Banner: Iowa Department for the Blind

White Cane Update

October  2007

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
Behnaz Soulati, Des Moines
Mike Hoenig, Davenport

Table of Contents

From the Director
I Confronted Blindness Head-On and Got a Job!

Renovation Begins
IL Advisory Committee
The Ho'opono-Hawkeye Trek
Summer Reading at the Library
Financing Available for Assistive Technology, Home Modifications, and Employment
Pathfinders Give Back
Larry McKeever Will Be Missed
GPS--What can you do with it?

From the Director

By Allen C. Harris

With passing of Labor Day, it seems like the summer ends and fall activities begin. In six years in Iowa, this has been my first real Iowa summer.

There is plenty going on at the Department and you will read in depth about some of those activities in this edition of the White Cane Update.

This summer in our Transition Program Camp Discovery, we had about 15 students who participated. There were many highlights, but the one which all students talk about is the trip to Yellowstone National Park. We left Des Moines by bus and went to South Dakota where we met the Transition students and staff from the Hawaii Program (Ho'opono). This trip was planned over the past year and included some truly challenging activities. In any event, it was a real success, and we are already thinking about next summer's program.

The renovation project began around the first of September. The entire project will be done in three phases. Phase one is to completely redo the third and fourth floors. This will mean stripping everything from the walls, floors, and ceiling. Then the two floors will be completely redesigned to meet all of the health and fire inspectors' codes and to provide a better working environment for staff and students. I think you will like the changes we have planned, especially the new Library. The current phase will run about one year and then we will do floors two, one, and the ground level. These renovations will primarily address the heating and air condition systems (HVAC) on those areas. Finally, phase three will be floors five and six, which also will be HVAC. When the renovation project is complete, we will have installed a completely new climate control system.

The staff who worked on the fourth and third floors are housed in other places, and the basic Library services are being run from the Assembly Room. As daunting as the renovation is, the ability to relocate staff temporarily has been a very big project.

We are determined to see that our services will continue as if we had made no changes and that will take effort and your patience.

You will see that we are keeping busy at the IDB, and we are hopeful that you will find that our ability to provide good services can be maintained.

I welcome suggestions and am always pleased to hear your perspective on our work.

I Confronted Blindness Head-On and Got a Job!

By Glen Moss

In 2005, I noticed that what vision I did have was slowly disappearing. It was getting harder and harder for me to get around safely in the small town of St. Ansgar, Iowa, where I lived. I was coming to realize that I needed to start using a cane whether I wanted to or not.

This was not the first time I had to wrestle with the idea of using a cane. Back in 1997, I lost enough of my sight that I felt I had to give up my full-time job. But back then, I was simply not ready to come to the training center in Des Moines. I suppose at the time I was just having a hard time facing up to the fact that I was really and truly blind. But as the years went by, my vision grew steadily worse, and it was becoming almost impossible for me to do my woodworking at home--something that I really loved. So, finally, in 2005, I decided that I was ready to face up to my blindness and maybe think about how I could get back to work.

My counselor, Victoria Kollmann, and I met to start the paperwork process. Then in October, my wife and I toured the Center in Des Moines. On December 5, 2005, I started my first day as a student in the Orientation Center of the Iowa Department for the Blind.

From the tour in October, I knew that I had to wear sleepshades each day, but when it came to actually wearing them, it seemed a difficult task. As the days went by, the task of wearing the sleepshades became easier. I also decided that I was going to make this work. I met Brook Sexton, a blind staff member from the agency for the blind in Hawaii, and I was very impressed with how easy it seemed for her to get around. I wanted to have that kind of freedom too.

Mark Edge was my first travel teacher. We went around the block a couple of times, then it was eventually time for me to go solo. It was a little unnerving at first, but I did make it. After that, I told Mark to show me how to cross the street. "Already?" he asked in surprise. I told him that I couldn't make it across the street using my eyes. Each time more blocks were added, and traveling became easier. Before I lost my eyesight, my jobs took me to many different places, and I still wanted to be able to get around as freely as I had before losing my vision. I made up my mind that I wanted the same life without sight that I had when I could see. Then, the Department gave me Cip (Cynthia Qloud) as my travel instructor. She challenged me with whatever she could give me. I turned travel into a game of hide and seek. The place was hidden, and all I needed to do was to seek the target. During the Christmas holiday, I went to Colorado to see my family. I never felt any hesitation in going. This is how I knew I had finally accomplished my goals for independent travel.

