The Success of the Traveler

Jim Koopman
915 Kellogg Avenue
Ames, Iowa 50010
jimkoopman@live.com
7.14.2013

Dear Valued Donors,

I’m writing today to thank you sincerely for your contributions to Support A Traveler. Your generosity helped raise $1690 of our $1850 goal, and although we didn’t reach our ultimate mark the funding was sufficient for attending the National Federation of the Blind 2013 Annual Convention. In a world that is sometimes cold and indifferent it warms my heart to know there is still faith.

I’ve maintained throughout the Support A Traveler campaign that blind Iowans deserve a representative in this most important gathering of the blind in the world. Some states had dozens, even hundreds, of these delegates, but Iowa sent only 19 this year. This fact punctuates the undeniable need for every delegate Iowa can send, and the absolute success achieved through your contributions.

Let me tell you some of the specific advantages afforded by this Convention. Accessible technology vendors from all over our community take part every year, and I used the chance to engage product managers directly. I was able to speak with Freedom Scientific about the direction of their screen reading products, which allow blind people to access PC computers by speech rather than sight. Optelec also showed interest in my input about their magnification appliances, and I also participated in a user study for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, who were seeking input about designs of paper money & new ways to differentiate denominations.

My speaking engagement allowed me to present the advantages of Bookshare to the members of the National Association of Blind Veterans. Bookshare intends to provide their library of accessible books to wounded vets, and it was an honor to extend the initiative to them. Most important, however, is the connections I was able to make between Bookshare, N.A.B.V., the 1-Touch program, and the Hadley School for the Blind. Each of these organizations has products, services, and advocacy available for blind veterans, and I was able to connect them all. In this way they will be able to grow membership and awareness in a concerted way. I have the utmost respect for these heroes who have gone to fight in my stead and I believe they deserve the best when they come home.

I want to reiterate that your donations made all this, and far more, possible. I learned and taught. I experienced and imparted my experiences. I led and followed, and was proud yet humbled. The culture of blindness rarely warrants a second thought, but among our own we joined together to spread awareness and understanding in a most powerful way. Your generosity has helped us move forward in a modern civil rights struggle, and on behalf of blind Iowans I thank you.

Support A Traveler has been a success. Your faith and generosity are the reasons. Be proud of the confidence you’ve shown in myself, and all blind Iowans. We’ve had our voice in this most influential gathering of the blind in the world. Blessings to you all.

With warm regards,

Jim Koopman
Support A Traveler
jimkoopman@live.com
http://www.jimkoopman.wordpress.com

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Presenting: The Traveler

This last week has been a tumultuous time for Support A Traveler. In my last post I spoke about the short and bittersweet ride that our campaign has been on, and I must admit that having to cancel our benefit left me crestfallen. It’s very easy to get down without even thinking of it, but I fought pervasive negativity—and soon found the tide turning for the better.

So many of you have given your faith to myself and to Support A Traveler. Today has brought another vote of confidence: I’ve been invited to speak at the National Association of Blind Veterans annual meeting, which takes place at our NFB National Convention. I’ll be presenting the past year’s progress in bringing accessible reading materials to blind soldiers. I’m so proud today; proud to be serving the veterans so dear to my heart; proud that a major company in rehabilitation invited me to represent them; and I’m proud see the fruits of my labors bloom.

I could not possibly demonstrate better the necessity of representing blind Iowans. I get the opportunity to communicate directly with the members and the board of the NABV. I get the chance to collect their input about developing the programs and services that they need most. I have the chance to make my mark as a veteran’s rehabilitation counselor. It’s only by the grace of all our generous donors that I can attend this most important convention, and hopefully improve veterans’ quality of life.

The spirits are high with Support A Traveler. Additional donors have shown interest in possibly contributing, but time is running short. Convention starts in less than a week and we’ve raised just over half of our goal of $1850. Now is a vital time to consider your gift. A suggested donation of $25 will assure that blind Iowans receive a representative in the most important gathering of the blind in the world. The National Association of Blind Veterans is just one vector of a greater design, but even so illustrates the importance of this work so well.

Our donations portal provides easy ways to make your gift by PayPal, credit card, and debit card, as well as instructions about how to send your check or money order. You may find this link to the right of this post, on Facebook, and
here.
Thank you for your efforts to Support A Traveler. Have a beauty.

