Published and distributed by the Iowa Department for
Members of the Commission:
Robert Martin, Davenport
Julie Scurr, Coralville
Doug Elliott, Grinnell
Des Moines, Iowa
Table of Contents:
Notes from the Director's Desk
Mini-Training Changes Lives
Hats Off to Volunteers!
Legislature Funds Newsline and IRIS for One Year
Spring Into Action
Iowans Prominent on BEP Conference Agendas
InfoEyes Pilot Takes a New Course
Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Cards and the $600 Credit
Iowa Books on WebBraille
Computer Technology Seminar Expands Training Opportunities
Small Reading Room Revitalized
Send Us Your E-Mail Address
From the Editor
By Allen Harris
As of May 1, Commissioner John Wellman
has closed a distinguished chapter in his service to the Iowa Department for the
Blind. Commissioner Wellman served actively on the Commission board from 1983 to
2004, helping direct the agency through reorganization and fiscal uncertainties
while maintaining its status as one of the best blind agencies in the nation.
Mr. Wellman has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to the blind of
Iowa throughout his tenure on the Board, and his insight and leadership will be
missed. Along with his service to the blind of Iowa, Mr. Wellman has achieved a
highly successful career as a public defender and will continue in that role.
Governor Vilsack has appointed Mr. Doug Elliott of Grinnell to serve a three-year term on the Commission Board beginning May 1, 2004.
Mr. Elliott was blinded in Vietnam and has worked in a variety of jobs as a licensed social worker. Commissioner Elliott has been active in the National Federation of the Blind over the past 20 years and has participated at the state and national level in its activities. I look forward to Commissioner Elliott's participation on the Board and know that he will bring his personal leadership and commitment to the blind of Iowa.
Sue Allen continues to manage the Aids and Devices store with good humor and innovation. She keeps current products in stock and finds new ones for our customers. One exciting new product is a slightly redesigned Iowa cane. Dave Hauge searched the country to find a new supplier willing to make a cane to our specifications. Dave got the job done and we now have a plentiful stock. You will note several things about our new canes, which I believe, are improvements. I find myself growing fonder of the new cane as I continue to use mine. The differences you will notice are: The shaft is a composite fiberglass and has a dimpled texture. Most other canes that I have seen have paint or tape over the fiberglass because of the tendency for the fiberglass to splinter. Our canes show no sign of splintering, and the shafts are strong and yet quite flexible.
The traditional green handle, (Iowa Cane trademark), is several inches longer than the old one. This allows for choking up on the cane and having the handle to work with. The screw, which holds the cane tip, (glider), is molded into the shaft and we believe this will help keep the screw from loosening.
I hope you will be pleased with the "new and improved" Iowa Cane; they are available from the Aids and Devices store at a cost of $16 plus tax, per cane. Let us know how the canes work for you. We are anxious to have products, including our Iowa Canes, which please our customers, the blind of Iowa.
The Library continues to find ways of improving service to blind citizens in Iowa. Karen Keninger, (Library Program Administrator), Dan Bakke, (Library Supervisor), and the entire Library staff are constantly working to meet the expectations of our Library patrons. Our Instructional Materials Center, (IMC), is always very busy, and we are producing more Braille materials than ever before.
In addition to our staff, we depend on many volunteers to meet our goals. You will read about our luncheon, April 23rd, to recognize and thank our many volunteers. The Library is working on several projects.
InfoEyes, a program to provide reference services using the Internet; a career exploration center, which will be state of the art and will be a joint project between our Library and Vocational Rehabilitation staff; and before long, we will also begin to scan rare and one-of-a-kind copies of Braille books to create electronic files. Many of our old books have begun to deteriorate. The Braille Book scanning project will allow us to preserve our collection and share it nationally. You will read more about each of these innovative and dynamic projects in this issue.
The Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) technology program continues to be very busy and has developed new methods to get information technology and computer instruction to more individuals. A growing number of blind Iowans who use assistive technology need support and accessible instruction. Mr. Curtis Chong and our technology staff have begun some group training which will allow more people to get instruction at one time in spite of our limited number of staff.
Our Distance learning grant is going very well. The number of persons who have earned certification for Microsoft programs is increasing. In addition, the project team writing tutorials for refreshable Braille displays is making good progress.
