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Orientation Newsletter

Volume 27, #1

August 2007

As we all know, people who come to the Orientation Center are at all ages and stages of their adult lives. Some are looking forward to, or are in the midst of college training. Others are ready for their first job, or maybe contemplating a return to, or change in, career. Still others are done with all that and are ready to enjoy the fruits of their endeavors. And whatever stage of life they may be in, everyone relishes the opportunity to relax and have a little fun.

This newsletter focuses on recent Center activities highlighting various stages of life. But regardless what stage a person may be in, the first tenet of the Center holds true for all, “It’s OK to be blind.”


From Owls to Opera

Travels with Tammy 

An Experience of a Lifetime

More Renovations

Banquet Cancelled

Looking Back Twenty-five Years



As we all know, in the Orientation Center field trips are an integral part of the learning experience--honing those travel skills, gathering information and dealing with the public. And, oh yes, having fun along the way! This year the Center has participated in a wide array of activities, providing numerous opportunities for students to stretch and grow. In February we tramped through the snow on a night hike at Jester Park , listening for the calls of owls. In March we traveled to Davenport to tour the Putnam Museum , stopping at Little Amana for supper on our return to Des Moines . June found us at Big Creek for a cookout—everyone made their own shish-ka-bobs—and water games. In April a dozen or so went to Terrace Hill for high tea and a tour and July found a small party attending the Des Moines Metro Opera where they enjoyed a performance of “A Midsummer Nights Dream.”

And so the Center continues to prompt students to expand their horizons and be active participants in life. Read on for one current student’s take on the May activity, another’s views on a ten-day camping trip, and some remembered experiences from the vantage point of twenty-five years.


During my fourth week at the Orientation Center , the school took a trip to see different programs for orientation of the blind.  I was extremely nervous to go on this trip. Since I had the strokes which caused my blindness three years ago, I had never traveled without my husband, Dave, or my mother. Nevertheless, I, along with the rest of our group, left Des Moines on a Monday morning on a blue and white “school bus.”  We each were able to take our own double seats and get somewhat comfortable. Since I pack the whole kitchen when I travel, there would be little room for someone to sit in the seat next to me. Besides, I wouldn’t have been very stimulating company. Between classes in the Center and family obligations at home I had been averaging far too little sleep at night. Therefore, I made good use of my travel time—sleeping!

After a stop for lunch at Perkins, we arrived at a facility in Kansas City called Alpha Point. The building was new and esthetically absolutely beautiful. However, they believe strongly in low vision techniques so they had a lot of visual clues, such as making the floors contrasting colors on each side of rugs or running contrasting carpet along the wall on each side of flooring. Some walls were curved and some were painted different colors to enable those with some usable vision to find their way around the building.

I should mention that Alpha Point is not just a training center. It contains a couple of workshops for the blind and other services as well as the orientation classroom area. However, with these visual cues and since they are not required to wear sleep shades, it was not much of a challenge for the students to get around and certainly didn’t seem to provide much opportunity to practice blind travel skills. Even though we don’t like to wear them—they itch!—as students of Iowa’s Orientation Center we recognize that it is necessary to give students the opportunity to hone their blindness skills in order to develop the confidence they need to continue on with their dreams, knowing that they can accomplish their goals with or without vision.

The tour itself was far different from what we are used to in Iowa . It was almost like they didn’t want to answer questions or allow us opportunities to talk with anyone other than our designated guides, as if they were uncomfortable with our touring their center. Our tour guides were sighted staff members from various other departments. When we got to the Orientation classroom area itself we met only two staff members and two or three students. Since students are able to pick which classes they will take, they may come in for just a few hours a week to take Braille or computer while another student may opt to come only for travel lessons. They have no required “set” schedule of core classes to provide them with a true learning experience that will have them ready to be good working citizens.

Another thing that was disheartening was that the workshops and the training center were within the same facility. They made pens for the government in two workshop areas and plastic bottles of various kinds in another. One of the sections for assembling pens housed the multiply disabled students. Since the purpose of this workshop was to provide work experience, they were paid a minimal amount for assembling each pen and might make only a few cents per hour. They could work eight hours for under a dollar. Workers in the other sections could make a more reasonable salary, about nine dollars per hour. But it didn’t seem as though the students or workers were encouraged to go out into the community to find a job that they were interested in or were capable of doing.

