by Christopher Gray
(Excerpted from his address to the 2006 convention on Sunday, July 9.)
This evening, I'd like to explore with you some of the reasons why we are gathered together in Jacksonville, Fla., and what it means to us collectively to be a part of this great organization. I'm going to share some of the reasons I am so deeply committed to ACB to share with you a personal perspective that might resonate for some, perhaps educate others, provide some new ideas to still others, and to capture a sense of who and what we are in ACB: dedicated people caring for one another, fostering one another's dreams, and creating a finer world for the blind of tomorrow. I shall try also to paint a picture of ACB's major accomplishments in the past year. Finally, I will ask you to consider some specific items for change and growth within ACB.
One of the truly great things we do in ACB is engage in the business of advocacy for blind people throughout our nation and around the world. Since we met together last year in Las Vegas, ACB has kept a high profile in the realm of personal advocacy. In December of 2005 we stood with a family from West Virginia who was denied the shelter, comfort and support provided to so many other able-bodied Americans by the Ronald McDonald House of Baltimore, Md. Our efforts here did not meet with 100 percent success. But we got our member family most of what was needed and wanted, and we have created an environment through which Ronald McDonald Houses around our nation have been educated about the safety of having guide dogs on their premises from the perspective of health, and the legal requirements of doing so as well.
The American Council of the Blind has continued to work to preserve the rights of families, and of blind members, particularly parents, to serve in their rightful roles within their families. This is an ongoing struggle, and we have greater and lesser successes in this area of advocacy. When we are faced with the rampant discrimination against blind parents, and the upholding of poor attitudes about how a blind person can function in that role, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that our work is not only incomplete, it has only just begun. ACB and its California affiliate worked hard on a case this past year, and as things stand today, the courts and social work agencies see fit to place a young child with a convicted criminal and a drug addict as parents, rather than place the child with an employed father who happens to be blind. Where, my friends, is our dignity in that? Where, my fellow blind advocates, is there justice in such decisions? There is none! To create greater justice, to demand full equality, to educate our neighbors that we too have in the past and can right now function as loving, competent and caring parents is reason enough to be members of our great organization. Yesterday, the board adopted a formal set of procedures for accepting and acting upon advocacy issues through the advocacy services committee. Whether it is a Section 508 complaint, an employment discrimination matter, or any other matter where blind people need our help, ACB will do what it can with what resources it has to provide advocacy advice and services on issues related to blindness.
On a broader scale, ACB has paved the way in advocacy in a variety of financial areas and through increasing the mobility of blind Americans. Throughout 2005 and 2006, the list of available and accessible ATM machines has grown within the previously participating banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions and has grown to include many new participants.
Another huge step forward has occurred in the area of accessing point- of-sale machines, those flat-screen machines we find in Wal-Marts, Safeways, Target stores, Trader Joe's, and so many other large shopping establishments around the country. In the past nine months, ACB and CCB, along with others, have concluded major negotiated settlements with Wal-Mart stores and with Trader Joe's. Many other major retail chains will follow in the coming months. I want to acknowledge and thank Margie Donovan and Melanie Brunson for carrying the torch in this work during the past year. I also thank Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian for their tireless, relentless efforts as our supporting attorneys in these settlements.
In the past year, ACB stepped forward and took a stand with the Social Security Administration, saying on behalf of all blind Americans: It is wrong that SSA does not provide determination and other letters in a form that can be read by visually impaired Americans. SSA has chosen to fight us in the courts rather than do what they know and we know is not only right, but that is legislatively mandated and required through regulation.
We continue to pursue our litigation against the Department of the Treasury for accessible paper currency. As I have said so many times before, if 150 other nations in the world, including the European Union, can provide accessible currency to their citizens and visitors, the United States of America can do the same! We have not yet lost a single legal motion in this case, though the government continues to claim its inability to do what so many other enlightened governments have already done. We will prevail as long as we have the patience and the fortitude to do so.
Think for a moment, my friends and fellow advocates, about what we have done to change our environment! Thirty short years ago, edge detection was little more than a dream. The concept of audible pedestrian signals was a hope. Accessible ATMs weren't even on our radar screens at all. Today, we have all these things, plus a Talking Signs demonstration project in the works, pedestrian signals that talk to us, and an ever more enlightened framework of traffic and building engineers and supporting regulations to help us put these tools into place across the length and breadth of this nation. ACB played the leading role in this national transformation! But we certainly didn't do it overnight. We have done it through unrelenting hard work and advocacy these past 45 years. We've done it by sticking to fundamental principles of what is right for blind Americans, and what core services are critical to our survival, our success, and our future! It is things such as these that make me proud to be a part of ACB, that wake me up each and every morning with the will to do my part in moving forward this agenda both for our members and for all blind Americans, whoever and wherever they are!
There are still so many unresolved issues and so much work to be accomplished. I pledge to you tonight to redouble my efforts to reaffirm our vision as ACB, and to have faith that based on all that we have done through today, we will do even more this week, this year, and this decade!
I begin this 45th convention by telling and reminding you of so many great things we have done together in ACB because this is ACB; we, you and I, are ACB. There is so much more we can and will do if we maintain our vision, our commitment, and our faith in ourselves and in one another. Think on this for a moment, and be proud of what you have accomplished!
But wait, there's more! ACB works first within the United States. But we also care about and contribute our knowledge and expertise to the blind of the world. Much of this work we do as members of the World Blind Union. In 2005 and 2006, we have participated also in United Nations initiatives to support disabled children and to create a worldwide treaty that protects people with disabilities. Between now and the end of the year, ACB will move forward toward the creation of an internationally focused Internet radio station: ACB Radio World. This is the exciting next step in the genesis of ACB Radio and in our efforts to assist all blind people around the world.
