by Penny Reeder
August 27, 2020
President Dan Spoone called the meeting to order at 8:02 p.m. Eastern time. ACB secretary Denise Colley called the roll, and all board members were present, as well as a number of invited guests representing various ACB committees, and ACB staff members. The agenda, which had been distributed to the board via e-mail, was approved unanimously.
A first order of business was the ACB “Mission Moment,” a feature of each board meeting which celebrates people who personify the core principles which guide ACB. To recognize the many contributions made by Berl Colley during his years of service to ACB, as a member and officer in the Washington Council of the Blind affiliate, an ACB board member for eight years, an enthusiastic tour director during several ACB conventions, chairman of the history committee, a member of the resource development committee, and an active proponent of leadership training at the state and national levels, the board enthusiastically approved a motion to name ACB’s leadership training program the Berl Colley Leadership Training Institute.
David Trott captured the feeling of the board when he said, “This is the most appropriate thing we can do to honor a member who contributed so much to ACB and all of the new people who will benefit from the work of the Institute.”
President Dan Spoone opened his report by commenting on the many ways our virtual conference and convention represented the amazing spirit of our ACB family. Our 2020 conference and convention provided a wonderful experience for more than 1,600 people who registered to attend. There were five separate channels broadcasting continuously over ACB Radio for eight days. Volunteers who facilitated the Zoom presentations made it possible for us to involve attendees in more than 250 hours of presentations.
An unanticipated but welcome result of our successful national convention is that so many of our state affiliates are now planning and hosting virtual conventions of their own.
Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to have ended by the time we host our annual leadership meetings (usually in February), Spoone made a motion to make these meetings virtual. Speaking in favor of the proposal, executive director Eric Bridges said, “If the world landscape won’t change significantly, then we have to adapt, ourselves, in order to protect the health and well-being of our members.”
Discussion was animated as board members considered new possibilities for advocating in innovative ways, for example, holding meetings with representatives in local districts, or with staff members for legislative committees that are considering specific pieces of legislation, hosting legislative seminar(s) at different times, and expanding the number of people whom we can involve in our advocacy efforts. The motion carried unanimously.
President Spoone thanked Ron Brooks for his excellent chairmanship of the advocacy steering committee, and announced that Jeff Thom will serve as the new chairman. Jeff and Clark Rachfal, ACB’s director of advocacy and governmental affairs, will now begin planning the February leadership meetings. Jeff encourages ACB members to send their ideas for these meetings to him and Clark.
Ray Campbell reported on formation of the resolutions ad hoc committee, which he chairs. The goal of the committee is to review the process by which resolutions are submitted, debated, shared with members, and voted upon. Ray said that the committee has invited four new members to join them in their deliberations, with the goal of involving new voices in their discussion. He expects the committee to begin their deliberations shortly after Labor Day. The committee plans to make a presentation regarding their recommendations during the leadership meetings.
Kenneth Semien Sr., chair of the DKM First-Timers Committee, asked the board to approve that committee’s recommended changes in policies regarding ACB first-timers’ and JPMorgan Chase award winners’ participation at ACB virtual conventions. The committee’s requested policy changes, which will permit the committee to sponsor award winners who have attended virtual conventions to attend in-person conventions as well, were approved unanimously.
Bridges noted that many aspects of our virtual convention have led to the thoroughly positive outcome of generating renewed interest in and attracting new members to ACB. Members old and new appreciated their real-time access to convention presentations on ACB Radio channels and via Alexa skills and Zoom meetings, and our podcasts, as well as the coverage on YouTube, all of which have generated renewed excitement about ACB and our special-interest affiliates and attracted involvement of blind and visually impaired people who might never have been able to attend an in-person convention. In addition, our community calls and the new ACB Community Facebook group continue to attract new members and generate increasingly meaningful involvement from people who are becoming more actively engaged in ACB.
ACB has reached out to its advisory board to solicit their advice regarding expanding the roles of not only ACB Radio, but all of ACB’s media as well. The ACB Radio Steering Committee will also be further defining this focus on ACB media.
