of seniors. I’ve talked before about the Aging Eyes Initiative, which is our program to train people across the state who are already working with seniors to provide a first level of support to seniors who are in the early stages of losing vision.

What this means practically, is that our counselors aren’t driving across three counties to hand out magnifiers to folks who just want to have something to help them see better. Our counselors can spend more time helping folks adjust to relying on nonvisual techniques for getting things done.

 

More important, thanks to the NFB of Minnesota, and especially to several dedicated and determined NFB members, the Minnesota legislature approved funding to increase our ability to provide more extensive training for blind and low vision seniors. Here’s what this means for us right now: beginning in October, we’ll be sending seniors for 10 weeks of twice weekly training at BLIND, Inc. In the last year, we’ve sent four or five small groups of seniors for training to BLIND, Inc. These have been once a week for 8 weeks. Because of the training grant money, we’ve gone from being able to offer seniors 1x week experience to having classes 2x per week for 10 weeks.

 

This means more time to get confident in the kitchen, more time to get over fears of using a long white cane or of traveling, more experience building those travel skills, more exposure to braille and how it might be useful to know, more time around blind people who are confident, capable, and successful.

 

The BLIND, Inc. training is just one of the options we can now make available to seniors, but it’s one we’re especially proud of, and one that we think will make a real tangible difference to seniors. We’ve also added a second fulltime Assistive Tech trainer. This means that in addition to contracting with others across the state, we have two staff people whose job is to work exclusively with seniors to learn accessible technology. We know this is going to be increasingly important for seniors and the hard work from the NFB of Minnesota to increase state funds for training for seniors means we can provide a lot more in-depth and practical support for training. I personally, along with Ed [Lecher] and our senior services team, am deeply grateful for all the work you did on shepherding this funding request through the legislature.

 

We’re also working hard to get the message out to seniors that losing vision doesn’t mean losing independence. In the past, we’ve partnered with the NFB of Minnesota to put on Possibilities Fairs in the Twin Cities area. These fairs are designed to show seniors and their families all the resources available to face vision loss with confidence and competence. Next spring, we’re again partnering with the NFB of Minnesota to bring a Possibilities Fair to the Mankato area.

 

Finally, we have been working on a way to become relevant to a whole new generation of people that like accessing articles and information in a different way. One year ago, we started producing podcasts through two different ways. Stuart [Holland] and our RTB team have been taking content from the Radio Talking Book’s Career Corner, along with finding other helpful articles, and packaging them into short, quick podcasts, so we can get our content out to more people who might find it helpful.

 

We’ve also been partnering with Jeff Thompson and BlindAbilities, and they’ve produced a ton of original content, including interviews, tech tips, daily living how-tos, and content that’s relevant for teens and college students. I’m going to play a couple of quick clips from these BlindAbilities podcasts. Jeff did a series of interviews at the Career Expo we put on for students last year. At the Expo, Sheila had invited blind folks in various careers to come and talk with students about their work and how they got where they are. Jeff produced several podcasts with live interviews from the expo with some of these folks.

 

Here’s the opening of the BlindAbilities podcast featuring Bobby Binns.

 

 

And, just to give you a sense of the breadth of content, here’s a snip from another podcast on doing your laundry at college. We had 300 downloads the first day it posted. The listenership for these podcasts has been steadily growing. In July, for instance, when we had content up from national conventions, we had 9,400 downloads. Over the last year or so, we’ve had about 76,000 downloads. A quarter of those downloads have come from overseas, including the UK, Canada, Australia, China, India, and Malaysia. 25% of our US listeners are in Minnesota, which says to me that we’re reaching our customers too.

 

That’s just some of what’s gone on across SSB in the fiscal year that just ended. Getting a jump on the year ahead, our management team met in a day-long retreat in order to set priorities for the year ahead.

 

Here are a few of the highlights from that meeting:

 

We continue to look at staffing – planning for more retirements, and onboarding new staff. Over the last six months, we’ve brought on a lot of new folks, and I’m extremely proud of the staff we have right now. 4 of the last 8 hires have been blind or visually impaired individuals. We’ve also been working to increase the racial diversity of our staff. Thinking ahead, we want to continue to build a staff that not only reflects the customers we serve, but also comes on board with a solid understanding of our values and our commitment to empowerment.

