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Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 Day at the Capitol January 20

Our 2015 Day at the Capitol is this Thuesday, January 20. We will host a Reception/Continental Breakfast for members of the Senate and House at 8:00 a.m. outside the Old Supreme Court Chambers on the 2nd floor of the Capitol.


NFB of Colorado members will meet inside the Old Supreme Court Chambers beginning at 8:30 a.m, where we'll review our issues for this year and answer questions. Then, as always, we'll break into small teams and set out through the Capitol to deliver our message and packets of information to each and every member of the Colorado General Assembly!


Our Day at the Capitol is grass-roots democracy working at its best. In the National Federation of the Blind we know that we can live the lives we want, and we know what it takes to make that happen! We have some critical issues this year, so read President Scott LaBarre's Memorandum to Legislators below, and we'll meet at 8:30 on Tuesday to start the job!

MEMORANDUM



To: The Members of the Colorado General Assembly
From: The Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado
Date: January 20, 2015
Re: Legislative Concerns of Blind Citizens

GENERAL BACKGROUND



The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the United States and in Colorado. The primary mission of the Federation is to allow the blind to live the lives they want in all areas of life from insuring basic civil rights to securing employment and education for the blind. Founded officially in 1955, the NFB of Colorado engages in a number of programs specifically designed to create greater opportunities for the blind. For example, the Federation is the chief sponsor of the Colorado Center for the Blind. The Colorado Center provides training in the alternative skills blind people need to become fully participating members of society. Additionally, NFB offers national and statewide scholarships. We provide a free talking newspaper called NFB-NEWSLINE® which allows the blind of our state to read the daily newspaper just as easily as their sighted peers. We advocate for the rights of the blind in all areas ranging from education to employment. Where positive changes are happening in the blindness field, there is a good chance that the Federation is involved.

2015 LEGISLATIVE AGENDA



First, the NFB of Colorado thanks the Colorado General Assembly for past support of and requests continued funding for NFB-NEWSLINE®, one of the NFB’s critical programs serving the blind of our state and allowing them to get access to nearly 400 publications at the same time as their sighted colleagues. Second, we believe that blind Coloradans are not adequately or effectively served by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and thus the Assembly should first form an interim study committee and then develop needed reforms. Third, we call upon the Assembly to adopt a Joint Resolution urging Congress to eliminate the practice of paying subminimum wages for workers with disabilities. Fourth and finally, we bring to the Assembly’s attention two key programs we run, the Colorado Center for the Blind and NFB scholarships, programs that may assist your constituents.


For further information contact: Scott C. LaBarre, President National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Phone: 303 504-5979 Fax: 303 757-3640 Email: slabarre@labarrelaw.com

CONTINUE FUNDING FOR NFB-NEWSLINE® SERVICE



For more than a decade, the Colorado General Assembly has funded Colorado’s NFB-NEWSLINE®, providing blind Coloradans the same daily access to newspapers and magazines as their sighted neighbors and family members enjoy. This year, we request that the General Assembly maintain its support of $60,000.00 to this project. Continuing funding to NFB-NEWSLINE® will not impact general funds because NFB-NEWSLINE® is funded through the Disabled Telephone Users Fund (DTUF), which comes from a very small fee on phone lines in Colorado and which has always registered a surplus.


Access to information from the newspapers and magazines of our nation and state play a critical role for each of us as informed and participating citizens. Recognizing this, the National Federation of the Blind created NFB-NEWSLINE® for the blind in the mid-1990s. With this revolutionary system, the blind are able to pick up their touch tone phone, call a toll free number, and select from nearly 400 different newspapers and magazines including the Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette, Wall Street Journal and many other national newspapers. Today the phone-in option is still in place, but additional options include online on-demand reading, e-mail delivery and, most impressively, mobile phone and tablet apps that deliver the two Colorado newspapers offered on the system, national papers as well as nearly 40 magazines – everything from AARP publications to Time and Wired. There are even accessible and locally-relevant television listings – something impossible to find in an accessible form for the blind otherwise. Additionally, the system provides current weather conditions as well as watches and warnings. Currently, over 1300 blind Coloradans have access to the 400 newspapers, magazines, and other publications on the system. About every three minutes, a blind Coloradan is tapping into the vast wealth of information provided by NFB-NEWSLINE®.


With the funding, the NFB of Colorado will maintain the system and expand its reach. We will create even greater opportunities to share NFB-NEWSLINE® on additional web based and other technological platforms; expand the number of publications available; train more blind individuals to use the system; and work with the Audio Information Network of Colorado (AIN) to provide more information to the blind of Colorado. AIN is another service funded by the DTUF providing other timely publications and information to our state’s blind and the NFB of Colorado supports continuing funding for AIN as well.


