The Reno Roundup: ACB’s 56th Annual Convention a Sparkling Success!

by Doug Powell, Deb Cook Lewis, Susan Glass, and Paul Edwards
 
This year’s convention theme was “ACB Sparks Success!” And by all measures, the convention was a success. You can listen to convention general sessions plus many other program sessions either individually or by subscribing to a podcast feed. To get to the general session recordings, go to http://acbradio.org/acb-events. If you use a podcatching device such as a Victor Stream or an iDevice using Downcast or Overcast, subscribe to the feed at http://acbradio.org/acb-events.xml.
 
Saturday
 
President Kim Charlson opened the 2017 convention by welcoming attendees and listeners on ACB Radio to Sparks, Nev. Rick Kuhlmey, president of the Nevada Council of the Blind, welcomed us to Nevada and asked Kim to read the welcome letter from Governor Brian Sandoval.
 
Kim then gave her president’s report, which included:
 
·      Thanks to the Alexandria and Minneapolis staffs, and contract employees. She thanked Carla Ruschival, outgoing treasurer, and Jeff Thom, outgoing first vice president. She also thanked husband Brian and life sister Vicki.
·      Kim acknowledged the contributions of our Facebook and Twitter presences to our being known and followed in the online world, and thanked the teams who keep up with those outreach efforts.
·      Kim thanked ACB’s Giving Society — 223 individuals and 40 corporations who contributed to the financial ability of the organization to do our work.
·      JPMorgan Chase’s support that allowed us to bring five leadership fellows to the convention.
·      Last year’s Volunteer Hours Reporting Program logged 17,758 hours of members’ time devoted to serving the membership. That in-kind contribution translates to over $420,000.
·      A recent survey on our interest in audio description resulted in 489 respondents bolstering our assertion that people who are blind or visually impaired around the country want more description on broadcast, satellite, and cable television.
·      ACB continues to advocate against threats to limit or discredit the ADA. We are also fighting the recent trend of restaurants to provide inaccessible online meal ordering, such as at Eatsa and Domino’s Pizza websites.
·      H.R. 2050, the Medicare Demonstration and Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act of 2017, has been reintroduced to this Congress. Ask your Congressional representatives to sponsor this bill.
·      Our fight for accessible currency continues. The new secretary of the Treasury suggested that the currency readers distributed in recent years met his legal responsibility. We are appealing a lower court’s agreement with this argument and we continue to insist that Treasury move forward in a timely fashion to distribute currency with tactile markings.
·      ACB has developed a new strategic plan that focuses on advocacy policy and legislation; affiliates and membership; convention and meetings; development; and marketing and communications. The board of directors, staff, and several leaders of state and special-interest affiliates have developed a set of goals, associated action steps, timeframes, and accountable leaders to drive and complete the objectives. A summary is in development and will be distributed to leaders and posted on the ACB website.
·       ACB Link has been downloaded by 5,000 people so far. An Android version is due for release in the fall. Kim acknowledged the leadership of Jeff Bishop on this project.
·      ACB Radio helps connect members by Internet and through telephone access.
 
Kim encouraged us to continue to fight for our goals.
 
Dan Spoone gave background on the ACB Angels Program. Friends introduced two new angels: Otis Stephens (Tennessee) and John Fleming (Oregon).
 
Susan Mazrui from AT&T emphasized the partnership that ACB and AT&T have had over the years to bring change to phones and TVs and other communication devices. She then introduced Suman Kanuganti from Aira. He started a company to give people who are blind or visually impaired real-time access to environmental information on which they can make their own decisions. The blind or visually impaired “Explorer” wears a camera and is connected with an “Agent” who gives them information upon which to act.
 
Kim then introduced Eve Andersson, engineering and product manager on the core team on accessibility at Google. Eve spoke about several accessibility innovations on products such as Android phones, Chrome OS, G-Suite, and Google Sites. They are also working on educating developers on accessibility and providing accessibility testing products.
 
After hearing about two more angels, Filo Tu (Hawaii) and Sandy Sanderson (Alaska), Kim introduced Jessica Rafuse, NGO program manager at Microsoft. Jessica highlighted the strides toward accessibility Microsoft has made in the last 18 months, largely due to the relationship that ACB developed with them.
 
Following Jessica’s presentation, we met ACB’s new life members: Marilyn Kirchner (Mo.), Jerry Herndon (Tenn.), Robert Humphreys (Fla.), Alice Ritchhart (Ga.), and Marsha Farrow (Ga.). Kenneth Semien Sr. then introduced the Durward K. McDaniel First-Timers: J.R. Kinnison (Wash.) and Graham Steel (Wyo.).
 
