Published quarterly by
Kansas Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired
An Affiliate of the American Council of the Blind
Vol. 63 Fall 2020 No. 4
Return to: KABVI FREE MATTER
712 S. Kansas Ave., Ste. 410 FOR THE BLIND
Topeka, KS 66603-308
KANSAS ASSOCIATION for the BLIND
and VISUALLY IMPAIRED
Corporate Office, 712 S. Kansas Ave. Suite 410
Topeka, KS 66603-3080
(785) 235-8990 - in Kansas 1-800-799-1499
Editor Associate Editor
Michael Byington Ann Byington
Phone: (785) 233-3839
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Membership Secretary, KABVI, 712 S. Kansas Ave. Suite 410, Topeka, KS 66603-3080
KABVI NEWS promotes the general welfare of blind and visually impaired persons in Kansas. KABVI NEWS reflects the philosophy, and policies of the Association, reports the activities of its members, and includes pertinent articles pertaining to blindness and low vision.
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Table of Contents
Gleanings From The President, By Ann Byington, page 5
The Editor Ponders, By Michael Byington, page 7
My Journey with July and Loki, By Kellie Gerdts, page 10
A Letter from Bob Lawrence: A Voice From The Past, By Bob Lawrence, page 15
COVID-19 and blindness: Why The New Touchless, Physically-Distant World Sucks For People With Visual Impairment, Part One, By Nicholas A. Giudice, Ph.D., page 17
Need A New Computer?, By Kathy Dawson, page 26
Insurance Challenges for Blind and other Car Owners Who Do Not Drive, By Michael Byington and Lee Modesitt, page 26
Update On Voter Access, By Michael Byington, page 29
Tantalizing Tidbits, By Michael Byington, page 31
In Memoriam, Compiled by Michael Byington, Genevieve Schreiner, Julie McCullough, and Hasan Raffi, page 32
Membership and KABVI NEWS Renewal, page 37
Gleanings From The President
By Ann Byington
I hope you were able to attend a portion of the American Council of the Blind virtual convention in July. It was busy, informative and fun. Also, I hope it was a foretaste of what our state convention turns out to be.
At our recent Board of Directors meeting, we brainstormed about what we want at this year’s convention.
Suggestions included: discussion/demonstration of the NVDA screen-reader, MicroSoft Narrator and Magnifier, one or two ACB representatives to discuss new activities from the national office and the new membership services offerings, including community calls available to all of you.
Of course, we will also hear from Talking Books, Audio-Reader, Kansas Specialty Dog Service, KSDS.
Exhibitors may include Adaptations.org, Logantech, DreamVision, American Printing House regarding their acquisition of the Helen Keller archives, as well as their online crossword puzzles and new braille embossers, Harbolt Co., Gadgets and Guidelights, the ACB mini-mall, and more.
A registration/membership letter will be mailed in late August. Because of the virtual nature of this convention, the only expense will be the $10 membership renewal. The jury is still out on door-prizes. My goal is to advertise this meeting to get one hundred participants.
The videography committee will meet with Rachel Hiles around August 10th to finalize what we would like her to do with videos from our last convention.
Since our 100th anniversary celebration opportunities are limited by Covid 19, we will move them to next year when hopefully the pandemic is over.
Stay tuned to the website and Facebook as convention plans develop.
The Editor Ponders
By Michael Byington
I am writing this piece in late July 2020. Earlier this month, my wife, Ann, and I were very involved with the full week of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) National Convention. Because of Covid 19, The Convention was held virtually this year, using Zoom computer connections and ACB radio, as well as a number of additional ways to connect. I am not going to write an article this year covering my impressions of the Convention, because the virtual nature of the convention made it possible for almost anyone interested in ACB to attend by computer, smart speaker, telephone, or other electronic device. Although there was an opportunity to register for the Convention, and thus receive Zoom links and e-mailed information throughout Convention week, one could attend sessions simply by engaging ACB Radio. If readers of this magazine failed to take advantage of this opportunity for fun and learning, and are now regretting it, most sessions were archived and are playing again on ACB Radio; they are also available on demand from the archives on the ACB Radio website.