While I was at the Center, I learned how to read and write Braille. This has helped me to label various items in my home that I cannot identify by touch alone.

Richard Ring, the computer instructor, had the computer running for me when I came to my first class. He told me right away to start pushing on the keys of the keyboard. My son, Alan, had told me about the escape and delete keys, so I began looking for these keys right away. Richard told me that the program I was using would not speak these keys. I then told Richard that I wanted to throw the computer out of the window. Things got a lot better as time went along. I actually did learn how to type.

Even when I was losing my vision, I continued cooking and doing other things around the home. Therefore, the home economics class was actually quite easy for me.

Woodworking had never been a problem for me in the past. Even with my limited sight, I was still able to read my measuring tape and use the tools I had. But I wanted to learn how to do woodworking without sight. So, in the shop class, I told my instructor, Ric Frambach, that I didn't know anything about woodworking. Ric introduced me to the rotomatic. This is the best measuring device I have ever used, and it is definitely easier to use than trying to read a tape measure with poor vision. I have done woodworking for years, and I wanted to do something that would be a real challenge for me. So, I decided to build a grandfather clock. I felt that this project would involve activities that I have never tried before, let alone having to do the work under sleepshades.

Finally, the time came for me to leave the Center and to use the skills and attitudes I had learned there to get on with life. I needed to find a job. The Department helped me prepare a résumé. I also received help with tools for finding a job and handling the all important job interview. I told my counselor that I was definitely willing to move if the right job came along, and at long last, it did. I was hired by First Star Fiber of Omaha, Nebraska. I very much appreciate the Department's help with my move to Omaha. My counselor even helped me to find a new apartment.

At the Center, I developed a healthy sense of independence, and I learned to feel better about my blindness. Braille gave me the ability to read what I couldn't before. Home Ec gave me more independence in the kitchen. Computer class went from wanting to throw the computer out the window to being able to type. My travel class gave me the confidence to know that I could get wherever I wanted to go. Woodworking gave me the best and most challenging woodworking project that I have ever built. Most important, the Iowa Department for the Blind helped me to regain my independence and my sense of self worth. I am a taxpayer again, and maybe that's the best thing of all.

Renovation Begins

The building occupied by the Iowa Department for the Blind is nearly 100 years old. It began life as a YMCA, built in a U-shape with a courtyard in the open part of the U, men's and women's gyms, running tracks, a swimming pool, and dormitories on the upper floors. In 1960, Kenneth Jernigan discovered that it was for sale after the YMCA built a new facility. He convinced the state to buy the building to house the newly expanded Iowa Commission for the Blind. The building initially required a lot of renovation for its new use. After a fire which started on the roof, it suffered extensive water damage and needed even more work to finish it.

For nearly 50 years, we have occupied this building, using its top two floors as dormitories and the rest as offices and classrooms. All nooks and crannies have been filled in with library books.

The remodeling of the 1960s left us with a legacy of wood paneling throughout the building and a heating and air conditioning system which does not meet current standards. Over the past ten years, the fifth and sixth floors and parts of first and second floors have been updated, but third and fourth floors, housing Field Operations and Library staff, were yet to be brought up to current building and fire codes. During its last session, the legislature appropriated $4 million in capital improvement funds to replace the heating and air conditioning system and renovate third and fourth floors. And now, after extensive consultation with architects, development of detailed plans, and a completed bidding process, we are ready to begin.

The work will be completed in three phases and will take up to two years to finish. The first phase includes gutting all the office space on third and fourth floors and restoring it in compliance with current fire safety regulations. During this phase, all staff will be relocated to alternative office space. Some field staff will work from home, while others will work in offices on fifth and sixth floors of the building. Most Library staff will move to the Assembly Room during the renovation. Because of this move, the Department will not host an alumni banquet this year.

When it's all finished, we will have a beautiful new Library, new office space for Field Operations staff, and a new heating and air conditioning system which will circulate fresh air for staff, students, and visitors.