Curtis Chong, Lisa Gard and Carl Shawhan, along with other staff are working on our case management system. This system will streamline paperwork and simplify data collection for Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living. Streamlined processes mean more time for staff to spend with clients. Lisa Gard has done a dramatically good job customizing our requirements while keeping the system "user friendly" and dynamic enough to move us into the future.
Our Transition Mentoring project, directed by Keri Nuzum, has continued to make progress. We have begun to accept applications from youth ages 16 to 26 interested in finding mentors, and from blind adults willing to take the time and interest to serve as mentors for our youth. Keri has been busy explaining the project to blind consumers at state conventions, and will be attending national consumer conventions as well. We continue our year round transition activities directed by Megen Johnson, with assistance from Keri and other staff. Read more about these programs in this issue.
The Iowa Legislature appropriated level funding for the Department for State Fiscal Year 2005. They also authorized two additional appropriations for the Department. One for $67,000, which will be used to cover the cost of renovating the recreation room, the front entrance, and some other, needed repairs on the first floor. We hope to begin work this fall. They directed the second appropriation of $130,000 to be used for news information services for the blind including Newsline and IRIS. Iowa's legislators are interested in the programs at the Department, especially when they hear from their constituents. Your efforts to keep our programs visible always help your legislator understand the importance of the programs and services the blind of Iowa have a right to expect. The IDB, like many other State programs, is facing budget reductions. Programs, which produce expected results, are the most likely to get funding.
As you will read in this issue, our VR services and successes continue to be strong. Even in a difficult economy our VR staff have found high quality employment for our consumers.
Our Independent Living Rehabilitation program (ILR) is also very active and serving the rapidly growing numbers of seniors in Iowa who face blindness and significant loss of vision. Because our ILR staff is comparatively small and the needs of our consumers continue to grow, we have worked to find ways to get service to a greater number of persons. One very effective approach is to use group training. Our staff, under Becky Criswell has been diligent and creative. See the article in this issue on mini-training opportunities.
Jake Miller (Maintenance Repairer) has been with the Department for 20 years. Jake comes to work at 6:00 a.m., bright and early to start preparing for the arrival of staff. With his fellow maintenance workers he keeps our building running smoothly and efficiently. Jake will be retiring in June and is looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren.
I am proud of the work we are doing at the IDB, but realize that we must strive to get better, each day. We must be true to our past, with the lessons it has taught us, and committed to both our present and our future to achieve an excellence, which will offer the very best opportunities to blind citizens in Iowa. Our staff has demonstrated a real desire to get it "right," and that motivation is a healthy way to approach challenges.
Please contact me if I can be helpful. If you see ways we can improve our services, please let us know. Above all, lets continue to work together in our efforts to make Iowa the best place to live, if you are blind.
By Barb Weigel
"Now I no longer consider blindness as a death sentence." This powerful statement came from a person who had just taken part in a mini-orientation training experience through the Department's Independent Living Program. Others said: “…liked learning about all services, made new friends, gained confidence, loved cooking… excellent experience.” “What could have been a trial for some, turned into a group of support and camaraderie.” “…Felt like a family after three days.” “The teaching staff put us at ease…it was enjoyable to be in the class.”
January 27-30 – Clear Lake
February 24-26 – Hiawatha
March 16-18 – Sioux City
March 30, 31, and April 1 – Urbandale
March 30, 31, and April 1 – Cedar Falls
March 11, April 8, May 13, and June 3 – Ft. Madison
April 8, May 13, and June 2 – Burlington
April 27-29 – Marshalltown
May 3-6 – Huxley
May 25-27 – Carroll
June 8-10 – Ottumwa
June 8-10 – Spirit Lake
July 13-15 – Dubuque
July 13-15 – Council Bluffs
July 20-22 – Story City
August 17-19 – Davenport
August 31 – September 2 – Clinton
September 21-23 – Strawberry Point
October 19-21 – Sioux City
Many participants have reported that an increase in self-confidence was the most valuable part of the training for them. The increased confidence comes from learning alternative ways to do the everyday tasks they no longer thought they could do.
Marie Wells, of Davenport, received the
2004 Elizabeth Perowsky Award for her volunteer service to the blind of Iowa. In
1974 Marie accepted her first assignment--a textbook that took 23 cassettes to
complete. Since then she has faithfully and routinely taped thousands of hours
worth of textbooks and other materials for the Library. She has recorded over
200 books to date. Marie received her award at the Department's 2004 volunteer
recognition luncheon. Her name is engraved on the perpetual plaque that hangs on
first floor at the Department.
