by Deb Cook Lewis
Have I really been coming to ACB’s annual conventions for 30 years? Wow! I’ve not made all of them in person, but my first was indeed 30 years ago. I’m reflecting and marveling at the changes we’ve undergone with respect to conventions and communication during that time.
In the early ‘90s, in-person conventions were just that. We had no ACB Radio (now ACB Media), and we certainly had no podcasts, online meeting platforms, etc. In fact, most members did not have email, and many had no computer. What we knew about the governance and activities of our national organization largely came via the in-person convention, “The ACB Braille Forum,” and perhaps a national representative attending our state convention, if our state could even afford such a luxury. I didn’t know any national leaders, didn’t know much about the Board of Directors, and the issues may have seemed remote and far away. We thought it was all good, though, and we were proud of our national organization and its affiliates.
Fast forward a bit to 2005, which is the first year I had anything to do with ACB Radio’s national convention coverage. For about three years, ACB had offered its national convention general sessions as a live radio broadcast, and offered some of the affiliate and committee activities as replays during the night. I remember retrieving the recordings from conference rooms, hoping they turned out well enough to be uploaded for replay. And in subsequent years when circumstances prevented me from attending in person, I remember staying up all night to hear these replays of convention programming. We could only provide a handful of offerings, you couldn’t choose when to hear any of it, but it was all appreciated, and I don’t think we expected it to ever get better, because it wasn’t bad.
Even in 2005, most information was still coming in the same ways. We did have email now, but most organizations didn’t really use it as a communication resource yet. And there were now a few podcasts, but only a handful of offerings in that format. Oh, and we still probably had no clue about national board and committee activities unless you could come in person to convention.
My next personal milestone related to national convention was in 2016, when I attended as a JPMorgan Chase Leadership Fellow and was elected to the Board of Publications. The technology was much improved, but our processes for delivering information were much the same as in 2005. The convention newspaper was now available in email and could be received even if you weren’t attending in person. Our podcasting was up and running, and much of the programming was eventually made available to those who couldn’t attend in person. But the general sessions were still the only live content you could receive if not in person at the convention.
A key change impacting our conventions occurred in 2019, about 9 months before the pandemic forced massive changes in how everyone would see the world. Then President Dan Spoone decided to make all ACB board meetings available to members via live streaming. I believe this opened the door for the many changes made as a result of the pandemic.
And we fast forward again to 2023, where we’ll come together in Schaumburg, Ill., and virtually via Zoom and ACB Media. Every member can hear much of the program content live or via podcast. Every member can cast an individual vote during our elections, and you don’t need to be physically present to win. Every member can actually hear convention quality content from our ACB programs and affiliates all year round — it’s not limited to convention time. And the list goes on and on.
So I’m wondering how all of this evolution will change my convention experience over time. If last year in Omaha is any indication, I think our in-person experience will focus more and more on activities that can best be enjoyed as a rich, in-person experience. We saw this most dramatically at the recent leadership conference in D.C., where attendees engaged eagerly in focus groups, hands-on exhibits, tours and social experiences. Much of the content was delivered in the virtual environment and then applied in the physical setting.
No matter how change impacts our processes and experiences in the future, I’m glad to say that ACB has taken major steps to become more inclusive of its members whether they can attend events in person or will be attending virtually. And I’ll just say that when opportunities permit, consider joining us in person whenever you can — you won’t regret it!