[Nfbmo] Blind Missourian, July 2010

Gary Wunder gwunder at earthlink.net
Mon Jul 26 14:30:07 UTC 2010

Attached and in the body of this message is our Blind Missourian for July,

July, 2010


National Federation of the Blind of Missouri

Gary L. Wunder, President

3910 Tropical Lane

Columbia, MO 65202

Phone: 573-874-1774


Table of Contents

Baby Taken From Blind Parents By Gary Wunder                        1

Presidential Report March 2010 By Gary Wunder              2

Member Overpaid $132,379.60 by SSA?                                  13

By Eugene Coulter

Letter to Heidi Atkins Lieberman, Assistant Commissioner

regarding Study Island By Gary Wunder

Resolutions from 2010 State Convention

Gary Wunder, Mystery Solved By Carol Coulter                          24





By Gary Wunder


"I've seen this posting about a blind child being taken from her parents and
it has your name on it? Is it really true, or is it one of those Internet
Urban Legends which starts with a grain of truth and grows until it is too
spectacular to believe?"

"I heard about the baby and really love learning about our history. In what
year did that happen?"

These are the kinds of questions I got on e-mail and all throughout the
National Convention as word of Blake Sinnett, Erika Johnson, and their baby
Mikaela spread across the country. "I just can't believe something like this
would happen in 2010," was the first response. "What can I do," was the

As shocking as it is, here are the facts as I understand them. Blake Sinnett
and Erika Johnson went to the hospital to have their baby. The baby was born
on Friday, May 21. Soon after the birth of the baby, Mikaela was given to
Erika for feeding. Feeling that something was not right, Erika called the
nurse who observed that the baby was beginning to turn blue, repositioned
the baby, waited until the baby started to take nourishment, and then calmed
Erika by telling her that many new mothers have problems when initially
trying to feed their baby.

By 6 P.M. on the day of Mikaela's birth, a representative from the Missouri
Department of Social Services was on the scene. Blake and Erika were asked
if there would be a sighted person at home to supervise the care of the
infant. They reported that they lived alone, and the social worker said that
until she could be assured that there would be sighted supervision, the baby
would remain in the custody of social services.

We first heard about this couple from the Parents of Blind Children mailing
list. No one wanted to give the names of the couple. Everyone wanted to know
if we could help! By the time we were actually able to make contact with
Blake and Erika, it was late on Wednesday afternoon. They had a preliminary
hearing set for Thursday, and when we asked them whether they would like
someone to accompany them, they politely declined. Not only did they know
very little about the National Federation of the Blind, but they truly
believed in their heart of hearts that what had happened to them was an
unfortunate oversight which most certainly would be corrected in the hearing
to follow. They were afraid that accepting our help would "rock the boat,"
and would actually hurt their chances for a speedy resolution.

When the hearing was concluded on Wednesday, a decision was made to leave
the child in foster care until more information could be gathered. At this
point Eric and Blake called us back, and we immediately employed the
services of an attorney who has worked with us on two other cases.

Where do things stand now? At the time of this writing, baby Mikaela and her
parents are able to see one another fewer than four times a week. No
unsupervised visits have been allowed. Never in Mikaela's life has she been
allowed to spend a night with her mother and father.

About the time you read this, there should be a hearing which we hope will
Bring Mikaela Home! While we certainly know that we could make tremendous
use of traditional media outlets and the power of the Internet to make this
a very public case, we have decided on a strategy which will leave this to
the courts. We believe justice will be done, and we believe that it is
important to establish some solid case law in this area. Even with our
attempt to maintain a relatively low profile and to preserve the privacy of
Erika and Blake, news of this event has spread far and wide, and we have
good reason to believe that the United States Department of Justice is
interested in this case.

We will continue to cover this issue in the pages of the Blind Missourian
and through frequent updates on our National Federation of the Blind of
Missouri mailing list.




Presidential Report

March 2010

By Gary Wunder President


Each year I try to think of a new and novel way to begin these remarks.
Normally I tell you what a fine year we have had, or give you a bit of
history about how many times you have allowed me to stand before you in an
effort to summarize our activities.

This year let me try something a bit different and give you the bad news
first.  If you can hang with me for just a few minutes, everything else will
be downhill or, as they say, easy sledding.


We have seen significant challenges this year, which aren't likely to go
away.  Some of our major hitters have suffered with long-term illness which
has taken a great deal of their time and energy which would otherwise have
come to us.  Our frequent traveler and First Vice-President has had back and
shoulder trouble, not to mention the headaches which come with such
problems.  Sitting at a computer for any length of time has been
excruciating.  So has attending meetings, spending time in a car, or riding
on the train.


My wife Debbie has had three eye surgeries in an effort to stem her
continual loss of vision.  Sight which was once good enough for her to stand
here at the podium and read with the best of us is now so degraded that when
she is asked if she can count fingers, her standard reply is "Yes, if
they're my own." Again there are problems with pain, balance, and the
general disorientation which comes when what your eyes send to your brain is
very different from what you're accustomed to seeing.


Our dear friend and fellow traveler Tom Stevens has had somewhat fewer
problems than last year, but the effort he must expend to do the work we
once took for granted has significantly increased.  Rita Lynch is always on
top of things she has been assigned, but her husband JW's health is
something she must seriously address and it takes a good deal of time and
energy she would otherwise willingly give to us.


