by Penny Reeder
The ACB Board of Directors met virtually on August 15, 2023. You can access a podcast of the meeting here: ACB Media Network
President Deb Cook Lewis opened the meeting around 8 p.m. Eastern. All board members were present, as well as several staff members, and convention coordinator Janet Dickelman.
After the preliminaries, president Lewis and executive director Dan Spoone led the board in celebrating all of those who contributed to the success of this year’s convention in Schaumburg, Ill. – including every ACB staff member, the convention steering and program committees, ACB members, volunteers from the Schaumburg area, the Illinois host committee, and many others. About 1,200 people registered for the convention, Deb said, and about half were in-person, the other half virtual.
Deb informed the board that she is still sorting through ACB’s current committee structure, learning about the composition of the many committees, getting to know committee members and chairs better, and responding to individual requests for changes. The online listing of committee chairs and members will be updated by the end of September, and she expects that, by next summer, ACB will have a formal committee application process in place.
Many of our committees are holding periodic open meetings, where all ACB members are invited to come and learn what the committees are doing. She encouraged ACB members to look for announcements about these meetings and to come and learn what our committees do to find out whether they would like to join.
Introducing the topic of whether ACB should be holding conventions in states where the political environment may reflect values that are incompatible with our organizational commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, Deb said that she and other ACB officers have heard from a number of members who have expressed reservations about the wisdom of holding our 2024 convention in the state of Florida because of recently adopted state legislation and widely publicized rhetoric reflecting bias against members of LGBTQ+, and Black, and ethnically diverse communities.
She said that callers and letter-writers had expressed anxiety about gender bias and restroom usage, about abortion-related medication prohibitions, and safety for people of color. She said that there had been suggestions that ACB could be placing our members in harm’s way by holding our convention in Jacksonville, and that some people have recommended that the board develop stronger policies regarding how our organizational values intersect with the process for selecting future convention venues.
While some members believe ACB should cancel contracts with convention hotels in Florida and Texas because of their concerns about the safety of gender, racially, and ethnically diverse convention attendees, many others felt strongly that the programmatically and fiscally responsible thing for ACB to do is to continue with our convention plans.
“The ACB Florida affiliate wants us to come,” Deb said, “and people have pointed out that ACB has held many conventions in controversial places at controversial times in the past. We cannot control what the environment will be like in any jurisdiction, especially since we make our convention arrangements ahead.”
Recognizing that the board had cancelled contracts with convention hotels during the pandemic, Deb explained that the officially identified ongoing COVID-19 health crisis gave ACB the leverage we needed to cancel our conventions and negotiate with hotels under terms that were financially favorable to ACB. Our contract with the Jacksonville Hyatt hotel is a direct result of those negotiations which allowed ACB to cancel the convention which had been scheduled to occur in Phoenix. Now, the pandemic has officially been declared at an end. What that means to ACB is that, if we cancel our contract with the Jacksonville Hyatt now, we will be penalized $387,000. Even if we choose not to go to Jacksonville, we will have to pay that amount to the hotel. Besides that, she added, there’s the possibility that we would experience additional negative financial consequences, due to sponsorship and other general convention revenue losses. If we were to cancel with the Dallas hotel at this point, we would be penalized $250,000.
In addition to considering the fiscal impact of canceling hotel contracts, she urged the board to think about the messages we would be sending to our donors and others. For example, would canceling our contracts with Jacksonville and Dallas jeopardize our ability to obtain future contracts – or our ability to hold future in-person conventions at all?
Following that introduction, the board discussed and ultimately unanimously adopted the following motion, put forth by second vice president Ray Campbell, and seconded by immediate past president Kim Charlson: The ACB Board of Directors, having weighed both the concerns expressed by our membership and the fiscal and other implications to ACB, reaffirms the decision to move ahead with the 2024 Conference and Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, where we will gather to once again celebrate all people who are blind or have low vision, from all backgrounds and walks of life.
After the vote, Deb assured the group that she, Janet and the convention committee will be reaching out to the various entities which will facilitate our convention in Jacksonville, and bringing forward the issues that are concerning to our members. She expressed optimism about the hotel’s willingness to provide a safe and welcoming environment, expects the airport to provide a safe and secure venue for all travelers, and that issues of concern will be important aspects of discussions with tour venues. Janet and Deb will update the board regarding plans for our Jacksonville convention at the fall board meeting.
