Banner: Iowa Department for the Blind


Spring, 2002

Spring is a time for new beginnings. This newsletter is about new beginnings in the Orientation CenterĖa new perspective, new travel route, new instructors and new youth program. But, at the core of all thatís new you will find the philosophy and positive attitude that is the heart and soul of the Center Ė namely, "Itís ok to be blind."


As many of us know, putting on those sleep shades and venturing forth with a white cane is a terrifying experience --even with the travel instructor at your side.

I imagined all kinds of horrors such as holes in the sidewalk, curbs that threw you into the street, carpet wrinkles to trip you up and worst of all, stairs. Stairs haunted me. I was sure I was going to fall and break my neck.

Larry, the travel guru, was very patient with this preoccupation of mine. In the total darkness of the shades I was sure I saw yawning staircases before me at every turn, I continually asked if we were near stairs. When we approached an actual stairway, I clung to the wall, or the railing, or to Larry depending on whatever was closest.

In time, I began to relax. While not so confident outside on the sidewalk, I learned much of the building and navigated well as long as I avoided the library.

Then, one afternoon, disaster struck. I got off the elevator thinking I was on the third floor. I wasnít. I was on the first floor. I strode rapidly to the right, which on the third floor would have taken me to communications. But on the first floor that same right turn takes you promptly to the steps to the basement. Because I was walking quickly and not paying attention to my cane, I felt the cane drop at the same moment I stepped into thin air. Two things saved me from breaking my neck. I landed squarely on my right foot on the next step and as I flailed about for stabilization, my right arm hooked itself around the railing.

Never mind that I sprained my ankle. Never mind that I all but pulled my right arm out of my socket. Never mind that I let out a scream loud enough to scare the construction workers on the next block. I was all right.

But then the battle began again, this time worse than ever. The thought of putting my sleep shades on overwhelmed me. Once they were on I saw images of stairs burned into my retinas. With every step I felt like the ground was falling away in front of me. I called in the next morning, giving no explanation. I was paralyzed with fear.

But as I sat there on the edge of my bed later in the morning, I thought of all I would be giving up if I left the orientation program. I liked the other students and had made some good friends. My teachers were both friends and mentors to me, providing a perspective from their experience that I could not possibly have. The blind administrators and leaders were such an inspiration to me--was I really going to give up on all that? How about my goals for myself? Was I going to walk away from the computer skills I needed or the mobility techniques I had yet to master? Was I never going to make the pumpkin stew I had planned or finish the rug I was weaving?

Slowly, I got dressed. I put on the sleep shades. I practiced moving about. It was hideously hard. I still saw those awful stairs before me. But I began to see a lot more. I saw how far I had come. The ease with which I moved around the department building hadnít come over night. It had come with a lot of determination on my part. A lot of help from my teacherí and a lot of support from friends. All that had happened here was a stupid mistake on my part. I could get over this and move on.

I called a taxi and headed downtown.

-- Sara Scott


It all starts with inside travel. Then, once you have mastered every inch of every floor, every step and every fire alarm door, you move to outside travel. First home block, then street crossings that seem to take forever to conquer, then miles of skywalk (which I am not ashamed to admit brought me to tears a time or two after I had gotten lost in the confusing twists and turns of the corridors). Then there are the bus stops with their never ending supply of kind- hearted, well-meaning souls who insist on leading you right where you donít want to go. After all this is mastered, it is time to put all you have learned into practice by doing the 5.0--or at least thatís how it worked in the past.

Well, as they say, times are changing and so is the travel final. This new SUPER ROUTE consists of everything under the sun: street crossings, maneuvering in buildings, old routes, new routes, and even unknown routes. But the best part of all is that the students help plan where their super routes will take them. I was given the honor of being the first person to do the new final--either that or I was Larryís chosen guinea pig--but I prefer to think it was an honor.

My chosen final consisted of four elements. #1. I wanted to do some grocery shopping for my new apartment. Since I had done Dahls route many times I chose to bus there then take a cab with my groceries to my apartment. #2. I love shopping and needed a few things from Wal Mart, a route I knew only in part. To get there I had to make an uncontrolled crossing at a connecting street and maneuver the parking lot going from and to the bus stops. #3. My love of Chinese food helped me decide on China One for lunch. I invited all the ladies from the current Orientation class with Larry as an honorary lady for the day because he drove the others there to meet me. This part of the route was totally new territory. #4.The last element was a secret destination, of Larryís choosing, that would remain unknown until the day of my big walk. I had to figure out where an address was located and how to get there. Once there I had to get proof that I had been there, and most important, bring it back. When Larry told me about the secret route, I wondered why Iíd ever agreed to this project.

But I was committed. So now that we had the route planned, it was time to pick a date and do it. We decided on March 26th. I was very nervous and just knew something was going to go wrong! But after a brief conference with my FORMER favorite travel teacher, I was on my way. I had a minor mix up with a newly changed bus stop, but I quickly improvised and changed my schedule around to accommodate for it. Getting in and out of Wal-Mart was tricky, as I suspected it would be. I had a brief run in with what I thought to be clown cars, which turned out to be lawn mowers on display. Later as I was leaving Wal-Mart, a friendly woman asked where I was going. When I told her, she insisted ďThere is no bus stop on this side of the streetĒ and tried taking me to the other side. After I explained that I was looking for some curbs enclosing a pile of gravel and that there should be a bus bench in there somewhere, the helpful soul replied, "Oh! That bus stop!" It occurred to me then, sometimes even sighted people canít see.

