60 Years of Insight

As a blind individual, Karen Perzentka has overcome numerous challenges while continuing to make contributions to the Madison community. She was also named the first female president of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. As the Council celebrates its 60th anniversary, Perzentka looks back on the history they’ve made.

Madison Magazine: How long have you been a part of the Council?

Karen Perzentka:  My husband and I have been involved for approximately 40 years. My son is also currently an employee for the organization. As blind and visually impaired adults, we help others in the community to become more independent and live productive lives. The services provided by the Council and its employees may not be found in other areas throughout our state.

MM: Can you explain a little of what the Council provides in terms of services and support?

KP: The Council offers numerous programs for the blind and visually impaired. Rehabilitation specialists assist seniors in their homes and technology support is available for those learning to use computers and other portable devices. Our Low Vision therapists assist those losing their vision and determine what devices might be helpful to them. Recreational activities including euchre tournaments, bowling events and attending plays are provided each year as well as support for outdoor functions such as cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, biking and canoeing,

MM: What else are you working on right now?

KP: We're always working on something. The Council's Legislative Comittee identified the Omnibus Bill as a focus for the next legislative session. Items to be included in this bill relate to ADA standards on service animals, promotion of the White Cane Law, access to housing for people with vision loss, as well as training, employment and educational opportunities for individuals who live with vision loss.

MM: Sounds like the Council is making great progress for the future. But it’s also celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. What accomplishments stand out in your mind?

KP: Throughout the years, the Council has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to other organizations for the blind. It helped pass a bill in the state legislature that enabled non-drivers to secure a license that served as an ID. This bill was signed into law in the 1970s.

During the sixty years of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired’s existence there have been many men and women contributing to the betterment of the lives of those without sight. Its first executive secretary was totally blind as well as two others who were visually impaired. All members on the board are and always have been legally blind. We are proud to assist others and hopefully will be doing those in sixty more years!

MM: Do you have a favorite memory during your forty years of involvement?

KP: There are so many moments when we were visiting other cities in the state and could enjoy each other’s company. However, the biggest moment during my presidency came when we were able to keep the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped open after the Department of Public Instruction ordered its closure. Many hours were spent in securing 30,000 petitions and thousands of dollars to fight this edict through the legislative process. The Senate and Assembly agreed with us after a day of testimony from both sides, and the school remains open to this day.

MM: Sounds like a hard-fought battle. What motivates you to continue your efforts and work with the Council?

KP: I have always volunteered in many organizations and continue to do so today because all of us can contribute our knowledge to society for the good of all. The men and women who served before me and continue to do so today are examples of individuals who may not have sight but have “insight” and much to offer those who are struggling to adjust to their vision loss and to the families who have children with vision deficits.

MM: Your dedication to the Council’s efforts is more than inspiring. What do you want to say to those interested in getting involved?

KP: You will get more back than what you give. Because the Council serves the entire state, we not only improve the lives of those in Madison but all of Wisconsin through our legislative efforts, advocacy initiatives and the sale of assistive devices for a nominal fee.

The Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired will host its 60th Anniversary Celebration at the Madison Children’s Museum on Thursday, November 15, at 5:15 p.m. More information is available online at wcblind.org. Can’t attend? Consider supporting the Council by visiting their online auction, open now through November 14.

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