by DeAnna Noriega, Cindy Van Winkle, Jenine Stanley, Paul Edwards and Sharon Lovering
Outgoing president Christopher Gray called the session to order. The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps of Cretin-Derham Hall High School (St. Paul, Minn.) presented and posted the colors. David Trott led the Pledge of Allegiance, and Stephanie Dawn of Duluth, Minn., led the assembly in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Chuck Hamilton, Director of the Minnesota Agency for the Blind, read a gubernatorial proclamation declaring the week of June 30-July 7 to be "American Council of the Blind Week" in Minnesota. He gave an entertaining and informative talk on Minnesota's contributions to the advancement of the blind.
Carla Ruschival announced the return of the Convention Ear, a reading of the convention newspaper and convention information by phone for those who can't access convention information through large print or braille. Alice Malbone gave an $800 donation at last year's convention to assist in bringing it back and HumanWare generously stepped in to make this expensive option available once more. Also, convention-goers could drop by the information desk to download the newspaper on their own thumb drives or flash cards or access it online on the ACB web site.
Gray's report began with a list of staff, their family and friends and their contributions to the convention and ACB. The assembled members sang "Happy Anniversary" to Mike and Elaine Vining, who were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary. Gray outlined the gains in financial stability made and the successful achievements of the organization through structured negotiations and the growing recognition of ACB as the voice speaking for all visually impaired people. He credited Brenda Dillon and Ron Milliman for developing partnerships and working to diversify ACB finances. He also touched on the visibility ACB has gained through ACB Radio, making mention of the newest channel, ACB Radio World, which provides programming in five languages. Marlaina Lieberg was able to share that the ACB Radio coverage of the convention was underwritten by her friend Ronnie Milsap. The hall gave a rousing thanks to this well-known country music star.
Richard Mander, CEO of HumanWare, spoke about the direction of his company and commitment to partnering with ACB, including being our highest level corporate sponsor of the convention. Janet Dickelman, president, American Council of the Blind of Minnesota and Ken Rodgers, chair of the local host committee, welcomed conventioneers as well. Cathy Skivers introduced this year's first-timers, Susan L'Esperance of Columbia City, Ind., a talented quilter and fundraiser, and Dewayne Hodges of Hot Springs, Ark., was already making many friends with his musical abilities.
Ann Olsen and Chris Gray then presented the new life members. Some of this year's new life members were surprised by their affiliates; others chose this way of showing their commitment to ACB. Plaques were awarded to Peggy Williams, Hubert Ward, Arthur Thomas, Penny Pennington, Leroy Welch, Dan Maddox, Ralph Smitherman, Susan L'Esperance, Warren and Julia Toyama, and Terrie Arnold.
Jerry Annunzio, chair of the credentials committee, reported that Utah was losing five floor votes, but planned to appeal the committee decision.
Then, finally, it was time for the roll call of affiliates. This is a part of the opening night events that traditionalists love and others find exhausting. As secretary Donna Seliger called the roll, two affiliates made donations: Alaska Independent Blind donated $500 to NELDS, and Hawaii Association of the Blind donated $1,000 to NELDS and $5,000 to "The Braille Forum."
Gray called the session to order shortly after 8:30 a.m. Brenda Dillon announced the many businesses sponsoring our convention. Then Ron Milliman, chair of the Monthly Monetary Support Program, shared the many ways individuals could join up while at convention. The convention then adopted the credentials report, with an amendment to restore 5 votes to Utah.
Joel Snyder of the National Captioning Institute gave an update on programming sponsored by NCI taking place during convention, and reminded us of the SAP channel and how, as television moves into all digital, the SAP channel will go away and the many concerns surrounding this. He mentioned a resolution that would be coming before us later in the week, which would ensure that a representative knowledgeable on description issues would be on the board overseeing the digital conversion.
The convention adopted the standing rules and convention program as printed.
Ray Campbell, chair of the constitution and bylaws committee, gave the first readings of several amendments. After a few more announcements, Gray turned the reins over to M.J. Schmitt, who would chair the remainder of the morning's session. He noted that this would be M.J.'s last time in this capacity as, after this convention, she would no longer be on the ACB board.