The other center that we visited was in Lincoln , Nebraska . This center was very much like our own in Des Moines . In fact, they proudly informed us their center was modeled to follow ours. The people there were very nice and friendly. The students had prepared lunch in home ec and, after filling our plates in the buffet line, Nebraskans and Iowans mixed together asking questions and sharing stories of humor and mutually recognized experiences as we ate.

Their students take a conglomeration of every class that’s offered, just as we do here. And the class list sounded exactly the same—home economics, computer with JAWS access, Braille, shop, travel and Business.

The only difference in our Centers is the housing arrangement for students. In Iowa with such a nice, big building all to the Department, we have space for student rooms. In Nebraska the Orientation Center is located in one wing of a complex housing many other services and has no space for student housing. They, instead, have apartments in downtown Lincoln . After we finished our tour of the Center we were taken to the apartment building where a few of the students graciously explained their housing arrangements and gave us tours of their apartments. What a great learning experience. We were much impressed with the Center in Lincoln .  

In the evenings in both cities the whole group of us headed to the downtown areas to eat dinner. We were in sleep shades.  At first, I thought that wearing the shades was too much.  I wanted to see the areas that we were in, as unreliable as my vision was.  After a while, though, I realized why we were wearing them.  We do need to realize that we can do things and enjoy ourselves without trying to constantly bother with trying to see everything we come up against. And, you know, we had a really good time. What’s more, I began to have more confidence in myself. I have a long way to go but I think that I will get there. GOD give me the patience with myself to succeed and I will be OK! --Tammy Raver


Sleeping with the bears, eating dehydrated food, taking a six minute shower and not being able to use good smelly products after was never on my top-ten list of things to do. I kept hearing “this is an experience of a life time!”  But as these words played over and over in my head I kept trying to figure out how someone like me, who hates nature with a passion, would possibly get any enjoyment out of this camping trip in Yellow Stone National Park. I would definitely be out of my comfort zone. Nevertheless, after much coaxing, I agreed to accept the challenge. I had no idea just how much I would come to appreciate nature and all it has to offer.

I went into this trip imagining the worst kinds of things like I’m going to drown, or get lost hiking, or fall off the side of a cliff. On the first day we only hiked for about two miles but it was so hot that it felt like ten. That day I definitely put my strength to the test, but every time I felt like giving up I reminded myself that, if I wanted to get out of there, I had no choice but to go on. All that hiking though was merely a warm-up to get us ready for the biggest hike of all which was to go up Elephant Back Mountain .

We got into groups. At first my only thought was that I wanted to be in the one that was moving at a fast pace so that I could get to the top quickly and be done. But as I started to hike up the mountain and we went higher and higher off the ground, I looked out over the trees and was amazed to see how far we’d come and how beautiful things looked from a distance. I felt so proud. I kept thinking to myself I made it to the top of a huge mountain and was able to look back and see miles of green trees and clouds that seemed so close it almost felt as if I could reach out and touch them. I was amazed. How could something so dirty be so pretty at the same time? That is when I began to look past the surface and learn to be more appreciative.

Where do I begin to list all that I gained from this trip? All the well-known tourist sights such as Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Old Faithful I’d otherwise likely never have taken the opportunity to visit. Now I have wonderful memories to treasure. But even more valuable to me was the experience of being in nature among the mountains, trees and waterfalls. Learning to live among friends and find you can enjoy yourself without a television or a cell phone is a reward in itself. Best of all I learned if I approach the challenges I come up against in life with confidence and determination most things will be a piece of cake to get through.--Gloria Graves


In 2005 we reported the completion of the remodeling of the Rec Room and front lobby on first floor--a project which has garnered numerous comments of praise and appreciation.  Now we are gearing up for yet another round of remodeling, this time involving all of third and fourth floors. Both floors will be completely gutted—all the old, wood paneling will come down—and offices will be rebuilt in a new configuration. In addition the heating and cooling system throughout the building will be revamped to allow for better temperature control and air exchange.

