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Summer 2023 Newsletter

By October 11, 2023No Comments

Message from the President, Beth Brabbs

Dear Michigan AER Members,

Summer greetings to you all! It’s my sincere hope that this newsletter finds you all well and enjoying the beginning of summer. This is a great time of year, with opportunities to enjoy backyard barbeques and outdoor sports, while birds sing around us, even in the city! Many of us find time to vacation, if not to far off locations, at least to a nearby park or “up north” in our great state of Michigan. Personally, I like all the seasons in Michigan, but summer has traditionally felt like a fun time to me. 

I’m excited to begin this year serving as your President! It’s a big responsibility to take on, and I am grateful to Patty Killey for teaching me so much about how to accomplish great things for our members. Patty is very committed to the work she does for MAER, and I hope that I can do as well as she has in helping our organization grow. It is also my hope that MAER will be stronger than ever at the end of my term, just as it was with Patty Killey at the helm. We listen to you, our fellow members, to guide what we do as your Board. Our Michigan Chapter of AER is one of the strongest in the country, and we’d like to keep it that way. Please respond to the 2023 membership survey when it comes out this Fall, to let us know what your hopes are for the coming year.

Along with fun times of summer, I’ll be taking time to dig into my duties as your new MAER President, such as working on MAER Chapter business, reflecting on the work we did on the board this year on behalf of our fellow MAER members, considering your feedback from surveys, and beginning to plan for next year’s Michigan AER conference. The Board worked hard all year to plan a conference that would bring us together again after three years of online conferences. It was a great chance to learn and make connections!

In our 2022 membership survey, all members who participated asked that the MAER Board continue to provide them with a quality conference each year. Your 2022-23 MAER Board delivered that with the 2023 MAER Conference, New Beginnings. Together Again. It was fantastic to see everyone at the Delta Conference Center in Kalamazoo, where our membership had the opportunity to make connections with other professionals in our field and to learn from one another. Your MAER Board put in countless hours beginning last summer to seek out speakers to bring to our MAER conference. We had people from all over the country who are renowned in their areas of expertise.  How did we do this? We reached out to vendors to share their products and services and solicited sponsors to help offset the cost of the conference. MAER board members attended conferences beginning last summer, where we made connections with speakers that would benefit our members and invited them to speak at our conference. We asked you, our members, to share your expertise, and you really stepped up to the plate! This is a membership organization, and we need our members to support one another by sharing their knowledge and skills at our conference each year. We tried hard to create a well-rounded conference that would meet the needs of all our members, regardless of their discipline in the blind rehabilitation and education professions. With your help, we succeeded! 

If you’ve ever planned a conference, you know it is a lot of work, and it costs a lot of money. This year the conference costs far exceeded the money we took in, despite raising conference fees. Inflation is a distressing fact of life that was a major concern for us when planning. Our goal as an organization is to break even on the conference, so that we can use our resources to provide scholarships and grants and to support non-profit organizations that our members recommend through the survey. We would not be able to put on such a quality conference without our sponsors, DeafBlind Central, Michigan Department of Education – Low Incidence Outreach, and the Michigan Optometric Association. We’re sincerely grateful to them for their support! Thank you to members who shared knowledge and wisdom with conference presentations. Thank you to those of you who attended.  Let’s work together again this year to create a great 2024 conference in Traverse City! 


Beth Brabbs

MAER President

Member Awards

This year, Julie Haase received the MAER Award, being recognized for having made a significant contribution to the field of blindness and/or in the service of persons who are blind and visually impaired in Michigan. Congratulations, Julie!


The 2024 MAER Conference will take place on April 25 and 26 at the Park Place Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Traverse City, Michigan. In addition, we hope to work with DB Central to provide a half-day pre-conference on April 24, the day before MAER begins. Stay tuned for details in the next newsletter



In the member spotlight this issue is April Makely, a Teacher Consultant for the Visually Impaired (TCVI) in Kent County, Michigan, who was recently honored with the Braille Institute’s Braille Challenge Teacher of the Year Award. MAER member Johanna Brutvan sat down with April and her former student, Julia LaGrand, who nominated April for the award, at the National Braille Challenge competition at Braille Institute in Los Angeles, California, to interview them for this article.

Johanna: April, can you tell us about the award?

April: The Braille Challenge Teacher of the Year is an award that is presented to one teacher consultant per year to recognize their contributions to the field.

Johanna: April, were you surprised at the nomination?

April: I was extremely surprised! There are so many teacher consultants out there that do fabulous jobs, and I am honored to be one of them. 

Johanna: Julia, you are a bit of a Michigan Braille celebrity yourself. Can you tell us about your experience with the Braille Institute and their competition called Braille Challenge?