Finally the officer corps has suffered a resignation, the difficulty of
transition, and the cost in time of achieving what reconciliation we can.
And then there is yours truly who has been wrestling for the last six months
to figure out where or if I will be employed.  My job with the University of
Missouri Hospitals and Clinics has been transferred to the Cerner
Corporation.  I now have to decide whether to attempt a transition to
Cerner, seek a different job with the University, or take early retirement
and become a business partner with Debbie in selling the KNFB Reader and
other blindness products.  This latter option is appealing, but having the
structure of a full-time job still has some attraction for me, and I know my
temptation, were I to retire, would be to play the role of a full-time
advocate for the NFB both statewide and nationally.  As appealing as this
is, I truly believe I make a better advocate by holding down a job outside
work with the blind where I can demonstrate that while the climb is often up
hill, blind people can get and perform jobs alongside their sighted


All of these things I bring to your attention, not because we have nothing
to share in terms of successes, but to highlight the absolute imperative to
find leaders to replace those of us who have carried the banner for a long
time now and who, no matter how much we care, cannot defy the changing
economy, or the laws of aging and the physical problems which accompany it.


Last year in St. Louis, we held this affiliate's first youth convention.
Because of a grant from our Imagination Fund and a matching grant from the
State Affiliate, we had eight families participate in a morning session
devoted exclusively to the concerns of young people.  That agenda featured a
visit from the St.  Louis zoo complete with both live and stuffed animals,
instruction in the reading and writing of Braille, a mobility game in which
the long white cane was used, and last but not least a dancing lesson where
students were taught the Electric Slide.


Our youth session ran simultaneously with our regular session, and in the
afternoon we oriented our agenda to issues of interest to parents and
students.  Both were involved not only as spectators but as presenters, and
some of the speeches about the day's activities and those which took place
in our 2008 Mission Believe were the most moving of our 2009 convention.


In June we conducted a Family Fun Day in Columbia which found 80 people in
attendance, the majority of whom were parents and their blind children.
While this is a fantastic start, and represented for us a significant
outreach, we have not, as in so many cases, made the vital connection which
makes these people adopt our organization as their organization.  First and
foremost we are still seen as a service provider, just one among many, when
what we need to communicate is that our organization is only as vital and
energetic as the people who receive and contribute to our service will


The National Federation of the Blind of Missouri is a vehicle for change, a
canoe which can get us from where we are now to where we want to be, but one
which will only move forward if people like you and I decide to take up the
oars and row.  Each of us in this room has the responsibility to take up an
ore, but equally, each of us has the responsibility to look for other people
to join us in the rowing.


Although a snowstorm delayed us by two weeks, the National Federation of the
Blind went to the hallowed halls of Jefferson City to once again make our
case for retaining and recruiting Blindness Skills Specialists, and for
changing Missouri law to more closely align with federal legislation which
helps to bring textbooks from publishers to the fingers and ears of blind
students.  Currently revenue for the state of Missouri is 7% below
projections and given this, you can imagine that a major thrust of our visit
was to preserve the gains we have made in staffing the blindness skills
specialists positions.


It appears that our efforts have been successful in that HB 3 which deals
with elementary and secondary education passed through the House committee
with the Blindness Skills Specialists line item intact.  Of course, this
program must still survive a vote by the House, a Senate Committee, a vote
by the full Senate, any reconciliation which must occur between the House
and Senate, and eventually must gain the signature of the Governor without a
withholding which could nullify all of our progress.  We will see this
through one step at a time, and will do our best to see that blind students
in Missouri have a fighting chance for an education as good as the one given
to their sighted peers.


I would like to thank everyone who came to the Jefferson City Seminar.  I
know how difficult it is to continue supporting the same old issues year
after year, wondering if we will ever fill the open positions, and whether
they will truly make a difference in the lives of blind children.


May I remind you how long it took us to pass the Model White Cane Law which,
for the first time, granted blind people the right to be accompanied by
their dog guides in any place of public accommodation.  Nothing we do which
represents real change can happen without hard work and the passage of time,
but we couldn't be luckier to have the friends and colleagues who turn out
year after year to place their stamp on changing what it means to be blind.


Thank you to Brian Wekamp and his Committee for once again coming up to the
line and showing our elected officials at the State Capitol that the blind
have a voice, an opinion, and a desire to succeed which will not be


Given the budget crisis in the state, it isn't surprising that some real
thought is being given to how to reduce costs at the three residential
schools: the Missouri School for the Blind, the Missouri School for the Deaf
and the Missouri State School for the Severely Disabled.


The task force which was created by the Commissioner for Special Education
met three times during the month of January, and its report has now been
submitted to the Department of elementary and Secondary Education.  While
there is no way to know what will be done with that document, it does not
include a recommendation either to close or combine the School for the Blind
or the School for the Deaf, and neither does it recommend mass transfers of
people to the public school system or to the School for the Severely
Disabled.  It became clear to me in my service as your representative on the
task force that there is much we do not know about the school for the blind.
We too easily rely on how it was when we were there, or what someone last
told us about it.


