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ICUB BULLETIN Spring 2024

Published by the

IOWA COUNCIL OF THE UNITED BLIND

An American Council of the Blind Affiliate

Bettina Dolinsek, President

304 W. Cedar St.

Goldfield, IA 50542

866-436-0141

Karen Keninger, Co-Editor

515-333-9612


Sandy Tigges, Co-Editor

515-277-1256


Table of Contents



President’s Report

By Bettina Dolinsek


Hi, everyone!  

I hope you have had a chance to enjoy our spring weather. We have been hard at work putting together this year’s State Convention, and I hope you will all plan on joining us.  As in past years, this is a can’t-miss weekend. The dates are August 23-24. The Convention will be held at the Courtyard Marriott in Ankeny—the same location as last year.  The group rate is $109 per night plus applicable taxes. To make your reservation, call the hotel by August 2 at 515-422-5555 and let them know you will be attending the ICUB Convention. You can also make your reservation by clicking on the following link: Book your group rate for Iowa Council of United Blind .


Please begin to make your plans to join us in Ankeny for a super fun time together. Our theme this year is “Honoring Our Past and Building Our Future.” We will have lots of great speakers, events to participate in, and opportunities to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.  So much happens at Convention, and we can’t wait to see you all there.  I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop as more details are confirmed.  


The Convention Planning Committee is looking for an individual or a group who would be willing to take charge of door prizes this year.  If you are interested in donating a door prize or would like to head up this very important work, please reach out to me.


We are also excited to announce that ICUB will be offering a college scholarship to an incoming college freshman. We are hard at work getting all the documents prepared and sent out for blind or low vision students to apply.  We would love to make the presentation to our winner at this year’s State Convention. If you know of a graduating high school senior who is blind or has low vision, let them know about this opportunity. You can find the details later in this issue.  If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.


Thanks for all you do to continue to drive ICUB forward.  


Cheers! 

Bettina Dolinsek, President


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Journey at the 2024 American Council of the Blind Leadership Conference

By Lori Trujillo Roush


March 1st marked the start of an extraordinary journey for me and seven of my fellow ICUB members as we embarked on a one-of-a-kind experience at the 2024 American Council of the Blind (ACB) Leadership Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. The Conference, which lasted until March 5th, is known for its commitment to fostering leadership within the blind community, and it provided us with a platform to connect, learn, and collaborate with fellow members, leaders, and advocates. It embraced themes of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility while offering attendees a well-rounded experience steeped in knowledge, empowerment, and advocacy. Beyond the sessions, the Conference provided ample opportunities for members to connect with ACB leadership, build meaningful relationships among members, and explore our national history.  


On day one of our journey, ACB members were given the opportunity to tour the Engraving and Printing Department in Washington, D.C., where we learned about the intricate processes behind currency production. The ACB Open House provided a platform for networking and engagement with ACB leaders.  Meanwhile, ICUB members were given the opportunity for exclusive tours of the Smithsonian Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Capitol.  It was a day full of discovery, dialogue, and camaraderie, setting the tone for the rest of our trip together.


Day two of our journey began with the ACB Board of Directors’ meeting, which provided valuable insight into the organization's growth, goals, initiatives, and mission.  Key takeaways from the meeting included the inception of a new affiliate chapter, the Palmetto Council of the Blind; the ambitious initiative that expanded the BITS Chapter membership from 179 members to 719 members within a year; ACB's goal to offer additional resources and training for new affiliate leaders; and the organization's advocacy and work for the production of accessible currency, which will released with the ten-dollar bill in 2026.


Day three encapsulated the spirit of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.  We began the morning session with White House Disability Policy Consultant Rachel Patterson.  Director Patterson, who is legally blind, shared her personal story, the journey of her Senate confirmation, and her role in formulating disability policy within the Domestic Policy Council.


Following Patterson's presentation, representatives from the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution took the stage.  They spoke about the challenges and opportunities for promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within organizations and communities.  During their presentation, members paired up and participated in exercises that emphasized the importance of engaging in conversation to overcome differences.

