MN State Services for the Blind Director's Report

MN State Services for the Blind Director's Report

By Natasha Jerde

(Editor’s Note: Natasha Jerde, director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind, presented the following remarks to keep us in the know about all of the ways SSB is pivoting to continue providing services to Blind Minnesotans. We value our ongoing partnership!)

Good morning everyone,

I’m Natasha Jerde, and I am the Director of State Services for the Blind.

I am honored to be invited to present at your convention! I’m currently hiding from my three year old in the basement, so I apologize if you hear “mommy, mommy, mommy”.

First, I just have to say “wow, what a past few months this has been!” I hope everyone out there is doing ok and able to stay connected with one another.

Second, I want to say thank you! The resources, support, and guidance we have received from the NFB to help our customers and vendors during this time have been invaluable. In addition, your work to improve the accessibility of information, especially around COVID-19, is helping our state be a better place to live and work. Accessibility isn’t an option and it should never be an afterthought, but unfortunately it continues to be a work in progress.

For my presentation today, I want to give a brief operations status for each of our units and then highlight the top 3 things happening here at SSB.

Our Communication Center is still able to provide some services. Radio Talking Book is providing a few hours of local news broadcasting each day. Otherwise, we are tapping into a radio reading service out of Kansas. Audio services is still able to do some e-text work but is otherwise putting a hold on audio transcription requests. Braille is still going strong, though turnaround time for some materials may be a bit delayed.

Our Workforce Development Unit is completely remote, and services still continue. Our vendors have adopted new ways of delivering training, and I have seen such innovation with virtual adjustment to blindness services! We are in a hiring freeze, so we are still down a few counselors.

Our Senior Services Unit is doing their best to remain in contact with their consumers. Many seniors are isolated in their homes, and this group has worked tirelessly to help them feel connected. Some seniors, who we have worked with, have lost their lives to the virus, and grief is very real with this team.

Our Business Enterprises Program has been doing their best to offer as much flexibility and support as possible for the operators. On a case-by-case basis, technicians are going to the vending sites to repair equipment, though this can be hard in locations that have COVID-19 activity (like the prisons).

Our SSB leadership team is busy drafting our re-opening plans as we await direction and guidance from the Governor’s and Commissioner’s Offices.

Top 3 Highlights

  1. The Radio Talking Book apps are now available in the Apple and Google Play stores! You can locate them by searching for Radio Talking Book. RTB is also available via an Alexa Skill. Shout out to Dave Andrews for leading this effort!
  2. We are opening up our waiting list! We have approximately 40 or so individuals still interested in services, and they will begin coming off the week of May 11th. The final person will be removed by mid-August. The waiting list will then remain open for the foreseeable future.
  3. The pre-employment transition services team created a nationally applauded virtual class for students called “Level Up”. It uses movie clips, music, video games, and more to promote self-advocacy. 20 students are participating.

Before I end, I just want to share a few ideas for ongoing advocacy from the NFB.

  1. The first idea is a message to your state representatives to support ongoing funding for services to individuals who are blind, visually impaired, and DeafBlind. The state’s budget is set through June 30th, 2021. At this time, there has been no word on future budget cuts, but I know state agencies have concerns.
  2. In addition, state VR agencies, including SSB, have been trying to receive waivers from Congress in order to pay our vendors for cancelled services due to the pandemic. At this time, no waivers have been granted. However, the more advocacy done to get those waivers granted, the more hope we have for it to happen.

As always, if you have any concerns, questions, or feedback, my virtual door is always open! You can email me at or call me at 651-539-2272. I have call forwarding to my personal phone. Thank you everyone!