At China One, I spent about 30 minutes in the parking lot before I worked up the courage to ask directions. The lady I asked was very helpful. She worked there and recognized me from some deliveries she had made to the Department. We had a wonderful lunch, and I had a surprise guest. Mark Edge, my NEW favorite travel teacher, decided to be an honorary lady too and joined us for lunch.

The grocery store route went smoothly-- the hardest part was carrying all the bags into my apartment! I ended up doing the secret route the next day because there was just not enough time to finish it all. The secret route was to 2702 Beaver Ave. I had to catch the #4 there, and then it was across the street and south from where the bus had dropped me off. The store I found at this address is called Back Country. I had a little difficulty crossing the median but I figured it out. Finding the bus stop for my return was a trip, but I did it.

I did it all! I have since graduated from the Center and am now doing post-graduate work. Oh, and even though I REALLY didnít like him at the time, Larry has taught me a lot and really pushed and encouraged me when I needed it. Thatís why, I have to admit, heís still one of my favorite travel teachers and a good friend.

-- D. Howard


I am Ric Frambach, the new Industrial Arts Instructor. I am feeling a bit like Harry Truman replacing FDR. After twenty-six years in that position, Dave Hauge is moving to another job within the Orientation Center. I feel fortunate that he is still around to help the Center make the transition as smooth as possible.

I was born and raised in Algona, Iowa. We had an old horse barn in the back yard where my dad had a workshop. I spent much of my youth building fanciful contraptions: a river raft that didnít float, a bathtub battleship that would only go in reverse, a self-leveling chess board intended for auto travel that leaked oil....

Fortunately, my skills have improved and my projects go more smoothly. My background includes the renovation of several old Victorian homes in the Sherman Hills Historic District. Charles Sherman, Hoyt Shermanís son, built our three houses in the summer of 1885. They had been converted into apartments and then suffered greatly. We began by gutting two of them and rebuilding from the studs out. In the house we live in, for example, we put in all new windows, doors, wiring, cedar siding and gingerbread, all interior trim and cabinets, flooring, wallpaper, porches, and three staircases. I have always enjoyed woodworking and construction and these projects keep me busy.

Iím married to Sue and we have two college-age kids. When we were living in our first house in Sherman Hills, they were small children.

During the renovation of that house, we had a table saw and sundry other tools in our living room for over a year. Obviously, Sue is a very patient woman.

Iíve enjoyed being active in neighborhood issues. I was President of the Sherman Hills Association when we acquired and restored an historic four-story apartment building, which continues to provide income to the Association. I have also served on the boards of the Des Moines Neighbors and Neighborhood Housing Services.

I have always thought of myself as a teacher, and was one for a time, but eventually became an underwriter for a local insurance company. I was at National Travelers Life for 18 years and held several positions both in and out of management.

I truly look forward to serving as the new shop teacher. The Shop environment is the perfect antidote to fight our own inertia. Itís about committing to a project and then DOING IT. Life is too short to just watch the world go by.

Ric Frambach
Industrial Arts Teacher


My name is Megen Cooney, and Iím the Transition Specialist at the Iowa Department for the Blind. The Transition Specialist is a new position that has been added to the Adult Orientation Center to address the needs of blind youth across the state of Iowa. Prior to becoming the Transition Specialist, I was the vocational rehabilitation counselor in Northwest Iowa for approximately three years. As a vocational rehabilitation counselor in a large territory, I recognized the need for more intense youth services. It was difficult to devote the intense time to the transition needs of the students and their parents. As the Transition Specialist, I will be able to concentrate my efforts toward developing positive working relationships with blind children, their parents, educators, and other service providers across the state. The goal of my job is to ensure that youth acquire the necessary positive philosophy and pre-vocational training they need to achieve their fullest vocational and personal potential.

For the first time, the Iowa Department for the Blind is hosting a summer teen program. The program is designed to help transition-age youth develop self-confidence while acquiring effective and efficient blindness skills that will enable them to become job ready. The Department will hold three separate teen camps for blind youth ages 16-18. The first camp held on June 10-21 will be for girls only. The second camp held on July 15-26 and the third camp held on August 5-16, is for both girls and guys. All camps will provide a variety of experience, both fun and educational. A number of activities have been planned including discovering the newest fashions, practicing the latest dances, touring a college campus, spending a day at Adventureland, and much more. The summer program will be running concurrently with the regular Adult Orientation Center, so we have hired three part-time employees to help manage the program. Things will be very busy this summer, and we hope the summer program will be an exciting experience for all involved.

Have a wonderful Summer,
Megen Cooney
Transition Specialist

Donít forget to mark your calendar for Alumni Day Saturday, October 5.

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