 

At our meeting we also had a frank discussion about serious problems with accessibility within state government. In the last year, there have been a couple of significant rollouts of systems that are either not accessible, just barely accessible, or not user friendly. We’ve pushed consistently and ferociously for building in good accessibility from the very start of a new launch, and we’ve complained equally loudly when accessibility has been dropped. We know that unfortunately, we don’t have control over what other departments do or don’t do, but we’re determined to get to the root of this and turn it around.

 

We’re also committed to raising visibility in the year ahead. Again, we need to make sure that every Minnesotan who could use our services knows about our services. We don’t want to miss anybody, or have someone slip through the cracks, whether it’s a student, a senior, or anyone in between. A major priority for us in the coming year will be to actively promote SSB across the state, so that we’re not the best kept secret in state government.

 

Before I take your questions, I want to say a few words about the partnership between State Services for the Blind, BLIND, Inc., and the NFB of Minnesota. We’re three different entities with different focus areas and different strengths. Nonetheless, I see our work as a partnership. Like any partnership it will have its tough spots and its rewards. As I look back over this last year, I’ve been proud of the way our partnership has expanded and flourished. New SSB staff members have been at BLIND, Inc. for an emersion in Adjustment to Blindness training, BLIND, Inc. has provided us with excellent options for the students in our transition program, for our seniors and other customers. I have worked alongside many of you in the various committees and working groups of our council, and I’ve been grateful for both the critiques and the compliments you’ve passed along.

 

You have my word that I will continue to do my part to strengthen our partnership so that blind Minnesotans can live the lives they want, in the way they want to live them.

 

Update from the Minnesota Braille and Talking Book Library

By Catherine A. Durivage, Library Program Director

 

(Editor’s Note: We always appreciate receiving an update from the director of our Minnesota State Library for the Blind at our conventions. Here is what she had to report to us.)

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at your convention today. It’s always a pleasure to share news about the library with all of you.

Since last October, there’s been one toll-free number for ordering books, equipment or other services available from either the library or the Communication Center. Staff at either agency can assist you when you call or put you in contact with the right person. So you now only have to remember to call 1-800-722-0550 and staff who take your call can assist you.

With this said we know that some of you in recent weeks may have experienced some difficulty reaching us on our toll-free line or leaving a voicemail message. We are not sure why the problem is occurring and randomly because not everyone who calls us hasn't gotten through. We are working to resolve this problem. If you try our toll-free number and can't reach us or leave a voicemail you may wish to call us on our local number, 507-333-4828 or email us at mn.btbl@state.mn.us until we can resolve this issue.

We are also close to offering a new application for service that will provide more information about the programs and services that are available for either agency.

Another exciting change at the library is that we are resuming our volunteer recording program. Our recording program will focus on materials about Minnesota or by Minnesota authors. We hope to have at least one audio book completed and available for circulation by the end of the year, including having the book available on BARD. We are in the process of auditioning volunteer narrators and are looking for volunteer monitors and reviewers. Monitors partner with the narrator to record digital materials. The monitor directs and coaches the narrator during the recording process. The monitor follows along in the text to detect errors and ensure accuracy. Reviewers assure that recorded materials are ready for library users. The reviewer listens to a digital recording to ensure that it replicates the original text. One average one book takes 10-15 one-hour sessions to record and another 1-2 hours of editing.

Our goal is to record material not readily available elsewhere. We are also in the process of making available in digital and eventually BARD some of our previous recorded cassette titles. We are very pleased to soon be contributing more Minnesota-related content to the collection. I do not want to forget to mention that many of the books that air on Radio Talking Book are available to download on BARD as well and many of them have a Minnesota-focus.

I know I mentioned at last year’s convention that we would be offering descriptive DVDs. We’ve ordered about 60 titles and hope to make them available by year’s end. Because the collection is limited, we will initially send out only one DVD at a time. The loan period will be 14 days. We do plan to order additional titles.

For those of you that still have VHS players, our VHS descriptive video collection is still available for circulation.

Many of you may have received cartridges in the mail that have been labeled Book Requests or A Library Book for You. Some of you have called us about receiving these cartridges, confused. We apologize for the confusion. These are books that you requested that we do not have readily available on our shelves to send out. Because we want you to receive books more quickly, we are downloading copies, duplicating them and then sending them to you in generic packaging. This way, when you return the book (and please return them) we can erase what is on the cartridge and reuse it for another request without having to relabel the cartridge or container. It’s a huge timesaver for us and you receive the book sooner. We hope to soon be able to place more than one book or magazine on cartridges. Some of you want to read all the books in a series or by a particular author. In the future, we should be able to place these requests on a single cartridge and send them to you on demand. The benefit to you is that you will receive books you want quicker and for us, less handling of materials. My staff handles 2,000-3,000 items every day, so streamlining this process would be a win-win.

