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Business Enterprise Program Provides New Experience for Council Staff Member


A logo reads: "Business Enterprise Program. Empowering Wisconsin's Visually Impaired." A round red circle featuring a white Brailled BEP is on the right side of the words.

Tim Davis, a 52-year-old Stoughton resident, founded Snack N Go Vending in 2016. He joined the Business Enterprise Program while working as a Program Assistant for The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. Throughout the first year he was in business, he operated a few vending locations in Madison, but at the end of the year, the roadside vending locations at the highway rest stop between Portage and Poynette became available. Davis placed a bid and won the location, giving him the opportunity to expand his business and become a full-time business owner.

 “The name Snack N Go Vending was something that described my business and what people generally look for when they purchase from me,” Davis said. “It was something clever and different, so I decided to go with that.”

Davis operates and maintains 31 vending machines. They contain anything from chips to sodas, candy to sandwiches. They even have some healthier items, like granola bars.

“I like interacting with the customers, and doing the pricing,” Davis said. “I like every part of it. Customers are the key, and I enjoy doing what I can to keep them happy.”

Davis said he first heard about the Business Enterprise Program 15 years ago, but the time just wasn’t right. Two years ago, though, the Business Enterprise Program operated in the same building as the Council, so Davis decided to try it to supplement his income. The program provides training, funding and location opportunities to visually impaired people who are interested in owning their own vending businesses.

“I think the Business Enterprise Program is remarkable,” said Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director. “It’s been around since 1936, and it really is a great opportunity for people to run businesses and be economically successful. Not everybody wants to be sitting behind a desk. For folks who like to be up and moving, interacting with others and running their own operation, the Business Enterprise Program is amazing.”

It is estimated that there is a 70 percent unemployment and underemployment rate among people who are blind or have low vision. This is because, in addition to a lack of training and education, societal misconceptions still persist about the capabilities of blind people. Employers are afraid of the perceived cost of hiring someone who is blind. One way to eliminate that is to start your own business, and the Business Enterprise Program is an excellent resource. Davis states, however, that that the Program might not be for everyone.

“To do the Business Enterprise Program, you need to have self-motivation, creativity, and like working independently. Vending is not for everyone; you always have to have reliable transportation, and if you are going to do it, you have to love numbers and going out in the community.”

Davis notes there can be a lot to juggle, and that it is concerning because if a machine breaks, it impacts his paycheck. That being said, he states he wants to own his business through the Business Enterprise Program until he retires.

 “Tim maximized his experience of being here at the Council, learning the assistant store manager position, managing inventory, public relations and customer service,” Jess said of Davis. “In his time here he excelled at those things, and I think it positioned him well to be very successful with his business going forward.”

Jess states that Davis is a great example of how someone with a visual impairment can find success with the right support.

“For me, that is really part of the fulfillment of the Council’s mission. We were his employer, and he developed by his own initiative. Through our support, he was able to achieve his dream. I think that’s a wonderful thing.”

Mark Your Calendars - Legislative Day Scheduled for April 11

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Sen. Petrowski (center) takes a moment to pose for a photo with Council board member Tom Peralta (left) and committee member Patty Zallar (right) during Legislative Day 2016. Tom holds his white cane while smiling broadly. Patty too has a big smile while she and her guide dog pose for the camera.

On April 11, the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired will once again organize Legislative Day at the State Capitol in Madison. The official agenda is still being decided upon by the planning committee, which includes Council staff, members of the Legislative Committee, and Legislative Liaison Michael Blumenfeld. The agenda will concentrate on five key legislative priorities. These are, in order of priority: transportation, employment, education, ADA and civil liberties, and healthcare.

 “We are monitoring any legislation put forward that is in those areas,” said Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director of the Council. “We will make decisions about which bills we will support and if we want to initiate any legislation in those areas.”

In the past, Legislative Day helped gather momentum in the passing of important legislation impacting people with vision loss, such as Casey’s Law, which protects service dogs from other animal attacks. “The Council was founded on the premise of legislative advocacy,” said Jess. “That is one of our cornerstones. The legislative day is important because it is a way to make our legislative agenda known and gather people around our initiatives. It serves as a way to help our engaged constituents understand how the legislative process works. It helps us to take effective action, both individually and as an organization. It’s a way to interact with lawmakers and policy makers so they can learn from us. Legislative Day is really an exchange event, and an opportunity for other organizations to interact. It’s a day of perspective sharing, information sharing, relationship building and education.”

