Banner: Iowa Department for the Blind

White Cane Update

Winter 2004

Published and distributed by the Iowa Department for the Blind
Allen C. Harris, Director
Karen Keninger, Editor

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

Table of Contents
Director's Message
What's New in Aids and Devices
Come Join NLS Narrator Celeste Lawson and Dr. Abraham Nemeth in Des Moines April
Share Your Wisdom: Mentoring Program Needs You!
Iowa- Hawaii Connection
Library To Participate In InfoEyes Virtual Reference Service Trial
Computer Training Opens Other Doors
Personal Computer and Internet Seminar
Comings and Goings
Iowa Hosts CUL Conference
SSDI and SSII Employment Support for Iowans who are blind
From the Editor
Opportunity to Meet Legislators

Director's Message

    At any one time, you can always find a diverse and dynamic group of students in the Orientation Center. Right now the Center is nearly full, with students at every stage of training from beginners to some nearly ready to finish. We are pleased to have two deaf-blind students in the Center, and staff have pulled out all the stops to meet their needs. We also have a student from Puerto Rico who chose Iowa's Orientation Center particularly for the excellent training we provide in woodworking. His goal is to become a cabinet-maker. He is enrolled in the overall Orientation Center program, learning travel, cooking, computers, Braille and business along with his shop classes.
    The cafeteria, which has served the Department staff and students as well as others in the neighborhood for the past 40 years, has been converted to a fully equipped vending facility. Kevin Slayton, one of our B.E.P. managers, has spent many hours completing this transformation. Along with snacks and soft drinks, he is offering sandwiches, soup, salads and breakfast items in the vending machines.
    In his Condition of the State address, Governor Vilsack indicated that the State budget for 2005 is expected to be less than the 2004 budget. He has, however, recommended level funding for the Department. Rising costs for mandated salary increases and other expenses will make it a challenging year for the Department. The Commission Board has authorized the use of Gifts and Bequests funds to cover the shortfall during the 2005 Fiscal Year. This will allow us to maintain the same level of services through State Fiscal Year 2005.
    The Commission Board has been willing to "bet on the future" and we are all optimistic that the economy will improve and the financial problems of +the present will become a memory. The support we continue to receive from blind Iowans and other Department supporters in the form of letters and phone calls to the Governor's office and to legislators has been very helpful in raising awareness of the needs of blind Iowans and the services provided by the Department. We have heard from both the Governor's office and members of the Legislature that telephone calls and letters are asking for continued support.
    As we begin this new year I am pleased with the progress we have made at the Department, and am determined to continue our efforts to get better. In Iowa we have a long and proud history of first-rate services to blind Iowans. We are committed to the highest standard, which we can achieve and will do what it takes to be successful. In this issue you will read about many new and exciting programs and projects, which the Department is undertaking. We look forward to a year filled with challenges and opportunities, and pledge to do our best to meet them all.

What's New in Aids and Devices

    Sue Allen is new in Aids and Devices. She replaced Jolene Horsman, who is now serving as Administrative Assistant to Director Allen Harris. Sue says it's a wonderful job, and she has learned a lot in the past four months both from Jolene and her customers. She enjoys meeting customers in person and on the phone and looks forward to helping find just the right item for each.
    Two new items available in the store are a new tactile Chinese checkers game, an all-purpose knife with a stainless steel, scalloped blade and a guide, which adjusts cuts from 1/16 inch to 1/2 inch. The store continues to carry both gold and chrome Braille watches, talking products (clocks, watches, calculators, scales), writing tools, and a variety of cards, games, and magnifiers. Sue can also provide information regarding both the items she has in stock and other resources.

