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The Council Courier




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

The Council is a strong voice for blind citizens of Wisconsin.  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.

Council Courier

Nona Graves, Editor

Kathi Koegle, Managing Editor

Judith Rasmussen, Braille proofreader and transcriber

Chad Nelson, CD Duplicator

Newsletter Committee

Deen Amusa

Nona Graves

Kathi Koegle (staff)

Karen Heesen

Bruce Parkinson

Chris Richmond

Rhonda Staats                                                                                           

Editor’s note: Are you receiving multiple copies of the Courier unnecessarily?  If so, please let us know.  Call Ray at 608-237-8109, and we’ll make sure you get only one copy.  We invite you to send us story ideas for future issues of this newsletter.  Contact Kathi Koegle at or by phone at 608-237-8111. 

White Cane Policy

Any Wisconsin resident who is blind or visually impaired may be eligible for one free white cane every 24 months.  If you are a first-time cane user and not listed in our database, you are eligible to receive an additional back-up cane within the first two years of receiving your first one at half the retail cost.  Available canes include the Ambutech adjustable support cane, Ambutech folding mobility cane and Ambutech folding ID cane.

You may be eligible if your vision is less than 20/70.  According to Wisconsin State Statute 47.01 and the United States Code, 42 USC 1382 c(a)(2), legal blindness is defined as central visual acuity not greater than 20/200 in the better eye with correcting lenses or a visual field that subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.  Call 1-800-783-5213 or 608-255-1166 to learn more.

Message from the President: It’s all about Education in 2015

By Rhonda Staats

Every successful service delivery organization needs to have a strategic plan to guide its activities. It is not surprising that strategic plans must be reviewed and updated periodically to better align agencies with consumer needs and the external environment. The Council Board and lead staff recently conducted such a strategic plan update.  Here is what we re-discovered that will drive our mission forward in 2015.

There is no question that the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired will continue to offer its core service of education, its commitment to ensure our future through diversified revenue, and our pledge to retain high performance at all levels in the organization. Our educational endeavors include vision services, legislative advocacy and public education. The strategic plan update process allowed the Board and staff to focus on what we do best and brought home to us the realization that it is all about education. This means that, as we deliver programs and services for 2015, we will be focusing on education!

Every individual, consumer, partnering organization, and/or legislator depends on the Council for the value-added education we provide. Each of us is a “lifelong learner”--whether we come to the Council seeking a specific service, or we become acquainted with the Council as part of an audience for a public presentation or event. Consequently, our renewed emphasis on education means that all activities will be aligned toward delivering a product or message that may lead toward a change in perception, outlook or lifestyle.

Our web site,, continues to be packed with timely and useful information, resources, and educational tips. Our newsletters, e-mail blasts and social media presence (Facebook and LinkedIn pages and blogs) are designed to raise the profile of low vision-related issues and happenings. Webinars educate individuals and professionals around the state. Presentations by Council Board and staff members for schools, other nonprofit organizations, as well as community and civic groups, create additional learning opportunities for attendees. Simply perusing the Sharper Vision Store catalog is an educational event in itself!

The Council’s story is continually written and passed along by individuals whose dignity and independence have been improved through our adjustment skills training, low vision evaluations, information and referral resources, technology, orientation and mobility, and advocacy.  

A friendly note: If you attend a Council event or receive individual services beginning in 2015, you may receive a short follow-up questionnaire.  Please answer the questions and return the survey!  We need your thoughts and feedback to let us know how we are doing. 

How it was.  How it is.  How it will be.

Retirement Reflections by Marshall Flax
Certified Low Vision Therapist and
Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist

After 33 years in the field of vision rehabilitation (23 of them at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired), I will retire at the end of this year. Since I started working in this field, I have seen some important changes that have affected consumers and professionals.

One of the most significant has been the evolution of certification standards for low vision therapists, orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists and vision rehabilitation therapists. This is a cause I have been working on for nearly my entire career because I strongly believe that consumers deserve to know the qualifications of the person who is working with them.