For further information contact: Scott C. LaBarre, President National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Phone: 303 504-5979 Fax: 303 757-3640 Email: slabarre@labarrelaw.com

CONVENE AN INTERIM STUDY ON EFFECTIVE VOCATIONAL
REHABILITATION SERVICES FOR BLIND COLORADANS



The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado urges the Colorado General Assembly to convene an Interim Study of the effectiveness of the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation’s (DVR’s) delivery of its services to blind Coloradans and to give strong consideration to the establishment of a separate, dedicated unit within state government to provide the targeted expertise necessary to enhance quality of life and improve employment outcomes for Colorado’s blind citizens.


Through the recent legislative audit conducted, members of the General Assembly are all too aware of the trials that Coloradans with disabilities have endured over the past two years as Colorado’s DVR program, under the Department of Human Services, seemed to collapse upon itself, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that Colorado’s federal-state program to assist people with disabilities to gain skills, training and education that could lead to integrated, competitive employment was possibly the worst in the nation as evidenced by the fact that several thousand disabled Coloradans were forced on a waiting list for months, even years for basic services. Obscured by this catastrophe is a steady dilution of services for blind Coloradans that predates DVR’s current predicament. Even as DVR has done much heavy lifting in terms of responding to the Legislative Audit Committee’s findings and to whittle the waiting list down, the National Federation of the Blind remains very concerned that Colorado DVR is not uniformly and adequately addressing the rehabilitation needs of blind applicants and clients.


People who are blind must have effective training in a discrete and specialized skill set in order to be successfully employed and integrated into the economic fabric of the state and nation, including training in independent travel, use of assistive technology and a host of other alternate strategies. States which have separate identifiable services for the blind have measurably better outcomes for their blind applicants. However, Colorado’s DVR is currently incapable of delivering these specialized services effectively, thus the need to study the issue intensively.


For further information contact: Scott C. LaBarre, President National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Phone: 303 504-5979 Email: slabarre@labarrelaw.com

PASS A JOINT RESOLUTION CALLING ON CONGRESS TO END
SUBMINIMUM WAGES FOR WORKERS WITH DISABILITIES



The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Urges the Colorado General Assembly to pass a joint Resolution Urging Congress to Support Legislation to phase out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.


The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) established a federal minimum wage to be paid to all American workers. However, only workers with disabilities, as a class, are excluded from this federal wage protection.


Over the years, workers without disabilities have received periodic increases to the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour, while workers with disabilities have seen the statutory floor for their subminimum wages fall and then disappear completely, with the result that some are now paid pennies per hour. This means that many of Colorado citizens with disabilities can legally be paid far less than the Colorado minimum wage of $8.23 per hour.


The practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wages stems from the public misconception that people with disabilities cannot be productive employees. The National Federation of the Blind has been joined by more than sixty (60) organizations of, or for, people with disabilities to condemn and deplore the archaic, misguided, unjust, unfair, and immoral practice of subjugating people with disabilities in non-integrated sheltered work settings with no hope of reaching their full vocational potential.


There are currently twenty-nine (29) entities across the state of Colorado which are certified by the United States Department of Labor to take advantage of the 14(c) Minimum Wage Payment Exemption allowing them to pay thousands of Colorado citizens, who happen to have disabilities, wages well below the federal minimum wage.


The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado calls upon the Colorado General Assembly to pass a joint resolution urging the United States Congress to pass H.R. 188, the Transition to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act, which will responsibly phase out the use of special wage certificates under Section 14(c) of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.


For further information contact: Scott C. LaBarre, President National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Phone: 303 504-5979 Email: slabarre@labarrelaw.com

SUPPORT THE COLORADO CENTER FOR THE BLIND
AND OTHER NFB PROGRAMS



In your packets, you will find brochures on the Colorado Center for the Blind and fliers for National Federation of the Blind national and local scholarships. These and other programs are of great importance and therefore deserve a specific mention.


Founded in 1988 by the NFB of Colorado, the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) offers world class rehabilitation and adjustment to blindness training to blind/visually impaired individuals in our state and from all over the world. The CCB believes that with the right kind of training and a positive attitude, blindness need not be a tragedy and should not artificially limit a person’s hopes and dreams. The program serves all ages from kids as young as elementary age to seniors. CCB teaches cane travel/orientation and mobility, Braille, technology, independent daily living, employment skills, and much, much more. The vast majority of the teaching staff is made up of blind instructors who serve as excellent role models. Please read the CCB brochure in your packet for more information or go to www.cocenter.org. Our Center is located in Littleton and you are always welcome and encouraged to visit.