Come Join NLS Narrator Celeste Lawson and Dr. Abraham Nemeth in Des Moines April 23

    NLS narrator Celeste Lawson and Dr. Abraham Nemeth will be joining us for the 2004 Elizabeth Perowski Volunteer Luncheon and Workshop scheduled for April 23, 2004. In the morning, Ms. Lawson will present a workshop for volunteer tapists discussing her career and providing insights and tips on the more technical aspects of producing good narrations. Dr. Nemeth will regale advanced Braillists with details of the Nemeth code and related topics.
    The public is invited to join us in the afternoon beginning at 1:00 to hear Dr. Nemeth speak about his life and work, and to meet Ms. Lawson and hear her talk about her experiences as a narrator.
    Dr. Nemeth is the world-renowned author of the Nemeth Braille code, the code used to read and write Braille mathematics and scientific notations, from beginner levels through advanced mathematics.

    Ms. Lawson has recorded approximately 80 books for NLS over the past 13 years. They include children's stories, young adult and adult fiction, and several biographies. She says she prefers narrating fiction, but found Conversations with Susan Sontag by Susan Sontag to be a very interesting book. She is currently narrating a biography of Isadora Duncan.    (You can find a current listing on our OPAC by searching for her in the narrator search option, or by calling your reader advisor.)
    Along with her work as an NLS narrator, Ms. Lawson also does commercial recording in her home studio. Before the birth of her daughter, who is now 12, she says she also danced and acted professionally in Washington and Baltimore theaters.
    If you would like to attend the public presentations beginning at 1:00 on Friday, April 23 in the Assembly Room at the Department, please contact Niels Andersen at 800-362-2587, extension 1-1245.

Share Your Wisdom: Mentoring Program Needs You!

By: Keri Nuzum, Transition Mentoring Specialist

    Where will I go to school? Where will I live? How will I do my job--and what will that job be? These are just a few of the questions many blind and visually impaired young adults ask themselves about their futures. One good way for them to learn the answers is through contact with competent and confident blind adults who have successfully dealt with these issues.
    To help answer these and other questions the young adults we serve may ask, we have established a transition mentoring program called Pathfinders. One hundred percent federally funded through a one million dollar Department of Education grant, this five-year program will match young adults ages 16 to 26 with successful, competent, and positive mentors who are blind or severely visually impaired. Through a series of five workshops and other informational materials, 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. But to make this program work, we need your participation.
    As a young person participating in this program, you will have the opportunity to spend quality time with a mentor who can help you deal with your questions and concerns. You can talk about problems you encounter because of your vision loss and learn effective techniques for going to school, doing a job, or accomplishing everyday tasks. Your mentor will also be able to offer advice on career exploration and self-advocacy. Your mentor's goal is identical to yours: to achieve your dreams based on your individual interests, talents, and abilities.
    We are also looking for successful, caring, self-confident, blind adults who are willing to spend quality time with young adults in or near their communities. We are looking for adults who are positive about their vision loss and are willing to assist young people to achieve their full potential and academic success. As a mentor, you have a chance to have a positive effect on the course of a young person's life. Most people who have ever made something of themselves had an adult who believed in and encouraged them when they were young. You can be that person. To be a successful mentor, you don't have to be perfect--you just have to be yourself and be willing to share your knowledge.
    For more information about the Transition Mentoring Program and how to apply, please contact Keri Nuzum, Transition Mentoring Specialist at the Iowa Department for the Blind. I can be reached at 800-362-2587 or 515-281-1322. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Iowa- Hawaii Connection

By Dave Eveland, Director, Ho`opono

    Ho`opono is the name of Hawaii's Vocational Rehabilitation Agency Services for the Blind component that consists of specialized services for Hawaii's blind and low vision population.
    A rewarding relationship between Ho`opono and the Iowa Department for the Blind began in the fall of 2000 when I attended a prevocational conference held in Des Moines at the Orientation Center. The tour of the facility and presentations by current and former students at this conference were most impressive and subsequently arrangements were made for our staff to start learning more about the methods and techniques used by the IDB to teach blindness skills.
    During the past three years twelve of our professional staff have spent time at the Iowa Orientation Center as students learning skills and acquiring proper attitudes as regards blindness. Dr. Sandy Tigges and Mr. Allen Harris have both spent time in Hawaii providing valuable consultation and technical assistance to our staff and students.
    On November 1, 2002, Ho`opono started its New Visions program which is modeled after the program at the Iowa Orientation Center. For us who work here it has been a most interesting and worthwhile past 14 months. We definitely believe that our students are gaining the skills and attitude that will enable them to achieve what they want to achieve as they go on with their lives. It is in large part due to the wonderful staff and students our staff has encountered at the Iowa Department for the Blind that we have been able to implement our New Visions program.
    For that we want to publicly thank Mr. Allen Harris and everyone else connected with the Iowa Department for the Blind. Mahalo Nui Loa

