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Disability Pride Festival Opens Doors to New Connections, Reconnections and Intersectionality


Council Board Member Sharon Knauf, long-time Council friend Sally Zenchenko and Council Administrative Program Manager Justin Lemke sit behind a table at the Disability Pride Festival in Madison on Saturday, July 30. The table is covered in a blue WCBVI tablecloth and features numerous reading materials for participants to learn more about our organization. The three smile for the camera as participants walk behind the table, looking at additional displays.


On Saturday, July 30, the Council joined dozens of disability-focused organizations and several hundred visitors at the fifth annual Disability Pride Madison Festival. The only event of its kind throughout the state, the festival was rich with opportunities for people with differing disabilities to learn about each other’s experiences, bridge commonalities, foster relationships, and embrace pride in being people with disabilities.

“For me, one of the highlights was the incredible diversity of people in attendance, across forms of disability, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and gender identity,” says CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess. “Even better was being witness to the interactions between people who might not always have the opportunity to connect. That was very moving for me.”

Denise states that she appreciates that one of the themes for this year’s festival was recognizing the intersectionality of our identities.

“We are far more than just people with disabilities.”

Annika Konrad, 1st Vice President of the WCBVI Board, shares that she felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of a community of people that embrace their disability.

“Not only did the celebration make me feel more prideful to be a person with a disability, it also motivated me to share that pride with others,” she says. “The festival reminded me that I always have more to learn about available resources and tools, and it was reassuring to know that I belong to a community that can offer me resources and support when I need it. “

Not only was the Disability Pride Festival resourceful, it was also fun and entertaining.

“Everyone that I spoke with was so open and genuine it felt more like an extended family picnic more than a gathering of non-profit organizations,” says Justin Lemke, Administrative Program Manager.

Board member Sharon Knauf agrees.

“It felt like a reunion for some. As people talked to each other, the excitement they shared made it seem like it had been a while since they ran into each other.”

To learn more about Disability Pride, go to or connect with them on Facebook at


Legislative Update:

Council Signs Letter to State Joint Finance Committee Addressing Transportation Needs of Wisconsin’s Aging and Disability Communities


A bus is stopped alongside a city curb with door open as a woman, white cane in hand, approaches the entrance. She braces herself with her left hand on the bus entrance as she lifts her left foot to step onto the bus.


On July 24, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, along with over 20 other organizations, co-signed a letter to State Joint Finance Committee chairs Senator Darling and Representative Nygren addressing the transportation needs of Wisconsin’s aging and disability communities. The letter is as follows:

TO: Co-Chairs Darling and Nygren and Joint Finance Committee Members

FROM: Wisconsin Aging and Disability Stakeholder Organizations

RE: Transportation Needs of Wisconsin’s Aging and Disability Communities

We are writing to ask that the transportation funding plan being debated by the Joint Finance Committee address the specific transportation needs of Wisconsin’s aging and disability communities.

Lack of adequate transportation options is consistently one of the top policy concerns of older adults and people with disabilities. Older adults and people with disabilities cannot go to school, work, attend worship services, run errands, go to the doctor or engage in social activities without transportation services.

Wisconsin is recognized for cutting- edge home- and community-based services as an alternative to higher-cost institutionalized care. Without transportation programs to support these services, people become trapped in their homes—leading to isolation and related health issues.

As legislative leaders debate the future of transportation funding in Wisconsin, the unique needs of people with disabilities and older adults must also be addressed.

Governor Walker’s proposed 2017-19 state budget included inflationary increases for two programs that support the transportation needs of people with disabilities and older adults in counties and tribes— the 85.21 and 85.215 programs. It is critical that these items are added back to the budget.

Stakeholders support the following funding levels:

A 3.75% increase to 85.21 Specialized Transportation Assistance to counties in each year of the budget ($527,288 and $547,061 respectively). There has been a 12% increase in the population eligible for 85.21 services, which means per capita spending has actually decreased by 7% since 2009. Providing access allows older adults and people with disabilities to remain in less expensive living arrangements, receive non-emergent care and remain contributing members of the community.