The ACB leaders running the show did an incredible, history-making job, The technology was handled with very few glitches, and conventioneers were given ample opportunities to ask questions and make comments, both during national group meetings, and in over 100 breakout sessions handled by special Committees, project leaders, Venders, and special interest affiliates.
As this year’s Convention progressed, the thought occurred to me that I am no longer an ACB leader. I had very little to do with putting this wonderful, virtual extravaganza together. In the late 1980s, and early 1990s, I served on the ACB Board of Directors. I held several Committee chairs into the early 2000s, including chairing the ACB Resolutions Committee from 1995 through 2001. In the ten years following my tenure as Resolutions Chair, I was offered several other national committee chairpersonships, and for one reason or another, I turned them all down. They either did not seem to be a good fit for my skills, or employment obligations made it impossible to accept them. I said “NO” enough times that in recent years. Presidents and other leaders have pretty well stopped asking.
I kind of felt bad when I realized that I really do not know most of the current ACB Board of Directors members very well any more. A number of the people I worked with closely have died, or in a few cases, have lessened their involvement in ACB leadership as I have. There are still a few members of the old guard in leadership positions, but there are also a lot of new folks who have emerged over the past ten years or so.
Thinking about what a good job all of the newer ACB leaders are doing, made me realize that there is not any job at the national organizational level that I think I could do as well or better than the people currently doing it. That is just fine with me. Although I have never been a big fan of term limits, because I believe we need to keep some folks with long term historical perspective involved with governance, I certainly do not believe that every leader needs to stick around forever.
After telling myself that I had been essentially put out to pasture, however, I realized another important point. ACB needs leaders at many levels. ACB largely operates on a bottom up structure. This is why it promotes democracy so fervently. If there were not strong State and special interest affiliates, ACB would not exist.
ACB still has plenty of room, and need, for leaders, both old and new. A true leader is not always a person who keeps their name on a national letterhead. They are often the people in the background who realize that the work of the Organization is so important that it needs to get done at many grassroots levels. They do not care whether they receive recognition, but only that the needed tasks get done for the good of the Organization.
From this perspective, there are plenty of leadership needs to be filled right here with KABVI. I have the honor of working with a great set of Kansas Leaders, but some of us are getting old and look to make room for new leaders as well.
The rewards are many, but if we State and special interest affiliate leaders do not keep doing what we do, and encouraging the development of new leaders at the level where we contribute, then ACB will not be able to continue to be the great Organization that pulled off such a remarkable virtual convention.
I guess I better retract my earlier thought. I am still an ACB leader, just at a different level. I hope I can become a better one, and I hope many of you will come along with me.
My Journey with July and Loki
By Kellie Gerdts
(Editor’s Note: Kellie Gerdts moved to Wichita, Kansas
several years ago. She and her husband, Shannon, are employed with Envision. They have a young son. I am not good at keeping up with birthdays, but I believe he is two or three now.)
19 Years ago today, (May 28th 2020) was a very special day. I was flying out to San Rafael California to train with my first guy dog. I remember how I felt when I was heading to the airport. There were so many emotions that I had. Excitement over finally obtaining a guy dog which I wanted ever since I lost my vision, nervousness because I had never flown on a plane before, and I had never been to California, or that far away from my parents. So many questions. Would I succeed? Well I totally screw up and they send me home? Will my dog love me? Will I have a boy or a girl? What breed? I wonder what their name is? I hope I like their name. Getting to the dorm and settling in is what I spent that night doing. It was still so surreal to me at that point. Back then we were in class for four weeks when one was a first time guide dog handler so I had a couple of days of working with Juno, which is a fake guy dog which happens to be a rolled up rug with a collar around it.
On May 30, that was what we called dog day. We all sat together as the instructors announced the breed and name of our dogs to us. I remember sitting there with such anticipation and eagerness. I couldn’t wait to finally learn who my new partner was going to be. I can’t remember if they went in alphabetical order or not but it felt like it took an eternity before they finally got to me and said that I was receiving a yellow lab female named July. Then we got to go back to our rooms and wait until they said they were ready for us to come in to the instructors’ office so that we could meet our partner. I remember going in and sitting down and they walked into the room. I could hear her nails on the floor. She came over to me and promptly laid down for a belly rub. Anyone who ever had the privilege of meeting July knows that that was her favorite thing in the whole wide world.