We sometimes refer to it as a dumping ground where only those with other
disabilities attend.  The reality is that we should be much more involved in
school programs and services, and must come to understand that, even with
the public school option open for many blind students, the school for the
blind still provides a much-needed educational outlet.  This task force
experience also convinces me just how far we have to go in making the public
school experience what it should be for students who are blind.  A number of
children who elect to go to the Missouri School for the Blind do so because
in the public school environment their school day ends at 3:30.  They too
often feel they have no friends, engage in no extracurricular activities,
and feel that participation in competitive athletics is out of the question
for them.  This anecdotal information is confirmed by our own 2008
experience in hosting Mission Believe.  The school for the blind fills these
roles nicely.


The public schools could do much better, but for that to happen will require
a significant presence on our part, and a great deal more involvement with
the schoolchildren and their parents as they go through the system.


One of the exciting things we did this year was participate in a summit
between Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, the Missouri Council of the
Blind and the National Federation of the Blind. The idea of a summit has
been proposed before by RSB and championed by our recently departed friend
Mike Merrick.  While this was not the first of its kind, what made it unique
was the commitment that the two consumer organizations made to an ongoing
dialogue.  We started by establishing some ground rules.  We would not try
to resolve those areas where we have a difference of opinion.  Instead, we
would work from the understanding that on 80% of the issues which concern
both organizations, we are in absolute agreement.  Both of us want to see
Blindness Skills Specialists deployed throughout the state.


Both are interested in the issue of quiet cars and legislation to address
the danger they pose to pedestrians.  Each is absolutely committed to
changing Missouri law so that it allows blind students to fully participate
in the Textbooks On Time initiative which we secured at the federal level
and now need to bring to our state statutes.  All of us are interested in
seeing that Rehabilitation Services for the Blind continues to provide
needed equipment and training for the consumers it serves.  


As important as all of these things on which we agree are, there is one
other reason to unite where we can: to combat those who would exploit our
differences to justify their own inaction.  We are tired of the lame excuse
that there are two organizations of the blind who just can't agree, and that
this makes understanding what the blind really want and need next to
impossible.  Both the Missouri Council of the Blind and the National
Federation of the Blind are sick and tired of that kind of foolishness, and
have determined no longer to let such an argument stand between blind people
and the services we need.


In furtherance of an ongoing dialogue, we participated in a Missouri Council
of the Blind sponsored telephone call, were warmly welcomed, and were
actively encouraged to consider it our call as well you theirs.  As an
active part of the conference, we discussed how to promote legislation,
draft a joint letter of agreement on quiet cars, and generally learn about
the policies and programs of each organization.  Let there be no doubt that
these moves have nothing to do with trying to form one organization, to
gloss over our differences, or to subordinate one organization to the other.
We will still be in competition for members, for money, and for the
different philosophies in which we believe, but, for the reasons I have
stated above, I think it serves all of us to work together where we can in
advancing the cause of blind people.


Feeling we needed to update our chapters on important policies and
procedures, the Board of Directors proposed a President-Treasurer seminar.
That motion was later expanded to include all chapter officers, and in
February of this year we met for a day long retreat, reviewing everything
from bookkeeping to the conduct of chapter meetings.  This event provided a
wonderful opportunity for chapter leaders to interact with one another, to
present their good ideas, and to borrow liberally from the good ideas of
others.  The packet handed to officers was comprised of eight separate
documents, one being the agenda and supporting material which itself was 58
pages long.  If you have read the most recent issue of the Blind Missourian,
you will find one of the more moving presentations made at the seminar by
none other than Susan Ford.  I've been blessed to hear a number of
presentations from the hearts of Federationists whose lives have been
changed by the organization, but seldom have I been brought to tears by such
moving words as Susan spoke that day.


A survey of participants indicated near unanimity that we should have more
such events and that they should be expanded to include additional members.
My pledge is that we will do more of these if funding and time will allow.
The other clear message from the survey was that while all of the
contributions from presenters were helpful and appreciated, the efforts of
one person stood out in particular as extraordinary for organizing,
publicizing, and dealing with the myriad of problems which had to be
overcome to make the seminar a success.  Please join me in congratulating
Eugene Coulter for his superb job as the Seminar Coordinator.


Periodically the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in
conjunction with Rehabilitation Services for the Blind hosts the Children's
Vision Summit.  This event, for blind children and their parents, presents
an opportunity for learning, networking, and drawing much needed inspiration
from those who are successfully living with blindness.  This year we
participated in three ways: hosting a session for the children, bringing
Carol Castellano as the Keynote Speaker, and sponsoring Christine Parsons, a
young college student who can stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone when it
comes to giving an inspirational speech.  I want to thank Carol and
Christine for the outstanding messages of hope they brought.  I also want to
thank Debbie Wunder who coordinated the children's activity and her
assistants who were Dacia Luck, Rita Lynch, and Susan Ford.  Our
participation, whether through the games we played with the children or the
messages we sent to their parents, help to shape the future for blind
people, and that, my friends, is what we're all about.


