by Mitch Pomerantz

Here is the conclusion to my president's report given at the ACB national conference and convention this past July.

ACB is actively promoting audio description on television, in films and live theater through our Audio Description Project, headed up by Joel Snyder. We are in the process of submitting a grant application to the Department of Education which, if successful, will greatly expand ACB's role in advocating for and providing quality audio description to blind and visually impaired people.

I'd like to turn now to the two challenges which are internal to this organization: fundraising and membership development. Former Congressman Tom Delay once famously commented that "money is the mother's milk of politics." If so, then it's also the lifeblood of organizations such as ACB. While much can be done with the help of dedicated volunteers, ACB requires ongoing funding to carry out our work. A million dollar-plus annual budget is insufficient to adequately address and confront the aforementioned challenges through concerted advocacy, public relations, and/or litigation.

I must pause here to comment that sometimes, things don't work out quite the way we'd have liked. In 2008, ACB hired a professional development director, Dena Wilson, to grow our fundraising capabilities. Unfortunately this initiative failed to bear significant fruit and we found it necessary to let Ms. Wilson go at the beginning of June. I believe that ACB must have a professional fundraiser in-house in order to compete with other not-for-profit organizations. However, for the foreseeable future we will rely on our remaining staff and the efforts of our members to generate revenues for ACB.

Our thrift stores continue generating revenue although there is certainly room for them to do more in order to contribute to ACB's revenue stream. One very positive note is that this past year, we were able to acquire a viable thrift store operation in Amarillo, Texas; that store is doing very well for ACB.

Since our 2009 convention, ACB's Monthly Monetary Support or MMS Program continues to grow, albeit more slowly than we would like. ACB has seen a net increase of 7 percent in participants; a 9.4 percent increase in gross receipts; a 16 percent increase in the contribution to affiliates; and a 7.6 percent increase in net revenues to ACB. While all of us are aware that too many members have been seriously impacted by the economy, the MMS Program must do far more to enhance ACB's overall income. If you can contribute as little as $5 per month, I ask you to please take the few minutes necessary to sign up this week at the registration desk while you're here.

Our second internal challenge is maintaining and growing ACB's membership. More and more Americans become blind and visually impaired every year. As our fellow baby boomers age, as more of us experience vision loss, there are more individuals who need to learn about and join the American Council of the Blind.

Mainstreaming and other factors have led to the isolation of blind and visually impaired people from one another. Today's 20- and 30-somethings have had almost no exposure to their blind and visually impaired peers and our culture, and hence, to the necessity of becoming part of ACB. Those who lose their vision later in life bring to that experience the myths, misconceptions and stereotypes about blindness and blind people foisted upon them and us by society. It is no wonder that recruiting new members to ACB isn't easy.

In May, representatives of the membership committee visited Idaho to revitalize our affiliate there. I understand that it was a most successful trip and we can expect good things from ACB of Idaho in the future. Visits have also been made recently to Montana and Wyoming and those two organizations -- whose blind residents face unique transportation challenges -- are beginning to see growth.

ACB must become creative in attracting blind and visually impaired people of all ages. Earlier this year, I recorded a three-minute interview for Sky Radio which was carried by the Business and Technology Channel on approximately 29,000 American Airlines flights during May. A 30-second public service announcement was also prepared and aired on the CNN Airport Network at nearly 50 airports around the country, also during May.

We are in the process of establishing a presence on both Facebook and Twitter. We are taking every opportunity to disseminate press releases and public service announcements to the media. ACB is adapting to a changing world in order to remain a thriving organization.

Given the challenges described, no member of the American Council of the Blind has the luxury of complacency or apathy. It should be abundantly clear in the face of such challenges that each and every ACB member must be willing and able to fight to maintain and expand the relatively small piece of the economic pie we've struggled to carve out for ourselves. Complacency and apathy are no longer an option. For if we fail to address those challenges by supporting the legal, legislative and advocacy initiatives being carried out by ACB, there will come a time not too long from now when specialized programs and services will disappear altogether.

In my opinion, every member of the American Council of the Blind has a tremendous responsibility: a responsibility to the brave and visionary men and women who founded this great organization almost 50 years ago; a responsibility to our contemporaries who have yet to fully grasp the importance of the work we do on their behalf; and a responsibility to those blind and visually impaired young people who we hope and pray will follow in our footsteps. We cannot, must not, let them down! Please share this responsibility with me as we carry forward the ACB banner to even greater successes in 2011 and beyond. Thank you, and take care.

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