by Katie Frederick
President Dan Spoone called the opening session of ACB’s second virtual and 60th annual conference and convention to order. The evening began with a moment of reflection, presentation of the colors and Matthew Shifrin performing the national anthem. Convention coordinator Janet Dickelman welcomed attendees to the event, highlighting this year’s theme, Better Together Wherever We Are. Following Janet’s presentation, convention attendees viewed a video highlighting ACB activities over the past year.
Spoone provided opening remarks. “ACB is strong. It is strong in treasure, it is strong in talent, and it is strong in volunteer time. It is all of us, coming together, to make a difference.” President Spoone stated that volunteers put in over 42,000 hours of volunteer time, valued at over $1 million, over the past year. Financially, the American Council of the Blind has an endowment over $5.3 million. The ACB community continues to grow and thrive, providing people who are blind or visually impaired opportunities to facilitate calls, host Zoom sessions and support each other along the way. Diversity, equity and inclusion is an area of focus for ACB. Members of ACB can voluntarily disclose race, gender and ethnicity information to better help the organization’s leadership understand and meet the needs of its members.
ACB’s executive director, Eric Bridges, highlighted areas of growth within the organization over the past year. ACB’s financial growth has enabled the organization to invest in resources, hiring five staff members to help fulfill the organization’s mission, allowing ACB to continue to meet the needs of the membership and the community at large. Swatha Nandhakumar joined ACB in March as the organization’s advocacy and outreach specialist, the position previously filled by Claire Stanley. Also in March, Jo Lynn Bailey-Page was hired as coordinator of ACB’s Audio Description Project and grant writing.
Community events have experienced explosive growth over the past year. In April, ACB received support from the Gibney Foundation, and hired Kolby Garrison, who serves as ACB’s membership services administrative assistant. In May, ACB professionalized its communications and hired Jennifer Flatt, who serves as ACB’s communications manager. Debbie Brown recently joined the staff of ACB’s Alexandria office, and serves as an administrative assistant.
Recently, ACB launched the ACB Media Network, providing a single platform for ACB’s digital communications, including live media streams, ACB podcasts, The Braille Forum and E-Forum and ACB’s blog. “Advocacy is at the core of everything we do within the American Council of the Blind,” Bridges said. Over the past year, ACB has worked to advocate for more accessible voting around the country, and there is more work to be done in this area. The fight for accessible currency continues, and ACB is at the forefront, with content appearing in publications such as “The Wall Street Journal,” TheHill.com and “The Washington Post,” all within the last month. Through a recently launched three-year Get Up and Get Moving campaign, ACB is advocating for access to healthcare equipment, services and applications for all people, especially those who are blind or visually impaired. Bridges highlighted the relationships ACB has with many corporations throughout the country, many of which are sponsoring this year’s conference and convention. These corporations collaborate with ACB and turn to the organization for advice as well.
Spoone highlighted the virtual 2021 ACB Leadership Conference, which gave members an opportunity to connect with elected officials and continue to work on ACB’s advocacy initiatives. In closing, he thanked outgoing board members Sara Alkmin and Dan Dillon for their service to the organization. He also thanked Mitch Pomerantz for his 12 years of service as a delegate to the World Blind Union.
ACB’s membership services coordinator, Cindy Hollis, received a plaque, gift card, and other goodies from members of ACB’s community, thanking her for all the work she has done connecting and supporting individuals, and ensuring community events are safe, respectful and welcoming.
Jeff Petty, Principal Program Manager for Windows Accessibility at Microsoft, spoke about the journey of Windows and Microsoft accessibility. Jeff shared his story, looked back at the history of Windows and accessibility, discussed what’s next for Microsoft and Windows accessibility, and closed with a call to action. Jeff highlighted many of the accessibility features in Windows 10, and discussed how the upcoming Windows 11 operating system will be more accessible and responsive to the needs of people with disabilities. Jeff concluded by encouraging people to provide feedback to Microsoft, call the Disability Answer Desk, try versions of Windows 11 either now or after launch, and feel free to provide direct feedback right from the Windows operating system by pressing the Windows key +F in Windows 10 or 11.
Ralph Smitherman, chair of the credentials committee, thanked his committee for their efforts and informed ACB there were no affiliate issues this year. Brian Charlson, nominating committee chair, presented his report, which included the candidates for ACB officer positions, board of directors positions and board of publications positions. Officer candidates: Dan Spoone, president, Deb Cook Lewis, 1st vice president, Ray Campbell, 2nd vice president, Denise Colley, secretary, and David Trott, treasurer. The following candidates were put forward to fill open positions on the board of directors: Jeff Bishop, Doug Powell, Kenneth Semien Sr., Donna Brown, and Chris Bell. Board of publications candidates placed in nomination for election were Zelda Gebhard, Penny Reeder, and Cachet Wells.