Training with her was amazing. The first route that I took with her I felt like I sprouted wings and was dancing on air. I can move with the fluidity and ease that I just never had with my cane. We weaved around pedestrians and obstacles beautifully. We had our tough times in class for sure mainly because she was so very aloof and this was hard for me. I bonded to her right away but I thought that she could’ve cared less about me. I remember crying about it. Later I would say that she was my Shepherd in lab fur.￼
She had fantastic work ethic with the exception of dog distractions which was her Achilles’ heel. 99% Of the time she was amazing, but see a dog and you would think that she didn’t know what she was doing. She would absolutely lose her mind (laughing out loud!). She taught me so much about handling and managing a strong-willed dog. But I loved her for it. It took us well over a year before I feel that she actually excepted me and I earned her loyalty and her affection. She was still very reserved when it came to showing affection but I knew her subtle cues to let me know that she loved me. Whether it would just be cuddling beside me when we snuggled on the bed together or a quick read of her tail, she was very dignified which is why she earned the nickname Lady Jay. I was privileged to have her as my guide until April 26 of 2012 when she had a vestibular attack, which is vertigo, which forced her to end her career. I know that I was very lucky to have a dog who worked until she was 12 1/2 years old and she was able to stay with me for two years after that.
After July, Loki wagged his way into my life and he has taught me so much in his own way as well. He has been a challenging dog for very different reasons and yet has also taught me so much about patience and perseverance. If you would’ve asked me back in 2012 when I received him if we would still be together today, my answer then probably would’ve been I doubt it. And yet fast forward to now and we are still a team despite it all. He is so much more sensitive than July ever was and it’s taking me an adjustment to adapt to that. Because in some ways when I expect sensitivity, he’s solid as a rock, and then in other ways, where one would normally think that there wouldn’t be an issue, things can upset him. He is bold and clever and highly intelligent and will definitely take advantage of that. He is also persistent; I just need to point out him knocking the glass bowl off my counter this weekend as an example. He has a huge heart and he’s so full of love. He tries his hardest to do the right thing. He loves guide work more than anything else on the planet, and if he could guide 24 seven I think he would surely do so. Fireworks and storms terrify him as does my cell phone and our robot vacuum when it chimes. Yet my sweet gentle boy handled a severe dog attack like it’s just a day in a life for a guy dog. He has no residual effects despite the fact that he had stitches in his groin and flank. We passed dogs on a daily basis and he still doesn’t show any sign of fear. In fact, there are times when I have to remind him that he cannot go and visit the dogs that we pass along the way. His resilience absolutely astounds me. He too is 9 1/2 years old and still doing so well for his age I know that he’s at the age where I have to look for signs of retirement but I’m enjoying every single moment that I’m still able to have with him. At this point, he still loving every minute of it and his health is still good. All this to say that my journey with Guy dogs has been a beautiful and wonder us experience. I would never trade this way of mobility for anything! Having my guide at my side as my partner, as my extension of me is so hard to describe in words. We work as a team and they bring me my freedom and independence and yet it’s so much more than that. The bond that is forged through daily experiences and the way you almost seem to be able to read each other‘s mind is just amazing. I just want to thank both July, who I know is still my angel watching over me and Loki for being my eyes and my partner and my friend as we go through life.
A Letter from Bob Lawrence: A Voice From The Past
By Bob Lawrence
I can’t recall how many times I started this letter. As with so many other things, this was never finished , and I was not sure you would recall me.
My reason for writing is simple. Basically, I want to thank you and Ann for all your hard work over these many years on behalf of the blind and low vision communities. Your most singular and focused dedication is rare and admired. This, when combined with your knowledge of a wide range of subject matter has made a significant contribution.
Thank you both for your efforts, and the benefits you have made possible. Good health and best wishes to you.