Now for news on a national level.

Beginning with the September/October issue, the audio version of Talking Book Topics (TBT) will now contain the order form. The order form will no longer be mailed separately. When TBT was released on cassette, the order form was included. After converting to digital back in 2012 the order form was mailed separately. Based on feedback, NLS will resume circulating the magazine cartridge and the order form in the same package. Remember, you must return the cartridge to the producer and the order form should be sent to the library.

Eleven network-produced audio magazines previously available only for download via the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) have been added to the Magazine on Cartridge (MOC) program.

The magazine titles are:

Audubon (bimonthly)

Cowboys and Indians (monthly)

Humpty Dumpty (bimonthly)

Missouri Conservationist (monthly)

National Geographic Traveler (monthly)

Oklahoma Today (bimonthly)

Playboy (monthly)

Seventeen (monthly)

Smithsonian (monthly)

Southern Living (monthly)

Vital Speeches of the Day (monthly)

These eleven magazines join three others that are also available by mail on a cartridge or via BARD:

AARP The Magazine (bimonthly) and AARP Bulletin (10 issues/year). These will

be bundled as a single subscription

O, The Oprah Magazine (monthly)

Rolling Stone (biweekly)

 

On July 20, 2016, President Obama signed a bill amending the Pratt-Smoot Act of 1931 that now authorizes the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) to provide playback equipment in all formats, not just audio, to its users. This change will allow NLS to investigate offering refreshable braille displays or braille e-readers to patrons. Braille books and magazines could then be sent on cartridges, just like audio books. These books and magazines will still be available on BARD to download, just as they are now. NLS will likely need to conduct some pilot tests, so it could be awhile before any braille equipment would be available.

NLS is also looking at a new electronic braille format that would offer navigation capabilities just like audio books (e.g. navigating to chapters, pages, etc.)

Providing refreshable braille displays won’t happen overnight, but now NLS has the authority to pursue offering braille equipment free of charge. I am sure more information will be available in the coming months.

NLS is still in the process of converting about 5,000-6,000 cassette titles to digital and then placing them on BARD. In the last year, NLS has added about 7,000 cassettes to digital titles. NLS hopes to complete the conversion next year.

And speaking of BARD, NLS will soon be releasing software, free of charge, called BARD Express. This software will enable BARD patrons who may have difficulty downloading and unzipping books to bypass the process. It is a Windows-based software (sorry, no MAC version at this time), that when available, will be downloadable directly from your BARD account. You will be able to search the BARD collection, find books by author, title, keyword and series, add books to your wish list, just like you would do if you use BARD online or via the BARD Mobile apps. The whole process should be very intuitive and seamless. If you have a Victor Reader Stream and use the HumanWare Companion software, BARD Express will be very similar.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about BARD Express, there are some YouTube videos posted to the Library of Congress’s YouTube webpage. Simply search for BARD Express at the YouTube website. We will also provide links to the videos on our webpage at http://www.mnbtbl.org/.

NLS is beginning to develop the next generation digital talking book player. NLS to take advantage of the latest technological changes that have occurred since the original digital talking book player was introduced over six years ago. NLS will build based on the current model, but look at adding features such as wireless delivery. Books and magazines could be delivered directly to the player and you won’t have to handle individual cartridges. This means the player will need to have some built in memory to store files. The new players will also have text-to-speech capability. NLS is looking into obtaining electronic text (eText) materials that coupled with TTS, would open the door for more content to be available, for both audio and braille. The agreement with a number of commercial audio book producers over the past few years has already increased the amount of material available each year. NLS is now adding about 3,000 new books to the collection each year. I hope you all are enjoying all the new books that are available to you.

I’m beginning my 17th year as library director, if you can believe it. Many things have changed during this time and one thing is certain, more changes are coming. On behalf of the library staff, I want to thank you for the support you have given to the library and me as we continue to embrace these changes and make this a better library for you. 

Thank you.


MN Department of Education Update

By Kristin Oien

 

(Editor’s Note: Convention attendees were glad to receive the following information regarding MDE services and programs that support the education of blind youth in our state.)

 

Hello Minnesota Federationists,

 

Thank you for the opportunity to share a Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) update at your 96th Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention. My name is Kristin Oien, and I am the specialist for the blind & visually impaired (BVI) at MDE. My responsibilities at MDE include providing support, training, and technical assistance to teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and other stakeholders providing service to students with disabilities and their families. Much has happened during the last school year, and I’d like to share a few highlights with you.

