by Dan Spoone
We lost our brother-in-law, Dale, in January to COVID. Dale was a longtime ACB member and friend. It’s very personal for Leslie and me. I don’t know about all of you, but I’m sad, angry and tired, yet hopeful for the future. The COVID-19 pandemic started out as a worldwide crisis. It threw us all into a period of uncertainty. How do we protect our families? What are the correct preventive measures to keep us safe? Do masks make a significant difference? Why did vaccines become so political? Where is the line between independence, freedom and the role of the greater public good in our society? Everyone was scared, angry and confused. We all wanted life to return to normal. But “normal” had a different meaning for each of us. The world was in chaos.
Over the past few weeks, it feels like everyone is grasping to reclaim “normal.” Will this be a return to life in 2019? Has the world experienced a major disruptor, never to be completely the same again? Is there now a “new normal?” The pandemic has totally disrupted our lives, but has it also brought about an opportunity for change? What is the future for the world? What is the future for our country? What is the future for ACB? I don’t have many answers, but I’m optimistic.
Here are a few examples. ACB created an entire Community Events platform because of the pandemic, and the Community has energized ACB and created an amazing platform for connection, learning and constructive conversation. The pandemic pushed our organization to amend the constitution to ensure all members the right and opportunity to participate in ACB elections. COVID-19 highlighted the need for the disabled community to gain attention for the right for independent, accessible mail-in voting and accessible health care. The pandemic moved us all online, and it became socially acceptable for employees to work remotely from the comfort of their homes. The CEO of PNC Bank commented on CNBC that they saw their online banking move from 25% to 75% within two months. Their projections had predicted that this change would take 20 years, not two months.
Yet, this unprecedented progress has also created anger, violence and frustration. Change is hard. We all enjoy our comfort zones. How do we embrace the “new normal?” It’s time to take a minute to listen before we react. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to understand their point of view.
My optimism was reinforced on March 24, when we had a listening session with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on accessible COVID home test kits. ACB wrote letters to the White House and NIH demanding accessible tests. NIH invited us to participate in a three-hour listening session with the director and deputy director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, responsible for the RADX program, which is funded with over $1.5 billion to develop COVID-19 home tests. Bruce Tromberg, NIBIB director, summarized the event by expressing the opportunity to not only solve the problem of the accessible COVID-19 test kits, but the larger issue that this problem must be solved for all similar home tests. He gave his promise that NIH would invest the necessary resources to find a solution. ACB was the chief influencer in this conversation with Clark Rachfal, Kim Charlson, Jeff Thom, Claire Stanley and myself in attendance providing the voice of the blind and low-vision community.
Let’s all take this opportunity to learn from our experiences over the past two years. The world will never be the same again. We have a unique opportunity to make it a better world for the blind and low-vision community. It’s time to be optimistic about the future. Let’s begin a new chapter for ACB in Omaha this summer at our first ever hybrid convention. I can’t wait to see you all in person or connect with you through ACB Media. Together we can make a difference.