Library To Participate In InfoEyes Virtual Reference Service Trial

    The library has joined with the Mid-Illinois Talking book Library OCLC and several other libraries for the Blind to conduct a six-month trial of InfoEyes, a service targeting virtual reference service for the visually impaired. Libraries will use QuestionPoint software with enhanced communication (voice over IP) to provide this service to library patrons.
    Virtual reference is one of the newer services designed to support libraries and library users through technology. It offers a means of connecting and communicating with a librarian in real time through an internet connection. With the enhanced voice capability, a patron with a microphone and speakers on his or her computer can talk to the reference librarian over the Internet. The reference librarian can "push" web pages directly to the patron, helping locate sources of information, which the patron can use immediately or save for later.
    The Library will staff the virtual reference desk four hours each week. Ten other libraries will take turns covering another 40 hours per week. The goal of this trial is to discover the advantages and resolve the barriers blind and visually impaired patrons encounter when using virtual reference services, and to determine whether this type of service is useful to Library patrons.
    Library staff will receive free training in the use of QuestionPoint and the on-line resources including FirstSearch and NetLibrary, which will be used for the project. is the website which the project will use. The virtual reference desk will open March 1 and remain staffed until July.

Project goals will include:
   Establishing a national model for providing virtual reference services and electronic resources to the visually impaired.
   Work with OCLC (Online Computer Library Consortium) in making QuestionPoint accessible for the visually impaired.
   Offer access to electronic resources (FirstSearch and netlibrary) to the visually impaired.
   Investigate how this software could be used to offer training on electronic resources, such as   FirstSearch and netlibrary, in order to increase information literacy skills of the visually impaired.
   Work with other libraries to provide online reference services to the visually impaired.
   Test audio (voice over IP) in offering digital reference services.
   Test a collaborative, multi-state model for virtual reference services.

    To participate in this exciting pilot program, go to If you have questions, please contact Dan Bakke at 800-362-2587, extension 1-1291.

Computer Training Opens Other Doors

    Nancy Finnestad lives with her husband Ron in a lovely home in the tiny northwest Iowa town of Plover. She has a hereditary eye disease, which began affecting her vision when she was a child. "Up until five years ago," she says, "I was functioning pretty well with the blindness--seeing what I was accustomed to seeing." What seemed pretty well to Nancy, she says now, is not the same thing as pretty well for a sighted person. But it was working for her. She helped Ron with his painting business, scraping paint, sanding and staining woodwork.
    Five years ago she lost her ability to read. "It's hard to function when you can't read," she says. She began using a closed circuit TV, which was "not as convenient," but restored her reading. It wasn't enough, though. After a couple more years, she decided to contact the Department to see what was available.
    "I got in touch with Megen Cooney [a vocational rehabilitation counselor]. She was fabulous--so encouraging. We talked about using computers, and she encouraged me to try it."
    Nancy didn't even know how to turn a computer on when she got it, but she started working her way through Project ASSIST tutorials and taught herself the basics.
    "As I went along, learning to use the computer," Nancy says, "I thought maybe there are a lot of other things I could learn to do besides the computer."
    Nancy continued computer training and is currently in the Project ASSIST On-Line computer training program. But she is discovering those other things she can do as well. She met with her Independent Living teacher, Jennifer Vanderberg in December for her first real cane travel lesson. "Jennifer is Miss Enthusiasm herself," Nancy says.
    "I thought, I'm stumbling around why am I doing this? Why can't I walk through a store without banging into things? ... I got this cane when I was in my last year of high school. I didn't want anything to do with it--don't even show me that thing. Over the last few years it has been difficult to get around without endangering myself."
    Last summer Nancy toured the Department and met staff and Orientation Center students who were using canes to get around with ease and confidence.
    "I just decided after my visit to the department last summer maybe this isn't such a bad thing. I can see where it could be very advantageous. Over the last few years in a crowd or mall or grocery store, I found myself many times fumbling, stumbling, or running into things. There's no need to do that now that I have seen people operate with this thing and how well it has worked."
    Nancy is seeing other possibilities as well. When she was first introduced to the idea of Braille, she says, "Why would I ever want to learn Braille." But now she's thinking of Braille not for reading novels, but for labeling her files and her cans. She'll just start with the first few letters of the alphabet, she says, and go from there.