SCHOLARSHIPS



The National Federation of the Blind, on a national basis, offers thirty scholarships to talented blind men and women attending a post-secondary institution. Over a hundred thousand dollars are awarded each year and provide real opportunity for deserving students. On a state level, the NFB of Colorado offers up to five scholarships to blind men and women attending a post-secondary institution and scholarships range from $1,500.00 to $5,000.00. More information on how to apply is contained in your legislative packet. Please inform your local high schools, colleges and universities as well as any blind/visually impaired post-secondary student you know about these valuable scholarship opportunities.


For further information on any of these issues contact: Scott C. LaBarre, President National Federation of the Blind of Colorado Phone: 303 504-5979 Fax: 303 757-3640 Email: slabarre@labarrelaw.com

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Jessica Beecham to Join the WE Team\


Jessica Beecham to Join the WE Team
By Kevan Worley

In a recent Blind Coloradoan post, I wrote of the work already being done by our new NFBCO Sports and Recreation Division. In this post, I’d like to announce some exciting news, which I believe will support and complement that effort.

First, in full disclosure, my company, Worley Enterprises, a.k.a. the WE Team, will be a direct beneficiary of the initiative about which I am writing. Worley Enterprises has launched a new initiative. Its mission is to offer EVERYONE the tools, motivation, and opportunity to enjoy a better life through healthy living. Our vision is both simple and audacious. It is timely, necessary, and far-reaching in size and scope. It will begin in our community of blind people. Our programs and services will bring the reality of a longer and better life through exercise, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle choices to underserved groups including people with disabilities, senior citizens, and other special populations. 

The WE Team has always operated on the principal that it is not just the bottom-line that matters, but rather, it is the necessity to operate with a commitment to social responsibility. Over the years, the WE Team has spent money and asked our staff to give of their time to the causes important to them. We have often encouraged team members to take time away from work to engage in community effort, which improves quality of life for all citizens. Due to the inspiration of the National Federation of the Blind, I have been afforded opportunities, which I never would have had without the philosophy and people of the organized blind movement. Through the assistance and support of the Colorado Division of Rehabilitation Business Enterprise Program, I was able to open a small business more than two decades ago. With the encouragement and advice of successful entrepreneurs, both blind and sighted, who knew the value of giving for growth and community impact, we have had good fortune. We have always found it rewarding to “pay it forward.” We have established aggressive targets within our company to employ people who are blind or otherwise disabled. We have worked to support Seeds Community CafĂ©, the Catamount Environmental Institute, and of course the National Federation of the Blind. Now, WE has the opportunity to embark on a brand new adventure. The need for a robust living wellness initiative for the blind community and beyond is acute. The need for additional, appropriate research conducted in an objective manner is timely. The need to provide targeted health and wellness solutions to our community is critical.

Blind vendors operating under the Randolph-Sheppard program manage vending and concessions on government property. These entrepreneurs now face more stringent regulations governing what they can sell in their businesses. Moreover, because they offer concessions in public buildings, they are one of the most visible groups of blind people in our society. Blind vendors have always made a statement by their mere presence at the cash register, flipping a burger, building a salad, or ordering merchandise, that blind people can contribute in significant ways. These concessioners recognize that they are in a position to change the world. They can be on the front line of influencing eating and wellness habits. All too often, a lack of marketing savvy, outdated equipment, inadequate training, and a limiting supply chain of healthy merchandise, make compliance with government guidelines and providing more healthy choices without damaging the profit line, all but impossible. One aspect of our new living wellness program will be to develop and implement solutions for this community of entrepreneurs.

The Randolph-Sheppard environment is only one area in which we will work to create lifestyle change and wellness outcomes. Our  WE Fit Wellness program will design research, develop partnerships, and implement training programs which will get people moving toward better health and wellness through small but important lifestyle changes.

Readers of this blog will certainly recognize the name of Jessica Beecham from her outstanding work for the NFB of Colorado. She has been an amazing asset to our affiliate for almost three years. She has worked tirelessly at the grassroots level to inspire blind Coloradoans to live the life they want through an involvement in the National Federation of the Blind. But before coming to Colorado, she worked in the area of exercise, recreation, and research. We are proud to announce that Jessica has joined the WE Team to develop and direct this innovative program.

Colorado is considered one of the most health-conscious, active living states in the nation. Numerous government and non-profit programs are working to keep it that way. Add another to the list. WE Fit Wellness is based in Colorado, but will have a national ambition. As previously noted in the Blind Coloradan, the affiliate has established a very energetic Sports and Recreation Division. In January, we will add another player on the field of improving life quality and longevity for those who are blind and others who are socially or economically disadvantaged.

 Happy New Year and we look forward to joining you as WE Fit Wellness into 2015.   

