People & Places – August 2013

  Gophers bring cheer to campers Several University of Minnesota Gopher football players made a surprise appearance for campers and […]

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Gophers bring cheer to campers

Several University of Minnesota Gopher football players made a surprise appearance for campers and staff at Camp Friendship in July. Bringing new excitement to camp, the players set up various activities for campers including flag football and an obstacle course. The football players and campers had a fun day together, which ended with campers lining up for autographed maroon and gold t-shirts.

Offensive lineman Johan Pirsig first learned about camp from his sister Whitney, who is a counselor at Camp Friendship. Her enthusiasm for the camp inspired her brother to volunteer his time and bring some teammates along.

“She always misses camp so much and talks about how much she loves the campers,” Pirsig said. “I think I have the same feeling she does.” Throughout the summer the Camps of Courage & Friendship invites special guests and community leaders to provide entertainment and special activities for campers.

“It’s always great to see the community get involved with camp. We are excited to have a new relationship with Gopher sports and look forward to building on it,” said Erin LaVine, camp activities coordinator.

Each year the Camps of Courage & Friendship provide fun activities for about 4,000 people with developmental or physical disabilities and special needs. Camp locations include Camp Friendship near Annandale, Camp Eden Wood in Eden Prairie, Camp New Hope near McGregor, Camp Courage near Maple Lake and Camp Courage North near Lake George.


Rosenthal named director of deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing unit

David RosenthalThe Minnesota Department of Human Services Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division has a new director. David Rosenthal became director earlier this summer. He is responsible for managing the division and its services for the at-risk deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing people living in Minnesota. He succeeds Bruce Hodek, who retired.

“In a national search, David stood out as well qualified and as sharing our commitment to helping people who are deaf and hard of hearing to live independently, engage with their families and participate in their communities,” said Loren Colman, assistant commissioner for the Continuing Care Administration.

Rosenthal brings to the position an extensive background in services for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. He was president of the Kansas Telecommunications Industry Association since 2007. In that job, he oversaw the Kansas Relay Service, which administers the Telecommunications Relay Service contract and the Telecommunications Access Program in Kansas.

Before that he worked as community relations manager for AT&T in Kansas from 1990-2007. He was involved in the initial development of the Telecommunications Relay Service in Kansas, including program and facilities design and personnel planning and training. He also developed program policies and public relations strategies resulting in significant improvement in customer satisfaction with the relay service and growth in call volume.

Rosenthal also served as executive director of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing from 1986 to 1990.

Fraser has new clinical operations director

Mary Jo JensenMary Jo Jensen is now the clinical operations director at Fraser, a Minnesota nonprofit serving children and adults with special needs. Jensen will oversee operation functions for all Fraser clinical service locations. She will also focus on systems and processes to improve and enhance the client experience.

Jensen was previously employed at Courage Center for the last 25 years, most recently as the compliance quality and education consultant. She managed multiple projects including leading the Courage Center therapy areas through the development and implementation of the documentation component of their electronic medical record. In addition, Jensen put multiple audits and oversight systems in place that improved billing accuracy to more than 98% and eliminated documentation compliance issues.

Jensen is a physical therapist by training and also a longtime supervisor and clinical operations manager. She received her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from the College of St. Scholastica.


MCIL groundbreaking is celebrated

The Metropolitan Center for Independent Living (MCIL) is on the move from St. Paul’s Midway area to downtown. The consumer-directed nonprofit organization serves the Twin Cities seven-county metropolitan area.

MCIL Groundbreaking 2013The 30-year-old organization held a groundbreaking ceremony July 17 at its future home at 530 N. Robert St., St. Paul. Dozens of people, including elected officials, MCIL Board members, staff and consumers, attended the event. After the ceremony many participants went to a reception and press conference at Keys Café. “Needless to say, the staff, board, customers and partners are very excited for this next stage in our organizational growth and development,” said Executive Director David Hancox.

Renovation of the new space got underway this summer. The center hopes to make the big move in November. The building will replace leased space at 1600 University Ave. The new space provides enhanced facilities, community meeting space, and greater access to public transportation services. It also marks the first time in the organization’s history that it will own its own building.

