- Independent Living: Seniors find ways around vision limitations
- Vocational Rehabilitation: State of Iowa to hire more blind workers, Meet VR supervisor Megen Johnson, IDB's Trogdon gets IRIS award
- Library: Non-traditional students thankful to IMC, Dorothy Bryant: A witness to history, From the Librarian, Booklist
- Orientation Center: Former student returns to teach Braille, Meet instructor Cynthia Qloud, Recent graduates
- Youth Transition: Success in college begins with self acceptance
- Business Enterprises Program: A day in the life of a B.E.P. manager
Seniors find ways around vision limitations
By Shoshana Hebshi, Editor
Dave Bartels was a little apprehensive when he was approached with the idea of spending a week at the Iowa Department for the Blind learning alternative ways of doing things without using his vision. Once he got through that week, though, he was a changed man.
The 62-year-old Onawa resident said his week at Senior Orientation gave him the confidence he needed so that if he loses more of his vision to macular degeneration he knows he will continue to live a full life the way he wants.
“There’s things you can work around, there’s another way,” he said. “The whole experience helped me see things in a different perspective, and that made me feel really good. I know that if my eyes get worse than what they are, I think I can cope with it to a point that you can live with it like everybody else does.”
Bartels was one of six seniors who participated in the weeklong program in June at the Department’s headquarters in downtown Des Moines. Each year, the Independent Living program (IL) puts on two sessions, once in the spring and once in the summer. And each year, there are several more senior Iowans out there who feel the same as Bartels.
“If the person is motivated to learn new techniques, if they have hit the wall and realized their vision loss is limiting them and are motivated to find a way around those limitations, then they will do well in senior orientation,” said Becky Criswell, program administrator for the Independent Living program.
IL teachers nominate clients, and then the IL staff meets as a group to determine the best candidates for a senior orientation class. Criswell said a participant must be in relatively good health to participate because the training is intensive, and students are required to be active for eight to 10 hours a day. “Sometimes that rules people out who don’t have the stamina,” she said.
During senior orientation, participants take a variety of classes to learn specific skills. In Braille, they learn the basics of the alphabet code and discover that Braille can be an easy and practical way to stay organized in their homes by labeling items, keeping track of phone numbers, addresses and recipes, taking notes and creating shopping lists.
In the cane travel class, participants learn to use a long white cane to navigate stairs, cross streets and walk around the block. Embarrassment about using a cane begins to disappear and is replaced by a greater sense of confidence and security.
The home management class teaches techniques for daily living.
Students have a choice of taking a craft class or an industrial arts class. Participants in the crafts class will embark on small projects, like creating a yarn doll or a wreath. In industrial arts, students will make measurements by hand and cut wood with electric saws and create a small item, such as a cutting board or knife block.
In home economics, students learn to prepare meals. They chop, cook and serve food—and, of course eat it when they’re done.
Perhaps the most important class of the week is the business of blindness, where students and a few facilitators discuss issues related to blindness. This class creates a non-threatening environment for students to discuss any fears or accomplishments they want to share with the group.
Throughout their week, students go through the classes wearing sleep shades to eliminate any residual vision they have. The function of the sleep shades is to remove the distraction of using vision so the students can adequately learn the non-visual techniques.
“When vision becomes so poor that it inhibits a person’s ability to perform simple tasks like pouring a cup of coffee or walking down the stairs, it’s time to learn another way of doing things,” said Criswell. “And the best way to do that is through sleep-shaded training. Through this method, they discover they have options. When they leave senior orientation and the sleep shades come off, they will use whatever vision they have for certain things, and where vision isn’t working for them, they will use the non-visual techniques they have learned that are safe and effective.”
It might be scary at first, Bartels said, but any apprehension will be eased once the student begins to learn the new skills and come to terms with vision loss.
“It will be a whole new thing to you, but you have to experience it to see the difference it will make in your life,” he said.
The glue that holds senior orientation together is the Independent Living staff. Each student receives individualized attention and assistance throughout the week. “We understand that everyone coming in to the week will have a different skill level and will be on a different timeline in accepting their blindness,” said Criswell. “Our teachers are great at bringing the best out in our students and helping to enable success.”
