by Mitch Pomerantz

I've just gotten home from ACB's 47th annual national convention in Louisville. In fact, as I write this, it has been about four hours since Donna and I landed back in Los Angeles. What I want to do in this and in the September president's column is to excerpt my remarks on Sunday evening of the convention. I'll try not to repeat things I've said in earlier columns, so bear with me if you've read some of this before.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is truly an honor to be standing before you this evening to give my first report as the 10th president of the American Council of the Blind. We have gathered here in the city of Louisville, Ky., at our 47th annual national convention to practice and uphold the principles of grass-roots democracy and individual freedom of thought and action that the founders of our organization were seeking when they walked out of the 1961 NFB convention to begin the process of forming ACB. All of us here this week honor their memory through our presence at this convention.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the members of the ACB board of directors for their support and assistance this past year. We had some extremely important matters to address and the board tackled each one professionally and collaboratively. For this, a special "thank you."

I want to begin by summing up the previous 12 months for the American Council of the Blind by referring to the title of a favorite Frank Sinatra tune: "It was a Very Good Year!" Overall, ACB's financial situation has improved dramatically. ... Since last August, the American Council of the Blind has received four bequests in excess of six figures. The board took advantage of our good fortune by increasing ACB's designated reserves to something over $1 million. ... I want to mention that we are going to honor those individuals and organizations that have contributed $100,000 or more to ACB with a plaque which will be prominently displayed in our national office.

One of my goals for this past year was to hire a full-time development director to manage ACB's fund-raising activities. On May 1st, Dena Wilson began her employment with us. This is a huge step for our organization in competing for those elusive corporate, foundation and individual dollars. Ms. Wilson will make ACB competitive with other not-for-profit organizations, something which is essential for our continued existence. ...

Since we're talking about money, let's recognize ACB's tremendous victory on May 20th in the D.C. appellate court. As most everyone knows by now, the court upheld the decision in district court supporting our contention that the U.S. Treasury Department is in violation of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide meaningful access to currency for blind and visually impaired persons. The publicity ACB has received in the nation's newspapers, on radio and television, and via the Internet has been overwhelmingly positive toward the ruling and our organization.

I'd like to read a quote from the decision which puts this fight and our victory in proper perspective. "The Secretary's argument is analogous to contending that merely because the mobility impaired may be able either to rely on the assistance of strangers or to crawl on all fours in navigating architectural obstacles, they are not denied meaningful access to public buildings. Such dependence is anathema to the stated purpose of the Rehabilitation Act, and places the visually impaired at a distinct disadvantage in two-way transactions involving paper currency. ..."

And in case you haven't already heard, at our convention this week we have a consultant for the Treasury Department, Jeffrey Whitt, who will be conducting a couple of focus groups, as well as other activities, to gather input regarding our ideas on accessible currency. I hope this gentleman is barraged with your input. He needs to see how totally committed we are to the concept of identifiable currency. ...

I want to acknowledge here the outstanding work of two of the hardest working attorneys I know: Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian. It is through their efforts that ACB members can celebrate accessible automated teller and point-of-sale machines at banks and other business establishments. Since last July, ACB has signed new agreements with: 7-Eleven, to install 5,000 tactile POS's by June 30, 2009; Rite Aid, to make its web site W3C accessible and -- in a second agreement -- to install tactile POS's in 6,000 stores nationwide; Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, to make credit reports available online in an accessible format that complies with the W3C guidelines, as well as in braille, large print and audio formats by the end of the year. ... Lainey and Linda, along with ACB, are pioneers in this area by avoiding costly and divisive litigation, a strategy that others in the disability community would do well to emulate.

On May 1, ACB participated in a very important Congressional hearing in Washington. As a founding member of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), ACB put several months of intensive effort into this hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. The subcommittee heard from members of the disability community, including a representative from ACB on the impact of largely inaccessible consumer electronics. Our representative, Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta, an Iraq War veteran from southern California, is at the convention. ... Let's give him a well- deserved round of applause, both for his service to ACB and his service to our country. I understand Jesse did an outstanding job and that his testimony was well received by subcommittee members.

Subsequently, H.R. 6320, The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008 was introduced by Reps. Markey (MA) and Wilson (NM). It would amend the Communications Act to ensure that new Internet- enabled telephone and television services are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, and closes existing gaps in telecommunications laws. ...

I'll conclude my president's report next month. Take care.

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