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 Vision Services Open House Introduces Possibilities

Open House 04 2018 15 cropped 002

A female visitor to the recent Open House stands, holding the handset of a large print telephone, carefully inspecting it. In front of her are two shelves of store products, including a large-faced wall clock.

Despite a snowstorm in the forecast, more than forty people attended the Vision Services Open House on April 16 at the Council. Residents of Oakwood East and Oakwood West communities attended, as well as eye doctors, DVR counselors and vision rehabilitation professionals. The open house boasted a variety of products to try, people to meet and refreshments for all who attended.

Events such as the Open House serve as an informal way for new people to visit the Council. William Wheeler, of Madison, attended the open house with his wife, Courtney, who is blind. It was their first time visiting the Council.

“We’ve always talked about coming here,” says William. “When my wife found out about the open house, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see what the Council is all about.”

Amy Wurf, Certified Low Vision Therapist, helped attendees figure out which lighting might suit them best. She used a device called the Lux IQ, which gives users the ability to adjust the brightness and degree of warmth of the light to determine the perfect fit.

“I came here to see what was available; to see what I can do better than what I’m doing now,” says Joyce Russell, of Madison. “I’m especially interested in learning more about lighting changes, and equipment I can use when working with a computer. I’m here to learn.”

Jim Denham, Assistive Technology Specialist, gave demonstrations of adaptive technology devices. He showed how screen accessibility software, such as JAWS and ZoomText, works with a computer monitor, either by converting the text to voice or by enlarging the type. He also demonstrated the Aira Glasses, a sophisticated new technology that can be useful for a wide variety of tasks in a variety of settings inside and outside the home and office.

In the Sharper Vision Store, Brent Perzentka, Store Manager, demonstrated the Apple TV, various magnifiers and products to help people continue with hobbies such as sewing or artwork. Several other staff members worked with guests, helping them find practical products that would improve their lives. Sunglasses were a popular item purchased at the event.

For attendee Phyllis Guggemos, the Council provided an affordable glasses-and-lamp set that will help her read more easily. “Everything that I have purchased here has enhanced my life,” she says. “I love coming here and trying the products.”

Special guests included officials from the Wisconsin State Elections Commission and author Jim Thompson. The Wisconsin Elections Commission representatives came to beta test an electronic poll book. Open house attendees gave feedback about how to make the experience more accessible and welcoming to voters with visual impairments. Author Jim Thompson, who wrote the book “Peanut of Blind Faith Farm,” signed books and talked about the true story of Peanut, his blind lamb.

Jean Kalscheur, Council Education and Vision Services Director, was thrilled about the strong turnout and the commitment from staff to put on such an event.

“The open house is one of those events that takes everybody’s effort to come together,” Jean says. “I’m always appreciative of their efforts and thrilled to see the difference these events make in people’s lives.”


Hone Your Birding Skills with a Field Trip

American Robin 2006

An American Robin, with its bright orange belly and brown head and feathers, stands on a tree branch with out-of-focus greenery behind him.

Mourning doves are very common Wisconsin birds and you might have heard their distinctive calls while working in your garden or taking a walk. Did you know that mourning doves also make a distinct sound when they take off from a seated position—using their wings? Learn more fun facts like this at our next two-part class, “Birding by Ear: Learning to identify birds without sight.”

Co-organized by the Madison Audubon Society and the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, the class meets on two Saturdays with classroom and outdoor components. It is directed toward individuals with vision impairment.

The first meeting on Saturday, June 2, from 10 a.m. to noon will involve classroom-based learning. Participants will explore the various songs of common bird species found in June in Pheasant Branch Conservancy, the location of the outdoor portion of the workshop. The classroom component will be held at the Council offices in Madison.

The second meeting on Saturday, June 16, from 8-10 a.m. will take place at Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton. A wide, flat, gravel/boardwalk path will take us through wooded habitat to practice our newfound skills using techniques and songs for identifying birds by close listening.

The outdoor portion of the class will offer sighted assistants to help participants safely maneuver through the Conservancy. Participants are encouraged to bring a friend or family member to serve as a sighted guide.  Those without a sighted guide will be paired with volunteer guides.  Guide dogs are welcome, but note that leashed dogs are also allowed in the Conservancy.

Registration fee: $20.00 per person with vision impairment; there is no fee for a sighted guide who attends with you. A Council staff member will contact you to collect the registration fee. The class will be taught by Madison Audubon Society member, Kerry Wilcox, who is a biologist.

“Birding by Ear events are unique in the Madison area, if not in all of Wisconsin,” says Kerry. “This is an opportunity to help open up one of the fastest growing and most popular hobbies to new audiences. I hope participants come away inspired to learn more on their own, and to start building a library of birdsongs in their minds, allowing them to enjoy the outdoors in a new way.”

For more information and to register, visit


Grand Rounds: Connecting Doctors with Vision Services

Presenters close up2

Standing left to right: Dr. Sanbrita Mondal, UW Low Vision Clinic optometrist, Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director (Council), Amy Wurf, Certified Low Vision Therapist (Council), Terri Davis, Executive Director (Vision Forward) and Jacci Borchardt, Program Director (Vision Forward) stand at the head of a lecture hall at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

A collaborative effort between the Council in Madison, Vision Forward in Milwaukee, and optometrist and Low Vision Clinic director, Dr. Sanbrita Mondal, led to a unique presentation for eye care professionals at UW-Madison. On Friday, April 13, at the UW-Medical School’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, doctors attended a Grand Rounds presentation titled “After the Eye Exam: Vision Rehabilitation Services.”

