President's Report to the National Conference, Part I

by Mitch Pomerantz

I want to begin my September column by offering sincere thanks to everyone who supported my re-election as president of the American Council of the Blind. We've accomplished many of the goals I put forward when I first ran in 2007, but there are still important things yet to be achieved. It is my intention to do everything possible during these final two years in office to accomplish those goals and with your help, we will succeed!

Over the next three issues -- as I've done in previous years -- I'm going to serialize my national conference/convention report for those who were not in Reno and unable to listen on ACB Radio. Here's Part I:

Ladies and gentlemen: in more than one respect, the convening of the 2011 conference and convention of the American Council of the Blind is a historic event. It marks the culmination of one of the most memorable years ACB has experienced, both in terms of our legislative success and our growing influence in the advocacy arena here and internationally. Tonight's opening session also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of ACB in Kansas City, Missouri in July 1961. From now through the banquet on Friday evening -- whether you are present in this ballroom or listening on ACB Radio -- you will be participating in, and part of, a grand celebration. This celebration concludes a tremendously successful year since the 2010 convention and 50 years as the most democratic consumer advocacy organization of blind and visually impaired people in this nation.

While ACB is driven by the thousands of members in our 70-plus state and special-interest affiliates, the day-to-day work of steering the organization -- overseeing the finances, dealing with the administrative details, spending hours on the telephone and attending scores of meetings -- these activities are the responsibility of staff in our Virginia and Minnesota offices. I want to publicly and personally acknowledge the time and energy given by staff on our behalf. Yes, they are paid for their work, but they certainly deserve far more. I also know that they sometimes work more hours than they are recompensed. Having said that, I sincerely hope no one from the National Labor Relations Board is hearing this or we're in big trouble.

And speaking of staff, let me introduce ACB's new director of development, Steven Obremski, who began his employment with us on June 6th. He has an impressive track record as a fundraiser. By the way, Steve is a development professional who happens to be blind. We are extremely fortunate to have him on our team and if he will get to a mic, I'd like everyone to hear his voice.

I want to publicly thank the 15 other men and women who serve with me on the ACB board. They are extremely bright, caring and thoughtful individuals who work together very well. Without exception, when I've needed someone to assist me with a task, I've been able to count on every one of them to pitch in.

Let me also acknowledge the work of the board of publications and its chairperson, Paul Edwards, as well as our subsidiary corporation, ACB Enterprises and Services, chaired by Michael Garrett. Both entities are crucial to the effective and efficient functioning of ACB.

I now need to publicly recognize and thank ACB's outgoing treasurer, Mike Godino, who concludes his third and final term following this convention. He has been a diligent minder of our finances for the last six years. While it's up to all of you to decide on Friday whether Kim, Brenda, Marlaina and I will be around for another two years, we know that Mr. Godino will be moving on. Mike, after the convention, go home and balance your checkbook.

Now for a special "thank you" to Donna for her support, understanding and assistance during the past year. Unfortunately for me but fortunately for the California Council of the Blind, she was elected president last October, which means that Donna's ability to bail me out of trouble has been curtailed. Nonetheless, when I throw a tantrum in our shared home office, she is usually able to talk me down off the roof. Thanks, Madame President.

I begin my report by bringing to your attention ACB's newest affiliate, the Idaho Council of the Blind, and its dynamic president, Darrin Cheney. Darrin also happens to be one of ACB's 2011 first-timers, and you'll hear from him a little later.

As I indicated at the outset, 2010 was a historic year for ACB with the passage and signing of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Much has been written and said about both bills so I won't rehash events; also I don't want to steal the thunder of ACB's director of advocacy and governmental affairs, Eric Bridges.

I would, however, be remiss if I failed to make a few remarks as a follow-up to last year's legislative victories. While the NFB claims most of the public credit for passage of the quiet car bill, I tell you unequivocally that without Eric's tireless and diplomatic efforts, this landmark legislation would never have been enacted.

For well over a year, I've participated via teleconference in a series of monthly meetings with a group comprised of automotive engineers from the major manufacturers here in the U.S. And just a little over three weeks ago, I made a whirlwind one-day visit to Kalamazoo, Mich., to attend a meeting with representatives from General Motors and O&M faculty from Western Michigan University to receive an update on activities related to developing an appropriate sound for GM hybrid and electric cars.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which thankfully is being referred to as the CVAA, has resulted in fairly swift action on the part of the Federal Communications Commission. In late 2010, the FCC established an advisory body to assist in the drafting of final rules for the CVAA. ACB has a total of five representatives on that body with Melanie Brunson, Louie Herrera, Marlaina Lieberg, Pratik Patel and Joel Snyder speaking for our interests. Again, Mr. Bridges will talk more about this in his presentation tomorrow morning.

During our 2011 legislative seminar in February, ACB was pleased to honor four members of Congress: Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Reps. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) with special awards for their instrumental roles in championing the aforementioned bills through the legislative process and ultimately into statute.

Part II will appear in the combined October-November issue.