ACB Stars Shine Bright in Dallas, Part I

by Ron Brooks, Judy Wilkinson, and Denise Colley

(Editor’s Note: Look for part II of this article in next month’s E-Forum.)

Sunday

The opening session of the 54th annual ACB conference and convention started right at 7 p.m. The Buffalo Soldiers of the American West presented the colors. Stuart Swartz, president of the Dallas chapter of the ACB of Texas, gave everyone a Texas-sized welcome.
 
ACB president Kim Charlson then gave her presidential address. “We are a part of a dynamic and democratic organization,” Charlson began. She spent the next 40 minutes acknowledging the work of ACB’s national staff, board of directors, board of publications, committees and affiliates, and summarizing a long list of accomplishments in which the ACB has played a part during the past year, including:

  • ACB provided comments on a number of critical pieces of legislation, including: the Workforce Investment Opportunities Act; a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making by the U.S. Access Board dealing with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act; comments to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the importance of audio description; and comments regarding the Federal Communications Commission’s National Equipment Distribution Program.
  • ACB launched a new Annual Giving Society, through which 193 ACB members and supporters have contributed more than $201,000, and a new Legacy Society, which will encourage people to remember ACB when doing their estate planning.
  • In partnership with JPMorgan Chase, ACB has developed a new capacity-building initiative. This year, this new program enabled 21 individuals to attend the midyear meeting and legislative seminar.
  • With assistance from JPMorgan Chase, ACB produced a video documentary called “BlindAbility: Willing, Able and Seeking Opportunity,” which chronicles the workdays of four people who are blind and deaf-blind. The described video is available on ACB’s YouTube page at www.youtube.com/embed/5e5payf2QMc.
  • ACB and Google entered into a collaboration through which Google is beginning to assist ACB by providing analytical tools which ACB will be able to use to increase our Internet presence, to improve our ranking on Google, and to increase our visibility as a resource on blindness issues.
  • In January 2015, ACB and CVS used structured negotiations to reach an agreement whereby customers of Caremark (CVS’s prescription delivery service) will be able to receive medications along with talking, large print and/or braille labels.
  • With input from ACB, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Florida has introduced H.R. 729, the “Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2015.” This bill, if passed, will establish a pilot project to demonstrate the positive impacts of Medicare coverage of low-vision technologies. Contact your Congressional representatives to urge support for this bill.
  • ACB worked with D.C.-area TV station WUSA to catch taxicab operators denying access to individuals who travel with guide dogs. Four D.C. cab companies are facing legal action.
  • Through ACB’s ongoing advocacy and legal action against the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the bureau has committed to including tactile features on the new $10 bill, slated for release in 2020.
  • Thanks to the efforts of ACB’s Facebook and Twitter teams, the organization’s social media presence continues to grow. ACB has more than 1,300 Facebook followers, and the number of Twitter followers continues to grow.
  • ACB will be launching its own app for the Apple operating system in early 2016. It will link individuals with ACB chapters and affiliates.

Next, attendees heard from Tom Gibbs, senior vice president of Vanda Pharmaceuticals, who thanked ACB for its partnership with Vanda in its efforts to develop a treatment for the circadian disorder known as Non-24. He talked about the development of Hetlioz, a prescription drug which the Food and Drug Administration has approved for the treatment of Non-24. For more information, visit www.non-24.com.
 
Following Vanda’s presentation, Charlson and Lane Waters presented ACB life memberships to Gordon Dykes of Tennessee, Linda Dykes of Tennessee, Shirley Marshall of North Carolina, Bruce Radtke of Washington, and Kim Venable of Louisiana.
 
Then the convention viewed the “BlindAbility” video described earlier. Afterward, Allen Casey, chair of the DKM First-Timers’ Committee, introduced the two first-timers: Shirley Stivers of Kentucky and Todd Fahlstrom of Minnesota.
 
Jean Mann, chair of the credentials committee, presented the first credentials report. She stated that two affiliates, ACB Human Service Professionals and ACB Students, were not seated because they did not provide the required membership information. Two other affiliates, Visually Impaired Veterans of America and ACB Government Employees, fell below the threshold required to retain their status as active affiliates of ACB.
 
