by Tom Mitchell and Judy Wilkinson
The Wednesday morning session was jam-packed with events and information. Amy Furash, national ADA coordinator for JPMorgan Chase, updated us on how the company is improving its services for blind and visually impaired people, including issuing new Braille Companion cards. Then the convention heard from Tom Wlodkowski, vice president of Comcast Accessibility, who spoke about Comcast’s Talking Guide and voice-controlled remote. He also showed two videos: “Emily’s Oz,” a commercial aired this year during the Oscar awards program, and a video on how that spot was made, both with audio description.
Afterward, Denise Colley presented the Vernon Henley Media Award to Comcast.
Mark Richert read a resolution requesting the National Endowment for the Arts to include audio description “as an inherent requirement, as appropriate, for all state art agency grants,” and that NEA create a national registry of sites where audio description is available, and that they work with ACB’s Audio Description Project to implement this proposal. He also tackled a second resolution requesting the FCC commit to a plan to hire at least three professional staff to serve in the Disability Rights Office of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau who have experience in working with blindness and deaf-blindness. Both resolutions were adopted.
John Huffman then gave the first reading of two amendments to the constitution and bylaws; one concerned terms on the board of publications, the other dealt with voting eligibility.
ACB secretary Ray Campbell introduced the first speaker, Joe Wilson from Talking Book Publishers, Inc. His talk, entitled “From Stage to Page: the Making of a Gun-Slinging Narrator,” not only included biographical information about himself, but also gave us the nuts and bolts of producing a book. Wilson’s sense of humor and informative talk on recording talking books, as well as his work in crisis intervention, were well received by all.
Joe Wilson, left, wearing a blue shirt with a pocket full of pens and pencils, begins to tell the convention how he became a talking book narrator, and what a day in his life as a narrator is like. Behind him is ACB secretary Ray Campbell, wearing a dark suit and white shirt, walking away from the podium microphone.
The convention next heard from Melanie Brunson, ACB’s executive director, who is retiring at the end of September. (For the full text, see “Bidding ACB a Very Fond Farewell and Reflecting on the Last Seventeen Years,” September 2015.) Four past presidents and current president Kim Charlson presented Melanie with a variety of thank-you gifts. The convention unanimously adopted a resolution thanking her for her service.
Janet Dickelman then gave the convention report. Next year’s convention will be held in Minneapolis, Minn.; the 2017 convention, in Sparks, Nev.
After Janet’s report was a discussion of radio reading services and their role in the 21st century, presented by Mike Duke, Director, Mississippi Radio Reading Service, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Jackson, Miss.; and Steve Cumming, former station manager, North Texas Radio for the Blind and Austin Information Radio, Dallas, Texas.
Rob Haverty of Microsoft gave a report on Windows 10. Microsoft is trying to wrap up the accessibility of Windows 10, he stated. Microsoft’s new mission is “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more;” to achieve that, the company is developing technology that is accessible to everyone. Microsoft is changing its focus from creating specialized accessibility solutions to integrating them into mainstream solutions. “Accessible technology doesn’t just benefit people with disabilities,” he said.
Haverty mentioned that Microsoft’s partnership with ACB has been valuable, that members had already provided feedback on Windows 10. Several vendors had visited Microsoft’s campus to work with developers on resolving compatibility issues.
Rob Haverty of Microsoft, standing at the podium microphone wearing a dark gray suit, blue shirt and red diamond-patterned tie, tells the convention about Windows 10 and its accessibility.
Windows 10 will become available on July 29th for computers and tablets. He advised those who use screen readers or magnification software to check with their AT vendor about Windows 10 compatibility before upgrading. After you upgrade, Haverty noted, there are three things you need to do: 1) Set your web browser to the program you’re most used to using with your access software (e.g. Internet Explorer); 2) Install a third-party PDF reader such as Adobe Reader; 3) Use Outlook and Office desktop applications. Microsoft’s new Internet app, called Edge, will not be accessible at launch, he added.
