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THE COUNCIL COURIER

APRIL 2015

VOLUME 28, NUMBER 1

 

WISCONSIN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND

& VISUALLY IMPAIRED, INC.

 

Contact information

754 Williamson Street, Madison, Wisconsin

800-783-5213 (Outside Madison)

608-255-1166 (Madison area)

608-237-8100 Direct Line, Sharper Vision Store

FAX: 608-255-3301

www.wcblind.org

 

The Council is a strong voice for Wisconsin residents who are blind and visually impaired. Its mission is to promote the dignity and independence of people in Wisconsin who are blind and visually impaired by providing services, advocating legislation and educating the general public. The Council is funded through proceeds of endowments established through bequests, grants, private gifts from individuals and corporations, and the White Cane Fund campaign.

Message from the President
By: Chris Richmond

It is my honor and privilege to be associated with the Council and to act as president of its Board of Directors. From the moment I began serving on the Council's board, I observed a level of passion and commitment among the other board members I had not encountered elsewhere. Each board member is truly invested in fulfilling the Council's mission. Last fall when I began to consider my responsibilities as board president, I asked myself, "What is the function of a board of directors?" and I imagined it much like a GPS device a bus driver might use. Prior to programming a GPS, the driver needs a destination. The driver knows where he or she wants to go, but needs direction regarding the best way to get there. So the driver enters the destination, and the GPS maps out a route, a set of directions for the driver to follow. It tells him or her when they should arrive and prompts them along the way. In many ways, a board of directors functions in the same manner, providing direction and guidance for the organization according to the destination, or in this case, the goals in the strategic plan on which the board and agency leadership have previously agreed.

However, just as a GPS doesn't actually drive the bus, leaving that job to the bus driver, a board entrusts the day-to-day operations with the agency's executive director. In a similar manner, the executive director acts as the "driver," steering the agency toward its mission. He or she is responsible for maintaining the course, anticipating potential twists and turns, roadblocks and delays, and negotiating them efficiently. Nevertheless, a bus driver, and an executive director, need support, people who are responsible for keeping things running smoothly and efficiently.

The agency staff, as well as its donors and volunteers, provide everything the bus needs to keep moving. Without these highly skilled, knowledgeable and generous individuals, the agency would break down and sit idle. But what would a bus be without passengers?

When I think of the passengers, I think of the blind and visually impaired people we serve all over the state of Wisconsin. They ride the bus, striving for dignity and independence. Some may ride for only a short distance, while others need more time to acquire additional assistance, tools, or support.

In some ways, though, our bus, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, never actually arrives. Our destination is being there for each individual throughout his or her own unique journey.

During the coming year, the Council will help blind and visually impaired persons in the state of Wisconsin achieve dignity and independence through education, services, and advocacy. Whether you are a blind or visually impaired high school student applying for a scholarship, an adult coping with vision loss for the first time, or a professional looking for help in providing your clients with a new resource; the staff, management, and board of directors hope you will join us on this incredible adventure. Let us know how we can help you arrive at your own personal destination, living your life as a blind or visually impaired person with dignity, independence, and pleasure.    

 

Meet the New Board Members

The Council’s Board of Directors welcomes three new members this year:

Denise Jess
Denise works with organizations to create more inclusivity in a broad range of forms of diversity through her own consulting firm, Denise Jess Consulting. She is well aware of the various forms of interpersonal and institutions’ forms of discrimination and barriers. Denise believes volunteering her services for the Board of the Council feels like an excellent venue to use her passion for creating inclusive organizations, workplaces and communities.

Her communication and facilitation skills, and her experience running a small non-profit volunteer organization have given her depth and breadth. Denise has the ability to sort out complex and emotionally charged issues, and the ability to seek multiple solutions to problems that address underlying concerns. She is a collaborative worker and facilitator as is evident in her leading experiential / interactive skill-building workshops, facilitating meetings, doing one-to-one leadership development coaching and helping with program development in the following subject areas: communication skills, learning pattern differences, meeting facilitation skills, conflict transformation and diversity / inclusivity. Her client base is broad, ranging from the non-profit sector (particularly social justice and environmental organizations), city, county, state and federal government organizations, clergy and spiritual communities, healthcare and mental health professionals and corporations. She also serves as an ad hoc instructor for the University of Wisconsin – Madison Division of Continuing Studies.

Annika Konrad  
Annika is interested in serving on the Board of Directors because the services the Council provides have changed her relationship to her own disability. Her experiences and skills in administration, communication, and group facilitation, as well as her commitment to social justice, will make her an asset to the Board. She currently is an Assistant Director of the First-Year Writing Program at UW-Madison and is a doctoral candidate in Composition and Rhetoric. Annika has strong expertise in research and argumentation which will be an asset to legislative endeavors. Annika shares a deep concern for the public perception of people who are blind and visually impaired. She started “The Outlook From Here”, a statewide storytelling project to create a space where the voices of people who are blind or visually impaired can be heard. Creating public awareness about differences is important to her. Additionally, Annika has strengths in group facilitation, agenda planning and moderating conversations.