Friends introduced angels B.H. Newman (Tenn.) and Patricia Beattie (Va.).
 
Eric Bridges reminded attendees of the contributions JPMorgan Chase has made to ACB, and asked Semien to introduce the five leadership fellows: Anthony Akamine (Hawaii), Lori Allison (Wash.), Sarah Harris (Calif.), Daisy Russell (Mass.), and Michelle Zentz (N.D.).
 
John Huffman presented the first credentials report. Three state affiliates were not seated because their membership fell below the number needed to qualify for an affiliate vote: Connecticut, New Mexico, and South Carolina.
 
The last angels to be recognized were Frank Murdock (La.), Alice Ritchhart’s guide dogs (Ga.), and Janiece Petersen Kent (D.C.). The affiliate roll call followed.
 
Sunday
 
After adoption of the standing rules and program, and a couple of reports, Tom Tiernan, CEO of VFO, summarized recent innovations at AI Squared, Freedom Scientific, Optelec, and the Paciello Group. He described the ElBraille, a portable PC running Windows 10, and utilizing a Focus braille display and keyboard. He said that JAWS screen readers are now installed at many Wells Fargo Banks and on Carnival’s cruise ships.
 
We heard next from Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. She outlined five goals for NLS: maintain quality, add more content, leverage technology to improve reading and delivery, expand the patron base, and improve braille literacy. Recent NLS accomplishments include distribution of more than 50,000 currency readers, and the release of BARD Express and BARD Mobile. This year NLS expects to add 1,000 new commercial titles to its collection, and 2,000 titles recorded by talking book narrators. All 37,000 cassette titles in the BARD collection will be converted to cartridge by summer’s end. She described the Orbit Reader and a braille display that will deliver books digitally. The Orbit Reader will be piloted first at Perkins, and by next summer, at eight regional libraries. NLS is also considering design possibilities for the next generation of talking book machines. 
 
Next to speak was United Nations Ambassador W. Aubrey Webson, representing Antigua and Barbuda. He said that one major initiative of the United Nations is social development goals.  He said that the United States is not addressing some of these goals, and cited our failure to ratify the Marrakesh treaty and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as two examples. Finding gainful employment, he added, is the greatest challenge facing blind people throughout the world. Webson received this year’s Durward K. McDaniel Ambassador Award. He accepted it in the name of his ancestors and his family, whom he said were responsible for his success.
 
Awards committee co-chair Chelle Hart presented the Visually Impaired Veterans of America with an Affiliate Growth Award for increasing its membership by 327 percent. The Utah Council of the Blind received the Affiliate Growth Award for having added 65 new members.
 
The board of publications presented this year’s Ned E. Freeman Award to Jamie Pauls, for his article on the benefits and challenges of using UEB. Mike Duke received this year’s Vernon Henley Media Award in recognition of his consistently excellent ACB Reports, and many other media contributions that benefit ACB.
 
Will Schell, attorney advisor, Disability Rights Office, Federal Communications Commission, spoke next. He described the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, which distributes telecommunications equipment to people who are low-income, and deaf-blind. Launched as a pilot program in 2012, it is now a permanent program that spends $10 million annually to ensure that those in need receive equipment and services.
 
Resolutions chairman Mark Richert read three resolutions; all were adopted.
 
Monday
 
The session opened with several sponsor presentations. Then Mitch Pomerantz, chair of the nominating committee, gave the slate of nominees for office. They were: Kim Charlson, president; Dan Spoone, first vice president; John McCann, second vice president; Ray Campbell, secretary; and David Trott, treasurer.
 
John Huffman, chair of the constitution and bylaws committee, presented the first reading of a proposed bylaw amendment.
 
Presiding officer John McCann introduced Michael Garrett, ACB scholarship chair, who acknowledged the three CCLVI scholarship winners before presenting the 2017 class of ACB scholarship winners. (See “Scholarships Spark Future Successes” elsewhere in this issue.)
 
After the break, we heard from Lainey Feingold, author of “Structured Negotiations: A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits.” She noted that this is the first time she has discussed the book with so many of the people who are in it. It all began with the talking ATM initiative, then online banking, American Cancer Society, Weight Watchers, Major League Baseball, Safeway, point-of-sale devices, health care, audio description, accessible pedestrian signals, talking prescription labels, financial services and more.
 
Kirk Adams, president and CEO of AFB, spoke next. He updated us on new strategic destinations and directions at AFB. The foundation works to reduce barriers in all aspects of life for blind people. As part of AFB’s strategic planning, they are identifying critical issues, using research and analysis to understand the problems, and transferring that knowledge to people who can make strategic decisions on behalf of people who are blind.
 