Ardis Bazyn, chair of the membership committee, presented the Membership Growth Award, which went to the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys, an affiliate which doubled their membership over the last year. Schmitt then called upon Nola McKinney, chair of the awards committee, to give some awards. The Robert S. Bray Award was presented posthumously to Norma Schecter of California for her many years of contribution to the production of braille textbooks; Catherine Skivers accepted the award. McKinney next presented the Special Achievement Award to Linda Dardarian and Lainey Feingold, the attorneys who have worked tirelessly on behalf of blind people for several years now on ensuring equal access to ATMs and point-of-sale machines, accessible bank statements and web sites and so much more. The Jim Olsen Distinguished Service Award went to Leroy Johnson for his years of devoted service to ACB.
Awards continued with Mike Duke, chair of the Board of Publications, presenting the Ned E. Freeman Writing Award to Ed and Toni Eames for their article, "The Recruitment and Retention of Committed Volunteers." Honorable mentions were given to Donna Smith and Michael Byington, whose articles made the race a very close one. Charlie Hodge then announced that the board had approved a new award, the Hollis K. Liggett Braille Free Press Award, which will be presented by the BOP in recognition of an affiliate publication which demonstrates excellence in writing and best journalistic practices. Nominations must be received by the chair of the BOP by Jan. 15, 2008 to be considered for this award.
Many people then stood up to share M.J. stories. After a few door prize drawings, the convention heard from John R. Vaughn, chair of the National Council on Disability. He spoke about the biggest challenge we face as blind people: attitudes. The NCD is a 15-person board appointed by the President whose mission is to promote programs, policies and practices which enhance and integrate the lives of disabled people in society.
Next we heard from Richard Keeling, senior tax analyst of Atlanta, Ga. He talked about new initiatives from the IRS Office of Stakeholder Partnerships: Education and Communication (SPEC). The goal of SPEC is to reach out to working disabled people to educate them about tax credits, free tax preparation and financial assistance. SPEC's headquarters is in Atlanta, with 42 territories throughout the U.S., totaling 500 employees. Many partners and coalitions help them do their work. He also talked about the Earned Income Tax Credit and how it is a major financial aid for the working poor that often goes unused. He mentioned that many of the IRS documents have now been made available in accessible text as well as BRF files for braille production.
Then Oral Miller filled us in on the three activities taking place this year in the Recreation Zone: water aerobics, audible darts, and a tabletop game called Showdown, which is similar to air hockey.
If ACB convention programs had themes, Tuesday's was Youth and Communication. Judi Cannon, chair of the nominating committee, presented the slate of officers. The convention also adopted amendment 07-01.
Al Lavoti began the focus on youth with a history of the Indiana State School for the Blind and Visually Impaired's Leos, the only Leo club in the country composed of 100 percent blind youth. The group currently has 17 members. Six students and two advisors attended this year's convention. The group performs a number of community service projects and assists at the state Lions functions as well as researching and keeping up to date on happenings within the major blindness organizations.
Scholarship committee chair Patty Slaby presented the 2007 scholarship winners. There were 19 winners, 14 of whom were present at the convention. They were:
- Floyd Qualls Memorial Scholarships
- Kari Bailey, Topeka, Kan.
- Claire Stanley, Mission Viejo, Calif.
- Lindsey Hastings, San Diego, Calif.
- Leah Irish, Kent, Ohio
- Dr. Mae Davidow Memorial Scholarship
- Rebekah Balmer, Elizabethtown, Pa.
- William G. Corey Memorial Scholarship
- Yvonne Garris, Lancaster, Pa.
- NIB/Grant M. Mack Memorial Scholarship
- Daniel Perkins, Overland Park, Kan.
- Arnold Sadler Memorial Scholarship
- Sharon McLennon, Yonkers, N.Y.
- Kellie Cannon Memorial Scholarship
- Karl Belanger, Dover, N.H.
- Dr. S. Bradley Burson Memorial Science Scholarship
- Elizabeth Kelley, Oakland, Calif.
- Bay State Council of the Blind Scholarship
- Keith Willette, Shrewsbury, Mass.
- John Hebner Memorial Scholarship
- Ray Campbell, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
- Eunice Fiorito Memorial Scholarship
- James Solem, Lewiston, Idaho
- Ross N. & Patricia Pangere Foundation Scholarships
- Keith Edgarton, Durham, N.C.