In the last several years when I have talked with you about the blind
Missourian, it has been with the recognition that our longtime editor Dr.
Patricia Morrow wanted to step down.  Grappling with how in the world we
would find a person to replace her has been one of my biggest challenges.
At first we tried to edit by committee, a noble endeavor, but one which just
didn't work in practice.  When clearly we weren't getting the results we
needed, several people volunteered to be our editor, and one of them was
Carol Coulter.  My reservations about Carol and the others who volunteered
were that they were already deeply committed to other Federation activities,
and my fear was that adding one more would simply set them up for failure.
I think it is clear that I was wrong, and I couldn't be happier to admit it.
Carol is doing her best to restore us to a quarterly publishing schedule,
has managed the mailing list, organized and edited the material, and gotten
us out several issues of which we can be very very proud.


She has also gotten submissions from several people whose articles reveal
they should be regular contributors to our newsletter.  For all of the work
which has gone into the publication and the willingness to venture taking on
yet another job for the Federation, will you join me please in expressing
our appreciation to Carol Coulter.


One of our major initiatives statewide and nationally has been the job of
increasing Braille literacy.  The goal this year was to sell the Louis
Braille Commemorative Coin.  The coordinator of our effort was Fred Olver,
and though he is not with us today, he is no less deserving of the words I
want to say about him.  He did a superb job in giving us the materials to
market and sell the coin.  He set a fine example by selling a number of
coins himself.  If I had it to do over again, it would be with pleasure that
I would appoint Fred to be our Coordinator.


Just how we did in our sales is a matter of opinion, as is the age-old
question of whether the glass is half full or half empty.  We sold just over
half of the coins authorized by Congress.  We will receive $2.2 million for
our efforts and must set about the task of raising an additional 2.2 million
as required for the government match.  All told, this will mean that we will
have almost 4 and 1/2 million dollars to place in the service of increasing
the literacy of blind people, and I, for one, feel very good about our


At last year's national convention, one of the Bolotin Awards went to the
National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the National
Organization of Parents of Blind Children for their sponsorship of the
Braille Readers are Leaders Contest.  Missouri has always been an active
participant in the program, and this year our effort was coordinated by
Bryan Schulz.  A celebration was held at the Missouri School for the Blind
and the theme this year was how to use Braille to play games.


Needless to say, the event was a huge success with the students, and the
team has already written an article for the Blind Missourian and the Braille
Monitor.  I extend my thanks to the Chairman and all of his Committee for
making Braille real and fun in the lives of blind students at MSB and I ask
that you join me in applauding their work and creativity.


Before leaving the subject of Braille, let me tell you there were three
Missourians who got their letters in a book we presented to President Obama
through the good offices of the Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan.
Debbie Wunder had a letter published in that book where she describes the
pain in being expected to see, and the long-term consequences of not being
taught to read and write in a way which would last a lifetime.  Sometimes
Debbie is congratulated on her presentations and letters, and then, much to
her chagrin, is asked if I wrote them.  May I tell you in confidence that if
anything can make Debbie growl, that's the question which can do it.  I had
nothing to do with Debbie's letter, and I truly believe that the only reason
Gary Wunder got a letter there too was that no one wanted to tell me why
hers made it and mine didn't.


In our Saturday afternoon session last year, we spent a significant amount
of time reviewing Mission Believe which took place in 2008.  The Board of
Directors once again decided we should approach the Imagination Fund with
the request to do another such event.  It will take place on the last
weekend in June, using the same fine facilities we did before.  I ask that
all of you consider what you can lend to the project by way of thoughts,
volunteer time, and anything else you might wish to donate to make this
project a success.  Mission Believe is one tangible way we can reach out to
young people and their parents with the message of hope and opportunity
which bring us all together in this room today.


As we have done every year since 1979 when Tom Stevens first represented us
at the Washington Seminar, we again sent a delegation to our nation's
capital.  This year I had the pleasure of being one of those to attend, and
I can tell you that our traditional Washington Seminar crew represents one
well oiled machine.  Shelia Wright is first-rate at making appointments,
even when that means call after call and letter after letter to see that it
gets done.  Tom Stevens has developed several key relationships which have
proven very beneficial to us in the past and his continuing presence
representing the Federation is priceless.  We were fortunate this year to
have Dan Flasar as part of our delegation, and no person I know can give a
more sincere and articulate presentation than he.  I'm also extremely
excited to tell you that Gary Horchem joined us for the first time, and
while he didn't try to upstage any of the veterans who knew their lines ever
so well, he did a fine job of filling in the gaps and expressing the views
which only a technically inclined young person could do.


Thanks to the Parent Leadership Program sponsored by the Affiliate Action
Department at our national headquarters, we were able to bring to Washington
and enlist the services of Richard Willis, a man we first met at our Family
Fun Day, and Richard is a real advocate in his own right.  He did a
fantastic job in describing the difficulty his young wife finds in taking a
job, while at the same time striving to retain the Social Security
disability insurance benefits to which she is entitled.


Besides Shelia, Tom, Dan, Gary, and Richard, we were fortunate to have
Debbie Wunder in our delegation, and though she often speaks very softly,
when she spoke to the congressmen about kitchen appliances blind people
can't use, and washers we can't run, she really got their attention.