 

The BVI Advisory Committee worked hard to prepare a BVI Legislative Report which can be found on the MDE website. This report contains data-based results and evidence-based best practices for improving the education outcomes of children who are blind or visually impaired in the state of Minnesota. It highlights the need for more qualified teachers, accessible educational material (AEM), and specialized instruction to meet individualized student needs. The recommendations include the need for a Minnesota Institute of Higher Education (IHE) offering a

BVI licensure and Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Certification program, implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and providing instruction in the expanded core curriculum (ECC).

 

Regarding AEM, Minnesota is one of eight states participating in a national collaborative addressing students’ need for accessible educational materials and AEM best practices. The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning chose Minnesota to collect data and develop strategies to move provision of AEM forward for all students in MN and in the other seven states participating in the collaborative. MDE continues to support districts with the provision of braille and audio material through the interagency agreement with the State Services for the Blind Communication Center; which includes involvement in the development of a statewide plan for 3D printed educational material production and distribution.

 

In August of 2015, MDE hosted a Minnesota Mentoring workshop for 12 new teams involving 7 mentors and 12 protégés. Last month, the Minnesota Mentoring Project welcomed 15 new BVI teams with 8 mentors and 15 protégés. The teams will be communicating during the year to provide supports focusing on targeted areas of the ECC which may include specific skills in: Assistive Technology, Career Education, Compensatory/Access Skills, Independent Living, Orientation & Mobility, Recreation & Leisure, Self-Determination, Sensory Efficiency and Social Interaction. The MN Low Incidence Projects is also expanding the BVI Coaching Program to provide support to teachers throughout the state who are currently enrolled in BVI and O&M higher education programs. This program provides monthly face to face learning opportunities to assist graduate students with hands-on application of what they are learning in their coursework, as well as MN specific processes specifically related to educating students who are BVI.

 

We have 12 planned professional development opportunities this school year which include Statewide Vision Meetings, Participation in White Cane Day at MSAB, Low Vision Clinics, BVI Advisory Meetings, and Charting the Cs Cross Categorical Conference. I’m looking forward to NFB’s participation in these opportunities and appreciate all you have done to support Minnesotan’s who happen to be blind.

 

My overall goal continues to be that children and youth in Minnesota who are blind and visually impaired receive quality instruction and supports that will lead to their highest level of independence and success. Please know that I welcome suggestions for effective change. Feel free to contact me with concerns or ideas for the future. My email address is Kristin.Oien@state.mn.us and my phone number is 651-582-8843.

 

A Perspective on Privilege

By Briley O’Connor

 

(Editor’s Note: Briley O’Connor was the winner of this year’s essay contest sponsored by the metro chapter of our state affiliate. In this thought-provoking piece, she ponders the concept of privilege as it relates to blindness.)

 

There’s a lot of chatter in the blogosphere lately about the idea of “white privilege”, especially surrounding the current key issues of immigration and specific police shootings. It’s true, I am not a member of a racial minority group. However, my experience as a blind person (particularly in the areas of employment and social interaction) share some commonalities with the minority experience in America. I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege and its impact on my life in particular. In discussions about this, I’ve encountered a lot of defensiveness and anger about the term. I know the phrase check your privilege” can be irritating when used by white upper class yuppy soccer moms who find social justice trendy, but that doesn’t render the concept invalid.

 

Before I get to why I’ve been thinking about this specifically, some clarification is important. Let’s go over what I am not saying:

 

1. I do not blame someone for being privileged. If you are a white, middle-class male with all senses intact, great. You were created to be that just as I was meant to be blind. We can even be friends.

 

2. Privilege isn’t something someone should feel guilty for possessing. Water is wet, some groups have social privileges that others don’t. They are realities, but I’m not asking someone to feel guilt or to apologize for their privilege.

 

3. A lack of privilege is not an excuse for not contributing to society in some way or carte blanch to commit crimes. By in large, people who talk about privilege are saying that it is a contributing factor to these things, but not an excuse.

 

4. I am not asking for pity because I do not possess said privilege. My desire is to encourage a healthy, productive discourse, not to engender feelings of sadness for me or anyone else in this position. That would be counterproductive.

 

Now that that’s out of the way… It’s time for some real talk.

