WCBVI Board Chair Chris Richmond (right) shares his thoughts on the importance of transportation as he introduces Representative Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield (left).
The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired hosted another successful Legislative Day on April 11 at the state Capitol in Madison. We presented our asks and ideas to legislators, and worked to build relationships with them in order to create future dialog.
The focus of the day was on the Wisconsin State Budget, and how it fits with our asks regarding to our five legislative priorities (in order of importance): transportation, employment, education, civil rights/ADA, and healthcare. The content presented to both participants and legislators helped everyone stay focused on our legislative priorities when asking questions and facilitating discussion.
This year we had scheduled office visits with legislators and their staff, which provided ample time for deeper discussion. We also had the chance to network with people from other blindness and low vision advocacy groups that attended the event.
“Legislative Day’s focus on the budget and how it relates to our legislative priorities helped people stay on point and make interconnections,” says Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director. “Getting people together across agencies that serve the blind and visually impaired residents of Wisconsin is very important. The Council is the legislative voice, but having all the agencies represented is powerful. It shows diversity and the spread of issues, since each of individual or agency representative comes at it with a different perspective. It is vital to gather on a regular basis to build relationships because we’re stronger together than we are on our own.”
During the morning session, legislative liaison Michael Blumenfeld presented information about the current status of the 2017-2019 state budget as well as how our legislative priorities fit within it. Michael discussed funding for the “8521” program, as well as two transition programs for high school students with disabilities.
8521, also known as the Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities County Aids program, provides funding to Wisconsin counties in order to make available transportation for elderly adults and people with disabilities. In Governor Scott Walker’s initial budget, a 2% increase was suggested, but the Joint Finance Committee opted to reject Walker’s transportation budget. The resulting base budget does not provide an increase in funding for the program, even though the population eligible for services will increase 12% over the next year. A 3.75% increase is being suggested by advocacy groups to keep pace with growth.
The budget provides funding for two grant programs that support employment for students with disabilities. $6.1 million is provided to fully fund the Transition Incentive Grant Program, which provides payments to school districts based on postsecondary education and employment outcomes for students with disabilities. $1.5 million in funding is provided to start a new grant program to support school districts in identifying and creating competitive work opportunities for students with disabilities and successfully placing those students in meaningful work opportunities.
Three legislators gave presentations to us, answering our questions and letting us know they are in support of our legislative priorities.
Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D – La Crosse, Senate District 32): Shilling is the Minority Leader, and is a long-time supporter of human services, education, transportation access and employment for people with disabilities. Shilling expressed her continued support of our legislative initiatives, and expressed an openness to explore all options that would benefit residents who are visually impaired.
Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R – Brookfield, Assembly District 14): Kooyenga is the Vice Chair of the Joint Finance Committee in charge of transportation and taxes. He also told us about a large employer in Brookfield, a restaurant called Portillo’s, which employs many people who take the bus to work each day. The nearest bus stop to Portillo’s is a mile from the restaurant. He related that our request for accessible transportation is a need that many people share, and that businesses, government leaders and citizens should work together to make sure everyone has affordable and accessible transportation. He stated that though he does not have all the answers, he is willing to listen to us and do his best to put himself in our shoes.
“Kooyenga understands the need for effective transportation and efficient use of transportation resources,” says the Council’s Legislative Committee Chair, Rhonda Staats. “He is someone with which we can align ourselves.”
Rep. Robert Brooks (R – Saukville, Assembly District 60): Brooks is the Assistant Majority Leader and has experience with disability employment issues. He was represented by aide Christopher Schaefer. Schaefer gave details about the two previously mentioned high school employment initiatives.
“If you have a job when you’re young, you’ll have a better work ethic and work experiences,” says Rhonda. “You’ll be more likely to recognize that having a job is a part of life. We’re glad the state has developed these initiatives to get our employment statistics up.”
In the afternoon, scheduled office visits took place between legislators and their constituents in attendance. Many conversations focused on how transportation is an important lynchpin in daily life, since people are unable to go to their jobs, medical appointments, or other community events without reliable and accessible transportation. Legislative staff took notes, looked through our materials, asked questions and expressed a willingness to listen to us and our ideas and concerns.
“As we talked in office visits, there were themes and ideas offered, such as development of an interagency council to facilitate resources and interagency communication,” says Jess. “Legislator staff said they were hearing about our concerns from other groups as well. It helps put the pieces together that it is not just a small specialty group that has these concerns. These issues impact everyone in the community.”
“All attendees brought a special synergy and commitment to the day,” says Rhonda. “A successful Legislative Day event yields an increased energy to bring to the Council’s continuing legislative advocacy. Thanks to all participants for your commitment, time, and talents. Thanks to Denise and Council staff for the hard work that goes into the arrangements and planning for this important event.”
Legislative Day is not just a single event; it is one step in the marathon in making legislative change. Copies of the Council’s legislative priorities can be requested directly from the Council, and the document will also be put on the Council’s webpage at www.wcblind.org. Keep up with our legislative efforts on social media and in our publications, and stay tuned for actionable next steps.
Four individuals, two men and two women, walk one behind the other in a straight line across the street holding their white canes. They walk across horizontal crossing markings, reenacting The Beatles “Abby Road” album cover.
You can help put white canes into the hands of people with low vision! Every year, the Council gives nearly 500 free white canes to Wisconsin residents who are adapting to their changing vision. These white canes help them safely navigate through neighborhoods, on city buses, their route to work or school, and identify them as having vision loss.
