Published and Distributed by the 
Allen C. Harris, Director
Karen Keninger, Editor

Members of the Commission: Robert Martin, Davenport 
Julie Scurr, Coralville
John Wellman, Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa 
Fall 2003


Director's Update.
Library Impacts Iowa Lives.
Lind Appointed To IL Advisory Committee.
Library Joins All Iowa Reads.
Department Awarded Transition Mentoring Grant.
Prison Braille Program Enhances Tactile Production.
New B.E.P. Facility -- DOWS Rest Area.
Achieving Independence Step By Step.
New Faces, Arrangements and Fun At The Library.
What's Going On With Distance Learning?
Sioux City Mini-Orientation.
Tutorials For Deaf-Blind Computer Users Soon To Be Available.


by Allen C. Harris, Director

Earlier this year, in the heart of winter, I had an opportunity to discuss some of the activities which had taken place at the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB). As I write this we are in the heart of fall and it seems impossible that we are approaching the end of 2003.

As you will see in this issue of the White Cane Update, the IDB continues to have challenges and opportunities; moreover, I trust you will agree that we are approaching both challenges and opportunities effectively. Perhaps our most difficult challenge continues to be the economic problems, which the State of Iowa continues to experience. As you know, state government in Iowa has been "under-funded" and many services reduced; this trend appears to continue at least into the next two years. While the IDB programs have received reduced appropriations we have been able to maintain the quality and scope of services to blind citizens in Iowa.

The Iowa Commission for the Blind Board has provided more than $300,000 for the current fiscal year; in addition, the Commission has authorized the use of nearly $400,000 for fiscal year 2005. The Commission has done this with the interest income from the Department's Gifts and Bequest fund. The Commission Board members have demonstrated their belief in the blind of Iowa and in the necessity to maintain our tradition of effective services.

The IDB continues to look for non-traditional funding, through grants and other third party resources. The Department received in October 2003 a five-year grant for one million dollars. This grant will support a statewide "transition mentoring project" designed to match our students, ages 16 to 26 with successful blind role models. As we continue to expand and strengthen transition services at IDB, this grant will be an effective part of our overall achievement.

I am pleased with the progress that we are making at IDB and our staff continues their efforts for us to improve each day; the commitments of our staff, especially, in light of our budgetary challenges are particularly reassuring. 

HOW CAN YOU HELP? You can contact Governor Vilsack and your state representatives to indicate your support for the Department for the Blind.

I wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.


Harriet Fox is 71 years old. She lives in a big old house with a big old yard in Sioux City. She says that she has always been a reader. "The books I read are what taught me how to live my life. When people write books, they are writing about things they care about and things they know."

Several years ago, she realized she couldn't read regular print anymore and started going through the large print collection at her public library. Eventually she switched to the recorded books there. "They kept telling me I should get books down there (from the Library for the Blind), but I didn't want to say I was blind--blind intimidated me. I can see with one eye, but don't read well, and don't focus well. It took me almost two years to realize that I'd get more variety if I'd let my pride go and ask." When she did, she found a large and comprehensive collection of books recorded on cassette, as well as librarians ready to help her find what she wanted to read. "They were so nice to me, so nice on the phone."

Harriet borrows lots of talking books now from the Library in Des Moines. "I like to be very active," she says, "so when other people are watching TV or taking a nap in the afternoon, I'm listening to talking books. I also listen to them when I go to bed. Sometimes if the cat gets me up in the middle of the night I turn on tapes. I really enjoy them."

She has discovered that the Library has "the most extensive books and authors and people are most helpful. The service is so helpful, and you don't have to worry about deadlines or a ride to the library. Nobody is going to holler at you."

Doris Scott of Cedar Rapids is another of over a thousand Iowans who discover the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped every year. Before she signed up for talking books, she says, "It was very uncomfortable for me to read the large print, but I was still trying to do it. Because of my lack of peripheral vision, I could see four or five words at a time. It's hard to read that way! And all those words weren't even on the same line! I was really wearing out my neck muscles trying to read a page."

When Doris started listening to talking books, she says, "I had all these large print books I hadn't read, so I started out by ordering those books from the Library in Des Moines. I started out listening to the book and following the page, but I couldn't keep up."