Personal Computer and Internet Seminar

    On Saturday, March 27, 2004, the Iowa Department for the Blind will be sponsoring a seminar for computer users at its Des Moines office, located at 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines Iowa. A two-hour live technology presentation will start at 10:00 a.m. followed by two hours of "hands on" demonstrations for the more adventurous computer user.

Our top-notch team of technology specialists will discuss the following topics:
Setting up Windows to work with your screen access program
Selecting an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that will work with your screen reading technology
Basic tips and techniques for surfing the Web with your screen access program
The Google search engine: your gateway to vast stores of information!
Getting help from your screen access program

    After lunch, those who wish can visit our training lab and try out some of the strategies discussed during the morning session. You may also use this time to ask questions or discuss technology-related issues with the members of our tech team.
We expect the seminar to start at 10:00 a.m. sharp and to conclude no later than 3:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend this seminar. We ask only that you RSVP to Curtis Chong, Program Administrator of Field Operations and Access Technology. Mr. Chong can be reached via telephone at (515) 281-1361 or via e-mail at

Come one and all to what promises to be a very exciting day of technology!

Comings and Goings

During the past year the Department has lost, and gained, outstanding staff.

    On July 10, Becky Cox said goodbye to the Department after 29 years of service. In 1974 she began her career, which culminated in her position as secretary for the Commission Board and administrative assistant to the director. Over the years, she accumulated extensive knowledge of the political scene and the legislators and staff in the governor's office as well as the workings of the Department and Iowa government. Congratulations to Becky on her retirement. Jolene Horsman, former manager of the Aids and Devices Store, is ably filling the position Becky left. In a domino effect, Sue Allen, who worked as a typist advanced in Field Operations accepted the position of manager of the Aids and Devices Store.
    Twenty-nine seems to be the magic number. Candy Coleman retired at the end of December, after working 29 years in state government and devoting 19 of those years to the Department for the Blind. Candy will be missed for her excellent secretarial skills, high professional standards, and her commitment to customer service. Regardless of the task at hand or the immediacy of a deadline, Candy was always willing to spend time with consumers when they called with questions. Thanks in large part to Candy's gracious and personable response to first-time callers, many newly blind individuals discovered the Department for the Blind has much to offer and felt encouraged to take advantage of services. Candy will be missed, but her retirement is well earned. We wish her the very best. Carl Shawhan moved into the Rehabilitation Consultant's position in Field Operations after Kent Farver left to pursue other opportunities. Carl will be the primary source of information on Social Security issues as well as more esoteric topics.
    New faces in the technology area include Richard Ring as the rehabilitation technology specialist. Richard fields calls and visits people to solve their computer problems. Brian Walker joined Susie Stageberg on the staff of the Project ASSIST deaf-blind project to research training materials for people using only Braille output for their computers. Sarah Cranston is working in the Library as a Braille embossing clerk, and Cara Gates has added her expertise to the accounting team. Cara is also that new voice on the switchboard during Dee's breaks and lunch.
    Dan Bakke joined the library in July as the supervisor of the circulation unit, and Elizabeth Soenen started at the same time as a counterpart to Barb Weigel in Independent Living.
    In November Linda Trogdon accepted a much-deserved promotion to the position of secretary for Project ASSIST staff.
    Most recently, Jodi George has joined the Orientation staff. She is the secretary for the Transition Mentoring Program.

