by Sharon Lovering and Jenine Stanley

The theme of this year's convention was "Discover the Treasures of ACB," and those who attended found many treasures, from the tours (including one to the Grand Canyon) to the auction, from general sessions to the banquet, and in the many special-interest affiliate events.


"Ladies and gentlemen, I call the 49th annual convention of the American Council of the Blind to order!" said Mitch Pomerantz. He thanked Rod Ellickson of Peoria, Ariz., for providing the pre-session entertainment. "Welcome to everyone who is with us this evening, and welcome to those of you listening on ACB Radio, the voice of the blind around the world!"

Following the invocation, the presentation of colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, Marchelle Franklin, deputy chief of staff for the mayor's office, welcomed attendees to Phoenix. "Good evening to everyone," Franklin said. "On behalf of city of Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon, our eight Phoenix city council members, our 17,000 Phoenix city employees, and the 1.7 million residents that call Phoenix home, we welcome you to our city." She read a proclamation from the mayor and the city council stating that July 10-17 was American Council of the Blind Week.

Ron Brooks, president of the Arizona Council of the Blind, said, "We welcome you to Phoenix, and we welcome you to the great state of Arizona." He thanked Barbara McDonald and the local host committee for all their work.

Following Brooks' greeting, ACB president Mitch Pomerantz gave his report. (For the full text of Pomerantz's report, see the September, October, and November issues.)

From the president's report, the convention moved on to the topic of e-books and the Reading Rights Coalition with Daniel Goldstein, a partner of Brown, Goldstein and Levy. "The last time I was in Phoenix, I was defending Mitch's deposition and Marc Maurer's deposition back to back in the suit we had filed against Arizona State University over the Kindle," Goldstein said.

He told his listeners that over the last 12 years he has focused on access to digital information. "In February of 2009 … the NFB, the ACB and 30 other organizations involving print disabilities got together in the Reading Rights Coalition." Why? "The inability… to access this huge storehouse of intellectual property that the rest of the world is coming to have at the touch of a fingertip, that's what you call a severe handicap, and that's why these groups got together: to combat it," he said.

George Kerscher invented the e-book in 1988 as an accessibility device, Goldstein said, "and then we waited … for the mainstream technology world to see it as a mainstream device." In November 2007 the first Kindle came out, and it was an immediate hit. In February 2008, Kerscher, Goldstein and several others went to visit the Kindle team to talk about access. "As George eloquently put it … 'If you make the text talk, you will make lots and lots of money because a businessman who's uploaded the stuff he needs for his meeting on the Kindle doesn't finish on the plane, hops in his rental car and what does he do? He switches over to the text to speech to finish listening to what he needs for his meeting.'"

In February 2009 the Kindle 2 came out, "and the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers went ape and said, 'You've got to turn off this text to speech; we didn't license it, we haven't agreed to it, and we're not going along with it.' And Amazon called up and said, 'Well, OK, we messed up, because if we'd done it right, then we could say we did it for the blind and they couldn't scream at us. But we didn't, because we didn't make the menus talk. But if text to speech is turned off, you guys are really in bad shape, so you have to come to our defense.' You can imagine the two words I wanted to say." The audience howled with laughter.

By March 2010, the coalition, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers had agreed on a joint statement, "the gist of which is that whenever a book is available in other than print, that version of the book must be accessible," he said. Two weeks ago the Departments of Justice and Education released a letter to all colleges and universities informing them that "the use of inaccessible e-book-reading devices is a violation of the law, and they must not do it."

"We're not done, and I'm not going to leave this battle until we do," Goldstein stated. "I look forward to the day – the not too distant day -- when every person in this room can get the same book at the same time and the same price as everyone else."

Following Goldstein's report, Pomerantz introduced

Carol Ewing-Ragsdale, who presented this year's two first-timers, Kenneth Semien Sr. of Texas and Tony Ferrita of North Carolina. Pomerantz then presented this year's new life members. They are: Randy Herndon of Memphis, Tenn.; Thelma Crumpler, Raleigh, N.C.; Jane Ferrita, Burlington, N.C.; Filo Tu, Honolulu, Hawaii; Don Thomson, Waipahu, Hawaii; Kathy Casey, Albany, N.Y.; Mike Godino, Malverne, N.Y.; Mildred Jackson, Norfolk, Va.; and Christopher Bell, Roseville, Minn.

