A cartoon drawing of a male character cups his left hand next to his mouth. Besides his hand are the words (in three separate text boxes): “LET YOUR” (yellow box) “VOICE” (orange box) “BE HEARD” (teal box). The colors used in the graphic are vibrant and bold.
While contacting your legislator might seem daunting at first, our step-by-step guide will help simplify the process. Feel empowered to take part in making legislative change!
“Communicating with your legislators is important because it helps legislators be empowered to work on the constituents’ behalf,” says Council CEO/Executive Director, Denise Jess. “If legislators don’t know what is important to their constituents, they’ll be left in a position to make decisions from their own knowledge-base or their own biases, which may or may not represent the needs of their constituency. It’s also important for the constituents themselves to know that they have both a right and a responsibility to communicate with their legislators about what’s important to them.”
Step 1: Believe in Yourself. You need to believe your perspective is important, because if you do, your conviction will be apparent when you are having conversations with legislators.
Step 2: Learn Your Rights. Feel empowered, knowing your worth. You don’t have to approach the conversation with a sense of apology or entitlement, but knowing your rights can help you feel confident and knowledgeable.
Step 3: Follow Reputable Sources for Learning about Legislation. Before you reach out to a legislator, do your homework. Follow reputable sources, such as the publications of the Council. Find organizations you trust so you know what legislation is before the lawmaking body, and so you have a sense of the lawmaking climate.
Step 4: Discuss Your Questions and Concerns. It’s OK to ask questions before talking to your legislator. Don’t hesitate to go to your trusted sources and ask questions so you thoroughly understand the legislation.
Step 5: Identify your Connection to the Proposed Legislation. Think about how it will impact you and give concrete, specific examples. Legislators are there to represent their constituents-- they work for you--and your real stories matter because they give your point-of-view a personal touch.
Step 6: Contact your Legislators. The first step in contacting your legislator is knowing who your legislators are. The easiest way to contact your state legislators is use the tool found on the Legislature’s home page, at http://legis.wisconsin.gov. In the right-hand side of that page is a link that says “Find My Legislators!” Type your address in the box below that link to get the names of your state representative and senator. For information on how to contact Federal elected officials, visit https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. You may leave a message for your legislator’s Capitol office or indicate your position on legislation through the toll free Legislative Hotline, at 1-800-362-9472.
Step 7: Communicate in a Way that Works for You. If you are good at having phone conversations and are comfortable making your point by talking, then a phone call might be your best and most effective way to communicate with legislators. If writing is more your forte, put your thoughts down on paper. Remember that a paper letter is more effective and will get more notice than an email.
Step 8: Plan What You Will Say Ahead-of-Time. First, let the legislator know who you are, and that you are a member of their district. Then let them know specifically why you are contacting them, giving a two-three sentence explanation of your story and the impact—positive or negative—the legislation will have on you. If there is something specific you would like the legislator to do, ask, but do not expect an explicit commitment from your legislator. If your legislator is interested, you will notice hints, and they will often ask questions. Respond to any questions they have for you. If you don’t know the answer to a question, let the legislator know and either encourage them to contact the Council, or make a commitment yourself to find the answer and get back to them. Finally, thank them for taking the time to talk with you.
Step 9: Remember that Talking with an Aide is as Important as Talking with the Legislator Directly. Aides are the direct conduit to the legislator. Even though all calls are recorded and all letters will be read, the aides often make decisions about whether they will highlight the call or letter with the Legislator. Treating aides with respect is important, because the aides are often the ones doing the research, and are content specialists who are usually quite knowledgeable.
Step 10: Follow Up and Say Thank You. Legislative relationships are relationships, and whether you agree or disagree with the stand they take, they do work hard, so gratitude is important.
Remember to contact your legislators when you are both happy and when you are concerned. Use your legislative clout wisely, and decide where you want to put your energy. It’s all about building warm and effective relationships. If there are legislative issues that are important to you, contact the Council or go to your trusted sources to let them know.
“While the Council can represent issues along our legislative priorities,” says Denise, “it is so impactful for the constituents to make contact. Legislators want to hear from the people they represent.”
An iPhone sits atop a piece of white paper placed on a brown tabletop. Teaching individuals how to access applications on technology such as the iPhone is one of the many skills the Council is seeking in our new Assistive Technology Service Provider.
The Council is hiring! We are currently seeking an Assistive Technology Service Provider. This is a 32 hour/week position based at the Council office, located in Madison, WI.
Primary responsibilities include:
• Provide vision rehabilitation services that address an individual’s visual, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial abilities related to training and integration of existing and emerging technologies.
• Assess, set goals and teach technology-related skills to adults with vision impairments.
• Develop on-going assistive technology training programs for small groups of adults with blindness and low vision.
• Market assessment and training opportunities to outside groups such as vocational rehabilitation programs and senior centers.