 

I hear a lot of complaining and enmity towards people who receive disability or social benefits from the government. Now is not the time to address the issue of the foolishness of judging a thing by its abuse. The idea that these social programs or healthcare reform is useless since the majority of people receiving benefits are just cheats is a popular idea in some circles, but I don’t think that’s the root of it for most people. The underlying assumption is that either privilege doesn’t exist, or, if it does exist, it’s minor and can be easily overcome.  Allow me to address some common objections to the concept of privilege.

 

1. The "there is no privilege" theory, i.e. the everybody has something” fallacy:

No, actually, everyone does not have something that creates social and economic barriers for them in our society. Yes, everyone does have some characteristic or insecurity that can, in some cases, impact them in these ways. But privilege is about the conscious and unconscious biases of those who can have an effect on someone’s upward mobility. Plainly, you being short or insecure in how you look in a suit is not the same as me being blind. The overwhelming stereotypes and stigma surrounding disability are far more likely to keep me from employment than someone else’s internal self-image issues. When a white, fairly educated, male walks into a job interview, he doesn’t have to undo or even entertain the thought of undoing years of preconceived notions those hiring him may have about white guys who look a little awkward in a tie.

 

We all have conscious and unconscious biases, and we’re not doing ourselves or anyone else any favors by pretending they don’t exist. There was recently a very interesting study conducted around graduate assistantship inquiries. Professors at universities were sent inquiries by students of different races and genders and the replies were tracked. Those with names that indicated they were male and white received far and away the most number of responses, even from female professors. I don’t think the professors were all necessarily racist” in the 1960’s, lunch-counter sit-in sense, but they definitely displayed their unconscious biases here. We all are the sum of our experiences, and the only way we can overcome them is to admit they exist in the first place. No social program or sensitivity training can inform a mind that is unwilling to acknowledge it has anything to learn in the first place.

 

2. The "self-actualization" theory, or what I like to call the pull yourself up by your bootstraps” fallacy:

 

This is a bit of a precursor to number 3, but it’s separate enough to warrant its own slot. Lack of social privilege can become emotionally and mentally exhausting after a while. For some, it’s practically paralyzing. I know blindness doesn’t keep me from being a good parent, holding down a job, or getting from place to place independently, but a vast majority of people in this world don’t possess that knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, I love to educate. I get genuine enjoyment out of demonstrating and telling people about how blindness is just a characteristic, not a tragedy. But it does wear on me. I was blessed with a supportive family, particularly an amazing mother who expected me to live up to my full potential whether I was blind or not. She instilled in me at a young age a positive attitude about blindness, and most of the time, it’s easy to ignore or overcome the low expectations of others. I know for a fact though that many people with disabilities don’t grow up with these positive support systems. Social conditioning is powerful, and if someone is only told that they can’t achieve, they’re going to (for the most part) believe that. It’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps” if you don’t have any bootstraps in the first place.

 

Positive role models and education are important keys to surmounting social and economic barriers, but not everyone has access to these supports. Frankly even when they do, the negative voices are sometimes louder. I live with the reality that if I don’t get a job, it may be because I’m blind. It may not be, but I’ll never really know. I know that the first thing anyone knows about me is that I’m blind, and I have no control over that. They have a million ideas and perceptions about what it must be like to be me before I can even open my mouth. Think about the last Jo White Guy you saw in Target. You probably don’t even remember him because there’s nothing to notice or remember. That type of social blank slate is unfathomable to me.  I’m used to it, but it can be exhausting for even me sometimes. I can’t imagine where I would be without the support I’ve had. Say what you want about social programs, but I understand how people can get tired of looking for work when deep down they really believe no one is going to hire them. And the truth is, they may be right.

It’s downright depressing when I think about how, as a person with a disability, society genuinely doesn’t expect anything from me. I am not talking about individuals or supportive communities: I’m talking about social attitudes. If Billy down the street is thirty and still living in his mama’s basement with no job, there is social outrage about that. If Billy happens to be blind or in some other way disabled, the pity switch is flipped. This is where disability and race differ when it comes to privilege.

 

Generally speaking, there are negative feelings or biases about ethnic minorities while there is pity for those with disabilities. How can we expect people to want to overcome something and contribute to society when society doesn’t want their contributions? The social contract says if I consume, I will put back into the system. People with disabilities are not held to that same standard. We have to flip the scripts we’re all taught in order to shift this paradigm. I want that for my blind son. In order for that to happen, we have to start handing out bootstraps: acknowledge that some have privilege and others don’t.

