Banner: Iowa Department for the Blind

White Cane Update

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

Members of the Commission:
Chairperson Julie Scurr, Coralville
Doug Elliott, Grinnell
Behnaz Soulati, Des Moines

Summer 2006
Des Moines, Iowa

Table of Contents

From the Director
Behnaz Soulati Appointed New Board Member
NLS Digital Transition on Track for 2008  
Hawaii Invites Iowa Department for the Blind Staff to Teach in Honolulu
The Referral Process – the First Step in Receiving Services from the Iowa Department for the Blind
Monster Reads
Niagara Falls … Slooowly I Turn
Talking Cell Phone Presentation Material Now Available
Iowa Department for the Blind to Host Employer Appreciation Day
BEP Creates Opportunities
Pathfinders: Learning Through Experiencing
Raising Cane Continues to Raise the Bar
Sighted in a Blind Community
Exciting New Changes in the OPAC
Newsline News
Tech Reviews           

From the Director

By Allen C. Harris

The 2006 Iowa Legislative Session has concluded, and decisions surrounding the 2007 budget have kept our attention.  Governor Vilsack recommended that IDB be funded at the same level as fiscal year 2006 for the 2007 fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2006 .  An appropriation with no increase will present challenges for the Department, but we are pleased to have recovered from the lean years of 2001-2005.  We plan to maintain the current level of staffing in order to provide a steady level of services to blind citizens in Iowa .  In addition to the Department's operating budget, we requested a Capital Improvement appropriation of $4,000,000, to renovate the third and fourth floors of our building.  The third and fourth floors have not been modified significantly since the very early 1960's, and the mechanical systems which control heating, cooling, and the quality of the environment in these spaces need upgrading.  We anticipate beginning this project by fall, and at this time we are not sure how long this project will take.

Behnaz Soulati has been appointed by Governor Vilsack to serve a three-year term on the Commission Board.  She is a former student of the Orientation Center and has had a distinguished educational and employment record.  Ms. Soulati will participate at her first Board meeting in June.

In other news, read about the Library's summer reading program, progress on digital talking books, and additions to Newsline as well as the initiatives in BEP.  The assistive technology staff is busy on a variety of projects and is winding down Project ASSIST at the end of its grant life, while transition programs are in full swing for the summer.  In all of these activities, we work to get better and better at what we do.

Behnaz Soulati Appointed New Commission Board Member

By Jolene Horsman

Behnaz Soulati of Des Moines has been appointed by Governor Thomas Vilsack to replace Robert Martin of Davenport on the Board of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Ms. Soulati was appointed by Governor Vilsack and confirmed by the Iowa Senate on April 5.

A native of Iran , Ms. Soulati was blinded during the Iran/Iraq war and moved to the United States in 1987 at the age of seventeen. Her association with the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) began in January 1988, when she started training in the Orientation Center . She started making friends and learning English with the help of the staff and other students. She learned to read and write Braille, use a speech synthesizer, work with a computer, travel with confidence with a long white cane, sew, cook, and develop alternative techniques to accomplish everyday tasks as a blind person.

After her training, she enrolled at the University of Iowa and received a Bachelor of Arts, with highest distinction, in Computer Science and French in 1993. In 1995 she received a Master's Degree in French Literature. During her graduate work, she taught French at the University of Iowa as a teaching assistant. Upon earning her Master's Degree, Ms. Soulati was selected by the University's French Department to travel to France and lecture and teach interpretation and translation to French students at the University of Poitiers .

After returning from France , she was admitted to the University of Iowa , College of Law in 1996. She graduated in 1999 with distinction. Ms. Soulati is a lawyer at Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors and Roberts, P.C. in Des Moines . She became a partner in January 2006.

Ms. Soulati will serve a three-year term on the Commission Board, which began on May 1, 2006 . She is excited about this opportunity.

NLS Digital Transition on Track for 2008

By Beth Hirst

Library staff members attending the National Conference for Librarians Serving the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Portland , Maine , April 29-May 4 learned about the progress NLS has made towards its conversion to Digital Talking Books. This extremely complex and carefully administered plan will result in a revolutionary change in the production, distribution, and playing of talking books.