ACB’s e-mail list for subscribers wishing to receive the daily schedule of community calls, which launched in May, already had more than 1,000 subscribers as of the date of this board meeting, and the Facebook ACB Community group, which launched in June, had more than 1,000 members as well. ACB members continue to step up to assist with facilitating Zoom community calls, and Alexa’s expanding skills are bringing in even more listeners. Since March, there have been 902 community calls and more than 30,000 participants. Cindy Hollis invited members of the board to become more involved in community calls and events. Cindy announced the addition of an intern who will be able to assist her with community calls and events, 25 hours each week, through November. The internship is being funded by the state of California, where Natalia “Nat” Ratcliff is a university student.
Clark Rachfal shared several items with the board, including telling them how Apple’s recruitment of blind musicians for the Apple TV show “See” stemmed from a question Claire had asked at a conference she and Clark attended last fall.
Clark said that the advocacy staff has been extremely active on the accessible voting front, and an increasing number of ACB state affiliates have achieved success in obtaining accessible ballots for blind voters who are opting to vote by mail. Dan added that in some cases, newly passed legislation will also permit increased curbside assistance at in-person polling places. Clark and Claire are planning to increase their focus on providing voting education and information to our members.
The advocacy staff has also been working to persuade the FCC to expand the number of broadcast areas designated for requiring audio description. After initially opposing the FCC’s proposed expansion of broadcast areas to 10, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) withdrew their opposition, although they have continued to advocate for a longer delay in implementation. Clark said that ACB affiliates’ comments on the FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) have been very helpful in making this audio description expansion a reality. Clark recently received word indicating that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) will drop their opposition to the expansion and will no longer insist on delaying implementation.
Clark and Kim Charlson reported progress in persuading the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make availability of audio description a requirement for considering movies as nominees for academy awards. Kim read aloud a letter which David Rubin, president of the Academy, had sent to ACB that outlined this change along with other efforts to improve the Academy’s attention to diversity — on-screen, in hiring people with disabilities, and with respect to connecting with audiences. He also announced the Academy’s intention to add audio description to an increased number of older movies.
Clark described ACB’s expanded interactions with Achilles Track Club and the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). This work will lead to enhanced accessibility and improved opportunities for people who are blind who wish to participate in diverse exercise and sporting activities and competitive athletic events.
Tony Stephens, ACB’s director of development, reported that ACB surpassed its convention-related fund-raising goals in every area. The auction brought in 20 percent more money than in 2019, individual sponsorships yielded over $17,000 (up from $13,000 from the 2019 conference and convention), the Braille Forum raffle brought in significantly more funds, and even corporate sponsorships were increased significantly despite the pandemic. ACB is benefitting from advice from the major donors committee, especially with respect to the direct mail and online fund-raising campaigns. We are developing new ways of identifying donors and targeting grant funding opportunities. Recently Tony met with Gibney Family Foundation and is pleased to report that ACB is advancing our engagement with that foundation.
Chief financial officer Nancy Marks-Becker reported that the Minneapolis office’s move to new space across the street from their original location had gone well. The Internet was initially down for almost a week, but the office was able to cope with the inconvenience. Office staff members are enjoying the increased efficiency that the new office configuration promotes. David Trott, ACB treasurer, congratulated Nancy and staff for their excellent work keeping board spending in line with budget categories.
Deb Cook Lewis, chair of the board of publications, reported that the board and the public awareness steering committee are evaluating ACB’s e-mail lists with the goal of consolidating e-mail communications, reducing duplication, and assuring that all of our communications adhere to ACB’s core values. Deb said that the last time ACB considered its e-mail lists was in 2013. She encouraged board members to attend the next board of publications meeting, scheduled for Sept. 1. After the BOP approves any proposed changes, it will prepare a report for submission at the November board meeting. Deb told the board that Bob Hachey has resigned as moderator of several ACB lists because of his serious illness, and Deb and several board members gratefully acknowledged Bob’s many years of outstanding service in this role.
Doug Powell, chair of the rehabilitation issues task force, had submitted the group’s comprehensive white paper on the state of rehabilitation services for people who are blind to the board via e-mail, in advance of the meeting. Doug said that the task force expects to work with Clark and hopes to start conversations with partner organizations and with legislators so as to prepare for the next anticipated update of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The board unanimously endorsed the work of the task force and thanked them for preparing the white paper.
Peggy Garrett, chair of the ACB Multicultural Affairs Committee (MCAC), submitted the committee’s request for a small increase in their annual budget of $1,000, to hire a facilitator to expand diversity within ACB, including in the organization’s leadership; to attract and mentor more ethnically and racially diverse ACB members; and to provide education emphasizing the benefits of a culturally diverse membership. The MCAC anticipates hosting two two-hour educational sessions, and following up with activities and education to recruit, mentor, and further involve more culturally diverse members within ACB. Their preliminary plans are to hold a joint session in October, in collaboration with the ACB Membership call, and to host another session at the leadership meetings. They would like to work with Jane Dunham, who has more than 50 years of experience working in the field of diversity training, as well as with people with disabilities. The board approved increasing the budgetary line item for the MCAC by $1,000, and agreed that ACB needs to begin collecting data via our membership database to tell us exactly where we are in terms of the diversity of our membership.
Gabriel Griffith, resolutions committee chair, and several members of the resolutions committee presented 11 proposed resolutions. Discussion of each followed, and the board approved and prioritized 10 of the proposed resolutions. The 2020 resolutions summaries were published in the November issue.
The meeting adjourned at 1:43 a.m. Eastern time on Aug. 28, 2020.
October 13, 2020
President Spoone called the October 13 meeting to order at 8:15 p.m. Eastern time. All board members were present, as well as a number of ACB staff members and several guests. The board approved the meeting agenda as submitted, and the draft minutes from the July 3 pre-convention board meeting.
During this meeting’s Mission Moment, Spoone and the board congratulated Sharon Lovering for her many contributions to the success and efficiency of the American Council of the Blind. President Spoone said, “Sharon is a person who, working quietly behind the scenes, represents ACB so well.”
ACB receives over 1,500 telephone calls each month, he continued, and Sharon answers or redirects most of these calls. She records each daily schedule of community calls, and those phone boxes receive between 200 and 300 hits every week.
Board members shared their many positive appraisals of Sharon’s work and their gratitude.
Next, Kelly Gasque and Tony Stephens discussed the annual report, which had been shared with board members via the e-mail discussion list in advance of the meeting. (Read the 2019 annual report at https://acb.org/sites/default/files/ACB%202019%20Annual%20Report.pdf.)
Tony said that 2019 was a year of building a more solid foundation for ACB. It was a year that began with some very significant challenges. Our annual report reflects those difficulties and ACB’s success in weathering those storms and coming out stronger on the other side.
The report is laid out in a unique foldable format, which is appealing to print readers who can enjoy the tactile and visual experience of reading the printed report. Equally important, Tony said, is that the report is completely accessible. Achieving this level of accessibility was a significant challenge for Kelly and Tony, and they are proud of the completely accessible result.
Nancy Marks-Becker and Janet Dickelman summarized their exploration of lessons that were learned from this year’s first-of-its-kind virtual convention. A facilitator assisted the convention committee’s exploration and review, and their core take-aways included these: The 2020 convention represented a significant increase in attendance, an expanded and successful use of technology. The entire convention was streamed, and staff and volunteers worked tirelessly together to present a considerably expanded number and diversity of program sessions.
The convention steering committee has already begun to hold weekly meetings to assure that future conventions will be equally — or even more — engaging and inclusive. ACB anticipates that future conventions will always provide a virtual component, to accommodate people who, for whatever reason, cannot travel to participate with us in person.
Tony Stephens and Rick Morin followed Janet and Nancy’s convention lessons wrap up by sharing highlights from the convention survey which 2020 convention attendees completed. ACB received 637 responses (three times as many responses as in prior years). There were 1,400 positive comments and 850 suggestions. Janet noted that 100 survey respondents completed their surveys on the phone with staff and volunteers from the Minneapolis ACB office. She thanked those who assisted people on the phone lines and expressed appreciation for the more comprehensive survey results which were achieved.
Some of the interesting data which the completed surveys revealed included the following: Thirty-five percent of respondents who attended the convention have some vision. Five percent were fully sighted. People in both of these groups were extremely appreciative of the video which we were able to provide along with audio convention presentations.
A difficulty which many convention attendees reported involved confusion about what was taking place when, and where, and how to find specific events. Several respondents reported liking the “Crowd Compass” which another blindness organization utilized to inform their convention attendees about what was taking place and where and how to access specific events. ACB is considering implementing a similar strategy for future conventions.
Other desires expressed by respondents included a wish by many to talk with exhibitors, and Janet said that the committee is investigating strategies to make this possible next summer.
A much higher percentage of attendees attended our general sessions than has been the case in in-person conventions in prior years. Rick said, “This year, lots of people attended general session – and lots of people liked it!”
Another important take-away is that many respondents said that in future years they want the ability to conduct ACB business and to vote. Dan noted that several ACB affiliates are already doing this, and it appears that the D.C. not-for-profit code does have provisions that can make this an acceptable option for the national organization.
Rick said that ACB will continue to mine the survey results for other kinds of data. Analysis of the results will continue to yield interesting data which will be useful for a more in-depth understanding of our members and affiliates and making plans for future conferences and events.
A primary goal of the October 13 board meeting was to reach a decision about the 2021 ACB convention in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and our expectations for the coming year with respect to restrictions associated with the public health crisis. When the convention subcommittee met at the end of August, their recommendation — reached unanimously — was to hold the 2021 convention as a virtual event.
Nancy explained that we have a contract with the Hyatt in Phoenix involving a large commitment for purchasing rooms as well as food and drink. Our attorneys will require us to sign a contract waiver before they can give us any legal advice about negotiating with the hotel. Janet and Nancy expressed some optimism that we can call upon the same arguments we utilized with respect to canceling our 2020 commitment to the hotel in Schaumburg, but there are no guarantees regarding the hotel’s receptivity to our justifications for cancellation.
Dan and Mark Richert pointed out that there might well be value in terms of offering future business to Hyatt hotels that are seeking business in future anticipated convention locations.
After hearing the recommendations from the convention steering committee and summarized results from the post-convention survey, each board member had a chance to express their thoughts on the recommendation to make our 2021 conference and convention a virtual event. The board unanimously decided that our 2021 convention will be virtual. The motion also incorporated the desire for ACB to work toward an in-person convention in Omaha in 2022. Additionally, the steering committee will work with Hyatt Corporate to find properties that could serve as future convention venues as a way to soften the negotiations. Every board member said that our first priority for making any decision must be the safety and well-being of our members.
Dan thanked each member of the board for their thoughtful deliberations and discussion. He pointed out the advantages associated with having made this decision right now, relieving the convention steering committee from significant stress, and giving us an opportunity to plan more comprehensively than was possible this year (when we weren’t able to reach a similar decision until the end of March).
Dan continued, “All of us want to exercise our democratic process at next summer’s convention.” Therefore, he said, he had asked Pat Sheehan to chair an ad hoc committee to look at ways ACB can virtually conduct our business at next summer’s convention. The committee’s membership will be announced at the November 13 board meeting, and he expects the committee to present a recommendation for conducting ACB business at the 2021 virtual convention during the leadership meetings in February.
Ray Campbell reported that he has nearly finished recruiting members for the resolutions ad hoc committee. They plan to host a community call to solicit ideas from ACB members on reforming the resolutions process, and then to present recommendations to the board at the next scheduled board meeting.
The board approved a motion to permit the CFO to access up to a designated amount of reserved dollars in the unlikely event that ACB will need to tap these funds before the end of the fiscal year. Nancy said that consideration of ACB’s current financial status leads her to believe that such an eventuality is, in fact, very unlikely.
The October 13 ACB board meeting concluded with an executive session, at which the board unanimously adopted one motion. The meeting adjourned at 12:15 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, October 14.