Friday, January 2, 2015

An NFBCO Auld Lang Syne

A Note from Dan Burke

It’s the start of a new year, and most of us either sang “Auld Lang Syne” very recently or heard it on TV. So, we can allow ourselves a brief look to our past before we launch ourselves fulling into the work of this movement in 2015.

Spending time with Diane McGeorge is always a delight – and often something of a history lesson on the National Federation of the Blind or the Colorado Center for the Blind. Julie and I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Diane not long ago and the conversation eventually hit upon Clifford E. Jensen, President of the NFB of Colorado (then the Colorado Federation of the Blind) from 1961 to 1965. Jensen died before completing his second term as President. Like the late Ray McGeorge, he was a machinist, but a machinist of a special kind.

“Ray really respected Cliff,” Diane told us. “Ray said, ‘I can do a lot (as a machinist), but that man is a genius.’”

Diane’s recollection in turn triggered a recollection for Julie and I. While at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore for a meeting some time ago, we spent a rare free hour one evening perusing the large collection of Braille books and more in the 4th Floor Conference Room. We ran across an article about a remarkable President of the Colorado affiliate in an early 1960s volume of The Blind American. His name was Cliff Jensen.

The Blind American was published from 1961 to 1964 by the American Brotherhood of the Blind, now called the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. In 2010, the NFB worked with the Internet Archive to digitize these issues, along with all the issues of the Braille Monitor as far back as July 1957, none of which had previously been available in accessible digital formats. Thus, a few days after our visit with Diane, I simply searched the NFB web site for Cliff Jensen to again locate the article in question.

If the old saw is true that we stand on the shoulders of giants, then Cliff Jensen is one of those giants for the blind of Colorado, … and yet …

And yet giants are the stuff of legends and fairy tales, and Cliff Jensen is just an ordinary sort of human being with some extraordinary gifts tinged with the everyday feelings and intentions of most people. As a blind man he was motivated by no better reason than his ordinariness demanded -- and for the best reason of all -- his determination to live the life he wanted. Here’s the article:

BLIND MAN BLUFFS MACHINES



From The Blind American, NOVEMBER ISSUE 1963 , Inkprint Edition

Clifford E. Jensen, recently re-elected president of the Colorado Federation of the Blind, was the recipient of another accolade a short time ago--in the form of an article featuring his personal accomplishments which was published in the ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS.

The article, written by staff reporter Wes French, described Jensen as "a 40-year-old machinist who wants his story told for one reason alone--to let people know that blind or otherwise handicapped people can do a full-time job at tasks which for many would be difficult even without a physical handicap."

The newspaper story said that doctors at the University of Colorado Medical Center, "in need of intricate devices and instruments in their teaching and research, turn to one man to produce them. And the man who turns out these items, anywhere from a knurled screw to a huge Rube Goldberg-looking machine, is blind."

Jensen was said to have devised and manufactured dozens of medical and scientific instruments "which previously existed only in the mind of the researcher or teacher who needed a specific tool for a specific need."

An employee of the medical school for the past ten years, Jensen lost his sight through illness in 1955. "I got the usual advice--go home, take it easy for awhile and we'll see what happens," he said.

"But after a month at home I couldn't take it anymore. I have a machine shop in the basement and one day I went down there to find out if I could still work. By taking my time and adapting some of my tools, I was able to turn out as good work as ever," he said.

"I called the medical school and asked if they would give me a chance to go back to work. I was lucky. They were very understanding people and told me to come on in and get to work."

Today in his crowded machine shop at the medical center Jensen operates all manner of complicated machinery--drill presses, lathes, saws and other metal-working tools--all through a well-developed sense of touch, the newspaper reported.

Thanks to a letter from Cliff's wife, Marie, THE BLIND AMERICAN has learned of other "constructive" accomplishments turned out by the state Federation president in his spare time. Among other things, he has built a patio behind the Jensen house, removing a section of the wall and window and installing a double sliding door which he constructed himself (with the aid of Cliff, Junior).

"He has also worked with young Cliff to finish paneling the walls of our mountain cabin which he began long before he lost his sight, and to put the log siding on the outside of the cabin," Mrs. Jensen relates.

"He designed and cut the 'gingerbread' trim that gives our cabin a Swiss chalet appearance, by making a wood and metal jig for his portable power-saw to follow. Now he is preparing to go to Camp Tahosa with the Boy Scout troop for a week of summer camping.”

Between his part-time volunteer labor on home and cabin, his full-time job as head machinist at the university medical center--and his active responsibilities as the head of Colorado's statewide organization of the blind--Cliff Jensen nevertheless finds time to help Marie with the raising of their four children.

Otherwise, he just loafs.