by Darian Slayton Fleming
When I applied for the ACB/JPMorgan Chase Leadership Fellow Award, I wondered if I would even be chosen because I have been a member of the American Council of the Blind for many years. I decided to give it a try. I work hard in Oregon, I still want to make a difference, and I can always learn new things. I wanted to glean tips for working with difficult people, improve Oregon’s teamwork abilities, and to help grow membership in my state. Since my husband died in 2016, I wanted to create a feeling of belonging for myself in the organization. I was happily surprised when I learned I would be one of the five Leadership Fellows.
I attended all of the general sessions and enjoyed following the news about resolutions that had been brought to the assembly. These resolutions create a road map for ACB as we work with companies and services to make improvements in policies that make life more livable for people who are blind. The best news was learning that the Marrakesh Treaty was finally passed. This treaty makes it possible for people who are blind, all over the world, to gain access to all publications in the format of their choice. Publishers are being educated about the universal need for access to print materials and how they can be part of the literacy solution.
I attended several leadership-specific events, including Grassroots Advocacy Boot Camp, where we talked about clarifying the need for which you wish to advocate, the values at the root of the need, and the threat that is posed if the need is not met. This will help identify the target audience of your specific message and the barriers that must be overcome through advocacy. This led me to sessions on how to promote the need for accessible prescription labeling in Oregon. Without accessible prescription labels, preventable accidents will continue to happen. Case in point: my husband met a man at the Palo Alto Blindness Rehabilitation Center for Veterans who lost his vision overnight by overdosing on blood pressure medication. When my husband was on hospice, although he had a ScripTalk to identify his medications, the company insisted on ordering his medications from their own provider, effectively sending us backwards in time by eliminating our ability to independently identify his medications at the end of his life. I attended the session about Nevada’s success in becoming the first state to pass legislation requiring accessible prescription labeling. I signed up with En-Vision America to be an advocate for accessible prescription labeling and have received their demonstration kit. Back in Oregon, I am working with my state to get similar legislation passed. Preventable medication accidents should not be happening in this day of accessible prescription labels.
I was also very encouraged by learning that Eric Bridges, and ACB, took an opportunity to educate the TV realm by not only consulting with the NCIS episode writer about how to portray blindness accurately, but actually encouraging the hiring of an actress who is blind. The star in question, Marilee Talkington, was present at our events, and she spoke about how she is working every day to educate the entertainment industry about the abilities of actors with disabilities. Sometimes, one person can make a big difference in creating opportunities for authentic portrayal of blindness.
I cannot possibly cover all the benefits of attending an ACB conference in this writing. Whenever I attend I am struck by the energy that is created when you hear about and are part of successful visioning and advocacy. I made new friends among leaders and first-timers, and I truly felt like I was part of the bigger picture by hanging out with people who are making a difference.
Whether you are a first-timer or repeat attender, I strongly encourage you to consider attending an ACB conference. It will make a difference in your life, and you may learn something that will help you make a difference to someone else.