During Google’s diamond sponsor presentation, Charlson asked Eve Anderson, engineering and product manager-core team at Google Accessibility, a series of questions. Anderson informed everyone that accessibility is part of Google’s mission. Google runs more than a dozen internal courses, which they hope to make available to the general public. With regard to CAPTCHAs, screen readers can now click the “I’m a human” button with a backup of a better-sounding audio CAPTCHA. She encouraged feedback and mentioned Google’s impact challenge, a fund to help non-profits working with people with disabilities. They are looking for innovative ideas – not just technology, but process too.
Emerald sponsor Verizon’s Jeffrey A. Kramer, executive director of public policy, Strategic Alliance, stated Verizon hopes to have offerings in the marketplace soon for such things as large remotes and set-top boxes. He invited us to go into the stores where they want to work with customers one on one.
Ruby sponsor Sprint’s Kelly Egan, blindness and low vision outreach specialist, emphasized Sprint’s commitment to stuff for us. Sprint has a wide variety of devices, from the simple phones that talk right out of the box up to the smartest of smart phones. She spoke of Sprint’s new “All In” plan: $80 for one line, with all data, voice and text. She told us about the new “direct to you” plan that is being tested in several cities, where technicians will come to you.
Huffman presented two amendments relating to our record date. The first proposal would establish the record date in the constitution under Article III, Section C. It passed with a friendly amendment. The second proposal would amend Bylaw 2 to reflect the fact that affiliates could add new members after March 15th, but if they paid after the record date, they would not be eligible to vote at that year’s convention. It passed too.
Richert presented two resolutions, one dealing with Microsoft and Windows 10, and another concerning the Department of Justice and the ADA. Both passed.
Carla Ruschival introduced Chen Guangcheng, “The Barefoot Lawyer” and his interpreter Danica Mills, who held us spellbound as he recounted his life as a blind man in China, his work on behalf of women and the disabled, his imprisonment and house arrest and his harrowing escape to the American embassy in 2012 and subsequent arrival with his family in the U.S. His book is available from NLS.
Chen Guangcheng, left, stands tall behind the podium microphone, wearing a dark gray suit, light gray tie, white shirt, and dark sunglasses. He talks about his escape from house arrest in China. Danica Mills, seated on the right with a table microphone in front of her, wearing a white three-quarter-sleeve jacket overtop a black dress, translates his speech.
Sidney Rocke, chief counsel for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, gave an update on currency access. He reviewed his “crash course” in the history of the meaningful access issue. He stated that no other currency in the world is as difficult to modify, but that we’ve learned from other countries what not to do. He presented an array of challenges facing the bureau: with tactile markings, bills can’t be stacked; they gum up the works of cash registers, vending machines, etc.; plastic melts; bills wear out. He mentioned the 2020 $10 note (with a woman as well as markings). The bureau is still working on issues such as durability. The bureau continues to implement high contrast on bills (other than the $1 which, by law, cannot be changed). They are working with NLS to distribute currency readers: 30,000 have been distributed or are on order. The iNote App is also available.
Brian Charlson raised the issue of problems increasingly encountered by non-citizens unable to get currency readers. The convention adopted a resolution on this issue.
Dan Spoone and Dan Dillon, co-chairs of ACB’s resource development committee, along with Donna Brown (walk committee chair) and Leslie Spoone (auction chair), shared a lot of good news. The auction raised $19,320; the walk raised more than $51,000 (as of July 9th). The RDC has established five giving society levels; so far 193 people have pledged over $201,000.
Ruschival then presented the treasurer’s report. She reminded attendees that because of a huge bequest, we were in the black last year. The board has a plan for a balanced budget by 2017.
Revenue figures for 2014 came in at $1,158,625. The ACB Angels Program raised $4,000. Telemarketing raised just $89,082. Fundraising revenue was $106,498. The Audio Description Project brought in $23,150. Expenses for 2014 were $1,065,887. Income from the 2014 convention was $83,344. The 2014 surplus was $247,728.
