compiled by Ardis Bazyn
"How to involve junior members in ACB affiliates" was the topic of our last membership focus call. Most participants on the call felt that conventions offer the best way to entice young people to an affiliate. Chapters can do similar events or topics, but the chances of having a number of younger attendees are more likely at a convention. We identified some programs, topics, and events that affiliates have tried and some ideas on possible others to implement in order to draw young members.
The Washington affiliate has had several conventions where a youth conference offered a vocational program and invited as many as 20 youth. The program used rehabilitation training funding. The youth program would have separate speaker and training times and would join WCB for its Saturday programming, which included an employment panel and state agency personnel. The announcements were sent through the state agency database of transitional students. WCB also holds scholarship events at each convention where members can meet the winners and interact with them.
The Pennsylvania affiliate offers scholarships to junior members so they can attend conventions. It was suggested to have a form for students under 18 to give to a parent to encourage them to come and the organization to pay their way or the parent sign a waiver to allow the student to room with an older student. The Texas affiliate sends announcements to the special services offices for high schools and colleges. A Tech Olympics had 120 blind youth entering competitions in the use of specific technology: magnification, computer skills, braille devices, etc.
Contacting the vision teachers throughout the state and offering assistance or mentoring to students or parents would be a good way to connect. Contact your state's board of education, the director of education in your state, or school district to find vision teachers in your area. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has a registry of blind students. Since there is a federal allocation for books, they find where schools have registered visually impaired students.
School districts who have VI students would know if they had students, so you could circulate your events to those schools. APH would have a list of trustees for each state. Services are provided to VI students through the regional library. Your local adaptive services agency would offer tech training to students. Your chapter could offer an intro to braille to get to know your members and promote braille. Public libraries have bookmobiles; make friends with them so you can share your information with visually impaired readers. Your chapter or affiliate could host students throughout your area once a year to let them know of your existence.
A member who works for an independent living center invited youth she met to the affiliate events. Youth camps for students with disabilities might allow your affiliate members to meet youth or allow someone to speak about your affiliate or chapter. Another participant said the affiliate had two $2,000 scholarships for college students. Applications were sent to the school for the blind, high schools, and state colleges. Tennessee gives scholarships and keeps in touch with scholarship winners and requires them to give a midyear report of their achievements in school. They can share the update with their closest chapter.
Chapters or an affiliate can work on starting a student affiliate in your state. You could plan award days, band concerts, give a braille achievement award at the local school, or play accessible board games. If a local school with blind students has a science project, you could ask them to share their experience. If you offer to feed them (e.g., a pizza party), they'll probably come. If members get interested in them, they'll appreciate the mentoring from an active blind adult.
RS Games are accessible for blind students. One is Quentin's Playhouse, which is popular. Your chapter could hold a match between students and adults. If your school for the blind has a game station, you can ask them to teach chapter members how to play. They'd probably enjoy meeting interested adults.
If you find young people either on your local paratransit board or attending meetings, build relationships with these students. Social media is often used more by younger people. You might ask a student to teach you how to use it. Tandem biking could also be an activity of interest for younger members or other youth you meet. You'd be an interesting role model if you invite a young person to join you. If your local area has a tandem biking event with celebrities involved, youth might be excited about this annual event and the rides leading up to it.
Members should try to get connected with parents of visually impaired groups, such as National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) or the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) and their organization of parents. ACB also has a families chapter.
Get involved with the Braille Challenge. Visit www.braillechallenge.org. Scoring is performed by certified transcribers; help is also needed for hosting events. You can meet the students at break time. You can also sponsor events for them. If your area has a transition program, have a booth at an event or speak as a role model, career option, or tell them about your chapter. Find out if your state has a summer program for students moving from high school to college and see how you can get involved. Many states have Read Across America challenges. Offer to tutor or read a story and talk about braille.
Other suggestions for meeting parents and visually impaired youth were given. If you hear of conferences for transcribers and teachers of braille, your affiliate or chapter should consider having a booth and/or speakers. NAPVI and AER have state or regional conferences where you could have a booth. State and regional conferences for people with disabilities may have visually impaired youth attending or parents trying to find information. Contact vision teachers or school districts and have members offer to tutor children who have difficulty in braille.
Since there are so many ways to find young people, why not have your local membership committee work on a couple of these efforts? Have fun reaching out to students. If your affiliate would like assistance with membership, give the membership committee a call.