Banner: Iowa Department for the Blind

White Cane Update

January 2008

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

Members of the Commission:

Chairperson Sandra Ryan, Ankeny
Behnaz Soulati, Des Moines
Mike Hoenig, Davenport

Table of Contents

From the Director
Julie Scurr Resigns-Sandra Ryan Appointed to Commission Board
Harlan Mathes Has His Life Back
Congress Delays Funding for Digital Talking Books
Remodeling is Underway
A Class is a Class
2008 SSA Changes and Amounts
B.E.P. Happenings
Staff Training is Fundamental to IDB Mission
Art for the Library
Friends Gift Library for Bibles and More
Third Thursday Evening Book Club
Blind Students Study Higher Mathematics
Iowans Grow Corn-and Write Books

From the Director

By Allen Harris

By the time you read this, the Iowa caucuses will be over, and the candidates will be campaigning elsewhere. With any luck, winter will be easing up as well.

As I write this, however, the holiday season is in full swing, and I would like to thank each of you for your continued support of the Iowa Department for the Blind over the past year. I would also like to wish each of you a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy year in 2008.

We began our HUGE renovation project at the end of August and are making good progress. Third and fourth floors have been completely stripped to the cement walls and floors. The new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is taking shape. This is without a doubt the most challenging and extensive aspect of the current renovation. On Saturday, December 15th, a crane was placed on the street at the north end of our building to raise two air handlers to the roof of the fourth floor. These air handlers will be the source of both heating and cooling for the entire building and will supply fresh air on a continuous basis. This will be a major improvement over the old, fan-coil system we have now. This is truly a very necessary improvement to our building, but it will take at least two years to complete.

We were concerned about IDB's fiscal integrity as our revenue continues to shrink and our costs continue to increase. For example, on July 1st, state employees received a 3% increase in their annual compensation. This is necessary to keep a highly trained and productive workforce in place. However, it also added a $300,000 cost to our 2008 fiscal year budget. IDB's share of employees' insurance benefits is also increasing substantially, requiring an additional $100,000. You can see the challenge we face.

Governor Culver has committed to work with the Department for the Blind to keep our staffing at the current level for state fiscal years 2008 and 2009. This is a wonderful outcome for the blind of Iowa, demonstrating the governor's active support of Iowa's blind citizens and those with increasing vision loss.

Meanwhile, IDB staffing is down from 106 just a few years ago to 88 today. Maintaining the high quality of service we strive to achieve requires more of the staff now, and I am pleased to say they are meeting these new challenges with skill and grace.

Thank you all for your support of the Iowa Department for the Blind in the past year. We look forward to another productive year in 2008.

Julie Scurr Resigns-Sandra Ryan Appointed to Commission

Julie Scurr, Commission chair and member since 2001, resigned her position this fall for health reasons. Sandra Ryan of Ankeny was appointed by Governor Culver to finish Commissioner Scurr's term which ends in May. Commissioner Ryan was elected Commission chair at the December 13 commission meeting.
Ryan is a graduate of the orientation center and holds a master's degree in human nutrition from Iowa State University. She has worked for the Iowa Department of Public Health since 1993 as a nutritionist and program coordinator.

Harlan Mathes Has His Life Back

By Marcia Bauer

"You know, if I hadn't become blind, I probably never would have met you and would still be sitting in a nursing home." Harlan Mathes, independent living client of the Iowa Department for the Blind, spoke those words to me one morning as we chatted about his recent move from a local nursing home to his new residence.

Harlan was born and raised in Iowa, but lived most of his adult life in the hills of Arkansas. He returned to Iowa during 1998 to visit friends and family members. Harlan developed health problems; he contracted pneumonia during 2001 and was subsequently also diagnosed with COPD. Harlan's doctors advised him that he would not be able to return to Arkansas, that he would require life-long care in a nursing facility because of the deterioration of his lungs.
"I didn't realize," Harlan explained, "that I was also going blind. I'd been having trouble seeing to read, but when I noticed that fence lines looked wavy I decided to get my eyes checked." Just a few weeks after moving to the nursing facility, Harlan was diagnosed with macular degeneration and was referred to the Department for services. As a result of our first meeting, I helped Harlan get established with our Library's talking book program.

