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Your Journey with Vision Impairment: Learn about Resources

Webinar: Tuesday, March 19, 10:00-11:00 a.m.

Grey-haired woman sits in a green armchair with a book on her lap and flowers in the background.

A woman looks at a book of photos using a handheld magnifier.

Many Wisconsin-based programs and resources exist to help you or a loved one adapt to vision changes. This webinar will cover online classes, week-long training retreats and other learning opportunities to enhance your journey. Each of the four presenters will describe educational options for people who are blind or visually impaired offered by their organization. Information about other resources will be available in a handout.


  • Jim Denham, Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired
  • Marc Arneson, Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Kristin Fountaine, Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • David Hyde, Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Access: Join the webinar via Zoom using a computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone or with any phone connection.

Register at by Friday, March 15. You will then receive an email with specific details about how to join the webinar.

Can’t Make It? A digital recording of the webinar will be sent to everyone who has registered.


The Archive Project: Preserving Council History and Inspiring Forward Momentum

Governor Earl Proclamation for Pedestrian Rights and Safety Month

A proclamation signed by Governor Anthony Earl from 1979 declaring what is the modern-day White Cane Safety Day.

Honoring the Council’s legacy ensures we stay true to our mission and build on the achievements of the people who came before us. In 2017, the Council embarked on a project to organize and preserve documents pertinent to its sixty-seven-year history. The resulting Council Archive will be used to continue the legacy of Council’s awards and scholarship programs, inform legislative efforts and provide inspiration and human interest stories for future initiatives.

“This project is important to the board as we recognize the value in effectively telling our story, and that human interest material is often the most persuasive,” says Rhonda Staats. “Having a user-friendly, standardized archive allows us to reflect on how we have brought forward our vision and how we might carry out our mission in the future.”

The archive project took collaboration between people who were visually impaired and sighted volunteers. It merged people who hold Council history with people new to the Council. Whether new to the Council’s mission or not, the project was explorative as volunteers and board members combed through hundreds of news clippings and documents.

Volunteer Bill McKinley served as one of the material sorters. He said this project was meaningful to him on a personal level, since he has a late sister who was blind.

“I would often find myself engrossed in the newspaper articles,” says Bill. “Reading about the lives of people who were like my sister made me feel closer to her. Working on this project helped me honor her memory.”

Council volunteer Margaret Sommers and Chris Richmond, Council Board Chair, expressed excitement about what they found in the boxes and boxes of newspaper clippings, notes and other paper materials they sorted through. Materials ranged from unique letters to Council staff to the stories behind the Council’s longstanding vision services and scholarship programs.

“It was inspiring to read about the previous Council scholarship recipients and learn what they did with the money,” says Margaret. “I always find it inspirational to read about what people who overcome visual impairment as a challenge do throughout their lives.” The Council’s scholarship program has existed for over 20 years.

Uses of the archives include preservation of the Council’s history, identifying what worked and what didn’t work past advocacy initiatives, providing information about award namesakes to inspire people living today.

Overall, the archive allows us to build on a legacy of program work, advocacy and education/outreach. Discovering the Council’s past helps staff, board, clients and donors understand how we did things, why we did them and where.

“The archive provides direction for our advocacy work,” says Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director. “We can look at what we have done in the past, and move forward given our successes.”

The Council wishes to thank all volunteers, board members and staff who devoted their time to uncovering more Council history. Thank you for working with us to create this important archive.

Look for a brief timeline of the Council on our new website, coming in March, with photos and content pulled from the archives.


Meet New Council Staff

The Council warmly welcomes Mitch Brey as Planning Coordinator, and Kris Johannsen as Sharper Vision Store Manager.

Mitch Brey, Planning Coordinator

Mitch Brey Headshot

Headshot of Mitch Brey

Mitch joined the Council at Planning Coordinator in January 2019. Previously, Mitch worked for nonprofit organizations and campaigns including Community Living Connections, Focus on Energy, and RePower Madison.

Mitch attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. When he is not teaching his daughter how to build with Legos, his hobbies include running, gardening, and playing card games with his wife and friends.