The 2004 Elizabeth Perowsky Volunteers Luncheon and Workshop was held on April 23. This annual event started with four concurrent workshops for tapists and Braillists. Celeste Lawson, a narrator for the National Library Service (NLS) offered ideas and shared experiences with Iowa tapists. Dr. Abraham Nemeth, creator of the Nemeth Code, regaled Iowa’s Nemeth Braillists with stories and information about the code. Staff conducted an intermediate Braille workshop and a workshop on new Braille input software for literary and textbook Braillists.
The Iowa Council of United Blind and the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa jointly sponsored the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon, which followed the workshops. The “Hats Off” theme was beautifully and cleverly rendered by staff and students, who "adopted" tables to decorate for the event. Along with Mrs. Wells’ award, 13 volunteers received pins in recognition of their first major project, or 40 hours of service.
After lunch, Dr. Nemeth and Ms. Lawson entertained over 125 volunteers, staff and students with stories, jokes, and ideas about their work and their fields.
Over 125 volunteers contribute thousands of hours each year to help the Library meet its goals. Volunteers rewind and inspect cassettes; transcribe books and other materials into Braille or recorded formats; proofread; burst, bind, and thermoform; and help in other ways. Because of these volunteers’ unflagging contributions, the Library is able to Braille or tape materials upon request for all patrons as well as keep up with the ever-increasing circulation of cassettes.
At the end of its session, the
legislature appropriated $130,000 for State Fiscal Year 2005 to the Department
specifically to support information services for the blind. The money will be
divided between Newsline for the Blind and the Iowa Radio Reading Information
Service (IRIS). This is great news for both Newsline and IRIS, and for all blind
and visually impaired Iowans as well. Call the Department at 800-362-2587 to
request an application for either information service, or both!
Newsline for the Blind has added the Mason City Globe-Gazette. This makes four Iowa newspapers available on Newsline. The Mason City Globe-Gazette is both a daily and Sunday paper, and all editions will be available. The Des Moines Register, the Waterloo Courier, and the QuadCity Times are already available. This brings the total of newspapers on the Newsline system to 102.
Newsline has also added two magazines--The New Yorker and The Economist.
You can access all of these papers and magazines by using the telephone. Once you have signed up and received a six-digit personal identification number and a four-digit security code, simply dial 1-888-882-1629 and follow the instructions. You must be certified eligible to use the service, and if you are already using our library, you can sign up as part of your library services. To sign up directly, you can call 641-236-3369.
Some tips for using Newsline:
Newspapers are grouped for your convenience. You can access your regional papers (all the Iowa papers are listed here), a list of favorites you have created, a list of all 102 newspapers, or go directly to the last place you were reading. You can also hear Newsline News or the Newsline Tutorial.
Each paper offers you a choice of two or three issues, usually today's, yesterday's, and last Sunday's editions. Each edition is divided into sections, and each section contains one or more articles. By listening to the prompts, you can find your way easily through this series of choices to the section and articles you want to read.
You don't have to listen to anything unless you want to. You can skip an article after you've heard it's headline, skim through it, go back, or exit a section or paper at any time. Here's a list of commands to use while you're reading within a newspaper section:
1--Move back to previous article
2--Move back to the beginning of the current article
3--Move to next article
4--move back one sentence
5--Reread current sentence
6--Move to the next sentence
7--Slow down the voice
8--Change the voice (it will cycle through several choices)
9--Speed up the voice
*--Cancel, or go back one level. In this case, go back to the Section list
0--Pause (press any key to resume reading)
##(pound pound quickly)--Search mode
#5(pound 5)--Spell mode
You will hear instructions for using search mode and spell mode as soon as you enter them. Search mode searches the entire edition of the newspaper you are reading. Once you have set up your search, and found the first occurrence of your word or phrase, pressing ##99 will move to the next occurrence. Within spell mode you can locate a word and then press 2 to spell it.
IRIS, Iowa Radio Reading Information
Service (IRIS) provides a broadcast-based information service. Over 260
volunteers read newspapers, magazines, and books, which are broadcast 24 hours a
day on a set schedule. To receive these broadcasts, a listener must be certified
eligible and must have an IRIS radio receiver tuned to a special frequency. As
soon as a listener turns the IRIS radio on, it begins playing the current
broadcast. No tuning is required. The Iowa newspapers carried on IRIS include
the Des Moines Register, the Waterloo Courier, the Fort Dodge Messenger, the
Mason City Globe-Gazette, the Sioux City Journal, and the Iowa City Gazette.