A single flash memory cartridge, slightly larger than a credit card, will contain all of the average 12-hour book. The new mailing containers, which will be royal blue and hold one cartridge each, are still in the design phase. The design specifications for two models of player are nearing completion. Both players, basic and advanced, will be one-third the size and less than half the weight of the current C-1 cassette player and will have significantly better sound quality. The basic player will be very simple to use: plug in the cartridge and the machine will announce the title, author, and location in the book and will begin playing. The advanced machine will allow for navigation within the book by chapters and pages. If no cartridge is inserted, pressing the keys will cause them to announce their functions. The players will be dark charcoal gray in color, will be easy to clean, and will have a battery run time of more than 15 hours.

NLS projects that final testing of player prototypes should be completed between August 2006 and February 2007. The manufacturing contract should be in place by August 2007. By April 2008, the production line should be established and the first 10,000 players ready for distribution soon after. Full-scale production should be in place by July 2008. Continuous testing and assessment will occur along the way, assuring that there are no defects. Meanwhile, digital talking book production is already in progress. More than 20,000 titles should be available by the time the players are ready for use.

Hawaii Invites Iowa Department for the Blind Staff to Teach in Honolulu

By Larry Sidwell

Ten staff from the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) are each spending a week teaching and advising at the Hawaii Orientation Center in Honolulu . The invitation for IDB Orientation Center teachers and supervisors to work with their counterparts in Hawaii is the latest development in a relationship between the two states that began over five years ago. The State of Hawaii is paying for the travel, accommodation, and meal expenses of IDB staff.

David Eveland, Administrator, State of Hawaii Services for the Blind Branch, has been spearheading a major change in the Hawaii program. The Honolulu Center is called Ho'opono, which means "to make things right" in Hawaiian. Unlike the IDB Center , Ho'opono was modeled after Veterans Administration medical centers for the blind when it opened in 1962. Until recently, the Honolulu facility housed a workshop with 44 employees. They had three occupational therapists on staff. The workshop and therapists are now gone, and Ho'opono staff have implemented the discovery learning techniques that have been used in the IDB Center since its inception.

In October 2000, Mr. Eveland participated in a conference at IDB in Des Moines . The three-day meeting was attended by administrators and rehabilitation instructors, from across the U.S.

"Several things struck me about the IDB." said Eveland. "One in particular was the importance of having staff go through training as a student. Another was listening to a panel of former students talk about their experiences as students. The tours led by students were impressive, as was the display of woodshop items they had made and the cinnamon rolls that were served." He went on to say that "the principle that people need to believe in themselves and the role an orientation center plays in assisting people to develop that belief; the overall attitude of the IDB and its staff that they are involved in work that makes a real difference in people's lives and are providing a valuable contribution to society; all of these reasons sparked a notion that we should explore changing the way our Orientation Center is run, and we should seek assistance from the IDB during the change process."

The first step toward change began in December 2000, when the first staff from Hawaii flew to Des Moines to train in the Center. Hawaii committed to send all of its Center teachers, rehabilitation teachers on the other islands, and supervisors for training. Staff have come to Iowa individually and occasionally in pairs, usually for two weeks of intensive immersion in the Center. In addition to Iowa , some Hawaii staff also received training at a private center, the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in Ruston , Louisiana . LCB has its roots in Iowa . Joanne Wilson, an Iowa native and graduate of the IDB Orientation Center , founded the LCB and modeled it after the Iowa program.

When asked about what his staff has gained from this experience, Eveland said, "The benefit of sending our staff to Iowa or Louisiana is that it gives them a chance to experience that there is a different way of doing things. It gave them the chance to understand that discovery learning really does work and plays a big part in a person's development of a successful attitude."

The first rotation of mainland staff to Hawaii began in January 2006. Usually, one IDB and one LCB staff person will work in Ho'opono each week over the course of this year. Staff will teach and advise in cane travel, Braille, home economics, industrial arts, and computer. In addition, visiting staff will conduct two seminar classes about blindness.

"It is very important and beneficial that instructors from Iowa and Louisiana have been able to spend time on-site at Ho'opono," said Mr. Eveland. "Our students have gained from having the chance to learn from other instructors. The coaching project allows for Ho'opono staff to receive excellent one-on-one mentoring as to the use and application of discovery learning techniques. It provides our staff the opportunity to establish relationships with instructors who are available for them to consult with at any time. It has proven to be very effective, and everyone involved has benefited."