A few years later Harlan was again referred to the Department. By now, he had lost all his central acuity and wanted to learn how to use the long white cane and how to read and write Braille. Harlan applied for independent living rehabilitation services, and I began working with him on a regular basis. I was struck by how much Harlan's general health had improved. He no longer used a walker and told me that he couldn't recall the last time he needed supplemental oxygen. As our meetings continued and the months passed, I wondered why Harlan was still living in a nursing facility. I queried him about this. "I want to leave," Harlan responded. "Other than the nurses giving me medicine, I care for myself. I want to leave. I just don't know how to go about it."  I offered to help Harlan, and so our journey began.

One of the initial steps was finding a place to live. Harlan preferred to remain in the Waterloo or Cedar Falls area. Through my professional contacts with elderly waiver program service providers, we discovered a vacancy at Renaissance Park apartments in Waterloo. Harlan's application for residency was accepted and a flurry of activity resulted: a trip to the post office to implement Harlan's address change, trips to the local Social Security office to initiate the financial routing changes, buying furniture and essentials for his new apartment, establishing phone service, and choosing a pharmacy. Numerous phone calls and lots of shoe leather later, Harlan moved into his new apartment Friday, September 28.

I continue to provide Harlan with independent living rehabilitation services. He has nearly finished his study of contracted Braille and has marked several items in his apartment with Braille labels. He is learning how to write checks and use a debit card and continues with cane travel instruction to become familiar with his new neighborhood.

Harlan commented that the whole experience of moving to an independent living situation was "a little scary at first. It was a lot of freedom all at once. I had trouble believing such a good thing was happening to me. My biggest adjustment has been getting used to doing everything for myself again-nobody brings my medicine, I decide when and what to eat. I can make my own coffee and brew it as strong as I like. I have privacy again and, thanks to Marcia and the Department for the Blind, I have my life back."

Congress Delays Funding for Digital Talking Books

The digital talking books we've all been waiting so long for are just around the corner. In 2008, we will begin receiving machines and books in this new and exciting medium. I've listened to digital talking books already and have found that the sound quality is vastly superior to our aging cassettes. Besides that, there's no tape to break or tangle, no side selector switch to keep track of, and only one cartridge for each book.

Unfortunately, Congress is tied up with funding decisions. Although these decisions are not related to the talking book program, the effect on our program is delay. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is still operating at the 2006 level through a continuing resolution, and if Congress hasn't done something about it before Christmas, they will still be operating at the same level for 2008. Until the funding goes through, NLS can't order machines and cartridges. When it does go through, they will be poised to start the manufacture of these critical components.

Iowa has been chosen as one of the first eight libraries to get machines and books. We'll be reporting our experience back to NLS, including feedback from borrowers. When we receive our first machines and books depends on Congress, so although we initially thought it would be in late spring, it is more likely to be summer or fall. The question many of you have is how do we decide who gets the first machines? Here's the plan. Beginning in January, we will start accepting requests and log them in the order they are received. If you are a veteran, be sure to tell us when you request a machine. Veterans by law will receive machines ahead of nonveterans. Therefore, we will sort the list by veteran status and then by date and time the request was logged. Machines and books will be distributed in that order. If you want to request a digital talking book machine, please contact the library by mail, e-mail, or phone.

Initially, we will have a limited number of digital talking books to go with the machines. However, assuming Congress funds the program at a reasonable level, this shortage will be temporary.

Meanwhile, your cassette service will continue uninterrupted. We will have cassette books and machines available just like we do now for at least the next five years. We anticipate that within five years we will have enough digital talking book machines for everyone. Cassette service will continue beyond the next five years for people who prefer to use the cassettes.

Library borrowers will probably have and use two machines, cassette and digital, for some time to come as not all of the materials on cassette will be available in the new format. NLS also plans to continue providing its magazines on cassette for the foreseeable future.