Our goal is to minimize any disruption of services during the remodeling. Ideally, you won't know it's happening unless you come into the building. We ask for your patience as we settle into new locations. We will keep you updated about the renovation as it progresses. Meanwhile, to reach any staff member, please call the switchboard at 800-362-2587 or 515-281-1333, and you will be directed to the right person, regardless of his or her temporary location. If you plan to visit the Library, you will go to the Assembly Room. If you plan to visit a counselor, please call ahead to make an appointment.

IL Advisory Committee

By Becky Criswell

The Independent Living (IL) Advisory Committee is pleased to welcome two new members: Irma Lee Newton from Ogden and Bob Wilson from Muscatine. Bob has participated in home training, community-based training, and Senior Orientation. He is active in the local Muscatine support group.

Irma Lee has participated in home training and Senior Orientation. Shortly after completing Senior Orientation, Irma Lee was interviewed for an article that appeared in her hometown paper. She feels it is her responsibility to help educate others about blindness and was quoted as saying, "How we act directs others to know what to do."
The IL Advisory Committee is an important key to the success of the Department's Independent Living Program, which has been in operation for 27 years and has become a vital component of Department services. The program serves those blind and visually impaired individuals who are not vocationally oriented, but who need training in basic blindness techniques to maximize their personal independence and self-sufficiency.

The IL Advisory Committee has responsibilities in areas of outreach, public education, peer advocacy, and consultation and guidance on program procedures. Members are appointed by the Commission (the Department's policy making board) based on their involvement in IL services and local community activities. The Committee does include a representative of the Department of Elder Affairs and has been able to maintain both statewide representation and gender balance.

Thanks to a dedicated membership, the Committee has very ably and effectively carried out its responsibilities. Bob and Irma Lee will be wonderful additions to a Committee that has become a foundational piece to the effective delivery of IL services.

The Ho'opono-Hawkeye Trek

By Megen Johnson

Each year we look for new ways to challenge our Camp Discovery students and help them prepare for their future. This summer, students had the opportunity to participate in a trek to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park with fellow transition students from Ho'opono Services for the Blind in Hawaii. Though slightly unconventional, this trip proved to be a once in a lifetime experience that helped students to grow in many ways.

Students started off the six weeks of Camp Discovery with three weeks of intensive blindness skills training. They lived in the residence hall apartments at the American Institute of Business in Des Moines. The AIB campus provided a real-life atmosphere for their future transition to post-secondary education. With oversight by transition staff, they learned to live independently in their apartments and received instruction in Braille, computers with speech access, travel, and home economics. After a short break, Iowa students put those newly learned skills to the test on their 1200-mile westward trek.

We met our transition partners from Ho'opono in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the true journey began. With some apprehension, all 34 students and staff (24 from Iowa and 10 from Hawaii) took their seats on the bus, not sure what the next ten days would bring.

In the Rapid City area, we visited the Bad Lands, Minuteman Missile Site, Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, and even Wall Drug. In the Bad Lands, students put their travel skills to the test. They hiked a two and a half mile loop through the rocky and rough terrain. With the blazing sun and 98 degree temperature, it was definitely a test of their will and perseverance. Sweaty and tired, we all loaded back on to the bus, proud of our accomplishments for the day and more connected as a group because of our shared experience.

From Rapid City, we traveled through the Big Horn Mountains to Cody, Wyoming. This would be the last time students would sleep in a bed, watch TV, make cell phone calls, and eat non-dehydrated meals for the next 7 days. They also got the opportunity to tour the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, using their nonvisual techniques to navigate the museum. Early the next morning, we headed for our campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park.
Our time in Yellowstone challenged each of us in different ways. For some, it was "roughing it" with 33 other people and only being able to take six minute showers. For others, it was coming down the switch backs of a mountain that pushed them out of their comfort zone. While in Yellowstone, we visited Old Faithful, hiked 5 miles to Mystic Falls, fished on Yellowstone Lake, went white water rafting down the Yellowstone River, hiked up the Elephant Back Summit, and traveled down to the Grand Tetons. Each of these activities evoked different emotions from the students, but they all bonded together with their feelings of accomplishment and success. Every evening, they would sit around the camp fire, talking and laughing about the day's events.

More than once, they mentioned being afraid going into an activity, but proud that they finished--they conquered their fears!