Ho'opono instituted the new approach to teaching, which is called New Visions, on November 1, 2002 . "There are definitely more people in Hawaii using white canes getting out and about than there were before New Visions started, and there are more people committed to do what it takes to reach their dreams," Mr. Eveland said. "We still have much to learn about discovery learning, but we know that we have made much progress. Ho'opono is so very fortunate that the Iowa Department for the Blind has given and continues to give us so much assistance as we as an organization strive to obtain our dream of becoming an agency whose programs and services have a positive life changing effect upon all those people with whom we come into contact."

The Referral Process – the First Step in Receiving Services from the Iowa Department for the Blind

By Christina Stocker

Between January and March 2006, the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) received the names of over 500 individuals who could benefit from our services. Anyone who is having trouble because of vision loss can be referred for services. People do not have to be legally blind to qualify.

Referring someone to IDB is a simple process and can be done by anyone (i.e., doctors, family members, friends, clients, social workers). An individual can be referred by phone, e-mail, regular mail, or in person. All we need is the person's name, address, and phone number. After the individual has been referred, a rehabilitation counselor or teacher is assigned to contact that person, usually by phone, to discuss the services we offer and determine if they are interested in services. If the person is not interested in services at that time no further contact will be initiated. However, if circumstances change, people often contact us again.

Rehabilitation counselors assist blind and visually impaired individuals with finding a job or keeping the job that they already have. The rehabilitation teachers help individuals learn alternative ways to do things without their vision so that they can remain (or become more) independent. The teachers can show individuals different techniques for using their appliances, dialing the phone, telling canned goods apart, doing crafts, writing letters or checks, traveling with a long white cane, reading and writing Braille, and much more. Teachers and counselors can also provide information on other services that IDB offers such as library services (books on tape, in large print, or in Braille) and our Aids and Devices store. As we receive the majority of our money from state and federal funding, we do not charge for our services.

If you would like more information on IDB services, please call 515-281-1333 or 800-362-2587. You may also visit our web site at

Monster Reads

By Randy Landgrebe

Monster Reads, the first annual summer reading program for adults at the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, begins Monday, June 12, 2006 . Coinciding with the library's summer reading programs for children (Paws, Claws, Scales, and Tales), Monster Reads offers adult participants (ages 17 and up) chances to win monthly prizes and a grand prize for simply checking out and reading from a large group of selected "Monster" books from the library's collections of Braille, large type, talking books, and descriptive videos.

What makes a book a Monster book? If you look up "monster" in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary you read: "one who deviates from normal or acceptable … character; one unusually large for its kind; one that is highly successful …" Based on those definitions, here are some examples that would qualify as Monster books. Dracula, for obvious reasons; War and Peace, because of its unusual length; and The Bible, as the most sold book of all time. Valley of the Dolls is another interesting example because it is the best-selling fiction book of all time. (Gone with the Wind is a close second.) If you would like to know if a book qualifies as a Monster book, contact your reader advisor or check the list on the library's web site at

Now that you know what a Monster book is, you need to know how to play Monster Reads. Simply follow these directions. Read a book from the Monster Books reading list. If you live outside the Des Moines area call 1-800-362-2587, ask the receptionist for the Monster Reads summer reading program line, and leave a short message telling us your name and the names of the books you have read. Local callers can dial 281-1269 to submit their information for Monster Reads. Additionally, you can send the same information via e-mail to You can report on one book or as many books as you can read between the summer reading program's start dates and the drawing dates.

Monthly drawings will take place Friday, June 30th and Friday, July 28th. The grand prize will be drawn Monday, July 31. Contact Circulation Supervisor, Randy Landgrebe, at 1-800-362-2587 for more information about Monster Reads.

Niagara Falls … Slooowly I Turn

By Megen Johnson

What is the purpose of the Iowa Department for the Blind's youth transition programs? As the program director, I often ask myself, "Why should a teenage student, who just happens to be blind or visually impaired, want to come spend part of a precious summer with me at the Department?" Is it to have fun? Is it to learn the skills of blindness? Yes it can be about fun, and yes it can be about learning the skills of blindness. The most important aspect of the program, however, is the opportunity for blind and visually impaired teenagers to gain a wide variety of experiences, through Camp Stepping Stones and Camp Discovery , while being immersed in a culture of high expectations and a positive attitude about blindness.