“It’s not a job to them,” said Bartels. “That kind of thing comes from the heart. It’s caring. To help you achieve something you’ve never done before.”
One of those things for Bartels was working in the wood shop during industrial arts class and making a cutting board using none of his remaining vision.
Now, several months after spending his week in senior orientation, Bartels is continuing to work on learning Braille. He is up to the letter “K,” and is using his cane to safely get around. He said he might even ask his IL teacher, Dawn Kruse, if he can come back for another week.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “The acceptance that there is another way to do something and you can go on with your life, doing the things you do every day. Senior orientation just made me see the fact that there’s another way to do things if it does get that bad. It’s better than giving up.”
For more information on senior orientation or other independent living services, call (800) 362-2587 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
State of Iowa to hire more blind employees
By Shoshana Hebshi, Editor
In the 1980s, when Ray Walton worked for Rep. Tom Harkin, now a U.S. senator for Iowa, he accompanied the congressman to a talk at the School for the Deaf. Harkin, whose brother was deaf, signed the first half of his speech. His sign language was a little rusty, but Harkin’s gesture made an impression on the young staffer and Indianola native. At that moment, Walton understood how unfairly and overlooked the disabled population in America was.
Nearly 30 years later, Walton is director for the state’s Department of Administrative Services and finds himself in a position to help.
“I just want people to be treated fairly,” he said. “I just want them to have a fair chance.”
In July, Americans across the country celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of that celebration, President Obama signed an executive order to hire 100,000 disabled workers into the federal government. While that initiative may be a boon for workers, Iowa is already ahead of the game.
Gov. Chet Culver issued Executive Order 4 shortly after he took office in 2007, directing state government to promote a diverse workforce that includes hiring people with disabilities. Walton has taken that direction to heart.
After the state’s early retirement program went into effect in June, the state lost about 2,000 workers and plans to fill about 1,000 of those positions. Walton, whose department oversees a portion of the hiring process for most of the state’s 34 agencies in the executive branch, is determined to fill about 10 percent of those jobs with non-traditional employees. Some of those, he hopes, will be blind.
Walton and his staff are working with the Iowa Department for the Blind to find qualified candidates to fill some of those positions.
“There’s a dignity in work, and it matters to everybody,” he said. “If you’re prevented from getting a job, it’s just so terribly unfair.”
Walton’s youngest son, Jay, is legally blind. Jay completed the intensive training program at IDB’s orientation center and is now more confident and works for VISTA AmeriCorps. Seeing Jay’s experience with IDB, plus working with IDB Director Karen Keninger and Employment Specialist Brenda Criswell, and knowing that the IDB will provide job training, coaching and other support, Walton says he is confident in placing blind workers into state jobs.
And the state, he said, will get quality employees. Walton listed statistics showing that disabled employees are dedicated, loyal and hard-working employees, and he said, “At my core, I believe those things are true.”
He knows of one blind employee at DAS who works in mail services and has been a successful employee. “Our experience has been really good,” said Walton.
“Ray is a champion of ours,” said IDB’s Keninger. “State jobs are good, solid jobs. I really appreciate his initiative.”
IDB’s Criswell said the state can be a prime example of an employer taking the initiative to be inclusive and hire people with disabilities. “We have many qualified applicants that, if given the opportunity, could be excellent, long-term workers for the state,” she said.
“We are doing what we always said we’d wanted to do, and we are putting it into practice because of Ray Walton’s commitment and belief that people with disabilities can compete for those types of jobs.”
State departments have already begun the process of filling vacated positions, and Walton says that blind workers and others with disabilities will get a “fair shake” in the application process. “We will make adaptations to accommodate people here,” he said. “We will be reasonable. We won’t hire blind people to be a surgeon or a pilot, but there are lots of jobs blind people can do.”
By Betty Hansen, Contributing Writer|VR Deaf-Blind Specialist
Megen Johnson assumed the duties of Vocational Rehabilitation supervisor on May 28.
Johnson first started at the Department in February 1999 as a Rehabilitation Counselor. In May 2002, she took the position of Transition Specialist and held that position for six years. She left the Department for a little more than a year to serve as the Transition Family Service Specialist at the Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School in Vinton. In August 2009, she returned to the IDB to serve as the agency’s Transition Work Experience Specialist, and nine months later she was chosen as VR supervisor.