Sincerely, Bob Lawrence
(Editor’s Note: Running this letter is not intended to be self-serving. It gives me the opportunity to pass the thank you and best wishes on to KABVI and all of its members. Ann and I, and all other dedicated leaders of KABVI over the years, could not have done the things we have without the KABVI Organization behind us. It is thus appropriate to pass this thank you on to all of you. This is really a thank you to every supporter and member of KABVI. Getting things accomplished takes all of us.
I met Bob Lawrence for the first time when I got my first full time job after College. I was the staff for the Wichita Commission on the Status of Handicapped. Bob was the young and energetic Director of KETCH, then called Kansas Elks Training Center for the Handicapped. Bob and I are both legally blind. I was a brash upstart, just out of College, and Bob mentored me and taught me some of the ropes involved with being a legally blind professional.
I then moved to Topeka, and into some other human service and advocacy positions while Bob left KETCH for a long and successful career in hospital administration. We met again nearly 30 years later when I was on the dormitory staff for the Kansas Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (KRCBVI), and bob visited that program to check out, and learn to use, some updated visual aids
I also might mention that Bob did not date his letter, but it was post marked in February of this year. It was delivered to our office, properly addressed, in June. I am sorry for the delay in publication and response, but I think his letter must have had a seat reserved on a Boeing 737 Max.)
COVID-19 and blindness: Why The New Touchless, Physically-Distant World Sucks For People With Visual Impairment, Part One
By Nicholas A. Giudice, Ph.D.
Nicholas A. Giudice, Ph.D. is Professor, School of Computing and Information Science and Founder / Chief Research Scientist, VEMI Lab at the University of Maine; Co-founder Unar Labs. This is a long piece. We are thus running it in two parts. Part Two will be in the next issue of this magazine. Even with dividing it in this manner, this will be a little longer than what we are usually able to run, but this is such an important issue, I believe it deserves the space. After all, we have a lot of KABVI members and associates who are in the high risks category if they would happen to contract covid 19. If you do not want to wait for the next issue of KABVI News, and want to read the entire article, unedited and in full, it is on the Internet at: https://email@example.com/covid-19-and-blindness-why-the-new-touchless-physically-distant-world-sucks-for-people-with-2c8dbd21de63?sk=9c81fbc6d5f29d0cc600b4d5b5f06dbe. Dr. Giudice can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As a congenitally blind person, it has become obvious to me that my reliance on touch as a primary mode of experiencing the world puts me at odds with current best practices for avoiding the coronavirus. The principle guidance for safeguarding against COVID-19 is to (1) curtail physical contact with those around us (or the things they touch), (2) limit touching of our body (especially of the face), and (3) maintain a minimum proximity bubble during social interactions (ideally of 6-feet or more). In this essay, I discuss how an unanticipated consequence of following this tri-part guidance for staying ‘safe’ is the effective demonization of touch, which has led to many unforeseen challenges for more than 12 million people in the U.S. (and over 285 million people worldwide) who are blind or visually impaired (BVI).
When you cannot see the world, touch picks up the slack for vision by taking on a dominant role in how it is explored, understood, and interacted with. For BVI people, perception inherently involves touch, either with the hands or the long cane. This physical contact provides critical knowledge about all matter of things: monitoring if one’s hair is a mess, identifying what is in the immediate vicinity, orienting to people or objects in the surrounding environment, etc.
Indeed, touch and vision communicate much of the same information about the world. Feeling or seeing the curve of my coffee mug, the 90-degree edge of my desk, the relation of my computer to my phone, and many other spatial attributes can all be perceived similarly from both sensory inputs. This sensory equivalence helps explain why touch fills many of the same ‘shoes’ as vision for blind folks, albeit at a much closer distance. Thus, in many ways, asking a blind person to curtail touching is analogous to asking a sighted person to go about their day wearing a blindfold.
In the remainder of this essay, I will discuss my perspective on the relation of touch to each of the three pillars of COVID-19 protection.
The guidance to limit physical contact with any public-facing surfaces and to not touch those around us is incredibly difficult for BVI people. Part of the challenge is logistical, when your hands take on much of the work of your eyes for apprehending the world, it is simply not possible to not touch doorknobs, railings, tables, and the like. This is concerning, as it is precisely these common-use surfaces that are most likely to be vectors of COVID-19.