After a while, Doris discovered she could enjoy the book simply by listening to it being read to her. Now she has her favorite authors and her favorite narrators, and, very important, "I can talk to my sighted friends about books."

While Doris and Harriet have come to the Library after a lifetime of reading print, others started out using it. Michael Barber has been blind since birth. He thinks he borrowed his first science fiction Braille book in 1964. Throughout high school and college, Michael has relied on the Library for basic reference books as well as to Braille and tape textbooks. "I was really fortunate," he says, "that the Library was able to tape a certain math book for me, and to Braille some especially difficult parts of it." While he worked at Norwest, he says he used an extensive Braille matrix which the Library Brailled for him. "Without the materials I had transcribed by the Library," Michael says, "I would not have been able to complete my coursework or keep my job."

Teresa Haifley, a piano teacher and mother of three grade-school-aged children, has relied on the Library since childhood. Through the Library's Braille production program, she has been able to get music transcribed for her piano studio. At this point in her life, she says, being able to get Braille copies of her children's textbooks has been critical in helping her children through their homework assignments. When they were preschoolers, she borrowed Print/Braille books which have the print text and pictures interleaved with Braille text. Using these books, she read to her children every night and eventually taught them the foundations of reading as well.

Lisa Ehlers recently landed a good job in Guam. To prepare for that job, Lisa, blind since birth, attended kindergarten through high school in her local public schools. Like all other blind students in Iowa's public schools, Lisa got her textbooks in Braille through the Library's Instructional Materials Center (IMC). She continued on to college where she used more textbooks provided through the IMC in Braille and on cassette.

Thousands of Iowans are unable to read standard print because of visual, physical or reading disabilities. The Library provides a collection of books and magazines comparable to a public library with the added bonus of an Instructional Materials Center and a tape and Braille production unit. In Federal Fiscal Year 2003, the Library circulated over 250,000 books in alternative media (talking books, large print and Braille) and 1500 descriptive videos. In addition, the Library made over 100,000 issues of 125 magazines available to its readers. 170 students received books through the Instructional Materials Center, and dozens of working adults had work-related documents transcribed into Braille or recorded formats for use on their jobs.


Mr. Robert Lind of Ogden, Iowa, was recently appointed to serve on the Iowa Department for the Blind's Independent Living Advisory Committee. The Department has operated an Independent Living program for the past 23 years. Through this program the Department has been able to serve nearly 1,000 older Iowans every year who experience a severe loss of vision and are at risk of losing their independence and an active, meaningful lifestyle. Individuals served by the program are relieved to discover that not only can they continue to perform everyday tasks essential to personal independence, but they can also continue to enjoy activities that make life worth living.

The Independent Living Advisory Committee is a select group of individuals who have received services from the Department for the Blind and who have been appointed by the Department's Board of Commissioners. The Committee also includes a representative from the Department of Elder Affairs. In addition to consulting on matters of program services and procedures, committee members are often called upon to serve as peer counselors and assist with public outreach and educational activities.

Mr. Lind became blind nearly three years ago. While he still has some vision it is very limited, and he realized a need to learn new techniques. He successfully participated in several training programs offered through the Department for the Blind and continues to enjoy reading through the use of the Department's library services. Mr. Lind has always appreciated the value of public service and served as a Boone County Supervisor for eight years. His experiences combine to make him highly qualified to serve on the Independent Living Advisory Committee.


Library patrons from all over the state joined in book discussions in a pilot project at the Library this summer. In conjunction with the All Iowa Reads project, three groups met to discuss Lief Engers book Peace Like a River. Two of the groups met by phone on a teleconference. This format allowed people to participate without having to travel to Des Moines. The phone discussions were facilitated by Library staff and proved both lively and insightful. Participants in both groups decided to continue their group and selected another book for a future discussion. Library staff plan to continue facilitating the two telephone-based discussion groups and will set up additional groups if people are interested. 

Library staff also joined the Clinton self-help group at their October meeting to lead a book discussion and report on events at the Library. After a lively discussion, the group wanted to know what the next book would be for the 2004 All Iowa Reads project. The day after the group met, the 2004 book selection was announced. It is Elizabeth McCracken's Niagara Falls All Over Again. McCracken is the niece of Elizabeth Perowski, a long-time volunteer Braillist for the Library.