“My grandpa lost his sight about a year ago,” Mitch says. “As I have watched that happen and observed how hard it is for him, it makes me happy to be in work as meaningful as this. I want to have an impact on people’s lives and their families. I especially look forward to seeing people if they stop into the Sharper Vision Store or come to Council events.”

Denise Jess, Council CEO/Executive Director, acknowledges that a personal connection to someone who is blind or visually impaired brings a special spark to the work. “That is what I treasured in our interview conversation,” says Denise. “Mitch brings outstanding problem-solving skills, is well organized and comes up with great creative solutions to challenges. This position provides the link between the big picture development and the on-the-ground logistics of making them happen. I am excited to have Mitch on board.”


Kris Johannsen, Sharper Vision Store Manager

Kris Headshot

Headshot of Kris Johannsen

Kris joined the Council in January 2019 as the Store Manager and will continue to build the customer base and product offerings of the Sharper Vision Store. Before the Council, Kris had several administrative and management roles.  Most recently, working with adults and children with autism through the art of film and digital media. 

Kris holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Colorado State University. In his free time, Kris enjoys going to events in the Madison community, catching concerts, watching football, playing Dungeons and Dragons, gardening, hiking and travelling with his fiancée.

“I am passionate about working with people with disabilities to promote empowerment so they can improve their lives,” Kris says. “I am excited to be at the Council to do what I can to make the store, and the lives of our customers, better.”

Kris brings a lot of potential for growing the store and serving Council customers, according to Council CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess.

“When I met Kris at Gallery Night last October, I noticed that he spent a large amount of time in the store,” says Denise. “He was so fascinated by adaptive products in the store and what those things could do to create access and equity for people. I am excited about his passion for equity and accessibility, and I am pleased with his well-rounded skill sets.”


Create a Secure Future for Generations to Come

Word cloud containing generous, helping, mission, donations, volunteer, services, awareness, giving, generous, assistance, time, togetherness, respect, moral care, hope, adult, contribution, mission, teamwork, person in black text.

If you are someone affected by vision loss or a caregiver, you are always planning for the future. “If my vision gets worse, I know there are resources to help me at the Council,” is a statement Council staff hear often.

Staff and board members of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired also know the value of planning ahead. As an organization with sixty-seven years of providing services to people in Wisconsin, planning for the future began years ago and continues today.

You can play a part in securing a positive future for those facing vision loss by naming the Council in your will or as a beneficiary of a trust or insurance policy. A gift from your estate may be more manageable for you than a gift from your current income. Common examples are bequests, charitable gift annuities, trusts, and insurance policies. This type of “planned gift” assures the services that have helped thousands with vision loss through their lives will be available for the next generation.

Planned gifts perpetuate your values long beyond your lifetime. Does a planned gift fit into your estate plan? Would you like to help cement the financial foundation of the Council for generations to come? Planned gifts ensure the services, advocacy and education provided by the Council will continue long into the future.

For more information about including the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired in your will or in another planned gift, visit our website at or contact Lori at (608)237-8114 or email


Join the Council for a Tasty and Enlightening Dining in the Dark Experience

Thursday, March 21, 2019, 6:30-9:00 p.m.

Charlie’s On Main, Oregon, Wisconsin

A man and a woman wearing blindfolds clink wine glasses together.

Dining in the Dark attendees at Charlie’s on Main in 2018 enjoy the wine pairings and local food.

Chef Dave Heide of Charlie’s on Main will serve an Italian-inspired, multi-course meal that challenges participants to rethink the importance of vision in the eating experience. Guests wear blindfolds while dining– experiencing crunchy and smooth food textures, as well as a range of local flavors.

“I am eager to experience Dining in the Dark again,” says past participant, Patricia Hetland of Oregon, Wisconsin. “I discovered Dining in the Dark was an event that even shy people like me could enjoy, because eating while blindfolded was a shared experience. I felt comfortable within minutes. We had great conversation with members of the Council afterwards and I loved the sharing of ideas. The whole experience was educative. Plus, the chefs always provide an enjoyable meal.”