Camp Stepping Stones is a one-week camp that concentrates on students who need intense training in the skills of independent living. Often times these students have allowed their family and friends to do things for them, like tying their shoes, rather than taking the time to learn it for themselves. It isn't until they are ready to leave home and move out on their own that they realize they don't have the necessary skills. For many of the Stepping Stones students, the first couple of days of camp are quite shocking. They are not used to the expectation that they get their own plates at dinner time, sort their own laundry, make their own beds, or even get themselves from one place to another. Many of these students try using that infamous saying, "I can't do that--I'm blind." That is why the staff hired to live and work with the students every day are blind themselves. The most important work our staff will do this summer, and always, is teaching students the truth about blindness.  That's why they will work right alongside our students, teaching them that it is possible to do those things they once thought impossible. By the end of the week, the students are heading home with a much different attitude about their blindness than when they started. The students might not have all of the necessary skills yet to be fully independent, but they certainly have the "Stepping Stones" to start on that path. That path towards independence may lead home this time, but it might also lead to Camp Discovery .

As Camp Stepping Stones students are finishing up and heading home, the staff starts gearing up for Camp Discovery , whose attendees will be arriving a day later. Camp Discovery focuses on those students who, for the most part, have mastered the skills of independent living and need to be challenged further. Every day we work with the students, teaching them the alternative techniques of blindness in the areas of daily living skills, cooking, traveling with a long white cane, Braille, budgeting, and technology. In order to keep their interest in this training for five weeks, staff often disguises the training as something else. We found, like most people, that working towards a larger goal motivates the students. The students are given projects and activities that help them build their skills, which in turn help them reach their goal. Last year, the goal was a trip to Colorado where they went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, climbing through the Cave of the Winds and the Cliff Dwellings, soaring over the Royal Gorge on the SkyCoaster, and white water rafting on a two-day overnight trip where we camped with no amenities. At the beginning of the summer, many of the students were worried and nervous about the trip to Colorado , concerned about their ability to complete some of the activities. Therefore, they did similar activities to learn these necessary skills, but more important, to give them the confidence that it can be done. So what is this year's goal?

While brainstorming for this year's trip, I knew I had to come up with a place that would be of interest to the students, but also add a new set of challenges for them that they may not face in their everyday lives. Last year's trip was more rural, so I decided that this year we needed to explore urban settings. As I started researching different geographic areas, one idea led to another and before I knew it, Niagara Falls became the final destination with stops along the way in Detroit and Chicago . Students will experience big city transit systems, navigate busy sidewalks, tour factories and historical sites, and even cross into another country. With the majority of these activities being new for the students, this trip will certainly give them a big goal to work toward.

When I mentioned Niagara Falls to my supervisor, Sandy Tigges, she quoted an old Vaudeville routine from Abbott and Costello: " Niagara Falls ! Slooowly I turn … step by step … inch by inch." That's exactly what will happen throughout the summer as students learn skills and challenge attitudes. Slowly they will turn, step by step, inch by inch, toward their goals.   

For additional information about the transition summer programs offered at the Iowa Department for the Blind, please contact Megen Johnson at 515-281-1253 or 800-362-2587. She can also be reached at

Talking Cell Phone Presentation Material Now Available

By Curtis Chong

On April 14, staff from the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) conducted a highly successful presentation about talking cell phones.  People who attended the presentation (of which there were more than 70) had an excellent opportunity to hear, see, and feel the various types of talking cell phones that are now available on the market and used successfully by various IDB staff members.  While it is possible for people who are blind to use most commercially available cell phones to make and receive calls, it is generally not possible for the more advanced cell phone features to be used without sighted assistance.  Fortunately, there are models now available (depending on the cell phone provider) that can be used to provide access to some of the more advanced features.

An audio recording of the presentation is now available.  Also, a copy of the material handed out at the presentation can be requested in Braille, large print, and audio cassette.  To request these materials, please contact Curtis Chong at 1-800-362-2587 or via email at

Iowa Department for the Blind to Host Employer Appreciation Day

By Brenda Criswell

The Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) and Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) will be co-sponsoring an invitation-only Employer Appreciation Day at IDB headquarters on October 25, 2006 . The purpose of the event is to celebrate the partnership that currently exists between our vocational rehabilitation agencies and the employment sector. More importantly, it will inform employers who are not familiar with blindness about our wide array of services and how we can assist them in filling their vacancies with qualified blind candidates.