• Prepare and deliver presentations to community groups.
• Participate in activities and events sponsored by the Council.
• Provide telephone or in-person consultation to individuals for the acquisition of assistive technology devices.
For more details on required skills and how to apply, go to:
Kimberly Guerrero poses for the camera with her hand on her hip, smiling happily. She is stylish in her red top, leopard print scarf, hoop earrings and beaded bracelets. Around her neck and hanging below her scarf is her monocular.
High school is challenging enough, with studying, sports and time with friends taking up much of the year for today’s teenagers. When Kimberly Guerrero entered LaFollette High School in Madison, she had two additional challenges: she was learning English and she has a visual impairment. Rather than let her circumstances hold her back, she is using them to help others in need, with an end-goal of becoming a teacher herself.
Kimberly immigrated to the United States from Honduras in 2012. Being both bilingual and bicultural, Kimberly says she is confident she will be able to communicate with and assist a wide variety of people.
“I had two challenges at the same time during high school: My visual impairment and learning English,” she says. “As a result of my life experiences, I am a strong advocate for both disability rights and immigrant rights.”
Kimberly says she is motivated by the knowledge that someday she will be able to help people who need it, just as people are helping her now.
“If I had a mission statement for my life it would be to help all different types of children with disabilities who don't have the economic means or guidance to become independent on their own,” she says.
Kimberly plans to attend Madison College this fall as a freshman.
She says she wants to earn a General Studies associates degree, and then she will transfer to a four-year school to study Education. Her end-goal is to become a history teacher.
“I want to study education because the education that I received is so important,” says Kimberly. “We need teachers who are willing to be patient, understanding, and willing to teach all of the different students we have, such as those with different backgrounds, and students who need accommodations. I hope to help them so they can receive the education they deserve.”
She says being both bicultural and visually impaired will help her understand and empathize with her future students with whatever needs they bring to the classroom, whether they are immigrants or have disabilities.
Receiving the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired Scholarship is very important to Kimberly because it will help her succeed during this next stage of her education.
“It will help me afford the technology I need for my accommodations so I can be successful in my classes. I am very thankful to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired for giving me this scholarship; it will help me so much in my goal of becoming an educator.”
For fun, Kimberly likes to play soccer, read books and write stories about her past because, “I would like one day to write a book of my life.”
Long-time Council member and Sun Prairie VIP Support Group coordinator Arnold Tucker poses with his wife Alice at an awards banquet. In his hands is a plaque recognizing him for his volunteer service. Both Arnold and Alice are sharing friendly smiles.
According to a survey conducted by VisionServe Alliance* (https://www.visionservealliance.org/), agencies who provide support and services to people who are blind and visually impaired noted an increase in referrals of older clients over the previous three years nationwide. Since Wisconsin’s population is aging also, support groups for people with visual impairments and those experiencing age-related concerns have become essential.
“It is important to understand that we all experience normal changes in vision as we age, even if we haven’t been diagnosed with a specific eye condition,” says the Council’s Certified Low Vision Therapist, Amy Wurf. “For instance, we generally need more light, can be more sensitive to glare, have trouble distinguishing contrast in items that are similar in color, or have trouble reading smaller print (such as the newspaper).”
Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired Finance Committee member, Arnold Tucker, is founder of a support group for people with visual impairments in Sun Prairie.
“The group exists so people can get answers to their questions about issues they are having concerning vision loss,” says Arnold Tucker. “People can talk about any problems they are experiencing with present or future anticipated vision changes, and participants can also share techniques and suggestions for coping with aging and vision changes. No one should feel like they have to figure everything out on their own.”
Meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month at 1:00 p.m. and take place at The Colonial Club, located at 301 Blankenheim Lane in Sun Prairie. There is no cost to attend and you need not be a member of The Colonial Club in order to participate.
“Come and give it a try and see what you think,” says Arnold. “You can always learn something, and you can bring friends or relatives. So if you are concerned about coming alone, don’t be afraid. We’re here to welcome you and to provide support and answers to your questions.”
Eye care professionals, as well as agencies providing adaptive equipment to people with visual impairments, are examples of presenters who will be at each meeting to discuss and answer questions related to vision loss. Details about each month’s presentation can be found in The Colonial Club’s newsletter, and you can get a copy at the Sun Prairie Public Library or by calling The Colonial Club at (608) 837-4611.
*“VisionServe Alliance is a consortium of Executive Directors/CEOs of 501(c)(3) nonprofits throughout the United States that provide unique and specialized services to people who are blind or with severe vision loss. [They] bring together the full diversity of services for one conversation with the ultimate goal of unifying the many issues and organizations operating independently of one another in the field. Members include organizations focusing on national advocacy and/or service issues, employment and manufacturing, adult vision rehabilitation, K-12 residential and on-line schools, early intervention and pre-school, dog guides, low vision clinics, and Braille production. Collaborative projects, national trends, stronger management and leadership, and advocacy issues have been born from these conversations and activities.”