As a result of our trip and the all-important follow-up to it, we now have
Congressman Russ Carnahan signed on to all three of our bills, and
Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer co-sponsoring two of the three.  As Patti
Chang mentioned earlier in the day, it is essential that we press Rep. Henry
Waxman to give us a hearing on our Quiet Car legislation, HR 734, which now
has more than enough sponsors to pass the House if only it is given a fair
hearing by committee and sent for consideration on the floor.  Let's pickup
our phones on Monday morning and let Rep. Waxman know that blind people are
as deserving of safety in our travel as are people who buy cars from the
Japanese manufacturer Toyota.


Let me turn for just a moment to cases.  Last year I told you about Carol
Coulter and the allegation by SSA that she had been receiving benefits to
which she was not entitled for the last 24 years.  We never used an abacus
or a pencil to determine what figure that might be, but Carol definitely
looked like she was headed for debtor's prison or at least the modern day
equivalent of it.  I also noted at the time what a unique position she held
in influencing the man in this room who knows the most about advocacy when
dealing with the Social Security Administration, SSA.  Carol's case has been
resolved with two major admissions on the part of SSA: 1) Carol is blind;
and 2) she owes not one red cent to the Social Security Trust Fund.


Brian Nash is a man who lives in this part of the state.  In July of last
year he too got a notice from Social Security saying since he was not
disabled and had been receiving SSDI, he owed the SSA $6,000.  We worked
with him to file an appeal, and so obvious was the agency's mistake that in
February, even without a hearing, he was told he did not owe the money and
was reinstated as a blind SSDI recipient.


Cortney Glonka is a young woman who lives in St. Louis.  Wanting to work,
and being a recipient of Supplemental Security Income, SSI, Cortney went to
her local Social Security office to work out a Plan to Achieve Self Support.
Her concern was that a new job would require she report and send in her own
taxes, and her fear was that holding this money would make it appear as an
asset by the Social Security Administration.  The SSA representative she met
with agreed Cortney should establish a savings account into which she would
place money she thought she would owe the Internal Revenue Service at the
end of the year.  This Cortney did, noting clearly in the documentation for
the account exactly what it was for, and even going so far as to throw away
the passbook so she wouldn't accidentally make a withdrawal.


Since I'm telling you this story, you already know what's coming.  When the
SSA found out about the savings account, they wrote to Cortney saying she
had too much money to be receiving SSI, that her benefits would be
discontinued, and that she should return the $3,000 plus in overpayments she
had received.  Complicating the situation even more, Cortney moved during
the process, went for a time to a closer SSA location, and soon began
receiving letters from two offices showing her owing different amounts and
demanding repayment.


When we first heard from Cortney, we found her to be most sincere and
articulate, but frankly we thought she was in real trouble.  The proper way
to withhold taxes is not to put them in a savings account but to send
estimated tax, on a quarterly basis, to the Internal Revenue Service.  We
gently told her as much but agreed we'd do what we could to help.


Dan Flasar waded through all of Cortney's records and accompanied her to the
hearing.  She impressed the Administrative Law Judge as much as she did all
of us.  In his opinion, Cortney unquestionably acted in good faith, took
reasonable steps to avoid an overpayment, and documented and clearly
articulated those steps.  Accordingly, the judge found that Cortney owed
nothing to the Social Security Administration, and in fact could keep the
money she had saved.  The stars were definitely aligned in her favor when
she also learned she had made so little that she owed nothing to the IRS.


I'd like to conclude my report by talking with you about our last case, that
being on behalf of Gary Owens.  You will remember Gary has been told he owes
$132,000 in back payments for receiving SSDI benefits to which he was not
entitled. Our best calculations reveal Gary possibly exceeded SGA for one
month in 1998, so SSA's conclusion is that anything received after that date
must be repaid.


As we said we would, the NFB helped Gary appeal, and now, one year after
that request for reconsideration, SSA has reached a tentative decision which
is being sent to the main office in Baltimore for approval.  The finding
which is being sent forward is as follows: Gary will be reinstated for
Social Security Disability benefits, will receive back pay from the time he
reapplied after being terminated, and the $132,000 he allegedly owes to SSA
will be removed from his record and he will be free and clear of all alleged
overpayment obligations.


A moment ago I threw out the promise of concluding these remarks, and now
I'll make good on it.  Let me say what a pleasure it is to serve this
organization and to know and work with so many fine people in a cause larger
than ourselves.

My greatest hope and most humble request is that more of you who support as
rank and file members press to be more involved.  Seek out assignments, and
if your chapter presidents or I fail to give you something to do, beat us
over the head until we do.  Help us get new people.  Help us make those we
have feel more involved.  Help us be the kind of organization which will
create a world worthy of the blind people who will come after us, and help
us all remember that the pettiness which can sometimes separate us is far
less important than the mission which unites us and which causes us to carry
with pride the banner which says "We are the National Federation of the




Member Overpaid $132,379.60 by SSA?

By Eugene Coulter


Nervously the envelope from the Social Security Administration is opened as
too often it contains either bad news or forms to complete. Imagine the
dismay of reading the very first sentence, "We paid you $132,379.60 too much
in benefits."

Then there is the shocking conclusion that the recipient should remit a
check in the full amount of the overpayment right away. If you must make
partial payments you must submit a check with a substantial payment and a
complete explanation of why the entire amount cannot be paid. Then the final
horrible piece of news is that once they have finished the review your
benefits will be stopped as you are no longer disabled.