The session concluded with the roll call of affiliates.

Monday

Margarine Beaman, advertising and sponsorship coordinator, introduced all the jewel sponsors. She stated that convention sponsorships brought in $63,500.
 
Jean Mann presented her final report. Three affiliates – Maine, Vermont and Virginia Association of the Blind – were not seated. The standing rules and the program were adopted.
 
John Huffman, chair of the constitution and bylaws committee, gave his initial report. Four proposals for amendments would be considered. One would fix the procedure for counting partial terms served with regard to the three-term limit on the board of publications. A second proposal dealt with the number of officers and directors from a single state. Amendments 3 and 4 dealt with the newly adopted record date mandated by the D.C. statute under which ACB is incorporated.
 
Jeff Thom introduced awards committee co-chairs Chelle Hart and Chip Hailey, who presented the Affiliate Growth Award to Blind Information Technology Specialists, for its growth of 117.78 percent. Honorable mention went to Delaware. The Affiliate Growth Award for the greatest number of new members (92) went to Guide Dog Users, Inc.
 
The Affiliate Outreach Award went to the Columbus, Ohio chapter for its People Helping People project to assist residents of central Ohio in purchasing adaptive equipment.
 
The George Card Award was presented posthumously to Walter Spillum, who died in April. Oral Miller accepted it on behalf of his family. Indonesian by birth, Spillum spent much of his life in Japan, where he founded the Echo Society to educate blind people.
 
Denise Colley, chair of ACB’s board of publications, stepped up to present awards. The Hollis K. Liggett Award for a state affiliate or chapter newsletter produced at least semi-annually went to “The Ohio Connection,” the quarterly publication of ACB of Ohio.
 
The Ned E. Freeman Award for an outstanding article went to Susan Glass for her article, “Best Audio Holiday Season Ever” (March 2015). A very surprised Susan made her way from the very back of the hall and spoke of the honor of sharing with and contributing to our community.
 
Thom then introduced Dallas city councilman Adam Medrano, who read a proclamation from Dallas Mayor Michael S. Rawlings, welcoming the convention to the city.
 
The convention then heard from Dr. Rose-Mary Rumbley, a historian and former schoolteacher, who enthralled us with stories about the Big D. Did you know that Dr. Pepper came from Dallas?
 
Dan Roberts, director of MD Support, described the ongoing experimenting with the LowViz Guide. The concept was born at the Las Vegas convention and, thanks to funding from MDF president/director Liz Trauernicht, ACB members got to test the app in Dallas.
 
Tracy Wright, director of content operations for Netflix, spoke of Netflix’s ongoing efforts to provide audio description. She played a sample from “House of Cards” and then informed her listeners that “Daredevil” is now described. She stated that Netflix is committed to creating more audio-described titles and to improving web site accessibility. At this moment there are 84 audio-described titles.
 
In recognition of its efforts, Kim Charlson presented the Audio Description Project 2015 Achievement Award for Media to Netflix.
 
One of Monday’s highlights was the report from NLS. Due to a serious leg injury, Karen Keninger, NLS director, was unable to present. Judy Dixon, NLS consumer relations officer, was an admirable substitute. Thanks to contracts with various audio producers, NLS will add approximately 3,000 titles a year. Conversion of the remaining cassette titles will be completed over the next two years. The library has contracted with several new producers for braille. BARD is adding books from network libraries, too. New features in BARD include: you can add a series to your wish list, and subscribe to know when another book in a series becomes available. The Android app was released June 10, though with no braille support; an iOS update will be released soon. NLS is working on implementation of UEB, which is mandated beginning January 2016.
 
The convention then heard from Shubham Banerjee of Braigo Labs Inc. This young man of 13 just finished 7th grade, and is on his way to developing an affordable, lightweight, quiet braille printer for under $500. As a science fair project, he designed a printer using LEGOs. After his initial experiment went viral, the LEGO Company provided materials. He also obtained help from Intel, and from his father, who has invested his own retirement money. Banerjee commented on how noisy our press room printers were. He didn’t think it was right for people to make a lot of money helping people, especially those in the developing world.
 