Johnson will be overseeing the management of VR cases, mediating relations between VR clients and the IDB and keeping staff abreast of the state and federal laws and regulations that govern our program.
Johnson recognizes that our counselors and specialists have “a wealth of knowledge and experiences” and that they “take great pride in serving Iowans who are blind.” She believes in the positive philosophy of the Department and acknowledges the weight of responsibility she has in ensuring that blind Iowans have access to the resources they need to maintain their current jobs or to obtain the opportunity to join the workforce.
Linda Trogdon, field operations secretary for IDB, was given an award in August from the Iowa Radio Reading Information Service (IRIS) for her work keeping inventory of the many radios stored at the Department. The radios go out to Iowans who receive IRIS broadcasts throughout the state. When an IDB counselor or teacher signs up a client for IRIS service, Trogdon is the one to mail out a radio to that client and keeps track of the many radios stored at the IDB.
Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
By Beth Hirst, Contributing Writer | Assistant Library Director
As Lauren Thomson entered the school building using her long white cane on the first day of school, she thought about how great this year would be. Sixth grade—he last year at Earlham Elementary School! She knew her way around, was familiar with the teachers and other kids, and was especially looking forward to learning more about her favorite subjects, math and science.
Thomson had some great news to share with her teacher and classmates. Over the summer, she went to Los Angeles to compete in the National Braille Challenge, and she placed third in her division among kids from all over the country.
Thomson recalled her experience: “The most exciting part of the Braille Challenge is the awards ceremony. That is when we find out our scores, and it’s very nerve-wracking! The whole weekend is a lot of fun though. I really like meeting new friends. The welcoming ceremony on Friday is fun, and marching in and being introduced to the audience Saturday morning is really cool.”
Thomson has excelled in school because of the support she has received from her parents, her teachers and school staff, and her Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI). However, all of their encouragement and expertise might have gone for naught if Lauren had no textbooks in a format she could use. This is where the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has come to her aid.
The Instructional Materials Center (IMC) at the Library serves print-disabled students from pre-Kindergarten to college and beyond. Each school year, IMC librarians receive requests for textbooks and other educational materials in alternative format, such as Braille, audio or large print. The librarians search across the country to locate titles in the students’ chosen formats.
If a given title is not available anywhere, the librarian initiates the process of producing the book in house or through a contractor.
“The IMC at the Department for the Blind has really helped me in school,” Thomson said. “They have provided materials and books for me that my school didn’t have or my teachers couldn’t produce.”
Carol Eckey has been Thomson’s IMC librarian since the 12-year-old started Kindergarten. “Lauren is involved in so many activities, both in and outside of school,” Eckey said. “The whole Thomson family is enthusiastic about everything she does, from sports to science camp to playing trumpet in the band. Lauren has also participated in the Library’s Summer Reading Club. This year she completed the entire Harry Potter series, which she read in Braille, her preferred format.”
Thomson had 11 Braille textbooks waiting for her when school began in August. These included many volumes in science, math, history, literature and other subjects. She will receive additional materials throughout the year, such as worksheets, tests and novels for leisure reading.
Gail Stricker, another IMC Librarian, said about one-third of all requests arrive before the start of the school year. Another third come at the start of classes, and the remainder filter in as the year progresses. More than 2,000 requests were filled for the 2009/10 year, and well over 1,200 had already been provided at the beginning of 2010/11.
Due to the continued growth in IMC orders, a third librarian was hired this summer to share the workload. Marcella Edmonds, a veteran of 22 years in the Library’s circulation unit, brings enthusiasm and dedication to the IMC mission of providing students with materials they can use to advance their educations. Edmonds will serve the middle section of the alphabet, students whose last names begin with G-L. Stricker handles A-F, and Eckey will continue to serve Thomson and the rest of the students from M-Z.
For more information about receiving instructional materials, call 800-362-2587.