Agency tours will be available, which will showcase our building and our services. This will be a time for our guests to meet with some special vendors, including companies that sell assistive technology for blind persons. It will also be an opportunity for them to network with their fellow employers.

The IDB and IVRS look forward to this opportunity to say "thank you" to the area employers who have already hired persons who are blind and to open doors to those who will hire blind candidates in the future.

BEP Creates Opportunities

By Roger Erpelding

The Business Enterprises Program (BEP) continues its efforts to provide maximum opportunities for business under our program and to increase the profitability of these businesses.

Construction has begun at Missouri Valley , south bound, on a rest area vending building. This will be operated by John Ewing in conjunction with his other rest area vending sites near Pacific Junction.

Our staff continues to survey a variety of locations for business expansion. Since the last issue, Mark West has surveyed twelve sites. Three have been turned down for geographic or size reasons; others are still pending.

We are pleased to report that we now have five trainees. They are all doing well, and we expect to have five newly licensed blind managers by the end of the year. We are pleased with the increased interest in our program. In this regard, BEP staff, along with members of the Elected Committee of Blind Vendors, talked with Orientation Center students about our program on March 30 and sponsored a reception for students after our statewide meeting of blind managers on March 31. This function occurred at the Savery Hotel and was well attended.

Pathfinders: Learning Through Experiencing

By Keri Nuzum

The Pathfinders Transition Mentoring Program was created to match young adults ages 16-26 who are blind or visually impaired (pathfinders) with successful and competent blind adult mentors. One of the requirements of the program is for each mentor and pathfinder pair to get together for educational or skill development experiences. This year, pathfinders and mentors have been busy doing activities that focus on blindness skills, positive attitudes and becoming involved in their communities.

Some of our pairs have visited Des Moines to work on travel skills in the downtown area, local communities, and shopping malls and learning to use public transportation. Des Moines is unfamiliar to many of our pathfinders, and offers the challenges and excitement of new places. Dining at local restaurants, they have learned and practiced etiquette, ordering from a menu, asking for assistance, tipping, and appropriate conversations. Others have visited local shops to learn about taking care of their nails, hair, and overall appearance and buying clothing suitable for interviews and work.

Many of our pairs have also gone to entertaining places like basketball games, movies, plays, the zoo, the farmer's market, and the science center. Mentors show pathfinders how to find their seats in a dark room, gather information, travel through a crowded and unknown area, and carry trays, drinks, and personal items while managing a cane.

Mentors have also worked with their pathfinders on building educational and workplace skills. Some have worked together to build study habits or knowledge of specific classes like science and math. Others have worked together on learning about colleges and the requirements for attending. Mentors have discussed the challenges associated with attending college, dealing with professors, and becoming involved in campus life. In addition, mentors have worked with pathfinders on building rιsumιs and interviewing skills, as well as applying for jobs and the importance of a good work ethic.

One of the new components of the Pathfinders Mentoring Program this year has been to become involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's (JDRF) Walk to Cure Diabetes. During this event, mentors and their pathfinders were asked to raise money from their local communities to donate to JDRF. Pathfinders and mentors found this to be an important cause and together raised over $1,800.

Another component of the program has been a focus on the two consumer organizations for the blind in Iowa . Some of our mentors and pathfinders have attended both state and local meetings of these consumer organizations. Many are planning to attend national conventions this summer. By attending these events, pathfinders have the opportunity to meet with many positive and successful blind people from across the state and nation and to build networks with other blind students and professionals. In addition, they are able to learn about the issues that surround blind people every day, and what the organization is doing to educate the public.

All of the activities mentioned have had common goals – a focus on the importance of having a positive attitude about blindness, good blindness techniques, high expectations, and becoming independent and self-confident. Pathfinders are given the opportunity to experience many things that are new to them, or that they didn't think are possible. Through activities that mentors and pathfinders have done, our young adults are truly learning that it is okay to be blind.

For more information about the Transition Mentoring Program and how to apply to be a mentor or pathfinder, please contact Keri Nuzum, Transition Mentoring Specialist, at the Iowa Department for the Blind at 800-362-2587 or 515-281-1322.

Raising Cane Continues to Raise the Bar

By Julie Aufdenkamp

March 4, 2006 marked the eighth year that the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) has participated in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Walk to Cure Diabetes. Year after year, the IDB Walk Team has pushed the goal bar higher, and this year was no exception.