This project will obviously be a long, dusty, time consuming one, and many of the Department staff will be temporarily displaced. Those who can, such as VR counselors, home teachers and BEP staff, will work from their homes. Some Library staff will do the same while others whose jobs require working on site—such as the Readers’ Advisors—will be temporarily housed in different locations in the building. As to Orientation, the third floor classrooms and offices will move to space on second floor and we will continue to operate without disruption, as will all services and functions of the Department. The only change will be that the staff will temporarily be working from more widely spread locations.


With the remodeling, one change in the normal routine of the Orientation Center has become unavoidable. The Assembly Room will be pressed into service to house the displaced Readers’ Advisors and other library staff who need to remain on site. Consequently, the room will be unavailable for the usual routine of meetings and assemblies. This, of course, includes the Annual Orientation Alumni Banquet. With no other space large enough to accommodate this event, the banquet is cancelled for both the fall of 2007 and the fall of 2008.

In the meantime, alumni are always welcome to stop by individually to check out the remodeling, see what the Center is up to or simply say hello. Watch future issues of this newsletter and other publications of the Department for the announcement of a huge Open House to unveil our new look when the remodeling is complete in 2009.  Meanwhile, the door is always open, and we look forward to your visits and calls, so do keep in touch.


Speaking of keeping in touch, we recently received the following reminiscences from Fred Mansfield, a frequent participant of many an Alumni Banquet in the past.  Banquet goers always look forward each year to Fred’s invocation sprinkled with a few jokes.

My eyes were bad enough by November 1981 that, when a neighbor in Chariton offered to drive me to the Department for the Blind, I didn’t turn him down. The visit at most should take half an hour. They would give me a couple of pamphlets, assure me that I wasn’t ready for their services, and perhaps sell me a stronger magnifying glass. Then I could get on with what I really came to Des Moines for—getting a start on my Christmas shopping. I left the building two and a half hours later after a tour of the place from roof to basement (except, of course, the fifth floor), with a Talking Book player under one arm and my name on the list for enrollment as a student in the Orientation Center.

The last week of January 1982, I moved into Room 609. I still remember my first full day. Breakfast in the cafeteria. Then work out my schedule with Revanne. Listen to the Dishwashing Tape, followed by the new student tour of the building. Then to my first class—Home Ec with CIP and an introduction to the kitchen, followed by Shop with Dave and introduction to try square and awl, and saw and two-by-four.

Time out for lunch. Then resume classes with Cane Travel with Rosie and getting acquainted with third floor hallways. Finally at 2:30 a chance to sit down in Beulah’s Typing Class. I’d been typing for 35 years. A typewriter looks different through sleep shades. Then another sit down class, Braille, with Revanne. Learned a, b, c but stumbled on d. End up the day with Business with Jim Witte. Out to supper with my new classmates, and back to the building to enjoy the calming effects of the Rec Room. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention, the day began with Jim Crawford rousing me and the other men at 6:00 a.m. for a trip to the gym.

For the next ten months this would roughly be my schedule. I say "roughly," for there would be other activities to add to the fun: trips to the bowling alley and skating rinks, smelt fishing in Duluth, a visit to the Minnesota School for the Blind, travels on Moby the bus (even wrote a poem about it), representing the Department at a county fair, tour guiding, and a few more “extras” I can’t remember at the moment.

The day I first visited the Department I learned about the three-fold approach to blindness training: skills, confidence building, and the business of living as a blind person in a sighted world. I took each of these seriously, but profited most from the confidence building aspect. After thirty years as a pastor, I now found myself no longer able to read a book or drive a car or write a paper; skills highly valuable to one in my profession. Right from the start I began to see that there were alternative ways of doing some of these things and accommodations one could make for others. I built a desk in shop. I may never build another one but learning and practicing all that it took to build this one convinced me I could do a creditable job in many other areas. Besides, Shop was fun—mostly. 

How often with leaden feet I would set out on a travel route through the jungles of Des Moines , only to return an hour or two later rejoicing that once again I had made it! A travel route I now see that began that chilly November day 25 years ago when this mildly curious, dim-sighted man first opened that heavy door–and a travel route that he has been traveling ever since with a confident spirit. Yes, I’ve made some wrong turns which I was positive were correct, and continue to do so. And I have found that Life doesn’t punish us for our mistakes nearly as much as we punish ourselves. --Fred Mansfield

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The Orientation Center Newsletter 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.