By Lance Blas, Special to the White Cane
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
The first time that I met Dorothy Bryant, I knew I was in the presence of a trail blazer. When Dorothy told me she does tai chi each morning, I knew right away that talking to her was going to be one of those special experiences you remember throughout the rest of your life. I should mention that she was 106 years old at the time.
Dorothy, who passed away July 24, was a witness to history in Iowa and at the Iowa Department for the Blind. As one of the Iowa Library for the Blind’s first employees, she worked alongside Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, whose radical vision shaped the Library and the new incarnation of the Department.
In the Library, Dorothy worked as an assistant librarian. She remembers the early days at the Department, before Jernigan transformed it into the leading agency for the blind in the country.
“Before Mr. Jernigan came to Des Moines in 1958, Iowa had no library for the blind, so the talking books had to come from Illinois and they were not very satisfactory.
“The very first thing after buying the building that Mr. Jernigan wanted to do was to set up a library in Iowa.”
As the result of countless hours of hard work, that ambitious dream became a reality in 1960. The Library of Congress designated the Commission for the Blind as one of its official libraries for Braille books and talking book records. Dorothy recalls: “In July of that year the first talking book record was mailed out. The talking books at the time were 78 rpm records, and the players were portable record players. The Braille books arrived to the library by the semi-truck loads. Magazines were first offered to patrons in August of that same year and 1,000 items of reading material were sent out and received each week.”
Dorothy was hired to take on the challenge of running the library, while the permanent librarian, Florence Grannis, took care of educational commitments in Seattle. Dorothy oversaw the operation of the library for three months.
She recalls meeting with Grannis on the first day of work. “At that time, Mrs. Grannis told me that we are here to work and there is not to be a social atmosphere here. That sounded all right to me. In Mr. Jernigan’s library, things were all business, and we addressed one another as ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ Those first days we worked night and day to get everything just right.”
There were four staff members in the library. “I was in charge of the talking book records, Carolyn Shuemann typed correspondence letters to patrons, and two gentlemen were in charge of Braille books.”
Grannis returned from Seattle in September, and at that time, she and Dorothy went out for dinner to discuss how things in the library were going. “We talked about each other’s families and formed a great friendship that lasted throughout the years, right up until the day that Florence passed away.”
Dorothy was very proud of the strong friendships she formed at the Iowa Department for the Blind.
She also became a patron of the Library after her vision worsened. She signed up for services and started receiving talking books in 1992.
“The blind people that I worked with and served at the commission were wonderful examples to me. When my vision started to deteriorate, I knew that it was possible to do everything that I always had. I was able to stay in my home and do most everything for myself all the way until I was 103.”
Dorothy said the talking books were good company and a way to keep in touch with what is going on in the world. The National Library Service honored Dorothy in 2004 with a Four Square Certificate for patrons who are 100 years old.
According to Dorothy: “Education was the most important thing to Mr. Jernigan. He wanted the Library for the Blind to be equal to or better than the community library and provide the same opportunities for the blind patrons. He was pleased with the results.”
We all benefit from the work of trail blazers like Dorothy Bryant. Her spirit is one that should be celebrated and honored as we recognize the 50th anniversary of our library.
Lance Blas is an independent living teacher at the IDB. He visited with Dorothy Bryant in late May, just before her death.
Back-to-school time is here, bringing new teachers, new classmates and new textbooks to students throughout the state. And for an increasing number of students, those textbooks are in alternative formats: Braille, audio, large print or e-text. Through our Instructional Materials Center, requests for accessible textbooks for the 500 Iowa students who use the service has increased by 41 percent in the past five years. This is good news: more Iowa students are receiving the books they need than ever before.
Actually, readers of all ages are finding increased access to books in alternative formats. In August, Iowans downloaded 2,191 digital talking books from the National Library Service’s BARD website, a number that we expect will continue to grow. And patrons are discovering that books from other sources can be played on the NLS player as well.
Of course, the great service provided by the Library is more than just digital talking books, and this fall we plan to celebrate all aspects of our service at an open house on Nov. 5 from 1 to 5 p.m. The Library reached a milestone this year, and we’d like the world to know that we’re Fabulous at 50! I hope you can join us!