The 2006 IDB Walk Team, "Raising Cane," raised a record $15,015 and surpassed its 2005 mark by nearly $3,000. The grand total of this year's walk is just over 1.9 million dollars. In 1999, the first IDB Walk Team raised $2,069. To date, Raising Cane has collected a total of $71,684.

"Eight years ago when I first suggested that the Orientation Center become involved in the JDRF Walk To Cure Diabetes, it just seemed like a natural fit," reflected Mark Edge, IDB Orientation Center teacher and Raising Cane team captain. "As a new employee of the Department, I noticed how many of the Center's students were diabetic. I also knew that our students were skilled travelers of the downtown skywalk system, where the annual event is held."

Edge added that the goals of Team Raising Cane go far beyond raising record amounts of money to help find a cure for diabetes. "For one thing, we are educating the public," he observed. "When 50 to 70 long white cane users are in the skywalk at the same time, people notice. The general public sees the cane users as equals and as people who are giving back to the community in an effort to help others. Incorrect stereotypes about the blind are dispelled and new, positive impressions are formed in the minds of the public.

"Also, the 7,000-8,000 people who do the walk see our Iowa Department for the Blind t-shirts and they know, maybe for the first time, that this agency exists should they or someone they know need our services."

Members of the 2006 Raising Cane team numbered over 100 and included Orientation Center students and alumni; staff, friends, and family of the IDB; participants from the Transition and Pathfinder Programs; and representatives from Kohl's Department Store. Approximately 7,500 walkers participate in the JDRF event in Des Moines each year.

Ann Coffey, a current Orientation Center student, raised over $600 for this year's event. She had her own reasons for participating in the walk. Coffey said she dedicated herself to the cause "because there are so many children out there that are suffering the bad effects of juvenile diabetes, like blindness and kidney disease." She added that JDRF is a good cause because the vast majority of the proceeds goes directly to research.

The JDRF is not the only beneficiary when it comes to the IDB's participation in the Walk. Students from the Orientation Center and Transition/Pathfinder programs benefit from their participation in the Walk for a Cure event because they have an opportunity to be part of a team while being challenged to reach for goals. Edge noted that students get to experience the feeling of success when a goal is not only reached, but surpassed.

In a message to the Department, Julie Scurr, IDB commissioner and Raising Cane team member, expressed her appreciation. "What an accomplishment! I'm so proud to be a part of this fantastic fundraising project," she emphasized. "You are all amazing in the amount of energy and enthusiasm that you display each year as you accomplish the goal that you set to reach in this event. Thanks for all your hard work and efforts."

Raising the bar has always been part of the philosophy of Allen Harris, Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind. "IDB's participation in the JDRF walk and related activities is one more way we can give back to our community and for each of us to assist in work which is important to so many of our clients," observed Mr. Harris. "The Department takes pride in participating in activities other than our work with blindness, each project allows us to challenge ourselves to improve."

Sighted in a Blind Community

By Marilyn Jensen

What do you say when someone says, "You are print dependent, light dependent, a sightling," or many other phrases that mean you have vision? How do you respond when you are teased for needing a light to find the door? When I began working for the Iowa Department for the Blind six years ago, I didn't know how to answer, but that was before I began a journey I wish everyone could experience.

The first thing I learned was blindness is not the end of life. I have a group of friends who enjoy breaks and lunch together in the cafeteria; about half are blind. My "lunch bunch" have become my mentors and guides. We have a great time laughing, sharing stories from our lives, and learning from each other. When I mess up my computer, I ask one of my blind technical friends how to get it straightened out. If I cannot remember an author or title, these well-read friends give me the information I need. Want to know of something to do on the weekend? They will give a list of varied activities and what they have planned. I have never sky dived, but several of my blind friends have.

Next, I have learned that it is OK to be blind. Although my blind friends use alternative techniques to accomplish their jobs, travel, cook, or read a book, they do not consider blindness a handicap, but it is a nuisance. They lead normal lives. Many are successfully raising families. Others are accomplished seamstresses, knitters, crocheters, musicians, computer gurus, and phenomenal cooks. They do not let blindness get in the way of learning new skills either.

