Advocacy, ACB Style, by Mitch Pomerantz
In 2010, several months after becoming a member of the Pasadena (Calif.) Host Lions Club, I was handed a packet containing letters, envelopes and small, crooked plastic canes. The purpose was to participate in the annual Lions Clubs International (LCI) white cane fundraising activity. I was, to be perfectly honest, mortified by the use of such an outmoded symbol of blindness. I mentioned my dissatisfaction to several club members and did not mail out those fundraising letters that year or the next.
Going back to the mid-‘50s when a local Lions Club came to Frances Blend School for the Blind shortly before Christmas to deliver stockings and interact with us kids, I knew that Lions had a connection with “the blind.” At some point I learned that in 1925, Helen Keller challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Even so, those crooked plastic canes still bothered me a lot! However, with my responsibilities as ACB president, I didn’t have the time to devote myself to club activities and I let the matter of those replica canes pass.
In 2012, I decided to join ACB Lions and became more directly involved in my local club. Earlier this year I brought up the plastic cane issue on one of our monthly ACB Lions teleconference calls and two members, then-ACBL president Kenneth Semien Sr. and William Benjamin, expressed interest in joining me in drafting a resolution to bring to the annual ACB Lions meeting in July for approval and ultimately, to the full ACB conference and convention for adoption. A number of ACB Lions members expressed understandable skepticism that such a resolution would make a significant difference in the appearance of the long-standing symbol used by LCI in its white cane fundraising appeal. Nonetheless, Kenneth, William and I proceeded with a draft resolution, and I thank them for their invaluable assistance.
The resolution, 2014-02 (Lions Replica Canes), outlined the mission of Lions Clubs International and the role played by blind and visually impaired individuals in promoting that mission; described the introduction in 1951 of “a small, plastic cane with a crook for the handle” as a symbol of its annual fundraising campaign; and pointed out that the image of blind people has changed significantly over the past 50 years, as has the type of cane utilized by most blind and visually impaired people for independent travel. The resolution, which was adopted by the ACB membership, called upon Lions Clubs International “to update its white cane symbol by adopting a replica straight cane to accurately reflect the cane used by the vast majority of blind persons to safely and independently navigate worldwide.”
I must acknowledge the support I received from the board of the Pasadena Host Lions Club in agreeing not to include the crooked cane with its white cane appeal letter this year. I felt that I’d begun improving our image, if only among the members of my club. I also have to thank ACB Lion Albert Rizzi, who was acquainted with one of LCI’s international directors, for his advocacy on behalf of our resolution.
In September, ACB received a letter acknowledging receipt of the resolution and informing us that the matter was being investigated. Most of us who were involved in moving the resolution forward did not expect anything to happen for months, perhaps years. I am pleased to say how pleasantly surprised and wonderfully wrong we all were. On Nov. 19, 2014, the ACB national office received a letter from Scott Drumheller, Executive Administrator and Secretary of Lions Clubs International. The relevant part of Mr. Drumheller’s response follows:
“… Lions Clubs International has decided to update the white cane symbol by adopting a current image of the straight cane, wherever applicable. To that end, LCI has revised content to the association's White Cane Safety Day web page; revised content to the association's White Cane Fact Sheet; discontinued the old online White Cane sticker; discontinued the cane with the curved handle; encouraged licensees to follow the association's decision to adopt the current image of a straight cane. In addition, a blog about International White Cane Safety Day appeared on October 15.”
I could not have imagined a better response or a more complete success. Advocacy ACB style still works, and I am proud and honored to be a member of both the American Council of the Blind and Lions Clubs International. LCI’s motto is “We serve,” and it is as applicable to ACB as it is to the Lions.