Certification is also a first step toward obtaining third party reimbursement through health care insurers for the services we provide, something that just about everyone who is on Medicare would appreciate. I continue to volunteer with the Academy for Certification for Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) to improve the certification process.

Another change I have witnessed is the broader inclusion of people with low vision into the world of services for those who are blind. In the United States, approximately 75 per cent of people who are legally blind have some usable vision. When I was hired in 1992, the organization was The Wisconsin Council of the Blind. It took many years of lobbying for the name to be changed so that it more accurately reflected the population we serve.

For the Council itself, there has been quite a bit of change. In 1992, the staff consisted of the Executive Secretary Jack Malin, Store Manager Pat Burmeister, part-time office staff Ann Schroeder and Caryl Sloane, and me. Now, we have an Executive Director and 15 full and part-time staff. The growth in staff and services necessitated selling the building on West Main Street and moving to the current location on Williamson Street.

What started as a small “Low Vision Day” event at the Council office in the mid-90s grew to become a significant opportunity for people with vision impairment to see and compare many of the newest and latest products all under one roof. Educational seminars were later added and a partnership with the UW-Madison Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences helped the program grow until it attracted more than 900 attendees. Our symposium on macular degeneration (and this year, diabetic eye disease) continues to be our biggest public educational event.

Providing low vision rehabilitation and orientation and mobility services has been a rewarding career. Generally speaking, most of us are capable of making the necessary changes when confronted with disability.  What makes the process faster and, hopefully easier, is working with a skilled and compassionate professional.  I’m glad that I had the opportunity to help others and to do it in a community-based, non-profit organization.

Best wishes to the Council for a productive future that continues to enhance the lives of people who live with vision impairment! 

Note from the Executive Director:

We would like to thank Marshall for his incredible passion and commitment to his career over the past 23 years.  His work on behalf of clients is second to none, and his professionalism in working through issues with them is superb. Marshall has represented the Council in many areas and is internationally known for his work. We know there are many clients whom Marshall has seen over the years who would like to recognize him as he retires.  He indicated that a donation to the Council would be a wonderful honor for him. If you would like to make a tribute to Marshall, please contact Lori Werbeckes at 608-237-8114;

A Former Student Remembers Much about Marshall

By Lori Werbeckes, Fund Development Director

As we reminisce and reflect on Marshall Flax’s retirement, it seemed appropriate to contact one of his former “students.”

Amy Bigna began her orientation and mobility training with Marshall even before he began working for the Council. They met in 1984, as Amy was beginning her undergraduate career at UW-Madison. When Amy returned for her Master’s of Science degree in Business, she and Marshall worked together again.

“I remember Marshall very well,” Amy recalled in a recent conversation. “I appreciated his advice, patience and personal relationship.” Sharing stories about classes, their families, and challenges benefited Amy during her training because “I saw him as more than a mobility instructor.”

While attending UW-Madison, Amy was accepted into the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research.  During those years of graduate work, including classes with Professor Neil Ford (who is a Council Board member), she received a scholarship from the Council. Several years later, Amy started to give back to the Council through financial gifts. “I have felt a bond with the Council and appreciated the scholarship,” said Amy.

After a few years on the East Coast, Amy returned to Wisconsin in 2000 and began working for SC Johnson as a consumer researcher.  She was instrumental in their receiving our 2010 Business Partner Award.

Amy was born with Achromatopsia, a genetic recessive disorder that makes her eyes very sensitive to light. Colors are difficult to distinguish. With the help of reading glasses and large print, she is able to read for work and pleasure. She uses the mobility skills Marshall taught her on a daily basis as she travels to and from work, runs errands and accompanies her son at school functions.

Technology presents challenges for Amy, although computer use is vital to her job. Which cell phone works best for a visually impaired person? What are the differences between tablets, e-readers and notebooks? Deciphering the world of technology might be Amy’s next challenge.

Outstanding Award Recipients Recognized for their Service

By Kathy Brockman, Chair, Awards Committee

Thanks to all who nominated individuals and organizations for the Council’s 2014 service awards that were presented on November 15 in Madison.