Remodeling is Underway

The building's remodeling, which will bring our space forward from the 1960's into the 21st century and make the fire marshals happy in the bargain, is moving along at a construction pace. As with any construction, especially in a 100-year-old building, there are surprises around almost every corner. Even Mike Hicklin has learned new details as walls are removed. But we're moving along nicely all the same.

Meanwhile, we have solved a major problem with library space. We were nearly out of room for books and have leased a warehouse facility at 920 Morgan in Des Moines to allow continued growth of our collections. This space comes with some office space as well, which is proving very handy during the remodeling. Braille production staff have moved their offices and a room full of embossing equipment to the Morgan space and are holding forth there.
The rest of the library staff and the support and supervisory staff for field operations have found space within the building for their offices. The library has completely taken over the assembly room with a modern cubicle landscape that we're all getting used to. The recording studio is closed and sealed for the remodeling and will be reopened when we're done. Tim West has graciously opened his personal recording studio for our use and continues recording from his home in Ankeny. Field Operations is spread around on the sixth, fifth, and second floors. Most of the counselors and teachers as well as the BEP staff are working out of their homes for the duration of the remodeling.

Everyone is making the best of a dynamic new situation, and we're meeting our goal of uninterrupted service. You can reach all Department staff by calling 515-281-1333 in Des Moines or 800-362-2587 outside the Des Moines area. The switchboard operator will help you make connections.

A Class is a Class

By Sandy Tigges

In the Department's Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center, we have a saying that goes like this, "A class is a class is a class." Every day, students attend scheduled classes in Braille, computer, industrial arts, home and personal management, cane travel, and a discussion group called the business of blindness. But students also receive valuable training outside of the formal classroom setting. Putting into practice the skills and self-confidence they are developing, they participate in such activities as camping, hiking, shopping, visiting museums, and eating in restaurants. On a snowy day this December, students experienced "a class is a class" firsthand when they toured
an historical West Des Moines home, ate at a buffet, and cut down the annual holiday tree.

First, the Center's students and staff visited the Jordan House, a restored Victorian mansion built by James Jordan, the founder of Valley Junction, which was later renamed West Des Moines. In the 1850's and the early 1860's, the home served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Unlike other historical homes that have become museums, all of the antiques in this house can be touched. Students were even allowed to explore on their own the home's many rooms and the valuable items contained in them after the formal tour was over. Wearing sleepshades, they learned how to move about with their canes in unfamiliar areas and locate and examine precious antiques carefully with their hands.

After touring the Jordan House, students and staff went to the Pizza Ranch in Altoona for lunch. This restaurant is especially known for the fried chicken and pizza on its all-you-care-to-eat buffet. Through the instruction of staff, students learned how to locate items on the buffet line and dish the food onto their plates themselves. It was apparent that hunger overcame frustration and lack of experience when many of the students returned to the line alone for second and even third helpings.

The final stop was a trip to Murphy's Tree Farm to pick out and cut down the holiday tree. Walking over ice and snow, students and staff climbed onto a hayrack pulled by a tractor to the site of the tallest trees on the farm. They used their canes not only to locate the trees but also to determine their height. They pulled off their gloves to look for any bald spots. Several students shared the honor of using a handsaw to cut down the tree that they would set up in the Center's recreation room later that afternoon.

The winter season gives Center students even more valuable opportunities to experience the benefits of "a class is a class is a class." Ice skating, snow tubing, and skiing will help them practice their newly acquired blindness skills and increase their self-confidence. By participating in these and other challenging activities, they will soon discover that they can again become fully contributing members of their workplace, family, and community.

