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Action Alert: Congress Moves on Tax Reform,

Concerns Raised over Potential Spending Cuts

spending cuts

A left-hand holds on to a one hundred dollar bill. A pair of black-handled scissors prepare to cut into the bill.

The U.S. Senate passed its tax bill package in the early morning of Saturday, December 2. The Conference Committee is charged with creating a compromise between the Senate and the House versions of the bill. A straightforward summary of the differences between the two bills can be found on CNN Money here. While the Senate tax bill does not cut out tax exemptions for people who are blind/legally blind, several federal programs could be at risk of spending cuts, including the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), Medicare and Medicaid. The Council urges all concerned citizens to advocate and speak out about the importance of these programs, which assist people who are blind and visually impaired to lead successful, empowered lives. Concerns can be expressed by contacting the offices of your representatives. The Congressional switchboard can be reached at 202-224-3121. Thank you for doing what you can to support the quality of life of people who have significant vision loss.


January Assistive Technology Workshops to Focus on

Google Home and Amazon Echo

Jim Denham AT class

Jim Denham, Assistive Technology Specialist, sits at a table. In front of him is his laptop and in front of the laptop is both a Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot. In his hands, Jim holds the cord of a set of earbuds.

Google Home and Amazon Echo are two products bringing science fiction to reality because they can be used to control elements in your home using just your voice. Assistive Technology Specialist, Jim Denham is offering two workshops to help you learn how to set up these devices in your home or workplace. On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, Jim will offer “At Home with Google Home.” Later in the month on Wednesday, January 24, 2018, the course “All About Amazon Echo” will take place. Both classes are from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and cost $20.

“I love my Amazon Echo,” exclaims Virginia DeBlaey, who purchased her first Echo two years ago. “I especially like using my Echo for listening to music. It can play my own tunes, as well as anything from Amazon Music. I can ask it to play almost any song I can think of; it’s incredible. I was able to set it up by myself, and the process was really easy because I used the accompanying smart phone app.”

In addition to the music feature, both the Amazon Echo and Google Home can get you information about weather, news, sports, and even language translation. While at the office, it can assist you with managing your work calendar, help with the revision of documents and send messages to colleagues. You can play games, control the thermostat and lights in your home, and make phone calls with a simple voice command. Both systems have a switch to turn off their microphones, so you can converse without unintentionally activating them.

“If you like to shop, you’ll want to get an Amazon Echo,” advises Jim. “If you want to look up information, however, you’d probably want to get a Google Home. Both do a lot of the same things, though, so you can’t go wrong with either choice.”

Until the end of 2017, both the Amazon Echo and Google Home are available for only $30. They will go up to $50 in January 2018, which is still a reasonable cost for a gadget with so much capability. It is important to specify that both the Amazon Echo and Google Home are handy devices to help make certain tasks easier, but they are not a replacement for other important adaptive products.

Jim says his classes will give participants a small group, step-by-step instructional experience detailing how to set up Google Home and Amazon Echo. If you have the associated apps downloaded on your smartphone or tablet, bring it to class and Jim can walk you through the configuration process. It is recommended, however, that you leave your Amazon Echo or Google Home system at your residence because the machine itself needs to be connected to your own wireless network in order to complete the installation process.

Click here for more information. The deadline to sign up is 4:30 p.m. on the Monday before each class, so do not delay!

To sign up for your workshop of choice and find out about scholarships available, contact Jim at 608-237-8104 or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Your Gift is Valued

financial gift

A small gift box is wrapped in one hundred dollar bills and is accented with a festive red bow.

Financial gifts in this last month of the year are vital to all who rely on the Council for services, support and information. As you plan your year-end giving, please consider making a meaningful gift to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired.

You may have already received a request in your mailbox from us. If you prefer to make a gift online, you can do so at

All gifts are used to bring the Council’s mission and core values to life. Each service or product empowers someone with vision loss to live with more independence and confidence. Thank you for your support!


Important TSA Updates and Tips for Successful Air Travel


A TSA official removes a stack of four gray bins from the checkpoint conveyor belt. An older man waits as his brown briefcase comes through the screener. Behind him, a man in an orange tee shirt and black hat waits his turn for his items to go through the screening process.

