IDB continues to have nearly all staff working remotely during this crisis. Maintenance staff continue to work hard deep cleaning and painting the building to take advantage of the opportunity to get this necessary work done when it is least disruptive to operations. In alignment with the Governor's closing of schools until April 30th, we have suspended our training center until at least May 1st. We are also continuing to pause in-person one-on-one and small group trainings until at least May 1st. We are following the lead of the Governor, IDPH, and CDC in making decisions about when and how to resume various services. We are making every effort to keep clients, patrons, and the public informed during this rapidly evolving situation. All of our staff are working very hard to provide virtual services one-on-one to our clients as well as find new innovative ways to connect groups of people to participate in training and reduce isolation.
We have been extremely pleased with the positive response to our virtual services. Our pilot training for paraeducators who serve blind and low vision youth has completed its first week. This first cohort consists of 13 participants who are learning how to make accessible materials that utilize universal design principles, improve their knowledge of braille, and develop other skills that will help them to grow in their very important work. We have added a second spring session that will begin April 13th and we are taking applications. Those who successfully complete the two week program will receive a $200 stipend.
Education and training staff continue to make preparations for the 4+ Program this coming fall to be prepared if our Governor recommended increase in appropriation is received. We understand that this crisis has put our nation and state in precarious economic times, however, we know that the value of this program far exceeds its cost and very much hope that it will be included in our 2021 appropriation. For more information about this program, [view our [Education Appropriation Subcommittee Handout](https://blind.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/EAS%20IDB%20Presentation%20Ha...) or [Education Appropriation Subcommittee Presentation Slides](https://blind.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/EAS%20IESBVI%20IDB%20presenta...)
##Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling
Our Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors are hard at work meeting with their clients using Zoom, Facetime, and a variety of platforms. Here are some examples from counselors in the field of how they and their clients are adapting and thriving:
From Jamie: A new client called this week seeking services from the Iowa Department for the Blind. I explained to the individual that we would move forward regardless of what is going on at this time. The client and his guardian were grateful that IDB was willing to hold the initial meeting via Zoom so we could start the application process. Another client and I communicated over FaceTime this week and I provided pre-employment transition services regarding counseling on opportunities for enrollment in post-secondary educational programs. He is a senior in high school so planning for college during this time has been more stressful than normal. By the end of the conversation, the client felt more comfortable with the plan for getting ready for college.
From Jessica: I contacted my client to complete program applications. Since an original signature was required, I put the paperwork and a stamped return envelope in the mail. The client had questions on how to fill out a few things so he called me back and I helped him finish a few items and he mailed it back. This worked well and will potentially end up being faster than waiting for me to make an appointment with them in person. I have a client who uses a Video Relay. This client used the video relay to call into the zoom meeting. Then the client also joined the zoom meeting audio via his laptop. Three service providers and individuals were all able to be “face-to-face” remotely with an interpreter. This also didn’t require any of the service providers to expend any funding for interpreter services and the reduced coordination time and instant availability was a tremendous help to everyone involved. I was also able to complete a referral and intake for a service program and the client had the opportunity to practice technology brainstorming and problem resolution. The client was very proud that he could troubleshoot and make the technology work for himself.
From Ashley: I have been working with my client who is working part-time and attending DMACC. We have been meeting weekly via FaceTime. We work on resume development, self-advocacy skills, virtual networking, and self-care techniques. The weekly meetings via FaceTime have helped him develop a routine and feel connected without meeting face-to-face; he has also been excited to move forward towards his overall vocational goal.
##Vocational Rehabilitation Client Training
Vocational Rehabilitation Teachers and Rehabilitation Technology Specialists continue to provide clients with training in braille, assistive technology, and home and personal management over the phone and internet. Here is a story of one such training:
From Enrique: One of my students who attended our recent SELF Week, has continued her training gathering over the phone with other students who attended this week long training. She has worked through the homework she has been assigned from me and other instructors. She and I are continuing to work on her plans for how she will move forward once life goes back to normal. These plans include attending the NFB national convention and continuing her MacOS training in person to improve her technology skills. In addition she finds it motivating to talk through blindness issues and dealing with particular situations. She is working hard to be ready to attend the orientation center later this summer where she can really accelerate her learning.