Happy reading, Tracey Morsek
Reading opens the door to learning no matter what your age, and these recent recordings by volunteer narrators offer patrons an opportunity to explore topics ranging from the Lincoln White House to Hawkeye football. All the following titles are available in digital format. If you would like to borrow a digital talking book player, contact the Library.
DBO15007: Mary by Janis C. Newman
Mary Todd Lincoln is one of history’s most misunderstood and enigmatic women. The first president’s wife to be called First Lady, she was a political strategist, a supporter of emancipation, and a mother who survived the loss of three children and the assassination of her beloved husband. Yet she also ran her family into debt, held seances in the White House, and was committed to an insane asylum.
This fictional autobiography is presented as notes composed by Mary Todd Lincoln when she was at the insane asylum. The Library has prepared a reading group discussion guide for use with this book. 2007. Narrated by Sue Smith.
DBO15017: Light From Lucas by Robert Vander Plaats
Provides insights into parenting, marriage, spiritual growth, the nature of suffering, the character of God, and the value of every life. These insights are shared in the context of the author’s many stories about Lucas, the third of his four sons, who was born severely disabled with lissencephaly. 2007. Narrated by Robert White.
DBO15033: Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl by Carol Bodensteiner
Memoirs of a happy childhood on an Iowa farm in the 1950s. 2008. Narrated by Carol Bodensteiner.
DBO15040: Playing with the Enemy: a Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and the Long Journey Home by Gary W. Moore
Gene Moore was a country boy who could hit a baseball a country mile. He was so good that the Brooklyn Dodgers came calling. When Gene’s baseball career was interrupted by World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy, and in 1944, he found himself on a top-secret mission: to guard the German sailors captured from a U-505 submarine carrying an Enigma decoding machine. Stuck with guard duty, Gene taught the enemy how to play baseball. It was a decision that irrevocably changed his life...and maybe baseball itself. Inspired by true events. 2006. Narrated by David Saurman.
DBO15084: The 50 Greatest Plays in Iowa Hawkeye Football History by Michael Maxwell
Ranks and brings to life the most memorable moments from Hawks gridiron lore. Fifty chapters describe the action, profile the participants, and reveal the rich story behind each play. 2008. Narrated by Harlan Watson.
DBO15201: The Forgotten Friend and Other Stories by Grace Livingston Hill
Gordon Pierce has bought Christmas gifts for everyone on his list. Then a sudden hailstorm drives Gordon into the shelter of a small church, and he is reminded of someone for whom he forgot to shop, someone who gave him the greatest gift of all. Includes six other stories. “The Forgotten Friend” was originally published in 1916. Narrated by Jessica Healy.
By Alicia Seedorff, Special to The White Cane
My name is Alicia Seedorff. I am a college student at Grand View University in Des Moines. My transition to college has been a bit different than most because I am blind.
I lost my vision at age 26 from a motor vehicle accident. Like many people, I knew little of the world of blindness. I truly thought my life was done; that I could never again be a productive person with a full life. It was not until I attended the Orientation Center at the Iowa Department for the Blind that my views changed. I learned so many valuable tools that I use in my daily life. When I finished the Center I decided to return to college and work toward a bachelor’s degree in human services.
I take the same classes as any other student and follow the same curriculum. My professors expect the same quality of work from me as a sighted individual. However, there are some accommodations that are necessary to ensure I can do my best. I usually talk with the teachers before starting a class to let them know what I may need. For example, if they write something on the board they need to read it out loud as well.
There are plenty of options to make school materials accessible. I receive my textbooks on CD through Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic so I can listen to the assignments. I also buy a print version of the text and hire a reader or scan the book for JAWS (a computer screen-reader program) to read to me. I take the same tests and quizzes, but usually have them dictated for me.
I am pleased to say that I received all A’s last spring. I’ve realized that I am capable of doing what “sighted people” do.
When I was in the Center, Braille was one of my favorite classes and a skill I seemed to pick up quite easily. I learned how valuable a tool it is for communication. I also found out that I enjoyed helping others learn Braille. So, during my summer break from college I decided to volunteer in the Center’s Braille class. The students were great to work with, and throughout my time there I made some new friends.
