President's Column

President's Column

By Jennifer Dunnam

Another busy winter has turned into another busy (albeit not much warmer) spring as I write this column.  The Federation is, as always, in action on all levels, spreading the truth about blindness and getting things done.  Here are a few updates:

The blizzard in Washington, DC did not prevent our delegation of 13 Minnesotans from participating in the Washington Seminar and educating our members of Congress about eliminating subminimum wages, making higher education accessible, and bringing more reading material in braille and other accessible formats to all.  The crowds on Capitol Hill that week were much thinner than usual because of the weather; one office let us know that even the National Guard was not able to make their appointment that week.  We will not rest until Congress addresses these issues. 

Our Day at the Capitol was also once again well attended with many enthusiastic Federationists from all over the state walking the halls of the State Office Building and the new Senate Building, undaunted by the long treks, to make the case with our legislators.  We continued to build support for privacy in the voting booth as the current accessible voting machines used in our state are aging and the technology is changing.  We made our voices heard about the need for increased investment in public transportation, all over the state, so that blind people and others of all ages can move and contribute in our communities.  Our major focus was the urgent need for an increase to State Services for the Blind’s (SSB) appropriation so that seniors who are blind can get the training they need to live independently in their own homes and communities.  There has been no increase to SSB's state appropriation, aside from intermittent cost of living adjustments, for about 17 years.  Last year SSB served 25% more seniors than the year before, and this trend shows all signs of continuing.  At this writing, our bill is moving through the legislature, having made a step forward after its first successful hearing in the House.

Speaking of State Services for the Blind, the adjustments to policies about funding for postsecondary education and other aspects of a vocational plan were completed after a process in which input from members of the NFB of Minnesota and others was substantive and helped to improve the policies.

The newly elected chair of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind is our own Steve Jacobson. 

Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Incorporated now has year-round programming for high-school-age students.  Many of these students have also been opting to attend meetings of our Metro Chapter, and therefore getting exposure to blind adults from all walks of life as well as helping to shape our conversations and agenda.  Their energy is infectious, and they have many good ideas to help us grow and address what is happening for blind people in our world.

Minnesota Federationists have been attending conventions in other states, sharing what is happening in Minnesota and bringing ideas from the great work that happens in other parts of the country.  A number of us are attending and presenting at a student/teacher seminar for the Midwest region that will take place in mid April, put on by the NFB of Illinois. 

I have been doing a good deal of traveling and presenting related to braille.  With the updates to the braille rules comes the need for education and coordination around the country to support a smooth transition that will enhance braille literacy for all.  I have been doing presentations related to certification of the transcribers and proofreaders who create braille for the education of students and for many other purposes.  I have also been speaking about electronically-generated braille and ways that it can be improved and used to make ever more accurate braille available to all.  In meeting people from all over, I have been sometimes horrified by the misinformation that too often drives the way that decisions are made for students, but more often, I have been encouraged by seeing the students themselves being resourceful and finding ways to take down the obstacles of low expectations that come between them and their dreams.

Because of this extraordinary time that we are in related to braille and how much of my focus it requires, I am truly grateful that we are an organization of such dedicated individuals who have worked together more than ever to keep things going and see the larger picture.  Of course, our local chapters are critical to getting our legwork done, such as working with the legislatures in their areas, helping with fundraising, speaking to people on the local level about blindness, providing support and education to one another, focusing on increasing membership, and so much more.  Among other work by statewide committees and groups, we have formed a new group for parents who are blind, to serve as a resource for blind parents as well as to help when advocacy is needed.  If you are interested in being a part of it, please let me know.

Soon we will have another semiannual convention that promises to be full of information and fun times.  The afternoon portion will include an employment seminar, a meeting of the Minnesota Association to Promote the Use of Braille, and sessions for students and seniors. 

Later in May, our two-and-a-half-day regional NFB STEM2U program will occur in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Elementary and high school students will have the opportunity to engage in accessible STEM learning at the museum and provide feedback to staff and educators about how the museum could better meet their nonvisual learning needs.  In this way, participants will act as both learners and teachers and will have the chance to work with adult blind role models. 

NFB has released a new book called The Power of Love.  Edited by Ramona Walhof, it is a compilation of stories from people who knew and worked with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was the national President of NFB from 1968 to 1986, and who continued to work and lead until his death in 1998.  The book includes pieces by Minnesotans Joyce Scanlan and Dick Davis, among others.  Not only is the book about Dr. Jernigan, but about the impressive stories of lives that he and the NFB touched, and how these individuals went on to do important work of all sorts.  I recommend the book as a wonderful way to get a sense of the love, hope, and determination that make the NFB the strong force that we are.