Gary Owens of the Columbia Missouri chapter received just such a letter
dated January 20, 2009. Shock could not begin to describe his reaction. In
less than 24 hours he had contacted both State President Gary Wunder and me
to see what could be done. After what must have seemed like an interrogation
to Mr. Owens we decided that the NFB would take on his case. The first point
that seemed obvious was that Mr. Owens was still disabled as he was, and
still is, statutorily blind.

A lot of evidence had to be collected to proof our contention that not only
is Gary Owens still blind but that he had not met the threshold of
Substantial Gainful Activity that Social Security (SSA) uses in determining
a person's eligibility for benefits. What made this case unusually difficult
was the allegation that he had been over paid for over ten years back to
April of 1999 when he participated in the vending program.

Because of strict deadlines imposed by SSA Mr. Owens was forced to collect a
mountain of information in less than a week. This was difficult as some
items that would have been helpful could not be produced as the persons that
could provide them had passed away in the intervening decade. With most of
the evidence  in hand Mr. Owens came to my house and spent three hours going
over the evidence and then I spent the next 11 hours organizing it and
making sense of it.

Several items seemed clear right from the beginning. First and foremost was
that if Mr. Owens was overpaid at all it was for maybe a couple of months
and would not exceed a couple of thousand dollars. The first error appeared
to be that SSA did not allow any of the customary unencumbered expenses
allowed to blind vendors or impairment work related expenses to the self
employed. Secondarily, employment information was incorrect or applied to
incorrect time periods.

There was no evidence that SSA had ever asked Mr. Owens to provide
impairment work related expenses from any of his subsequent jobs. They,
apparently, counted a small pension from a former employer as current
employment. A strong letter was prepared with a lot of help from Gary Wunder
objecting in the strongest possible terms to the decision.

Mr. Owens took the letter to SSA along with the evidence we had collected
and was basically told not to hold his breath. Then six months later    in a
letter dated July 14 SSA handed down their final decision stating that he
still owed the $132,379.60 but that benefits had already been stopped with
the July 3rd check. Immediately both a request for reconsideration and a
request for waiver were filed with SSA. For the next ten months Gary Owens
sat on pins and needles without any income from Social Security. There were
several meetings with local Social Security offices. Finally on March 25,
2010 a local official confirmed that he was sending the file for
'development' recommending that benefits be restored and that there was
absolutely no overpayment. 

 It took over two more months until the decision became official. On May 28,
not only was the $132,379.60 overpayment wiped out, but a check for well
over $10,000.00 was issued for the underpayment for the eleven months Gary
had to do without his income. 

How did this happen? Since SSA never allowed the vending expenses for the
year or two he worked there, he was over the income limit. Once he used up
the Trial Work Period, SSA considered him no longer disabled, so regardless
of income for the next nine years he would not be eligible for any checks
until he re-applied and was once again determined to be disabled.

The question that arises from all of this is, why does SSA have the right to
go back over a decade to determine eligibility when it is unlikely that
beneficiaries would keep records that long? I do not know the answer but we
are sure glad that Mr. Owens had some records and Rehabilitation Services
for the Blind provided a critical piece of vending information.

We all need to learn some lessons from this. First, never throw away any
records pertaining to earnings or to Social Security until after you are
dead. Second, remember the first rule of dealing with any bureaucracy:
Record, Reply, and report. For example if you are a blind vendor, get a hold
of verification of your unencumbered expenses including unpaid rent each and
every year. 

Keep all documents pertaining to any aspect of earnings or SSA in a safe
place such as a safe deposit box or fire proof box. And, if SSA comes a
calling reply right away and supply the information that you have already
neatly gathered. Finally, you are always at fault if you do not report
changes in your circumstance. It is better to report too much than not

This case could have easily gone the other way as some of the records were
thin.  Mr. Owens wants me to express his thanks to everyone in the NFB as it
made him feel great to have all of us behind him and feels even better now
that he has his life back.

Note: There will be another Social Security Seminar on August 14, 2010 in
Columbia, MO at 1500 Vandiver Drive, Conference Room A/B from 10:00 to 3:00,
all are invited. Details will be forthcoming on the website or call Columbia
Chapter President Debbie Wunder at 573-874-1774. 





April 26, 2010

Heidi Atkins Lieberman, Assistant Commissioner 

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Division of Special Education

PO Box 480

Jefferson City, MO 65102



Dear Ms. Lieberman,

Last Spring, we became aware of issues with Study Island, an on-line test
preparation site, being used by some school districts throughout Missouri.
At that time, one of our leaders contacted Study Island through their
"contact us" link and expressed our concerns with their site not being
accessible to blind and visually impaired students who use screen readers.
As a proactive organization, we also suggested several sources that would be
able to assist them in addressing these issues. They responded to our
message and our follow-up calls thanking us for our comments and indicating
they would take this into consideration for future designs but seemed
unwilling to look at the issue for current online material. 

As a result, our concern was brought to the attention of the Missouri
Taskforce on Blind Students Academic and Vocational performance (AKA: The
Blind Task Force). This should have alerted the Department of Elementary and
Secondary Education of the problem that blind and visually impaired students
are facing. Since that time, we have become aware of other web based
preparation and testing sites that are being used by school districts in
Missouri which have similar inaccessibility issues.   