The afternoon session included scientist Susan Baillely from Procter and Gamble (P&G), who discussed the company’s commitment to accessibility through innovative initiatives. One notable initiative she highlighted is P&G's endeavor to create products with an inclusive design.  For those with vision loss, for example, such tactile marks as raised lines or dots could be put on bottles to differentiate shampoo from conditioner by touch. P&G is partnering with ACB to promote their system as a universal code to be used by all manufacturers.


Day 4 of our journey was dedicated to the legislative seminar, where the focus was on planning, strategy, acquiring background information on imperative issues, and discussing key initiatives.  ACB's four key imperatives include: (1) Websites and Software Applications Accessibility; (2) the Communications, Video and Technology Accessibility Act; (3) the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act; and (4) the Medicare and Medicaid Dental, Vision and Hearing Benefits Act. The seminar provided us with an opportunity to gather additional background information and further develop our strategy through practice presentations. We divided into two groups, each with a leader who set the tone, filled in gaps, and provided additional background information.  Our presentations were to include three components: a personal story, the problem, and the solution, with the focus on personal stories.  We were to leave our audience with a folder with background information on each imperative, a pamphlet about our organization, and an ICUB signature guide as our business card.


Day 5 marked the culmination of our advocacy journey as we ventured to Capitol Hill, determined to make our voices heard on issues of accessibility. Meeting with legislative aides from the offices of Zachary Nunn, Randy Feenstra, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Ashley Hinson, Joni Ernst, and Charles Grassley, we discussed the imperative measures and shared our personal stories, emphasizing the challenges faced by those navigating inaccessible platforms.  The aides seemed to listen attentively, recognize our concerns and acknowledged the importance of taking action.  Some offered reassurances that they would follow up with their legislators. Others asked questions to better understand the issues. Overall, their responses reflected a willingness to engage with our concerns and work towards finding solutions.


After our meetings and before our eventual flight home, we made a stop to visit the Lincoln Memorial.  As we stood atop the monument overlooking the Reflecting Pool, I was struck by a profound sense of history and reminded of the importance of collective efforts in making positive change.  The solemn atmosphere of the Memorial served as a fitting conclusion to our journey, prompting us to reflect on the enduring legacy of Lincoln and the timeless principles of freedom and equality that he championed.


For more information on the Leadership Conference and the ACB legislative imperatives, join the Des Moines Chapter meeting on April 8th for a panel discussion, download the ACB Advocacy podcast, or visit www.acb.org . 

  

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Early Advocacy for the Blind Brought Change to Iowa

By Bettina Dolinsek and Cody Dolinsek


Editor’s Note: The following article was published in the Des Moines Register on March 10, 2024.


“The real problem [of blindness] is not the blindness but the mistaken attitudes about it. These attitudes can be changed, and we are changing them. The sighted can also change. They can be shown that we are in no way inferior to them and that the old ideas were wrong, that we are able to compete with the sighted, play with the sighted, work with the sighted, and live with the sighted on terms of complete equality. We the blind can also come to recognize these truths, and we can live by them.”


These words were spoken by Kenneth Jernigan, the then president of the National Federation of the Blind in 1973. He was also at that time the Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, what we now know as the Iowa Department for the Blind.


Iowa has long been recognized as innovative with respect to the blind, seeing the need to enable the blind to compete on a footing of equality socially, politically and economically. 

Becoming a state in 1846, by 1852, Iowans were already thinking about how to better the prospects for Iowa’s blind population. That same year, Samuel Bacon, a blind graduate of Kenyon College with a degree in mathematics, established “the Asylum for the Blind” in Iowa City. By 1854, the school was moved to Vinton. Its goal was to produce blind people who were “educated, productive, well-rounded, [who] have friends, and [who] hold their place in society.” Perhaps the most famous graduate of this institution, what later was renamed the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, is Mary Ingalls.


On Sunday, New Year’s Day, 1922, Helen Keller visited Des Moines. Her visit was documented by Des Moines Register reporter Harlan Miller. While here, Keller addressed the legislature, stating that “it seems to me the civilization of a state should be measured by the amount of misery it prevents, and by the degree of happiness it makes possible for all of its citizens.” About the thunderous applause following these words, Keller said that she heard the applause “through the soles of her feet.” Senator White of Tama County had introduced a bill “providing for the creation of a state commission to supervise training and seek employment for Iowa’s blind.” The requested “biennial appropriation” for this new state commission was $26,000.00. Keller indicated to the legislature that the funds should be doubled. Thus, Keller paved the way for what eventually became the Iowa Commission for the Blind in 1925. 


