The Heartlander Newsletter: Summer 2016

President’s Message, by Douglas Olender

Thank you everyone who attended the annual meeting in Branson and help make our meeting such an outstanding event. From our membership, Paul Mimms conducted the majority of the planning and execution of the event, Mark and Barb Wilson for spearheading sighted guide assistance, and Sandy and Gus Adams for crafting most of the door prizes and gift bags. Thank you to Dr. Law and the VIST Coordinators who learned and shared their experiences alongside ours, the guest speakers and vendors, and David Fox and Ed Echroft for their willingness to join us and aid in promoting the BVA.I consider this year’s annual meeting an resounding success due to the contributions from everyone, the active membership who attended, and the destination location of Branson providing attendees time to go beyond business meetings and enjoy each other’s company. While this newsletter contains a full summary of the meeting, here is a quick summary. Howard Adams, Paul Mimms, and myself were reelected to our respective positions of Vice President, Secretary/Treasurer, and President. The membership voted to host the annual meeting in Branson next year, regardless of any registration fee.

Life at the Waco VA Blind Rehab Center, by George Stroble

As winter started to fold into spring, I possessed the opportunity to attend the Waco Blind Rehab Center. For those living in the Heartland, the Waco BRC offers the same experiences as the Hines BRC, but in a smaller setting nested in central Texas. Overall, the experience was very pleasant with helpful staff. For Example, the Recreation Therapist took us to many interesting  places, museums, historical  sites, and other points of interest.

The purpose for attending Waco involves training on a Apple iMac, which consists of a single large screen with all of the computer components housed inside. Additionally, I received a Brother all-in-one office printer and scanner. Coming from the Windows world with ZoomText, the iMac provided a challenge for me but nicely meets my needs for a computer with built in accessibility options and keyboard navigation. The keyboard and trackpad utilizes many of the same gestures and key combinations I currently use with my iPhone, easing the transition. Though my instructor just started teaching Apple computers, the overall program was worth it.

Annual Meeting Summary, by Paul Mimms

the annual meeting of the Heartland regional group of the Blinded Veterans Association was convened at the Westgate Branson in the Woods Resort. This was the first annual meeting of the Heartland Regional Group set as a convention with business meetings, guest speakers and vendors, and hosted in a destination location.

Our President, Douglas Olender, called the meeting to order at 8:30 am on April 15, 2016. The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 913 presented and posted the colors. Following the pledge of allegiance, the resort’s management welcomed us and made us feel at home. The opening ceremonies concluded with the introduction of the six VIST coordinators , who conducted their own training alongside ours.

The morning part of the meeting featured presentations including the keynote by Dr. Candice Law, Chief of Optometry at the Kansas City VA Medical Center. Other presenters included Randy Custer from Missouri Rehab Services for the Blind, Sanford Alexander From Envision, Abby Rimel from Missouri’s Worffner Talking Library, and Brooke Lewis from Centers for Independent Living.

At 1400, Doug called to order the business meeting of the Heartland Regional Group. Members present were James Cohen, Howard Adams, Douglas Olender, Victor Press, Randy Talleur, Mark Wilson, and Paul Mimms. Guests attending but not members of Heartland RG included David Fox, District 2 Director, and Edward Echroft, BVA Field Service Director.

The minutes of the previous year annual meeting were approved as published. The Treasurer’s report covered from January 2015 to May 2016, and started with a balance of $4,891.63 in the Missouri Regional Group’s account and $5,969.46 in the Kansas Regional Group account. After Receiving the appropriations from BVA National, expenditures, and the merger of both accounts into the Heartland Regional bank account, we have an ending balance of $11,579.57.
Continuing the business meeting on Saturday, Edward Echroft of the BVA Field Service office provided a presentation on claims, benefits, and eligibility. Retired VIST Coordinator Gus McClelland was presented a plaque for his service to blind veterans.

Concluding the business meetings, the election of officers and delegates to the National Convention transpired. As no members outside the existing elected officers were nominated, the incumbent officers were re-elected by Acclamation. Mark Wilson was elected to be Heartland’s delegate to the 71st BVA National Convention. Paul Mimms was elected as Alternate delegate. Following a motion by Paul Mimms, and several seconds, the body assembled voted to provide $500 to support the delegate. Paul Mimms moved to return to the resort for the 2017 Heartland annual meeting. After second by Victor Press, motion passed.

Teleconferencing Services

Peer support is one of the greatest methods one learns to contend and overcome a disability. Unfortunately blindness restricts our ability to engage with our peers due to travel barriers. Below you will find a variety of teleconferences to participate. Each enables you to directly interact and learn from other blinded Veterans about topics like blindness information, what is happening in the area, using a guide dog, and technology. We encourage you to review the list and consider participating when available.