2008 SSA Changes and Amounts

By Shan Sasser

Listed below are the 2008 amounts for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Social Security Disability (SSDI) Benefit Amount-Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) raise: 2.3%
Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), Non-Blind: $940 per month, Blind: $1,570 per month
Trial Work Period (TWP)-trigger: $670 per month
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Individual: $637 per month
Couple: $956 per month
State of Iowa Blind Supplement: $22
SSI Resources Limits
Individual: $2,000
Couple: $3,000
SSI Student Exclusion
Monthly limit: $1,550
Annual limit: $6,240
Medicare Part B Monthly Premiums
The Part B monthly premium: $96.40

The 2008 amount is the smallest percentage increase (3.1%) in the Part B premium since 2000.
Most beneficiaries will continue to pay the standard premium. Beginning in 2007, a small number of beneficiaries with higher incomes (individuals with income exceeding $80,000 and married couples with income exceeding $160,000) began paying a higher Part B premium based on their income. (New Rules:

B.E.P. Happenings

By Roger Erpelding

On November 16, our tenure at the Lucas and Statehouse Cafeterias came to a close. This was an economic decision, and it did not come easy, as we had been managing both of these facilities for over 40 years. Treat America opened both cafeterias for business on December 5.

On November 30, we began negotiations with Linn County for vending service at four of their county buildings. We are now in the contract stage.

On November 15, a dream came true for our Scott County court house facility. For years, we have thought that machines in the court house lobby would be excellent. Although this is not exactly what occurred due to remodeling at the court house and the building of a new Scott County jail, all court house visitors must enter through the west door and must pass security. Just past the security checkpoint is a snack and a pop machine. As customers become aware of this new equipment, business continues to increase. This is in addition to the vending service in the basement dining area of this building.

And speaking of our Davenport operation, we placed machines at the new Davenport police station this autumn. After the snack and pop vendors were placed, our manager, John TeBockhorst, was approached by customers to see if he could provide bulk candy as well as the regular snacks. He was pleased to do so, and three bulk candy vendors have also been placed in this building. This has not taken away from the traditional vending snack service, but enhanced it.

On January 4, 2008, vending service will begin at the area education agency office in Johnston. Contracts have been negotiated, machines have been ordered, and a blind manager will soon be assigned.

Staff Training is Fundamental to IDB Mission

IDB has always fostered a strong commitment to providing the best, most current, and innovative services we can to the Iowans we serve. To make this commitment a reality, the people who provide that service need the best possible training and exposure to new ideas, laws, trends, technologies, and service models so that we can continually improve what we do. To that end, we actively support staff participating in a variety of training opportunities throughout the year. Staff attend personnel development seminars provided through the human resources department of state government, for example. These half-day and all-day seminars cover topics generic to state employees, ranging from supervisory issues to improving writing skills or managing stress. Staff attend state, regional, and national conferences and meetings to learn about cutting-edge advances in employment, technology, center training, independent living, library services, instructional materials, Braille production, and other topics which are unique to our field. Like all professionals, IDB staff also have a great deal to learn from and share with our peers in other states. We freely share and copy service models, ideas, and sometimes whole programs which have been pioneered elsewhere and which fit into our positive philosophy of blindness and our determined efforts to provide the best services in the nation.

Recently, for example, staff from the instructional materials center in the library attended seminars on educational trends for blind children, the new NIMAS legislation, and similar topics at the 2007 Getting In Touch With Literacy Conference. Braille production staff spent two days immersed in Braille textbook formatting rules at the National Braille Association fall conference.

In the Field Operations Division, our vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and technology professionals also take advantage of opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills by attending training conferences.
For example, on an annual basis, independent living staff attend the Governor's Conference on Aging. This conference enables them to keep up with new issues, services, and policies affecting the older population. It also provides an opportunity for them to network with other service providers. As a result, staff have been able to learn about resources that directly benefit our clients (e.g., Medicare benefits and legal services) as well as acquaint other providers with the services of the Department for the Blind. Independent living staff also attended the first annual Envision Conference, which drew literally hundreds of professionals including ophthalmologists, occupational therapists, and optometrists-all of whom were interested in serving the burgeoning population of older individuals who are experiencing age-related vision loss. This conference was particularly enlightening as it underscored the size of the population in need of services and the way in which blind rehabilitation services will be provided to the older blind.

