Over many years, studies have shown African Americans to be more prone to diabetes than Caucasians and to have a higher incidence of diabetes-related vision loss or impairment. The Minnesota State Services for the Blind, a relatively little-known State agency, can help people of color with vision loss or visual impairment, whether diabetes-related or from other causes.
Says Lisa Larges, Services for the Blind Outreach Director, “My main goal is to connect with people who aren’t as likely to hear about what we can offer, like African Americans, people of African descent, immigrant communities, and other traditionally underserved areas of the state. There are a lot of people out there who could really benefit from what we can do for them, but they just don’t know about us.”
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Larges explains that State Services for the Blind (SSB) can provide services in roughly three areas:
- They “provide access to print and alternative formats: audio and Braille”;
- They offer a “radio talking book service where we read newspapers, books, and magazines over the air on a closed circuit radio station or through a phone line”;
- They have a “vocational services unit that provides employment assistance to anyone who has visual impairment that makes it difficult to perform job functions or functions in daily life. They provide things like career planning and assessment, help with finding a job, assistance with training, assistance with technology.”
Larges continues, “Once people have jobs, we work with employers to make sure that the work setting is accessible.”
SSB also has a senior services unit that Larges says works with more than senior citizens. “You don’t need to be blind — you just have to have a vision loss that’s significant enough that it makes it difficult to perform daily functions reading, identifying the dials on an oven, etc. We send out a staff member to meet with people individually.
“The idea is to give people the opportunity to be as independent as possible. We can provide devices like magnifiers; we can provide training; we can provide some assistance with technology.
“The idea is to help folks live independently,” says Larges. “In the long run, it saves the state of Minnesota money.”
What do SSB’s services cost? Most of the services are provided free of charge, since they are funded with tax dollars. One instance where costs are not entirely picked up by the State is education, in which case Larges maintains SSB will “share those costs.”
SSB’s main office is on University Avenue in St. Paul, but there are several other offices around the state in places like Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead, Grand Forks, St. Cloud and Hibbing. Most of them, said Larges, are in Workforce Centers.
Annette Toews, SSB’s supervisor of audio Sesvices, explained other functions and services: “We are part of what’s called the National Library Service, which is a federally-provided library for the blind and physically handicapped, or people who have print-impairment.
“It could be vision; it could be physical. Maybe you can’t hold a book because you’re paralyzed. Maybe you have a condition where your head shakes so much you can’t read, or maybe you have a qualifying reading disability — you have vision, you can hold a book, but you just can’t digest the words no matter how much you look at the book.
“For those people who qualify, there is a huge library program available nationwide,” she continues, “and the federal government works through us, here in the state. We can hook people into this and they can check out books — just like a regular library — and they don’t have to go anywhere. The books come to them in their homes, and also they can download books from the Web.”
“There are children’s books and youth books through the National Library Service,” says Annette Toews, “ in audio and in Braille. If there are children’s books or youth books which are not already recorded and available through the National Library Service, we will be happy to record them and put them into audio or Braille for free for Minnesotans.
“We are here to teach people how, and to show people how they can live a very full, rich, wonderful life. Maybe they can’t drive a car anymore. Maybe they have to find an alternatives or methods to do the things that they love to do, but you can lead an extremely rich, full, wonderful life without your vision.“
Minnesota State Services for the Blind’s main office can be reached at 651-539-2300, or toll free at 800-652-9000, or go to www.mnssb.org. Lisa Larges is available to speak to groups and may be reached at 651-539-2278.
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