On Sight June 2018

Today is the Last Day to Sign Up for our Accessible Voting Webinar

Two people stand in fromt of the accessible voting machine, ExpressVote in side profile. On the left is a male high school student, with paper in his hand and looking at the screen. On the right is a male official from the Wisconsin State Elections Commision. They are working together to cast a mock ballot.

Did you know voting with a braille ballot is an option in Dane County, or that you can vote independently with an accessible voting machine in Waupaca? Learn more about the voting process by attending the Council’s Accessible Voting Webinar.

The session will be held Wednesday, June 20 from 10-11 a.m. Our guests for this webinar include Sara Linski, WisVote Elections Specialist from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, and Jennifer Haar, from the Madison City Clerk’s Office.

They will talk about the voter registration process, what is required in order to vote, as well as the accessible voting options available.

“I think it’s important for people to know they can vote in many different ways,” says Jennifer. “In Dane County, for instance, only one person requests to vote using a braille ballot. I think many people do not know that is an option. I want to give people the knowledge so they can choose which option is best for them.”

This webinar is the result of a partnership between the Madison City Clerk’s Office and the Accessible Voting Task Force, a group put together by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired has been active on the Accessible Voting Task Force for several years. All groups are working together to make sure information about the voting process is accurately disseminated.

“It is important to stay up-to-date on the voting processes since laws and statutes are changing frequently,” says Sara. “This webinar will be an easy forum to find all the information you might need in one place.”

Register for the webinar by visiting www.wcblind.org/events. Today is the last day to sign up for the webinar, so reserve your spot right away!

Our 2018 Excellence Award Winners Changed Lives

2018 Excellence Award recipients and Council Board – In the front row from left to right: Chelsea Dallin (board and committee member), Julie Hapeman (Commnity Giving Award), Sharon Knauf (Awards Committee Chair), Denise Jess (CEO/Executive Director), Chris Richmond (Board Chair). Back row from left to right: David Hough, representing Danny Cornelius (Community Service Award), BJ Blahnik (Community Collaboration and Partnter Award), Deen Amusa (board and committee member)

Through their work and enthusiasm each of the Council’s four 2018 Excellence Award Winners have demonstrated a deep commitment to empowering the lives of Wisconsinites who are blind and visually impaired. Bernard Joseph Blahnkik, Danny Cornelius, Julie Hapeman and Lois Nelson were honored at our annual Excellence Awards and Scholarships luncheon in May.

Sharon Knauf, Excellence Awards Committee Chair, says she is proud to acknowledge these people and recognize all they have accomplished. The four awards recognize the various roles these exceptional people played in changing lives throughout the state.

Community Collaboration and Partnerships Award: Bernard Joseph Blahnik

Achieving meaningful and sustainable initiatives involves building relationships and working cooperatively across diverse groups. Bernard Joseph Blahnik, better known as BJ, expertly navigates these relationships to make a difference. He established the Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan to bring blind sailing to North America and raised approximately $30,000 for a sailing simulator to build necessary skills. He also serves as an advocate with Leader Dogs for the Blind, and, as a steadfast champion of transportation alternatives for those who cannot, or choose not to, use cars, he has lobbied for the maintenance of an important bus line in Green Bay.

Community Service Award: Danny Cornelius

Whether community is defined geographically or as people connected through common experiences, communities thrive when individuals step forward to lead by example and give of their talent and time. Danny Cornelius is an important leader in the blind and visually impaired community in eastern Wisconsin. After losing his sight more than forty years ago, Danny has volunteered to serve in leadership positions with the Manitowoc Visually Impaired Club, the oldest low vision support group in the state, still meeting after more than 50 years! He has had a hand in organizing the activities of this vibrant club and has made the trip to Madison for the Council’s Legislative Day on many occasions. Danny recently stepped down as the Club’s president to attend to his health, and his fellow club members are enthusiastic in honoring his legacy.

Community Giving Award: Julie Hapeman

Julie Hapeman sees the independence and empowerment that can come through using a white cane in her work as an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) educator with kids in the Milwaukee area. Her O&M lessons even find her students, and other instructors and their students, in Chicago on an annual adventure. Last year’s trek took them on a train ride for a scavenger hunt in Chicago’s Chinatown.