The evening wrapped up with the first credentials report and the roll call of affiliates.


Conventioneers were up bright and early for the first morning session of convention. Margarine Beaman talked briefly about sponsors, including Wells Fargo Bank, GW Micro, Adobe Systems, and Maxi-Aids. Business began with some corrections to the delegate list; the final credentials report; and the adoption of the convention standing rules and the program. John Huffman, acting chair of the constitution and bylaws committee, gave the first readings of several proposed amendments.

First vice president Kim Charlson presided over the remainder of the session. She introduced Cindy Van Winkle, chair of the awards committee, and Paul Edwards, chair of the board of publications, to present various awards.

Van Winkle thanked the awards committee members for all their hard work. She presented the Affiliate Growth Award to the South Dakota Association of the Blind, which had an 81.8 percent increase in their membership this year. Accepting the award was Keith Bundy, who said, "We had struggled a few years with membership numbers, and we have seen this increase, and we're going to be talking a little more about it on Thursday at the membership meeting."

Edwards thanked the BOP members for all their work. "We have three awards to give away this morning, and each of them is a little bit different," he said. He presented the Vernon Henley Media Award to the ACB of Texas for the creation of a Texas-specific public service video promoting white cane safety throughout the state.

Edwards next talked about Hollis Liggett and the award that's named after him. "The ability to speak freely is at the heart of what we in ACB represent," he stated. "So it is our pleasure to present the Hollis Liggett Award to a publication that is produced by an affiliate that meets extremely high standards of quality." And the winner is June Horst and the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.

"I am speechless!" June Horst said. "I took on this job 17 years ago when it was a four-page newsletter. It now is anywhere from 80 to 90 pages. … Thank you, board of publications!"

The final BOP award was the Ned E. Freeman Award. "There were five or six articles, any of which could have won," Edwards stated. "The one that in fact did win is an article that … all of us on the board of publications thought was extremely well written, contained an immense amount of good information for our folks, and essentially was an article about employment." This year the award went to Lisa Brooks for her article titled "How Forgiveness Got Me A Job."

"Ron, you dirty dog!" Lisa Brooks said. (She hadn't known about the award, but her husband did.) "It's a privilege to be up here and such an honor that an experience that happened to me could turn into something that hopefully could help someone else."

The convention next turned its focus to discovering some of Arizona's treasures with help from from Alice Duckworth, outreach coordinator of the Arizona Capitol Museum in Phoenix. "I work for one of the treasures of Arizona," she stated. "You start talking about things like gold, silver, diamonds, peridot, turquoise … you get off on that and people think that that's the real treasure. Unh-unh. Treasure is people, and people mean stories."

Following a few stories, Charlson introduced Kerryann Ifill, deputy president of the Senate in Barbados and secretary of the Caribbean Council for the Blind (CCB). "It is indeed a privilege, an honor, it's a thrill to be here," she said. "I told somebody last week that coming to the ACB conference was like going to Disney World for a blind person."

Ifill described her country as having "coral white sands … turquoise waters … [and] warmed by year-round sunshine." Its population is 270,000; 13,142 of those are individuals with disabilities. Throughout all the Caribbean islands, the blindness population is 1 percent, low vision at 3 percent. Major causes of blindness include cataracts, childhood blindness, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.

CCB runs a number of programs and initiatives, including development of a degree program at the University of Guyana, eyeglass distribution, and information technology training. The Barbados Association for the Blind and Deaf (BABD) is the oldest of three organizations involved in blindness activities. It was established in 1957; it hosts the sheltered workshop and runs the rehabilitation program. Workers cane chairs and make mops and brooms; some are enrolled in the new information technology program, learning how to do basic keyboarding and work with basic computer programs. The association also has "some somewhat antiquated notions about blindness," she said. "Up until about four years ago, the office of president could not be held by a blind person." That has changed; the organization now has its second blind president.

BABD has set up a bus pass program. Regular riders pay $1.50 to take the bus anywhere in Barbados; if you're over 65, you ride for free. Association members receive bus passes that cover the fares. Barbados also has a blind cricket team going. She called the regional cricket tournament "one of the best representations of the blindness community working with mainstream society, because cricket is such a binding reality across the Caribbean nations."

"Blindness is a challenge," she concluded. "Being blind is not what we do; being blind is who we are. Therefore, we have to find the best ways to not only live with it but to teach the world around us how to adapt to suit our needs." She quipped that if anyone wanted to find her, she'd be checking out the exhibit hall.

After the break, the convention heard from Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary, Office of Disability Employment Policy. Martinez complimented Hilda Solis, secretary of the Department of Labor. "She [has] truly got our issues, she has our back, and when she says 'good jobs for everybody,' she means everybody, including those of us with disabilities."

Martinez mentioned meeting with Melanie Brunson and Eric Bridges about possible collaboration between ODEP and ACB. "We're still not doing enough together in my opinion," she said. "There's still a lot we could be doing, and a lot of it has to do with improving accessibility of technology in the government. We at Labor realize that we have to set an example for the rest of the government, and really try to make our processes as accessible as possible."

She told her listeners about an upcoming notice of proposed rule-making. "In it there are a number of questions that we would like for groups to respond to," she said. "In particular I would recommend that you focus on the questions around information and communication technology. Because we have to get contractors to understand that everything is being automated, including applications online, and many of those processes are inaccessible for us. … This is a real critical rule that we need you to respond to."

She stressed the importance of technology. "The tremendous advance of technology, both in the workplace and in our homes, has become in many ways the great equalizer and in other ways the great unequalizer for folks with disabilities who are job-seekers or who wish to move ahead in their professions," she said.

Following Martinez's presentation, Charlson introduced the panel on specialized rehabilitation services for the blind. Ed House, manager of Arizona Services for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Deaf, introduced the panelists: Michael Gandy, director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation for the Blind in Mississippi; Pat Cannon, director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind; Linda Mock, administrator of the Oregon Commission for the Blind; and Greg Trapp, executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind.

Gandy spoke first. Mississippi's services for the blind began in 1920, became a separate commission in 1928, and a separate state agency in 1975. In 1991, blindness rehabilitation joined general vocational rehabilitation. "Our consumer groups … pressed our executive director to work with our state personnel board to create what we are now, which is basically an agency within an agency."

One thing that has helped with communication between consumers and the state agency, Gandy said, is that he has joined both consumer groups. "It's hard, even when you disagree on issues, to be mad at somebody when you've shared a pizza with them or sat next to them at a business meeting," he said.

Speaking of pizza, the newest innovation in Mississippi's Randolph-Sheppard program has been partnerships with fast-food chains. For many years, vendors operated a grill in the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The vendors there recently partnered with Subway, "and that has made a tremendous difference." He encouraged his listeners to try working with "name-brand partners" in their locations.

Pat Cannon talked about what's going on in Michigan, including the funds the state has received from the federal government for rehabilitation programs. He mentioned several things that Michigan is doing with those funds. "One of the things that we have noticed with our clients over the past several years … is … they still have enormous difficulty getting their first job," he said. "As we talk to employers, they say, 'We'd like to give this person a chance, but they've never held a job before.'" Michigan has created an internship program to give experience to those who are nearly job-ready.

The next panelist was Linda Mock. Oregon has had a separate agency for the blind since about 1920. "In the '70s the structure of our commission board was changed to become a consumer-controlled agency," she said. The board's seven members are appointed by the governor and approved by the commission, and always include an ACB representative; a majority are legally blind.

In May 2009, the Oregon governor announced that "he would be eliminating a number of boards and commissions in order to streamline and save money, and on that list was the Oregon Commission for the Blind," she said. Mock got a call from somebody listening to the speech online, informing her of this development. She got several more calls about it before attending a meeting with the governor's representative. "When I met with the policy adviser … she said, 'Have you heard the news?' and I said, 'I have.'"

Mock and her staff wrote and sent out an action alert. "The response to me was really overwhelming," she said. "People wrote letters; I got copied on a lot of those letters, which were very moving testimonials … of the impact of the services that blind individuals had received from our agency and the difference that it made in their lives." People were visiting the governor's office and the legislature, pleading the Oregon Commission's case. "Within a couple weeks I was getting calls from the legislative committee saying, 'OK, why don't you call off all these people?' … I said, 'Well, I can't really call off anybody until you've made your decision, because the decision does rest with you. … You have to understand that the blind community is passionate about this in our state … '" Oregon got a happy ending – full funding for the commission for the blind.