A $148,000 increase to the 85.215 program Tribal Transportation funding in each year of the budget. The Tribal Elderly Transportation Assistance Program provides the 11 federally recognized Tribes of Wisconsin with financial assistance to provide transportation service to tribal elders both on and off the reservation. According to the Department of Transportation, “5 of the 11 federally recognized tribes in Wisconsin do not have access to any form of public transportation and rely on this program as the sole source of funding for tribal elderly transportation.”

In addition to the items above, the following ideas have the support of several aging and disability advocacy groups across the state:

Change the transit allocation to a continuing appropriation. Under current law, when savings are realized by transit systems because of prudent planning and cost savings, at the end of the biennium those savings are lapsed back into the Transportation Fund - penalizing transit providers for efficiency. According to the Department of Transportation’s 2017-19 agency budget request, between 2011 and 2015, an “average of $971,000 has lapsed from the state Mass Transit Operating Assistance program to the Transportation Fund.”

Support for Transit and Paratransit. According to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau Paper #606, state transit aid is $4,821,700 below the 2011 funding level. According to LFB, the DOT has indicated that this funding shortfall has led to “transit service reductions, fare increases for many systems, and a decline in overall statewide ridership.” Any transportation funding plan must protect transit and paratransit funding from further reductions.

Create a Transportation Coordination Taskforce. Transportation services impact the success of other state initiatives whether they are in workforce development, home and community services for older adults and people with disabilities, or economic development. To most effectively leverage private and public transportation resources and to respond to cutting edge technology the creation of a taskforce could identify transportation solutions across agency programs.


AARP Wisconsin                                              

Access to Independence                                  

Blinded Veterans Association of Wisconsin        

Disability Rights Wisconsin                              

Greater WI Agency on Aging Resources, Inc.    


Marquette County DHS-Aging Services              

Midstate Independent Living Consultants

Milwaukee County Department on Aging           

National Association of Blind Veterans - Wisconsin Chapter

Northeastern Wisconsin Regional Access to TransportationCommittee (NEWRAT)                                    

Options for Independent Living


Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability


The Arc Wisconsin

Wheels of Independence, Inc.

Wisconsin Aging Advocacy Network

Wisconsin Association of Mobility Managers

Wisconsin Board for People with DevelopmentalDisabilities

Wisconsin Coalition of Independent Living Centers

Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired

Wisconsin Long Term Care Coalition

Wisconsin Public Transportation Association


Community Giving Award – Neshkoro Lions Club

Neshkoro Lions

The Council is honored to present the Neskoro Lions Club with the 2017 Community Giving Award. The Neskoro Lions Club was represented by Lion Lorry Sallee (center, wearing his yellow and purple Lions Club International vest) at this year’s Scholarship and Awards Banquet, held in May. He poses alongside CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess (far left), Board Chair Chris Richmond and Board Second Vice President Steve Johnson (far right).


The Community Giving Award is presented each year to an organization that has made a consistent and meaningful contribution on behalf of people who are blind and visually impaired. For 2017, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired is pleased to have presented the Community Giving Award to the Neshkoro Lions Club.

The Neshkoro Lions Club has made 18 gifts to the Council beginning in 1994 for a total of $3,000. They have been donors to the Council longer than any other Lions Club.

“It is vital to recognize groups who give because the work of creating a strong quality of life on behalf of people who are blind and visually impaired takes a number of us,” says Council CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess. “It’s not a single organization’s responsibility or within a single organization’s power to do so. Community partners are necessary to share the workload. I think the Neshkoro Lions Club is doing important work in raising awareness about the issues of those with visual impairments.”

The Neshkoro Lioness Club joined the Lions last year, bringing their annual flower sale to the mix of profitable fundraising events sponsored by this active group. Other fundraisers are a chicken barbecue, horse pull, fisheree, and aluminum can collection.

The club is immersed in community events throughout the year, including Scarecrow Days where the Lions set up a pumpkin catapult at the edge of a pond and then hurl pumpkins at a floating target. They also sponsor a rubber duck race at Scarecrow Days.

Their generosity extends beyond the Council to the local fire department for the annual fireworks display and the First Responders program.