All Iowa Reads is a new project sponsored by the Iowa Center for the Book. Its goal is to bring people together to read and discuss both the chosen book and the many themes and ideas which that discussion generates. Our library was one of over 100 Iowa organizations participating in this first year's project. 

Patrons were also encouraged to join local discussion groups and were offered discussion guides and books in Braille, large type or cassette provided by the Library. 

If you are interested in joining or forming a discussion group, contact Marilyn Jensen at 800-362-2587, extension 1-1348 or jensen.marilyn@blind.state.ia.us.


This fall, the Iowa Department for the Blind was awarded a five-year, one-million-dollar transition mentoring grant by the Department of Education. Under this grant, the Department will establish Pathfinders, a transition mentoring program that matches blind youth and young adults ages sixteen to twenty-six with competent and successful blind adults. This program will dovetail with the retreats, camps, and other activities provided to blind teens through the Department's current Transition Program.

Through Pathfinders, the Department will collaborate with the Iowa Council of the United Blind, the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, and blind individuals to locate appropriate mentors for the program. Through a series of five workshops, these mentors and the young people with whom they are matched will learn about self-advocacy, blindness skills, the development of self-confidence, and career exploration. Through these workshops and regular contact with positive blind role models, these blind teens and young adults will be more likely to succeed as they pursue job training, employment, and full participation in their families and communities.


For years the default method for creating tactile drawings was the collage method. Using string, cut-out paper, sandpaper, even dental floss, participants in Iowa's prison Braille program create maps, diagrams, math figures, and drawings of all sorts to illustrate history, science, math, geography and other textbooks for blind students. 

With the aid of a Tactile Image Enhancer and swell paper, Braillists at the Anamosa Men's Reformatory are experimenting with a new technique for creating these drawings. Using computer drawing tools, they created images which are then printed onto swell paper. The swell paper is run through the Tactile Image Enhancer and creates a tactile duplicate of the print image. Their first project was a book on the history of architecture, which contained line drawings of everything from the pyramids to modern skyscrapers. The results are precise, clean and very usable. In addition, says Lennie Miller, director of the program, the files can be stored easily on computers and reprinted upon demand. This may prove to be an excellent method for producing drawings for textbooks in the future.


Later this year, the Iowa Department of Transportation will be opening a new rest area at Dows. Although their state-of-the-art new building design will be confined to the southbound lanes only, there will be access from both directions. The new modern building will include two snack machines, one bean-grind coffee machine, three beverage machines, and one bill changer machine. The Iowa D.O.T. expects to have the rest area operational by December 1, and the Department's B.E.P. is ready and eager.

Matthew Hicok has been assigned to operate this facility. He is anxious and excited for a new opportunity. Matt left his facility at the Federal Building Cafeteria in June, and has spent the interim training in all aspects of a facility that will be vending only. Now that the opening date is near, Matt is busy arranging for delivery of machines and product, moving to a location that is near to the facility, obtaining a vehicle, and lining up drivers.


Mildred Horn is no longer afraid to go out in public. In spite of severely limited vision, her self-confidence is returning, and she is eager to tell everyone why.

Following a noticeable decline in her vision, Mildred Horn agreed to participate in a mini-Orientation held in her hometown of Chariton. She attended a three-day class where, under sleep shades, she learned basic cane travel skills, an introduction to Braille, alternative techniques for cooking, and many other helpful tips for daily living. She returned home and applied what she had learned to label her canned goods, clothing, and other items so that she could more accurately identify them. She also applied the new techniques she had learned to measure ingredients and peel and chop vegetables by touch rather than visually.

Several months later, Mildred attended the week-long senior orientation held at the Department for the Blind. During this week she further strengthened cane travel techniques and can now cross streets safely and confidently. She also prepared several dishes which were served at a brunch at the conclusion of senior orientation. She also learned more about computers, progressed in Braille, and learned many more helpful tips and techniques for living independently.

Mildred highly values all of the rehabilitation training she has received through the Department. She admits that she sometimes felt a bit unsure and kind of scared (especially during cane travel), but these training opportunities have boosted her self confidence. In fact, she has been instrumental in reviving a local self help group for the blind and visually impaired in Lucas and Wayne counties and is actively and proudly telling individuals she meets who are experiencing vision loss about the Department for the Blind.


