IDB Parent Listening Sessions: May 11th and 14th

Iowa Department for the Blind Logo is an outline of the sate of iowa with IDB in brailleThe Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) will be holding parent listening sessions via Zoom on Monday, May 11th at 10:00 am and Thursday, May 14th at 7:00 pm. Parents are invited to attend one or both of the sessions. Connection information is below.  

IDB is working to launch several new cross-program initiatives to help youth gain independent living skills, develop self-efficacy, and be prepared for the world of work and adult life. We have been hearing from parents for several years about the need for additional support, resources, and training so that they can help their children take on age appropriate responsibilities, keep up with their peers, and make the transition from school to work in a way that results in their children becoming independent, well-adjusted, and successful adults. . One of these initiatives is the development of a parent advisory committee and a youth advisory committee to help guide our programs. We believe it is very important to ensure that our activities remain responsive to the needs of those we serve. In order to gain information that will guide our program design teams, we are inviting parents of blind and low vision youth to share their thoughts, ideas, and needs at our virtual listening sessions. 

Possible Discussion Questions:

  • If we were to host regular webinars about technology, what topics would you like us to cover?
  • After the current crisis has past, what do you feel you would most benefit from in an in-person conference or training?
  • What are the best times of day, times of the year, for online or in person events?
  • If we were to create a parent and family webpage or blog, what would you hope to find there?
  • If we were to bring in speakers, either in person or virtually, such as subject matter experts or blind people working in different occupations, would you attend and do you have any suggestions for what folks you would like to hear from and talk with?
  • What questions do you have about IDB services and how do you think we can better communicate what we have to offer?
  • What forms of communication do you find most helpful? Email, Facebook, phone, etc.?
  • What training, services or support do you feel is most lacking for you and your child/ren?
  • What has you most concerned for your child/ren’s future?
  • What, if any, items or services from IDB have you found to be the most helpful

Zoom Connection Information:

These listening sessions will be held on Monday, May 11th at 10:00 am and Thursday, May 14th at 7:00 pm.

Join Zoom Meeting Link   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81413732909
Meeting ID: 814 1373 2909

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Meeting ID: 814 1373 2909

National Volunteer Month – Every Moment Makes a Difference

April is National Volunteer Month.  Every moment our volunteers give to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) and the Library makes a huge difference in so many ways.  Their willingness to share both their time and talents by volunteering with the Library says a lot.  Their willingness to give selflessly to help others speaks to both their strength and the quality of their character.

For example, in 2019, volunteers gave over 7,220 hours to IDB and the Library.  Volunteers assisted with audio production, braille production, youth programs, library circulation and more. 

Our volunteers helped us do more in 2019 than we ever could have done to ensure we positively impacted Iowans lives.  We thank our volunteers!  This statistics illustrates how much their gift of time makes such an impact in achieving our mission and goals.

Moving into 2020, our volunteers are helping us through these uncertain times through their work at home. 

Two of our volunteer narrators helped us launch a new program for the library called, IDB Read.  Patrons can call in and listen to one of our wonderful volunteer narrators read live on the phone, followed by a short chat about the book.  Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:00pm-5:00pm, you call in and listen to our narrator, Christine, read a cozy mystery. The first one is titled A Scone to Die For by H.Y. Hanna.  Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00am – 11:00 am, you can call in and listen to our narrator, Bob, read a western, titled To the Far Blue Mountains by Louis L’Amour.  Please call the library at 515.281.1323 to get the conference call number for IDB Read.

Our volunteer Braillists and narrators continue to work on projects from home for both the students and patrons ensuring our patrons have the information and materials that they need.  Our Friends of the Library continue to work tirelessly on supporting the library through fundraising and support.  And the Library Consumer Advisory Committee continues their work as advocates for our library.

Thank you again to all of our volunteers who continue to help us in so many ways!

For information about how you can help check out these pages:

LEAP Transition Resource Fair

The Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) and the Iowa City Community School District present a resource fair for students K-12, parents, teachers, and service providers featuring exhibitors, informative sessions, and family activities. The fair offers information about services and resources available to assist low vision and blind students navigate their school careers and prepare for post-secondary education and/or employment.

