##Reaching Out, Building Connections, Fostering Resilience

All IDB staff continue to work hard each day to provide the highest quality and widest range of services to our clients and patrons. We are committed to taking advantage of the opportunity this crisis has given us to innovate, iterate, and initiate new programs and service delivery models.
Our Vocational Rehabilitation Teams are working hard to find ways to deliver group training in a virtual environment. Our Southeast Iowa group is hosting Zoom webinars to help clients deal with issues related to the COVID19 Crisis. Last Friday, 14 clients discussed mental health during isolation, social distancing and how to maintain social distancing in stores, where and how to find groceries you need in stores and how to order groceries online or over the phone, and mental health resources available via phone, text, and live chat. The next webinar will cover-easy, healthy meals under $10, food substitutions for most commonly used items if you don’t have an ingredient and it’s not available in stores, different accessible websites and apps for finding recipes, and labeling/organization in the kitchen. We will be making the recordings of these webinars available on our YouTube Channel shortly.

The center is continuing to work with students over the phone and via Facetime and Zoom. Center instructors all participated in zoom meetings with colleagues from across the country where they learned new ideas and shared some things they have been doing to provide adjustment to blindness training from a distance. The discussions of blindness related issues that we call “The Business of Blindness” or “Business Class” for short, resumed last week. These virtual meetings have proven a good way to talk about proper meeting etiquette and how to participate in virtual interviews and these skills will be useful in the students future job searches.

Below are some stories shared by our Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors and vocational rehabilitation teachers about their work with clients during this challenging time.

From Joe W.:My client Pam recently obtained employment. She has been hired by the ISU Extension and Outreach as an Extension Program Specialist . She is currently the operator for the 211 Covid 19 hotline. She is doing this from her home in Waterloo, however she found a duplex to rent in Bondurant and will be moving in mid May. Once she makes the move to Bondurant, she will start her full time position with ISU Extension in DSM. And her responsibilities will increase and her duties will change. She will earn $45,000 per year with benefits."

From Sharonda: Sometimes it is the small things that make a big difference for an individual. Our client (Carl) requested the help of the Department to purchase an iPhone last year. While talking with him today, along with his worker from Easter Seals, they began to thank me for helping him to get this iPhone. Carl stated that the iPhone has saved his life. He is able to download and use apps, send and receive text messages, help him to realize his dream of obtaining a Ham radio Technician license. He stated, “This phone has literally saved my life.”

From Leland: Since the COVID19 pandemic I have been working with my clients enrolled in classes to help them adjust to online classes. Speaking with clients about different challenges they are facing with this adjustment and working through resources they may not have known about. Alongside these resources discussions on different strategies to stay organized and keep track of deadlines has been key to ensure these clients can be successful with their courses.

From Marissa: This week, I worked with a student who struggles a lot with reading. Often, when we read together, he had difficulty with reading three and four letter words. When we worked together this week, he was able to read a complete sentence independently. In that sentence, there were several words that were over four letters. We have been working together for several months, and this progress shows me that what we are doing is really paying off.

From Sarah B." Kim has become very active in learning while we are training from a distance. She has been able to attend the support group for Des Moines over the phone, something she couldn’t do before. She has also been practicing every other day with her braille and typing. She was very sad that the May SELF Week was canceled but is very excited to attend the one in October. After she attends the SELF Week she is going to determine if she will want to go to the OC. She knows how important it is to learn these skills so she can either work at or own her own bakery.

From Joe G.: My student Bill is a lawyer, and when we started working together, there were a few technology hiccups. One of the biggest was the fact that he did not have much time to learn the Windows ten operating system. However, his business has been down due to Covid–19. This has resulted in us having more time to work together via phone, so that Bill can learn more about Windows ten. He is moving very fast, and grasps concepts very well. We both have high confidence that when his business picks up again, he should have no problems completing tasks with his new system.

Director Emily Wharton held her monthly Director’s Forum on April 17th. She shared updates with interested stakeholders and answered questions. Director Wharton asked for suggestions and shared ideas about how IDB could help improve access to technology to blind Iowans as this crisis has shown how crucial access to technology is. Library Director Sarah Willeford shared information on library programs and services and Beth Jordan from the Helen Keller National Center reminded participants about technology and training resources available through the I Can Connect Program. This program provides communications technology and training to Iowans with vision and hearing loss.

Library Services Keep Patrons Connected and Hopeful

We continue to receive calls thanking us for continuing to send out books during the crisis. One patron told our staff “You are my main line to living.”” Another patron left a voice mail message that said he wanted to tell everyone thank you so much for continuing to send out the books. He said he didn’t know what he would do without them especially at this time. “They are my life.” We received another call from an Iowa couple wintering out of state. They weren’t able to come back to Iowa due to the crisis, but were so relieved that the husband could still receive books from Iowa as the state they are currently in has shut down their library for the blind.

Library Statistics April 1st – 16th

  • 323,176 books have been checked out
  • 722 patrons have received books
  • 146 books have been sent to youth in our Books for Kids program
  • 381 books have been sent to senior care facilities and nursing homes
  • 37 new patrons have been added
  • 31 virtual library programs have been offered (IDB Read, Paraeducators/Associated trainings, Tech Time and Braille Bits)
  • 20 Paraeducators and Associates have participated in our two week online trainings (we have offered 2 two week sessions)

Instructional Materials Center Continues to Expand Services to Students and Educators

The Instructional Materials Center continues to provide guidance and produce accessible educational materials for students participating in voluntary and required educational activities as well as materials needed for next school year

In response to the positive feedback we have received regarding our para-educator trainings, We are planning future paraeducators/associate trainings for May and June

The Library has been awarded 6 Americorrps volunteers to conduct summer reading programs throughout the state. Library staff are working to find ways to adapt this programming to the current continuously evolving situation. They are exploring virtual options at this time. . We were also awarded two additional volunteers to work with our braille e-reader pilot and assist with developing our College and Career Commons.