- Brian Petraits, Brownsburg, Ind.
- Alma Murphey Memorial Scholarship
- Jennifer Barrow, Hull, Mass.
- Richard Bennet of Maine Memorial Scholarship
- John Millay, Surry, Maine
- Guide Dogs for the Blind Dorthea and Roland Bohde Scholastic Achievement Scholarship
- Sati Wullabbs, Toppenish, Wash.
- James R. Olsen Memorial Scholarship
- Eric Frey, Louisville, Ky.
Slaby also announced affiliates' scholarship winners. The North Dakota Association of the Blind scholarship winners were Angie Marciniak and Solomon Kerr. The Friends-in-Art scholarship winner was Kurt Westin. CCLVI scholarship winners were Elizabeth Harrel, Lisa Jegroski and Robin Lisker.
A number of financial gifts were presented to ACB for the various scholarship funds and other funds administered by ACB. Robert Jones from Jacksonville, Fla. announced that he has provisioned that, upon his death, $50,000 will be donated to the James R. Olsen Memorial Scholarship Fund and an additional $50,000 will be donated to the newly created M.J. Schmitt Scholarship Fund.
Susan Mazrui, Director, Federal Regulatory Affairs, AT&T, presented information on AT&T's accessible cell phone services. She announced that AT&T will be working with Code Factory to provide screen reading and enlarging technology for Symbian and Windows Mobile phones. This partnership will allow a range of choices in cell phones. She also noted that AT&T has been active in assuring that Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act also applies to VOIP (voice-over-Internet protocol) technology so that no matter how a call is made, the process and all related services fall under the act's provisions for accessibility.
As of convention, there had been no independent testing of Apple's iPhone for accessibility. Mazrui noted that there are some features for people with low vision. More information can be found at www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone. Concerns about accessibility of Apple products may be directed to [email protected].
Mazrui cautioned that for best results when testing accessible products, go to AT&T owned and operated stores. Third-party vendors do not have to honor provisions such as 30-day money-back guarantees. For people with hearing impairments, phones in the AT&T stores that have an M or T rating are telecoil-accessible. For more about different types of accessible technology from AT&T, visit wireless.att.com/accessibilityresources. She encouraged people to contact her at [email protected].
Gil Johnson, Senior Advisor, Critical Issues, American Foundation for the Blind, complimented ACB's employment seminar with remarks about the changing face of employment and rehabilitation. He discussed four main points: changes in how we look at employment; changes in today's work force; critical non-job-related skills; and a major shift in how rehabilitation agencies do their work.
In the past, both rehabilitation agencies and blind people have focused on barriers to employment. Johnson used the saying, "If we always do what we've always done, we will always get what we've always got" to describe this state. He went on to note that there needs to be a better understanding of what skills are needed when entering the work force and what challenges face employers.
In today's labor market there is increased competition, which means the employee must contribute to the bottom line. Other factors that affect the workplace include the shift from a manufacturing to a service economy and the retirement of the baby boomers. Employers are often desperate for people to fill positions.
Critical "soft skills" today break down into two categories, employability skills and personal values. Communication skills, analytic skills, and computer technology literacy are key employability skills. The ability to multi-task and be flexible, the ability to work in teams and solve problems also fall into this category.
In terms of personal values, self-confidence forms a crucial piece. Johnson used another popular quote to illustrate this. "If you think you can, you're right. If you think you can't, you're right." He noted that he has seen a shift in how rehabilitation agencies deal with employers, in that they now view them as customers. Another shift: rehabilitation counselors are less likely to work with employers and more likely to work through job placement specialists. This creates a glut of such specialists dealing with employers. Employers would rather deal with one central point of contact, but this presents difficulties if the blindness division of the agency is not included or does not work itself into that central point of contact.
Johnson recommended that people visit www.afb.org and look into the Career Connect section where over 1,000 blind and visually impaired people serve as mentors. He also recommended the Hadley School for the Blind, where more employment-related courses are being added.
Next, Owen Rachal, vice president of marketing and communications, and Terry Pacheco, director of public outreach, of Tenacity, Inc., presented "How to Make the Most of Your Telephone." Tenacity, Inc. is a software company that works with providers of VOIP to make the services offered by the technology easier to use for everyone. Their software product, Access A Phone, works with Enterprise VOIP phones. It offers keyboard commands, has its own native speech but will also work with screen readers and a variety of other adaptive devices. For more information, visit www.tenacitycorp.com or e-mail [email protected].