At first, the Iowa Commission for the Blind was like other agencies for the blind throughout the United States. In his 2013 dissertation, published by the University of Iowa, “Speaking for Themselves: The Blind Civil Rights Movement and the Battle for the Iowa Braille School,” Brian Miller describes the Commission for the Blind under the directorship of Ethel Towne Holmes as follows: “The Iowa commission was a sleepy backwater, an agency with poor performance, and off the radar for most rehabilitation professionals.”  Holmes served the agency from 1925 until 1957. She was forced to resign due to poor performance. Miller states: “In the year before Jernigan’s appointment, it [the Iowa Commission for the Blind] ranked at the very bottom among agencies for the blind, with only 12 employment outcomes in 1957.” 


In 1958, Kenneth Jernigan began his directorship of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, serving the agency until 1978. Under his leadership, the Commission became an innovative agency, increasing the number of employed blind people, fulfilling the promise that “with reasonable training and opportunity, the average blind person can compete on terms of equality with the average sighted person similarly situated.” 


Blind Iowans, thanks to the innovations of Jernigan and others, work together with members of blindness consumer groups, such as the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa and the Iowa Council of the United Blind, to pass legislation such as that mandating accessible mail-in ballot voting. In 1968, Harold Russell, of President Lyndon Johnson’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, when presenting President Johnson’s award to Jernigan for his work on behalf of the blind, said, “if a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than in any other place in the nation, or the world!”


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Announcing the New ICUB College Scholarship


We are pleased to announce the launch of a new one-year nonrenewable $2,500.00 college scholarship to be awarded for the 2024-2025 academic year.   The scholarship will be presented to a graduating high school senior planning to attend full-time a fully accredited community college, four-year college, or university.  The ICUB membership invites eligible students with a broad range of business, professional, skilled/technical, or service career aspirations to apply.  All application materials should be submitted to the ICUB Scholarship Committee by May 15. The Committee will select a recipient who will be formally recognized and honored in a brief ceremony while attending with family members the Annual ICUB State Convention luncheon on Saturday, August 24, 2024.


Applicants for this scholarship must be: 

• A 2024 high school graduate

• A legal resident of the state of Iowa

• Blind or legally blind

• Have a minimum high school cumulative grade of B


Additional details and an application form can be found on the Iowa Council of the United Blind website at icublind.org. Questions can be directed to President@icublind.org .


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ICUB Members Offer Resources to Parents

By Liz Soenen


On January 11, 2024, several ICUB members met with Jonathan Karli, Chief Academic Officer for the Iowa Education Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (IESBVI), and several parents of children who are blind or visually impaired. The purpose of the meeting, held over Zoom, was to introduce parents to ICUB, share information and experiences regarding blindness, and offer ongoing support. ICUB members Cody Dolinsek, Bettina Dolinsek, Bob Martin, Don Wirth and Karen Keninger discussed their experiences with blindness and answered questions, such as how to choose a college for a blind student, how to cope as vision loss progresses, and how to handle and share blindness issues with family and friends. Bettina then thanked Jonathan for the opportunity to share ICUB resources with these parents and expressed a willingness to get together again in the future. 


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Editorial: Lessons

By Robert Martin, Ph.D.


Somewhere along the way you may have encountered the pearl of proverbial wisdom that contends that, when the student is prepared, the teacher will appear.  If there is any truth in this old adage, I confess that for many years I was not an especially prepared student and consequently often failed to recognize that blindness is not simply a constellation of challenges with which one must cope, but, in fact, may also be something of a master teacher from whom much of value can be learned. Living initially with little sight and later with none has by no means made me wise, but in recent years has, to some degree, I think, enabled me to develop a more balanced and useful vantage point from which to reflect upon the world and my place in it.  Below are three modest but, to me, helpful insights that have flowed from my current perspective. 