Dan Bakke, a veteran library administrator who served in Iowa's public libraries for many years, has joined the library staff as Circulation Supervisor. One of his first projects was to organize an elegant rearrangement of the furniture in the central area of the Library, adding a sense of welcome and openness for patrons and staff alike. A new book area, book return, and patron work station are now located near the front door along with that old favorite, the big tactile globe. Reader advisors are resituated so you can find them more easily, and they all have a better view of the door.

Through the generous support of the Iowa Lions Foundation, the Library has acquired over 50 new descriptive video titles in the last year as well as a generous enhancement to our large type collection. Check them out!! The Lions also continue to provide bibles and other sacred texts to Iowans who need large type, cassette or Braille versions.


Project ASSIST Online, the Department's distance learning computer training program, is now in its second year. This project offers online courses to prepare students for the Microsoft Office Specialist certification exams. Last spring, we completed our pilot program with students from Iowa. We learned a great deal about providing advanced computer training online, and we learned what does and doesn't work insofar as teaching students at a distance goes. You may be interested to know that overall, the good old telephone still works pretty well as a means of giving a lecture to a number of people at remote locations. Students use the Internet to do the required class work.

Over the summer, we made improvements to the courses and recruited students from across the country. We currently have 19 students participating in either an Introduction to Windows course or a Microsoft Word Core course. We have students from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Washington, and California.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Anyone who wants to participate in this program needs to complete an application and an assessment form. If you would like more information, contact your counselor or Curtis Chong. Curtis can be reached at 515-281-1361 or at chong.curtis@blind.state.ia.us.


From July 8-10, 2003, the Iowa Department for the Blind conducted a three-day mini-Orientation training activity at the Isabel Sloan School in Sioux City. In all, eight students participated. Classes included computer training, Braille instruction, cane travel, home management, and philosophy of blindness. One French-speaking, deaf-blind student benefited from additional instruction in English.

The students traveled around the school grounds, which presented many opportunities to improve travel skills with long halls and curving sidewalks. They made desserts and salads, worked on their keyboarding skills, and studied Braille; and they did all of this with sleep shades. The days were long and warm. However, it wasn't all work. The participants visited the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which one of our students had worked to make a reality. Students also enjoyed eating at several favorite local restaurants.

We had students of all ages participating, from 29 to 88 years old. Their vocational goals were as varied as their ages, from homemaker to truck finder to doctor's consultant. Despite their differences, there was a lot of networking going on amongst the students and friendships being made. Due to this training, one student decided to enter the Orientation Center to receive additional training. Another student will attend the five-week Fall Computer Training program. As a result of the mini-Orientation, everyone gained a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

Team members included: David Lenz, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor; Dawn Kruse, Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher; Betty Hansen, Deaf-Blind Specialist; Richard Ring, Rehabilitation Technology Specialist; and Rebecca Swainey, Orientation Center Teacher. Darcy Boyok (a former client of the Department) also participated on the team working with individual students. A special "thank you" to Marla Namanny for running errands and providing transportation for students and staff.


The Project ASSIST Deaf-Blind Grant staff has been hard at work putting the finishing touches on their first series of tutorials. These tutorials, which will be ready for release in the near future, use keyboard commands and screen reading software, in conjunction with a refreshable Braille display, to teach deaf-blind computer users how to use Microsoft Windows XP and other popular Microsoft applications. The tutorials feature step-by-step, specific instructions tailored to each individual combination of screen reader, Braille display and Microsoft application. 

The first set of tutorials focuses on Windows XP in conjunction with JAWS for Windows and five different Braille displays. Future plans include tutorials for a word processor, a Web browser, an e-mail program and a computer-based TTY program, as well as tutorials using Window-Eyes as the screen reader. Members of the project staff include Susan Stageberg, a documentation specialist, and Brian Walker, the technology analyst on the team. Project staff have done extensive research on the best techniques and strategies to be taught in these tutorials and are anxious to apply the lessons learned to future sets of tutorials.

For more information, contact Brian Walker, Technology Analyst, at the Iowa Department for the Blind, (800) 362-2587 or at walker.brian@blind.state.ia.us.