In a targeted, specific effort, ACB has taken action in 2006 to help a school for the blind this past year in Ethiopia. We have provided them with 200 slates, styluses, and braille paper. Until now, this entire school for the blind had less than 10 slates and styluses to educate an entire school full of blind children. I particularly want to thank Tuck Tinsley and the American Printing House for the Blind for their support of this project. Also, ACB has worked very hard this year to support efforts to assist the Caribbean region in its efforts to improve life for the population of visually impaired and blind citizens. Finally, I pledge to continue our work and outreach to our members in Puerto Rico. Their needs may be some of the greatest in our country, and ACB needs to be there and offer what we can to assist them.
And yes, there's still more! I want to bring you some good news about ACB's membership. The kinds of successes we are seeing in ACB lend themselves to strengthening and creating new affiliates. We have seen both in the past year. In particular today, let me introduce to you our newest affiliate: the Montana Blind and Low Vision Council.
Now, I want to talk with you for a moment about the most necessary infrastructure project in which ACB has ever engaged. It's called the American Center on Blindness and Visual Impairment. This is a center, almost a kind of museum, that is initiated by and embodies ACB's core strengths and belief, but also reaches more broadly throughout the blind community to draw us together and capitalize on the best that so many other entities have to offer to the blind. This is the greatest infrastructure building project for ACB in our history. In its infancy, this idea was called a "Hall of Fame." In its youthful adolescence, we began to discuss it as a museum. As it has grown to maturity, we have come to realize that it is an American Center, a representation of the history and the future of what it means to be blind, and a focal point for ACB along with many other dedicated organizations of and for the blind to come together in harmony and accomplishment as we move full throttle into the 21st century. You will be hearing a major resolution or motion on the American Center this week, and the American Center mission statement will be distributed for your review and consideration as well.
The American Center on Blindness and Visual Impairment has already galvanized many individuals and organizations throughout our community. After my Forum article, I was amazed at the number of ACB leaders who contacted me to say, "How can I help? What can I do?"; or, "I have contacted so-and-so, and here is what we want to offer." The National Education and Legal Defense Services for the Blind has provided an initial seed gift of $2,500. HumanWare has provided a $5,000 initial gift to pursue a major architectural initiative. Many other efforts are in the works. The challenge of moving this project forward and giving it the necessary structure it must have to progress and succeed is one of the challenges we have.
Also in the area of fund-raising, let me now turn with you to the topic of ACB's Monthly Monetary Support Program. You knew I'd get around to this, right? I do every year; why should this be any exception? This program grows year by year. But we have come nowhere near the contributions that other organizations receive from similar programs. I'm not going to ask any of you to contribute tonight; in fact, I'm not going to ask any of you directly to contribute at all. But ... (You knew there was going to be a "but," right?) I am going to ask each and every one of you in this room simply to believe that you could participate some time in the future. Let's speculate for a moment. There are probably about 2,000 of us here. If each of us gave $10 per month for the whole of 2007, that would be $240,000, almost one-quarter of a million dollars. Now, given that we all got here, that we're affording this hotel, that we're eating at least nominally well, imagine that each of us walked away pledging an average of $25 per month. With an average gift of $25 per month per year from 2,000 ACB members, ACB would receive for calendar year 2007 approximately $600,000. You hold this possibility in your hands. Let me ask you to open your minds to this possibility and realize that each of us, individually and collectively, can make a difference. $600,000 is more than our stores have contributed since 2000. $600,000 could renew and restore our staff resources we so desperately need. This, my friends, is not a dream; it is a reality we can create.
ACB is prepared to recognize MMS participants, and to help and talk with people who are interested in considering this program and reasonable, sustained giving to our goals. Sponsors at the $25 level and higher will receive a quarterly CD of special information and programming that, while available to all through ACB Radio and elsewhere, is not made available in a single place to subscribers. ACB may consider making other special activities available to MMS participants in future years. This is a win-win proposition, and I hope you will think seriously about joining. Up to half of your contribution can be designated to an affiliate of your choice. With a relatively small investment each month, we can collectively make a huge difference in ACB's available resources and the ability of ACB to bring that back into our affiliates and communities.
Now, let me turn to what's on my mind for you to think about this week for ACB's governance and our organizational future.
(1) Committee restructuring. In ACB, we have over 15 committees variously mandated and differently described in our constitution and bylaws. In addition, we have many more ad hoc committees. This week, I will ask the constitution and bylaws committee to consider a means of streamlining and organizing this situation.
(2) Placing the BOP in the ACB constitution. For several years, the ACB board of publications has been a major source of organizational contention due in large part to the fact that it is defined and governed through the bylaws and subject only to the need of a majority vote to change. No proposed change has been adopted for many years, though we have spent an inordinate amount of time arguing over all of these provisions. I am asking you and the constitution and bylaws committee to consider placing these governance provisions into the ACB constitution, requiring a 2/3 majority for any future change. Let us try to focus our efforts on our goals and purposes as an organization, the things we can do to improve the world for blind people.
This, then, is ACB: blind people advocating for one another; blind people helping one another; blind people standing for the needs and rights of our fellow blind citizens; friends and supporters of blind people who want to help make a difference. Let us rekindle our enthusiasm, redouble our efforts, and broaden and strengthen our accomplishments. Every day, we are making the difference that has and continues to transform what blindness is all about here and throughout the world.