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From “Independent” to “Empowered” –

Council Makes Change to Mission Statement with Purpose


The words “From Independent to Empowered” are displayed in a plum colored text box. The words “Independent” (in green) and “Empowered” (in teal) are displayed in an angled fashion with the work “Empowered” being slightly larger than the word “Independent” to signify the importance of the word change in the mission statement.

The meanings of words are important. Words shape how we think about people, life circumstances and the daily events in our lives. They shape our attitudes and our responses to situations. The Council Board of Directors took a closer look at our mission, and has made a change that will broaden the attitudes and perceptions of and for people with disabilities in Wisconsin.

The word “empowerment” has been selected to replace the word “independence” in our mission, which now reads:

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired promotes the dignity and empowerment of the people of Wisconsin who are blind and visually impaired through advocating legislation, providing services and educating the public.

“We are all deeply interconnected,” says Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director. “Using the word ‘empowerment’ is a more realistic portrayal of the human experience. Being independent stops short of what our hopes are for people with disabilities. Empowerment really captures the essence of the awareness that people have their own agency and ideas of how they want their lives to unfold. The switch in wording raises the bar on our mission and puts the client at the center to know what it is they want out of their life and to support figuring out how to attain it. Empowerment also puts some additional responsibility on the community at large to examine hidden biases and change individual and institutional behavior to create access and be more inclusive.”

First Vice President Annika Konrad brought the use of the word “empowerment” before the board. The decision to update the mission statement officially occurred during the third-quarter board meeting on Saturday, August 26.

“The word ‘empowerment’ was chosen because it communicates the Council's commitment to respecting the diverse experiences, ideas, and opinions among people who are blind and visually impaired,” says Annika. “On a broad scale, it communicates that we aim to empower people who are blind and visually impaired to make their own decisions and attempt to change our culture in a way that promotes interdependence for all.”

Through services, education and advocacy, the Council empowers people who are blind and visually impaired to do the things they enjoy, such as using assistive devices to read or communicate with family and friends, cook, play cards, or do whatever gives them a full, productive life as a person with a visual impairment. The Council also strives to empower people with vision loss to seek gainful employment and to engage in the community.

“The word change means that our mission statement becomes more consumer-focused,” says board member Rhonda Staats. “The word ‘empowerment’ reaffirms the Council's role in bringing a sense of a future of hope and change. The word change brings forward the concept that we bring autonomy back to people's lives, providing a renewed sense of self and the choices now possible through the learning of adjustment skills and adaptive techniques.”


Client Hospital Stay Inspires Purpose behind Recent Webinar


Jean Kalscheur, Director of Education and Vision Services, sits in front of a laptop at a conference room table. On her head is a pair of headphones, which include a microphone. She smiles as she looks at the screen and types while conducting the webinar.

The Vision Services Team at the Council strives for a client-centered approach when providing services, giving workshops, or putting together webinar presentations. When a client has an idea about a specific issue, the team works to meet the request. The most recent webinar, “Providing Health and Social Services to Persons with Blindness or Low Vision,” was inspired by a conversation Jean Kalscheur, Education and Vision Services Director, had with her client, Carol Doolin.

“I had a horrific stay at a hospital in May,” Carol says. “Medical personnel often didn’t identify themselves or say what they were going to do when they entered my room. No one oriented me to the layout of my room or showed me where anything was, so I had to struggle to find the bathroom. That’s not easy when you’re attached to an IV pole. When my daughter would come to visit me, the medical staff would talk to her and not me. None of these kinds of things happened when I could see, so I knew it was an issue related to my blindness. I wanted to educate people about what to do—and not do—when they have a blind patient.”

Carol says the fear of becoming blind, and the lack of knowledge about adaptive techniques, keeps people from asking how they can help. She says the simple statement, “How can I help?” is the first thing she wishes the medical personnel would have done instead of making assumptions about what would be appropriate.

“I didn’t feel respected at all,” Carol states.

Respect and inclusivity are two of the Council’s core values. Jean says one of her goals in education is to make sure medical staff know what they can do to make their encounters with people who are blind or visually impaired as courteous and comprehensive as possible. Many of the techniques cost nothing, require little effort and will go a long way in making everyone feel comfortable.

“We try to do webinars when someone identifies a topic they have a question about,” says Jean. “It wasn’t hard to get stories for this webinar. The ways in which people are treated leave a lasting impression on them. We wanted to provide this webinar to further educate medical staff, and to give listeners who are blind and visually impaired some strategies and ideas about how they can advocate for themselves and get the kind of assistance that will actually be helpful to them.”