Greg Trapp discussed the situation in New Mexico. "You've heard this morning many of the functions and programs and services that we provide … these are significantly at stake during these times of economic crisis and state budget deficits," he said. Several years ago there was an effort to consolidate his state's commission for the blind. ACB and NFB joined forces and appeared at a meeting of the governor's commission on disability. "It was that presence, that forceful voice, that kept my agency from being consolidated," he stated. However, given the current financial situation, he expects there to be another effort to consolidate state agencies. He asked ACB and its New Mexico chapter for their support and advocacy.

Trapp talked about quiet cars, the danger they present, and how to mitigate risks to pedestrians, cyclists and others. One recommendation from the New Mexico quiet car task force is that all new and used hybrid cars be sold with a warning tag and a waiver that the buyer would have to sign, informing him of the risks of these quiet cars. The task force also recommends a similar procedure for those renting hybrid cars.

House wrapped up the discussion by stressing the importance of ACB members staying informed, involved, and advocating for the services they want. Following a brief question-and-answer session, Oral Miller talked about the Recreation Zone and activities that would be going on there, including rowing and water aerobics. The session wrapped up with announcements.


Convention business began with the nominating committee report given by Judi Cannon. John Huffman gave first readings of proposed amendments. Eric Bridges ended the convention business with a call to action on pending legislation that would be heard before the Senate on July 15.

Second vice president Brenda Dillon presided over the remainder of the session. She introduced Lainey Feingold to discuss the partnership with ACB on structured negotiation. Feingold's theme was "Structured Negotiation Depends On Me." Talking ATMs, accessible pedestrian signals and point-of-sale devices are just a few of the successes achieved by ACB and Feingold's firm over the past 16 years of cooperation.

The newest initiative is access to confidential health care information. ACB is working with the American Cancer Society on access to its information. Access to prescription information is also ongoing. Other efforts under way include access to audio description at all movie theaters and access to airline kiosks and web sites. Feingold reminded everyone that structured negotiation is a collaborative effort unless the companies fail to work with us. Then her firm and ACB are prepared to take legal action. She encouraged everyone to contact her about access to information in any context. People can also request e-mail updates at her web site,

Gems of education sparkled next as scholarship committee chair Patty Slaby introduced the 2010 ACB scholarship recipients.

Sandy Sommers, Ohio

Carlos Vaeza, Maine

Brooke Jostad, Texas

David Black, California

Lisa Johnson, Minnesota

Rose Martin, Pennsylvania

Carry Joanis, New York

Laura Glowacki, Illinois

Casey Burkhardt, Pennsylvania

Mona Minkara, Florida

Spencer Stewart, Massachusetts

Michael Byington, Kansas

Reba Landry, Pennsylvania

Sara Conrad, Michigan

Marion Badie, Georgia

Benjamin Manning, Massachusetts

Sara Minkara, Massachusetts

Cathy Schmitt Whitaker presented the scholarships awarded by the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International (CCLVI). This year's recipients were Tiffany Swoish of Michigan; Mindy Cook of Ohio; and Yvonne Garris of Pennsylvania.

Following the scholarship presentations, conventioneers heard from Sam Bagenstos, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice. 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Bagenstos talked about the past 20 years of civil rights history. He noted that his department must win back the trust of people in the civil rights field, and that he is encouraged to have an energetic staff of both career and new employees ready to enforce the ADA.

Bagenstos stated that one of his main areas of focus is access to technology for people with disabilities. The Amazon Kindle case is significant in that it clearly states that universities will not be able to use inaccessible technology. If such technology as the Kindle is made accessible, it can provide equal access to information in real time for all students, but especially those with visual impairments. Access to testing is another important area on which the Civil Rights Division is working.

Goods and services provided over the Internet are also covered by the ADA. Bagenstos has testified before Congress that DOJ is firmly committed to this fact and that typically, only small changes need be made in web sites to make them fully accessible.

DOJ is also planning more rule-making and enforcement of video description for all movie theaters. Public transportation access issues have been addressed, particularly in a recent case in Jackson, Miss. Access to businesses for people using service animals continues to be an issue, and Bagenstos assured us that his office is aggressively pursuing these cases. He noted that they are working hard to have the updated regulations to the ADA approved by the anniversary.