Opening session activities continued, as we met the 2021 Durward K. McDaniel (DKM) First-Timers, JPMorgan Chase Leadership Fellows, ACB life members, and celebrated the lives of two ACB Angels. Spoone introduced the 2021 ACB life members: Shane Aguilera (Calif.); Kate Chamberlin (N.Y.); Patti Cox (Ky.); Brett Humphrey (Wash.); Maria Kristic (N.Y.); Nicolette Noyes (Calif.), and Melanie Alt Sinohui (Tex.).
ACB’s Director of Development, Tony Stephens, read ACB Angel tributes for Charlie Crawford (Md.) and Berl Colley (Wash.). Kenneth Semien Sr. presented the 2021 DKM First-Timers, Kaila Allen of Arizona and Belinda Collins from North Carolina. Eric Bridges presented the 2021 JPMorgan Chase class of leadership fellows: Anthony Corona (Fla.), Natalie Couch (Ky.), Becky Dunkerson (Iowa), Greg Lindberg (Fla.), and Winter Renfrow (Ky.).
Following the affiliate roll call, there was one more item of business to conclude Sunday’s opening general session, elections. The nominating committee placed the name of Dan Spoone on the slate for the office of ACB president. Hearing and seeing no nominations from the floor (the ACB Zoom room), Dan was elected by acclamation to his second term as president. The name of Deb Cook Lewis was put forward for the office of 1st vice president; a nomination was made from the floor placing the name of Mark Richert in the contest. As a result of the contested election, ACB’s 2021 opening general session recessed until 10:30 a.m. Eastern time Monday morning, at which time candidates’ speeches would begin and the election for 1st vice president would occur.
President Dan Spoone called Monday’s general session to order. The JPMorgan Chase fellows recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Tony Stephens recognized sponsors of the 2021 convention. Then it was time to hear the speeches for the two 1st vice president candidates. As all ACB members prepared to vote, ACB partner and sponsor, Google, spoke about what accessibility means and how Google products are accessible for people with disabilities. Angel tributes were heard for Ed “Doc” Bradley (Tex.) and Lori Allison (Wash.).
Kenneth Suratt, Executive Officer, Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Desmond Brown, President, Bahamas Alliance for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Nassau, Bahamas spoke about the progress made and work that remains ensuring people who are blind or visually impaired have access to services in their respective countries.
Rebecca Bridges, chair of ACB’s scholarship committee, spoke next and stated there were over 150 scholarship applicants this year. Rebecca thanked the members of her committee, and the members of the Minneapolis office staff, who assist with the process. Listen to the general session podcasts to learn more about the 2021 ACB scholarship recipients.
Deb Cook Lewis, chair of ACB’s Board of Publications, presented the Vernon Henley Media Award. The U.S. Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) received the award for the outstanding commitment to accessibility by providing extensive audio-described coverage of the inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. This would not have been possible without the work of the audio describers Martin Wilde and Bridget Melton. The PIC provided over nine hours of audio-described coverage, a record amount, and made the content available for streaming via ACB Radio, giving those without a television access to the event.
The final presentation of Monday’s general session, an update from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), featured Jason Yasner, NLS Interim Director, Washington, D.C.; and Mark Santangelo, Chief, NLS Patron and Network Engagement Division, Washington, D.C. Jason and Mark spoke about NLS modernizations over the next five to seven years. BARD and other IT systems will receive upgrades, studies are under way to modernize the process for obtaining books, and work is being done to examine the next iteration of an NLS talking book player.
NLS is working on ways books can be shared between countries, as a result of the Marrakesh Treaty. Research is being conducted to determine how many people have access to smart devices and broadband, as well as those who cannot afford the service. Modernization improvements are also being made across the NLS network of libraries. Webinars are hosted using Zoom, and new staff orientations provide a way for network staff to connect with NLS.
Following Jason and Mark’s presentation, ACB recognized Judy Dixon for her 40-year career with NLS. Judy said, “I have had a wonderful 40 years at NLS. It’s changed hugely, and it’s going to continue to keep changing, that’s pretty exciting. I am looking forward to the next 40 years, doing all I want to do around braille, outreach and advocacy. It’s going to continue to be fun. Thank you so much.”
Election results for the office of 1st vice president were announced, and Deb Cook Lewis was the winner. Ray Campbell, Denise Colley and David Trott were elected to their respective offices by acclamation. Jeff Bishop was also elected to a second term on the board of directors. Doug Powell was next on the slate for a board position, and Koni Sims was nominated to run against Doug from the floor.