Julia: Yes, I did my first Braille Challenge in 2011 in first grade, and I made it to the finals, and that was the first of 12 Braille Challenge Finals, two of which were remote, but otherwise the Braille Challenge finals were in LA. I’ve gotten various prizes in various years and have overall had an excellent time both competing in the regionals, and in getting to the finals. It has given me so many opportunities to meet a bunch of different blind students from across Michigan and across the country, and it’s always just given me a great chance and incentive to hone my braille skills. It’s always been an exciting thing that I’ve been super glad to participate in.

Johanna: Awesome, so why did you nominate April?

Julia: Every year when I have come to the Braille Challenge finals, I have seen the teacher of the year winner and have heard about the excellent work they’re doing, and I’ve always loved that sharing of ideas and inspiration that I think is a good recognition of TCVIs and is also a starting point for great conversations. And April has always stood out to me as someone who also deserved that recognition because of the innovation and the work that she is doing has always seemed comparable to the people winning the awards, so I decided to nominate her. 

Johanna: How did April get you ready for Braille Challenge?

Julia: Over all the some of the biggest things that April has influenced me in is in the ability and desire to push myself further than I want to, initially, and I think the Braille Challenge is part of that because it is all about being a little bit uncomfortable, whether that’s pushing yourself socially to interact with all the other challengers in a way that might not come naturally, or in the actual testing room. The tests are difficult, so it’s about pushing yourself to that next level and April has always pushed me one step further than I wanted to push myself. That has been a really important force for me.

Johanna: I have one last question for both of you. April is going to go first, and Julia, you can go second. How has braille changed your life?

April: Braille has changed my life because it has opened my eyes to a whole new world of literacy for students who are blind and visually impaired.

Julia: There are so many practical reasons that I love braille. I love to be able to have my ears free when I’m taking notes or interviewing someone or whatever I might be doing, I love having the ability to do that in silence. But I think that on a deeper level it has given me not just literacy, but more connectedness to language that I don’t think I would feel if I had always just listened to things. I really love reading and writing, and I don’t think I would appreciate them as much as I do if I didn’t have that sort of real firm connection and knowledge of language in a deeper way than just listening. 

April, you have touched Julia’s life as her braille teacher in a way that all teachers hope to do when they interact with a student. Your work has obviously opened doors for Julia and fostered a love of literacy in her. Congratulations on being recognized with this award and thank you for representing Michigan at the national competition for Braille Challenge! 



Events at MDE-LIO

Don’t forget to check out the exciting events that are coming up from MDE-LIO! Camp Tuhsmeheta is running summer camps for kids, family camps, and other fun summer events. There are also Visit the events page for more information: Upcoming Events MDE-LIO & Camp Tuhsmeheta

MDE-LIO SUPPORT SERVICES The MDE-LIO has a team of education consultants who are available to support families and school districts serving students who are BVI. For more information, visit: BVI Outreach Support. Also, the MDE-LIO Support Team was created to help develop competent, informed, and knowledgeable teachers of students who are visually impaired (TVIs), teacher consultants of students who are visually impaired (TCVIs), and certified orientation and mobility specialists (COMS) in Michigan schools. For more information, visit: Support for New School Personnel.



Reminder About ACVREP Certificates and SCECH Credits

MAER will charge you $25 for a replacement ACVREP certificate from our conferences. Certificates were provided at the end of each conference. This $25 fee has been the policy in the past, and it continues. In addition, SCECH credits for conferences have all been sent to MOECS, the Michigan Online Educator Certification System. To get your SCECH credits, you must go into the MOECS to fill out a survey before your credits appear. MAER sends the record of your attendance to the SCECH Coordinator, and it is your responsibility to do the rest to get your credits. If you have questions about that system, you may contact MOECS at 517-241-5000. The MOEC website is



Do you have an article, resource, or other information you would like added to the MAER newsletter?  Use this opportunity to share information with other members!  The next newsletter goes out in January 2024. Please send your submissions to by December 31, 2023, with the words FOR MAER NEWSLETTER in the subject line of your email! Our new newsletter editors beginning with our next issue will be Pat Duyck and Linda Billings. 

MAER Board Officers and Directors

Please contact with any questions.

PRESIDENT: Beth Brabbs





SECRETARY: Roberta McCall 


TREASURER: Jessicia Klenk


DIRECTORS:  Linda Billings, Pat Duyck, Leanne Ford, Kristy Plesscher, Dr. Joe Todd, and Garret Waldie


Our AER Mission: To render all possible assistance to the promotion, development, and improvement of all phases of education and rehabilitation of blind and visually impaired persons of all ages.


Visit our website at Michigan AER.