Like the 535 other Centers for Independent Living across the country, the St. Paul-based organization practices and promotes the independent living philosophy by providing the four core independent living services including skills training, peer support, systemic and individual advocacy, and information and referral services. The organization also provides many other helpful services, including ramp building, nursing home relocation, a personal care attendant program, an education to employment program, transition program and fun social events and lifelong learning classes for youth and young adults with disabilities.

MCIL’s consumer-directed support services program provides personal care assistance or direct support professional to disabled individuals, with 200 direct services professional. Its nursing home relocation program has helped 190 individuals transition from costly nursing home and institutional settings into homes of their choice. The nationally recognized ramp project has installed more than 5,000 entryway ramps for metro area consumers.

The consumer directed nonprofit also works with state agencies. The Department of Employment and Economic Development/Rehabilitation Services and MCIL work together to provide independent living services to customers at workforce centers. The St. Paul-based center works with the Department of Human Services and the Southeastern Center for Independent Living in Rochester to operate the Disability Linkage Line. The line is a one-stop call center for information for persons with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

MCIL can be contacted at 651-646-8342 or

Woman a leader in teaching of Braille

Some believe Braille, the tactile reading method used by the blind, is slow and hard to learn. One Minnesota woman has proven that isn’t true. Two national organizations serving the blind have given her their highest awards because of her revolutionary teaching methods.

Emily Wharton, Curriculum and Technology Coordinator at BLIND, Inc. Minneapolis, is the 2013 recipient of the A Touch of Genius Award by the National Braille Press. She is also the winner of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award by the National Federation of the Blind. The awards include grants of $10,000 from National Braille Press and $15,000 from the Federation. The latter is the largest Bolotin grant given this year. The awards recognize the result of Wharton’s work in developing the Code Master system of Braille instruction.

Wharton has received attention worldwide for her efforts. About 1.4 million Americans are legally blind, including up to 40,000 Minnesotans. Braille is an area where there had been little innovation over the last century. Today only 10 percent of legally children are taught Braille nationwide, compared to about 60 percent in the 1960s.

Wharton’s work has put BLIND, Inc. on the map in the Braille world, according to Executive Director Shawn Mayo. “The whole field of work with the blind is excited about this development,” said Mayo. “We’ve gotten lots of calls, and now Emily has been invited to write a separate book for use with blind children.” Wharton herself is a little embarrassed by all the attention she has received, and tends to downplay her accomplishments. Her system is revolutionary, and in a field where Braille teaching methods haven’t changed much in the last 100 years, that says a lot.

BLIND, Inc. already is a national federation training center for blind persons of all ages. Using previous Braille instructional systems, students often needed six months or longer to learn Braille. Code Master students can learn Braille in six weeks. Instead of using “one size fits all” learning texts, Code Master students use a variety of methods geared toward different learning styles to learn the Braille code. Having the new system available for learning allows more people to learn Braille more quickly.

The system leverages adults’ ability to understand the logic of systems and utilize context. They work on building speed and fluency by reading books and articles they choose rather than textbook materials. This increases their motivation and reduces stress.

Under the Code Master system, Braille and computer technology are fully integrated. Students have Braille access to the nearly limitless amount of reading material available on the internet through the use of refreshable Braille displays and in hard copy through the use of Braille embossers. Wharton also coined the term “Braillitude” to highlight the importance of a positive attitude about Braille as a crucial component in her approach.

In a recent Star Tribune interview, Wharton said she decided to learn Braille during a coffeehouse poetry reading, while she was a student at Drake University in Des Moines. She had always worn thick glasses and worked hard to graduate high school and study English literature. She was waiting to recite her poetry but someone dimmed the lights and she could no longer see her work. Someone finally turned up the lights, but for Wharton the answer was all too clear. “Forget this,” she said. “I have to learn Braille.”

Wharton began developing her Braille textbook in 2009. It incorporated memorization, writing and touch, as well as several routes to learning: an audio CD for aural learners, for example, and charts for visual learners. A year later, she offered her first class at Blind Inc., integrating Braille and technology, the latter which has opened up the world to Braille users.

She’s taught the system to more than 100 students, from age 18 to 60. The National Braille Press will publish her method and distribute it throughout the world. Learn more at

Arts access grants go to 12 groups

Twelve Twin Cities arts organizations were awarded grants in June for projects to make their arts programs more accessible to people with disabilities. The grants totaled $161,261.