We then heard from Dr. Sharon Sacks, superintendent of the California State School for the Blind. Schools for the blind are doing well, she noted, but are serving a more complex and diverse group of students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf-blind, and multiply disabled. Many schools have great outreach programs providing support to students who are not enrolled at the school. Schools for the blind provide an expanded core curriculum which can be done during the year, in short courses or in the summer. IDEA has not been reauthorized, but the Cogswell Macy Act is moving forward. New guidelines are needed to modernize education for blind students. Every student deserves the opportunity to achieve their highest potential.
 
Judy Dixon, secretary of Ski for Light International, described the week-long cross-country skiing program in some detail. The 2018 event will be held at the Nugget Casino and Resort. For more information, visit http://sfl.org.
 
Tuesday
 
The first item of business was the second reading of a bylaw amendment that would raise member at large dues to $10; it was approved. Secretary Ray Campbell introduced the first speaker of the day, Madelyn Buzzard, talking book narrator from the American Printing House for the Blind. She spent much of her presentation describing her career as an actor in films, dinner theaters, on TV in a soap opera, and in commercials. She also spent some time talking about fires and floods at her home. During the flood, she had a somewhat unnerving encounter with a beaver! Interspersed with her reminiscences were lots of tidbits about the recording process.
 
Amazon’s Peter Korn gave an interactive presentation where he showed how the voice worked on the Fire TV Stick, the Kindle Fire, and other devices such as the Echo. He began by showing a video of disabled customers who use Amazon devices. Much of the presentation was given over to a demonstration of how Amazon’s screen reader, VoiceView, works in conjunction with Alexa and the Echo on various devices connected to Amazon’s new TV. He concluded by showing how to set up audio description and where to find the latest list of the more than 100 audio-described movies now available from Amazon.
 
After the break, Eric Bridges, ACB’s executive director, presented his report.  He announced that, after lots of work, ACB’s web site will be ready for prime time in November. Eric spent some time describing ACB’s new strategic plan. There are five focus areas: affiliate membership; marketing and communications; convention and meetings; development; and advocacy, policy and legislation. A team has been assigned to each area, and each team is developing goals and measurable outcomes for its area.  Eric stressed that all the areas are interrelated and what we do in one area will have an immediate impact in the others. He highlighted the role that corporations are now playing at ACB. Over the last five years, contributions to our convention have increased by $220,000. More important, corporations are at our convention listening to our members and responding to the needs of people who are blind. Eric stressed that we are not changing what ACB is; we are finding ways to make sure that others know about the awesomeness that is ACB.
 
Tony Stephens discussed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE). This law allows people who have become disabled before the age of 26 to set up 529A accounts where, even for those on SSI, up to $100,000 can be saved and used for disability support purposes. Tony encouraged everyone to visit http://ablenrc.org, where this whole program is detailed. He stressed that this program really represents good news for people with disabilities.
 
Cameron Roles, a member of the board of directors of Vision Australia, spoke next. He informed us that his organization is primarily a provider of services who, last year, decided to focus on four main issues: employment, education, independence, and social inclusion. He highlighted the passage by the Australian government of the Disability Insurance Scheme, which made funds available that individuals with disabilities could use to purchase services they felt were needed to make their lives better. This new scheme puts more power into the hands of people with disabilities, who can choose who to pay for the services they want. Roles suggested this is a wonderful time in the world to be blind because many companies and organizations are including accessibility in what they do. But organizations around the world need to work together to make sure the future for people who are blind remains bright.
 
The rest of the morning was spent on resolutions.
 
Wednesday
 
After the adoption of a handful of resolutions, Kim acknowledged the hard work and service of Carla Ruschival as ACB treasurer.
 
Janet Dickelman, convention coordinator, reported that many of the challenges experienced this year resulted from construction at the hotel just prior to convention, making it difficult to develop orientation information and plan use of spaces. Janet thanked the convention committee, ACB staff, pre-registration and information desk people, volunteers, streaming and sound, tours, exhibit hall, and the host affiliate. In 2018, the convention will be in St. Louis, Mo. from June 29 through July 6 at the Union Station Hotel. In 2019, convention will be in Rochester, N.Y. at the Radisson and Hyatt hotels. The rate for both years is $89 per night.
 
We next heard from Tony Stephens, who moderated a panel presentation, “Weathering the Changing Landscape of Rehabilitation Services in a Post-WIOA Era.” Mark Richert, AFB’s director of public policy and strategic initiatives, talked about the foundation’s agenda on aging and vision loss. He referred to http://afb.org/aging as a wonderful resource on current activities. He noted that only 2 percent of those who could potentially benefit from older blind services currently receive them.
 