1.  The delicate balance between self-reliance and dependence:  Blindness can sometimes inordinately focus our attention on that which we are unable to do without assistance.  This is at best frustrating and at worst profoundly depressing. We can, of course, develop a high degree of independence through experimentation, receiving professional training, utilizing technology, and cultivating confidence.  Nevertheless, there are moments for example when someone is condescending, your cane breaks, your iPhone battery dies, or your guide dog relieves himself in the middle of the mall that the psychological and physical baggage of blindness suddenly becomes noticeably heavier.  It is admittedly difficult to be philosophical about your situation as mall security personnel are summoning someone for biohazard cleanup.  However, if we later stop to reflect upon our own experiences and that of those around us, we may find that blindness also equips us to recognize in a very concrete way the reality that while self-reliance is a virtue to which we should aspire, interdependence is the norm in society and that our goal should be a judicious balance between the two.  While that awareness does not immediately ameliorate the challenges of life, it can place them in a more realistic and less self-centered context.   It may also predispose us to be more genuinely cognizant of—and receptive to—the rapidly increasing body of scientific evidence demonstrating that interconnectedness and interdependence are fundamental principles inherent in the natural order of things. 


2.  The relative nature of blindness:   Almost all the daily functions of our lives are in some way related to sight.  Consequently, the loss of any or all of it is considered debilitating relative to the degree of loss. However, those of us who are significantly visually impaired or blind understand that adaptation to our situation is merely part of the remarkable resilience of the human species and that with training and tools we can compensate for deficiencies and expect to potentially live satisfying and productive lives.  Everyone, blind and sighted alike, would be better off if those who view us through the prism of loss stopped to reflect upon their own visual limitations. Sight is indeed wonderfully functional for the routine operations of life, but it can and does sometimes deceive even the person with twenty-twenty vision.  Our brain constantly strives to interpret the sensory signals conveyed to it by our eyes.  To do so, its interpretation relies heavily on its voluminous but not infallible data base of accumulated information, and it sometimes makes mistakes.  Anyone with sight has had the experience of thinking initially he/she has seen one thing and then on second glance realizes he/she has seen something else.  At such moments there was a temporary dissonance between the brain’s interpretation and the signals it received from the eye.   Such misinterpretations are often inconsequential but can sometimes be catastrophic.   Beyond the limitations of the brain are those of the eye.  There is much in the world about and beyond us that the human eye is incapable of detecting.  Indeed, a great deal of humanity’s material and intellectual progress rests on its capacity to create and use tools that compensate for its inability to see.  Consider what our lives would be like without all the medical and scientific devices that enable or enhance our sight.  People marvel at these visual aids and soon take them for granted without giving much thought to the universal sensory deficiencies that make them necessary.   Yet when many of these same people encounter blind individuals their reactions range along the spectrum from dismissive condescension to a kind of amazed awe that we can function normally.  They fail to realize that we, like they, are simply adapting with training and technology to the lack or limitations of sight.  Recognition of this fact could do much to erode public prejudice and to minimize the sense of isolation and alienation sometimes experienced by those who are blind. 

3.  A constructive response to prejudice:   Making quick and poorly informed judgments of individuals and groups is, and perhaps always has been, a tenacious and almost universal social phenomenon.  By nature and culture we are predisposed to notice the differences rather than the similarities among us.  Unfortunately, perceived differences frequently become the nuclei around which all sorts of stereotypes and misconceptions coalesce.  Prejudicial attitudes range from denigrating hostility as in the case of racism to misguided altruism as is sometimes the case with attitudes toward those with disabilities.   Regardless of its nature, prejudice is a product of fear, mental laziness, lack of empathy, or self-interest and is universally detrimental.  When it becomes pervasive it is difficult to recognize in ourselves or others, and even its victims sometimes internalize the prejudices of the people around them.  Those of us who are blind and have from time to time encountered the deleterious consequences of ill-conceived social attitudes, well-intentioned though they may be, know intimately the frustrations and occasional anger they may evoke.   Yet, emotional reaction rather than thoughtful reflection obscures an important fact.  Our experience, discouraging as it sometimes is, affords us an informed vantage point from which to more clearly discern and address our own prejudices and those of society at large.  Failure to recognize and act upon this reality undermines our potential for personal growth and our opportunity to nurture private and public morality.