Finally, Milliman spoke about the Monthly Monetary Support (MMS) program. He encouraged people to reach outside of ACB to recruit participants. The person who signs up the most people from outside of the organization between today and next year's convention wins a Victor Reader Stream.
The morning session began with some remarks by the president of Visually Impaired Veterans of America, Skip Sharpe. The amendment of Bylaw 7, section A as amended was adopted. The amendment of Article 4, Section D of the constitution was defeated. The amendment of Bylaw 6, Section K was passed as amended from the floor, setting the number of members to five for the advocacy committee.
Next on the program was a brief presentation on Leber's congenital amaurosis. Following it was a major presentation on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which featured a review of some recent court cases. Priscilla Rogers from the American Foundation for the Blind discussed new developments on aging and blindness that AFB is working on. Frank Kurt Cylke and Michael Montoya updated listeners on the National Library Service for the Blind and Visually Impaired. After his presentation, Cylke received the Robert S. Bray Award. Charlie Boone, a Minneapolis radio personality, talked to the convention about his career.
The morning's business began with a treasurer's report indicating that we had budgeted $1,056,673 for the year. Our income was $1,135,625. On the expense side, ACB budgeted $1,056,514 and actually spent $1,091,846. We have an excess of income over expenses of $43,779. These accounts have already been submitted to an auditor and the completed audit is expected soon. Mike Godino's treasurer's report was accepted with no comments.
The convention then tackled a few resolutions. Resolution 2007-19 concerning gasoline prices was defeated. Resolution 2007-05, concerning Window-Eyes training materials, was also defeated.
Melanie Brunson gave her executive director's report. She asked for feedback from members and introduced Natasha Janifer. One of the highlights of her year was a trip to Japan to present a paper on audio description. She announced that analog TV would go away in February of 2009 and indicated that, as a result of this deadline, ACB was working hard to assure that audio description was included fully in the roll-out of digital television. The government is proposing that some set-top converters be made available which can be purchased instead of full digital television sets. These would be made available for people on low income. When the original requests for proposals for the production and standards for these devices came out, no provision to assure their accessibility was included. AFB and ACB are working together on this issue as well as on audio description. SAP channels will go away but each digital channel will have the capacity to have up to four subchannels, one of which could be used for audio description.
Brunson also announced the Coalition on Accessible Telecommunications (COAT) and encouraged affiliates to join it. Finally, in the area of telecommunications and television, ACB is working with many other groups, including WGBH and AFB, to convince the FCC that the technology exists to do something about emergency warnings that scroll across the screen but say nothing. She expects progress over the next year. ACB has worked on writing training materials for poll workers all over the country, which should improve how blind people are treated during elections. The organization has continued to work in the area of emergency preparedness, producing a guide on how service animals should be treated in shelters as well as other materials concerning blind people and emergencies. Legislation that drew attention to the need for better services to people with disabilities during emergencies was passed last year by the Congress, primarily through the hard work of ACB members who lobbied for its provisions. She also announced that FEMA has now hired Cindy Daniels as the coordinator of disability services.
Brunson indicated that ACB continues to work on pedestrian safety where Philip Strong has conducted training for traffic engineers and has worked hard with state and local affiliates to promote the installation of accessible pedestrian signals. Strong and ACB have also been working hard on the issue of hybrid vehicles and quiet cars. Brunson also discussed ACB's efforts to turn around a decision made by the government to no longer cover Medicare or Medicaid purchases of low-vision devices. Other issues, such as dental care and access to information on prescription drugs, are also on ACB's plate. She mentioned that copies of the rehabilitation white paper were available and encouraged affiliates to read it, get behind its issues, and distribute it widely.
Brunson indicated that considerable work goes on to raise funds for ACB but that much more needs to be done. She particularly encouraged people and affiliates to consider supporting the scholarship endowment funds of ACB. ACB is also working to encourage some long-range corporate sponsorships for scholarships which she hopes to be able to tell folks about in the future.
Jeff Lovitky discussed the accessible currency suit with convention attendees. Then Kate Grasswall from Vision Loss Resources of Minneapolis gave a presentation.
