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

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

Outreach!

Representatives from the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped have traveled throughout the state this summer attending Senior Wellness Expos and talking to Support Groups about library services. This is a great way for Iowans with visual impairments to become aware of what the library has to offer.  It also provides a chance for the library staff to meet some of the patrons we talk to on the phone.  If you know of a group or individuals that would benefit from hearing about the services the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped offer, please call Leslie at 515.281.1296.  We would be happy to come demonstrate how to use the digital players, talk about our new service model of 10 books on a cartridge or just library services in general!  Our next stops include a visit to the Linn County Support Group in Cedar Rapids on August 10th, the Cedar Valley Senior Wellness Fair in Cedar Falls on August 11th and the Vision Loss Resource Fair in Clarinda on September 22nd.  Come visit our booth if you’re in the area!

Two Iowa Students Qualify For National Braille Challenge

BC-LogoThe list of regional Braille Challenge contestants that have qualified for competition at the national level has been released. Two students, Kayla Bartholomew and Lauren Thomson, participated in Iowa’s regional Braille Challenge and will be traveling to Los Angeles this June to participate nationally at The 2016 Braille Challenge.

Roxanne Book, Iowa Braille Challenge Regional Coordinator, notes, “The Iowa Braille Challenge raises awareness about Braille and celebrates Braille readers, while encouraging them to sharpen their Braille skills.” We applaud all who participated and wish best of luck to two Iowans who are going to sunny southern California!

For more information go to the Iowa Department for the Blind website.

Accessible Voting Machine Demo at IDB

The public will have access to an accessible voting machine in the Director’s Conference Room at the Iowa Department for the Blind on Friday, May 13 from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm and Saturday, May 14 from noon to 4:30 pm,. If you come on Saturday, please use the north entrance as there will be someone there to let people in. Individuals will have the opportunity to have some hands-on experience with the accessible voting machine and to ask questions.

Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth St, Des Moines, Iowa – Director’s Conference Room    www.idbonline.org

 

Digital Learning Day

DLD_Logo_ForWebDigital Learning is instructional practice that uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience ensuring all students reach their full potential and succeed in college or in a career.

Digital Learning Day started in 2012 and is a national campaign to celebrate learning, instructional technology programs and teachers.  With constantly changing technology, it is so important to increase equity and access to educational opportunities to build skills to succeed in college, career and life.

The library and the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) is committed to providing high-quality assistive technology services to clients, employers, and blind Iowans. IDB’s technology team’s mission is to provide the tech and training that empowers clients and staff to become self-sufficient.   We want to help clients build their skills and self-confidence in regards to technology so that they can continue to grow and adapt as technology changes.

Link to more information about IDB’s Technology Services

Link to the Digital Learning Day site by Alliance for Excellent Education