As the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is moving
toward online testing for MAP and End of Course assessments, the time has
come where this issue must not be ignored. The Department needs to be
actively involved in assuring that any online test preparation and/or
testing sites contracting with the state of Missouri are accessible to all

We understand that online testing is in the future of our youth and that
there may be advantages for Missouri Schools to move in this direction. With
increased awareness, planning, and a few extra steps during the construction
phase of a web site, web designers can and should build web sites that are
accessible to blind and visually impaired students. All areas of the web
page should be accessible as our blind students need the same opportunities
as their peers to utilize the study materials and pretests which allow them
practice navigating the web site prior to statewide testing. It is also
important that these companies construct test questions in a manner to
ensure the question can be correctly completed without reliance on vision.

A resolution adopted by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri
during our 2010 annual state convention accompanies this letter. We are also
including a listing of a few problems that we have noticed with Study
Island. This list is in no way a complete listing but demonstrates common
problems that can easily be addressed when considered by publishers and web
designers at the time of construction. 

In addition, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is for the
department to assure that Braille and large print test copies continue to be
available for students during this transition. How tragic it would be if,
after all of our work to give a blind person an education worthy of his or
her aptitude and interest, future educational opportunities and career goals
would be forfeited because the testing instrument turned out to evaluate the
technical skills of the test taker more than the knowledge the test was
designed to measure.


Gary Wunder, President









 WHEREAS, access to technology by people who are blind is essential if we
are to live independently; and

 WHEREAS, recent trends in the development of everything from home
appliances to office equipment has focused on the use of touch screens we
cannot see and flat panels in place of buttons we can feel; and

 WHEREAS, there are ways in which touch screens and other displays can be
made accessible and controls for manipulating devices can be made useable by
people with little or no vision; and

 WHEREAS, HR 4533 has been written to address the problem of providing
nonvisual access, first by conducting a study to explore state-of-the-art
technology for the alternative ways it can be made accessible, and then by
putting standards for accessibility in law, Now, therefore:

BE IT RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri call on
Representative   Blunt to cosponsor HR 4533 and use his good offices to see
that it is advanced and is affirmatively adopted by the United States House
of Representatives.


To be specific, Resolution 2010-01 Regarding The Technology Bill of Rights
was sent to Congressman Clay, Akin, Skelton, Graves, Emerson, and
Luetkemeyer . A similar resolution was also sent to both Missouri Senators
Bond and McCaskill. Representatives Carnahan and Cleaver were the only two
co-sponsors . 







WHEREAS, securing remunerative employment without penalty by Social Security
laws and regulations is an important ingredient in maximizing the
independence of the blind; and

WHEREAS, the ability to travel safely in an environment where vehicles make
enough sound that they are detectible by the human ear is fundamental to
full participation by the blind and is crucial to the safety of all
pedestrians, and

WHEREAS, Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer has lent his name to HR 886 and
HR 734 by becoming a supporter and cosponsor of these much needed changes in
federal law, Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri in
convention assembled this 27th day of March, 2010, in the City of
Springfield that we commend Representative Luetkemeyer for his championing
of legislation so important to the integration and independence of the









WHEREAS, the legislative priorities for blind Americans address our need to
travel safely, to become employed, and to have access to the technology of
the 21st century; and

WHEREAS, Rep.  Russ Carnahan has championed our needs by signing on as a
cosponsor to the three bills which have been written to address these
issues, Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri in
convention assembled this 27th day of March, 2010, in the City of
Springfield that we commend Congressman Carnahan for his belief in the
ability of blind people to participate fully in our society and his
commitment to help our dream of full integration on the basis of equality
become a reality.



Resolution 2010-04

A Resolution Regarding On-Line Testing


WHEREAS, Many school districts in Missouri are now using on-line test
preparation sites such as Study Island by CTB/McGraw-Hill to aid their
students in readying themselves for the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP)
and End of Course (EOC) testing; and

WHEREAS, Study Island and other preparation and testing sites utilized in
Missouri schools have not built in adequate accessibility features which
allow blind or visually impaired students to access all of the needed
information to prepare for and take the pretests; and 

WHEREAS, this is evidenced in the designs that convey information to the
student by using color, strike throughs, unlabeled graphics and split frames
that create barriers for the blind or visually impaired student; and 

 WHEREAS, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is now
moving toward actual MAP and EOC testing being conducted on-line and is in
the process of seeking bids from such companies to construct MAP and EOC
tests materials for Missouri; and

WHEREAS, there are design standards that could be implemented to eliminate
the problem of test takers being evaluated on the accessibility of the
computer programs used to administer the test, rather than on the content
the test is intended to measure,: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri in
convention assembled in Springfield, Missouri this 27th day of March, 2010,
that we call upon the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to
ensure that any test preparation company receiving a contract to produce
statewide tests must build in accessibility features and that their site be
certifiable as to its accessibility; and 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that school districts will be provided hard copy
Braille and large print test copies for students who qualify under an IEP
until such issues are resolved. 







