by Mitch Pomerantz

My September and October columns were devoted to excerpting my report to the membership at the ACB national convention this past July. Here's the final installment.

I would be remiss if I failed to talk about the MMS (Monthly Monetary Support) program and committee. Participation has been slow but steady during the past year. Last year at this time, ACB and our affiliates received a total of just under $50,000 annually. ACB alone received slightly over $37,000 per year. This year, those figures are a bit over $56,000 and almost $44,000, respectively. Individual contributors have increased from 144 to 161. During these very tough times, ACB members need to show their dedication by committing to making regular contributions...

In response to the recent closure of the Oregon School for the Blind and the pending closures of the North Carolina and Illinois schools, I have established a task force to develop a strategy in providing all possible assistance to state affiliates facing either outright closure or consolidation of their schools for the blind with schools for the deaf. These hallowed institutions are at a crossroads, and ACB must do everything possible to steer them down the path to continued operation, not the path to extinction. (Note: Since the convention, both schools mentioned were funded for the current fiscal year.)

It took far longer than I had anticipated, but ACB is now offering the Washington Connection in Spanish. It can be accessed by pressing "2" when you hear the prompt after calling the ACB office during evenings and weekends. Along with the two Spanish-language brochures available thanks to the efforts of the membership committee, we have the tools to reach out to the growing community of Latino monolingual blind and visually impaired people.

Communicating with individual ACB members is something about which I feel most strongly. I continue to host "Office Hours" on a semi-regular basis. For those who don't know about it, every six weeks to two months, I chat with anyone who calls about any ACB-related topic for approximately 90 minutes. It gives you the chance to put me on the spot, or make suggestions on ways to improve our organization. While I haven't been entirely successful yet, I've tried getting the word out to all our members, particularly those who do not have access to the Internet.

The third aspect of the president's job concerns managing our relations with entities outside of ACB. For too long, we ceded the blindness playing field to the National Federation of the Blind. However, we are taking steps to assume our rightful place as a major player in this community, and those efforts will continue for as long as I have any say in the matter.

ACB is an active member, along with the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America, in the Blind Entrepreneurs' Alliance (BEA). We know that there are those within Congress and the larger disability community who want to dilute the program or do away with it altogether. Through BEA's efforts, and those of RSVA and ACB, we will do whatever is necessary to protect and expand Randolph-Sheppard so as to provide viable employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired people.

This past August, Chris Gray and I represented ACB at the seventh quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union in Geneva, Switzerland. Marlaina Lieberg served as ACB's delegate to the Women's Forum and, along with the former manager, Chrissie Cochrane, streamed the WBU conference on ACB Radio. The highlight for us was the unanimous adoption of a resolution regarding quiet cars which we drafted.

Let me bring everyone up to date on ACB's participation in the Reading Rights Coalition. If you read the June "Braille Forum," you know that ACB was asked to participate in a cross-disability effort, the Reading Rights Coalition, which was organized to oppose the decision by Amazon, Inc., regarding its then newly released Kindle 2 Book Reader. You also know that the board voted unanimously to join this coalition. This action was based on Amazon's decision to cave in to pressure from the Authors' Guild and the six largest book publishers and turn off the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle 2.

Right now, the Kindle is only accessible to persons with some usable vision. In an effort to begin addressing this lack of access for blind people, on June 25th -- in an unprecedented initiative -- ACB joined with NFB in filing suit in federal court against Arizona State University. The suit seeks an injunction to prohibit ASU from using the new Kindle DX E-Book Reader in a number of designated classes because it is not accessible to blind students. This suit is brought on behalf of blind students who will be prevented from independently accessing their own textbooks on the Kindle DX, and alleges that use of the Kindle is a violation of both the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. The named student in the complaint is Darrell Shandrow, an ACB member.

Colleagues, with the help of a truly supportive board and officers, state and special-interest affiliate presidents and other leaders, but most importantly, each and every one of you, the American Council of the Blind is assuming our rightful place as the pre-eminent consumer advocacy organization of blind and visually impaired people in this nation.

We are making tremendous strides toward improving the lives of blind and visually impaired people, but we have much more work yet to do. There are advocacy issues on the local, state and national levels for every ACB member to tackle: supporting installation of accessible pedestrian signals; saving specialized state programs and services; and fighting for equal opportunity and our share of the American dream. Please join me in seeing this work through to a successful conclusion. Thank you, and take care.

At long last, that concludes my national convention report. See you next month.

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