I have further learned that Iowa is one of the best places in the world to be blind. Our Library is outstanding, our Orientation Center is the role model for training excellence, our Vocational Rehabilitation is consistently high in placing people in the workforce, our Independent Living Program enables people to stay in their own homes, and our Business Enterprises Program offers work experiences for many. We are unique in that we are housed in one building and can provide help for anyone with vision needs in our state. We even have an Aids and Devices Store with gadgets, games, and goods to complement life needs of people with low vision or no vision.

So when my friends kid me about my dependence on vision, it doesn't bother me at all. They have been a good example, and their confidence in handling blindness gives me pride to be a part of the Iowa Department for the Blind. I love telling people, as I travel across the state, about our agency. I love sharing with people who are losing their vision that we can help them be successful through this stage of their lives.

Exciting New Changes in the OPAC

By Susan Stageberg

Our Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) has had a facelift! We've kept the features of the OPAC you know and love and have added some new tools that will make your on-line browsing and ordering faster and easier.

First and most important, the OPAC has a new address. If you have the web address for the "old" OPAC in your Favorites list in your web browser (such as Internet Explorer), you will need to change your Favorites to reflect the new address for the OPAC. The new address is:

You can also reach the OPAC by selecting the "On-Line Public Access Catalog" link on the Iowa Department for the Blind's home page:

About the Book Bag. The most noticeable feature in our new OPAC is the book bag. Think of the book bag as being like a shopping cart. As you browse the OPAC and select books, you add them to your book bag. The book bag contains a list of all the books you have selected in the current OPAC session. You can view, update, or empty your book bag at any time. You can also choose whether to have each book sent right away, or sent later. If you choose later, the book will be added to your request list.

Important! Each time you select a book to be added to your book bag, remember to press Alt-U or click the Update Book Bag button. By activating the Update Book Bag button each time you select a book, you ensure that all the books you want remain in the book bag until you are ready to check them out.

New Search Options. You can now search the OPAC by title ID number in addition to the options you're familiar with (title, author, subject, etc.). You can also conduct a search using the author's name plus a word in the title. So if you know that the book you want has the word "Dahlia" in the title and that the book was written by Nora Roberts, you can enter Roberts, Nora in the author field and Dahlia in the word in title field. This search will yield two records, both of which are for the book Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts.

You can also search the OPAC using on-line versions of the Talking Book Topics and Braille Book Review order forms. If you choose a title through the Talking Book Topics on-line form, the book will be added to your book bag, just as it would be if you did a standard OPAC search.

These are just a few of the improvements we’ve made to our OPAC. An updated tutorial is available on the OPAC web site to walk you through your book browsing or searching session.

As always, we at the Iowa Library for the Blind are happy to answer any OPAC questions you have. Call us at 800-362-2587 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

We hope you enjoy the new OPAC. If you have comments or concerns after trying the new features, please let us know.

Newsline News

Newsline, the telephone-based newspaper and magazine system that allows independent, any-time access to over 220 newspapers and magazines, including five Iowa newspapers and several national newspapers and magazines, has just added Associated Press wire service articles to its system. According to John Parθ, Director of Sponsored Technology Programs, including Newsline, at the National Federation of the Blind, "The Associated Press is the largest news service in the world and its content reaches over one billion people per day. The content will appear as 52 new newspapers: one for every state, one for New York City , and one national. The newspapers will be referred to as 'Associated Press Iowa ,' 'Associated Press National,' and so forth. Each Associated Press newspaper has the typical section names. The content arrives every hour. You will now be able to get articles within hours of a particular news event. The articles within each section will appear in reverse chronological order (i.e., most recent at the front) with a time stamp at the beginning of the title."

Newsline has just added Diabetes Self-Management.  This magazine has a  circulation of 437,000 and will be located under option 7 with the other three magazines.

To sign up for Newsline, call your reader advisor at 800-362-2587 or Peggy Elliott at 641-236-3369.

For those who like their newspapers on the go, Newsline has begun providing 125 of its papers, unfortunately no Iowa titles yet, to BookShare for download by BookShare members. BookShare titles do include several national newspapers and three magazines – The NewYorker, The Economist and the AARP Magazine. For more information on BookShare or to sign up if you are a registered Library borrower, go to

Coming this summer or fall with Newsline will be TV listings for all U.S. markets, including Iowa . The listings will include satellite and cable listings as well as other networks.