The Department of Justice has done a good job over the past 20 years of offering technical assistance to businesses and state and local governments on the ADA. They will continue to offer this assistance. Bagenstos noted that if such entities refuse to comply, he and his division are fully prepared to take legal action and seek extensive remedies. He needs our help to learn about emerging issues. People may contact him via e-mail, [email protected]. DOJ representatives are also available Monday through Friday on the ADA Hotline, 1-800-514-0103.

Showing us the many facets of the National Library Service were director Frank Kurt Cylke and foreign language librarian David Fernandez-Barrial. 200,000 Digital Talking Book players are now in the hands of library patrons around the country. There are approximately 20,000 digital titles now on the BARD web site, with 2,000 titles added per year. Approximately 19,000 of the 22,000 cassette titles will be converted to the digital format. Finally, work will take place on the long-playing records to give access to the complete collection.

Fernandez-Barrial explained his job at NLS in acquiring audio and braille material in languages other than English. He noted that NLS has re-established a flow of Spanish titles into the digital collection. Maintaining a balance of interests within these titles can be difficult. The top five languages in the NLS collection are: Spanish, 2,290 audio, 798 braille; French, 682 audio, 465 braille; Ukrainian, 931 total; German, 822 total; and Russian, 555 total. The foreign language collections of NLS contain nearly 9,500 titles in 65 languages.

In a foreign language preference survey of participating libraries, 3 percent of patrons show interest in foreign language titles. Emerging languages of interest include Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and indigenous languages.

Spain's ONCE has granted NLS permission to make its five-volume "The Blind in History" available to patrons. Fernandez-Barrial is very excited about this seminal work being part of the collection. Work is ongoing to secure rights for English translation. Exchange of other foreign language materials such as serials in Arabic and children's literature in Chinese will be available. Some braille publications are also being converted to digital format to share, along with web braille files, with other libraries around the world.

Fernandez-Barrial has taken part in international discussions of copyright law as it relates to special materials. His view for the future includes a Spanish portal for the web site and information on the NLS main pages in a variety of foreign languages about its programs. He encouraged anyone with questions to contact him via e-mail at [email protected] or via phone at (202) 707-0611.

The morning session ended with a look at ACB's Audio Description Project (ADP) from Joel Snyder, the project's director. During the project's second annual conference, attendees reviewed the final national guidelines for audio description and discussed a certification process for describers. Eleven countries were represented at this year's conference. Other highlights included a presentation on how blind people can be involved in the audio description process from production to review. Awards to be presented this year include the Margaret Pfanstiehl Memorial Achievement Award for Research and Development and the Barry Levine Memorial Award for Career Achievement. Winners of the Young Described Film Critic Award will also be honored.

The United Nations worked with ADP to describe a film about employment for people with disabilities. Snyder announced that ADP is also working with Art Education for the Blind of New York on an audio-described tour of the White House. Efforts continue to pass H.R. 3101 and S. 3304 to provide mandated audio description on broadcast television. ACB is also applying for several grants from the Department of Education for audio description of educational programming. These grants, totaled, could provide $1 million per year for the next five years to produce such programming.

Snyder encouraged people to visit the new web site,, which features a list of all known audio-described movies on DVD. His e-mail address is [email protected], and phone is (202) 467-5083.

Watch for part 2 of this article in the November issue!


All photos in this issue copyright 2010 by Starlight Photo.

Dan Goldstein tells the convention about the formation of the Reading Rights Coalition.

June Horst accepts the Hollis K. Liggett Braille Free Press Award. “I’m speechless!” she says. To her right is Paul Edwards, chairman of the board of publications.

Kerryann Ifill describes Barbados’ white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and year-round sunshine.

Kathy Martinez talks about the progress the government has made in making things accessible for blind people, and discusses possible collaboration with ACB.

The scholarship winners and committee members pause for a picture. Top row, left to right: Lisa Johnson, Michael Garrett, Rebecca Bridges, Patty Slaby, Sandy Sommers, Sara Conrad, Reba Landry, Richard Rueda, Michael Gravitt, Don Koors, Mitch Pomerantz. Bottom row, left to right: Rose Martin, Michael Byington, Carry Joanis, Cathy Schmitt Whitaker, Marion Badie, Brooke Jostad, Laura Glowacki, Mona Minkara.

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