General Teleconferences

Heartland Regional Group Monthly Teleconference

  • When: Second Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to discuss activities, actions, and ideas related to the Heartland Regional Group. It is open to everyone interested in furthering the Heartland’s Objectives.

Blinded Veterans Association’s Leadership Discussions and Training Teleconference

  • When: Second Monday of each month
  • Time: 1300 or 1:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference is designed to provide leaders, perspective leaders, or those interested the BVA the opportunity to share information, provide focused training opportunities, and bring together blinded Veterans from across the country. It is open to BVA Regional Group leaders, BVA general membership, and similar interested parties.

Council on Veteran Guide and Service Dog Handlers Monthly Teleconference

  • When: third Wednesday of each month
  • Time: 1100 or 11:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference provides blinded Veterans interested in service dogs the chance to talk about service dogs, legislation impacting service dogs, using service dogs in public and at the VA, and other topics. Participants includes blinded Veterans, representatives of guide dog schools, representatives from the VA, and similar parties.

Technology Specific Teleconferences

Blind Vet Tech Monthly Tech Talk

  • When: third Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference possesses three sections. Each teleconference starts with a presentation on a specific device, iOS app or feature, or other piece of technology employed by blinded Veterans. The second section is an open question and answer related to either the monthly topic or general discussion. The third section reviews technology news and related trends.

Blind Vet Tech MacOS Monthly Talk

  • When: Starting in September second Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1900 or 7:00 Pm Central Time
  • Phone Number: (866) 820-9940
  • Note: This teleconference will provide demonstrations and open discussions for using the MacOS with Voice Over and Zoom assistive technologies. Each month starts with a demonstration on a particular feature, app, or tool. This is followed by an open discussion and answer section. It is open to everyone interested in learning how to use a MacBook, iMac, or other computer with MacOS.

Hines Blind Center Alumni GPS and iOS Talk

  • When: first Tuesday of each month
  • Time: 1000 or 10:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (800) 767-1750
  • Access Code: 44125
  • Note: This teleconference is based out of the Hines Blind Rehab Center and moderated by alumni. It focuses on GPS, mobile devices, and smart phones. It is open to everyone.

Hines Blind Center Alumni Windows Computers Talk

  • When: first Thursday of each month
  • Time: 1000 or 10:00 Am Central Time
  • Phone Number: (800) 767-1750
  • Access Code: 44125
  • Note: This teleconference is based out of the Hines Blind Rehab Center and moderated by alumni. It focuses on Windows computers, ZoomText, and JAWS. It is open to everyone.

Quick Tech Tip, by Timothy Hornik

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is how we as blind individuals take the printed text and turn it into an accessible format to read. While OCR has been around since the 1970’s, recent advances shrunk large machines into standalone devices for your desk, apps for your iPhone or Android smart phone, and a pair of glasses.

Leading the portable stand-alone solutions, the Optelec Clear Reader and Freedom Scientific Eye-Pal are standalone devices fitting nicely on your desk’s corner. You just need to place a newspaper or book under the camera, push a button, and in a couple of seconds a synthesized voice will begin reading the materials back.

If you are looking for a pocket sized OCR solution, your iPhone, iPad, and Android smart phones possess a plethora of possibilities. The KNFB Reader and Prizmo are the best options currently available. The benefit stems from the quality of cameras on even the cheapest smart phones surpassing other options mentioned in this article. The only downside involves actually capturing the image. You will need a steady hand or guide to increase accuracy. Once processing finishes, just use Voice Over or Talk Back to read the results.

New to the VA’s Blind Rehab Services, the Orcam takes the power of a standalone OCR solution and packages it into a wearable device. The Orcam consists of a camera sitting on the right arm of a set of glasses connected to the unit on your belt. Pushing a button or pointing at an object will start the OCR’ing process, facial recognition, or object identification.

should you require an OCR solution, contact your Visual Impairment Services Team coordinator and request to be trained on a OCR device. No longer will you need to wait for the NLS BARD to release a title or rely on sighted assistance to read a menu.

For more about tech or how to get more out of your devices, join me on Blind Vet Tech teleconferences, search for Blind Vet Tech in your Podcast searcher, or visit:

Heartland Regional Group and KAMO Adventures September Fishing Trip, by Timothy Hornik

In an effort to promote the wellbeing of blinded Veterans through outdoor and recreational activities, we have partnered with KAMO Adventures to allow six Heartland Regional Group members to participate in a weekend fishing trip. KAMOAdventures is a Kansas City based non-profit creating outdoor recreational programs, scholarships, and employment services for disable Veterans. As a 100% volunteer organization, they are committed to ensuring us Veterans possess the opportunities to succeed.