 

3. The "broad generalization" theory, also known as but this one famous person overcame it so you should too” fallacy:

         

This argument baffles me every time I hear it. It rides alongside the Oh, I know such and such who’s blind…don’t you know them too?” and the you probably sing like Stevie Wonder,” comments. And, on some level, I get it. Our human brains categorize things and put like things with other like things. But just because one person who was born into poverty, had three books in their school library, and never left within five blocks of their apartment building becomes valedictorian of their Harvard class and rises to prominence doesn’t mean everyone can do that. Yes, I know that not everyone is meant to go to Harvard, privilege or not. The point is that the people who make it out of such awful circumstances are usually the exception, not the rule.

 

We can’t kid ourselves and pretend that everyone has the same opportunities to succeed because that just isn’t true. I’m not advocating for a we are all the same” type of society, but I do think it’s possible to move forward in a way that gives everyone access to the things we know improve social outcomes: education, role models, training, and food. There are some things we can’t provide for every person. There’s no guarantee that someone is going to be born into a family with supportive parents. Too often, a child is born into a single parent household. Some people are going to start with disadvantages over which we have zero control. But the more we work to change the things we can control, that will systemically improve the aspects we can’t.

 

We’re not contributing to the problem in a productive way by comparing them to someone else based on race or disability alone. That devalues the individual and ignores their gifting and potential. You wouldn’t expect every boy in a third-grade class to be excellent at football. Some may have aptitude for it, others may be equipped in other ways. The point being, everyone is different and should not be painted with broad brush strokes.

 

The time wasted by pointing fingers and diminishing the role of privilege in these achievement gaps would be far better spent on fixing the actual problems as best we can. It isn’t about entitlement, but it is about dignity. Don’t look me in the eye and try to tell me that privilege is a myth or I’m being dramatic when you have never had to face discrimination of any kind. Yes, everyone struggles. Furthermore, my goal isn’t to take away from some their important achievements. I’m thankful to live in a country that has far more opportunities for me as a blind person than virtually anywhere else in the world. I simply want to expand those opportunities and open the door for a real look at the underlying issues behind the majority of the obstacles faced by those without privilege.

 

Underneath my frustration towards the painfully slow wheels of social change lies hope. It is easy to get bogged down in the injustices, but I have to believe that progress is possible. A couple of months ago, I was sitting next to a stranger on a plane to the Dominican for a vacation with some friends. As an introvert, my hope was to somehow stealthily avoid conversation without being rude. Fortunately, this flight included a meal which forced me to remove my headphones and strike up a conversation rather than sitting in uncomfortable silence for the duration of lunch. We ended up speaking for the rest of the flight. We talked about everything from weddings to documentaries to drug trafficking in the Caribbean. You know what we did not talk about even for a minute? My blindness. I kept waiting for the inevitable questions about what I can see, how do I navigate independently, and the perennial inquiries about how I can care for a child without sighted assistance. But they never came. This gentleman who I had never met (whose name I can’t even recall in spite of my best efforts) treated me as though I were just another human escaping the doldrums of the daily grind to go on a vacation rather than a museum exhibit or a riddle to be solved. He even took it for granted that I had a job, an education, maybe a family. I had never experienced that before. I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with natural curiosity. A lot of people have never met a blind person, and I certainly would rather someone ask than assume. However, that day on the plane, I was given the gift of understanding privilege on a small scale. I didn’t have to overcome anything to be seen as equal, and that is the future I hope to help create.

 

Resolutions Passed at the Annual Convention

 

These are the resolutions passed at the Annual Convention on October 2, 2016. 

 

Resolution A16-01

Regarding the #HowEyeSeeIt Challenge

 

WHEREAS, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has recently launched a nation-wide fund-raising campaign known as the #HowEyeSeeIt challenge, in which people who are not blind are asked to make videos of themselves trying to accomplish everyday tasks while blindfolded; and

 

WHEREAS, this campaign is intended to draw financial contributions for medical research by tapping into fear of blindness, with no acknowledgment of the millions of blind people of all ages who are living full lives every day because they have learned non-visual techniques to accomplish everyday tasks with independence and safety; and

 

WHEREAS, research has shown that when people who are not blind participate in brief experiences of simulated blindness without opportunity to learn techniques for functioning without sight, they come away from the experience viewing blind people as less capable than do those not participating in blindness simulations; and

 

WHEREAS, with the rapidly increasing population of seniors losing vision in this state and throughout the country, the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota has received calls from individuals considering selling their houses and move into nursing homes simply because they are losing sight and do not know what else to do; and

 