Frank Lopez  
Frank describes himself as having sixty years of experience as a person who is blind, and that it is important that the public sees individuals as people first before they see individuals as blind. Frank believes it is paramount to be a positive role model to those around him. Frank has been a teacher for the past twenty years, and considers his most valued skill his ability to communicate and interact with people in a positive manner that puts them at ease. He has an ability to find humor in a variety of situations. He is outgoing and has experience working with multiple agencies in order to advocate for the needs of persons with disabilities. Frank is a member of the Sun Prairie Lions Club District 27 D1, actively involved with Custom Canines Dog Academy, on the board for Access to Independence, volunteers for the Colonial Club Senior Activity Center and is a respite team member for his church. He also writes for the Council’s blog “Outlook From Here.” He is a member of the American Council of the Blind Teachers Association.

 

Expanding Visual Horizons: The Council Opens a Low Vision Clinic 

On February 23, 2015, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired opened a low vision clinic at their Madison location. Not only will people coming in receive an hour long low vision evaluation, but also receive recommendations on assistive technology that will help them remain as independent as possible during their time of vision loss.

Spearheading the Low Vision Clinic work is Amy Wurf, the new Low Vision Therapist at the Council as of January 2015. She has 19 years of experience providing low vision services to adults in the Midwest, primarily to veterans at VA Hospitals in Chicago and Madison. During the last six years at the Low Vision Clinic at the William S. Middleton VA Hospital, she worked on a national low vision research project and led her clinic team in its national accreditation.

Below are frequently asked questions about vision rehabilitation services and low vision evaluations:

What is the goal of vision rehabilitation services?
The goal of vision rehabilitation services is to assist a person to find low vision aids, introduce techniques for using remaining vision, and locate resources in the community. Vision rehabilitation is not a “treatment” to restore lost or damaged vision, but rather a combination of practical techniques and useful tools to help an individual continue to be as independent as possible with decreasing vision. 

What happens during a low vision evaluation?
Low vision evaluations consist of tests that look at how someone perceives color, lighting, and contrast, and detects non-visual stimuli, like talking devices. These tests determine someone’s level of vision, help identify the goals and needs of the individual, and the expected outcome of therapy. Recommendations are made to educate people on the best optical aids (e.g., magnifiers) for them as well as appropriate training on the use of adaptive equipment.

Who should consider scheduling a low vision evaluation?
If you or someone you know is experiencing vision loss, ask the following questions:

Because of vision loss, do you or someone you know have difficulty:

-      reading your mail, recipes, or newspaper?

-      telling your medications apart from one another?

-      signing your name or writing checks?

-      reading your watch or a clock?

-      cooking or cleaning?

If any of the questions above were answered with, “yes,” there may be a benefit in a low vision evaluation. The Council can provide direct services or refer you to other, more appropriate resources. Call Amy at 608-237-8107 to schedule an appointment or discuss the need for vision services.

 

John’s First Love – Reading
By: Michelle Roach

John Schneiter’s daughter Ann has admired his work ethic her whole life. “He’s a true entrepreneur,” she explains. Every morning, he wakes up and goes into his office to scan through the mail and check his emails. At 87, John looks back at a long history of accomplishments, owning several businesses and inventing familiar items in people’s lives, like the Mylar balloon.  He and his wife Mary Lou keep busy outside of work as well. He explains, “We’re both active, move around with our kids and everything else.” A big part of the “everything else” John’s referring to is reading. “I’ve been an avid reader all my life.” That’s why when it became a challenge to read due to vision loss from macular degeneration, John and his family knew that they had to find something that would help him continue to do what he loved.

After Ann learned from a friend about the resources the Council provides, she suggested to her parents to stop into the Sharper Vision Store to see what they had available. Education and Vision Services Director Jean Kalscheur greeted John’s family and “educated about options and resources available to him,” explains Ann. John had an easy time choosing a magnifying closed circuit television (CCTV) that would make his reading experience as enjoyable as before. Brent, the Sharper Vision Store Manager, provided door to door service, carrying the CCTV out to the family’s car. Ann shares that, “we couldn’t be more pleased with the whole experience.” “It has changed my life,” John affirms. Now, he’s reading his books, bills, receipts, and everything else using the machine.

The CCTV John purchased wasn’t the first one he had encountered. His first interactions with a machine of this kind were in the library at his senior living community in Sun Prairie. “When I first got here, I was in the library and I saw this machine unplugged, and I wondered what it was – it was a reading machine just like the one I got. The maintenance man and I fooled around with it and got it working, and it was working out just great. Then one morning I got there and again it was unplugged.” It seemed as though people weren’t sure about how to adjust the settings. Since getting to know his own CCTV, he has made suggestions to the management at the Lighthouse on how to better educate residents to use the library’s reader. John explains, “I move the book back and forth by hand, and it works great, and your arms get some exercise that way too!”

A hardworking entrepreneur, father, husband, and neighbor, John has earned his time to relax anytime, anywhere with a book. “That’s why this reader is so important to me,” The whole family agrees that, “it’s so important to have that feeling of independence,” and John definitely has that. 