Reserve your spot online or call 608-291-2255 for reservations. Dinner costs $60 per person with an optional $20 wine pairing - proceeds benefit the Council. Invite your friends and family via Facebook.


The Big Share is Coming: Donate to Make a Difference

A child’s hand painting a wall with the Big Share Tuesday, March 5 and sponsor logos over the photo.

Join the Council on Tuesday, March 5, for a day of online giving hosted by Community Shares of Wisconsin.

Community Shares of Wisconsin has been working to advance social justice and environmental protection for over 45 years. The Council and CSW’s other 65 member nonprofits lead efforts throughout Wisconsin to protect our civil rights and build a safe and sustainable future where everyone can thrive. Your support fuels a movement based on partnership, support, and collaboration between leaders in local grassroots organizations. The Council is proud to be a member of Community Shares of Wisconsin and to take part in one of the largest days of online giving in Wisconsin.

Get involved by sharing one of the Council’s Facebook or Instagram posts throughout the day to spread the word to your friends and family. Visit to learn more about how your gift can make an impact. Help us reach our $4,000 goal and make a difference for people who are blind or visually impaired living in Wisconsin.


Announcing Extended Hours at the Sharper Vision Store

extended store hours

Starting on Thursday, February 7, the Sharper Vision Store will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every Thursday. Stop by to try adaptive products, talk with knowledgeable Council staff and find new tools to empower yourself or a loved one who is blind or visually impaired. The store is located on the first floor of the Council office, at 754 Williamson Street in Madison. You can also call 1-800-783-5213 to order during this time. Online shopping is available at


Vision Services Adapts to Better Serve Our Clients

Two women sitting at a table with products and lights between them.

Council staff Amy Wurf talks contrast with client Melinda during a low vision evaluation.

The new year ushers in a shift in the Council’s vision services department to serve a growing number of people experiencing vision loss.

“We want to focus on more than just the pragmatics of how to adapt to vision loss,” says Denise Jess, Council CEO/Executive Director. “We want to empower people to reach their potential and improve their quality of life.”

The changes include a more focused effort on education and outreach to new audiences, increased time for assistive technology assistance and building stronger ties to the rural communities we serve.

“The additional allotment of staff time and resources will help vision services best serve the people they work with now and in the future,” says Denise.

Amy Wurf, Certified Low Vision Therapist, has accepted the position as Education and Vision Services Director. Amy will continue to offer low vision evaluations, will be speaking at the vision-oriented portions of the Stepping On program, and performing other public education duties.

“This is a wonderful opportunity and a great group of people to be working with,” says Amy. “I am looking forward to building on what Jean (Kalscheur) has done as director and furthering the Council’s mission.”

Jean Kalscheur has transitioned to part-time Education Specialist after many dedicated years as Education and Vision Services Director. Jean will be in the office Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. She will be dividing up the Stepping On presentations among other vision services staff, fielding speaker requests from outside organizations, and working more closely with low vision support groups throughout the state to facilitate continued learning for the members. Jean will continue to play a role in identifying the Council’s outreach activities to multiple audiences such as eye care professionals, students and the aging population.

Jean is looking forward to identifying ways in which the Council can best educate the blind and visually impaired community, as well as other groups in Wisconsin.

“I am eager to think about what is within the Council’s mission that will also work to spread the word out to more rural areas.”

Brent Perzentka has received his master’s degree from Western Michigan University and, upon passing his certification exam, will make the full transition to Vision Rehabilitation Therapist. Brent will cover southwestern Wisconsin counties through a contract with the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired (OBVI). He works with people one-on-one in their homes to teach adaptive techniques.

“I am excited to work with people on more of a personal level,” says Brent. “I want to spend more time with people learning about who they are and what their goals are. I want to help them maintain their independence.”

Brent will also do outreach within counties the Council serves, including health fairs and presentations.

Jim Denham, Assistive Technology Specialist, increased his time from 32 hours per week to full-time as of this month. This will give Jim more time to offer one-on-one trainings and group classes, as well as presenting at the Stepping On workshops.

To find contact information for individual vision services staff, visit