President Dan Spoone called Tuesday’s general session to order. The Ross Pangere scholarship recipients performed the Pledge of Allegiance. Tony Stephens recognized the convention sponsors, and the candidates who won Monday’s elections gave brief speeches.
Spoone announced that as a result of Deb Cook Lewis’s election to 1st vice president, a new BOP chair needs to be appointed. Katie Frederick of Worthington, Ohio accepted the appointment of BOP chair. Spoone also announced his appointment of Cheryl Cumings, Boston, Mass., to the BOP. He thanked Deb Cook Lewis and Susan Glass for their work on the BOP over the past two years. As a result of Katie’s appointment to the BOP, a sixth board of directors position is open for a one-year term. The election for the sixth position will take place following the remaining board positions.
Joel Moffatt, Program Manager for Accessibility at Comcast, spoke about accessibility and inclusion updates to the Xfinity and Comcast services. Olympics primetime coverage will have audio-described content, and the entire Paralympics will feature audio description as well. Denise Decker of Washington, D.C. and Bob Hachey of Boston, Mass. were honored as ACB Angels.
Mike May, Chief Evangelist, GoodMaps, Reno, Nev., and Evelyn Tichenor, Chief of Staff, GoodMaps, Nashville, Tenn., provided an overview of the service. GoodMaps Explore is an app for iOS and Android that provides some basic outdoor navigation, but is focused more on indoor navigation. Mike May discussed the differences between indoor and outdoor navigation, and there are multiple purposes for indoor navigation. When promoting indoor navigation, the vendor pays for the mapping, but the map can serve more purposes than just making a place more accessible. GoodMaps is working to expand the indoor navigation, using LIDAR scans and not the traditional beacons. More information is available about GoodMaps by visiting www.goodmaps.com.
ACB’s Director of Advocacy, Clark Rachfal, and Swatha Nandhakumar, ACB’s Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, provided updates on advocacy work within the organization. Clark thanked ACB’s board, leadership, members of the Advocacy Steering Committee, and all other committees who help advocate for the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired. If you have an advocacy concern or issue you would like the ACB advocacy team to look into, contact the national office by phone, or send an email to [email protected]. Not only does the advocacy work happen within ACB, but we work with many external partners as well.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R- W.Va.) wished ACB a happy 60th birthday, and described her efforts to help improve the lives of Americans who are blind or visually impaired by reintroducing the Cogswell-Macy Act, co-sponsoring the ABLE Act, which became law in 2014, ensuring supports for housing, medical care and transportation remain accessible and affordable for people with disabilities. “I stand in your corner and listen to your concerns on the federal level. I will work to move pedestrian safety, voting accessibility and digital accessibility forward for individuals with visual impairments,” Capito said.
Clark and Swatha provided an overview of ACB’s 2021 legislative imperatives, discussed ongoing advocacy work in the areas of voting access, transportation advocacy, digital accessibility and health and wellness access. Listen to the general session podcast for the full report of ACB’s advocacy projects. And, as Clark and Swatha say at the end of the Advocacy Update podcast, “keep advocating.”
Scholarship presentations and candidate elections wrapped up Tuesday’s general session. Doug Powell was elected to a second term on the board. Kenneth Semien Sr. and Donna Brown were elected by acclamation. The fifth seat resulted in a contested election between Chris Bell and Koni Sims.
President Spoone called Wednesday’s general session to order, thanked everyone who participated in ACB’s auction, and invited the JPMorgan Chase Leadership Fellows to perform the Pledge of Allegiance. Candidates who were elected by acclamation during Tuesday’s general session thanked the membership for their votes of support. Candidates’ speeches took place for Chris Bell and Koni Sims for the contested fifth seat on the board of directors. ACB Angel tributes for Wednesday honored Kathy Brockman (Wis.), Bob Dillon (Minn.), and Don Corley (Tenn.).
Kathy Martinez, President and CEO, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), Berkeley, Calif., shared her story and provided updates on the work DRA is doing to improve the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Kathy has worked tirelessly throughout her career to improve access to employment and education. DRA is working with ACB on cases concerning voting access, accessible pedestrian signals, and audio description.
The Council of Citizens with Low Vision International presented three scholarships to deserving students, thanks to the generosity of CCLVI member Fred Scheigert. Following the CCLVI scholarship presentations, ACB’s scholarship committee recognized three scholarship winners. Spoone acknowledged the partnership with the American Foundation for the Blind, providing additional opportunities to award scholarships to deserving students.