The best advice for anybody exposed to such things is to immediately wash their hands, for at least 20 seconds each time. Unfortunately, I have found that an unexpected outcome of this frequent hand washing regimen is that the prolonged exposure to water desensitizes my fingers, resulting in me becoming functionally illiterate after the process. Reading braille inherently involves high resolution touch and the endeavor is rendered useless when done with prune-like fingers.
My friends keep telling me to wear gloves when I go out in order to reduce the need for hand-washing. This represents a reasonable suggestion for most people but turns out that donning gloves is a poor solution for BVI individuals, as any barrier between the skin receptors and the surface, even if thin, desensitizes the fingers and greatly masks what is being felt. The result is roughly analogous to a sighted person wearing blur glasses as they go about their daily activities.
For BVI people, physical contact plays many roles. Sometimes, it is purely functional. For instance, many BVI individuals hold on to the elbow or shoulder of a ‘sighted guide’ during navigation. Whether it be because they have left their dog at home for an evening out at a concert, are not using their cane on a romantic walk with a partner, or that they simply prefer this mode of guidance, the process inherently involves physical contact.
In the BVI community, touch also represents an important component of building rapport and developing inter-personal connections. Similar to how a sighted person may feel they are not fully engaged or clearly communicating if they don’t make eye contact when talking, BVI people often derive the same sense of connection by touching the arm or shoulder when communicating.
This contact conveys emotional engagement, but it also provides the BVI communicator with a sense of physical presence and immersion that is important for directing attention and staying focused. The fact that so much communication is happening remotely nowadays has definitely limited my ability to fully engage. I hear the relief of my sighted peers when their video kicks in and they can see the other video-equipped participants in a Zoom meeting, but I have no way to experience a similar remote replacement for physical contact.
The fear and distrust of touch has crept into even the most mundane of my daily activities. In the past, a friend or colleague might touch my arm to get my attention, guide my hand to check out some interesting thing we are walking past, touch my shoulder to direct me to move one way or another, or even draw the shape of something on my arm as part of an explanation. These subtle forms of physical contact, often done unconsciously, are important to BVI individuals for supporting efficient communication of information and navigation of their world. The loss of these small but significant forms of contact because of pandemic-related concerns often leaves me feeling adrift, unfocused, and less connected to those around me.
We all use touch as a mode of inter-personal communication and emotional expression (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs, etc.). This physical contact during social interactions has other benefits for blind people that may not be immediately obvious to their sighted peers.
For instance, shaking a person’s hand confers information about exactly where they are in relation to me, which is extremely helpful for self-orientation. This is important for promoting natural social interactions (realizing I am looking in the wrong direction when talking to somebody because I didn’t know that they had moved is incredibly awkward).
A hand shake also provides important knowledge about the other person that is readily perceived through sight. For instance, hand size and structure tells me something about general body type and weight, the elevation of the hand, in conjunction with voice, provides me with information about height, the texture of the skin, feel of the finger nails, and presence/nature of rings imparts information about style and self-grooming practices, intensity of the grip provides information about physical strength and confidence, etc.
When you cannot see the person you are interacting with, a battery of other sensory cues substitute for vision in building up an image of them. These subtle handshake cues are just one example of how nonvisual information (often through touch) conveys relevant information about the physical characteristics of a person that is both informative and interesting. I find that the new touchless modes of meeting and social interaction have left me more ‘blind’ to the world than vision loss, which I have learned to compensate for.
There are some less obvious aspects of touchless communication for BVI people that are worth considering. Of note, the pandemic-induced increase of handshake-free greeting by waving and nodding, touchless hugs, and air pats on the back are largely meaningless when done without vision. Not only is it hard for me to tell if I am gesturing in the right place, I cannot appreciate or benefit from these gestural interactions by others toward me (I have never understood why people still flip me the bird).
The move toward other types of non-hand contact can even be dangerous. In a recent elbow bump accident, I missed my friend’s elbow and caught her on the chin (she is significantly shorter than me). This has led me to curtail all elbow and fist bumping activities. I cut out high fiving years ago due to a similar experience where a particularly exuberant hand-slap went amiss, and I almost broke a buddy’s nose.