Information covered in the webinar included:

  • Determining the functionality of someone with vision loss
  • Asking the most important question first—“How can I help you?”
  • Serving as a human guide
  • Getting written information to people who cannot read traditionally sized printed materials
  • The importance of various types of lighting
  • The use of canes and service dogs

The webinar, which took place on October 4, is now available by request. To receive a recorded copy, email Jean at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you have an idea for a webinar topic, contact Jean by email or call 608-237-8106 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.


New Name, Same Great Purpose!

“Vision for Tomorrow Online Auction” Set to Start on November 9th


An image collage includes the words “Online Auction!” at the top. Below the heading are three images: the Cabela’s logo (which is yellow and written in cursive); an image of a pair of hands that holding two knitting needles, the start of a project and orange yarn; and the Summerfest logo (which is a smiley face that features two red circles for eyes and a red mouth). Surrounding the logos in the background are teal and green circles, as well as plum, teal and green stripes for artistic interest.

You can make a difference in the work the Council does by bidding on items during the Council’s “Vision for Tomorrow Online Auction.” The auction will kick off on November 9th at noon and will run until November 15th at 8 p.m., Central Standard Time.

The proceeds from the auction will go towards helping us purchase a new braille embosser. The Council strongly believes in making our written materials available in the preferred format of our readers. An embosser is essential for providing braille to our staff, board, volunteers, and readers of our newsletters. A braille embosser prints braille on both sides of a page, and creates multiple copies in a timely manner, from documents created on a computer. To make the number of copies needed, and of the quality expected by our readers, we need a working backup embosser to use when our older one needs repair or cleaning. Our current embosser will then serve as a backup in the event the new one would need service. The repair process for an embosser usually takes six to eight weeks.

Some auction items of interest include:

  • Tickets to Summerfest
  • Select performances by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and shows held at the Overture center
  • Gift cards to Chili’s, Casey’s General Store, Kwik Trip, Target, and Cabela’s
  • Experiences such as knitting classes, piano or drawing lessons
  • A variety of books including children’s books, cookbooks and biographies
  • …and much, much more!

Visit after October 27 to see the list of auction items available, and check back often as new ones are always being added. Many could make for excellent holiday gifts for family members or friends. Watch our publications and upcoming social media posts for reminders of when to start bidding on your favorites!


Meet the Gallery Night Artists: Alison and Rosemarie Fortney


Two pieces by Rosemarie and Alison Fortney are featured side by side. On the left is Rosemarie’s “Blossoms and Stems,” an alcohol and ink piece that features bright and bold colors of yellow, green, purple, blue and pink. On the right is Alison’s “Colorado Mountainscape” photograph. The photo captures the snowcapped mountains along the horizon line; while in front of the mountains lay the grass-covered hills, captured in the bluish gray hue. The sky is a soft, pale blue and one lone cloud floats at the top right of the image.

The Council hosted Gallery Night on Friday, October 6, and the art installation will be at our office until mid-November. We are excited to feature the art and lives of the exhibiting artists through On Sight articles while their art is available for viewing at our office.

Alison Fortney

Alison currently lives in Milwaukee. She was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa when she was 21, but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing photography. She enjoys photographing landscapes, animals and up-close photos of flowers, butterflies and other insects. Alison also enjoys traveling and hiking. Two of the photos in this year’s exhibit, “Graveyard Fields Falls” and “Blue Ridge Mountain” were taken when on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Ashville, North Carolina.

“For any aspiring photographers or artists out there with vision loss, have fun and experiment with what interests you,” says Alison. “If you're unsure, take some time to think about what you'd like to create and do some soul searching. Once you find the medium that works for you, keep practicing and experimenting. You won't know what works for you unless you try.”

Rosemarie Fortney

Rosemarie, Alison’s mother, is a painter and mixed media artist. She also lives in Milwaukee and lives with Retinitis Pigmentosa. She uses ZoomText magnifying software and iPad technology to help her see her work as she creates it. Her paintings feature bright colors created by dotting the canvas with acrylic paint, then spritzing it with alcohol to make the colors stand out. In addition to painting, Rosemarie also creates tactile art. She says she looks forward to creating more tactile art, and incorporating braille into her future pieces. Her piece in our Gallery Night exhibit, “Coy Koi,” is a tactile representation of a koi fish.