Clark Rachfal, program manager-public policy, National Industries for the Blind, explained that NIB believes the Department of Education went beyond Congressional intent in defining competitive, integrated employment and eliminating uncompensated outcomes and homemaker exemptions. As a result, in some cases VR has told NIB agencies they can no longer work with them in any capacity, and in other states, blind people are not referred to AbilityOne employment opportunities because they will not be counted as closures. NIB wants individuals to have informed choice and believes that its agencies are a good choice for many people.
 
Rosa Gomez, assistant deputy director, Special Services Division, California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, explained the role and mission of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB). She stressed the importance of individualized, separate services for individuals who are blind. She added that vocational rehabilitation is one of the best kept secrets; people need to know what services are available to them.
 
Richert said that the U.S. is failing to provide adequate services for older people in general and for people with vision loss in particular, citing lack of funding, personnel, and awareness as major issues. Rachfal said that NIB provides meaningful employment and rehabilitation services for 5,800 people who have limited opportunities or have exhausted other options. These people are written off as not rehabilitated; this needs to change.
 
What one thing would make the most difference for people in the coming years? Richert said the key is coordination and collaboration to maximize existing resources across programs. Gomez said the investment in youth required by RSA is designed to provide a solid foundation leading to employment and independence. Rachfal recommended changing regulatory language to recognize the viability of NIB programs as an employment option for many people, and breaking down the thinking that says these organizations are sheltered, with limited opportunities. Stephens stressed the need for more people to be involved with their state’s rehabilitation council. He emphasized that one size does not fit all; there is diversity, and regulations need to be flexible enough to meet real needs across the lifespan. Richert noted the collaborative efforts to expand services in Texas. Rachfal said we need to be the faces for the issues that are important to us. Stephens summarized the presentation as a call to collaboration, empowerment and getting involved.
 
Following the adoption of a few resolutions, the convention heard from Craig Meador, president and CEO of the American Printing House for the Blind. APH just completed a strategic plan with a renewed focus to provide service to blind and low-vision people of all ages. APH is also conducting a consumer survey to determine what accessibility means. Visit http://aph.org/ac to learn more.
 
The resource development committee reported that the MMS program has gained $4,000. The auction raised over $16,000, and the walk raised $63,000.
 
Joel Snyder updated us on the audio description project. On July 13, the FCC was scheduled to vote to increase audio description to 7 hours on network television. There are more than 1,000 hours of described content for Netflix. Amazon announced that titles will now be described. In 2018, all movie theaters in the U.S. will have audio description equipment. And for the first time, the Olympics were audio-described. For more information, visit http://acb.org/adp.
 
Thursday
 
The day began with a number of sponsor presentations. Kim Charlson then introduced Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, who talked about the present and future of accessibility at Microsoft, and shared her story and passion for accessibility as a person with a disability.
 
Tony Stephens presented the national advocacy and legislative update. ACB’s advocacy efforts this past year included support for additional audio-described content, service animal issues with drivers for rideshare companies and air carrier service animal regulations, reintroduction of Medicare coverage for low-vision devices, and participation in the Agenda on Aging and Low Vision spearheaded by AFB. State affiliate efforts are crucial to advocacy: Nevada passed a bill requiring accessible labeling for prescription drugs; Tennessee passed legislation requiring detectable warnings in certain locations that can readily be seen by individuals with low vision; and Florida successfully partnered with a company that makes voting technology to increase voting accessibility. He challenged us to exercise our rights by speaking out this year.
 
Nancy Marks Becker gave the treasurer’s report on Carla’s behalf. ACB ended 2016 with a net surplus of $187,000. There has not been a net surplus since 2008 that has not involved receipts from a bequest.
 
And then it was time for elections. ACB’s officers for 2017-18 are: Kim Charlson, president; Dan Spoone, first vice president; John McCann, second vice president; Ray Campbell, secretary; David Trott, treasurer. The board positions vacated by Dan Spoone and David Trott were filled by Jeff Thom and Doug Powell. The BOP position vacated by Doug Powell was filled by Donna Brown.
 
During elections, Mark Richert read several resolutions, most of which were adopted. A resolution calling upon the gaming commission and other regulatory authorities to increase accessibility of gaming machines was referred to the information access and environmental access committees. For a complete summary of all adopted resolutions, watch for an article in a future issue.
 
John Huffman conducted the second reading of two amendments that would eliminate procedures that are no longer relevant and officially sanctions use of the Affiliate Member Management System (AMMS). The amendments passed.