For me, learning and teaching Braille opens up the door for communication and independence. I love reading books now, something I never did as a sighted person. I am who I am now because of the Center. The teachers believed in me when I didn’t. One day I hope to help others find belief in themselves; I hope to teach Braille.
For me, learning and teaching Braille opens up the door for communication and independence."
By Rebecca Swainey, Contributing Writer|Braille Teacher
Cynthia Qloud teaches computers and cane travel in the orientation center. We sat down with her to find out more about why she loves what she does and some of her fondest memories in the center.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I am originally from a little town in New York callidbcomm.wordpress.comed Horseheads. Until I was 13 I went to public school, but I could not read because I couldn’t see the print. So then I went to the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia to learn Braille and other blindness techniques.
Q: How did you come to work for the Iowa Department for the Blind?
A: I was looking for a job after I graduated from the University of Iowa; they were looking for a home-teacher in field operations. Shortly after I was hired for that position I was asked to work in the Orientation Center where I became the home ec teacher. I’ve worked here now over 31 years. In that time, in addition to home ec, I’ve taught Braille, cane travel and computers.
Q: Tell us about a memorable experience you’ve had in the Orientation Center.
A: I think of the first orientation center alumni banquet done by the Center students and staff. This was just my second year in Orientation. We decided to make pumpkin pies for dessert. We needed enough pumpkin for 40 pies. So, we all picked lots of pumpkins and started to make pumpkin pie filling from scratch. We cooked the pumpkins and then ran them through a food processor. What a mess! There was pumpkin everywhere. Truthfully, though, it was a lot of fun. It was also a wonderfully valuable experience, working together on one big project. I’ve looked forward to banquet time each year since.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: “I like my job because I believe in what I’m doing. I believe blind people should have an opportunity to demonstrate to themselves that they can be successful.”
Linda Stone and Bridget Stovall completed training in the center this summer. Stone is spending time volunteering, and Stovall is seeking employment in the Des Moines area. You can read about Stone’s experiences in the center on our Cane Tracks blog: idbcomm.wordpress.com
Success in college comes first from self acceptance
By Tai Blas, Contributing Writer|Transition Specialist
Editor’s Note: John Budding is a blind student entering his sophomore year at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. He is doing well and has made the Dean’s list. He participated in IDB’s Transition program and attended the Orientation Center in 2009. View a slideshow of John's first day of college.
Q: How is school going?
A: I have had a very typical experience transitioning from high school to college. I haven’t had many challenges throughout this process. The first year was rough due to increased workload and learning to manage time while enjoying the many social activities at college, but that is something that everyone has to get used to, blind or sighted. This year, I am rooming with one of my former suitemates from last year, so I was able to form lasting friendships. Members of the choir comprise my main social group. I was concerned about the social setting and fitting in as a blind person, because I have just recently begun carrying a cane and identifying as blind. Initially, there was some awkwardness because students were not sure how to react to the cane, but that uneasiness did not last.
I did not disclose my blindness in high school, so no one made an issue of it. I was concerned that students might make an issue of it at college, but everyone is very accepting and friendly. It is mostly my fear of awkwardness that is a bother. There is always a bit of awkwardness but it has not been bad. I don’t feel terrible about it. It is people I don’t know that I have the most problems with. When I am meeting new people or in a new setting, it is hard to explain myself because I don’t necessarily look blind.
Q: What type of assistance do you receive (not financial, but academic) to get your textbooks on time, your class work, etc.?
A: My college scans books that are not in audio format. Every professor I have met with and talked to is very accommodating for exams and in class notes and texts. They always provide materials in an email or scanned format. Most of my classes have been very informal seminar type classes. My psychology professor emails me PowerPoint presentations of the class. He also made a scan sheet in Excel so that I could use that to take my tests rather than using a Scantron sheet. For my German class, the Center for Teaching and Learning enlarged each section of my German textbook so that I was able to read it. The school has been very timely in providing accommodations.
Q: Have you had interesting experiences related to your blindness?