“I was very involved with the feel of the piece as I created it,” says Rosemarie. “The piece has a lot of texture. I used copper wires indicating the cattails, actual river rocks are used in the piece, too. The painted waterlily is very bright, and you can feel the definition of the petals. Hiding under the waterlily is the koi fish. I loved making the tactile scales on the fish; that was a Zen moment for me. I wanted people to experience my art with their touch and their sight at the same time.”

Pieces of art created by both Alison and Rosemarie Fortney are on sale and on display at the Council office, 754 Williamson Street, in Madison. Art can be viewed and purchased from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, until November 17. Call 608-255-1166 to schedule a free tour.


Student Spotlight: Kaitlyn Siekert


Kaitlyn Siekert pose for a photograph. She looks over her left shoulder and smiles sweetly while her long brown hair rests on her shoulder alongside her white blouse.

Many of us choose a career path based on our interests, hobbies and personalities. For Council scholarship recipient Kaitlyn Siekert, someone working in her field of choice inspired her from an early age.

“I have wanted to pursue a degree as a child life specialist since I was in ninth grade,” says Kaitlyn. “I had a life threatening illness as a young child and spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital having surgeries, chemotherapy and other procedures. The child life specialist, Heidi Giese, helped me so much to make the situation seem manageable. I want to give back to children who are sick and to be there for them as Heidi was for me.”

At age five, Kaitlyn was diagnosed with a brain tumor that was wrapped around her optic nerve. She had a stroke following surgery, which resulted in having little use of her right side. Kaitlyn had to learn to walk again, and did numerous hours of physical therapy to regain as much strength as possible. She also lost a large portion of her vision. “I am legally blind, have no vision in my left eye, and tunnel vision in my right,” she explains. “To complicate the situation even more, I have partial complex seizures which have not been controlled with medication.”

Figuring out effective adaptive techniques at times has proven a challenge, but Kaitlyn says she works hard to overcome obstacles and blaze a path of success in school and in the social college scene. “Challenges will always be a part of my daily life,” she points out. “I know though that I will rise to meet and overcome whatever obstacle tries to divert me on the road to my goals.”

Kaitlyn is a senior at Edgewood College in Madison. She enjoys working out, going for walks and listening to music. She also says she is dating her best friend. “Spending time together is probably my favorite thing to do,” she adds.

“This scholarship means the world to me because the school I attend is very expensive, over $40,000 per year,” she says. “My mom is a retired school teacher and my dad just started a new position as an entry level worker. My sister is also in college, so the expense of our education is very large. The Council has been extremely generous and it has had a huge impact on me. I would like to thank the Council Scholarship Committee for selecting me. I feel like they believe in me and my education.”


Featured “Outlook From Here” Blog Post:

White Cane

By Jim Turk


Jim Turk walks down the sidewalk of a quiet neighborhood with white cane in hand. The grass lining the sidewalk is covered with hay, implying that perhaps some new grass seed had just been planted. To his right is the crosswalk and in the distance is a block of houses lined with green shrubs and trees. Jim wears dark sunglasses, a brown tee shirt and khaki shorts

It is difficult to explain exactly how important my cane is to me. I was fully sighted until I was 28 years old, and, as you might expect, losing my vision hit me pretty hard. Suddenly, I was unable to drive a car, or even safely walk down the street. I couldn't cook, I couldn't use the microwave or the oven, or the TV, or the computer. There was a very real possibility that I could get lost by simply going outside to check the mail or walking from my back door to the garage. I became somewhat of a hermit, nervous about leaving my house, and not really knowing how to do it safely even if I had wanted to.

And then, I got my first white cane. It was a fairly flimsy little thing, and, as I found out later, it was also far shorter than I should have been using. Even that little cane made a noticeable difference though, and I started to regain some of the independence I had lost. My cane became a sort of catalyst for me to begin mentally healing and moving on with my life.

It is now almost 15 years later, and I am a self-defense instructor specializing in teaching other blind individuals. I have navigated bus terminals and airports, a challenge I could not have imagined taking on when I first started going blind. My cane has become one of the most important objects I own. While it is a necessary piece of equipment for travel, it has also become a symbol of perseverance and overcoming adversity.   


You are invited to play cards!


The Council presents the 12th Annual Euchre Tournament in Edgerton on Saturday, October 28th! Join us at the Culver’s Restaurant located on Richardson Springs Road from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Space is limited to 76 players. Registration is $10 and includes lunch. To reserve your spot, contact Sally Zenchenko by October 20th at 608-334-1818.