Lane Waters, ACB’s controller, congratulated the board on its efforts toward a balanced budget. Audited financial statements are available on ACB’s web site.
Sandra Ruconich of Salt Lake City, Utah shared her story about becoming our Braille Authority of North America representative. BANA makes rules regarding how braille and tactile graphics are written. Its web site has lots of information on the Unified English Braille Code. New knitting and crochet guidelines have been posted, and work is beginning on the braille music code.
Michael Garrett, chair of the ACB Enterprises and Services (ACBES) board, gave a brief report. All our thrift stores are profitable. He introduced Jerry Cooper, manager of the Lubbock store since 2003, who has brought in $1.5 million in his years of service. The convention gave Jerry a huge round of applause; Jerry thanked the Minnesota office, his staff, the board and the membership.
Richert presented resolution 2015-08 regarding regulations for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which passed.
This day was all business. Huffman read two amendments to the constitution and bylaws. The first added a sentence to Article V: “Any member of the Board of Publications, whether appointed or elected, who serves more than half of the assigned duration of a term shall have the term counted as a full term served.” The amendment was adopted. A second amendment would change Article IV, Sections A and B by removing the last sentence from each section, which specifies, in the case of officers, that no more than two may be from a single state, and, in the case of directors, no more than one may be from a single state. The following sentences would be added to Section C: “Not more than three voting members of the Board of Directors of any one state at the time they assume the office. In no case shall three officers or three directors be elected from a single state.” Following discussion and a vote, that amendment was defeated.
Throughout the day, Richert read resolutions. Space does not permit a full discussion of all resolutions considered. Resolution 2015-09 expressing ACB’s dissatisfaction with the National Council on Disability’s failure to publicize the availability of best practices for the provision of accessible drug label information was adopted. Resolution 2015-11, which calls upon the the Academy for Certification of Visual Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) to establish standards to ensure the confidence of assistive technology trainers, was adopted. Resolution 2015-12 calls upon Greyhound Lines, Inc. to cease charging blind people administrative fees for using their telephone services, and to make its web site accessible; it, too, was adopted.
Following a short break, it was time for elections. Because the offices of ACB president, first vice president, secretary and treasurer were uncontested, all of those office holders were re-elected to serve new terms. However, Marlaina Lieberg elected not to run for another term as second vice president. John McCann of Tucson, Ariz., was unanimously elected to that office. This created a vacancy in the board of directors, and four candidates stepped forward to fill that position: Jeff Bishop, Tucson, Ariz.; Dan Dillon, Hermitage, Tenn.; Doug Powell, Falls Church, Va.; and Fred Scheigert, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. After the first election, the two with the fewest votes were dropped, and a runoff election held; the winner was Jeff Bishop.
While the ballots were being counted, the assembly considered more resolutions. Resolution 2015-14 commending Netflix for being the first Internet content provider to incorporate audio description into its movies was adopted. Resolution 2015-16, which calls upon the Rehabilitation Services Administration to adopt regulations that establish clear requirements for the training of personnel who will be permitted to provide services under the OIB program, and that funding be provided only to those private agencies whose personnel meet such standards, was also adopted. The resolutions thanking the hotel staff, the convention host committee and the ACB of Texas, and the volunteers who assisted convention guests were all adopted. Other resolutions concerned inaccessible apps for iOS devices, guide dog safety, and the Social Security Administration; all were adopted.
After several announcements and a final door prize, the 2015 conference and convention adjourned.
The ACB board, officers and executive director. Top row, left to right: Jeff Thom, George Holliday, Dan Spoone, Ray Campbell, Allan Peterson, Michael Garrett, Mitch Pomerantz. Bottom row, seated, left to right: David Trott, Jeff Bishop, Carla Ruschival, Denise Colley, Kim Charlson, Katie Frederick, John McCann, Melanie Brunson, and Berl Colley.