In 2016, they installed a flag pole at Stan-O-Gene Park, with support from the VFW, American Legion and the Village. In past years, they have built shelters, picnic tables and installed playground equipment at this same park.

They sponsor several events, which allow for the purchase of items for the Westfield School District including the high school post prom party, two annual scholarships, donations to the Westfield Booster Club, and a scoreboard.

Year-round, the Neshkoro Lions Club serves the community in a multitude of ways. Local seniors enjoy a Community Dinner, free to all attendees. Christmas baskets are delivered to people that are homebound in December. They financially support Relay for Life, Boy Scouts of America Bay Lake Council, the Turkey Federation, Leader Dogs, Camp Counselors, Wisconsin Diabetes Association, Wisconsin Lions Foundation and Lions International.

We sincerely appreciate the Neshkoro Lions Club’s generosity to the Council and applaud them for their community service.


Council Seeks Artists to Participate in October Gallery Night


A collection of woodcarvings by artist Don McCall sits atop a green tabletop. Five brightly colored birds, two small figures and a crappie fish are represented in his work.

Are you an artist that is visually impaired? Do you know an artist with a visual impairment looking to display their work? We have a wonderful opportunity for you!

The Council is currently seeking 4-6 artists to display their work at our Madison-based office this fall as we once again partner with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art for Fall Gallery Night. The evening reception will take place on Friday, October 6th with the work remaining installed through Friday, November 17th.

Student artists are encouraged to inquire as well.

For more details on how to participate, please contact Gale Hellpap, Director of Marketing and Community Relations, at 608-237-8113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Showing You Care

Memorial stone

A row of large evergreen trees lines a soft baby blue sky. From below the tree horizon is the bright white sunshine, sending soft rays from between the tree trunks. Along the top of the image is a quote that reads: “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”


Memorial gifts offer a caring gesture to family members when a loved one passes away. Friends and family will appreciate your thoughtfulness in wanting to continue the person’s good works after they are gone.

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, I learned that my father had consistently contributed to your worthy organization for many years. And 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 is in harmony with the Council’s mission.”

As you plan ahead, mention to your family members that you would like your memorial gifts to go to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. Your loved ones will be happy to know and fulfill your wishes. You might consider placing a sentence like this in your obituary: In lieu of flowers, a memorial gift to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, 754 Williamson Street, Madison, WI 53703 would be appreciated.

Call Lori at (608)237-8114 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions.


Upcoming Events

Upcoming events

Dining in the Dark – Appleton

When:        Tuesday, August 22

Where:       GingeRootz Asian Grille - 2920 N Ballard Rd, Appleton

Time:         6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Dining in the Dark is a unique event where guests experience what it is like to dine on a multi-course meal without the use of their sight. Watch future editions of On Sight, our website ( and our social media pages on Facebook and Twitter for more details on how to register.

For more information, contact Fund Development Director Lori Werbeckes at 608-237-8114 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Veterans Low Vision Support Group

When:        Thursday, August 24

(4th Thursday of each month through November)

Where:       First Unitarian Society of Madison - 900 University Bay Dr

Time:         10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

The purpose of the group is to offer a place for visually impaired veterans to meet with each other, find available resources and discuss issues related to vision loss. There is no cost to attend, and refreshments are provided. The topics of discussion are ultimately decided by the participants.  Some ideas include coping strategies for dealing with the challenges of vision loss, local resources available, guest speakers and product demonstrations.

To attend, please contact Amy Wurf at 608-237-8107 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Self-Advocacy in Social Situations

When:        Saturday, September 16, 2017

Where:       WCBVI Office, Large Conference Room – 754 Williamson Street, Madison

Time:         10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Annika Konrad, PhD Candidate at UW-Madison, guide for The Outlook from Here blog and WCBVI Board member, will lead a discussion on self-advocacy and strategies in various contexts, such as at work, in social situations, and when in the community. She will suggest ways to help evaluate or read situations to determine appropriate self-advocacy strategies. The discussion will draw upon participants’ experiences to generate more strategies that others might use.

Please contact Jean Kalscheur at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you will be attending this discussion.