by Eric Bridges and Jeff Thom

On Aug. 27 and Sept. 3, nearly 200 disability leaders from across the nation, including party delegates, representatives from industry, elected officials, consumer advocacy groups and a range of federal and non-governmental agencies, attended two receptions co-hosted by the American Council of the Blind at the Democratic and Republican national conventions to celebrate their shared focus on ensuring that issues of importance to the blindness and broader disability community are included in the political process.

Along with his wife Leslie, Jeff Thom represented ACB in Denver at the disability brunch held in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention. In addition, many national disability leaders were present, as was a representative from the Obama campaign, Kareem Dale, a blind attorney from Illinois.

In his remarks to the group, Thom emphasized two of the primary reasons why ACB is the leading consumer organization of Americans who are blind or visually impaired, our foundation as a grass-roots organization, with our agenda being established by the rank and file and not by the leadership, and the fact that ACB has always been a coalition-builder, working not only with civil rights organizations, but also with other organizations of people with disabilities.

The attendees were also addressed by two members of Congress, both of whom have been long-time champions of the rights of people with disabilities, Rep. James Langevin from Rhode Island, himself a person with a disability, and the majority leader, Steny Hoyer, from Maryland. Rep. Hoyer was a leader in the passage of both the ADA and the Help America Vote Act.

During the Republican National Convention, Eric Bridges was honored to host a panel discussion during the luncheon reception which featured remarks by Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico, lead co-sponsor of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2008; Dona Jones, national coordinator, Americans with Disabilities for the McCain campaign; and Dave Fine, AT&T Mobility VP.

Eric's presentation on behalf of ACB focused on the critical need for people who are blind or visually impaired to have equal access to information, specifically emergency information that is displayed on television screens and emergency alerts that are sent via text message. The critical need for this information to be made available in an accessible manner is addressed in H.R. 6320, which Rep. Wilson emphasized in her remarks to the attendees.

We were thankful for the active participation and gracious hospitality that the state affiliates in Colorado and Minnesota provided before, during and after the events. Specifically, we would like to recognize Rod Chard, chair of the board of directors of the American Council of the Blind of Colorado, along with ACB of Colorado executive director Barbara Boyer, who led a great contingent of ACBC members to the brunch in Denver, and Janet Dickelman, president, ACB of Minnesota, who arranged for several Minnesota members to attend the luncheon in Minneapolis, thereby giving the blindness community and ACB a considerable presence. Jeff and I believe that these convention events should become a tradition. The inability to attract either an audience, except for people with disabilities, or many party leaders, underscores how far the disability movement has to go in order to become a true force in American politics. Nonetheless, these events are excellent first steps, and the leading role that we in the American Council of the Blind are playing in them illustrates our position of importance within the disability community.

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