When asked what their favorite part of the trip was, the majority of students mentioned the friendships they had made. Others liked the opportunity to visit so many tourists' sites, hiking, and being in nature. And we even had some who liked the food! However, I hope that some day when they look back on this experience, they realize the true benefits: the challenges each of them faced and the self confidence it took to be successful on this trip. They will need to rely on that self-confidence to get them through the challenges they will face throughout their lives. Gloria Graves, one of the students on the trip, summed up what she learned this way: "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."

Summer Reading at the Library

With the help of the Friends of the Library, we sponsored two summer reading programs this year--the summer reading club for children and youth and an adult summer reading contest.

Both shared this year's theme "Get a Clue at Your Library," and featured mysteries, how-to's, and any other books that might fit the category.

The 36 students who enrolled in the club for children and youth reported the amount of time they read. Grand prizes were given in two categories, one general and one for a Braille reader. The grand prize winner for the most hours read was Taylor Sullivan, who reported 94 hours read this summer. Taylor won an iPod Shuffle. The grand prize in the Braille readers category went to Victoria Miceli, who reported 48 hours of Braille reading. Victoria won a Movo, a fully accessible MP3 player.

In the adult category, monthly winners included Sheila Kapler, June; Gail Pierce, July; Marilyn Petersen, August; and Jim Rechkemmer, the Grand Prize winner. Monthly winners received their choice of PlayAway books, and the grand prize this year was a BookPort.

Financing Available for Assistive Technology, Home Modifications, and Employment

The Iowa Able Foundation is offering financing to persons with disabilities in Iowa for the purchase of assistive technology, home modifications, and home-based or self-employment.

Iowa Able is a statewide, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which provides low interest loans for any item, piece of equipment, or product that is used to improve an individual's functional capabilities, mobility, and quality of life. The Iowa Able Foundation is committed to providing resources that will enable full participation of persons with disabilities in their communities and work places.

Iowa Able specializes in serving low-income individuals with loans and services that are designed specifically for persons with disabilities and older Iowans.

Iowa Able is currently providing loans at 2% interest in the following categories: assistive technology, home modifications, and home-based work or businesses. Iowans have used loans from Iowa Able to purchase modified vehicles, computers, a hearing aid, a therapy pool, wheelchairs, scooters, home-based business equipment and supplies, and home modifications.

The first step in obtaining a loan from Iowa Able is completing a loan pre-application packet. If you would like more information, have questions about Iowa Able, or would like a loan pre-application, please visit or call (888) 222-8943.

Pathfinders Give Back

By Keri Nuzum

The Pathfinders Mentoring Program has reached the end of its third year of matching blind young adults with blind adult mentors. Throughout the year, this group of pathfinders and their mentors have experienced and enjoyed many challenging and rewarding activities. Through involvement with their mentors, pathfinders have spent time volunteering, attending various community events, cooking meals for the holidays, enjoying sporting and cultural activities, and learning from their mentors' experiences and knowledge.

One of the most rewarding events that Pathfinders experienced this year was during a volunteer activity with the Keepers of the Land, AmeriCorps, the Department of Natural Resources, and Chapter #1 of the Izaak Walton League of America at Big Creek State Park. Pathfinders and their mentors spent the day fishing and building birdhouses. In total, they donated 85 fish to SOAR (Saving Our Avian Resources). Additionally, they constructed six Peregrine Falcon nesting boxes and ten wood duck house boxes, which they donated to the Whiterock Conservancy. Finally, they mulched and girded approximately 30 young trees at Big Creek State Park.

Pathfinders learned through these activities that volunteering in our communities is not only important to those we serve but is also a great way to show our commitment to educating the public about our abilities as blind persons. Many of our pathfinders came away from these activities reporting that "volunteering is fun, and it really means something." Others found that working with other organizations has helped them to be able to talk about their blindness and to show others that blind people can give back and be involved. Pathfinders have not only learned to give back to their community and educate the public about blindness; they have learned about blindness skills and techniques and advocacy.

All of our pathfinders have grown in so many ways throughout this year and have taken on new challenges in their personal lives. Many pathfinders have been or will be entering into college or the Orientation Center. Some pathfinders have part-time jobs while they are attending high school, while others have joined and participated in advocacy and leadership organizations and attended career-focused programs. All of our pathfinders are working toward success in their home and school environments, and they are doing this knowing that the Department, their mentor, and all of those they have met through the program are there to support them.