Holiday travel can be hectic and frustrating. If you have a visual impairment, traversing airports, locating your baggage and getting to your final destination might seem daunting. With an understanding of what to expect at the security checkpoint, careful planning and awareness of your options, you can lessen the hassle and stress.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) updated their security checkpoint regulations. When you approach the checkpoint, TSA personnel will now ask you to place any electronics larger than a cell phone in a bin, with nothing on top and nothing below. This is to tighten security when transporting these devices. For convenience, be sure to put laptops, braille note-takers, e-book readers and any other pieces of equipment in an easily located section of your carry-on bag. That way you can get to them quickly when the time comes to go through the line.

Remember to put your three one-ounce containers of liquids in clear zip-top bags, since TSA personnel will ask for those to be placed in a bin as well.

Council Board member Dan Sippl serves as President of the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, and travels 15-20 times per year to conventions and conferences. Dan says the best thing you can do to ease stress during your travels is to get to the airport early.

“Give yourself plenty of time before your flight,” Dan advises. “Try to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before boarding time. You don’t want to be rushed.”

A successful trip starts even before you get to the airport. Learn as much as you can about the airports you will be visiting in advance. A quick Google search can assist you in finding out how many gates are at the airport in question, as well as, what restaurants, gift shops and other amenities are available, and whether the airport has a tram to move you between concourses.

Keep your gate numbers and other flight information in an easily accessed location, so you can refer to it quickly throughout your travels. Check in to your flight and obtain your boarding pass before heading to the airport. This will save you time, because you can go right to security if you do not have to check any bags.

Another useful planning resource are the mobile apps offered through each individual airline. Many allow you to select your seat before you go, access airport maps and track your bags during your trip, among many other useful purposes! Log on to your airline of choice for more details.

Airport assistance is available should you choose to use it. To prepare in advance, call your airline directly and request to speak with “special services.” A customer service representative will discuss with you what your needs are and how the airline can best assist you. You can address your need for special services upon arrival at the airport the day of your flight, but you may end up having to wait in line.

Remember that you have the right to choose the accommodations that best suit your comfort level and situation. It is acceptable to ask fellow passengers if they are also heading to the baggage claim, and to ask if you can walk with them. Most people are happy to help.

It is a good idea to look at other flights heading to your destination city via your airline on the day you travel. That way, if you will be heading to a connecting flight and you do not make the connection, you can easily reschedule another flight to get you where you need to go. Call the toll-free number of your airline instead of waiting in the long customer service lines that are likely to form. Your downloaded airline mobile app can also help you with this information.

Locating your suitcase can be made easy by tying brightly colored ribbon onto the handles. Amazon also sells devices that make noise when you push a button on a remote, so you can find your bag by sound.

With planning and forethought, your journey through the airport can be a fun adventure. You might discover a delicious new restaurant or find a great gift for someone you will be visiting. After arriving at your destination, you will be ready to relax with family or friends!


Student Spotlight: Lakota Tuft, UW-Waukesha

Lakota Tuft

Lakota Tuft leans her left shoulder against a brown post. Her right hand is placed on the post as she poses for the photograph. With her head slightly tilted, she smiles. The sun shines down and casts a soft glow on her light brown, wavy hair.

Having determination to overcome obstacles assists in leading an empowered life. Council scholarship recipient Lakota Tuft has used her tenacity to learn to ride her bike, excel in her classes, and create artwork. She is a freshman at UW-Waukesha where she studies Art Illustration. Her goal is to be a concept story board artist for an animation studio.

“Art has been my way of self-expression since I was young,” she comments. “I have never let my visual impairment hold me back from accomplishing the things I put my mind to. It instead empowers me to overcome any obstacle I might face.”

When she was just months old, Lakota was diagnosed with multiple eye conditions, including Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, Strabismus, and Nystagmus.

“The doctors who diagnosed me told my parents I’d never be able to drive a car or ride a bike. They said I would have to learn braille and would need assistance throughout my life,” Lakota explains. “As I grew older and began to understand what was different about me, I didn’t want it to define me. Every morning when I was four years old, I went outside and I’d practice on my bike until I could ride it by myself.”

Throughout her high school career, Lakota served on the Waukesha Community Arts Project and was a Butler Middle School VEX Robotics mentor. She says she wants to be an advisor to others, especially parents of children with vision loss.

“Living with these conditions hasn't made my life easy, but they’ve never held me back,” Lakota adds. “I want to do what I can to help others realize what is possible, even with vision loss.”


Make a Charitable Gift from Your IRA

IRA graphic3

A text graphic reads “Charitable IRA ROLLOVER.”

As you ponder how to use the required minimum distribution from your IRA, consider giving a portion of it as a charitable contribution.