As part of his executive director’s report, Dan asked Clark Rachfal to highlight several achievements associated with many of ACB’s ongoing advocacy goals that occurred during the celebrations of the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clark affirmed ACB’s appreciation of the Access Board’s final release of the revised Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) to the Federal Register for final publication.
In the same week, ACB was notified that the FCC had published the Video Conferencing Accessibility Guidelines Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) in the Federal Register. ACB is working with the Audio Description co-chairs and the Sight and Sound Impaired (SASI) Committee to provide comments on the proposed guidelines.
ACB was also notified by the Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Justice that the long-awaited Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Web Sites and Mobile Applications Accessibility NPRM was ready for publication in the Federal Register.
During the week of July 26, ACB participated in several public events that were held in conjunction with these releases and the anniversary of the ADA, including an Access Board Town Hall Meeting, a White House Roundtable and Listening Session, and a listening roundtable with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) held in recognition of the ADA anniversary.
Dan and Clark updated the board on ACB’s communication with the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation Education Professionals (ACVREP) with respect to their development of a curriculum for certifying occupational therapists (OTs) in the field of vision services. Dan had shared a draft of the letter to ACVREP with the board prior to the meeting. After discussion, the board approved the letter, which expresses ACB’s disappointment at not being included as a stakeholder in the process of defining standards for occupational therapists who, once certified, will be providing rehabilitation services to people who are blind and have low vision, and ACB’s insistence on being part of the continuing process for developing standards for certifying OTs.
Deb said that she expects ACVREP to respond to our letter with positive steps for including ACB and other blind and low vision stakeholders in their ongoing process for developing certification standards for occupational therapists, especially since she and Clark, as well as Dan and Kim Charlson, participated in ongoing and positive discussions with ACVREP personnel during the resolutions process prior to and during our convention general sessions.
The board also voted to invest in a renewed effort by the VisionServe Alliance (VSA) and its partners to investigate the feasibility of successfully advocating for Medicare reimbursement for vision rehabilitation professionals who work with blind and low vision individuals who qualify for Medicare healthcare coverage. ACB supported the Low Vision Medicare Demonstration Project sponsored by VisionServe Alliance from 2003 to 2011, which led to the creation of CMS-approved codes associated with billing for specific low vision and blindness-related services. When the project ended in 2011, no follow-up or expansion program was launched, but now many believe that the political environment may be more favorable for obtaining Medicare reimbursement for rehabilitation teachers, therapists, certified orientation and mobility specialists and other professionals who work with older adults experiencing vision loss. Achieving this goal could significantly increase the number of certified professionals working in the field of blindness and low vision services, and more members of this vastly underserved population could then get the training they need to cope with vision loss and remain viable members of their communities.
Observing that Durward K. McDaniel and other ACB leaders created the National Educational and Legal Defense Services fund to support this kind of advocacy, Jeff Thom made a motion to withdraw $2,500 from the NELDS fund to assist VSA and our partners in a preliminary investigation of the advisability of pursuing CMS coverage for blindness services. Kim Charlson suggested that the amount be increased to $3,000. The board agreed, and approved the withdrawal unanimously.
Following a review of a proposed ranking of resolution priorities which will guide ACB’s advocacy and governmental affairs staff, committees, and affiliates’ work, the board approved the rankings. Prioritization allows us to consider what we are going to be able to do immediately, compared to other results that may require longer-term, collaborative, or sustained effort. Noting that ongoing advocacy to achieve the goals outlined in resolutions adopted in earlier years cannot cease when additional resolutions are added at the most recent convention, Deb said that, following the conclusion of each annual convention, and as staff and others meet to establish prioritization rankings, ACB will review where we are with respect to achieving the goals of resolutions adopted in prior years, and determine which of them need to be carried forward so that, knowing how much is actually on our plate, we can be strategic about our planning and efficient with our resources.
Clark reminded members that the Resolutions Index is now available online at https://www.acb.org/resolutions-index. The index is a very useful resource, he said, for retrieving specific information included in resolutions that ACB has adopted over the years.
Final items on the meeting agenda included electing and approving nominations for several committees. Those elected to the budget committee were Kim Charlson, David Trott, and Jeff Thom. Deb nominated Katie Frederick to serve as chair of ACB’s Public Awareness Steering Committee, and the board approved Katie’s appointment unanimously. The board elected Ray Campbell, Michael Garrett, Doug Powell and Gabriel Lopez-Kafati to serve on the executive committee. The meeting adjourned immediately afterward.