Iowa Hosts CUL Conference

    The annual meeting of the Consortium of User Libraries (CUL) was held in Iowa this fall, with representatives from Iowa, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Michigan libraries for the blind attending. Karen Keninger, who has served as the chair of CUL for the past two years, hosted the conference and annual meeting. Interspersed with discussions of ways to improve service to our patrons through our software, attendees enjoyed delicious snacks prepared by Mary Clarke and the home ec class and some of Des Moines's finest downtown restaurants. At the end of the conference, members had a solid list of enhancements prioritized for the coming year, and the same slate of officers.
    CUL is the organization, which owns and directs development of the Library's circulation software. Software development and maintenance is performed by Mary Lamica and Jim Williams of ASRD. The latest enhancement to CUL is the ability to allow patrons to subscribe to a series such as the Wagons West series or the Harry Potter series, and have the books sent in series order. We expect this enhancement to be fully functional later this year. Watch for details.

SSDI and SSI Employment Support for Iowans who are Blind

    The Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2004 is 2.1 percent. This applies to all Social Security benefits beginning with January checks.
    Assuming legal blindness and a work history where you made contributions to the Social Security Trust Fund (FICA), eligibility for SSDI is based to a great extent upon the number of quarters of coverage you have earned. Thus, if your number of quarters is limited and you return to work and pay FICA and then for whatever reason must return to SSDI benefits, you will have earned additional credits and your benefits may be increased. In 2004, a Social Security quarter of coverage will be credited for earnings of $900 during a calendar quarter. Four quarters can be earned with annual earnings of $3,600 regardless of when the earnings occurred during the year.
    Each year, the amount of earnings required to use a Trial Work Period (TWP) month rises. In 2004, this amount is $580. You have 9 months of TWP within a five-year period where you can earn any amount without influencing your benefit amount. So, you can safely try working without immediate loss of benefits.
    The Substantial Gainful Activity amount (SGA) for 2004 for blind individuals who receive SSDI benefits is now $1,350. Earnings below this amount do not count as SGA and do not affect SSDI benefits.
    The standard SSI benefit for 2004 will increase to $564 per month for individuals and to $846 for couples. Student Earned Income Exclusions increase to $1,370 per month with a maximum of $5,520 per year.
    Medicare Part B has increased from the 2003 level of $58.70 to 2004 level of $66.60.

B.E.P. Seeking New Opportunities

    The Business Enterprises Program is always looking for new and innovative opportunities for blind vendors. When we learned that the South Dakota agency for the blind would not be bidding on the Mount Rushmore gift shop and cafeteria concessions, we considered bidding on it ourselves. Although this possibility did not work out, we are still investigating other opportunities through Park Service or military establishments where the state agency for the blind does not wish to participate. In addition to this, our teaming partner Mr. Blackstone has expressed an interest in some Iowa projects, and this is our next immediate step.

From the Editor:

    One day several years ago my doorbell rang. I picked up the baby I had just changed and went to see who was there. My two- and four-year-olds came along. I found a census taker on the porch, armed with her clipboard and her spiel. "And how many people live in this house?" "Five." "How many under the age of 18?" "Three." "Are there any handicapped people living in this household?" "Yes, I am."
    She laughed. "Yes," she said, "a lot of the mothers tell me that."
    I laughed, too. The handicap I had in mind, I explained, was not my motherhood, but my blindness.
    What does it mean to be "handicapped," or "disabled," or, more specifically blind? It seems to me that four factors impact the answer to that question. Those are (1) my attitude toward my blindness; (2) attitudes of my family, friends, and society in general, about my blindness; (3) my mastery of alternative skills and techniques; and (4) the resources available to me. If these four things are aligned, blindness can mean simply one of many factors, which form the fabric of my everyday life. If they aren't, blindness can become the overriding, defining and limiting tragedy, which prevents me from living well and doing what I want.
    My own attitude colors everything I do. If I believed that I couldn't do things because I am blind, walls of impossibilities would circumscribe my life. It isn't, though, because my training, experience, and the example of other blind people I know have convinced me that I can find a way to do whatever I want. To date what I want has included raising six children, earning an advanced degree, traveling on five continents, pursuing a satisfying career, and building my dream house. I wonder what will be next!
    The attitudes of the people around me aren't always as easy to manage. They are critical, though, to my success. If my family, friends and employers had believed my blindness should or would keep me from living a full and productive life, they could have made it very difficult for me by denying me the opportunities I needed to learn, to grow, and to achieve.
    I have mastered a wide spectrum of alternative techniques, which I use in my everyday life. I learned these critical skills--travel, Braille, homemaking, computer skills--from people who knew how and believed that I could. I learn new skills every day as new situations arise. I learn them from others who have tried new things, and I learn them through trial and error, knowing there must be a way--determined to find it.
    The resources available to me throughout my life in Iowa have supplied the fourth critical component of my success. Those resources are centered at the Iowa Department for the Blind.
    At the heart of the Department, the Orientation Center transforms the lives and futures of blind adults by instilling in them the self-confidence they need to define and pursue their goals. Through public outreach and public information efforts, the Department continually strives to educate the public in general, and employers in particular, regarding the capabilities of blind Iowans. Through the skills training components of the Orientation Center and the Independent Living and Rehabilitation Teaching programs, blind Iowans like me learn from the pros how to travel, read Braille, use computers, cook, and, as critical as anything, to advocate for themselves with their families, friends, employers and communities.
    The Library is without a doubt the most widely and often-used resource at the Department. Serving thousands of Iowans on a daily basis. Books, magazines, textbooks, training materials, and personal information all pass through the capable hands of library staff. Every day they mail upwards of 1,000 books and magazines to Iowans who would not be able to read without these specially formatted cassette, Braille and large print materials. Instructional Materials Center (IMC) librarians fill requests for textbooks, workbooks, testing materials, work-related items, and a variety of other requests for Iowa blind, physically, and reading-disabled students of all ages. The Library coordinates resources of 90 volunteer Braillists and tapists, and several prison programs to make sure that blind and reading-disabled Iowans can read what they need or want to read in a medium which is accessible to them. Because we have this resource, blind Iowans can go to school, get and hold jobs, enjoy hours of leisure and informational reading, and keep up with current events.
    The resources provided by the Department, which are so critical to the lives of blind and reading disabled Iowans, are currently endangered by the deep budget cuts being experienced throughout state government. Hard decisions about budget allocations will be made during the current legislative session. Library patrons and clients of VR and IL programs are contacting their legislators to express their deep concern about the budget shortfall, which threatens to reduce or eliminate some areas of service at the Department. As part of the informational services provided through the Library, reader advisors are providing information on current legislators to patrons via telephone.
    As a blind citizen of Iowa who cannot imagine life without my library or other Department services, I will be watching the legislative session unfold and encouraging my legislators to consider the appropriation needed to sustain the Library and all other Department resources.

Opportunity to Meet Legislators

    The Department is sponsoring an opportunity for consumers to meet their legislators, have their pictures taken with them, and talk to them about issues affecting their lives.
    From 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. on March 9, the Department will host a breakfast in the Legislative Dining room in the basement of the Capitol. Consumers are invited to come to the breakfast to meet the legislators from their home districts. Anyone interested in attending should contact Jolene Horsman at 800-362-2587, extension 1-1336. Contacting legislators ahead of time will let them know their constituents are at the breakfast.

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WHITE CANE UPDATE is published by the Iowa Department for the Blind. Please direct questions and suggestions to the Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364, 515-281-1333.