WHEREAS, many people who are blind receive Social Security Disability
benefits but would like to return to work; and

WHEREAS, current law sets a threshold for the receipt of benefits such that
a blind person can make $1640 in earned income and receive benefits, but if
$1640.01 is the amount earned, all income from the SSDI program ceases; and

WHEREAS, current law requires that blind people act in opposition to their
own economic self-interest if they take a job worthy of their talent and
interest, and

WHEREAS, S 2962 will, if passed, eliminate this disincentive to work by
replacing the strict cut-off of benefits with a formula which reduces
benefits by one dollar for every three dollars of earned income, Now,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri in
convention assembled this 27th day of March, 2010, in the city of
Springfield that we call on Senator Bond to co-sponsor and fully support
this most needed legislation and help blind people return to work.

To be specific, Resolution 2010-05 regarding The Return to Work Act was sent
to Congressmen Clay, Akin, Skelton, Cleaver, Graves, Blunt, and Emerson as
well as Senator McCaskill. Representatives Carnahan and Luetkemeyer were the
only co-sponsors from Missouri on the bill at the time of the convention.
Let's say thank you where they deserve it and be firmer where they do not
support-Let's hold them accountable.



Resolution 2010-06 

A resolution Commending Brian Wekamp


 WHEREAS; this affiliate annually conducts an exceptional information
seminar in Jefferson City on behalf of the blind of Missouri; and

 WHEREAS the positive effect of such seminars cannot be overrated; and

WHEREAS; arranging for such seminars and following the progress of various
projects requires much time, dedication to detail, and knowledge of the
overall process; and

WHEREAS; the work of Brian Wekamp greatly enhances the outcome of these
seminars, Now, therefore:

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri in
convention assembled, this 27th day of March, 2010 in the city of
Springfield Missouri that this affiliate strongly commends Brian Wekamp for
his exceptional efforts on behalf of the blind of Missouri          



Resolution 2010-07

A Resolution Commending Eugene Coulter


WHEREAS each affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind faces the
annual challenge of conducting a convention; and

 WHEREAS Eugene S. Coulter has completed the daunting task of coordinating
such conventions for several years; and

WHEREAS such coordination requires the exercise of skills of negotiation,
attention to detail, great patience, and careful planning; and

WHEREAS His exceptional work has led to the successful conduct of a series
of well arranged conventions reflecting great credit on his work: Now,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri in
convention assembled this 27th day of March, 2010 in the city of Springfield
Missouri that this affiliate highly commends Eugene S. Coulter for his
successful efforts on behalf of the blind of Missouri.



Resolution 2010-08




WHEREAS the Affiliate provision for a member at large is intended for
persons who are too distant from an active chapter to attend regular
meetings and activities, and


WHEREAS, Dan and Leslie Keller of Nevada Missouri have been active members
at large for more than thirty years and


WHEREAS, they have represented the Federation at various activities in
Nevada, Missouri regarding blindness, and have visited with and encouraged
newly blinded persons in Nevada, and


WHEREAS, Dan and Leslie are frequent attendees at our National Conventions
and participate in numerous activities while attending these Conventions,


WHEREAS, the Keller team has presented an extremely positive and effective
representation of our Federation team in the area where they reside, Now,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri in
Convention assembled this 27th day of March, 2010 in the city of
Springfield, that Dan and Leslie Keller are highly commended for their
splendid work on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind during these
thirty plus years.




Gary Wunder, Mystery Solved

By Carol Coulter


Gary Wunder, state president and Columbia chapter member, has been
struggling for several months with what to do since Cerner Corporation took
over his job with the University of Missouri Hospital and Clinics. He kept
telling us he had three options: transition to Cerner, seek a different job
with the University or retire but were these "really" his only options? When
did the deception begin? 

At the Columbia Chapter's June meeting, Gary informed us he would be
starting a new job but he could not tell us what it was until after the
president of the company made the announcement. Of course we had to pump him
for as much information as we could. We found out it was something very
different from his previous work but he would still be using some of his
previous job skills.  He would be working from home and therefore be able to
remain in Columbia which made the chapter extremely happy.  He told us he
would be able to tell us about his new job in mid July.  

We came up with several possible job offerings from being hired by one of
the auto companies to help with the design of the fix for the quiet cars, to
working for IBM to ensure accessibility of their products.   The Mystery was
solved at this year's National Convention. President Maurer announced that
Gary Wunder was going to be the new editor of the Braille Monitor.
Congratulations Gary. While this position never crossed our minds, we can't
think of a better person for the job.  We know you will do a fantastic job
and can't wait for that first issue that says Gary Wunder Editor.        

                                              Board of Directors

National Federation of the Blind of Missouri


Gary Wunder, President

Shelia Wright, First Vice President

Tom Stevens, Second Vice President   

Debbie Wunder, Recording Secretary

Dacia Luck, Corresponding Secretary

Carol Coulter, Treasurer

Susan Ford, Lois Ulmer, Jim Moynihan, Jeremiah Wells, Bill Neal, Bob
Williams, Gene Fleeman






Chapter Presidents


Debbie Wunder, Columbia                   Helen Parker, South Central

Rita Lynch, Jefferson City                                 Gary Horchem,

Shelia Wright, Kansas City                   Carol Henderson, St. Joseph

Susan Ford, Lewis and Clark                Bryan Schulz, St. Louis

















NFB of Missouri

1613 Blue Ridge Rd.

Columbia, MO  65202











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