DC Council Hosts Briefing of Danish Educators of the Blind

When a group of eight Danish educators of the blind who were planning an information-gathering trip to the USA were unable to contact the largest rehabilitation agency for the blind and visually impaired in the national capital area, they contacted the D.C. Council of the Blind for possible assistance in gathering as much information as possible as quickly as possible. D.C. Council president Oral Miller immediately sent them the contact information for the principal organizations and government agencies providing services for the blind and visually impaired and at the same time he discussed realistically with them the difficulty of attempting to visit distant suburban offices during the three days they would be in the city. Consideration then turned to the development of a day-long briefing session by several agencies after ascertaining which suburban offices the delegation wanted to see in person during the limited time they would be in the area.

Miller, with the cooperation of the ACB national office and ACB board member Billie Jean Keith of the neighboring Old Dominion Council, quickly invited knowledgeable spokespersons from in-town offices to speak to the delegation during an essentially day-long meeting to be hosted in the conference room of the ACB national office. This arrangement gave ACB executive director Melanie Brunson and Miller an opportunity to kick off the program by explaining the role and importance of consumerism, ACB and its affiliates in the USA. Some of the knowledgeable presenters who discussed national as well as local services included Mark Richert of the American Foundation for the Blind (whose Washington office was being moved from one part of the city to another that very day), Venetia Demson, chief of the Adaptive Services Division of the D.C. Public Library System (who demonstrated some of the latest digital technology), and Toni Thomas of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. After attending this briefing but before rushing off to a late afternoon meeting with an accreditation agency, the Danes were able to walk down the street a few blocks from the national office to view the White House. Oh yes, this interesting and educational meeting with the Danes took place while Miller, Keith and Brunson were preparing to leave for the ACB board of directors meeting the next day.

Hey Neighbor
by Billie Jean Keith

Remember that song, "It Was a Real Nice Clambake" from the Broadway musical "Carousel?" Well, we recently attended a real nice regional convention in Arlington, Va. Five mid-Atlantic ACB affiliates planned and created a brilliant program, a wonderful atmosphere, and invited all the neighboring ACB affiliates and special-interest groups and welcomed more than 185 happy and enthusiastic participants. There were three major sponsors: The Seeing Eye, Polara and Clever Devices.

Fourteen-month-old Nicole Mazrui, unofficial greeter/Miss Hospitality, said "Hi" at least twice a day to everyone in the ballroom. The steering committee included leadership from ACB of Maryland; D.C. Council of the Blind; Old Dominion Council of the Blind; Maryland Area Guide Dog Users and National Capital Citizens with Low Vision. Visitors arrived from West Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, California and the Virginia Association of the Blind.

Exhibitors from 17 businesses, service providers and agencies let us see and try out what's new -- high tech and low tech.

The program began with an overview of the future of electronic books with many models to see and discuss; then cell phones and better access was cogently delivered by Mark Richert of AFB, followed by issues of transportation and how to meet our ongoing needs and how to get from A to B and back to A, or home or work. Later, there were 15 sessions from which to choose, including ones on finding and joining support groups in the area; guide dogs and whether to become a guide dog handler; and a session on video description presented by Joel Snyder; and finally, eye care. Even if a person is totally blind, it is important to see an eye specialist to make sure eyes are healthy.

We also had time to socialize, beginning with a lovely reception sponsored by The Seeing Eye and hosted by MAGDU, accompanied by cool jazz. Our headline speaker was ACB President Mitch Pomerantz, who gave a meaningful history of how and why ACB was founded in 1961. Our written history, "People of Vision," is very worthwhile reading, especially for new members. Another outstanding and refreshing presentation came from Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Bookshare. Jim made the research and development for Arkenstone and Bookshare seem a lark, but we know it wasn't.

A big highlight followed the Saturday night banquet -- the auction conducted by Terry Pacheco with description by Joel Snyder. Who would have thought that the bid for cookies baked by Hope Pietrolungo would go for $100, and that Oral Miller would bid $62 for pumpkin bread and apple butter? Other donated items included spa baskets for guide dogs and the VictorReader Stream. The room rocked.

Meanwhile, Miss Hospitality, having discharged her greeter duties, proceeded to perfect her cane technique -- using a paper towel roll. We understand she plans to start blogging as soon as she can reach a keyboard. Yes, it was a real nice weekend.

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