The fishing trip will start on Thursday, September 22nd and conclude on Sunday September 25th. KAMO Adventures possess a lodge around El Dorado, Missouri, and guides will take the six participants onto Stockton Lake. All equipment, lodging, and food will be provided by KAMO Adventures, but interested individuals will need to be able to use stairs, climb in and out of fishing boats, live in the Kansas City region, and no caregivers or dependents are allowed.

If you are interested in this trip, please email Timothy Hornik at or call me at (785)409-1838.

Final Note, By Timothy Hornik

Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you are interested in joining or renewing your membership with the BVA, contact the National headquarters at

  • (800) 669 7079

Without your support of the Heartland Regional Group or the Blinded Veterans Association at large, visually impaired Veterans will lose the only congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organization advocating for programs, services, and benefits for blinded Veterans. Ask yourself what can you do to assist another blinded Veteran, and not what can someone do for you.

The Dog Days of Summer: Safely Working a Service Dog in Summer

A Black Lab guide dog lies on a sidewalk. He wears a Ruffwear Cooling Vest under his leather harness.Unlike the fear inducing Game of Thrones statement. “winter Is coming,” Service Dogs handlers equally dread summer. Well, summer is upon us, which means we must take appropriate precautions to protect our dogs. This articles outlines 13 tips and tricks every service dog handler and even pet dog owners should consider when stepping outside in the summer. This is broken down into environmental considerations, caring for your service dog, and products for your kitbag.

Jenine from America’s Vet Dogs contributed information and the fact checking of this post.

Environmental Considerations

Venturing outside requires one to analyze a multitude of variables impacting the behavior of the service dog. Most notably, the air temperature, ground temperature, existence of shade along routes, and navigating through sprinklers impose unique situations to evaluate.

Hot is hot

There is a time and place when to use your service dog and when to resort to your cane. If it’s extremely hot outside, like the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory or warning, it might be time to leave your service dog at home and practice your cane skills. Consider working your service dog indoors at a mall, shopping center, or other temperature controlled environment. For exercise a treadmill goes a long way in keeping you are your dog in shape.

Paw safety

When you let your service dog relieve themselves before heading out, feel the pavement with your hands or walk outside bare footed. If you think this is crazy, your service dog probably is thinking the same thing. Consider walking your dog in the grass or in the shade to let them cool their paws. Avoid or minimize blacktop surfaces, and be aware of surface temperatures.

Walking in the Shade

Your service dog may choose during really hot weather to walk in the shade of trees, bushes or buildings. This may increase the chances of bumping into objects, like branches, doors or things sticking out from buildings. In urban environments, people may also stick closer to the shady building lines, both walking and… resting. If you find yourself running into overhangs or bumping things more often, think about where that shady area is and use the methods taught during your training to encourage your dog back to the center line or proper position. Be careful with heavy corrections since this negative corrective action forces the service dog into an equally negative situation, walking on super-hot pavement under the scorching sun.

Dancing through sprinklers

Yes, they are everywhere and in the summer heat you may find even more of them…sprinklers! Your dog’s face is right in the path of that spraying water and let’s face it, no one likes to get a face full or have to walk straight into a spray. Your dog may treat sprinklers as off curb obstacles. As long as the roadway is safe enough, navigate onto the street until you pass by. Try to keep interactions with the sprinklers positive, not overly correcting or dragging your dog through them. If you are having difficulty getting your dog to walk through an area with sprinklers, contact your school for help. Also let your neighbors know about how the sprinklers impact your service dog and request the sprinkling cycle concludes before the sun crests the horizon.

Your Service Dog’s Reactions to the Heat

Dogs are amazing animals for more than their intelligence to become service dogs. They possess physical capabilities to withstand the heat and different methods they indicate overheating. This section provides some tips for grooming to symptoms your service dog might be overheating.

Shaving is not for the dogs

Dog’s fur and hair serve as natural sun block. Yes, the coat insulates during the winter, but it keeps the skin from drying out. Therefore, do not cut your service dog’s hair or fur, rather stick with the basics of daily brushing. A shiny healthy coat creates more benefits then a high and tight.

Pad Safety

A dog’s paws and the pads are both natural shoes and a major component in cooling through perspiration. Hot pavement’s dangers go beyond burning paws, but may dry out pads leading to splitting, blistering, and other injuries. Check each pad before and after your walks for any signs of damage. If you have a dog with longer fur on the tops and bottoms of the paws, and you have the fur trimmed to prevent the ratty old house slippers look, remember that the fur can be insulating for the pads so leave it long on the bottom and nice and neat on top, but never shaved.

Wet noses are good, but dry noses spells trouble

Dog lovers often remark on the lovable wet nose kisses we receive alongside licks. Should the nose no longer feel wet, your service dog may be experiencing dehydration. While you are walking, take the time periodically to feel the nose and make sure it remains lovably wet.