We congratulate “Friend of the Council Award” recipient Dave Schuh from the Wausau area.  He operates Accessibility Pros, where his technical genius changes the lives of many individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Dave has taught adaptive technology to people with varying disabilities, and he has enhanced their ability to connect to others and access important resources.

Community Partnership Awards were presented to Audio & Braille Literacy Enhancement (ABLE) in Milwaukee and Braille Library & Transcribing Services, Inc., in Madison. They promote programs and provide access to Braille, electronic, audio, large print and digital materials that include textbooks, career/vocational/religious information, children's literature, cookbooks and medical information. 

The Legislator of the Year Award is presented to a legislator who has been involved with the Council by assisting on legislative proposals or advocacy work. State Senator Jennifer Shilling was recognized for authoring a bill to ensure that Wisconsin could receive full federal vocational rehabilitation funding. She has supported and voted for all of the Council’s legislative initiatives since entering the state legislature in 2001.

The Louis Seidita Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has provided outstanding volunteer service to people who are blind or visually impaired.  We presented this award to David Heesen who has promoted the dignity and independence of the visually impaired by driving some of them thousands of miles around the state for various activities (even when he was not directly involved in the activities), working with the Alumni Association of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired, being a member of its chorus, copying many school documents, and housing individuals, when needed.

A Perfect Day for Paddling

By Steve Johnson, Recreation Committee Chairperson

If you want to hear a great blues song, "I'm Going Down to the River" by Ray Charles, is the one.  It reminds me of an activity sponsored by the Council’s Recreation Committee this past August.

The paddling event, which we hope will be the first of many more recreational events, was a canoe trip down the Namekagon River in Trego, Wisconsin.  Although the Ojibwa name for Namekagon means “River at the place abundant with Sturgeons,” our trip didn’t involve fishing, but it was abundant with blind and visually impaired individuals who reconnected with old friends and made a few new ones.  

Eleven blind or visually impaired participants were matched up with individual volunteers.  Also along for the ride were three guide dogs who  decided it was time to kick back their paws for a few hours and let their masters do the work for a change! 

When we got onto the water by mid-afternoon, all was literally perfect.  The sun was shining.  The temperature was about 90 degrees.  The water was crystal clear and cool enough to keep the bottom of the canoe nice and comfortable for our feet and for our furry friends.  At the deepest, the water was about shoulder height.    

As the river twisted and turned, we realized that our sighted volunteers would serve as our navigation system.  They saw to it that we paddled safely around the boulders and the many folks who were inner tubing the same waters and filling the air with their laughter. We slowly and quietly made our way back to the home base—all in about two and one-half hours and best of all, without any major incidents!  One team overturned their canoe, but they had no problem in up-righting again.  Only one unnamed guide dog, belonging to this writer, decided when the canoe came close to shore at one point, that it was time to speed up the process on his own.  The worst that came out of it was one wet, doggy-smelling Labrador!

After the canoe trip, we headed back to Rice Lake for dinner at an Italian restaurant.  We all agreed that this was a very successful event in many ways, including the conversation, socializing and sharing that filled the rest of the evening. 

The goal of the Council’s Recreation Committee is to provide opportunities for our peers to engage in interactive events around the state.  If you are interested in what this committee does, please contact the Council at 1-800-783-5213 or send an email to  If you or someone you know might be interested in sponsoring a recreation event for people who have vision loss, the Council would love to hear from you.

Grants Update

We are grateful to the Courtier Foundation, the Vogel Foundation, and a generous anonymous foundation for funding that promoted safe medication management for seniors living in and around Iowa County. Individual home visits, low vision evaluations, adaptive equipment, and a new booklet titled “Take Your Pills, Safely” were offered at no charge to qualified recipients. Pharmacists received individual attention as Council staff presented them with tips to use when they are helping customers who have low vision.