 

The Recreation Committee and Renee
By: Renee Kuester-Sebranek

My first experience with The Council was in 2007 when I received my first White Cane. Since then I have attended several workshops put on by The Council, and in the last six months have been very involved in the Recreation Committee. I attended the Canoe Trip on the Namekagon River in 2014 and it was a blast!

There are nine of us on the Recreation Committee and it is a really great group of people. Our goal is to help blind and visually impaired people actively participate in events and socialize with their peers. We held a successful Bowling Social in Eau Claire at the end of February and are planning a biking, canoeing, or fishing event in the Appleton area in late August. We would like to plan a couple events each year in different locations around the state.

My main goal is to network with other blind and visually impaired people around Wisconsin because I think it is very important to share with others that are going through the same kind of challenges.

I am getting my first guide dog in June from Guide Dogs for The Blind in Oregon, and am very excited about this new chapter of my life. I became legally blind in 2006, due to retinitis pigmentosa, severe uveitis, and partially detached retinas, and since 2009 I am totally blind. I have had six eye surgeries and many procedures, seen the best doctors in Rochester, MN, but am thankful I still have my eyes and health.

I have been married for 23 years to my amazing best friend and live in Chippewa Falls. We have 4 grown daughters and several grand children. We love to go camping, fishing, hiking, tandem biking, and canoeing - including white water - see our article in the March 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine online http://www.canoekayak.com/canoe/blind-courage/. I am a homemaker and a lifelong student, through Hadley School for the Blind. While doing the house work, I enjoy listening to lots of audio books and music. It is a better age with all the technology, especially all the awesome things I can do on my iPad. We try to eat healthy and work out on a regular basis, and I have been blessed to be able to travel the world, mostly since 2007. Find me on Facebook or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Editor’s Note: The Board of Directors elects committees each year to spearhead different efforts of the Council. The Committees are listed on our web site at http://wcblind.org/index.php/who-we-are/board-of-directors. Not all committee members need to be board members, and other people involved with the Council who are passionate about any of our efforts are encouraged to join a committee.

Would you be interested in attending a recreation committee event in the future? Do you have any ideas of where we could host an event in the future? Contact Patrick at 608-237-8120 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to share your thoughts.

 

Celebrating National Volunteer Week
By: Theresa Sweeney-Smith

I have heard the question “What’s in it for me?” from both my sighted and non-sighted friends. Well, maybe not these exact words, but this sort of underlying thought when the topic of volunteering comes up. I have heard responses like, “I’m too busy,” “I need to focus on my job,” “They probably don’t have anything that I can do with my limitations,” and “I put my name on the list, and they did not call me. 

As with any other commitment in life, volunteering takes energy. What you get out of it, however, depends not only on how much you put into it, but also on choosing the right volunteer opportunity for yourself.

“What is in it for me?” you ask? Friendships, the opportunity to build upon your reputation and skills, possible job leads, compliments, more energy, gratification for a job well done, new knowledge, and a positive attitude. You will also be rewarded with the greatest feeling—that of self-worth.

To read the full article, visit www.theoutlookfromhere.wordpress.com. To learn more about the blog or how you can become a contributor, contact Michelle Roach at 608-237-8111 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Editor’s Note: The Council has many volunteers, who are visually impaired, blind or sighted, who contribute a great deal to the overall success of our organization. The author of this article is a contributor of “The Outlook From Here”, a blog sponsored by the Council which is dedicated to sharing stories of living with blindness. All of the contributors of this blog volunteer their time to inspire and educate others through their writing. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Tim Davis at 608-237-8104 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Grants Update
$5,000 Grant Received from WI Department of Veterans Affairs

On January 15, 2015, WCBVI’s Executive Director Loretta Himmelsbach accepted a $5,000 grant from Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Board Member Larry Kutschma at the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Council is eager to utilize this award to develop a new Low Vision Support Group in Rock County. The first support group session will be held in April 2015 and monthly sessions will continue on a pilot basis until December 2015.

In addition to the Support Group development the Council will partner with the Middleton VA in Madison to offer a statewide webinar, “Benefits and Support for Veterans with Low Vision,” in September 2015.

Special thanks go out to WCBVI’s Board Member Gary Traynor, Calvin Tucker from Dryhootch Madison, and Kurt Brunner, VIST Coordinator at Williams S. Middleton VA Hospital in Madison for their assistance in the beginning stages of the grant proposal process, and to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs for supporting nonprofit organizations that serve veterans and families.

$5,000 Grant Awarded from the Evjue Foundation, Inc.

On December 18, 2014, the Council was awarded funds from the charitable arm of the Capital Times. The Evjue Foundation requested that we use these funds towards general operations, so their gift has been incorporated into the operating budget of this year.

Special thanks to Director of Marketing Nan Hoffman for finding these grants and making new partners in the community. 

 

 

Calendar of Upcoming Events

 

April 12-18          National Volunteer Appreciation Week

April 16                Legislative Advocacy Day

May 25                Council office closed for Memorial Day

May 30                Board meeting and Scholarship Luncheon   

June 2                 Senior Americans Day, UW Eau Claire 8:00am-5:00pm

June 11               Webinar: Phones

July 3                   Council office closed for Independence Day

 

Visit www.wcblind.org for event and program details.

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