Board Approves Affiliate Name Change, Donation to WBU to Assist Caribbean Representatives

by Doug Powell

The ACB board of directors held its pre-convention board meeting at the Nugget Casino and Resort on June 30th. All directors were present, with Carla Ruschival participating by phone and Doug Powell substituting for Ron Brooks as the board of publications representative.
After the agenda, electronic voting, and past minutes were approved, Kim gave the president’s report. Since Eric Bridges stood in for Kim, he gave a report on the North America/Caribbean regional meeting of the World Blind Union (WBU) in Canada in March. One issue he mentioned was the ongoing concern that Caribbean representatives have been financially unable to attend meetings. The board approved a donation of up to $250 to assist those members with travel expenses to attend the next meeting.
Kim invited Cameron Roles from the Vision Australia board of directors to address the board. He discussed the challenges both organizations face. He recommended closer cooperation on issues of mutual benefit such as advocating for Blackboard accessibility for blind and visually impaired students around the world.
Next, the board approved the request of Old Dominion Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired president, Marie Brinas, to approve a new charter reflecting a name change to the American Council of the Blind of Virginia.
The board then heard a number of staff reports. Executive director Eric Bridges mentioned that he has continued to represent our interests at the CSUN conference and presenting at Microsoft’s all-staff meeting on the company’s Ability Day. Eric mentioned several companies, including Uber, that have established accessibility offices for their disabled customers.  Eric also mentioned the new strategic planning process which ACB leaders began last fall. He described the progress that teams have made in fleshing out the implementation plans for each of the five focus areas which were discussed later in the meeting.
Kelly Gasque, staff assistant in the Alexandria, Va. office, updated us on the new ACB website, which is scheduled for release in November. Although the home page links will be similar to current ones, there will be changes which, it is hoped, will make the site more logical and easier to navigate. There will be extensive testing to ensure that the site works well from day one.
Eric announced a recent project between Google, the University of Hawaii, ACB, and the national parks to describe several park facilities in California.
After a break, we heard an energizing song for the Brenda Dillon Memorial Walk composed and performed by the choir director at the West Virginia School for the Blind.
Next, Tom Tobin and Jo Lynn Bailey-Page gave a generally positive development report. Tom is looking for compelling stories of how people who are blind or have low vision are achieving successful outcomes. If you know of someone, please contact him at the national office.
Tony Stephens has been extremely busy with different advocacy issues. ACB is gaining a larger, more respected voice with other disability coalitions and private corporations to advance our goals. Since the regular legislative and regulatory avenues are not always promising, Tony and Eric continue to look for alternative ways to advance our issues. There may be positive movement on the Medicare low vision demonstration program this fall. The Marrakesh Treaty is stalled for the moment, but has bipartisan support. ACB is still working with staffers and career professionals who are willing to work with us to forward our agenda.
“ACB Braille Forum” editor Sharon Lovering gave her report. She mentioned that 59 ACB members and friends have passed away this year. She is working on cataloging all of the archival material in the office — she’s completed the tapes and has started work on the photos and videos. The oldest cassette she found was from November of 1970. The oldest photo is from October 1965 (President Hubert Humphrey signing the White Cane Day Proclamation with Durward McDaniel at his side). She’s also having some trouble identifying people in the older photos. But she finds it fascinating work.
Larry Turnbull gave the update on ACB Radio, including the fact that over half of the listenership of ACB Radio comes from people calling in to Audio Now. As well as carrying affiliate conventions, the Live Event stream covered the World Blind Union meeting last August and National Braille Press events. Treasure Trove still leads the other streams as the most listened to. TuneIn Radio is now carrying podcasts, so Larry is preparing our podcasts for entry on that system. Larry also mentioned that companies like Sony, Philips, and Amazon now have TVs with talking menus, and they have been asking to go on the Main Menu stream to talk about the new features.