 

I began this brief essay with the comment that living with little sight and later none has by no means made me wise.  Having now reviewed my observations you no doubt believe that I have proven it and you may be right.  However, even if you have found my reflections obvious or commonplace, I trust that you will nevertheless seek and be receptive to the potential lessons visual impairment and blindness have to offer you as an individual and to society at large.  


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Selecting ICUB as a Beneficiary


If you or a friend would like to remember the Iowa Council of the United Blind in your will, you may do so by using the following language: “I grant, devise, or bequeath unto the Iowa Council of the United Blind, a nonprofit charitable organization, the sum of ______ dollars, ____ percent of my net estate, or the following stocks and bonds (please list them) to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons.”  If you have questions or your wishes are more complex, you or your attorney can contact ICUB by calling 866-436-0141 or through the webpage at: www.icublind.org .

 


Iowa Regional Braille Challenge and

Braille e-reader Updates

By Sarah Willeford


On Saturday, February 24th, the Library hosted the Iowa Regional Braille Challenge at the Department. The Braille Challenge is the only academic competition of its kind in North America for students who are blind or visually impaired. Students from across Iowa competed, and the top fifty students from across the country (10 students in each category) with the highest scores are invited to Los Angeles for the final round – two days of competition, camaraderie, and fun!


This year’s theme was “Braille Is Beautiful.” Over eighty-five people attended the different activities that were planned throughout the day, and thirteen blind students participated in the Iowa Regional Braille Challenge. 


Thirty-four parents, educators, Braille transcribers, and librarians also attended a Braille and Tactile Workshop held by Instructional Materials Center staff. The workshop provided participants with the opportunity to learn about Braille, accessible educational materials, Braille production, and more. A hands-on activity gave participants the opportunity to create their own print/Braille book and accessible activities to use at home, in the classroom or in the library.


The day concluded with a presentation by children’s book author and illustrator Bruce Arant. Bruce delighted the Braille Challenge listeners by sharing his story and journey as an author. He has authored and illustrated two traditionally published books, Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep and a follow-up sequel, Simpson’s Sheep Just Want to Sleep!. It was an amazing way to end the day.

Thank you to our students, proctors, and parents for making the 2024 Iowa Regional Braille Challenge such a great success!


The Library is also happy to announce the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) Braille eReader recently received an update to 2.0.1, bringing some minor stability improvements. This update ensures patrons can continue enjoying Braille books on the go. Over 243 Braille eReaders have been checked out to library patrons across Iowa. The library also offers Braille books on cartridge to be mailed to you. If you haven’t requested an NLS Braille eReader, it’s not too late. Contact the Library to make your request by calling 515-281-1323 or emailing library@blind.state.ia.us or https://iowalibrary.blog/ .



Great Expectations: 

Serving on the Credit Union Board

By Don Wirth


Credit unions are like ICUB in that its governing Board of Directors is made up of members of the credit union who are elected by the membership. Several years ago I was elected to the Board of Directors of my credit union. There had never been a blind person on the Board before me. Other Board members and staff of the credit union weren’t sure what to expect. 


As a Board member, there are lots of reports to review and act upon each month. Getting them to me in a form I could read was a new challenge for the staff. We worked together to distribute them to me electronically rather than on paper. With me as the starting point, we soon were distributing reports electronically to all Board members as a way to get information out faster and with lower costs for the paper and postage. 


Other issues were addressed in the same manner. We would identify the problem and talk through solutions. The process worked so well that for the last 2 years I served on the Board, I was elected Chair.


In one capacity on the board, I worked with the Chief Collections Officer. He retired while I was still on the Board. I offered to buy lunch for him and his supervisor for his retirement. At the lunch, he made the comment, “We would go into our committee meetings and I knew that the most prepared guy with the most on-point questions would be the blind guy because you always did your homework.” I think that was a compliment on my work but also spoke to his surprise that a blind guy could be so productive.



IDB Director’s Report

By Emily Wharton


I was riding in an Uber earlier this week when the driver asked me what the hardest thing about being blind was. I told him a story about something that had just happened to me an hour earlier. I had walked into an office and said I was there for the agency Directors’ event. The man behind the desk said, “You are here for that event?”--clearly not expecting a blind person to be a state agency Director. 