Orientation Center Instructors continue to work through lessons with students over the phone, provide support and encouragement, and ensure that students continue to make progress toward becoming self-sufficient and ready to enter the workforce or post-secondary education.
##Business Enterprise Program Updates
Participants in this program are independent small business owners. IDB operates the program as outlined and authorized by the Randolph Shepherd Act, purchasing equipment and assigning locations. However, these small business owners are responsible for all aspects of sales and service. As many of the locations are in federal, state, county, and municipal buildings and these buildings are sparsely or totally unoccupied during the crisis, vending operators are struggling mightily. Vendors with facilities at interstate rest areas and some other facilities are still able to operate, but reduced traffic is causing their sales to plummet. The IDB BEP business counselors and program administrator have been working hard to support these small business owners throughout the crisis. Below is a story of how one vendor is making it work.
One Business Enterprises Program (BEP) Vendor works in the transition from incarceration facilities in the Fifth Judicial District, and by building relationships, has gained the ability to shift deliveries to a time that works for the District and still be able to keep his business going by stocking his vending machines there with snacks, food and beverages despite Covid-19! Flexibility and willingness to work hard on off-hours pays off!
##IDB Library Services
We have heard from a number of patrons thanking us for continuing to mail out books. Here are some stories from Library staff:
From Jodi: I have had numerous calls asking if we were closing. They all said they didn’t know what they would do if they didn’t have their books. It’s what keeps them going on a daily basis. When I explained that we are still in operations, it seemed like they all breathed a sigh of relief. They were even more grateful when they heard they would be getting 20 books on a cartridge instead of 10.
From Denise: Last week, while doing phone duty I had received, what felt at the time, like a million and one calls, this of course is an exaggeration. But on a serious note, the calls that we received were from our wonderful library patrons. Several of these will remain nameless, but they could not thank us enough for STILL providing the wonderful service that we do. Our library is still getting out what they need each and every day. Not only that, but we are doing it better. For example, we have doubled the amount of audio that go out on cartridges.
One of our library patrons just raved at our much that meant to her. She just loves to read to a room full of people everyday at 1:00p.m. Now just think of all the numerous stories she can pick from now and all that WILL benefit from this act of kindness. A new library patron completely went over the top thanking us for providing them with audio stories and braille. It is more than this, our patrons are thankful for such an amazing team of people, pulling together, to be creative and ever expanding to encompass this new style of reaching out. Our fearless and incredible leader has made a lot of decisions, that were in my opinion, tough to make, but she made them with confidence. She and our team do all of this with love and dedication for who we serve. Or should I say, have the privilege of serving.
Our Independent Living Teachers continue to reach out to clients and provide support, training, and connection. This story from Susan demonstrates how the Independent Living Teachers and Library work together to serve blind Iowans:
Prior to temporarily interrupting home visits I had done a speaking engagement at a retirement apartment. Afterward I met with an individual, Marilyn, who has been struggling with her blindness and hearing loss. She was an avid reader but unable to see to read anymore. I was able to help her complete an application for IDB talking books and we made an appointment to meet the next week, as I knew I was going to be in her building again, to discuss other services and the case load process. As plans changed, I gave her a call to follow up on our initial visit and to discuss an application for IL services. When I called she was enjoying a talking book. Marilyn and I reviewed services in the end she decided to complete an application for IL services. During our conversation Marilyn shared that due to her hearing she often feels alone. Marilyn was doing fine during our conversation and so I mentioned the IDB Read program through the library. Marilyn was excited to hear about the program and thinks that she would be okay to call in. She is going to give this a try.