Jeff Bishop reported that ACB Link has now been downloaded by over 5,000 people. There was an update to the app in March, and they are looking for Android users to test that version before release this fall.
Nancy Becker, head accountant from the Minneapolis office, reported that the two staffs have been meeting weekly over the last year, which helps keep them connected and informed. They’ve moved to a new accounting software system, which takes time to learn. ACB’s most recent audit yielded the highest level of approval for their accounting practices.
President Charlson then entertained a motion to go into executive session to discuss legal, advocacy, and personnel issues. No action was taken.
Carla Ruschival gave her last report as treasurer. She reported that, for the past several years, we have had to dip into reserves because the thrift store income that used to be the backbone of our budget no longer sustains us. We have been exploring new revenue streams and last year ended with a $160,000 surplus. Carla cautioned that we still need to be careful with our expenses, and continue to focus on exploring and solidifying new revenue initiatives. Charlson and the board thanked Carla for her contributions to ACB as its treasurer over the past six years.
The board next heard reports from the new strategic planning team leaders. Eric reported that the development team took a look at the ACB budget in a programmatic way rather than the traditional line-by-line manner. Since three of the four other teams suggested that real growth in their focus area would require additional staffing, the team identified areas of strength as well as areas that need further growth so that we can sustain and continue to improve programs and services to our members and the community at large. Tom Tobin commented that the process the team engaged in over the last several months on weekly phone calls was helpful to him in getting a better overall view of the past and future goals of development. Then Dan Spoone gave more detail of the past to current progress, and a look at future avenues for expanded growth. Nancy Becker took the same kind of programmatic look at our expenses so we can make sure our expenditures match our mission. There was very positive discussion from the board on the development team’s report.
Next, Kim asked Janet Dickelman, chair of the conventions and meetings team, to summarize their report. One initiative they identified is looking at people attending the convention virtually.  Since people attending in person have to pay for programming, the team is considering a recommendation that there be a small charge for virtual attendance. The second initiative is
setting up the ability for professionals to gain continuing education credits for attending convention sessions. The third initiative is giving help to conventioneers in two different directions: first, setting up a better system of getting health support for those who need it, with the individual paying part of the cost; second, to make sure that new attendees and scholarship winners have a positive, well thought out, and fully participatory conference and convention experience. Janet mentioned that the team was hoping to line up the funding and infrastructure for these initiatives for 2018.
Katie Frederick, chair of the marketing and communications team, presented the team’s report.  This team wants to provide a more formalized approach to this area, first at the national level, but hopefully giving guidance to state and special-interest affiliates. They also want to determine key messages for ACB communications. The team developed an elevator speech of who we are, and a statement of our organization values. And they adopted the tag line, “Together, we can do anything.” The team plans to work with key ACB committees to see whether they can improve their communication efforts. It also wants to work with the BOP to see if there are policy improvements that will help ACB lists and social media outlets.
George Holliday, chair of the membership and affiliates team, outlined the focus areas for his team. The team is running two focus groups during the convention and several others via teleconference to try to find out how ACB can improve programs and services to members and affiliates. The team’s intention is to determine what might draw people to become and remain active, contributing members. One area they are focusing on is creating some of our programming in Spanish.
Tony Stephens, chair of the advocacy team, followed with his report. They came up with 25 action items that break down into three main categories: civil rights issues in areas such as rehabilitation and voting rights; technology issues such as home appliances and the Internet;
and longer term issues such as accessible currency.
I gave the report for the board of publications. I reviewed our convention activities such as the BOP monthly meetings, the candidates’ pages on acb.organd the Candidates’ Forum, as well as a writers’ workshop. The BOP will work with the marketing and communications team to see how we can improve in that area. A major project of the BOP this year has been a large print reader preference survey that was developed in partnership with CCLVI. We are gathering information with which to develop ACB guidelines for large print materials. Surveys were distributed and returned at the convention. If you would like to participate in the survey, or if you have one you would like to return, please contact Sharon Lovering in the national office.