The public’s misconceptions about the capabilities of blind people continue to cause us so many difficulties. Some of these are just socially awkward, but some lead us to getting turned down for jobs, failing to get needed medical care, and other serious problems. Sometimes we encounter these misconceptions in others and all too often we find that we have internalized these misconceptions ourselves. 


Some of the most dangerous and harmful misconceptions surround the use of Braille. Many people involved in the education of blind children in the state of Iowa and around the country believe that Braille is hard, slow and only useful if someone has no ability to read print whatsoever. They believe blowing print up to 24- or 32-point font is preferable to teaching a student Braille. I and so many others are living proof that this notion is painfully false. It is impossible to calculate how much damage this misconception has done to the educational achievement and career success of blind students over the past 70 plus years. 


Another devastating myth is that blind students cannot be expected to read or do other school work on grade level.  Once during a meeting with those responsible for the education of blind children in Iowa, I suggested that blind students' reading should be evaluated based on the same expectation as any other student at their grade level. They insisted that blind students could only be compared to other blind students.  The reading data that I was shown several years ago (which was never released) indicated dramatic underperformance among blind students. 


The result of these misconceptions is that we are continuing to see blind students graduating from high school with significant deficits in reading, math, soft skills, and independence. We continue to see some students leaving school with excellent grades but with a reading speed of 70 words per minute and no ability to get to work or their college classes on their own. Misconceptions about Braille and the capabilities of blind students have created and perpetuated a literacy crisis among blind youth. It is going to take a great amount of effort, innovation, hard work, and commitment to dispel these misconceptions and stop them from harming yet another generation of blind children. 

Because of this, IDB is committed to providing innovative programs, outreach, training, and resources to eradicate these misconceptions. We hope that everyone who cares about the educational and employment success of blind Iowans will join with us to turn the tide and make blind students’ performance equal to—or better than—that of their sighted classmates.



How Do You Make an Art Museum Accessible to a Blind Person? Is There a Role for AI Here?

By Karen Keninger


Recently I visited the Art Institute of Chicago with those questions on my mind. I planned the visit with my three sighted companions, knowing that art galleries are a challenge for blind people. Before I left home, I did a little research. I discovered that the Institute has an app which provides several accessible audio tours. It can be used standalone or on-site. Their website told me there was a space called the Ryan Learning Center with some tactile pieces and a four-part audio tour of those pieces. I listened to the audio tour ahead of time. The entries focused on the process of making artwork in four media—bronze, marble, wood and wool. 


When we arrived at the Institute, we found the Ryan Learning Center which, oddly, is outside the secured area for some reason. At any rate, the display included twelve pieces, each about a foot square, with Braille labels. The labels were about knee-level and hard to read. Each piece was based on a specific artwork and allowed me to touch and explore it. Along with the four featured items we found chainmail, raffia, oil on canvas, egg tempura, paper collage, clay, porcelain, limestone, and stained glass. Touching oil on canvas of course had little or no relation to the water lily pond that was painted on it, but if you were allowed to touch a painting, which of course you are not, this is what it would feel like.


The Institute’s app includes several “audio tours,” one of which is specifically designed to tell a blind person what the objects in a certain exhibition look like. The others discuss the history, symbolism, and creator of select objects throughout the museum. I listened to these tours before we went, although they could have been listened to on site. I found them somewhat useful in an abstract sort of way. 

When we were done with the learning center and readmitted into the secure area, we went to a gallery filled with statues of Southeast Asian Buddhas. I wondered what kind of description the new artificial intelligence (AI) feature of Be My Eyes (announced recently in the Bulletin) could give me of one of the exhibits. I had downloaded the app recently and played with it some. I thought this would be a good test of it. So we took a picture of a random exhibit and asked Be My Eyes to describe it. Here’s what it came up with:


“The image shows a golden sculpture of a seated figure, which appears to be a representation of a deity or a significant figure in a traditional Southeast Asian style, possibly from Thailand or a neighboring country. The figure is adorned with intricate clothing and jewelry, featuring patterns and textures that suggest a royal or divine status. The sculpture includes a tall, pointed crown and large, ornate earrings, as well as a serene, composed facial expression.