For the past several years, Julie has been instrumental in organizing Milwaukee’s White Cane Day Celebration, gathering kids and adults for a flash mob that showcases the talent and creativity of students who are blind and visually impaired. Each participant wears a specially designed t-shirt for the celebration, purchased with funds Julie garners from businesses and organizations. Remaining funds are donated to the Council’s White Cane Fund, so that the benefits gained by using the white cane can spread statewide.

Public Service Award: Lois Nelson

We are fortunate, throughout the state, to have incredibly caring and skilled professionals who dedicate their careers to public service. Lois Nelson’s name rises to the top when thinking of these professionals.

Until her retirement, Lois worked with the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Richland County for over 30 years, serving as volunteer program coordinator. For over 15 years, Lois facilitated the low vision support group at the Center, bringing in speakers from around the state, helping participants connect to resources and adaptive equipment and bringing her own experience of visual impairment to support individuals when needed. Lois’s work benefited many others in the Richland County area as she coordinated meal programs and other services.

Watch future issues of On Sight for more in-depth stories about our 2018 Excellence Award winners.

Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin: Transporting the Gift of Sight

Lions Eye Bank logo in the shape of an eye with a large “L” in the center.

The Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, (LEBW), gives the gift of sight by recovering corneas from organ and tissue donors. The LEBW prepares the tissue for transplantation to people who would benefit from improved vision. Last year, the LEBW recovered 1,848 corneas for transplant, 861 of these were gifted to those in need in Wisconsin, 334 were distributed to other areas within the United States, 396 were used internationally and the remaining 257 were used for education and research.

Behind this statistic is an army of volunteer transporters who convey boxes of eye tissue from the recovery sites to the LEBW office, and then to hospitals and surgery centers. Many Lions Club members throughout the state regularly serve as volunteer transporters. The volunteers respond on short notice, often on weekends and holidays, and even during the Super Bowl, because they understand that their role in the process can help provide someone with the gift of sight. Wisconsin is the only state to have a transport system run primarily by volunteers.

“We rely on over 200 Lions Clubs to transport tissue,” says Stacey Mohr, Community Outreach and Family Services Manager, who directs this large group of volunteers. “We have a relay system set up so each Lion does not need to travel for more than an hour. We place a few Lions Clubs on call each month, so the work is evenly distributed. We are so grateful for such dedicated people.”

The LEBW just hosted their sixth annual Golf Outing fundraiser on Thursday, June 7, at Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove. The Council was a proud sponsor of the event. This was a work sponsorship, wherein Adam Grassnickle, Council Program Assistant, worked with the planning team. He assisted in locating financial sponsors, promoted the golf outing to other organizations in the community and helped with other logistics.

“My favorite thing was making other groups aware of what the LEBW does,” says Adam. “I loved explaining their mission and the Council’s mission and pointing out where our groups intersect. I like to see the greater community getting involved with organizations that do valuable work.”

Denise Jess, Council CEO/Executive Director, says the work sponsorship was a creative way for the LEBW to involve other groups who value their work but could not serve as a financial sponsor.

“The work of the LEBW is important. When a family loses someone they love, LEBW takes their gift and presents it to an individual who needs it to maintain their vision and quality of life,” says Denise. “We at the Council value LEBW’s dedication to the visually impaired, and how remarkably they honor the donor families.”

To learn more about the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, visit them online at www.lebw.org.

Lakeshore/Manitowoc Residents: Our Annual Low Vision Fair is Coming to You

Low Vision Fair attendees visit vendor tables in large room. Many tables have two to three visitors engaged in conversation with representatives from various agencies.

The Council’s next Low Vision Fair takes place Thursday, August 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will be located in Founder’s Hall at UW – Manitowoc at 705 Viebahn Street in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The event is free. No registration is required.

Come to compare and try adaptive products, learn new techniques at informational breakout sessions and meet Council staff and vendors. Talk with other people who are going through what you are experiencing as your vision loss progresses. Find resources to empower you and help you keep enjoying the hobbies and activities you love, even as your vision changes.

“I’m looking forward to talking to residents who are blind and visually impaired in the Manitowoc area and learning more about the issues they face,” says Jean Kalscheur, Director of Education and Vision Services at the Council. “I enjoy having the opportunity to talk to people about what is important to them.”

Watch for your July issue of On Sight to get more details about the Low Vision Fair. Check out www.wcblind.org/events for more information.

Recreation and Leisure Part 1

Planned Events Can Enhance Your Low Vision Support Group

Two men stand, ready to bowl. The man on the left uses a ball guiding device, while the man on the right works with a sighted guide.

Low vision support group meetings provide useful information about new products and various eye conditions, but for many people the most important benefit is the camaraderie they offer. While attendees value the meetings as a safe space for sharing concerns and information, some need a bit more encouragement to engage. Planning outings that include recreational activities helps encourage personal interactions, build friendships and allow participants to explore new adventures.

The work of low vision support groups is important because it gives people experiencing vision loss a safe space where they can express their frustrations, share adaptive techniques and learn about resources available to them. As a support group leader, you are interested in cohesion and engagement; you want your members to leave meetings feeling hopeful and to come back next time to continue to learn and grow. Could there be a way to build camaraderie and friendship outside of regular support group meetings?

The answer is yes! The secret lies in planning recreation and leisure events for your support group. These fun outings are great ways to keep members engaged and to attract new people to your group.

The Eyes Have It is a very active low vision support group at the Berlin Senior Center in Berlin, Wisconsin. Karen Neumann, Senior Recreation Programming Coordinator, says that having a close-knit group of people who go to events together makes for a positive group dynamic.

“I think the success of this group is that they have bonded and are not afraid to try new things,” says Karen.

The Eyes Have It support group leader, Chuck Fehl, says having a group of like-minded friends to talk with has increased his confidence as he adjusts to his vision loss. In addition to leading discussions at his support group, Chuck has begun giving harmonica lessons for people at the senior center.

“We share tips and tricks of how to do things better and more easily,” says Chuck. “Vision loss is something that takes time to adapt to, and I’m so happy knowing I’m not alone. A lot of members in our group say they feel the same.”

Loneliness, isolation and depression are all issues people experiencing vision loss face. Many say they are afraid to reach out and connect with others who are in the same situation. Recreational events give them a low-key, fun opportunity to meet others and get involved.

“When I lost my sight, I felt like I was the only one going through this,” says Renee Kuester-Sebranek, co-leader of a low vision support group in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. “I met my now-co-leader, Noreen, at a bowling event a couple of years ago. She’s the one who told me about the Chippewa Falls low vision support group. I’ve lived in the area for a long time and I had no idea it was even here. If I hadn’t gone to that bowling event, I wouldn’t be who I am today!”

Watch for part 2 of this article in July’s On Sight, where we will provide tips for planning successful recreation and leisure events.

Get Ready for a Vegetarian Dining in the Dark Experience – Friday, July 13 at 6:30 PM

Three dining guests wearing blindfolds sit together at a long table with plates of food in front of them, ready to begin their next course.

Join us for Dining in the Dark in a beautiful secret rural setting, with welcoming hosts serving a delicious vegetarian meal! Vignette Dining Club uses the freshest local ingredients when preparing the multi-course meal that always starts with a hint of dessert. The textures and aromas of the different foods come alive as you dine without your sense of sight, wearing a blindfold.

“I love hosting this event,” says Chef Mark Wroczynski, Vignette Dining Club chef and owner. “There is more that goes into the dining experience than just the taste of the food. It’s important to eat with all of our senses. If I can help people try new things and create memories, that’s a bonus!”

Vignette Dining Club has hosted this unique dinner several times as a fundraiser for the Council. The next dinners will be held on Thursday, July 12 and Friday, July 13, from 6 – 9 p.m. The cost is $50 to attend and tickets sell out quickly.

“I am normally a very shy person. I felt comfortable talking to people right away, though, because we were all having such a unique experience together,” says past participant, Patricia Hetland, who attended her first Dining in The Dark dinner in February 2017. “I’m a retired teacher and the experience at Dining in The Dark encouraged me to think about how I would adapt things I do in my daily life for someone without sight. I would recommend this event to anyone who is looking for a fun, educational and enriching experience. Plus, the food Vignette prepares is always delicious!”

If you are interested in joining us for this unique and delectable experience, find more information at http://vignettedining.com/the-menu.html. The Thursday, July 12 evening is sold out, but Vignette has generously offered a second seating on Friday, July 13 at the same times. A day or two before the event, all registered diners will receive information about the location.

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