Nonvisual access technology is changing at an accelerating rate. It seems that each year, new versions of screen reading software, print-reading technology, and Braille translation software are released, and for every version that comes out, new features have to be evaluated, adopted, or discarded. Therefore, our technology staff must routinely take advantage of technology training opportunities to keep its knowledge current. These opportunities sometimes manifest themselves at conventions of consumer organizations or at conferences sponsored by universities with a reputation for possessing comprehensive knowledge about technology for people with disabilities. At times, our technology staff can persuade a technology vendor to provide one-on-one training in the latest release of a particular program.

Field operations staff attended the Iowa Rehabilitation Association Training Conference and Brag & Steal training. We gained valuable information about disabilities other than blindness. Many of our clients have other disabilities, and we need to know how these disabilities affect training and employment. These conferences also represent excellent opportunities for our counselors to network with their peers in other agencies.

Our vocational rehabilitation staff was pleased to attend the Fall Vision Conference, which is a forum for teachers of the visually impaired and parents of blind students to come together to discuss issues of common concern. Throughout the conference, our counselors worked closely with parents and teachers to let them know that as blind youth transition from school to post-secondary training or employment, the Iowa Department for the Blind is there to help make the transition as seamless as possible.

In early December, vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and orientation center staff attended the Dare To Be Remarkable Residential Rehabilitation Conference held at the Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a national training conference for residential training centers for the blind sponsored jointly by the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The various themes woven through the conference very much reflected the positive philosophy of blindness embodied in the programs of the Iowa Department for the Blind. Our staff came away from the conference proud in the knowledge that the Iowa Department for the Blind was the first agency to have adopted the structured discovery model and glad that other agencies for the blind around the country are showing us ways to be even better.

Art for the Library

From the Editor

This fall, I attended a fascinating conference sponsored by Art Beyond Sight and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The theme of the conference centered around conveying visual art to blind persons. Many of the presentations focused on the ways the human brain adapts to changes in sensory input to make the most of its processing power. This was a fascinating discussion, with significant relevance in rehabilitation as well as art education for the blind. I couldn't help thinking, though, that for art to be truly effective, it must be directly and personally experienced. As a blind person, I can learn everything there is to know about cubism or a particular painting, for example, and I can understand it within its cultural and technical contexts. The value of this understanding lies in my ability to engage meaningfully in social discourse on these topics and to understand cultural, social, and literary references to them. Therefore, I am not discounting the value of art education for the blind. It is a much-needed and little-understood field worthy of study and improvement. However, it seems to me that the visceral impact of a piece of art goes beyond the historical, stylistic, and technical aspects of the work. I once asked an abstract artist to explain his art to me-what was the value of this kind of painting? His response was that his painting was not intended to "show me" something. Rather, he was attempting to stimulate my imagination through interaction with the painting by triggering my personal associations, memories, and maybe even insights through suggested images. I believe that his explanation applies not only to his particular form of art, but to art in general. To be effective or meaningful, art requires this connection between the artist and the person experiencing it.
I personally don't think I as a blind person can have that kind of interactive experience with a painting or other purely visual art. Although I can experience it deeply at an intellectual level, I cannot experience it at a sensory level. I can, however, experience art at multi-sensory levels-art that combines visual elements with tactile form and texture, for example.

Iowa law requires that a small percentage of our remodeling money be spent on public art. As we renovate our Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, creating a vibrant, new space for patrons and staff alike, we will be looking for artwork that can be experienced equally well by sighted and blind people-artwork that offers direct multisensory experience as well as intellectual and cultural context. Our challenge will be to find, or commission, something that is suited to a public building, reflects the culture of our organization, and is simultaneously rich in visual and nonvisual aesthetics.

Friends Gift Library for Bibles and More

At the December 13 staff meeting, Louise Duvall, president of the Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and Pat Smith, board member, presented a gift of $7,300 to the Library to be used to purchase Bibles and Summer Reading Club prizes during 2008. The gift will also help sponsor the Postal Recognition event held in January, the Braille Challenge also held in January, and the Volunteer Luncheon held in April.

As a result of this gift, Library borrowers who would like their own personal copies of sacred texts, including Bibles, on cassette or CD, or in large print or Braille, may request them by calling Dawna Ray at the library at 800-362-2587.
The Friends have raised the money through memberships, garage sales, and outreach events during 2007 and continue their work to support the library for special projects and events in 2008.

The Friends is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization and can be reached by mail at PO Box 93046, Des Moines, Iowa 50393; by e-mail at; or by calling Louise Duvall at 515-276-0807.

Third Thursday Evening Book Club

Looking for lively conversation about books? Consider joining our third Thursday evening book discussion by phone. Members choose the books and lead the discussions on a toll-free conference call. It's a great way to spend an hour on a winter evening. Call Karen Keninger to get the contact and book information at 800-362-2587.

Blind Students Study Higher Mathematics

According to the Fall 2006 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers, ( average starting salaries for graduates with a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields range from $44,672 to $51,313. Average salaries in these fields overall in 2005 were $64,560, while average salaries for the total workforce were $37,870. Obviously, careers in STEM occupations pay well compared to other fields, and all indications are that opportunities in these fields will continue to grow while the available pool of qualified STEM professionals may lag behind demand.

Traditionally, blind students have been steered away from these fields because of the obstacles they present in terms of coursework. However, some blind people are succeeding in these fields of study and work and are reaping the benefits of higher salaries and rewarding and interesting careers.

Mathematics comprises a significant component of study and work in these fields. Every science, technology, engineering, and (obviously) math student is required to take a lot of math courses. Mathematics, with its whole universe of symbols, its graphs, its figures, and formulas, presents unique challenges to blind students. However, according to several I corresponded with, these challenges can be met with the right combination of skills and technology.

Reading the textbooks is one significant consideration. Braille, specifically Nemeth Braille in the United States, is the best way to read a mathematics textbook. This presupposes knowledge of and practice in reading Nemeth code. One student told me that he learned very basic Nemeth code (numbers and simple arithmetic like the plus sign) in from his Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI), but he had to teach himself more advanced applications. The Nemeth code was developed by a mathematician specifically for mathematics and scientific notation and has been extended over the years to include all higher mathematics. But most college math books are not available in Braille, and the likelihood of getting a transcriber certified in Nemeth and able to produce materials on time is not 100%.
Some new and highly capable electronic alternatives are emerging to join the traditional human reader and recorded textbook. Two electronic file formats hold promise for math students-LaTex and MathML. LaTex is based on a standard format used by printers to publish books and adapted to accommodate mathematical and scientific notation. Professors format handouts, tests, etc. in LaTex because it can be readily converted to a printable form. In its basic form, LaTex can be read as a text file and interpreted in the context of its tags. Using a LaTex file gives a blind student direct access to the materials.

According to Aaron Cannon, an Iowa student currently studying mathematics and actuarial science, "The best thing a blind student of math can do for themselves after learning Braille is to learn LaTex. Fortunately, it's quite simple to learn (took me only about an hour to master the basics) and requires no special software; I read and write it with a standard text editor." Others say LaTex is not really simple, but it is very doable. Aaron goes on to say: "I have had reasonably good luck contacting the authors and publishers of my textbooks. Many authors write their books in LaTex, and they are sometimes willing to pass those files along. In addition, LaTex is often used by math professors in preparing their lecture notes, quizzes, and exams." Duxbury can convert LaTex to Nemeth code. Aaron says "I use Duxbury to translate LaTex to Braille. It's not always perfect, so sometimes I have to refer to the LaTex file to see what's going on, but it's nice because I'm not tied to the computer."

MathML is an alternative format based on extended mark-up language (XML) similar to the HTML that displays web pages, but adapted to display math and science notation. MathML has been incorporated into the Daisy standard, which is a very positive step toward fuller accessibility. Files can be read in a variety of ways, including with a Daisy player programmed to accept the MathML code. GH LLC MathSpeak ( is one effort to make MathML accessible audibly at the level of precision required for serious study in math. According to Neal Kuniansky of Duxbury Systems, the next major release of Duxbury, due out sometime this year, will be able to convert MathML into Nemeth Braille.