The figure is seated on a platform that is supported by what seem to be mythological creatures, possibly lions or similar beasts, which are also gilded. The platform itself is multi-tiered with a red base that has detailed carvings, adding to the overall richness of the piece.


The sculpture is displayed within a glass case in a gallery setting, indicating that it is an item of cultural or historical significance. There is a label next to the sculpture providing information about the piece, but the text is not legible in the image. The background is neutral, focusing attention on the artwork.”


The app offered me a button to ask for more detail. I could also connect with one of the Be My Eyes volunteers. I didn’t need that, so I just copied out the description.


It occurred to me later that Seeing AI—another app using artificial intelligence and designed specifically for blind people—could also describe the picture, so I asked it to do so. Seeing AI said, “A gold statue in a case.” I asked it to give me more information, and it said: 


“A gold statue of a man is prominently displayed in a glass case, with an animal figure nearby. On the floor, there is a dog lying down, and to the right, there is a piece of paper. The setting suggests a museum environment where sculptures and art pieces are exhibited.”


Well that was interesting. The two apps gave rather different descriptions. The interpretive information provided by the sign said: 


“Sculpture of buddha; Burma Buddha…crowned and be-jeweled buddha seated on an elephant throne…Burma, gilded and lacquered wood paint and colored glass, this ornate sculpture of the Buddha depicts the moment when he achieved enlightenment after meditating under a tree at ----. He touches the earth with his right hand in a gesture of witness. Dressed as a king in accord with regional tradition, this Buddha displays familiar attributes such as elongated earlobes. However, the simple monastic dress of the original Indian buddhas here gives way to the highly gilded decorated form typical of Burma. Traveling merchants and monks helped Buddhism spread widely in Southeast Asia from Nagapattinam in southern India and other port cities.”


The point here is not about the Buddha. It’s about the potential for AI, and I for one am intrigued. 



Donating Your Vehicle to Benefit ICUB


Do you need to dispose of a used vehicle?  ICUB's Used Vehicle Donation Program offers a perfect solution.  Your vehicle will be picked up from your home and sold at auction.  A portion of the proceeds go directly to ICUB.  You can claim a tax deduction equal to the dollar value of the vehicle.  Call 800-899-4925 for more information.

 


News You Can Use

By Norma A. Boge


The Blind Kitchen sells practical adaptive cooking tools to blind and visually impaired cooks to assist with a safe, confident, and independent cooking experience in their own kitchens. It also provides blind-friendly tips and strategies for many activities related to cooking that do not involve specific tools or equipment. Debra Erickson, founder of The Blind Kitchen, has retinitis pigmentosa.  She is a graduate of the McClaskey Culinary Institute and taught food preparation at the Oregon Commission for the Blind before devoting herself full time to her business. See https://theblindkitchen.com/ for further information.


Microsoft made waves recently by announcing it would introduce a Copilot key on future PC keyboards to launch its AI assistant. The button will go next to the Alt key near the spacebar on the right side where many keyboards currently have a Ctrl key. If you don’t want to sacrifice a control key but still want the Copilot key, you can remap keys with Microsoft PowerToys or another keymapping program.

AFB’s AccessWorld now has its own podcast! The podcast covers a range of topics related to digital inclusion with a focus on blindness and low vision. The podcast is released on the first of every month. The site is: https://www.afb.org/news-publications/podcasts . 

In addition to the new AccessWorld podcast, AccessWorld-related content is also being published on AFB's main blog. This allows for the publication of technology and accessibility related content on a wider range of topics while also providing more content between issue releases. The blog can be found at:  https://www.afb.org/blog .


Last year the National Library Service (NLS) completed field testing of an Alexa Skill called My Talking Books with approximately 350 patrons. The skill allows users, via voice commands, to connect with BARD, search the collection, and stream books. Feedback from the field test will inform the next round of improvements.  NLS also completed a field test of the DA2, the next generation of their digital audiobook player, which will allow connections to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices and provide storage for saving content directly on the device. These new features will enhance service and increase capacity for digital delivery.


Tater Tot Taco Casserole

By Carrie Chapman


1 pound ground beef

• 1 small onion, diced

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• 1 (1 ounce) packet taco seasoning mix

• 1 (16 ounce) bag frozen Mexican-style corn

• 1 (12 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

• 1 (12 ounce) bag shredded Mexican cheese blend

• 1 (16 ounce) package frozen tater tots

• 1 (12 fluid ounce) can enchilada sauce


Instructions

1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.