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.

Larry McKeever Will Be Missed

Larry McKeever, a long-time friend of the Iowa Department for the Blind, passed away on Tuesday, September 4, at the age of 77. Larry was a familiar voice on IRIS and also recorded the Braille Monitors for many years. Twenty-two of the Library's books are narrated by Larry McKeever, some for the National Library Service and some for the Library's own digital recording program. His most recent contribution was Bill Bryson's Made in America.
Larry first became associated with the Commission when Kenneth Jernigan hired him as his assistant in 1967. Although his career led him in other directions, including founding Charlie's Showplace in Des Moines and also Des Moines' first professional recording studio, he remained a steadfast friend to the blind of Iowa and the nation.
In 2002, he was given the Bonnell Award for service at the NFB of Iowa Annual State Convention. In 2007, the Iowa Department for the Blind presented him with an Exemplary Service Award for lasting contributions to the Library's recording program.

GPS--What can you do with it?

By Karen Keninger

Everybody has heard by now of GPS--Global Positioning Software. But what is it really? And what can it actually do for a blind person? I've been using the Sendero GPS system with my BrailleNote for the past few years. Here's an overview of what it can do and some of the ways I have used it.

Global positioning software relies on a series of satellites maintained in geosynchronous orbit around the world. A GPS receiver looks for signals from those satellites and uses them to triangulate the receiver's location on the earth. Accuracy varies depending on the location and quality of the satellite signals, but it is accurate to within 50 feet or less. People are using these systems for everything from mapping out and following routes in cars to micromanaging crops. Two GPS systems are designed for use by the blind, Trekker and Sendero. They have similar capabilities, but I will focus on the Sendero system since that's what I'm familiar with. The Sendero software needs a notetaker such as a BrailleNote to work. The GPS receiver teams with the notetaker to use its computing power and the databases stored on it. Together, they create a very useful and portable GPS system with speech and/or Braille output.

Last fall, a friend and I used my BrailleNote and GPS system to find our way around Honolulu and to explore parts of Hawaii's Big Island. We were able to verify where we were and to plan and follow routes from one place to another. With the GPS system, I looked up our location, checked around to see what was near by--restaurants, shops, botanical gardens, trails, roads, and our hotel. Then I planned routes from where we were to where we wanted to go. Along the way, I verified names of intersections and places to turn as we walked. I also was able to identify nearby points of interest--businesses, restaurants, etc.)--as we walked. When I located a bus stop we were going to use more than once, I entered it as its own point of interest, so I could find it again more easily.

On another trip last fall, I used my GPS on the Amtrak and on the car ride home from Chicago. I was able to keep track of our location on the train--an interesting pastime on an 18-hour trip. After my friends picked me up in Chicago, I served as navigator "reading the maps" and planning our routes. I was able to locate a White Castle for lunch and a lovely little restaurant tucked away in the middle of a small town on the way home for dinner. Incidentally, I could also tell how fast we were going, what direction we were heading, and what we were passing. And when we missed a turn in the dark, I was able to direct the driver back to the preferred route.

This spring, I visited my son in San Francisco. We went to see a redwood forest, and I took my GPS along. As we traveled up and down through the mountains, I was able to check altitude to see how high we had gone as well as see how close we were to our destination.

When I first moved to my new home in the country, I used my GPS system to learn the names of the streets and roads in my neighborhood and to mark particular neighbors' driveways. I've also used it as a phone book to look up addresses and phone numbers of businesses in Des Moines. I've used it to look up a hotel near a conference site and check out the route between.

The system has proven very useful to me in many situations. However, it cannot be a replacement for good travel techniques. It's not reliable enough to say "Stop right there--you're at the door of the restaurant." What it can do is put an amazing database of information at my fingertips, including names, addresses, telephone numbers, and categories of most businesses; roads, streets, and other points of interest. And it can tell me how to get from one place to another, either walking or riding in a car. It can also tell me within 50 feet or so where I am--what street I'm on, the nearest address, cross street, points of interest, and even the city I'm in. I don't use it in my neighborhood now--I don't need to. I know the streets, roads, and neighbors. But I take it with me on car trips to see where I am and what's out there. And I take it with me when I travel to explore new cities. This fall, I will use it on vacation in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, and in Manhattan.

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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.