WHEREAS, although many thousands of parents who are blind are successfully raising children every day, we know of parents who had experienced the threat of having their children removed from their custody solely on the basis of blindness; and

 

WHEREAS, these two examples, along with the countless lived experiences of blind people of all ages, illustrate the low expectations in society about blindness which have created barriers to employment, education, and more; and

 

WHEREAS, for many decades, the National Federation of the Blind, an organization of blind people speaking for ourselves, has been engaged in advocacy and public education to raise these low expectations—even starting our own adjustment-to-blindness training center; and

 

WHEREAS, although medical research for preservation of sight has an important role, a fund-raiser that plays upon fear and lack of understanding will serve to set back the progress that has been made and will do long-lasting harm to the lives of people who are blind; now therefore

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this 2nd day of October, 2016, in the city of Rochester, Minnesota that this organization call upon the Foundation Fighting Blindness in Minnesota to disavow the irresponsible, offensive, and dangerous #HowEyeSeeIt challenge and, instead, to help counteract the devastation that comes not from blindness itself, but from lack of knowledge of the truth about blindness; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the Foundation Fighting Blindness of Minnesota to work with the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota and with our consumer-directed training center, BLIND, Incorporated, to spread the word that with the right training and the right opportunity, people of all ages who become blind can still live the lives they want.

 

 

Resolution A16-02

Regarding Protecting the Civil Rights of Blind Parents

 

WHEREAS, protecting the rights of parents with disabilities is a notion that, incredibly, was rejected by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Buck v. Bell 274 U.S. 200 (1927), in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind"; and

 

WHEREAS, this insulting and unjustified view that people with disabilities, including blind people, are somehow "manifestly unfit" to be parents (or otherwise to live the lives they want and to participate as members of society with all rights and privileges associated therewith) has too often continued to prevail in the courts even as we move further into the twenty-first century; and

 

WHEREAS, this bias is reflected in matters involving adoption and guardianship and in contested child custody proceedings, because blind parents have been perceived by the courts, child protection agencies, guardians ad litem, hospital staff, and others as incapable of caring adequately for their children's needs, which has resulted in blind parents routinely being denied the right to be parents without unfair bias or unnecessary overreach by government entities; and

 

WHEREAS, for most people a fundamental aspect of living life to the fullest includes the joy of being a parent and sharing in the nurturing, growth, and development of a child; and

 

WHEREAS, being a parent and raising children is a fundamental right which is protected under the Constitution of the United States of America by the First and Ninth Amendments thereto and under the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to the states; and

 

WHEREAS, in the case of blind parents, there is a need to protect this fundamental constitutional right; yet nearly forty states have no laws at all to protect the right of blind citizens to be parents and raise their children without being fearful of discriminatory treatment or unnecessary inquiries of fitness solely based on blindness: Now, therefore,

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this Second day of October, 2016, in the City of Rochester, Minnesota, that this organization call upon the Minnesota state legislature to strengthen and zealously enforce laws that establish procedural safeguards to protect the right of blind people to be parents and prohibit discriminatory presumptions of manifest unfitness solely because a parent (or prospective parent) happens to be blind; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the Minnesota attorney general, in protecting the best interest of the child(ren) in each proceeding, to use their good office affirmatively to protect blind parents in Minnesota against discrimination and bias based solely upon blindness and to urge the courts, guardians ad litem, and officials of child protection agencies to base decisions about what is in the best interest of the child on issues regarding fitness to parent, not on blindness.

 

 

Resolution A16-03

Regarding Accessibility of Minnesota State Technology

 

WHEREAS, in 2009, the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation expanding the requirement that the state of Minnesota purchase software and establish processes that could be readily used by blind persons and other persons with disabilities as well as requiring the adoption of standards for such accessibility; and

 

Whereas, state and federal laws and regulations were in place much earlier than 2009 requiring that accessibility be a part of at least some of the processes used by the state of Minnesota; and

 

Whereas, the implementation of the SWIFT accounting package, the roll-out of SharePoint, and the implementation last year of the new Recruiting Solutions system for applying for state jobs all had significant accessibility shortcomings that were not addressed until after implementation and that still remain unresolved in many instances; and

 

Whereas, a recent communication from MN.IT proudly announced a “New & Improved Service Desk Ticketing Tool - COMING SOON” that would allow state employees to get help from MN.IT but also flatly stated that the software does not work with the current version of the JAWS screen reader and Internet Explorer; and

 

Whereas, the fact that the Remedy help desk software is not actually new but has been in some state agencies for some time now only makes the lack of planning for better means of accessing the software even harder to understand; and