Often, physical contact occurs unintentionally, such as accidentally bumping into somebody when navigating a busy area or inadvertently touching the barista’s hand when reaching for the change. These commonplace instances of accidental touch are normally trivial, resulting in an “excuse me” and then moving on.
However, when the same inadvertent contact has occurred over the past couple months, people respond with fear and panic. Although I cognitively know that this response is about a fear of the coronavirus and not about me or the accidental contact, the result is that I feel shamed by my affiliation with touch and my need to rely on this modality.
The guidance to limit body contact, and to especially not touch one’s face, represents a specific example of the above point posing particular challenges for BVI people that many sighted folks may not have considered. In many ways, a blind person uses exploration with their hands for self-monitoring much like a sighted person might use a mirror.
My hand(s) are the surrogate mirror each morning when I want to check whether my beard is trimmed in a straight line, or if I have bed head, or to ensure that I don’t have a smidge of toothpaste on my lip, or something gross crusted in the corner of my eye, or some nastiness around my nose from my allergy drip, and a myriad of other self-care activities that we all do but rarely talk about. This basic self-monitoring, whether performed using touch with the hand or using vision with the mirror, is important for daily grooming and for maintaining one’s hygiene. In the COVID-19 reality, these normal, unassuming activities of daily life, when performed using touch, now represent heightened risks.
Can touching of one’s face expose you to the coronavirus, absolutely. But…should I stop engaging in self-monitoring and information-gathering tasks by means of touching my face, mouth, eyes, and nose, absolutely not. Regardless of one’s visual status, everybody will have the occasion of doing such things and blindly reducing our hands, and our use of touch, as little more than conveyance agents of the coronavirus is neither helpful nor scientifically accurate.
If we are to act (and react) realistically, face touching will inevitably happen in the course of daily life. This is okay, it represents a normal activity that does not inherently increase the risk of COVID-19 infection when done prudently. The point is that rather than fearing a normal action and the sensory mode that supports that action, we should focus on the virus itself and how we can be best protected. With respect to face touching, this can be easily done by limiting contact to instances of information gathering rather than habit and being vigilant about washing our hands, even if they become shriveled and prune-like.
(This article will be concluded in our next issue.)
Need A New Computer?
By Kathy Dawson
Do you need a new computer but don’t have a lot of green? The Texas American Council of the Blind group has a computer refurbishing program. They have either desktops or laptops. You can reach them by email or on their webpage. The webpage address is www.computersfortheblind.org, You can email at email@example.com. They come with an operating system. The laptops are $180 and the desktops are $200. They will ship them to you. Sounds like a good program to me.
Insurance Challenges for Blind and other Car Owners Who Do Not Drive
By Michael Byington and Lee Modesitt
The KABVI office was recently contacted by a blind auto machinic who owns a couple of vehicles. When he is working on someone’s vehicle, and finds that he needs a part that he does not have in stock, he often allows the owner of the vehicle needing the part to drive him to the parts store in one of his vehicles. After all, their car is often not drivable at that time.
His auto insurance was recently canceled. This occurred because his insurer informed him that they could no longer insure the vehicles he owns given that they discovered that he is no longer sighted, and thus no longer has a driver’s license. This gentleman is not married and does not live with, or share his autos with, any one regular licensed driver who can be associated with the policy.
KABVI contacted the Kansas Department of Insurance to determine if this was true. Although we were not able to determine at this writing if there is a current work-around that could allow for an insurance policy to be issued under such circumstances, it was clear that insurers indeed have every legal right to refuse to insure the autos of any owners who do not have driver’s licenses.
On behalf of KABVI, I thus contacted the Kansas Department of insurance to seek their assistance in drafting legislation that would correct this situation. The following response was received from Lee Modesitt, who was identified as the Kansas Insurance Department’s Director of Governmental Relations.
“The Insurance Department’s legislative agenda is narrowly focused on the things we have to do for accreditation or have a direct impact on our operations. We provide testimony before the insurance committees on a number of policy matters. The Commissioner believes that communities across Kansas elect their Representatives and Senators to make policy decisions and we should not weigh in to support or oppose ideas but rather offer relevant information to policy makers to make the best decisions for their fellow Kansans.