Following the scholarship presentations, Talking Book Narrator JP Linton, “Master of the Spoken Word,” DuArt Media Services (formerly Benefit Media, Inc.), New York, N.Y., spoke to conference attendees. JP discussed his start as a narrator and an actor. Command of the English language and word pronunciation has played a vital role in JP’s work.
Growing up in Canada, influenced by a Victorian mother and grandfather and now, living in the United States have contributed to JP’s ability to adapt the work he is reading. Linton has read many genres, including detective work, classic novels and more. “Every hour of reading takes at least one hour of research,” Linton said. After a book is recorded, a proofer reviews the material. JP said the rewards of reading are invaluable; “hearing from people makes what I do the most important reward.”
Wednesday’s general session concluded with candidate elections. Chris Bell was elected to fill the fifth seat on the board. Koni Sims was elected by acclamation to fill the one-year sixth seat. Zelda Gebhard, Penny Reeder and Cachet Wells were all elected by acclamation to serve one-year terms on the board of publications.
Day seven of the 60th annual ACB conference and convention was called to order by President Dan Spoone. DKM First-Timers Kaila Allen, Ariz., and Belinda Collins, N.C., recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Candidates who were elected Wednesday were given an opportunity to thank ACB members for their support. ACB Angels honored Lynn Hedl and Bonnie Byington.
Spoone recognized Jeff Thom to present the 2021 audio description awards. Jeff thanked the members of the audio description project committee, and ACB staff, for their assistance throughout the process. (For a listing of the recipients, see “Achievement Awards in Audio Description Presented,” elsewhere in this issue.)
The audio description project steering committee honored Dr. Joel Snyder for his work on the audio description project, now in its 12th year. Snyder updated conference attendees on the work of the Audio Description Project over the past year. The pandemic provided opportunities for virtual audio description trainings that were well attended, and the virtual trainings will continue following the ACB conference and convention.
Following the audio description awards and presentation, ACB sponsor JPMorgan Chase presented a conversation with the head of the office of disability and inclusion, Jim Sinocchi.
Eric Bridges and Nancy Marks-Becker, Chief Financial Officer, spoke about the financial growth of the organization. Nancy explained the role of the investment committee and from which accounts funds are withdrawn to operate ACB. The value of ACB’s investments, as of June 2021, is $5.3 million. In addition to investments, ACB has relationships with corporate American companies. The relationships ACB has forged are partnerships; corporations rely on ACB for advocacy, expertise, membership engagement, and ACB leadership. ACB’s corporate sponsorship has grown from $82,000 in 2012 to approximately $300,000. ACB’s two thrift stores, located in Texas, continue to do well.
Following ACB’s investment conversation, scholarship presentations continued.
Members of ACB’s Resource Development Committee updated conference attendees on funds raised thus far through fundraisers such as the ACB auction and Brenda Dillon Memorial Walk. The auction raised more than $4,000. Donna Brown, chair of the Brenda Dillon Memorial Walk, informed her listeners that the walk has raised approximately $81,000; the goal of the walk is $95,000. Donna thanked the walk sponsors: Vanda Pharmaceuticals, National Industries for the Blind, and Macular Degeneration Foundation.
President Spoone called the session to order. ACB staff members performed the Pledge of Allegiance. Tony Stephens recognized the conference sponsors. Spoone recognized Sandra Sermons and Cheryl Cumings, who thanked outgoing chair of the Multicultural Affairs Committee, Peggy Garrett, for her work and efforts with the committee. ACB Angel tributes honored Beverly Rushing and Charlotte Noddin, both members of the Oregon affiliate.
David Trott, ACB treasurer, Janet Dickelman, Tony Stephens and Cindy Hollis provided reports to conference attendees. David highlighted ACB’s sound financial state. Tony spoke about the ways members can give to ACB, not just through donations, but volunteer hours are a key component of support. Tony reminded us, “ACB is like a family. You get the choice, voice and community with the ACB family.”
Janet thanked her committee members for all their hard work putting the second virtual convention together, and stated an in-person convention is planned for Omaha, Neb. July 1-8, 2022. Cindy Hollis introduced Kolby Garrison, membership services administrative assistant. Cindy spoke about the transformational impact of the community, how it is supporting and bringing people closer together and spreading awareness of the American Council of the Blind around country and the world. “Much like a butterfly goes through transformations to become a butterfly, ACB is transforming as an organization.” Cindy concluded by saying, “Go forth and fly, butterfly.”
At the conclusion of the reports, Spoone announced the results of the record vote on the special motion to hold a session August 14 to align ACB’s constitution and bylaws with the 2010 D.C. Nonprofit Code. The motion passed, and Spoone declared the convention adjourned until Aug. 14, 2021 at 8 p.m. Eastern time.