RSVA sponsored Banerjee’s appearance at the convention, and president Dan Sippl presented him with the Innovation and Inspiration Award for his tremendous innovation and spirit of social justice in developing an accessible braille printer.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning began with sponsor recognitions. Mike Godino gave the nominating committee report.  Mark Richert read a resolution honoring Walt Spillum, which passed. John Huffman gave the first readings of two proposals, one dealing with the number of officers and directors from any one state, the other dealing with voting eligibility and the record date.
 
The first program item of the morning was the awarding of ACB scholarships by Michael Garrett, ACB scholarship committee chair.  A diverse group of 18 students from all over the country was awarded ACB scholarships, and it was heartwarming to hear a little about the educational direction each one was heading.  (See “The 2015 ACB Scholarship Winners: Stars Shining Bright into the Future” in next month’s issue.)
 
After the scholarship presentations, the convention heard from Stuart Ishimaru, Director of the Equal Opportunity and Fairness Division of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  He discussed “The Americans with Disabilities Act 25th Anniversary: Thoughts along the Journey.”  The CFPB is responsible for ensuring that consumers have timely and understandable information to make responsible decisions about financial transactions, and for protecting consumers from unfair, deceptive or abusive acts and practices, and from discrimination.
 
One of Ishimaru’s previous jobs was working in Congress, where he worked on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it was being considered and enacted.  He also worked for the Department of Justice, and was a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for nine years.  He talked about the state of the disability movement at the time of the passage of the ADA and the hard work and teamwork that went into the creation and implementation of this landmark civil rights law.  In enacting the ADA, Congress recognized that physical, sensory, cognitive or intellectual disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society.  However, these same people are frequently precluded from doing so because of prejudice, antiquated attitudes, or the failure to remove societal or institutional barriers.
 
The passage and success of the ADA has been about grassroots advocacy. Even as we have seen the courts narrowing the protections of the ADA that Congress had clearly laid out in 1990, limiting its effectiveness, it’s the grassroots that helped bring about the 2008 ADA Amendments Act, which brought back the fundamental protections we fought for 25 years ago.
 
The convention next heard from Kevin Lynch, president and CEO of National Industries for the Blind, about 21st century jobs for people who are blind. While NIB still manufactures a lot of the products that the federal government needs, it has also branched out to more exciting opportunities in the areas of services.  NIB has been able to take advantage of advances in access technology to open up more manufacturing jobs, as well as professional services positions. 
 
In NIB’s Contract Management Support Program, blind people are trained as contract specialists to help the government close out its backlog of contracts.  Today NIB employs over 150 people in this program, and within the past 5 years these individuals have closed out over 220,000 contracts and identified more than $830,000,000 worth of de-obligated funds.
 
NIB is getting ready to launch another program, which will train people to work in the areas of cyber security.  They are also looking to launch an entrepreneurial program where they can establish opportunities for individuals who want to run and own their own businesses.
 
The final presentation of the morning was an update on ACB’s Audio Description Project from Joel Snyder. Seven of the eight Academy Award-nominated movies for best picture this year were audio-described.  The FCC established an advisory council with a video description subcommittee.  ADP has written a letter to Warner Brothers, asking them to provide audio description on all their DVDs. The White House contacted Snyder, asking that its audio-described tour be updated due to some significant renovations; ADP will update that tour.
 
Snyder’s presentation ended with the announcement of the winners of this year’s Audio Description Project awards. (See “American Council of the Blind Announces Winners of the 2015 Audio Description Awards” in next month’s issue.)
 
Caption:
Denise Colley, left, presents Susan Glass with the Ned E. Freeman Award. Susan, wearing a denim jacket overtop a dark green blouse and convention name badge, smiles broadly as she prepares to take the microphone.

Shubham Banerjee 
Caption:
Shubham Banerjee, wearing a dark gray suit, blue shirt and red tie, talks about the braille embosser he built out of LEGOs for a science project. He’s standing on stage behind the lectern microphone; the ACB banner is visible behind his head.

Stuart Ishimaru 
Caption:
Stuart Ishimaru, wearing a dark gray suit with a beige shirt and a navy tie with gold and white diagonal stripes, speaks into the lectern microphone on stage.  He talked about the ADA and the hard work that went into the creation and implementation of the law.