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Short and Bittersweet

Today’s post brings mixed news about the Support A Traveler initiative. Donations of $25, $35, and $40 have been received, bringing the campaign grand total to $940 of our $1850 goal. We’ve enjoyed such interest and these recent donations continue to prove that every contribution, whatever the size, gets us closer to our ultimate goal.

We’ve unfortunately also had a setback. Last week the Support A Traveler Fundraising Reception was announced through Facebook and various personal outlets. Tonight I must regretfully announce that the event has been cancelled due to various problems, including a shortage of personnel. We had hoped to gather donors, potential contributors, and all of our Traveler community together in one last push before the National Federation of the Blind Annual Convention, but it just couldn’t happen without key members of the Support A Traveler team. But with this loss I see just another opportunity to Support A Traveler.

We exist through donation alone. Raising funds is our primary mission, but we’ve received other generous donations in the forms of talent, volunteerism, and simple spreading of the news. I believe in the generous nature of people who want to Support A Traveler, and I know we can fulfill this campaign’s goal.

There’s still far to go. Support A Traveler needs your gift more than ever, so please donate as generously as you’re able. Blind Iowans need a representative in the most important gathering of the blind in the world. With your help, they will have it.

Please find a link to our donations portal to the right of this post, or the
here.
You’ll find instructions about how to give with PayPal and credit card, and also instructions about how to send your check or money order.

Goodnight, and have a beauty.

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(Almost) Halfway Home

Support A Traveler is still going strong. I’m happy to share that a $100 pledge has been fulfilled and another $100 donation has been made, bringing our total to $810! We’re within reaching distance of the halfway mark. In addition to money, donations of time, sharing, and support have been welcomed additions to the Support A Traveler campaign. Now is a great time to make your donation to Support A Traveler. Your suggested donation of $25 will help blind Iowans have representation in the most important gathering of the blind in the world. The size of your commitment is important, but also know that every bit helps.

Additionally, if you’re interested in donating to Support A Traveler in another way please send me a message: jimkoopman@live.com . Many of you are familiar with fundraising and nonprofit work, so you know this is a tough job for anyone to do on his own. I would be pleased to partner with anyone interested in donor development, media presence, copywriting, and event planning. If you have natural talent and a little time please don’t be shy—send me a message.

I’m frequently asked what specific experiences one has at Convention. Today I want to talk a little about an important part of this gathering, the General Session. For the uninitiated this one’s a mind blower. In one impossibly large ballroom all the members from all the states in all of the NFB converge. Some 3,000 people must come to order and conduct the business at hand. An intense energy fills the room as the roll is called and the members of each delegation righteously cheer their presence, one after another.

Once members are present and accounted for the real work begins. Over three days an insane agenda ensues, from business and financial reports to electing officials; from presentations to awards.

A vital part of the General Session is the call to vote on which resolutions will be pursued in the year to come. The Federation is a huge advocacy group, but even so, they cannot work on every initiative that is proposed. Discussion of the vote is open to anyone who cares to speak, and thousands of voices shouting “I” or “NO” in unison conclude the ordeal in one thunderous roar.

Several large organizations address the Federation in the hope of aligning with its members. These presentations are diverse, but always from those who share the common goal of equality among the blind and sighted. This Convention will receive three heavy hitters: Comcast will discuss accessible television, AT&T will talk about phone service, and Microsoft is taking the opportunity to discuss the accessibility features in their latest operating systems, Windows 8 & Windows Phone. This caliber of presenters is typical every year, and always makes for a stellar show.

Not every moment of the General Session is great. Although the work needs to be done, it can be strenuous to spend three full days in a chair. Generous break times and frequent door prize giveaways break up the days. Despite these tribulations Federationists never back down from a challenge, no matter how daunting.

We each fight a personal battle every day. We weather ignorance, bigotry, and judgment wherever we go. A blind person must be quick, resourceful, and strong to compete at the level of his sighted peers. Regardless, we excel in the face of inequality through our own design, and our Federation is a powerful ally. This reminds as that In the face of so many individual struggles we are not alone. Rather, we are solid.

So those three days in a chair become not such a big deal.

This all comes to bear. Today I’ve become the advocate that I myself needed so badly when I was young and inexperienced with blindness. I delight in rehabilitating others and helping them to know a future beyond sight. However, I have my own demons. I fight with my health daily. However, when I need strength I must only remember the persistence of my clients. If not for them I’d lose perspective about how hard rehab can be, and what it takes for them to keep confronting it every day. So every day that I fight, win or lose, I know I’ve won.