2. Prepare a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

3. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until completely browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, taco seasoning mix, frozen Mexican-style corn, and black beans to the ground beef; cook and stir another 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. Mix the ground beef mixture in a large bowl with about 3/4 of the Mexican cheese blend and the tater tots; stir to combine.

5. Pour about 1/3 of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Add the tater tot mixture to the baking dish; lightly pat the mixture down into a solid, even layer. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the tater tot layer.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining Mexican cheese over the casserole and return to the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 5 minutes more.



Across Iowa Chapter Report

By Don Wirth


The Across Iowa Chapter continues to meet on the first Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. via the ICUB Zoom link. In addition to getting caught up on state and national issues and activities, we have discussed several topics.

In January we heard about accessible dart games and tournaments. In February Teresa Gregg stepped down as secretary. We thanked her for her work and then held an election for a new secretary. Mary Haupt was elected and is doing a fine job. We also had a presentation by Envision America about ScriptTalk, a prescription label reading system.


In March we heard from the Helen Keller Foundation about the “I Can” program that assists deaf/blind patrons. 


New members and guests are always welcome to join us at any Chapter meeting.



Des Moines Chapter Update

By Cody Dolinsek


The New Year is a wonderful time to take stock of where we have been and where we are going.  To that end, we held our first 2024 Des Moines Chapter meeting on January 8th to discuss the vision and goals of the chapter for the upcoming year.  Our vision continues to be of an organization that supports blind people in our endeavors to lead productive and independent lives.  We also wish to continue engaging in community outreach.  


Some of the things members mentioned as goals for the ICUB Des Moines Chapter include continuing to help organizations like the YMCA, working with the Creston Art Center, pursuing another fundraising opportunity, holding a bingo night, and working more closely with the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living.  The Des Moines Chapter president suggested that research be done to determine what could be done to help the Perry community in the aftermath of the tragic school shooting of January 4th.  

In February, our Des Moines Chapter invited Dr. Tim Knepper of Drake University to speak to us about his work for the Comparison Project, an organization that promotes knowledge of religious diversity.  He spoke to us about upcoming events, one of which is a monthly opportunity called “Meet My Religious Neighbor.”  These gatherings invite the community of Des Moines and surrounding areas to get to know religious practitioners as diverse as Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims.  


We also determined at the February meeting that $300 would be provided to help the Perry community, and that the funds would be allocated to one of their needs based on the discretion of the Board.  Currently, Secretary Trujillo Roush is in discussion with Joyce Scott of Perry to determine more about how and if the approved funds should be expended. We are also looking at the possibility of enlisting ICUB volunteers to go to Perry to read to children or simply to spend time with them as a way of building community there.  

President Dolinsek spoke at the February 19th Des Moines City Council meeting, urging the Council to vote in favor of considering accessibility for all when it comes to reducing DART routes.  Dolinsek said that while many may feel that the work bus riders perform is minimal, it is valuable, and we should all encourage everyone to contribute to the community.  Reducing bus service certainly does not contribute to accessibility for all or to the inclusion people need to feel to be productive members of their communities. 

In March, Josh Mandelbaum, Des Moines City Council member, spoke to the Des Moines Chapter and promoted the same message about accessibility.  


We are excited about how the New Year is unfolding and hope to continue to be a voice for change.



To obtain a current list of State Board members and Chapter Presidents, including their contact information, go to our website, icublind.org, and click on the “Who We Are” link.  You can also get this information by emailing us through the form at the bottom of our website page. 


The ICUB Bulletin is available in large print, via e-mail, and on an NLS-compliant digital audio cartridge.  To subscribe to the cartridge edition, please contact the Iowa Department for the Blind Library at 515-281-1323 or 800-362-2587, option 2.  Please direct other questions about format choice and address changes to Co-Editor Sandy Tigges.  


ICUB offers a BIG thank you to Catherine Witte for so meticulously proofreading each issue of the Bulletin, as well as to everyone else who plays a part in making this publication possible. 


Copyright 2024 Iowa Council of the United Blind, Inc.

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