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On Sight: December 2014

To provide additional accessibility, we offer an audio recording of “On Sight” in .mp3 format.  Here’s the link:

Annual awards celebrate community partnership, legislative advocacy, friendship and volunteerism

The Council recently presented its annual awards during a luncheon celebration in De Forest. It’s always a happy occasion to recognize and thank individuals and organizations that make a difference in the lives of people who live with vision loss.


Cheryl Orgas accepts awardSteve Levine and Bev Pfister accept award

Audio and Braille Literacy Enhancement (ABLE) of Milwaukee and Braille Library and Transcribing Services (BLTS) of Madison received a Community Partnership Award presented by Kathy Brockman and Neil Ford.  Cheryl Orgas, ABLE’s executive director, noted that in 2013, volunteers donated more than 8,000 hours to help produce 153,000 pages of audio and braille materials for nearly 2,000 individuals with print disabilities.  BLTS President Steve Levine remarked that volunteers provide braille, electronic, audio and large print productions of textbooks, children’s literature, adult fiction, cookbooks, and more.  BLTS also offers a free lending library of more than 2,200 titles in braille.


David Schuh accepts awrd

David Schuh of Wausau accepted the Friend of the Council Award presented by Deen Amusa.  For 10 years, Dave served as an assistive technologist at a local technical college in Wausau where he taught technology to students with vision loss and other disabilities.  In 2005, he launched Accessibility Pros LLC.  He has been dubbed “Wisconsin’s adaptive technology guru to the disability community” by the person who nominated him for this award.


Jennifer Shilling accepts award

The Legislator of the Year Award was presented by Rhonda Staats to current Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, who has assisted the Council with legislative proposals, including the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act of Wisconsin, and other advocacy work for many years.  Council President Rhonda Staats also thanked Senator Shilling for authoring a bill to ensure that Wisconsin receives full federal vocational rehabilitation funding.  Senator Shilling has supported the initiatives brought forward in our 2013 Omnibus Bill.


Richard Johnson presented the Council's Louis Seidita Distinguished Service Award to Dave Heesen of Janesville.  The award honors an individual who has provided outstanding volunteer service to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  Dave has logged thousands of miles and hundreds of hours around the state while driving people with vision loss to programs and events.  He also supports the work of the Alumni Association of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  As he accepted the award, Dave commented, “To me, volunteerism is doing things without having to be roped into it.”

Online auction: a success!

The Council’s online auction raised more than $4,000!

Heartfelt thanks to the businesses and individuals who donated more than 100 items and to the supporters who generously bid on those items. The friendly competition among bidders helped us exceed our goal.

We will use the proceeds to buy a Refreshable Braille Display that will save time and paper when we communicate with braille users throughout Wisconsin.

2015 Council Board of Directors leads us into the future

When the Board of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired held its fourth quarter meeting recently, the 2015 slate of officers was elected, and the board welcomed new members as we bid farewell to those leaving the board.

Congratulations to 2015 Board President Chris Richmond of Janesville, First Vice President Rhonda Staats of La Crosse, Second Vice President Nona Graves of West Allis, Secretary Steve Johnson of La Crosse, and Treasurer Kathy Brockman of Milwaukee.

New Council Board members for next year include Karen Heesen of Janesville, Denise Jess of Madison, Annika Konrad of Madison, and Frank Lopez of Sun Prairie.

Completing the full board with continuing terms are Deen Amusa of Milwaukee, Rosie Goodrich of Milwaukee, Tom Jeray of Madison, Richard Johnson of Janesville, Bruce Parkinson of Two Rivers, Chelsea Reilly of Edgerton, Dan Sippl of Eau Claire, and Gary Traynor of Rice Lake.

We wish to thank Neil Ford and Jo Grove for their work with the Council over the past years.  Deeply appreciated are their insight and generous commitment to helping people with vision loss through legislative advocacy and services. 

Volunteer spotlight: Joe Hodgson

Joe Hodgson

How old is this Braille Writer?  Does it need new springs, keys or parts? Has it been used much, or has it been in storage somewhere like an attic?

These are some of the questions Joe Hodgson asks each time a Braille Writer is entrusted to his care for repair.  Joe has been servicing Braille Writers in his home workshop as a Council volunteer since 1990.  People bring their machines to us.  Joe returns them, whenever possible, in tip-top condition, and he personally mails them back to their owners, to save the Council this step.  “I don’t dismantle the machines,” he commented, “but I do first echelon maintenance on them.”  That includes cleaning them, replacing parts and testing them out.  All of this is done at no charge to the machine owner. 

Joe is a member of the Telephone Pioneers, a group of individuals who used to work for AT&T and who now repair Braille Writers.  He is the only “pioneer” who repairs braillers in Wisconsin.

Joe is also the regional repair coordinator for the Talking Books program sponsored by National Library Service (NLS).  His area includes Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.  In Wisconsin, there are three shops (including Joe’s home shop in Barneveld) that repair cassette and new digital machines for NLS. “Every cassette machine that comes to the Telephone Pioneers is repaired and reconditioned before it is given to someone else,” Joe remarked of the process.

Typically, Joe spends about an hour on each Braille Writer. He maintains a card file on every Braille Writer on which he has worked, so he has a history of the machines.  He noted, “So far, I have 322 cards since I first started doing this.”

Reflecting on why he volunteers his time and talent, Joe said, “It feels good to work with my hands, and it’s an ideal job for ex-telephone people.  I derive a lot of pleasure doing this.  I just close my eyes and imagine how I’m helping someone.” 

Joe is a member of the 12-member National Audio Equipment Advisory Committee that meets in Washington, DC, every two years.  The group is composed of four Telephone Pioneers, four librarians from NLS regions, and four blind users.  Together, they suggest ways for the NLS to update or use their machines better.

In addition to servicing Braille writers, cassette players and the new digital machines, Joe is the American Legion’s Third District Veterans Affairs and Rehab Chairman and Chaplain.  He is also the Legion Representative at the VA Hospital in Madison.

Brent Perzentka, Sharper Vision Store Manager at the Council, can’t say enough good things about Joe.  “Without Joe’s services, people would have to send their Braille writers to a company on the east coast for a minimum of $50, just to have them looked at.  I keep dreading the day Joe retires from fixing them!”

Thank you, Joe, for the difference you are making in the lives of people who live with vision loss!

Sharper Vision Store highlight: Big Print Calendar

Keep your life organized and chugging along smoothly with this attractive Big Print Calendar.  Each month opens to a generous 11” x 17” format and features extra-large, easy-to-read dates, monthly notes and appointment pages with bold lines that are ½ inch apart.  You’ll appreciate the laminated cover pages that make this product sturdy and durable. Includes inside pockets for smaller notes, receipts, etc.  Measures 9” x 11” closed.

Big Print Calendar

When you call the Sharper Vision Store at 608-237-8100, ask about Item    #CB610.  You can also shop 24/7 from the comfort of your home when you visit

'Tis the season for giving

Your mailbox may fill up with requests for donations from many worthy organizations. Please consider making a gift to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired when planning your year-end giving. Feel free to send any questions to Lori Werbeckes, Fund Development Director, at 608-237-8114; 

Holiday office closures

 Please note that the Sharper Vision Store and Council office will be closed December 24, 25, 26, and 31, 2014 as well as on January 1, 2015. 

 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.

Happy New Year from all of us at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired!