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The Council Courier

APRIL 2014







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

Barbara Weiss, CD Duplicator


Newsletter Committee

Nona Graves
Bruce Parkinson
Chris Richmond
Rhonda Staats                                                                                           
Kathi Koegle (staff)

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.


A Message from the President

By Rhonda Staats

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired is looking forward to serving you in 2014!  Here are some highlights of Council happenings for the first part of the year:

2014 Council officers and committee chairs

Rhonda Staats of La Crosse continues as President. Beginning in 2014, the Board has expanded its list of executive officers to include a 1st and 2nd vice-president. Gary Traynor of Rice Lake is our 1st vice-president, and Chris Richmond of Janesville serves as 2nd vice-president. Steve Johnson of La Crosse is secretary, and Dan Sippl of Eau Claire is treasurer.

Several committees feature new chairpersons: Awards – Kathy Brockman; Finance – Dan Sippl; Fund Development – Chris Richmond; Legislative – Gary Traynor; Newsletter – Nona Graves; Nominating – Rhonda Staats; Personnel – Rhonda Staats; Products/Sharper Vision Store – Neil Ford; Recreation – Steve Johnson; and Scholarship – Bruce Parkinson.  Membership on most committees is open to any interested person living in Wisconsin. If you would like to serve as a committee member, please contact me, Loretta Himmelsbach, or any of the committee chairs.

Events and activities

The Council’s first webinar of the year was presented on March 13 with another planned for late May. On March 22, we offered an Everyone Sees Differently educational event for Girl Scouts at Globe University in La Crosse. In early April, we were in Appleton for another Dining in the Dark event.  You can find more event details on the Council’s website and in future issues of this newsletter.

The Council at the Capitol

The Legislative Committee sponsored our annual Legislative Day at the Capitol on March 20. This was the main event for introducing an Omnibus Bill that addresses several issues that are important to Wisconsin citizens who are blind/visually impaired.  Senator Dale Schultz, Republican of Richland Center, and Representative Mary Williams, Republican of Medford, are our bill sponsors, and we continue to invite additional legislators to sign on to our bill.

By definition, an Omnibus Bill covers several important topics rather than  just one. Our bill requests that the state legislature investigate or remedy important issues such as: increased enforcement or improvements to the White Cane Safety Law, pedestrian safety and more accessible way finding and signage, improved accessibility to state documents and websites, increased protection for guide dogs and service animals, housing discrimination, and increased access to employment and business opportunities regarding state contracts. We continue to advocate for the expanded provision of affordable, accessible transportation throughout the state. The Council invited other organizations and individuals who serve people who are blind and visually impaired to share this day with us.

So You Think You Want a Dog Guide

By Bruce Parkinson

Choosing to apply for a dog guide requires careful consideration and research.  There are many benefits to using a dog guide, but there are drawbacks, as well.  

I use a dog guide. Klaus and I are together 24/ 7.  He finds curbs and stairways and keeps me from falling.  I have him “patterned” to certain key words such as “elevator,” “bank,”  “pharmacy,” and “home,” and he takes me to those places on command. My wife thinks his name should be “Freedom” because he gives me the freedom to come and go as I please. As a dog guide user, I have to know where I am going in order to direct the dog.  If I were directionally challenged, it just wouldn’t work. You have to know where you are going!

The potential negative aspects of owning a dog guide can include food, vet care, shedding, waste removal, and the need to take the dog outside for “potty breaks” on a regular basis and regardless of the weather.

 Please don’t get a dog guide and then turn it into a pet.  You may have denied another person the services of a dog that would be an asset for him or her in their everyday lives.

“To which dog guide school should I apply?” you may ask.  There are a number of schools that train and assign dogs to their new owners.  Do your homework and research the schools that you are interested in, and then apply to the one that seems the best fit for you.  They all do good work in their own ways.  If you have questions about a dog guide, I would be happy to tell you about my experience.  You can contact me through the Council.

Planned Gifts

By Lori Werbeckes, Fund Development Director

What does the term “Planned Gift” mean to you?  Some donors would say every gift is planned--from the $50 given to medical research every year to the birthday gifts they give their grandchildren.

Another definition of Planned Giving is arranging for a charity to benefit from a gift after the person has passed away.  Common examples are bequests, charitable gift annuities, trusts, and insurance policies. Planned Gifts perpetuate the values of donors long beyond their lifetime and ensure that the services, legislative advocacy and education provided by the Council will continue.

Generous individuals who have arranged for a Planned Gift to the Council are honored as members of the Legacy Circle. Kathy Brockman, Council Board member and supporter, explained why it was important for her to include the Council in her will. She reflected, “I think of any legacy as providing something for the future. In this case, our funds would help continue the Council’s great work of serving people who are blind or visually impaired around the state.”

Does this type of estate gift fit into your financial plan? It may be easier to make a gift from assets, rather than use current income. For more information about including the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired in your will or in another Planned Gift, log onto our website at; call me at 608-237-8114; or send an e-mail to

Meet Taeli Turner, Social Media and Program Manager

Taeli (pronounced TAYlee) Turner joined us in February in a position new to the Council. Taeli is our Social Media and Program Manager. In this role, she will work with Kathi Koegle to enhance the Council’s presence on social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, our website, and other online initiatives. The other half of her job will involve organizing events, classes or programs that are funded by grants we receive.

Taeli graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She lives in Madison and has been working as a Program Assistant with Dane Arts. Of her new position at the Council, Taeli remarked, “I am very excited to join such a wonderful team of people!  I look forward to gaining greater knowledge about the Council and the people it serves as well as putting my experience to use.”

Council News and Notes 

This year, we are conducting a branding campaign, and you may be contacted as part of the research phase.  Thank you for your help.

National Volunteer Appreciation Week is April 6-13, 2014.  We salute and thank our dedicated volunteers who work to keep things humming along at the Council by assisting with mailings, recording our publications, reading mail for individuals with vision loss, assisting at special events, and tending our flower beds. 

We are pleased to announce the launch of “The Outlook from Here,” a    blog dedicated to sharing stories of living in Wisconsin with blindness, visual impairment or disability.  The project began in partnership with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired and was funded with a grant from The Center for the Humanities’ Public Humanities Exchange program at the UW-Madison. Learn more about this blog’s humble beginnings and read the first set of unforgettable stories at  

On Thursday, May 29, we present a free webinar on sleep disorders among people who are blind.  Our presenters will identify symptoms of Non-24 hour sleep disorder and discuss treatments and self-care strategies.  Learn more at, in the Events section.

To better serve our non-English speaking or limited English-speaking customers and clients, we now offer telephonic interpretive services.  This is available when you visit the Council at our Madison office or if you receive vision rehabilitation training in your home. 

This Catalog is a Keeper

By Barbara Weiss, Administrative Manager 

Do you love looking through catalogs as much as I do? They can make shopping so convenient!   The 2014/2015 Sharper Vision Store catalog is here, and it is filled with products and helpful tips to help make your everyday tasks, activities and hobbies easier, safer and more accessible! 

The catalog includes many of your old favorites plus loads of new items with descriptions of each.  You’ll find the latest in CCTV’s, talking clocks and watches, cooking items, sunglasses, magnifiers, games, lighting, and so much more! To request your free copy, please call 1-800-783-5213 or send an e-mail to

White Cane: A Story of Independence and Confidence

By Lori Werbeckes, Fund Development Director 

Lori Schmiege raised a son as a single parent, graduated from college, owned her own business, became a chef, and is now beginning a new career. Recently, she made another discovery – a white cane, along with appropriate training, can open another world for someone with low vision.

“As blind people, we’re breaking norms every day. A white cane makes it easier to do that,” said Lori, as we sat in the rural home she shares with husband, Albert Schmiege. Their home is beautifully decorated with paintings created by Bert, who is also legally blind.

Lori’s vision loss was noticed in first grade. She and her parents decided she would continue in public school, although materials and adaptive equipment were not readily available. Lori learned to listen attentively in class, and she relied on the help of friends. She continued successfully through school, earning a degree in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Lori’s decision to use a white cane was influenced by her husband. “He called the Council, and within a few days, my cane arrived in the mail. I used it for a while, but then realized I needed training.”  Marshall Flax, Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, is working with Lori to help her use the white cane most effectively. “I put off using a white cane because I was too vain. Now, I realize how much easier it is to travel in public, and my confidence has increased. I didn’t realize how much of it I had lost over the years,” Lori shared.

Bert has relied on his white cane for nearly 20 years. Living in a rural area, he feels safer using it as he walks on country roads. “I view it as a tool that I need to get from Point A to Point B,” he remarked. “It’s most useful in airports and unfamiliar places.”

Thank you to the Schmieges for sharing their stories about using a white cane. If you or someone you know would benefit from orientation and mobility training, please contact the Council at 608-255-1166 or send an e-mail to 


Follow a Day in the Life of Leopold Bloom

Join us for our annual Bloomsday fundraiser on Monday night, June 16, at the Brink Lounge in Madison.  During this fun and festive event, we commemorate the life of Irish writer, James Joyce. Joyce lived with vision issues most of his adult life, and he was nearly blind when he died.

We host this fundraiser to promote great literature and the Council’s work on behalf of individuals who face vision challenges. More information will follow on our website,, and in future editions of On Sight, our monthly electronic newsletter. 

Removing the Mystery behind Low Vision Evaluations

By Marshall Flax, Certified Low Vision Therapist 

The process that leads to a low vision evaluation begins when the person with the impairment says, "I want to be able to use my vision more effectively." This thought may come at almost any point in the process of experiencing a disease or injury that changes the way one is able to see. Like other forms of rehabilitation, low vision rehabilitation is, essentially, teaching the brain to work with input -- in this case, vision -- in a different way. With professional guidance, people who have low vision can make measurable progress toward maximizing their remaining sight. 

Low vision rehabilitation begins with the diagnosis and treatment (if available) of the individual's eye disorder.  This is done by medical eye care providers such as an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. If treatment is not available, such as with dry macular degeneration, the doctor may refer the patient for low vision rehabilitation right away.  If treatment is being provided, it may make more sense to wait until the vision is stable before proceeding with rehabilitation.  The first step should be to determine if a change in the glasses prescription would provide any significant improvement in vision. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case since the problem with getting an understandable image to the brain is due to problems other than refractive error, the problem that glasses correct.

The low vision optometrist may make specific recommendations for low vision aids that will address the stated problems. Most often, being able to read is at the top of the list of needs.  This might include reading one's mail and the newspaper, or being able to see a menu or the price of an item in a store. The optometrist will then refer the patient to a low vision therapist who will provide training in the use of these aids and make sure that the devices actually allow the patient to achieve her or his goals.

The low vision therapist can also teach the patient how to most effectively use his or her vision.  For example, if one has a central blind spot as with macular degeneration, learning to use one's side (peripheral) vision can be helpful. There are specific techniques for doing this, and many people benefit from a little instruction and coaching.  If one has severely constricted visual fields (tunnel vision) as a result of glaucoma, he or she may be shown how to scan a page efficiently, rather than searching and searching and becoming frustrated.  These techniques and strategies can then be combined with the optical aids that have been recommended.

The low vision therapist can also provide information about the patient’s eye condition and treatments, as well as resources in the community that might be helpful. These may include low vision support groups, transportation, and financial benefits. Low vision rehabilitation is not a mystery.  It is simply teaching a person to use his or her remaining vision as effectively as possible.

Marshall Flax is a certified low vision therapist (CLVT) who has been on the staff of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired for more than 20 years.  He provides low vision evaluations at the UW Eye Clinic in Madison.  You can schedule an appointment at 608-263-7171.  To contact Marshall, please call 608-237-8107 or toll free at 1-800-783-5213.

Summer Camp Creates Happy Lifelong Memories 

A chance remark in 1955, “Blind kids can’t go to outdoor camps and stuff like that….” inspired and motivated the Lions Clubs of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Lions Foundation, Inc. to create the Lions Club Camp program in Rosholt.  In 1956, the camp welcomed 26 blind and visually impaired individuals.  Today, that number has grown to more than 1,300 people each summer. This camping experience is provided free of charge to eligible youth and adults from Wisconsin.

We asked some Lions Camp participants to reflect on their experiences:

Karl Blank has never missed a year of this camp since it began.  An outdoors person, he enjoys hiking, boating, swimming and especially fishing.  “At camp, you learn how to clean the fish you catch, and you can take them home at the end of the week.” Karl appreciates the many facility upgrades he has seen over time.  “Things were pretty rustic in the early years. Now, a lot of areas are more comfortable and accessible.”  One of Karl’s fondest memories is meeting Becky Rezutek, who later became his wife.  They attend summer camp together. 

Lions Camp has led to more than one happy marriage.  Council Board member Kathy Brockman fondly remembers meeting her future husband Pat there.  She reflected, “Beyond romance, I’ve made many other lasting friendships at Lions Camp.  It’s also where I learned to swim, shoot a bow and arrow, and develop other skills. Camp is a great place to exercise, relax and ‘let your hair down.’”  She looks forward to seeing a group of women who return each year and share many activities with her. 

Chad Nelson, a member of the Council staff, first attended Lions Camp in 1986 as a youth and later, as an adult.  After he overcame some initial nervousness, he grew to love the experience, and he describes the end of each week as “…leaving behind a good friend.”  Chad appreciates the beauty and peacefulness of the camp’s natural setting and he happily recalls some of the trips he took.  “As kids, we took a two-day canoe trip along the Upper and Lower Plover River.  This was even more fun than the 24-hour experience because we had to pack and transport all our provisions,  navigate white water rapids, camp overnight , and portage over dry land.” 

Chelsea Reilly, another Council Board member, remembers the activities in which she participated, including canoeing, hiking, paddle boating, hay rides, dances and talent shows.  “I can remember practicing for hours with my friends in preparation for the talent shows.”  She and her friends find that at adult camp, they have more freedom to choose their own activities.  She also values what she has learned about herself through her camp experiences. “I have learned that I may be blind, but I am still capable of doing anything a sighted person can do.  I have gained greater independence, and my self-confidence has increased in ways I couldn’t have imagined.”  

This year, Lions Camp weeks are June 8-13 for adults, ages 18 and older, and August 3-8, for youth ages six to 17.  Learn more about Lions Camp and registration deadlines at

                                                                        Calendar of upcoming events

May 10                          Second quarter Board meeting and Scholarships event, Madison

May 26                          Council office closed for Memorial Day

June 16                         Bloomsday fundraiser at the Brink Lounge in Madison

July 4                            Office closed for Independence Day

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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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