Council staff led a “Preparing Foods for Healthy Eyes” class on November 12 for people in the Waukesha area.  We thank the Waukesha Noon Lions Club for a grant that made this program possible.  

In Loving Memory

Memorial gifts are a meaningful way to create a lasting tribute to a loved one. With the holiday season approaching, a gift in memory of that special someone is a thoughtful way to acknowledge his or her significance in   your life. 

Memorials we received recently were accompanied by a letter from the donor’s son. “Before my father died, one of his wishes was for the Council to receive his memorials. After he passed and I was helping my mother with their finances, I noticed that my father had consistently contributed to your worthy organization for many years. While it was not a great sum of money, he quietly continued to make donations up to the time of his death. I know his spirit and caring are in harmony with the Council’s mission.”

As you plan ahead, please mention to your family members that you would like your memorial gifts to go to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. They will be happy to know and fulfill your wishes.

To make a memorial gift to the Council, mail your check in the envelope included in this issue of the Courier or donate online at . Questions can be directed to Lori Werbeckes at 608-237-8114 or  Thank you!

Council News and Notes

Free bill readers--The U S Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEAP) announced this summer that they will provide free bill readers to individuals with vision loss.  This tool will enable them to be more financially independent and have equal access to their paper money. 

The BEAP will process requests in two phases.  The first phase will be a pilot in collaboration with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).  All library patrons can pre-order their readers.  This will allow BEAP to test its ordering and distribution processes and better gauge demand.  The second phase will be a national rollout beginning January 2, 2015.  Any United States citizen who is blind or visually impaired will be able to order a bill reader.  Individuals who are not NLS patrons must submit an application, signed by a competent authority who can certify visual impairment.

Online auction—Back and better than ever, the Council’s online auction runs from November 10 to 19.  It’s an ideal opportunity for you to do some holiday shopping or treat yourself.  With more than 100 items, the auction offers something for everyone.  The selection includes gift cards to local restaurants, passes to the Madison Children’s Museum, a subscription to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra series, unique foods, wine tours and tastings, and tickets to June Sprints in Chicago.  All proceeds benefit the work of the Council.  Log on to   to view items and make bids. You will be asked to register and enter credit card information.  Be assured that nothing will be charged to your credit card unless you are the highest bidder when the auction closes. 

One Last Edit

By Kathi Koegle

Along with Marshall Flax, I will be retiring in December of this year.

How fortunate I have been to serve an organization that does such  meaningful work and that truly changes lives.  And how lucky I have been to use my communication skills, enthusiasm and energy to promote the Council, build positive relationships with the media, and serve as a “Goodwill Ambassador” in the broader community.

I am very grateful to the Board and Council staff who have been so supportive and affirming. I give special thanks to Executive Director Loretta Himmelsbach, who offered me the opportunity to telecommute when my husband’s promotion led us to a new phase of life in Iowa.  In retirement, I plan to open more new doors, but I’ll always keep my heart open to the people in Wisconsin who helped me thrive, professionally and personally.

Note from the Executive Director:

Kathi’s enthusiasm and upbeat presence in our Council will be greatly missed when she retires this December.  She has forged new pathways and partnerships with many groups throughout the state to spread our mission of independence and dignity for those with vision loss.  Kathi works with many people and groups who wanted to know how they could honor her as she creates a new chapter in her life’s journey. She would be greatly touched by a contribution to the Council as a tribute to her and her work during her nearly eight years with us.  If you would like to make a gift, please contact Lori Werbeckes at 608-237-8114;

Calendar of Upcoming Events

Nov. 10-19                   Online auction

Nov. 15               Fourth quarter Board meeting & awards luncheon, Madison

Nov. 14               “Art Beyond Sight” exhibit closes

Nov. 27 & 28      Council office closed for holiday

Dec. 24 & 25      Council office closed for holiday

Jan. 1, 2015       Council office closed for holiday.

Courier format: what’s best for you?

This newsletter is also available on CD, in braille or by e-mail.  If you would prefer to receive the Courier in one of these other formats, please contact Ray Cubberly at 608-237-8109.

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