Resolution 2007-15 on Maxi-Aids was not considered by the convention based on a motion from the floor made by Michael Byington. There did not appear to be a second. However, the motion that the question not be considered because of pending litigation passed.
Resolution 2007-02 concerning destination elevators was adopted. Resolution 2007-06 concerning a resolution written by a young lady in Nebraska about accessible currency was adopted. Resolutions 2007-10, which concerned pedestrian safety, and 2007-17, concerning accessible correspondence, were adopted.
"Are you ready for a full day of business?" Gray asked at the start of the morning session. Someone in the audience hollered back, "No!", which generated laughter from the assembled crowd.
Nevertheless, the convention got right down to business. First was a credentials issue: several individuals had paid their membership dues and received voting dots, but had not been officially recognized and seated. The convention voted to accept and seat them.
Resolutions committee chairman Judy Jackson presented a resolution dealing with state rehabilitation services, which passed.
Convention committee chairman Carla Ruschival gave a report on the convention. She thanked the local host committee for its hard work. The convention committee met in the fall, instead of at midyear, she said, because "we didn't think doing tours in 10 below would be a good thing." She thanked the national convention committee, too. She mentioned that the Convention Ear returned this year; also, the ACB convention e-mail list premiered this year, along with the file copying capacity onto people's electronic devices.
Looking ahead, next year's convention will be in Louisville, Ky., at the Galt House. Rates are $85 single/double on the west side, $105 for suites (single/double) on the east side. ACB will return to the Galt House in 2012, and the rates will be the same. In 2009, the convention will be in Orlando.
Following several announcements, the convention finally got to what everyone had been waiting for: elections! Judi Cannon, chair of the nominating committee, restated the slate: president, Carla Ruschival; first vice president, Kim Charlson; second vice president, Ed "Doc" Bradley; secretary, Marlaina Lieberg; treasurer, Mike Godino. Gray reviewed the election process with the group, then started with the office of president. Mitch Pomerantz was nominated from the floor. When the votes were tallied, the winner was Mitch Pomerantz, 59.68 percent (616.5 votes), to Carla Ruschival's 40.32 percent (416.5).
While the vote for president was going on, Gray called on Michael Garrett to give the ACBES report. Garrett thanked the ACBES board for its hard work and gave a brief explanation of what it is. He mentioned that the thrift store managers had met in Minneapolis in April for two days of intense training; the goal "was to build a team that is not only committed to their work but is also committed to ACB." ACBES' goals were to help every store reach its maximum potential for sales and profits, and to expand operations to grow profitability.
Jackson read several more resolutions, dealing with topics such as access to appliances, the Telecommunications Act, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessible currency, and the Randolph-Sheppard Act, among other topics, as elections continued. In the race for first vice president, Charlie Hodge challenged Kim Charlson and lost, 321 votes (31.69 percent) to 692 (68.31 percent).
The race for second vice president was a cliffhanger; it featured Ed "Doc" Bradley and Brenda Dillon. Bradley received 487.5 votes (49.34 percent) to Dillon's 500.5 (50.66 percent).
After a lunch recess, the convention returned to elections. Judy Jackson and Lynne Koral challenged Marlaina Lieberg in the race for secretary. Koral had 89.5 votes (9.67 percent); Jackson received 338.5 votes (36.5 percent), and Lieberg received 498 votes (53.78 percent).
Mike Godino was elected treasurer by acclamation.
The election of Dillon to the post of second vice president opened up a seat on the board of directors. Nominees for that post were Cammie Vloedman, Becky Floyd, Donna Seliger, Ken Rodgers, and Jean Mann. Mann received 79.5 votes (9.11 percent); Rodgers, 122.5 (14.03 percent); Seliger, 184.5 (21.13 percent); Floyd, 248 (28.41 percent); and Vloedman, 238.5 (27.32 percent). This resulted in a run-off between Vloedman and Floyd. The winner was Vloedman, with 475 votes (55.04 percent of the vote).
Pomerantz named Ardis Bazyn as chair of the membership committee, Paul Edwards as chair of the board of publications, and Jenine Stanley as the second appointee to the board of publications.
The remaining six resolutions were referred to the board of directors by the convention body.