I thank everyone who has put their faith in me. I promise to use Convention and it’s wealth of resources to the greatest benefit of my beloved clients. Your donation to Support A Traveler will represent blind Iowans in the most important gathering of the blind in the world, and to get access to the latest technology, training methods, aids and devices known. We can do this with your help—consider your donation today.

Many computers and tablets display links to the Donations Portal to the right of these posts. If your device doesn’t have these I’m including a link to the
Donations Portal
here. The Portal
has links to donate by credit card, debit card, and PayPal, as well as instructions for sending your check or money order. Support A Traveler does not exist without your gift, so please contribute today.

Thank you, as always, for your continuing efforts to Support A Traveler.

Have a beauty.

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The Way of the Traveler

Yesterday I finished making all of my arrangements for the trip to Orlando on June 30, and also registered for Convention. This always seems like a daunting task no matter how many, many times I’ve traveled before. There are traditional logistic considerations to be made in constructing my itinerary, like coordinating flights, shuttles, conference registration, and hotel checkin times, all while avoiding being in a giant hurry and not getting on a plane to Tehran. On top of this I have to adapt to the visualcentric nature of travel. I believe that wherever there is one way to do things there is a second. This is the crux of accommodation. In this blog I’d like to share some of my process.

There are countless ways to adapt to situations when one cannot see. Technology has compensated for a lot of this. My phone will tell me flight times, gate and seat assignments, and instructions to find the places I need, like restrooms and restaurants. There are also many low tech solutions I employ in these situations. Trailing is an indispensable skill. I follow people to where I need to go based on their direction and conversation—yes, there is a fair amount of eavesdropping involved. There are also tried and true techniques related to sensing the sounds, textures, and even the smells of my environment. The opening of a jet bridge, the change in the surfaces I walk, the rolling suitcase rattle in front of me, and countless other affordances help me construct a useful idea about how to proceed. All together these constitute a different way of doing things, but in a way that is no less effective.

My process also involves a fair amount of social engineering. I start with my appearance. I always dress up a notch from other travelers, complete with a new cane that has no chips or runs in the finish—one reserved for special occasions. This helps me stand out in a way that isn’t related to blindness. Incidentally, when I present myself this way it seems like everyone I encounter calls me “Sir.” Next I make sure to have every piece of information I need memorized. I hope to discourage the association of blindness and ineptitude some have by demonstrating razor sharp competence. The rest of this picture is business as usual for me: confidence, engaging demeanor, polite interactions with whomever I meet, and mindfulness of the perceptions of others.

In everyday life there are generally three attitudes individuals have toward blind people, those who avoid us, those who try to help, and, less often, those who become angry or aggressive. None are malicious, and all three can be attributed to the sighted being confronted with the fear of becoming blind themselves. These attitudes are working at me while I travel, and lead to one big, classic problem: how to interact with someone who offers unneeded help.

One blind person is a representative of all blind people. A sighted person’s negative experience can be pervasive, having a lifelong impact that can effect every other blind person he encounters. On the other hand, we don’t want to be pushed, handled, given bad directions, or experience other well-intentioned help that goes badly. Add in the fact that sometimes help is genuinely needed and the result can be a real mess. Approaches to this situation are personal and cannot be taught by anything other than experience. I sometimes good-naturedly tell someone that I don’t need help, thank you. Others I just let proceed, never letting on that I’d be fine without them. Sometimes I redirect the conversation to another topic, other times I make the situation about them rather than me. This is a tightrope, to be sure. Regardless, one must gauge the situation, the person, and the circumstances while, at the same time, being confident, diplomatic, and mindful of their feelings.

It is SO much to think about, in addition to the business of travel. Whew.

In more Support A Traveler news, pledges have been received in the last two days totaling $100. This brings the total amount of donations to $710, and well on the way to our $1850 goal. I’m thrilled with the progress! Let’s keep this campaign going strong. With your suggested donation of $25 blind Iowans will have a badly needed representative in the National Federation of the Blind’s most important gathering of blind people in the world.