IRIS has begun streaming its content over the Internet. You can log onto www.iowaradioreading.org for schedules or to listen to current programming.
To contact IRIS: Phone-- (515) 243 6833 or Toll Free--1 877 404 4747. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Megen Johnson
Spring has finally arrived, and the
warmer weather brings with it thoughts of summer. With summer comes an
opportunity for blind and severely visually impaired youth to participate in
exciting transition camps sponsored by the Iowa Department for the Blind. This
year, we are offering two camps: Camp Stepping Stones and Camp Discovery. Each
of these camps is designed to meet the individual needs and skill levels of its
participants. Camp Stepping Stones is a one-week camp that provides one-on-one
instruction to students who can benefit from intensive training in the basic
activities of daily living. Camp Discovery is a five-week camp for students with
increased independent living skills who are ready for further challenges.
Camp Stepping Stones (June 6-11, 2004) provides one-on-one instruction to improve independence in the basic activities of daily living.
Students will be introduced to the blindness skills necessary to be successful at independent travel, cooking, laundry, and managing time and money. Throughout the week the students will work towards increased independence and self-confidence. Camp Stepping Stones is an opportunity for students to meet new friends and share in new experiences. This intensive training may be the gateway to student participation in Camp Discovery or other future transition programs.
During the five weeks of Camp Discovery (June 13-25 & July 13-30, 2004) students will be challenged beyond Camp Stepping Stones and will learn additional alternative methods for independent travel, including the use of the long white cane and public transportation to get around town. Living in an unfamiliar community will give the students an opportunity to experience the challenge and excitement of learning a new neighborhood. Students will be working to find the local grocery store, doctor’s office, post office, shopping centers, and other locations.
Throughout Camp Discovery, students will also participate in career exploration and volunteer activities. They will investigate numerous career interests and take part in several job-shadowing experiences. Students will practice the soft skills needed to make it in the work force through volunteer opportunities such as cooking and serving a meal at the homeless youth shelter, yard clean up for the elderly, and building wood duck houses for the Department of Natural Resources. Not only do they gain valuable skills from these activities, but they also discover what it means to give back to others.
Both camps will be located at a Des Moines-based college, where students and transition staff will be living in campus apartments. They will have a private, furnished bedroom and will share common areas such as the kitchen, bathroom, and living room. Each apartment will be responsible for meal preparation, cleaning, laundry, budgeting, and grocery shopping. Transition staff living in the apartments will be on hand to provide the blindness skills training necessary for students to accomplish these tasks. They will have access to the college student union with game room and computer lab. This atmosphere will help them gain the independent living skills needed after high school.
Our summer will be filled with many challenges but also a great deal of fun. Both Camp Stepping Stones and Camp Discovery are opportunities for students to meet new friends and share in new experiences. We visit area attractions such as Adventureland, White Water University, and the Science Center. Students will also have a chance to take part in a variety of outdoor activities like water skiing, canoeing, hiking, and camping.
Camp Stepping Stones and Camp Discovery are free and for participants who are at least sixteen years of age on or before July 31, 2004. Since these programs are designed to teach the skills teens need to deal with their vision loss, candidates must be blind or severely visually impaired. Participants who have any residual vision will receive some of their training under sleepshades. This training will provide the opportunity to become acquainted with efficient and effective nonvisual techniques for doing a variety of activities. Students will come to understand that they do not need to limit themselves to only those activities they can do visually.
For additional information, please contact: Megen Johnson, Transition Specialist, at 515-281-1253 or via email at Johnson.Megen@blind.state.ia.us
Roger Erpelding, Business Enterprises Program (BEP) Program Administrator, Allen Harris, Department Director, and Darlene Greenfield, BEP Counselor, have shared their knowledge and expertise at three national and regional conferences this spring. Business Leadership and Superior Training (BLAST), a national Business Enterprises conference, and two regional conferences showcased panels on multi-state agreements for managers, state licensing agencies and program teaming partners. Other topics this year included customer service, general business practices, a national perspective on the Randolph-Sheppard Program, and military dining.