Featuring:

  • Information sessions:
    • Session 1 — 10:00-11:00 am
      “Introduction to IDB Services – Vocational Rehabilitation, the Orientation Center, the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the Library’s Instructional Materials Center, and the Aids & Devices Store” –  Learn what services are offered by the Iowa Department for the Blind and how they can help low vision and blind transition-age students during their school years.
      +
      “Converting Text to Audio —  How to Scan Books”  with Enrique Mejia, Rehabilitation Technology Specialist
      Blind and low vision students starting college may suddenly realize they no longer have a TVI to take care of ordering their accessible study materials for them. The responsibility of being prepared for classes falls primarily on students themselves. They need to have the skills to find and get access to information. One important skill is the ability to scan materials. This session will cover just a few of the tools, inexpensive and sometimes free, that are available to students.
    • 11:00 am – Exhibits open until 3:00 pm
    • Session 2 — 11:10 am – 12:00 pm
      “Early Intervention in Low Vision and Blind Students Lives” with Julie Aufdenkamp, Transition Specialist
      This session will address the crucial question of:  “What should the expectations be for children who are blind or low vision?”
    • 12:00-1:15 pm  Lunch (you may bring your own or find options nearby in the area),  exhibits remain open
    • Session 3 — 1:15 pm – 2:00 pm
      Vocational Rehabilitation – “Today’s Learners Become Tomorrow’s Earners” with Julie Aufdenkamp,  Transition Specialist
      “Vocational Rehabilitation from the Iowa Department for the Blind doesn’t start until my child/student graduates from high school… right?” Wrong! Session participants will learn what VR is and why early connections are important.
    • Session 4 — 2:15- 3:00 pm
      The Orientation Center – “Nonvisual Skills and Independence” with Nami Wallace, Orientation Center Instructor
      An in-depth look at the Orientation Center, it’s philosophy of learning, what classes are offered, the use of learning shades, and how attending the Center fits into a student’s overall development.
  • Exhibitors and resource tables focusing on transition services, tech vendors, advocacy groups

Where:  The Commons and Room 118, The Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa, 2301 Oakdale Blvd, Coralville, IA  Link to Google maps and directions

Free and open to the public, students of all ages welcome

Upcoming Holiday Reminder

The weather is changing and the holidays are approaching! This is a quick reminder of holiday closings for the library and the Iowa Department for the Blind.  Watch our blog for some great book lists to help plan for your holiday reading.

Holiday Closings

  • Friday, November 11th in observance of Veterans Day
  • Thursday and Friday, November 24th and 25th
  • Monday, December 26th
  • Monday, January 2nd

IDB Introduces New Building Access Design

info-deskIf you have walked into the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) building recently you may have noticed that some changes are afoot. An inviting corner for Library users and visitors has been created in a re-purposed portion of the first floor employee break room/cafeteria, just inside the north door/accessible entrance. A comfortable sofa, book shelves that beckon to be explored, and some unique children’s activities are available to enjoy. Two helpful staff from the library are stationed nearby at the newly created information desk area, ready to greet visitors and assist Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped patrons with information and circulation needs. Library patrons are now able to refill cartridges, drop off books, and use other library services more quickly. A convenient accessible iPad mounted on a stand replaces the loose leaf binder sign-in book. The west side of the cafeteria has been rearranged in proximity to the vending machines with enough space for the usual number of people using it during breaks and lunch. It’s all part of a “one point of service” concept and design that Library and other IDB staff are presenting on a trial basis.

Born of a desire to bring the Library front desk closer to patrons, the need for more efficient use of staff, and improve building security, this new public interface is being tried out in a no-cost pilot effort.