A technical issue has prevented some links from displaying properly on a few devices. We appreciate your patience while we resolve this issue, and in the meantime you can visit this link to the Donations Portal, which gives you options to give your gift by PayPal, credit and debit card, and check or money order.

Keep looking for new posts as more develops. Take care, and thank you all for your efforts to Support A Traveler.

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Another Day, Another Donor

Today I have more of the same great news to share: two more donors have shown their support by contributing gifts totaling $60. We’re as excited as ever! While the size of donations are important to the Support A Traveler goal the faith and enthusiasm of our donors is equally so.

The progress so far has been very encouraging: $610 of the $1850 goal has been raised. We’re happy to receive commitments of any size, as every bit helps. Keep this in mind while you consider what donation you can make to Support A Traveler.

This blog has focused largely on the progress and fundraising goals of Support A Traveler, but not so much on my own career. It all comes to bear, so I wanted to devote some time to explaining my philosophy and goals.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that there are currently more than 158,000 veterans who were blinded in the line of duty. The VA does provide vocational rehabilitation training, but transition services after this program are sorely lacking. I believe a debt of gratitude is owed to these servicemen and women. They went in our stead to protect the United States, and it is abhorrent to ignore the sacrifice of their vision. From my childhood I aspired to be a soldier, but my eyesight kept me from serving. I’m however determined to help these brave men and women in my own way.

I had an idea, it formed into a plan, and now is becoming reality. The idea is that blinded veterans deserve a way to transition into civilian life that is more adequate than basic vocational rehab training. Just recognizing the problem isn’t enough, so I formed the plan: I want to provide these brave men and women a partner. I want to help these veterans with the reality of living blind. My expertise can help them procure and learn assistive technologies; learn advanced orientation, mobility, home, and life skills; and navigate the complicated process of securing benefits. I can compassionately aid individuals who are mourning the loss of their vision, and be a personal ally.

The reality is nigh. I’m making the arrangements necessary to bid on VA contracts that serve blinded veterans. As a contractor I will be funded to work with clients on a one-by-one basis. Over time I will bid on larger contracts and take on a staff as well as partners whose expertise can complement mine. With these individuals handling business operations I will focus entirely on training veterans.

This process has been very exciting. I’m embarking on a mission to repay the debt I owe to these brave people who went to war instead of me. I finally feel that I’ve found the way to serve them, and all while I’m doing my absolute dream job.

I founded the Support A Traveler campaign for far more than just attending a conference. The time I spend will be used to get the connections, resources, training, and materials I need to give the best possible rehab to my clients. I’m so glad to have a forum to explain why Convention is important. I’m also glad to tell the story of why blind veterans have a place in my heart.

Again I encourage you to consider your gift to Support A Traveler. Our donation gateway, linked to the right, has options for you to give via PayPal and credit card, as well as instructions about sending your check or money order. I’m also happy to help you make other arrangements. Just send a message to jimkoopman@live.com .

Thank you all for your efforts to Support A Traveler. Have a beauty.

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The Hits Keep On Coming

Again, I’m very pleased to announce new donations. Support A Traveler has collected two gifts, one for $30 and another for $50. The generosity of my donors is making this initiative happen–it’s very exciting. As of today Support A Traveler has raised $580 of our $1850 goal. A $25 donation will help provide blind Iowans with representation in the largest gathering of the blind in the world. Let’s keep this going–send your donation today!

Convention is a time that’s different from any other. The hundreds of white canes tapping simultaneously sound like a huge hail storm. Blind and sighted professionals are everywhere, ready to share their mind-blowing experiences. The hotels have prepared a seamless environment for receiving a blind-centric culture, and helpful smiles surround. Perhaps the greatest phenomenon of Convention is how everyone becomes normalized. Among so many of ourselves blindness becomes irrelevant and we work, share, and learn that much harder. This is not to say blindness impairs. Rather, we become individuals who happen to be blind, instead of being blind people.

I’m happy to see so many people make donations to Support A Traveler. The NFB National Convention is the best place to work on behalf of blind Iowans, and the best place for my own professional development. I have the determination and resolve to be a consummate representative of blind Iowans, but I need your donation. A suggested gift of $25 helps bring the Support A Traveler initiative come to life.

Look out for continuing news and updates, including the total amount of donations collected. Take a look at the Support A Traveler Facebook page & like and share. If you have questions I’m also available by email at jimkoopman@live.com .

Have a happy Tuesday.

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