A: Being in choir, I don’t know music Braille. I can see enough to see the music notes, but I cannot read the words fast enough to sing along. My choir director gets in touch with music education majors and I receive private tutoring with a music education major. That student gets practice with teaching and I am able to learn and memorize the music and the words. There is a downside to not being able to read on the fly. I really want to practice Braille so that I can read along during choir and so that I can use it during class presentations. It will not be practical for me to blow up my notes for presentations, as I need to maintain eye contact with the audience, so I am working on that. Choir has been the most interesting experience. I walked in the first day with my cane and no one knew how to react. However, choir has become my home at Knox. The weekly meetings with the Music Ed students has helped so I can walk into choir and sing. I am able to lead once I have memorized the music. I enjoy this leadership role.
Q: How has the transition program prepared you to be successful in college?
A: I knew that I had to become involved with the IDB since I will eventually become totally blind. The transition program was my first introduction to confident blind people. These were people that I could talk to who were succeeding. The program did not give me skills per se, but it was my first dose of confidence. It was good exposure. It introduced me to blindness and helped me come to terms with myself so that I could become more confident. In high school, I hid my blindness. After the transition program, I knew I needed to go to the Orientation Center. There, I learned JAWS and now use it in classes daily. I use a cane and am learning Braille. When I attended transition, I gained my first understanding that I could do what I wanted to do. One of the things that stood out to me while in training at the Orientation Center is the concept that blind people are a cross section of society. We are college students, we are professionals, just like everyone else and should be treated as such. People do not understand that and treat us differently. Being an introvert, I am trying to find effective ways of dealing with this fact.
Q: What would you recommend to other blind students who want to go to college?
A: Students need to learn how to communicate with the disabilities office as soon as possible. Advocate for yourself but also set boundaries. These offices exist to accommodate you but not to do everything for you. Find the balance between independence and advocating for your own accommodations. Focus on learning effective communication and how to get the services you need while maintaining your independence.
Embrace your blindness. One of the biggest things I learned was to roll with things and to accept who I am. I feared that my blindness would dampen my social opportunities. Confidence is the most important thing. Don’t be afraid to use the accommodations you need. Some students do not use JAWS and can see pretty well but it could benefit them if they embraced it. I did not use my cane all year, but I wish I had used it all the time because people react differently when I use it. When I go home, I feel like I should use my cane, but all of my high school friends will ask why I am using it. There is some awkwardness in explaining that I have been blind the entire time and should have been using the cane. Accept that when people don’t know something, you have to tell them and show them that the cane does not make you a different person. Having the cane when you haven’t had it before creates a stigma around you. If you are confident in yourself and don’t act like it makes you any different, hopefully people will treat you as though you are not different.
In college, people are more open-minded. Students need not worry about being judged as much. Educate people that you can do anything. They don’t know what you are capable of so you need to show them both socially and academically.
Q: What are some of your favorite assistive devices that contribute to your success in college?
A: I love JAWS!! I learned the basics in the Orientation Center. Now that I am on my own, I have fun experimenting with JAWS and the Internet. I recently learned to use Facebook with JAWS. I used the Victor Reader Stream to read all of my books last year. If I don’t read them with the Stream, I read them on the computer. Yesterday, I looked at the Stream manual to learn more commands such as audio bookmarks and highlighting. RFB and D and NLS have been great sources for books. I feel like I am going to get a much better grasp on my skills and new uses for technology this year.
Q: Does your blindness hinder you in any way at school?
A: Hinder is a strong word. Blindness poses challenges, but at the same time, life is full of challenges and I just happen to have this one. Without challenges, life would be too easy. Having the blindness forces me to overcome a challenge which is, in itself, a great skill. If I can overcome the blindness and succeed through graduate school, there is nothing stopping me.
Last year, I struggled with reading scripts and did not advocate for myself as well as I should. This was my social inhibitions and my introverted personality coming into play. It is difficult to walk up to someone and tell them that I can’t read the script and ask them to enlarge the script. It is difficult to explain that I am blind at times when I am not using my cane because people don’t understand that. The challenge is teaching people about blindness in general and my blindness specifically. Theater was difficult due to my inhibitions. I need to figure out how to either read a script or read notes in front of me. I am going to challenge myself by participate in theater again this year.
Q: What else do you like to do?