If you are at least 70.5 years old, you have the opportunity to roll over up to $100,000 from your IRA to a qualifying charity. The gift must be made directly to the charity to receive the tax benefits.

At the Council, your gift could be used to extend our educational offerings throughout the state to individuals learning to live with vision loss. The contribution could also be used to provide one-on-one vision rehabilitation or low vision evaluations.

Contact your IRA plan administrator to make a gift from your IRA to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. Your contribution will be directly transferred to the Council to begin making a difference!


Could a Pair of Or-Cam Glasses Make the Perfect Gift

for Someone on your Shopping List this Year?


Store Manager Brent Perzentka guides Todd Barnett of Barnett Architects, LLC on how to use the new OrCam OCR glasses during our Store Grand Reopening event this past July.

The Sharper Vision Store is a great place to buy gifts for all the people on your list this holiday season, and you might even find something great for yourself. Ros Zeltins participates in the Retinitis Pigmentosa Support Group at the Council and purchased a pair of the Or-Cam Glasses as a birthday present for herself. She has been using the glasses for six months, and says she uses them most often to read menus in restaurants.

“The other area I use Or-Cam for is its facial recognition feature,” Ros explains. “I play in a Community Band and enjoy knowing who is near me when we are getting ready for parades and concerts.”

Ros expounds that as she loses more sight, the features of the Or-Cam Glasses will likely play a much bigger role in empowering her.

“It does color identification, money reading, product and bar code recognition, tells time using a gesture and can read printed items to you. These are all really amazing features and I try to use them all to help me enhance my life,” she says.

The Sharper Vision Store features many of our products set up in environments similar to the home or office, so you can try before you buy. Brent Perzentka, Store Manager, is happy to conduct product demonstrations. Call the Council at (608) 255-1166 to schedule your appointment today.

You can learn more about some of our most popular gift items in the archived video of our most recent webinar by clicking here.

The Sharper Vision Store is open Monday – Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Stop by, try our products, and get that perfect gift for the person with a visual impairment in your life. Who knows; you might find the ideal item to add to your list, too!


Featured “Outlook From Here” Blog Post:

Baking with Braille

By Katherine Corbett


Katherine Corbett stands at a kitchen countertop. To her left is a blue plastic bowl. In her right hand, she holds a pick measuring cup, which is filled halfway. With her left hand, her fingers grace the braille pages of one of her favorite cookbooks

My first cookbook was a gift from a woman who had me and a few other local blind kids over to her house every few months to teach us adaptive cooking techniques. One of those techniques was getting us comfortable with braille recipes.

Sometimes she would put the recipes on thermoform paper, which is made of plastic. If the recipe got wet, or if one of us spilled flour on the page, we could just wipe it off without ruining the paper or making the recipe unreadable.

When I decided to copy recipes down at home, I didn’t have access to thermoform paper. I figured out, however, that by copying the recipe down on 8.5-inch by 11-inch paper and then slipping that paper into a plastic sleeve, the effect was the same. I could read the recipe through the sleeve, and if my hands were wet or dirty, I could wipe it off.

I also use braille to label my oven and microwave. My favorite kitchen timer is a windup device that has dots to indicate the numbers. I like using this timer because then I can tell how much time is left during the cooking process, which is impossible with a microwave or oven timer since I can’t see the display.

Braille is also prevalent on many cooking aids. I have a set of measuring cups, for instance, that are labeled in braille. This is helpful in the event that they get separated from each other and I can’t distinguish them by size.

Braille measuring spoons and the timer mentioned above can be purchased from The Sharper Vision Store at the Council, or online at National Braille Press ( has a plethora of braille cookbooks.

I made this sugar cookie recipe and put the cookies into gift boxes for family and friends. I got 6 dozen small cookies from the recipe, and everyone loved them. Enjoy!


Sugar Cookies



4 eggs, beaten lightly

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 pound (1 stick) melted butter

1 heaping teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 pinch salt

Approximately 4 cups flour



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix ingredients in given order.

Roll a segment of the dough and cut with cookie cutter.

Place on greased cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes, checking periodically.


Happy Holidays!


A graphic reads “Happy Holidays from your friends at WCBVI.” The text is in a white box surrounded by a teal boarder that is adorned with lime green fern springs, light brown branches and plum colored cranberries.

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired will be closed on Monday, December 25, Tuesday, December 26 and Monday, January 1 in observance of the holidays. Wishing you a safe and joyful season!