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50 years of opportunity: The Iowa Department for the Blind celebrates 50 years of turning its groundbreaking philosophy into daily practice
Fifty years ago, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan refined the novel concept of empowering blind people to lead confident, successful lives.
He brought that vision to Iowa and transformed the state’s services for blind and visually impaired Iowans, making the Iowa Department for the Blind one of the top service providers of its kind in the country.
Jernigan’s philosophy has given thousands of Iowans renewed hope after severe vision loss. Through the Department’s array of services that includes help finding and retaining jobs, teaching non-visual techniques for everyday tasks and encouraging confidence, Iowans around the state have found success in their lives at home, at work and in their communities.
The Department celebrated these accomplishments during an open house on Friday, Oct. 30, 2009 in its historical downtown Des Moines building, which has recently been remodeled to better serve its clients.
During the open house tours of the building were offered to the public, providing an in-depth look at the many services the Department offers and a chance to meet with staff and clients.
The anniversary program also featured a panel of clients, who discussed how they have benefitted from the Department’s services.
An awards ceremony followed the panel, honoring clients, community partners and employers who have made a significant contribution to the Department’s work over the years.
"At the Iowa Department for the Blind, our mission is to create opportunities for independence," said Director Karen Keninger. "It is the place in Iowa where blind and visually impaired Iowans can learn the skills, develop the confidence and get the help they need to go back to work, back to school, back to their roles in family and community--in a word, back to life."
"Over the past 50 years we have proven thousands of times that with the proper training and opportunities, blind people can work at regular jobs, raise families, run for public office, volunteer, take leadership roles in their communities and civic organizations, and do anything else they want to do."
The 50th anniversary celebration also included a public transit forum, at which officials from the Iowa Department of Transportation and Sen. Chuck Grassley presented to the public a statewide study assessing Iowa’s transportation needs.
Audience members were able to comment on the study’s findings, which were presented to the state legislature this winter for action.
The annual Orientation Center alumni banquet followed the transportation forum. Nearly 100 alumni and department staff attended.
"The 50th anniversary was an opportunity to show the public and our clients how far we have come since 1959 and also to acknowledge the work ahead for us," said Keninger. -End-
IDB staff Susie Stageberg reads the Braille on the placards at the new Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines. Working with the Des Moines Art Center, which oversees the multi-million-dollar public garden, the Iowa Department for the Blind encouraged the addition of Braille on the descriptive placards for each sculpture. Additionally, the Department will be training docents this spring in giving special tours of the scuplture park of those with significant vision loss. -End-
When Iowa Poet Laureate Mary Swander had dinner with a few friends of the Department for the Blind, no one know of the relationship that was about to form.
Swander had come to the Department to read from her latest book of poetry as part of the annual Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Iowa author reads series. During dinner before the reading, she was presented with an idea of creating poetry that was more accessible to the blind.
Being an advocate for disability awareness and also a library patron, Swander took on the challenge.
Two months later, Swander presented her Iowa State University undergraduate poetry students’ project: "More than Words: A tactile and audible poetry experience."
The students wrote original poems and described them through music, sculpture and other objects.
The project is on display in the IDB Library, and there are hopes of expanding the project and its messages of accessibility.