Medical professionals usually give Grand Rounds talks, but Dr. Mondal decided to take a different approach when she invited these vision services agencies to present.

“As a department, we are creating more awareness among our providers to actively make additional resources available in our community to help patients with visual impairment continue to lead fulfilling lives,” says Dr. Mondal. “By having vision service agencies speak at our Grand Rounds, we are exposing our providers to information that they can direct to their patients who will benefit from low vision aids.”

Both agencies provided case studies in keeping with the standard format Grand Rounds presentations. Doctors also got the opportunity to see and experience assistive technology and other devices

“Our presentation focused on rehabilitation and what we do for the person as a whole,” says Amy Wurf, Council Certified Low Vision Therapist. “Dr. Mondal refers a lot of her patients to the Council and it was exciting to let other doctors know about what we do and how they can further help their patients after providing a diagnosis.”

Both vision services agencies serve different populations in different geographical locations and have similarities and differences in their programming. The Council is located in Madison, serving adults and spearheading legislative advocacy for people who are blind or visually impaired across the state. Vision Forward is located in Milwaukee and serves children and adults in that region. Both agencies see collaboration as an important goal to serve the needs of as many Wisconsin residents experiencing vision loss as possible, and they look forward to more opportunities to work together.

“It was exciting to be able to present together,” says Jacci Borchardt, Program Director at Vision Forward. “Vision loss is a growing concern as the population ages. I’m eager to see how we can work together to help people going through this.”

For more about the contents of the presentation, as well as tips for a successful visit to your eye doctor, watch for an article in our upcoming Courier newsletter, to be published in early June.

“Now that our department and providers are more aware of the types of services provided by both the Council and Vision Forward, I am hoping our providers will actively use their services for all of their patients who have low vision needs,” says Dr. Mondal. “I want to thank Denise and Amy from the Council for taking the time to collaborate with Terri and Jacci from Vision Forward to create an informative and engaging grand rounds presentation.”


You’ve Got Mail: Contribute to The White Cane Fund

cane feet

A person, shown from mid-shin to feet is wearing tennis shoes, walking along a sidewalk, using a white cane.

Access to a white cane gives people who are blind and visually impaired a sense of empowerment. Check your mailbox for an opportunity to give that gift to someone in Wisconsin. Our recent mailing provides more information about the free white canes the Council provides to people who are blind or visually impaired.

We couldn’t do this without your support. Thank you to all who have already donated to the White Cane Fund. There’s still time to send in your donation, and any amount makes a difference. Your gift will enable people who are blind and visually impaired to enjoy the freedom of travel and the confidence a white cane can bring. You may also donate online at


Student Spotlight: Congratulations to Our 2018 Scholarship Recipients

Student Spotlight

The Council is pleased to announce this year’s outstanding scholarship winners. Ten post-secondary students who are blind or visually impaired received a $2,000 scholarship for their outstanding academic achievements and community involvement. Scholarship winners were selected from 18 applicants, and those chosen presented the strongest combination of cumulative GPAs, personal essays, community engagement, and letters of recommendation.

“We are very honored to offer ten scholarships this year to a talented and diverse group of students,” said Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director of the Council. “I am hopeful that they will make a positive difference in the world. Our warmest congratulations and best wishes to everyone.”

Listed below are the award recipients, along with the school they plan to attend in the fall, their intended field of study and their hometown:


Hunter Lemerond

UW-La Crosse - Marketing

La Crosse


Ian Kloehn

Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences - Neonatologist



Isabel Kinerk

Either Ohio State University or Columbia College in Chicago – Computer Animation



John Harrison

UW-Whitewater – Creative Writing and Psychology



Kaitlyn Siekert

Edgewood College – Child Life and Educational Services

Wisconsin Rapids


Kenya Hernandez

Mount Mary University – Biology Health Sciences and Spanish



Mikyla Mobley

Edgewood College – Psychology



Sean Whalen

Harvard Law School - Law



Shannon Columb

UW-Stevens Point - Environmental Education and Interpretation

Stevens Point


Sophia Keil

Conservatory of Music of Oberlin College – Flute Performance



Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired accepts scholarship applications annually between February and April. For more information, please see



The Outlook from Here is a blog dedicated to sharing stories of living in Wisconsin with blindness, visual impairment, or disability.

Beginning in October 2013, a small group of people from across Wisconsin began meeting over the phone to discuss how to tell stories about disability, blindness, and visual impairment. Many of us had never written about our experiences before but some of us had, and even one person had published. Together, we discussed the dire need to share stories of disability, the challenges of communicating about disability, and the hurdles to writing in general.

The writers group decided to share stories based on the following shared beliefs:

  • We believe that sharing stories is absolutely essential to creating a more accepting, inclusive society.
  • We believe that everyone experiences disability differently, even those with blindness and vision loss.
  • We believe in maintaining a strong sense of humor and hope in the face of challenging situations.
  • And we believe in the power of stories to connect, educate, and transform.

Please consider submitting your stories or making suggestions for topics or questions related to blindness, visual impairment, disability, and life in Wisconsin. You can submit your stories or ideas to


Check out the most recent stories from the Outlook From Here:


The BLIND Inc. Experience!

Attending a structured discovery independence training center can boost confidence, help you acquire new skills and build on the tools you already have in your toolbox. Chad Nelson, a recent Blind, Inc., graduate, describes what his experience at the center did to empower him.