The InfoEyes pilot is offering on-line
training for library patrons in the use of search engines, including advanced
features of Google, and the capabilities of FirstSearch. FirstSearch is a
compilation of databases containing full text and abstracts of thousands of
magazine, journal, and encyclopedia articles as well as information about books
and other media. This is one innovation in the pilot designed to bring on-line
reference services and access to research to blind and visually impaired people
After some accessibility issues surfaced for screen reader users participating in the pilot, InfoEyes changed its on-line venue to Ivocalize, an Internet-based voice and text chat interface designed by a blind person and very accessible with screen readers.
To participate in this pilot, go to www.infoeyes.org. Ask a question, and the librarian will help you find the answer. You will need a microphone connected to your computer to talk to the librarian. You can use the text chat feature of Ivocalize if you don’t have a microphone, and you can also simply e-mail your question from the InfoEyes site and receive an E-mail response within 48 hours.
In March, Library personnel began staffing Iowa's share of the virtual reference desk for the InfoEyes project. The project was designed to pilot the concept of a live, virtual reference service for blind and visually impaired persons. Twelve libraries for the blind and physically handicapped are sharing staffing needs for the pilot. Iowa staffs the InfoEyes desk on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 to 4:00, and on Wednesdays from 11:00 to noon. InfoEyes is available on the following schedule: Monday and Tuesday 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Wednesday 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. - 11 a.m.; and other times by appointment. Contact the library for more information.
By Carl Shawhan
Beginning June 1, 2004, if you receive
MEDICARE, you will have a new option to help save money on your prescription
drugs. You are eligible if you are enrolled in Medicare Part A or Part B and
don't have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid.
This is a voluntary program and twenty-eight different cards have been approved by Medicare to be offered to Iowans. There are many prescription cards already being offered and Medicare-approved cards must have a "Medicare-approved" seal on them. Each private company offering the Medicare-approved cards decides which prescriptions will be discounted and the amount of the discount for each drug. It is important to compare the cards to see which ones cover your specific drug needs, and which ones can be used at your pharmacy. Medicare estimates the savings with these cards will be 10-15 percent and up to 25 percent on certain drugs.
Enrollment begins May 3, 2004 and continues through December 31, 2005. The cards can be used to get discounts beginning June 1 of this year.
You can join only one discount each year. Between November 15 and December 31, 2004, there will be an "annual election period" and you can choose a different card for 2005. Some cards are offered free and other cards have an enrollment fee not to exceed $30. The most important question is "How much will I save?" on the selected card.
Medicare will pay the annual enrollment fee for cards and up to $600 of the prescription drug costs for 2004 and 2005 for individuals whose income is below a certain level. You may get assistance if you have Medicare Part A or Part B and your income is not more than $12,569 if you are single and $16,862 if you are married. Income includes what you receive from Social Security, any other disability benefits you receive and any other sources your report for tax purposes.
To get specific information on discount cards approved by Medicare and available in Iowa, you can call 800-633-4227. Information is also available on Medicare's web site at www.medicare.gov. Select the link to Prescription Drugs and Other Assistance Programs.
SHIIP, at the state of Iowa Insurance Division also has trained counselors to help you with the comparison of Medicare-approved discount cards. This service is free, confidential and objective.
The SHIIP toll-free number is 800-351-4664, and their website is www.shiip.state.ia.us.
Books transcribed by Iowa’s volunteers are now available
for download through the WebBraille interface. Twenty Iowa-produced books are
currently available, and the Library hopes to continue adding books to
WebBraille as they are completed. Some of the titles Iowa has contributed
include Justice by Fay Kellerman, Remembrance by Jude Devereaux, Niagara Falls
All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken, and The Express Lane Cookbook by Sarah
WebBraille allows registered library patrons to download and read Braille books. You can locate books either through the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) catalog at www.loc.gov/nls, or directly from the WebBraille site at www.loc.gov/nls/braille. To get your Personal ID and password, call Cindy Valin at 800-362-2587.
WebBraille books can be read in Braille with a refreshable Braille display, or with synthesized speech using computer software such as Kurzweil or OpenBook. Other Braille-aware devices such as Braille 'n Speak, BrailleNote, BookPort and Book Courier can also read these Braille files aloud.
Books, magazines, and Braille music are all available through WebBraille. All NLS Braille books produced since 1990 and all Braille magazines are available as well as a wide variety of Braille music scores. Several regional libraries, including Iowa, are also contributing volunteer-produced books.