A: I enjoy the improv troop. There is a show, but once it is over, there is no improv program. I am trying to start an improv club. This undertaking will improve my leadership skills. I need to learn leadership and organization skills. Being in improv and choir are teaching me to organize and be a leader within a group without having stringent rules.
A day in the life of a BEP manager
By Roger Erpelding, Contributing Writer|B.E.P. Program Administrator
We all know vending machines can’t stock themselves. Through the Business Enterprises Program (BEP), blind and visually impaired vending managers maintain operations in public buildings throughout Iowa.
One of the most successful of these managers is Kevin Slayton, who operates several vending sites in Des Moines. Kevin has been working for himself in this business for 19 years. This summer I followed him around on a typical work day.
It all began on a Monday morning at 6:45. Kevin and his employees, Dan and Al, arrived at one of their route locations, the Iowa Department for the Blind, and the day’s work commenced immediately.
Kevin’s first duty was probably his most important task from the employees’ view—passing out payroll checks. Kevin and his crew checked on the temperature of a refrigerator that had been recently repaired, cleaned the tables in the adjacent dining area and checked in a pastry order from Hostess.
Next stop was the Polk County Court House. Meanwhile, Al was dispatched to several nearby locations to clean and fill vending machines as well as to troubleshoot and solve problems. At the Court House, Kevin and Dan took a quick product inventory in the machines, cleaned tables and microwaves, changed a light bulb in the snack machine, filled the pop machine and cleaned the coffee machine.
We then headed back to the Department for the Blind, several blocks away, to pick up additional product. Then we took off for the Federal Building. With practice and routine, it did not take long for the crew to do what was necessary and move along.
Kevin operates three locations in the River Point area on SW 7th, 8th and 9th streets. It was at these locations where a little extra time and effort was required. Accustomed to seeing Kevin and his employees at work, several customers approached them for cash and product refunds. Being the organized man that he is, Kevin incorporates this necessary duty into the schedule. Fortunately, the repairs were minor, refunds were quickly given, customers were satisfied, and it was back on schedule in a flash!
“Organization and customer service is what this business is all about,” stated Slayton, as we were off and running back to the Department to give the tables a second cleaning, and to load up product for our next few stops at River Place, two small Polk County buildings and a quick stop at the Court House again to replace inventory that had been sold over the weekend.
But first it was time for an early lunch, and an opportunity to sample some of the new products that Kevin has been receiving from his suppliers. It was also a time to review our morning’s tasks, and what would lie ahead.
After lunch, we went to the west-bound rest area vending location at Waukee, which presented some different vending aspects. Since this location is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Kevin had visited the roadside locations on Sunday, and knew what inventory to take with him. Besides cleaning and filling, Kevin checked the machine counters on the beverage machines to ascertain the number of sales which occurred during the previous week. It was also a time to collect money. We saw a similar pattern in the east-bound site later on that day.
On occasion, BEP managers call one of our staff for assistance in vending machine repair. At Kevin’s newest location, the Internal Revenue Service Call Center, the coffee machine had been leaking. He had tried to trace the problem on his own and with telephone coaching from Tim Wigans, a BEP counselor. Since these endeavors were not successful, Wigans agreed to stop by and take a look. So, the schedule was broken, and we were off to I.R.S.
Tim re-set, tested, adjusted, tore apart, put together, and watched the coffee machine continue to leak, although the volume had lessened. It is a prime goal of our program to give managers the tools they need to truly become independent business people. Naturally, this applies to vending machine maintenance and repair.
“All I did with Kevin in this case was to verify his assessment of the problem. I also gave him several things to try and possible replacement parts to install to resolve it,” Wigans said. “It is always a pleasure to work with someone who takes as much pride in his business as Kevin does, and who will extend the effort to understand his equipment.”
Now it was time for Kevin to call it a day—on the route anyway. He was returning to his home office to prepare orders, do bookkeeping and count receipts.
When asked how he determines what products go into the machines he replied, “It is based upon what sells. I carry much of the same product at each location, but sometimes I’ll carry a different product if there is a demand—Coca-Cola Zero at River Place, for example.”
Service, reliability, organization, scheduling, happy customers, functioning machines and a good product mix are all important ingredients in forging a successful business. And the best part is that Kevin’s track record shows that this works!