To that end, I would encourage you to connect with members of either the House or Senate Insurance Committees that you have a good relationship with. They would be able to work with the revisor’s office on appropriate language to address your issue. Of course, if there are other members of the legislature that you have a good relationship with but are not on either of those committees, they would have the ability to introduce legislation and have it referred to the appropriate committee.
Thank you again for reaching out and I share the Commissioner’s gratitude for your work on behalf of our fellow Kansans.”
I must admit some disappointment with this response. I would have thought that the Kansas Insurance Department would want to accept my invitation to take an active role in designing legislation to resolve this problem for blind auto owners who do not regularly share the autos they own with any one licensed driver. Assisting us with drafting workable legislation would not imply that they were taking a pro or against position on the issue, but only working to design easily implementable legislation should it become law. When current Insurance Commissioner Vickie Schmidt was a State Senator, and was the Chair of the Senate Elections Committee, she used to encourage such communication, but as the office explained, apparently, “offering relevant information to policy makers to make the best decisions for their fellow Kansans.” does not include assisting third party advocacy Organizations with crafting of proposed legislation.
It is likely that KABVI will request Legislation on this matter in the 2021 Kansas Legislative session. We will continue to provide updates on this issue.
Update On Voter Access
By Michael Byington
In the last issue, we ran copies of some correspondence concerning voter access. This will be much more of a summary update.
The issue is that, particularly due to Covid 19, many citizens are expressing an increased interest in vote by mail. If an individual who is blind, visually impaired, or print disabled in some other way, can travel to their local polling place, or to the offices of their election officer of their county, for early voting, all polling places in Kansas are required to have an accessible voting machine so that they can nonetheless vote privately, independently, and verifiably. Such machines are also required to be available at early voting locations. Confidential voting is not available in Kansas, however, if one chooses to vote by mail.
It may seem more difficult, but a number of States and providers of voting materials have found several ways to make vote by mail accessible to people who are blind or print disabled. As an example, Democracy Live’s OmniBallot Accessible Absentee Voting System has been securely deployed in over 1000 elections, and in 600 different jurisdictions. This type of system allows a print disabled person to use a screen-reader equipped computer, tablet, or phone, to vote independently. They then print the ballot out, which looks like the ballot sent out by mail, and mail it in just as any other vote by mail ballot is mailed in.
Our correspondence with Kansas Secretary of State, Scott Schwab, as published in the last issue of “The KABVI News, did achieve getting us an opportunity to meet with Kansas Election officials. Kansas officials, however, were unconvinced that accessible vote by male is secure enough to be used in Kansas.
It had been this author’s hope to avoid having to go the route of introducing legislation to compel the Secretary of State to implement accessible vote by mail for Kansas. At this point, however, it would appear that this is an option we will have to use. This means that it is highly unlikely that accessible vote by mail will be available by the November presidential election. People who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled, will have the option of voting by mail in our upcoming election, but they will have to use sighted assistance to fill out their ballot.
By Michael Byington
The “Rumble tag is a new device invented to maintain a certain degree of social distancing while engaging in sighted guide. It is an arm harness that the guide places on his or her upper arm. It has a strap that the person being guided can then hang onto so they do not have to touch the guide’s elbow or inner arm. This has been recommended as an aid in social distancing during the covid 19 restrictions when human guide activities are being undertaken. . It is manufactured in the United Kingdom, but is sold in this country through the Carroll Center for the Blind through their online store. Go to https://carroll.org/product/ramble-tag/ The cost is $35.00.
IRIE-AT is a new vendor selling accessible cell phones for people who are blind
or low vision. Although this equipment is a bit expensive, it provides a greater
degree of telephone accessibility than do adaptations and applications which are
supposed to make off the shelf cell phones accessible for people who are blind
and visually impaired. This editor is aware of two KABVI associates who have
purchased phone equipment from this company, and both are quite complimentary.