Library Awarded STEM Scale-Up Awards to Make More STEM Materials Accessible for Blind and Low Vision Students Across Iowa

the South Central Iowa Regional STEM Advisory Board of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council has chosen to fund our STEM Scale-Up Program applications for STEM in Action. and Differentiated Math Centers. This will give blind and low vision youth across Iowa the ability to participate in STEM activities alongside their sighted classmates. So often these students sit on the sidelines during STEM activities because educators don’t know how to make the materials useable for them. IDB and the Governor’s STEM Council are working together to change this and open up new career possibilities to blind and low vision youth.

Celebrating Volunteer Appreciation Month

In 2019, IDB became a certified Service Enterprise through Volunteer Iowa and the Points of Light Foundation. IN other years, we would have held an award luncheon and professional development training for our volunteers in April. We are postponing this to the fall, but we did send out our spring newsletter to help our volunteers stay connected.

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

For example, in 2019, volunteers gave over 7,220 hours to IDB and the Library. Volunteers assisted with audio production, braille production, youth programs, library circulation and more. Volunteers provided professional services such as our new logo design. IDB partnered with the Iowa Council of the United Blind (ICUB) and National Federation of the Blind of Iowa (NFBI) to facilitate their members volunteering to provide training and peer support to youth and seniors in our LEAP and IL integration programs.

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

Moving into 2020, our volunteers are helping us through these uncertain times through their work at home. Two of our volunteer narrators helped us launch a new program for the library called, IDB Read. Patrons can call in and listen to one of our wonderful volunteer narrators read live on the phone, followed by a short chat about the book. Our volunteer Braillists and narrators continue to work on projects from home for both the students and patrons.

Independent Living Teachers Reduce Isolation and Share Skills and Information with Clients Throughout the State

Below are some of the many stories of how Independent Living teachers are continueing to reach out and provide training and information to their clients.

From Liz: I recently had a client, (Mary) along with her daughter (Sue), call because both Mary’s landline phone and cell phone weren’t working efficiently. Mary wondered if she could consult about replacement options since she wanted to also consider accessibility. She was confident the Iowa Department for the Blind could help. With Mary’s hearing loss, we needed to consider both the Telecommunications Access Iowa (TAI) and the Iowa Can Connect (ICC) programs. The teacher was able to provide the information over the phone about the programs, then prepare both applications and mail them along with a phone catalog to Mary. When they arrived in a couple days, Sue was able to help Mary get the support documentation, sign the two documents and mail each and begin to choose an appropriate phone. When the TAI voucher came soon after, Mary and Sue again called to double check with the teacher about choosing the best landline phone to meet Mary’s access needs for both vision and hearing. They have the ICC application in the mail with the supporting documentation. This will help with possibly a cell phone replacement and/or a new, larger iPad. These tools will all help Mary stay connected to her family, community, and healthcare needs.
From Monica:
An 86 year old woman in NW IA who is newly blind was dealing with the loss of her husband. She was scared about her vision loss.
She desperately wanted to remain living in the home they had shared but did not know if she could without her husband to help her. Her husband had helped her pick her clothes out each day because she could no longer see them well enough to put together an outfit that looked good. Just putting together a top and bottom had never been sufficient for her in the past because she stated she always wanted to look nice. So, a pen friend was authorized for her to label her clothing with laundry labels. This woman reported this device was the best thing she ever has run across. She stated she sat down with her daughter, labeling her clothing. The labels allow for a lengthy description, such as cream color background top with shades of pink roses and sage green leaves. This 86 year old woman reported being so happy to be able to pick out her clothes each morning without someone helping her. She stated she use to feel like a small child with others having to help her do this and now she feels like a confident woman doing it. She stated if she can do this, she can do other things and maybe can remain living in her own home. She also stated she use to enjoy baking and has felt she could not do this anymore without vision. Now that she can put together her daily outfits, she thinks she will attempt to start baking again.

From Mark: Selma has discovered that because of her blindness, she is able to help others in need. In the past year, Selma was forced to stop driving due to vision loss and had to sell her car. Because she could no longer hop into a car and drive to the grocery store whenever she needed food, she learned how to open an online account with Walmart and shop for groceries that way. Because she can’t drive to Walmart to pick up her order, she chose the type of account that offers free delivery.
Knowing that some of her elderly neighbors are self-isolating in their apartments and do not have access to groceries, Selma has offered to place online grocery orders for them on her account. Several neighbors do not have the computer skills for online shopping and have accepted her kind offer and they appreciate having their groceries delivered rather than risking exposure to the virus by going out to the store for groceries. If she had not lost her sight, Selma noted, she likely would not have developed the computer skills or the habit of online food shopping.
Selma is also a retired nurse. She is able to help another neighbor who recently had surgery. Selma is able to change bandages for this neighbor. While Selma has lost her vision, she still retains her nursing skills and knowledge and is able to help others with their medical needs.
Selma told me that everyone in her senior independent living community helps each other out. While I was on the phone with her, a neighbor came to her door. The neighbor has sewing skills and she was delivering face masks that she had sewn for not only Selma, but also for Selma’s children and grandchildren. All of these examples truly exemplify what “Iowa Nice” means.

For More Information

To learn more about IDB programs and services: visit our website:

Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IowaBlind
Visit our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/IDBonline

To apply for vocational rehabilitation or independent living services,
Complete our referral form
or call 515–281–1333

To apply for library services, call 515–281–1323
For more information about library services, visit these links:

Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Blog: https://iowalibrary.blog/

Instructional Materials Center Blog: https://idbimclibrary.blog/