Funding for the ADA Access Improvement Grants for Metro Arts Organizations is from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. The funds help nonprofit arts organizations in the seven-county Twin Cities area to improve programs, projects, equipment, or facilities in ways that have the potential for significant or long-term impact in involving more people with disabilities as participants or patrons in arts programs. VSA Minnesota administers the grant program for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC).

Here are summaries of the 12 projects:

Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, $8,073. The Cedar will cultivate its current partnerships with Courage Center, WorkAbilities and Interact, and develop new partnerships by engaging these organizations’ constituents with music programming. The Cedar will also implement SightCompass, a digital descriptive service used with a mobile device App that provides detailed access to spaces for those with vision loss, hearing loss, deaf-blind, dyslexia, or anxiety disorders, and by improving accessibility of its website.

Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, $15,000. Coffee House is committed to making its books accessible to all readers. Making sure its catalog is accessible to the blind and print-disabled will be done by direct distribution of text files that can be read by a variety of devices. Converting books into text files and distributing them via website offers an easy, consistent route for readers.

History Theatre, St. Paul, $15,000. History Theatre will expand its accessibility services by purchasing audio description equipment. This offers more flexibility to offer additional audio described performances as needed. It also will provide advanced training of the Accessibility Coordinator and hiring consultants to facilitate training with History Theatre staff and volunteers on accessibility services.

Lee Carlson Center’s Bridgeview Art Program, Fridley, $15,000, Bridgeview is a psycho-social drop-in center for adults living with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Many of its 400 participants have innate artistic talents that with the right supportive environment can be more fully developed. With a more fully professional art studio environment, Bridgeview participants can be the artists they truly are and be appreciated by the community.

Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, $13,923, The Loft Literary Center seeks to increase accessibility of its offices, Resource Library and writers’ studios through capital improvements and bring the Loft’s classrooms in Open Book to ADA compliance through the installation of assistive listening technology. The goal is to create an inclusive writing community– inviting, welcoming, honoring and respecting all constituents.

Minnesota African American Museum & Cultural Center, Minneapolis, $12,744. Creating a welcoming and physically accessible space for persons with disabilities includes installation of an exterior access ramp, installing handicap restrooms, improving framing a wheelchair lift, audio and Braille, and signage. The Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center is located in historic Coe Mansion on the Minneapolis arts corridor of Third Avenue. As a registered historic preservation property, the ADA improvements are subject to historic preservation requirements.

Nimbus Theatre, Minneapolis, $15,000. Nimbus requests funds to improve the accessibility of the outside of its theatre space. A dedicated handicap entrance with ramp will be installed, along with disability parking and a lighted sign on the building.

The O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, $15,000. Additional wheelchair accessible seating will be created on both sides of the auditorium. In addition, the concrete lobby floor will be repoured to create an ADA-compliant ramp to reach the new accessible seating areas. The work will double the number of wheelchair-accessible seats available.

Park Square Theatre, St. Paul, $15,000. Park Square will build a new additional 200-seat thrust stage within its facility, greatly expanding theatre opportunities for students, people with disabilities and the general community. The grant covers wheelchair access seating, FM Assisted Listening and Audio Description equipment, and ADA-compliant signage for welcome and wayfinding for the new stage.

Simply ArtAble, Minneapolis, $13,073. Simply ArtAble will increase visibility and programming in order to better serve underserved populations including those with special needs, cognitive and physical disabilities.

SteppingStone Theatre, St. Paul, $8,458. Stepping-Stone will increase dignity and self-sufficiency of patrons by adding power openers and signage to its accessible restrooms and auditorium entrance. These areas are accessible but currently require staff assistance with doors.

Upstream Arts, Inc., Minneapolis, $15,000. Upstream Arts will have specialized trainings and curriculum development sessions led by local experts to increase organizational capacity and the capacity of its teaching artists to teach older youth and adults with disabilities at different life stages.

Grant review panelists are all active in the metro area arts and disabilities communities. The panel included Kenneth Brown, Brad Donaldson, Chloette Haley, Alex Lubet, MaryEllen Murphy, Julee Quarve-Peterson, Anne Ulseth and Susan Warner.

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