by Jane McClure
A mainstay of Minnesota’s disability community has suspended operations. Leadership of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions or BLIND, Inc. announced that the nonprofit has temporarily suspended all of its programs and services. What is described as a temporary shutdown began January 1.
The nonprofit’s leadership issued a statement:
“We take this action with heavy hearts. After extensive deliberation over our current financial and organizational obligations, we believe suspending operations at this time in order to make future plans is the best and most responsible available course of action. This decision comes after a review of compounded circumstances that have developed over a period of years, leaving our organization with inadequate resources to advance our mission at this time.”
Social media posts brought an outpouring of sadness as well as support for BLIND, Inc. Concern was expressed for program clients, who had to scramble to find other services. It’s not clear how many residential and non-residential students were affected by the suspension of service. The BLIND, Inc. website indicates that there were fewer than a dozen staff members when services were suspended.
Vision Loss Resources (VLR) responded to the temporary shutdown, noting that the decision leaves it as the region’s only comprehensive provider of services for people with visual disabilities. “Our student enrollment has grown and I’m pleased to report that we are ready and willing to take on this new challenge,” said Matt Kramer, VLR president. The Little Canada-based nonprofit is modifying its workspace and changed its parking lot configuration to make it easier for the additional Metro Mobility buses for students and staff.
BLIND, Inc. has long had its headquarters at the Charles S. Pillsbury House on East 22nd Street in Minneapolis. The English Gothic style house was built in 1912 for the son of the flour milling company founder, at a cost of $300,000. The mansion was occupied by the Pillsbury family until 1939. It was then used by the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts and the Guthrie Theatre before its acquisition by BLIND, Inc. in 1993.
The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, which is a factor with any needed building improvements. The BLIND, Inc. leadership explained that the building needs millions of dollars in renovations, to be done in a manner that preserves its historic character.
“Unfortunately, we have determined that we are not in a position to undertake the necessary building renovations while still providing quality adjustment-to-blindness training,” the nonprofit stated. “We recognize that this decision will be painful to our students, our dedicated staff, and to all of our supporters in the community . . . . We were not able to find a viable way to alter the timing of this decision.”
“We deeply appreciate all of the work everyone affiliated with BLIND, Inc. has done over the past three decades to help blind people build the skills and confidence to live the lives they want. Our high-quality training has impacted thousands of people, not only the many students that have walked with us, but also the blind community who connect with the positive philosophy and high expectations demonstrated from our alumni and friends. With the continued support of our board, partners and community, our goal in the coming months is to re-imagine what adjustment to blindness training can be, and to reopen our doors with fresh approaches and insights and on a sound financial footing.”
During the transition, BLIND Inc. leadership is working with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Louisiana Center for the Blind and Colorado Center for the Blind.
Chris Danielson, an NFB spokesperson, said there aren’t more details to announce at this time. The suspension of services is intended to be temporary. Community members should wait for more announcements.
“This is a fluid situation,” Danielson said.
BLIND, Inc. was established in 1986 as a training center and community of blind and low-vision people. Its programs have done highly regarded work as one of the top training centers of its kind in the United States. It has provided training programs for people of all ages, combining hands-on classroom instruction in topics such as Braille, home management, industrial arts and the use of technology with community-based lessons. An example of a lesson is navigating public transportation independently and travel with a cane.
Mentorship has long been a key part of BLIND, Inc.’s work. Many staff members have visual disabilities. The largest program has been a nine-month comprehensive programs, with full-time students preparing for careers, and learning home management and public transit use.