by Christopher Gray

The American Council of the Blind has a long and rich tradition of participation, not only in the affairs of our nation, but in world affairs as well that affect blind people. Our international work to support all blind people was initiated as far back as the 1950s, most notably by George Card, one of the founding members of our organization. Over the intervening years, the torch has moved from hand to hand and has been honorably carried by great contributors to our organization such as Alma Murphey and our longest serving national representative/executive director, Oral Miller. Many others have made significant contributions over the year as well, too numerous to mention in this small space.

It was recently my distinct honor and privilege to represent the American Council of the Blind at the North American/Caribbean regional meeting of the World Blind Union (WBU). The WBU is an organization advocating for the rights of the blind throughout the world. Our region is composed of representatives from the United States, Canada, and numerous small countries in the Caribbean, primarily represented by the Caribbean Council of the Blind. This meeting of the regional participants was held in Toronto, Canada with marvelous hosting by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

With William Rowland as the newly elected president of the WBU, and with a new chairperson of our own region, Penny Hartin, this meeting represented a time for discussion, evaluation of where we are as a region, and for the charting of new directions for the next four years. I am extremely pleased to tell you that the region has decided, by general consensus, to devote itself as never before to the assisting of blind people in the Caribbean segment of our region. I was deeply shocked to hear, in a report delivered by the Caribbean Council of the Blind, that the average income of a blind resident in the Caribbean is less than $950 per year. Such a statistic speaks for itself, and it demonstrates far better than anything I might say the difficulties faced by this region of North America. As your representative, I advocated strongly for the inclusion of the Spanish- speaking countries within the Caribbean region which includes Puerto Rico among others.

It is my impression that Canada, through the excellent leadership of Jim Sanders and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, has played a key and vital role in bringing assistance to this region and in promoting individual leadership there as well. It is my sincere hope that through our entire WBU region, and through efforts of the American Council of the Blind, we can provide the inspiration and meaningful assistance to stimulate growth and development for this deserving portion of our region.

The fountainhead of such growth and development has traditionally and typically come from within the blind community. Often, it has come from one or more blind individuals, working within organizations for the blind. Names such as Maxine Dorf and Robert Irwin come immediately to mind when thinking of people who have made great contributions within this environment. Unquestionably, the service-provider organizations have played, and continue to play, a key and meaningful role in assisting blind people throughout the world. However, we know through experience that true success comes when blind men and women band together and take a significant hand in their destinies as consumers; participants in the creating of a future of improvement and advancement both for themselves as individuals and for other in situations similar to their own or in circumstances like theirs. It is clear that such people exist in the Caribbean to do what so many of us have done already in our country, and we can only hope that the work of the next four years can stimulate events in meaningful ways for the whole Caribbean.

There is great benefit in looking beyond our immediate geographic concerns and local difficulties. Heaven knows we have many problems, and they need and consume a major portion of our attention. Be that as it may, we are an integral part of a world community, and we must, as we can, look at the world as a whole and make what reasonable efforts we can to improve life throughout the world. We all win through such efforts.

In that vein of thought, I want to conclude this article by telling you of a recent contact ACB has had with quite an amazing and inspirational organization. It is not in our region, and it is not even near our continent. It is a small organization in the country of Sri Lanka, on the Asian continent. Sri Lanka is primarily composed of two peoples: the Tamils and the Sinhalese. In 2004, I began to receive correspondence from a group of Sinhalese who have formed an organization of the blind, based on consumerism and leadership by blind people. Their goal is to organize as consumers, and to promote literacy among their people as well as increase the amount of accessible reading material within their community. Through worldwide advocacy and hard work, they have created and now distribute a quarterly magazine in the Sinhalese language to approximately 200 braille readers. Their paper is donated from Australia, and much of their labor is also donated.

Their leadership, like ours, is volunteer. Much of the expense they bear is for the translation of articles from magazines, including "The Braille Forum," into Sinhalese. The organization, known as the Blind Citizens Front, began contacting ACB in late 2004. Of course, they came immediately to mind during the time of the terrible tsunami that adversely affected so many in that part of the world. It was with great pleasure that I received a letter from the organization in late March, proclaiming their survival and their continuing efforts on behalf of their membership and goals.

It is a very moving thing to witness the formation of a fledgling organization under any circumstance. Whether it is a local chapter of an ACB affiliate or a state-wide or special-interest affiliate, I am always moved and energized by the event. Members are the lifeblood of an organization of consumers and absolutely the most important asset of such organizations. Given the unimaginable odds faced by blind people in the third world and in a country that has suffered such grave hardships as has Sri Lanka, one cannot help but feel a particularly keen excitement at the story of success they have created for themselves. The leadership of this organization has written to request ACB's help and support as they create a consumer organization for the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. It is my hope that we might find among ourselves the means of funding a small part of their needs.

Recently, the individual members of the California Council of the Blind made contributions at their spring convention. I want to encourage other affiliates, members and organizations to consider similar expressions of good will toward a new, fledgling organization that is working against great odds. ACB has set up a fund for this organization, the proceeds of which will be sent to them after the 2005 convention in Las Vegas.

Finally, I am extremely pleased to announce to ACB members and friends that our banquet address for 2005 will be delivered by William Rowland, president of the World Blind Union. He will have traveled from South Africa to meet with us, and it is a great honor to have his participation and input in our convention. I hope many of you can attend the banquet and take the opportunity of hearing and meeting with William Rowland. I look forward to seeing many of you in Las Vegas.

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