Scanning math is also becoming a reality with InftyReader developed by the Infty Project in Japan ( This software converts a scanned image containing math symbols to several optional formats, including MathML and LaTex.

Audio graphing calculator software is also available for purchase from ViewPlus Technologies ( as well as one developed by NASA called MathTrax, which can be downloaded free ( This software adds audio signals and verbal descriptions to its graphs, and the ViewPlus software can export its graphs to tactile image output.

Blind students and professionals must also prepare their work for use by sighted professors or colleagues. Several students told me that their preferred method for presenting their work is to write it in LaTex either using a standard text editor or a more dedicated LaTex editor and then converting the results into PDF or HTML for the completed product. Because LaTex was designed by the printing industry to handle layout, fonts, and other printing requirements readily, it lends itself very well to this kind of output.

Software is also being developed to back translate Nemeth Code, created on a note taker or computer, into digital text. BackNem, WInsight, and Nemetex are emerging solutions for students doing their homework in Braille. Information is available at

With the combined experience of blind scientists and mathematicians, the advances in access technologies, and the renewed emphasis on teaching Braille to blind students, mathematics has become an approachable and very doable discipline for blind students and professionals, pushing wider the doors that open on the STEM disciplines and the interesting and rewarding careers available there.

For additional information, and a wealth of resources on this topic, visit

Iowans Grow Corn-and Write Books

By Randy Landgrebe

Many, many people know that Iowans grow corn. A lot of people may even realize that Iowa ranks in the top 10 in pork, beef, and egg production. But, I would wager relatively few people are aware of how many excellent books have been written about, or set in Iowa, or have been written by Iowans.

The library has recently produced two separate catalogs for fiction and nonfiction that highlight both the volume and excellence of Iowa literature in the Library's collection. The two catalogs present nearly 100 pages of annotations of fiction or nonfiction books written by Iowa authors or of books written about or set in Iowa. Below, are samples from the Iowa Fiction and Iowa Nonfiction catalogs.

An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges.
Iowa, 1969. Scotty Ocean thought being seven years old was the best thing that ever happened to him. But later that year his alcoholic mother decides to leave the family. Scotty does everything he can to get her back, while he tries to decide whether to stay seven forever. 1998.

7 Cents by Richard P. Bissell.
The hit musical, "The pajama game," was based on this funny tale of a strike in the Iowa plant of the Sleep Tite Pajama Company. Complications arise when the manager of the plant falls in love with one of the strike leaders, red-headed shop steward, Babe. 1953.

RC46480 & BRD20654
In No Time at All by Carl Hamilton.
Portrays the experience of living on a farm in Iowa between 1910 and 1940. Describes the long days of grueling labor in the fields, barn, and kitchen. Depicts a life of hardship, danger, and simple pleasures. 1994.

American Dreamer: the Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace
by John C. Culver.
Biography of 1948 Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace (1888-1965) of Iowa, who was a noted agriculturalist, economist, author, and businessman. Before his unsuccessful third-party bid for the presidency, Wallace served as Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, and one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice presidents. 2000.

Postville: a Clash of Cultures in Heartland America
by Stephen G. Bloom.
A study of misunderstandings and turmoil that followed the 1987 establishment of a kosher slaughterhouse in rural Iowa by a group of Hasidic Jews. Bloom, a secular Jew from San Francisco, sees human foibles on both sides as he explores the gradual accommodation between local farmers and newcomers. 2000.

Prairie City, Iowa: Three Seasons at Home by Douglas Bauer.
Bauer captures the essence of rural-town Iowa in this account of three seasons of participation in the daily life of his boyhood hometown. He portrays a town dependent on the farming community it serves and explores the working and leisure lives of the townspeople, letting them speak for themselves-and they do it eloquently. 1979.

To request any of these books, or to have an Iowa Collection Catalog mailed to you, please call your reader advisor at 800-362-2587 or 515-281-1333.

Return to Issue Index.

Return to Newsletter page.

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.