Tech Reviews

By Michael D. Barber

Editor's Note: If you are interested in more of these reviews in future issues of the White Cane Update, let us know.

The Milestone 311: The Epitome of Accessibility

I was intrigued when I read the blurb from Independent Living Aids about the Milestone 311 digital voice recorder/MP3 player. And after I heard the audio presentation by Stephen Guerra of Independent Living Aids, I was sold! So intrigued was I that I, being a gadget kind of guy, put down the $369 to buy this little device.

Overview. The first thing I noticed was how very small it was. It's about the size of a credit card and fits nicely in the palm of your hand. It's a little narrow at the bottom and gets a little broader as you move toward the top of the device. Moving from the bottom of the device to the top, you have the speaker and on-board microphone, a Mode Button which has an X on it, a round circle which is the Play Button and a left and right arrow on each side for rewind and fast forward. Just above the Play Button is a small button with a depression in the middle. This is the Record Button. On the very top of the unit, moving from left to right, you have the Select Button where you can switch from internal memory to memory card to MP3 player, the USB port and a place to connect the AC adapter for charging the unit.

On the right hand side of the unit as you're facing it is a slot for an SD card of up to two gigabytes. On the very bottom of the unit is a combination line in/earphone/external microphone jack.

Features. Here are some features that make this an outstanding device:

Recording Made Easy. You can make recordings in one of four ways. You can hold down the Record Button and make a simple recorded message, such as a phone number, someone's address or other contact information. There are, however, two things you cannot do – pause the recording or insert/append to the recording. You can make a continuous recording by first depressing the Record Button and then pressing the Play Button. This is very handy when recording a lecture or some other presentation. I used this feature at the recent CSUN conference in Los Angeles to record a presentation given by our Project ASSIST with Windows team this year. The sound quality was absolutely superb! You can either record using the internal microphone or an external microphone, which you plug into the earphone/line in/microphone jack at the bottom of the unit. You can connect to your computer's sound card or another external device and record that way, too.

Transferring Files. Using the provided USB cable, you can connect the unit to your computer and easily transfer files to and from the device. This is handy for copying the on-board manual to your computer for later reading. Also, you could create more folders if you so desire.

MP3 Player. If you like to listen to music or podcasts, this device will afford you that opportunity. Transfer your favorite music files to the Milestone 311 and listen to your heart's content. You'll be delighted with the sound quality. The files in a folder will be played one after the other. You can also cause the files to be played folder after folder by adding an autonext.yes file to each folder.

Other Features. Switching from mode to mode is very easy. You simply press the Selection Key at the top left of the unit and you're switched from internal to memory card to MP3 player. Using various combinations of the six keys switches you between folders. When you switch to a folder, the Milestone 311 will say "Folder one of folder two," but you can add a voice label to each folder. As you press the key combination to move to a particular folder, just keep holding it down for a few seconds and then say the label you want on that folder. I used this feature to label a folder "CSUN" while at the conference.

Other Observations. The first thing I noticed when I opened the package containing the unit was that there was a printed manual, but no Braille instructions or CD with the manual on it. I had to call to find out that the electronic version of the manual is in the unit itself. I recommended to Independent Living Aids that they should provide some instruction indicating one must connect the unit to the computer in order to find the electronic version of the manual.   After I found the manual, I noted that it was written clearly enough so as to be quite useful. Everything seemed to be well organized and logical. The clipped and decidedly British female voice is easy to understand.

Updating firmware is a snap. All you need to do is to unzip the file you have been sent, switch the Milestone 311 to Internal Mode, connect the unit to your PC and transfer the BIN file. Disconnect the unit and remove the USB plug from the device and wait 30 seconds. You will be told the update is complete.   Holding down the Mode Key for two to three seconds will give you information on how much room you have left either on your memory card or in the internal unit and if your battery is fully charged, charged, or low and needing charged.

Conclusion and Recommendations. Because of its simplicity and because of its extreme accessibility, I highly recommend this unit. When I compare it with other digital voice recorders I've tried, this one ranks way above them in accessibility and recording quality. You don't have to count your way through menus and hope you've hit the right button to delete a file because everything speaks. It's a little pricy, but it's definitely worth the money.

For further information about the Milestone 311, or to purchase this unit, either visit Independent Living Aids at or call them at 800-537-2118.

You can also hear an audio presentation about the Milestone 311 at

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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.