Spring Primaries to Offer Next Voting Technology for Citizens Who are Disabled

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ExpressVote, a new and improved voting accessibility machine, will now be available throughout Dane County and other parts of Wisconsin. This image displays how the machine sits on top of a table. It features a touch screen that reads "To begin voting, insert your card." Under those words is an image of the voting machine and an arrow pointing to the card slot. The card slot is on the bottom right of the machine. Below the touch screen is an outlet to plug in headphones for those needing audio descriptions. 

An immediate way to get involved with local and statewide legislation is to vote in the Spring Primary 2017 election, held Tuesday, February 21. Many local polling places are equipped with accessible voting machines, so voting can be done independently and privately.

For the first time this year, Express Vote, an improved voting accessibility machine, will be put in polling places throughout the state of Wisconsin. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said the new equipment will have many features that will improve the experience of the voters and poll workers alike. One of the new features is the printing of the ballot on cardstock, so the voter won’t have to deal with inserting the ballot.

The equipment is much lighter, which will make set-up easier. The machine is easier to use and is more reliable, which will reduce the amount of training necessary for poll workers.

The new machine also is appealing to sighted voters, which McDonell said he hopes will be helpful in removing any stigma people who are visually impaired might have about needing to use special equipment or requiring assistance to vote.

Contact your local clerk to find out if this new voting equipment will be installed in your community polling location.

 “You have a right to vote in your home polling place,” said Jess. “Go when you’ve got time and hang in there until you’ve voted because it is the law that you can vote in your polling place accessibly. We are the ones that have to take on the responsibility to know our rights.”

Even if the polling staff tells you the machine is having issues or is broken, do not leave until you have had the chance to vote.

The Wisconsin School Superintendent will be elected during the Spring Primary, so an important issue for people who are blind and visually impaired to keep in mind when they vote is special education programs. Particularly the candidates’ views on the use and distribution of vouchers, as well as the enactment of the Federal IDEA legislation.

Watson Joins Council as Contracted Writer

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Katherine Watson, with her black lab guide dog Quartz, are both wearing Hawaiian leis. Quartz is also wearing a pink "Happy Birthday" crown. Katherine, who is wearing a blue off-the-shoulder summer dress, kneels on the ground with her arm wrapped affectionately around Quartz’s neck. 

Katherine Watson has recently joined the Council as a contracted Publications Writer. Katherine’s contract extends through May and could potentially extend her contract after she graduates from Madison College this spring where she is currently studying human resources. She is passionate about utilizing her talents to advocate for and assist persons with disabilities. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She joined the Council because she wants to use her writing abilities to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired people, and to spread the Council’s message of dignity and independence.

Katherine has previously worked as a writer and consultant for the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory, where she nurtured her love of astronomy and taught science concepts to students of all ages and abilities. She helped in the creation and refinement of tactile images of astronomical objects, alongside scientists working with the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers and PH.D. students, as well as other fellow blind science enthusiasts. She presented the images to blind children during Blind/Visually Impaired week at the Wisconsin Lions Camp, and helped the young astronomers make their own tactile images of the pictures they took using the telescope and camera set up during their time at camp.

In her free time, she likes baking—her fudge is highly anticipated at family holiday gatherings—and playing guitar—she once recorded a demo of original songs at a local recording studio. She enjoys spending time with friends, and occasionally trying extreme sports, such as hang-gliding, whitewater rafting, and skydiving. When she is not pushing herself out of her comfort zone hundreds of feet above the ground or creating a new confectionary concoction, Katherine can be found riding her tandem bike with a friend, reading a fantasy novel, or playing with her Seeing Eye Dog, Quartz.

Direct Thrivent Choice Dollars® to the Council by March 31

Thrivent Logo

A logo reading: "Thrivent Financial: Connecting Faith & Finances for Good." To the right of the words is the company’s logo, which is in the shape of a heart. Two white lines create a cross and divide the heart into halves. The left side of the heart is red and the right side is gray.

Eligible Thrivent Financial members who have available Choice Dollars® have until March 31, 2017, to direct them. Don’t miss this opportunity to recommend that Thrivent Financial provide outreach funding to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. Go to to learn more. Or call 800-847-4836 and say “Thrivent Choice” after the prompt.

Sharper Vision Store Product Feature

7X Adjustable Gooseneck Magnified Mirror

Gooseneck mirror

This 7X magnifying mirror has a 6" diameter face to make it easy for individuals with low vision to use. The mirror has an adjustable gooseneck and can stand on your dresser or make-up table. It also has suction cups to allow for attachment to your vanity or bathroom mirror.

Item #MX905   $27.00