by Mitch Pomerantz
In early December, Chris Gray and I (along with Marvelena and Donna) journeyed to New York City, where Chris and I participated in the meeting of the North America/Caribbean region of the World Blind Union. Before talking a bit about the WBU, I should say that for Donna and me, there isn't a better place to visit and truly experience the holiday season than the Big Apple. Between the lights, the music, the hustle and bustle and, yes, the freezing temperatures, you really feel that holiday spirit.
Chris and I serve as ACB's two voting delegates to the North America/Caribbean region and at the upcoming WBU meeting. Regional gatherings typically occur twice yearly, and the December conclave was my initial exposure to WBU issues and politics. Literally scores, if not hundreds, of blindness-related organizations and agencies from almost every nation of the world comprise the membership of the World Blind Union. Its president serves one four-year term. Since 2004, that position has been held by William Rowland of South Africa, a brilliant and charming gentleman with whom Donna and I had the pleasure of meeting and having breakfast some five years ago when we visited that fascinating nation.
The World Blind Union convenes every four years and, this August, will hold its seventh quadrennial meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to that meeting, a two-day conference focusing on issues specific to blind and visually impaired women will take place. ACB will have a representative at this important gathering as well. Also, ACB Radio will stream both conferences so everyone with a computer and the interest can follow the proceedings in Geneva.
This will be my first opportunity to attend and participate in the activities and deliberations of the WBU and I'm very much looking forward to the chance to meet and interact with blind leaders from throughout the world. At this point, many of you may be wondering whether or if our involvement is all that relevant to the members of ACB. In my view, the answer is a resounding YES, and here's why. We spend a lot of time and energy, myself included, being critical, and justifiably so, about the inequalities and lack of opportunities blind and visually impaired people must deal with on a daily basis: an unconscionably high rate of unemployment; inadequate or non-existent transportation; housing discrimination, with or without a guide dog; and the other issues with which we are all too familiar. Nonetheless, compared to the vast majority of blind people in the rest of the world, we in the United States have it pretty good! Don't believe it? Let me tell you about a braille letter that arrived here at home just after New Year's Day.
It was written on Sept. 9 (presumably sent shortly thereafter) by a man living in Monkey-bay, Malawi, which is located in central Africa. Essentially, this gentleman was requesting help in obtaining the sorts of things you and I take for granted and which we would expect might be needed by a blind person living in a poor country: braille paper, braille books and magazines, used cassettes and CDs, and the like. He didn't indicate whether he is affiliated with a school, and I've asked the chairperson of our international relations committee, Sandra Sermons, to look into this request further. ACB receives a number of such letters yearly and it is apparent that many blind and visually impaired people around the world look to ACB for such assistance.
I believe those of us who reside in the so-called developed nations of the world -- particularly here in the United States -- have a responsibility, perhaps even an obligation, to work collaboratively with our blind brothers and sisters living in the developing nations to achieve our common dream of independence and economic security. To ignore this responsibility would be a serious disservice to those blind people who are counting on us for a hand up. ACB can offer our collective knowledge, expertise, and possibly some limited resources without in any way lessening the effort to accomplish these goals within our own borders.
It is my expectation that the international relations committee, as well as the American Council of the Blind, will be far more active and vocal in working with the international blindness community. As a result of ACB's fiscal situation over the past several years, we have been unable to take a more active role on the international stage. Beginning with the upcoming quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union, our role will change dramatically. ACB will do in the international arena what we are doing in the United States: assertively taking our place in the larger blindness community and promoting our positive notion of the abilities and capabilities of blind and visually impaired people. I trust you will agree that it is high time for ACB to assume that larger role on this important world stage.