Contact information Is:1-888-308-0059 (toll free)
Compiled by Michael Byington, Genevieve Schreiner, Julie McCullough, and Hasan Raffi
Marjorie Thomas, 100, died in Wichita May 23rd. She was born in Topeka in 1920. She was married to John W. Thomas, who preceded her in death. The couple met when both were attending school at the Kansas State School for the Blind. The couple had one daughter, Phyllis.
Marjorie worked as a vendor in the Kansas Business Enterprises Program. After she and John married, she assisted him in operating a very large vending facility located at St. Francis Hospital, Wichita. The couple then transferred to operate a large vending facility in Topeka. After John’s death, Marjorie continued as a Vendor, operating a smaller facility that could be managed by a single operator. She then was employed with Kansas Industries for the Blind, Topeka for a number of years. Ultimately, however, Marjorie returned to Wichita and was employed by Envision. She worked for Envision until in her early 90s.
Marjorie was first lady of KABVI in the mid-1960s. Her husband, John, was President of KABVI at the time.
On a partly personal note, this editor recalls interactions with Marjorie throughout his life. She sometimes watched over me when my parents would need to go somewhere without me. Her daughter, Phyllis, and I would play together at the Thomas’ Wichita home, and I do not remember ever being disciplined by Marjorie although I am sure that, at times, I richly deserved to be. I then knew Marjorie as a friend through my young and middle-aged adult years. More recently, we were colleagues during years that we both worked at Envision.
A confederate of Marjorie’s, long time KABVI member, Genevieve Schreiner has suggested that it also be noted in this obituary that Marge had a beautiful soprano singing voice. She was also an accomplished pianist.
Savannah Schneider, 23, Wichita, was designated as a missing person on March 31, 2020, and found dead near Haysville by searchers on June 13, 2020. As the death is considered suspicious, arrangements are pending as of this writing (later June 2020).
Savannah had no direct connection with KABVI. She was, however, friends with many other blind and visually impaired people, particularly around the Wichita area, who are members or friends with KABVI.
Savannah, who was severely visually impaired, was a member of the Delta Gamma sorority. She had been active for many years with Envision’s programming for blind and visually impaired youth. This included a long affiliation with Heather’s Camp, where she had moved from participant to counselor as she matured.
There have been several women recently found dead in Wichita under similar conditions. Some of the articles about Savannah that this editor reviewed suggested that there might be a connection between these crimes, but the public information officer of the Wichita Police, Charley Davidson, was quoted as stating that no connection between the crimes had been established. Davidson said, “If we were dealing with a serial killer, I would let you know.”
With the sketchy information available about this death, and the ongoing nature of its investigation, details about Savannah were difficult to come by. Hasan Raffi, who is a member of Phi Delta Theta, a fraternity that works jointly on projects with the Delta Gamma Sorority, and who was a close friend of Savannah’s wrote a very moving tribute to Savannah on Facebook. This editor wishes to thank and acknowledge him for filling in some gaps in information not available through the news media.
Virginia Grey, 72, died July 18th. She was a long-time companion and apartment mate of Rev. Julie McCullough, who is a member of the KABVI Board of Directors. Virginia and Rev. McCullough met as Virginia was a member of a Church that Rev. McCullough served at Gillett Grove, Iowa. Virginia’s parents, Fredrick Emil Grey and Stella Pauleen Haas Grey preceded her in death. Virginia’s early years were spent on a farm near Ayrshire, Iowa. Virginia worked as a Certified Nurse Aid and a urology assistant in a number of medical facilities in Iowa. She also did private nursing care. She was an excellent cook and also worked in several doughnut shops. She moved to Kansas with Rev. McCullough in 2015, and shortly thereafter, the two of them became involved with the Topeka Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TABVI) and with KABVI. Virginia’s quick wit and always active sense of humor was one of her hallmarks that many have commented on, as they have received the news of her death. Rev. McCullough officiated at Virginia’s memorial service, which, due to the Covid 19 restrictions, was held in the parking lot of the apartment complex where the two ladies resided. The weather was pleasant as it had cooled down a bit between rain storms. Neighbors provided drinks and snacks, and it was a pleasant celebration of Virginia’s life. Virginia willed her body to the University of Iowa for medical research. She had had these orders in place for over 50 years.
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