Blindness 101: Two Hours to Gain a Bit of Understanding
By Katherine Schneider
Katherine Schneider is joined by two of her “Blindness 101” students on a walk through a neighborhood of houses on a cool spring day. As they walk down the sidewalk, one young lady is blindfolded and using a white cane. Not far behind her is Kathie, her guide dog besides her. The second student, with her blindfold removed and held in her hand, observes from the grass adjacent to the sidewalk.
What’s it really like to be blind? I’ve been asked this question in various forms thousands of times by children and adults in my public education talks. In talks I have to give a quick answer like “It’s like watching your favorite television show with your back turned” or “It’s like getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom without turning on a light.” But for the intrepid few who really want to know more and are willing to put a couple hours into it, I offer Blindness 101.
Social science research is full of articles about various simulations to raise awareness of what it’s like to be old, a wheelchair user, blind, etc. Research tends to show that although these simulations are well meant, they may have unintended negative consequences. They make people aware of the initial difficulties of having a particular condition without giving them the coping skills to deal with the frustrations. So the person experiencing the condition bumbles and fumbles around, feels inadequate and leaves thinking “That’s horrible. Those poor people can’t do much.”
I’ve designed my simulation to present challenges but also coach throughout to achieve successes on every task.
Participants in a recent 101 were a County Board member, his preteen daughter and a friend of hers. I started by having them don their blindfolds while I read them a bit of Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go with emphasis on the line “You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” They walked using a cane, played a game on an app on my iPhone, and mixed, baked and ate cookies along with a cup of hot cider. Throughout the experience, I verbalized auditory cues that would be useful to them and suggested helpful ways to do the tasks blindfolded. For example, feel around for your cup of hot cider with your hand touching the table instead of from the top down which is more likely to upset the cup. I taught them a simple dice game and one young woman walked away with $1.20. Each child also left with cookies they’d baked to share with their family.
Graduates from 101 often comment during the experience that “this is hard.” By that they mean learning skills like walking with a cane, listening for cues instead of glancing around the environment, etc. They also often comment on how they notice sounds, smells and tactual sensations more. Each person does 101 their own way, just as each blind person does blindness their own way. People who don’t enjoy getting messy are a bit squeamish about checking the eggs to make sure there are no shells before they dump them in to the cookie dough. One person reported that she noticed you really had to be willing to make mistakes, which to me is a pre-condition for any learning.
Two examples of learning how to be more accessible mentioned by the recent graduates were:
“It is actually unhelpful to open a door for a blind person! Although it may seem polite and helpful, it is better for a blind person to open their own door, which helps them understand where it is located and which way it opens.”
“Some blind people like Facebook, but it is unhelpful when people post a photo and write "look at this!" or make comments like "amazing!" since blind people might be able to have Facebook text digitally read to them, but pictures are inaccessible. Instead one could label these photos as: The first photo below shows Kathie and her two students standing next to a beautiful bronze Service Dog sculpture at the university. (The sculpture was amazing to feel when we were blindfolded!) The second photo shows a blindfolded Ella with a white cane, ahead of Kathie and Luna, with Ella's friend standing on the grass giving step-by-step guidance and encouragement.”
As the teacher of Blindness 101, I learn something every time I teach it. Recent graduates have told me about apps that make the sound of a whip cracking (no comment on my teaching style I’m sure) and a totally inaccessible game app that would be best played when drunk. I learn anew each 101 class that people really do want to understand my world and enjoy it as I do.
Talking Atomic Clock with Outdoor Temperature
This stylish Atomic Alarm Clock has a wood grain design and can be a wonderful accent piece in any room of your house. This clock is self-setting, so you don't have to worry about resetting at every battery change or daylight savings. Provides verbal feedback during the setup process and speaks the time, date, and indoor and outdoor temperature. With accurate time and temperature offered in an easy to hear package, this clock is perfect for low vision and hard of hearing users.
Item # TT550, $55.00
Sharper Vision Store Grand Re-Opening and Council Open House
When: Thursday, July 13
Where: WCBVI Office – 754 Williamson Street, Madison
Time: 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Join the Council staff and board in celebrating the Grand Re-Opening of our Sharper Vision Store following months of renovations! We will also be offering office tours and birthday cake as we celebrate our 65th anniversary in 2017.
Dining in the Dark – Appleton
When: Tuesday, August 22
Where: GingeRootz Asian Grille - 2920 N Ballard Rd, Appleton
Time: 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Dining in the Dark is a unique event where guests experience what it is like to dine on a multi-course meal without the use of their sight. Watch future editions of On Sight, our website (www.wcblind.org) and our social media pages on Facebook and Twitter for more details on how to register.