National Conference/Convention Report, Part III

by Mitch Pomerantz

This final installment of my national conference/convention report begins with developments since passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.
Also in 2010, Congress passed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act which directed NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to draft minimum sound standards for hybrid vehicles.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or NPRM was supposed to be released last week for public comment; something you can be sure ACB will do.  (Note: as of this writing in mid-October, the NPRM has yet to be issued.)  Tomorrow, you will hear from the NHTSA administrator, whom I trust will have some relevant comments for us.
Last year at this time I mentioned the fact that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) refused to cover the cost of low-vision aids as durable medical equipment based on the statutory eyeglass exclusion.  CMS will pay for devices to assist people with physical disabilities, but will not pay for devices such as hand-held magnifiers, video monitors and other equipment which use lenses to allow blind and visually impaired people to remain independent.
ACB has put together a coalition of agencies, vendors and organizations to join with us in order to redress this inequity.  Thanks primarily to the efforts of Mark Richert, we have draft legislation which we hope to introduce during the next session of Congress.  This initiative will not happen soon, but ACB and the other members of the coalition know what's at stake: the continued independence of thousands of visually impaired people who aren't ready for a nursing home or assisted living facility.
ACB continues to assume a larger role in the international blindness arena.  As I reported at last year's conference and convention, in April 2011, I was asked to chair the World Blind Union's Mobility and Transport Working Group.  We were asked to draft a position statement on the issue of hybrid/silent vehicles to include strategies to inform and educate WBU members and to offer approaches for addressing this growing problem.  This paper was recently adopted as policy at a WBU executive committee meeting.
For the second time, ACB Radio will be streaming the meeting of the WBU taking place this fall in Bangkok, Thailand, from Nov. 12-16.  Our "stream-team" will consist of Larry Turnbull and Brian Charlson.  Kim Charlson and I will serve as ACB's two delegates to the 8th quadrennial WBU gathering.
And, for the first time that I know of, ACB has been asked to present during the WBU meeting.  I was just contacted about making a presentation on the Sunday before the actual conference as part of WBU's Diversity Forum on "Inclusion -- Bringing About Change," and Thursday at a workshop conducted by ICEVI (International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments), on "Challenges and Solutions to Independently Accessing the Physical Environment." I am honored to have been asked and proud that ACB is being recognized in this way.
Thanks to Melanie, ACB continues to play a prominent role in the work of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to craft a treaty permitting freer movement of accessible materials across international borders.  In fact, she leaves for Geneva almost immediately upon her return from Louisville.  Happy jetlag, Melanie!
Before closing, I want to talk a bit about what the board is doing to address the future of our organization.  Just as times are changing in America, inevitably times and circumstances will change for ACB.  While many of you don't want to hear me say this, ACB is going to change; already is changing, in fact.  It is up to all of us to see that this change is positive and for the better, as opposed to going in the other direction.  Whether change is positive or otherwise will largely depend upon all of us, the membership, board and staff of the American Council of the Blind.  At last fall's board of directors meeting, we voted unanimously to contract with Don Wells, an individual with many years of experience conducting strategic planning activities for not-for-profit organizations.  Many of you were asked to contribute input to this effort and in February, at the midyear board of directors meeting, we participated in a day-long session which resulted in ACB's second strategic plan.
This document, which contains four specific goals and multiple objectives for each goal to be undertaken by the board and staff over the next two years, will serve as ACB's blueprint to our future, to ensure that we move in a positive direction.  Those goals are: 1) strengthen communications and marketing of ACB; 2) strengthen ACB funding efforts; 3) develop and implement a plan to strengthen paid staff and volunteer help; and 4) review and recommend modifications to the overall structure of ACB to maximize its work performance.  That's a lot of work and will require the efforts of each and every one of us to achieve.
The American Council of the Blind and our thousands of members have much work to do over the next several years, not simply to improve programs and services for blind and visually impaired people, but to hold onto what we've fought so hard to obtain during the previous half century.  ACB doesn't only represent the so-called elite blind: the employed blind, the blind of a certain age.  No, we represent all blind and visually impaired people regardless of economic status or functional ability.  ACB advocates for accessible prescription drug labeling for blind seniors as well as the teaching of braille for blind youth.  Our work isn't always easy and at times, it can be discouraging.  Nonetheless, that is our charge and our mission.  Join with me and the other ACB leaders and staff in carrying out that charge.  Together we will persevere and we can succeed!  Thank you.
Let me close by wishing everyone a happy and joy-filled holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2013.