Panting is natural, but a raspy or coughing panting indicates distress

Dogs lack sweaty armpits, rather they cool themselves through panting. While panting, the tongue drupes out of their mouth and actually becomes thinner and wider to increase the surface size of the tongue so more capillaries may deliver blood to be cooled. When the natural panting begins to sound labored or gagging, it’s time to stop, find shade or a cool spot, and let the dog rest. As your service dog ages, the likelihood of this will increase as heat tolerance decreases.

Ice Water is a no go

Did you know drinking room temperature water instead of ice water is better for you and your dog? Drinking icy water in the heat stresses your body and does not cool it. In dogs, ice water may increase cramps. When allowing your service dog to hydrate, opt for room temperature water and let the body cool itself naturally. Now ice, by itself, is ok to give your dog as a treat, since chewing allows the ice to melt and warm up. without the negatives of ice water.

Product Recommendations

Have you walked through the pet aisle at a store and felt overwhelmed by the available options? Don’t be fooled by marketing gimmicks and purchase worthless products. Below is a list of items recommended by service dogs users and touted as safe and effective items to protect and prolong working capabilities in the summer.

Famous Paw-Wear and Musher’s Secret

Dogs’ sweat through their paws much like we sweat through most pores throughout our bodies, thus the paw protection paradox. Well, here is a little secret, Musher’s Secret. This all natural paw wax protects those paws the same in winter and summer. Protection stems from keeping paws moist and supple, reducing pad splitting from drying out. If you are able to use dog boots, and not all dogs will let you, make sure the paws are able to breath. This reduces chances of your service dog from overheating.

Beat the heat, drink water

Plenty of foldable bowls to all in one water bottles and bowl combinations exist, so no excuse for not owning one or several. When you leave, the hydration kit is equally important as the harness.

Ruffwear cooling vest

Many cooling vest and collars line your pet store’s shelves, but none compare to the Ruffwear Cooling Vest. The vest cools your service dog the same way a swamp cooler works, while blocking the sun. Above is a picture of BlackJack wearing his Ruffwear vest in harness, and while it looks like a heavy blanket, it enables us to work or play longer. The vest requires you to soak it in water before heading out, and while out dumping more water prolongs effectiveness. For example, we walked a 5-mile route in 90 degrees with direct sun. At the end of the walk, his body felt cool under the vest and his nose and panting remained normal.

Frozen Treats

A frozen Kong filled with treats will aid cooling while nourishing your service dog. Simply take a handful of food and let it soak in some water. Then fill a Kong up with the wet food, without mushing it, and freeze it. This becomes a frozen chewy treat


The best way to assist your service dog is to adjust your schedule. Exercise, play, or do your errands early in the morning or after the sun goes down. In nature, most animals rest during the middle of the day due to the sun and heat, proving animal instincts are smarter than humans. Remember your service dog serves you so long as you serve them.

Define Your Own Independence

Independence Day marks more than the date our country’s founders declared their desire for a free and sovrin nation. Independence Day represents all of the freedoms citizenship offers. We have the freedom to speak our minds, and we have the freedom to choose who to listen to. We have the freedom to responsibly and irresponsibly possess firearms. We have the freedom to practice any religion or develop our own definitions of spirituality. We possess the freedom to elect our political leaders to choose the regulations and laws at all levels of government. We may gather together to demonstrate injustices and political movements. We theoretically possess the right to a fair trial, though I prefer the restorative justice movement. As citizens, our freedoms are both boundless and bounded to numerous variables from our ethnicity to socio-economic-status to gender and many more.

I write this not as a negative critique of the freedoms one possesses as a citizen, but to showcase the differences in freedoms each person receives. As a disabled veteran, I enjoy the ability to exercise a significant number of freedoms due to benefits, social welfare systems, and entitlements either those who are not a Veteran or do not possess a disability may enjoy. Likewise, I am not able to fully exercise all of the inherent freedoms due to my disabilities, without the assistance of others or reliance on laws like the Americans with disabilities Act.

True freedom stems from your own internal definitions on what it means to be free and independent. No matter what our country’s doctrine stipulates, freedom comes first from within yourself. It is your ability to say I am free to choose how to feel about a situation, for or beliefs and emotions are all we truly control. As a blind individual I may not be able to assemble to protest violations to the ADA, but the internet allows me to feel involved in these activities. I may not be able to be a road warrior and celebrate the freedom to travel the country independently, but I find the ability to walk or run through town equally if not more enjoyable.

On this 240th celebration of our Independence Day, take some time to define and reflect on what you feel it means to be free. Do this without comparing yourself to another. Meditate on how to exercise your freedoms without judging how someone else portrays their freedoms.