By Curtis Chong
On Saturday, March 27, the Iowa Department for the blind
conducted a highly successful seminar on computer technology. By all accounts,
everybody learned something new and took home information that they could use to
work more productively with their computers.
The morning began with a two-hour demonstration session. Michael Barber, a technology analyst with the Department's Project ASSIST Model Distance Learning program, demonstrated how to configure the Windows operating system to work better with talking screen access technology. Richard Ring, a rehabilitation technology specialist for the Department, gave participants a taste of the vast universe of information available through the Google Website; he also talked about different ways that a blind user of screen access technology could use a Web browser more productively. Finally, Brian Walker, a technology analyst with the Department's Project ASSIST Deaf-Blind tutorial development effort, plumbed the depths of the help system that comes with windows and every screen access program.
In the afternoon, seminar participants took advantage of the opportunity to try the techniques discussed during the morning session using real live computers in our training lab.
For those of you who are interested, the morning session was recorded, and audiocassettes are now available upon request. Simply contact Jean Saner at 515-281-1364 or drop her e-mail at email@example.com, and the cassettes will be mailed to you.
By Dan Bakke
The Small Reading Room, which has always been a part of
the library on the fourth floor, is undergoing a makeover of sorts. We have
transferred the large print non-fiction into the Large Reading Room and have
moved in career-oriented materials in Braille, cassette tape, and large print.
The career resource center will be another tool for use by Field Operations, Orientation and the library. Vocational Rehabilitation clients, orientation students, and other library users will find career related materials such as resume writing guides, job search strategies, and interviewing techniques in a wide variety of formats and levels all in one convenient place.
In addition, the room offers a computer with Internet access, scanner, CCTV, fax and printer. Internet resources are bookmarked on the computer for career related sites. Access to the library's subscription databases with FirstSearch and EbscoHost will also be available for patrons. The computer is equipped with a refreshable Braille display along with both Jaws and WindowEyes. The computer also has Duxbury for Windows, Victor ReaderSoft and the latest Adobe Acrobat.
The purpose of the room is to help students and clients choose a career and help them find successful employment. We hope that everyone will find the room inviting and accessible. The library staff welcomes you to use the room anytime during regular library hours.
The Department is now able to keep E-Mail addresses along with the rest of your address. So, if you have an E-Mail address, let us know. We plan to start a ListServ in the future and will also be able to deliver publications like the White Cane Update via E-Mail if you prefer.
Several years ago I took a tour to Costa Rica with my
sister. We shared hotel rooms and discovered the rain forests, plants, birds,
and people of that tropical paradise. We woke to howler monkeys and listened to
the hollow booming of a volcano. My sister and I were inseparable as children,
but we had lived in different states for 25 years, raising our families and
leading very separate lives.
As a mother and wife, my sister was used to picking up after people. It seemed natural to her to rearrange my things in what she considered to be a tidier array. The problem was that when she moved something, I had to hunt for it because it wasn’t where I’d left it.
I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I didn’t want to damage our relationship just as it was rebuilding. I didn’t want to seem petty or just plain grumpy. But it was driving me crazy. It took three days to find the right time and place to say to her, "When you move my things, I have to hunt for them. This makes me crazy. Please leave them alone.” When I did tell her, she was just as chagrined and sorry as I knew she would be. It took a little more time to get over that. But the rest of the trip was fantastic.
I think it’s harder to tell family members what we need sometimes than it is to tell a stranger. We don’t want to hurt their feelings, or embarrass them when they’re trying to do right. Our families and friends love us and want to do what’s best for us. The problem is that if we don’t tell them what we want, what we need, and what makes us crazy, they cannot know. Blindness and visual impairment magnify this issue for many of us. Family and friends often do not understand our capabilities, and fear for our safety. They don’t know how alternative techniques like using the long white cane, or running a table saw nonvisually can be both safe and effective. They feel responsible for our safety and comfort and lose sight of the need every human being has for independence and self-determination. Advocating for ourselves within our families is not always easy, but it is critical to our success as blind people.
If I had not confronted my sister about moving my things, we would have spent the entire trip in a state of hostile tension. What’s more, she would have had no clue about the source of it. Once she understood, the stress evaporated. Furthermore, we were able to agree to talk openly about anything either one of us did that was a problem. For example, she pointed out that if I were tidier in the first place, she would not feel compelled to straighten up my side of the room!!
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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.