A significant change to entering the IDB building began its trial on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 when the 4th Street doors will no longer be used as a visitor entrance and will remain locked during the day. Though the door will remain available to staff and Orientation Center students using their key card, visitors will be redirected to enter the building through the north door on Watson Powell, Jr. Way. This newly designated main entrance is served by the wheelchair accessible ramp and has proven to be the entrance most visitors currently use. It will be unlocked at 8:00 a.m. as always for public access. Print and braille signage at the east door to redirect visitors to the north door and a temporary doorbell that will ring at the switchboard are designed to help with this transition.

The switchboard desk will remain where it is in the main lobby by the elevators and will allow the person staffing that desk to focus on answering and directing phone inquiries.

“The library and maintenance staff have worked hard to create a welcoming space that will help our entire agency to build community and provide better service to clients and patrons,” Department director Emily Wharton commented. “We are hopeful that this will be a stepping stone that will allow us to provide more services in a more cost effective manner. We have already been getting great ideas and suggestions.”

For more information https://blind.iowa.gov/

Voting Is For Everyone

voteVoting Is For Everyone, including Iowans with vision loss.  Through this project funded by a Prairie Meadows Community Betterment Grant, the Iowa Council of the United Blind (ICUB) is sharing tips and techniques with visually impaired citizens that will help them participate fully in this year’s voting process.

The Voting Is for Everyone project is encouraging Iowans with vision loss to vote through presentations at blind organization and support-group meetings and through a clear, concise guide available in large print, audio, and electronic formats.  The guide covers such topics as blind-friendly methods for registering to vote, casting a ballot, and remedying any violation of voting rights.  It also includes sources of timely information about candidates and issues that can be accessed no matter how much vision the voter has.

The Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has a copy of this guide in Braille (BRC27080).  If you are interested in the guide, please contact the library at 515-281-1323 or library@blind.state.ia.us

Below is a link to the Iowa Department for the Blind’s website with more information about the voting guide and information on how to download a copy of the guide.

https://blind.iowa.gov/voting-isnt-just-iowans-who-can-see

White Cane Safety Day 2016

White Cane Safety Day, also known as Blind Americans Equality Day, is an annual, national observance that recognizes the achievements of blind Americans and the importance of the white cane as the basic tool of mobility and symbol of independence for the blind. It is also a day to remind all citizens of the laws granting the right of way to blind cane travelers. In 1964, the United States Congress authorized the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as “White Cane Safety Day”. In fact, White Cane Safety Day is now celebrated around the world in many countries on the same date.

White Cane Safety Day 2016 falls on a Saturday this year. The Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) encourages all blind and low vision Iowans and their supporters to join in this fun and meaningful celebration of White Cane Safety Day 2016 by holding local events and by seeking proclamations of the date, October 15, 2016, from local governments.Links to template files for requesting proclamations from municipal and county governments and links that provide background information about this significant observance may be found here.

New Iowa Department for the Blind Director Selected

emily-wharton_0The Iowa Commission for the Blind has chosen Emily Wharton to serve as Director of the Iowa Department for the Blind. Wharton had been serving as the agency’s Technology Director since 2013.

“Emily Wharton brings three key qualities to the position of Iowa Department for the Blind director,” said Peggy Elliott of Grinnell, chair of the three-member Iowa Commission for the Blind, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate to set policy for the state agency.

“She has personally struggled with the challenge of living successfully as a blind person and has met that challenge, showing others by her life that blindness need not stop a person from living a full and productive life,” Elliott continued. “She successfully used the Department’s services to achieve her goals and, though she at first viewed the services as provided out of pity, came to understand they are provided to empower. And she has made the commitment to provide her positive outlook and can-do attitude to fellow Iowans encountering vision loss.

“We commissioners look forward to the positive results Emily’s energy and experience will bring to the leadership of a state agency serving fellow Iowans who often, as Emily once did, underestimate their own potential,” Elliott concluded.

Born legally blind, Wharton grew up in Aurelia, Iowa. Her parents expected her to help out around the house and at the family’s hardware store, get good grades, and go to college just as they did her two sighted sisters. She struggled to read print through thick glasses and deal with bullies.