A white cane fosters the dream of independence – and you can help make that dream a reality! Online gifts can be made at www.wcblind.org or mail a check to WCBVI, 754 Williamson Street, Madison, WI 53703. Thank you!
by Dan Sullivan
This black and white photo from the 1960s features a grade school class of approximately 40 young girls and boys, likely about ten years of age. The girls sit near the front of the room, while the boys sit or stand in the back. Each girl is wearing a neatly pressed white blouse under a black romper. The boys too wear nice, white dress shirts and black ties. All the children are smiling politely and sit with their hands folding over one another. In the back of the room stands a row of boys along a black chalkboard. A nun stands beside them at the end of the row. She dons the traditional nun habit and large cross around her neck. While this photo is not that of Dan Sullivan’s grade school class, it does reflect the makeup of Catholic school classroom during the era he describes in his story.
During my adolescent school years, no one could say that I didn’t have a prayer. However, many suspected it. Living rural and attending a tiny parochial school of limited resources, this kid with bad eyes seemed destined for doom. Nonetheless, no one could say that I didn’t have a prayer. To the contrary, I may have had too many.
Back in the 60’s, mainstreaming was not a matter of choice, yet the only option for education. If labeled as disabled, it was more or less up to your hometown on what to do with you. In my case, I got platooned to the Good Sisters of St. Joe’s. Perhaps they could help with divine intervention and find me that elusive cure. At times it did indeed seem they were intent on doing so. Based on all the kneeling and prayers on my behalf, I doubt there was ever a group of nuns with more calloused knees, than those at St. Joe’s.
In this era preceding reasonable accommodation, the Good Sisters who now mentored me, came up with their own form of assistance. Whenever I butted up against barriers such as not being able to see blackboard lessons or read the tiny print textbooks, their refrain was always the same – “Just do the best you can and we will pray for you.” Of course, there were other approaches as well. I was forever relegated to being the classroom’s most uncool kid by occupying the front row desk. Whenever that did not suffice, I then got commanded to strut forward and read the blackboard with my nose almost pressed against it. This oftentimes gave the class bullies a grand opportunity for refrains like “Get out of the way, Bozo.” To this day, I still remember the chilling episode when Sister Corene got so frustrated with Big John’s poor reading recitation that she shouted out, “Even Dan with his bad eyes reads better than you.” For several days thereafter, I did my best to avoid Big John on the playground.
With good intentions, one of the more assertive nuns obtained large print textbooks for me. So oversized were these behemoths, that I actually broke the handle on my bookbag from their sheer weight. The obvious oddity of these books created another opportunity for commentary by the mean kids. Just as bad, the text within these books did not always match up with the ones being used by my classmates.
My time at St. Joe’s was both an education and adventure. I often wonder how I survived it. On the playground, it always came down to either me or wimpy Willy being chosen last for the games. Although it bugged me, all I really cared about was being included.
Third grade was when my world first went haywire. During a music class drill, I got called upon to read an upheld flash card. When told to identify the music symbol, I just sat silent. I knew every symbol, yet this one I just couldn’t see. In this parochial environment of absolute obedience, I had to embarrassingly fess up that it needed to be brought closer. At the end of the day, I got sent home with a stern note and within a week found myself heading to the big city for an eye exam. My situation then got branded with a medical term that no kid could understand. It was called macular degeneration. Essentially, I was being told by the eye doctor of having bad eyes with no cure. Although this sounded like I didn’t have a prayer, I knew better. And so did the Good Sisters of St. Joe’s.
Editor’s Note: This story is an excerpt from the author’s memoir titled “Glimpse”, written under the pen name of D.S. Sully. This anthology chronicles his 50+ years of dealing with vision loss.
A group of four individuals looks intently at a variety of products offered at the Sharper Vision Store.
Are you a member of a low vision support group? Do you think your group might be interested in taking a tour of our Sharper Vision Store?
Staff from the Council are always willing to host group tours of our facility. On top of shopping our wide array of store products, we are also available for presentations. Topics range from learning more about our mission to getting a better understanding of the vast array of services we provide.
Tours of our office and demonstrations, such as learning about how a brailing embosser works, are also available.
Should your group be traveling a longer distance, our conference room is also available for you to sit and enjoy a bagged lunch or snack.
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Non-24 Sleep-Wake Disorder Presentation
When: Saturday, May 13
Where: WCBVI Office – 754 Williamson Street, Madison
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Presented by Jay Blind of Vanda Pharmaceuticals. Non-24 occurs when there is a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm. For people without light perception, the sleep-wake cycle conflicts with the 24 hour day-night cycle which causes interruption in sleep patterns. This event is open to anyone wanting more information about Non-24.
Bright Sights: Six Ways of Seeing Gallery - Closing Reception
When: Thursday, May 25
Where: Mandelbaum & Albert Family Vision Gallery/McPherson Eye Research Institute - Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research Building at UW-Madison 1111 Highland Avenue, 9th Floor
Time: 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Observe the artwork of six Wisconsin artists whose visual impairment inspire and enrich their art while enjoying light refreshments.
OrCam My Eye Presentation
When: Saturday, June 24
Where: WCBVI Office – 754 Williamson Street, Madison
Time: 12:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Presented by Aliza Olenick from OrCam Technologies and Gabe DeLeon from Adaptive Technology Resources. OrCam glasses have a camera that photographs text, converts it to audio, and reads it aloud. Learn more at www.orcam.org.