While Independent Living services are life altering on some level to those receiving them, there are times when they are most definitely life saving. So often, older adults losing vision have very strong feelings of loss and fear and sometimes those feelings are very intense. The below story from Liz describes one of these situations:
He was my last client of the day when we first met. I had scheduled a two-hour meeting to gather and share information and form an Independent Living plan; however, it went longer than that. He let me introduce myself and told a little about himself but was not very willing to list things he wanted to learn more about or even that he struggled with anything like setting the microwave or oven. At one point, I asked him why I was there. “Dan” was polite and listened and worked somewhat with this teacher as we discussed the blindness and the need to learn non-visual skills and about tools that might help with that. He listed some things he was willing to learn more about but then he sat straight up in his chair and said, “Liz, I’m gonna be straight with you.” He shared how he had fought vision loss his whole life having lost the vision in one eye as a young child and lived with about 20/70 in the other eye for years. He had quit high school before graduating, worked hard, met the love of his life, made good with his career and drove and owned his own business; however, he did all this while working harder than sighted people and also keeping his vision loss secret from anyone but his wife. He would go back to a job sight after the other men had left and work harder to get the information he needed to make bids due to his vision loss. This also helped him prove to himself that he could see. He lived like this for years, along with his wife. They had no children and he had been widowed a little more than a year when this visit took place. He said he could have faced this blindness if he still had his lifelong love by his side but now that she was gone, he didn’t want to live blind and if he lost all his vision, he didn’t want to live. He said, “I’ve got a gun in this house and I know how to use it. I’ve also got two vehicles out there in the garage.”
I was shocked but I warmly thanked “Dan” for opening up his inner thoughts to me. I provided feedback to let him know he had been heard and to verify the information and feelings. He said that was right and repeated that he would NOT live in total blindness. I asked “Dan” if I could be straight and honest right back with him, to which he agreed. I said slowly and boldly, “I would not even be here if you had not had agreed to meet with me. You invited the Department for the Blind here or we would have never met. You know I can’t do anything about the vision loss. That is your eye doctor’s job. Something inside of you must want to learn how to live with this vision loss. That’s why you called. It will help you to learn about vision loss.” If he would agree to give me a chance, we would make a plan to begin to learn how to live with vision loss, to learn how others live with vision loss and this plan would be active for a year. We would schedule to work once a week for a month, have a period of about 2 ½ months with no visits to allow the teacher to work in other cluster areas, then work again once a week for a month. He agreed he would give IDB a chance.
“Dan” lives in a nearby community so initially, I was able to get there more often to begin to build a relationship, and knowledge. He agreed to a couple cane lessons early on, learned to use writing guides, and eventually agreed to try audiobooks and we got an Alexa going. He didn’t have a smart phone but there was a computer that his wife had used and unbeknownst to him, he was still paying for internet.
I have now known and worked with “Dan” for almost a year and just recently worked together with him to review his original objectives and see if there were any more needs. I had thought he would be ready to close his case. He enjoyed reviewing: attended two Community Based Trainings, one of which he hosted in his home with other blind and his niece all wearing sleep shades, met other blind, made a couple mentor connections and attended a support group, daily uses library services and the Alexa device for connections to history, music, the stock market and the world. When he had gotten a new stove and microwave, he asked this teacher to work with him to mark them both. While he had a cane and had agreed to a couple lessons in his home, driveway and yard, he said his pride had been getting in the way of using it much. He then shared that it would be helpful to extend his case to work on some specific travel routes in his neighborhood, and community and also to visit the nearest support group, using the cane.
With the temporary travel restrictions my first call went to “Dan”. He had been weighing heavy on my mind. “Dan” had always taken pride in his stock market holdings and checked them regularly buy calling his investment company, listening to the news and checking with Alexa. He welcomed the call and shared with me about the state of the world, and how this was affecting his life. It was encouraging for me to hear him pulling from his strengths and his own history as he confidently shared what he was doing to understand and to cope each day. His own life’s journey had prepared him for such a time as this. He has lived through downturns before, all kinds of them, including the stock market and business. “Liz, I’m doing fine.”