“Although I wish that I had learned Braille as a child, I am forever grateful that my parents never let me get out of work because of my eyesight,” Wharton observes. “I actually learned some ways of doing things non-visually that I didn’t even realize. This was the best thing they could do to prepare me for adult life.”

Wharton’s first contact with services from the Department took place when she was a senior in high school. A vocational rehabilitation counselor from the Iowa Department for the Blind contacted her school guidance counselor.

“They offered to help me pay for college. I really wanted to go to Drake but didn’t know how I was going to pay for it,” Wharton recalls. “The idea of accepting ‘government assistance’ didn’t really settle well with me, though. I told everyone they were giving me ‘pity money.’”

Wharton was academically successful at Drake, but a lack of non-visual skills and low self-esteem due to the internalization of negative beliefs about blindness and herself as a blind person made college life a struggle for her.

“One night I was trying to finish some reading for a paper at 1 a.m. and a bunch of my friends came back from the bar laughing,” Wharton remembers,  “and I felt so angry that it was taking me so much longer  to get things done than my friends.”

Wharton’s rehabilitation counselor finally convinced her to take a tour of the Orientation Center in which the Department offers intensive training in non-visual techniques such as travel with a white cane and using computers that voice information through speech synthesizers. This was the first time she had ever met another blind person or considered that she could use power tools safely and competently.

“The director of the orientation center was a former English professor,” Wharton says. “I saw people walking around quickly without staring at the ground. I saw people using table saws. And everyone seemed relaxed and comfortable with themselves. I knew that was what I needed.”

Wharton finished college a semester early in order to attend the center before starting graduate school.

“It took a lot of work and a lot of patience from the staff,” Wharton comments. “I was a pretty obnoxious, argumentative student. But eventually I came to realize that being blind was OK and that I was a full, complete person. I wasn’t broken or inferior.”

The freedom that this realization brought set Wharton on a new career path. She wanted to help others obtain that same freedom. She took a job teaching cane travel at BLIND, Incorporated, a training center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over the next fifteen years, she taught cane travel, Braille, job seeking skills and assistive technology.

She trained and mentored new staff and set up and managed the organization’s computer network and website. She created a new curriculum for teaching Braille to adults — the Code Master Adult Braille Learning System — which won two national awards in 2013, the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind and the Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation from the National Braille Press.

“Having learned Braille as an adult and working with others who had as well,” Wharton explains, “I realized that there is a faster way for adults to learn the Braille code that utilizes their strengths and learning styles.”

The Code Master system is now being used by the Department in its center and field training.  Materials are available to patrons through the Department’s Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped service.

In 2005 while teaching at BLIND, Wharton completed a Master of Fine Arts degree at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.

When the opportunity arose to return to her home state in 2013, Wharton was elated.

“I love Iowa and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give back to the agency that empowered me to live a full and happy life,” she sums up. “I am truly honored and excited to be named Director and will put my heart and soul into fulfilling the Department’s mission of empowering blind Iowans.”

Wharton lives in Des Moines with her spouse Shawn Mayo.

The Iowa Department for the Blind is a state agency providing an array of services to Iowans who are legally blind, defined as having ten percent or less of normal vision. Agency staff provides information and services designed to enable Iowans with vision loss to have full and productive lives using non-visual methods of performing tasks. Those services include library service, assistance in training for and finding work, options for living independently as a senior citizen, and intensive training in use of non-visual techniques. For more information please call 515-281-1333 or 800-362-2587 or visit the web site https://blind.iowa.gov.

Clarinda Vision Loss Resource Fair

Information and items on display will include:

  • Library services – receive large print and audio books free by mail
  • Free newspaper reading services
  • Resources to assist with completing schoolwork
  • Vocational rehabilitation services for retaining or seeking employment
  • Computer screen readers, CCTV’s,  and text-to-speech technology
  • Aids & devices to help with everyday activities – talking clocks, handheld magnifiers and more.
  • Tips on how to complete everyday tasks when vision loss makes them difficult

Questions?  Contact Rick Dressler, (515) 281-1314, rick.dressler@blind.state.ia.us