 

Whereas, to our knowledge, the specific reasons have never been provided describing why SWIFT, SharePoint, Recruiting Solutions, and this latest software were the best choices even with their accessibility inadequacies, nor do we know if improvements to accessibility were required before purchasing; now, therefore,

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, in convention assembled this second day of October in the City of Rochester, Minnesota, that we call upon MN.IT to explain to the public and to the affected state employees: (1) why, seven years after the enactment of legislation requiring the state to procure technology that is accessible, a help desk solution that is not accessible was chosen; (2) what discussions regarding accessibility took place before this option was chosen, and (3) what procedures are being developed to insure blind employees equal access to the help desk; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that if this pattern of addressing accessibility after the fact continues that this organization take appropriate legal action.

 

Resolution A16-05

Regarding computer instruction for blind seniors

 

WHEREAS, the use of electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablet computers is increasing exponentially, guaranteeing that those who wish to remain independent must have knowledge of such devices in order to do so; and

 

WHEREAS, the technical capabilities of such devices have expanded opportunities for people who are blind, but only with specialized knowledge such as how to operate screen readers and built-in magnifiers; and

 

WHEREAS, seniors proficient in the use of mobile phones and internet-capable computers are able to stay connected within their communities and families, schedule medical appointments, secure volunteer opportunities, and generally obtain a greater level of independence, and

 

WHEREAS, State Services for the BLIND (SSB) only provides for a maximum of ten hours per case during which seniors can learn from assistive technology vendors of their choice outside of SSB’s staff; and

 

WHEREAS, given the complexity of some of these devices and their increasing importance for obtaining one’s independence, ten hours is often an insufficient amount of time for those wishing to learn to operate them; and

 

WHEREAS, SSB’s senior program, through the help of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, was recently awarded an additional million dollars for this fiscal year and five hundred thousand additional dollars (half of which must be spent on training) for each succeeding year, drastically expanding the pool of available funds to conduct senior training: now, therefore,

 

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in convention assembled this 2nd day of October in the city of Rochester Minnesota, that we call upon State Services for the blind (SSB) to remove the ten hour limit for technology training for seniors from external vendors; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that SSB work with the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that blind seniors have the technology skills they need to be independent, contributing members of society.

 

 

Convention Alert!

 

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

 

The Semiannual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in May 2017 at the NFB of Minnesota building in Minneapolis.  Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

The National NFB Convention is July 10 through July 15, 2017 at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort 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 is in the December Braille Monitor, and in the Upcoming Events section of the www.nfb.org website.

 

The Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention will be in October 2017.  Members will receive a letter with details, and the letter will be on our website at www.nfbmn.org.

 

Chapter and Other Meetings to Remember

 

At Large Chapter — statewide, consisting of those who live outside a chapter area and/or cannot attend a meeting in person; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the third Sunday of every month by teleconference call.  The telephone number for the call is 1-605-475-6700 with access code 9458023.

 

Central Minnesota Chapter — St. Cloud area; meets at 12:00 on the second Saturday of every month (with an optional lunch for purchase at 11:00) at VFW Post 428, 9 18th Ave N in St Cloud

 

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 — Mankato area; meets at 7:00 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month by teleconference call.  The telephone number for the call is 1–712–432–0926 with access code 1005345.

 

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 

 

Twin Ports Chapter — Duluth area; meets at 6:00 p.m. on the second Monday of every month at Pizza Luce, 11 E Superior St, Duluth.

 

Braille Club — Any National Federation of the Blind member who uses braille is invited to attend.  This group meets on the first, second, and third non-holiday Tuesdays 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 mlwartenbee@gmail.com.

 

 

Background and Purpose

 

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/

 


 

Acknowledgements

 

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.

 

·       Judy Sanders proofreads and provides corrections for both the print and braille editions.

·       Sharon Monthei makes corrections to the braille and print editions, transcribes, and embosses the braille edition.

·       Caitlin Baker formats the layout of the print edition.

·       Art Hadley reads the audio edition for cassette tape, Compact Disc, and audio download.

·       Tim Aune duplicates the cassette tape edition and makes the master copy for the Compact Disc edition.

·       Dave Andrews marks up and posts the NFB-NEWSLINE® edition.

·       Jennifer Dunnam marks up and posts the website edition.

·       Sid Starnes deals with the printer for the print edition, mails the print edition and other tasks as needed.

·       Emily Zitek collates the copies for the braille edition and mails the braille and audio editions.