President’s Message: Visiting Affiliates — It Makes Me Proud

by Kim Charlson

One of the things I enjoy the most about serving as ACB president is being able to visit local, state and special interest chapters all around the country. This fall, I had two wonderful experiences in Casper, Wyo. and Louisville, Ky.
In September, Brian and I visited the Wyoming Council of the Blind convention. They are a small affiliate, but they are motivated, committed, and ready to work on issues to help fellow Wyoming residents who are blind. They organized an excellent one-day convention, elected several new officers, who are excited and enthusiastic to start working for WYCB. Their president, Graham Steele, was a 2017 DKM First-Timer and was at our ACB national convention in Reno in July. She managed to interest a reporter from the Casper Star-Tribune, who came to the convention and wrote up a great article about WYCB. I’ve excerpted a bit of the article below:
Wyoming Council of the Blind
by Elysia Conner, Star-Tribune
Graham Steel has talked with state lawmakers this year about maintaining funding for talking books and other resources for people who are blind or visually impaired. The Wyoming Council of the Blind president also met with Gov. Matt Mead to advocate and spread awareness about issues for people who are blind and have low vision in Wyoming.
Steel also invited American Council of the Blind president Kim Charlson to the organization’s annual state convention.
WYCB is working to revitalize its membership and activities, and “re-grouping” was the theme and a major topic of the convention. Leaders hope the conference will spark more efforts across Wyoming.
The nonprofit organization under the American Council of the Blind works to advocate, connect people around the state and point people to resources, Steel said.
“We’re focusing on getting the word out and bringing in new people,” Steel said.
Those efforts are crucial, Kim Charlson said during her talk.
“What happens when people don’t know or see blind people, they don’t think they’re there,” she said. “And the last thing you want is for the decision-makers here in Wyoming to think that there aren’t any blind people, because there are. Especially in a rural state, it’s even more important to be vigilant and outspoken to make sure people know what your needs are and the funding that you need for your programs and your services.”
She described the national council’s numerous advocacy efforts, including for paper money that’s accessible to people who are visually impaired or blind, prescription containers with audio features, and laws about service animals.
Attendees Saturday afternoon also would see technology demonstrations from Brian Charlson, director of technology for the Carroll Center for the Blind. He showed people how they can use apps on their phones to access services. That morning, he showed a reporter how he can use his phone to dial the Aira service. An agent there read him the numbers for his raffle tickets he’d bought at the event that morning. …
The Wyoming Council of the Blind later filled open board seats during its annual meeting at the convention as part of its effort to grow the organization, said state council board member and past president Tom Lealos.
The council’s activities include a monthly newsletter and distributing the [American] Council of the Blind newsletter to help people stay informed about what’s happening for advocacy, advancements and resources around the state and country, Lealos said. He and the other leaders are working to increase awareness about the council and increase its activities throughout the state, he added. … [end of quoted article]
On Friday, Oct. 13th, I visited the “Roundabout” of the Greater Louisville Council of the Blind, a chapter of the Kentucky Council of the Blind. This chapter is truly amazing, and exemplifies people who are blind working to support each other. They meet every Friday for their “Roundabout,” which they hold at the United Crescent Hill Ministry. Bill Wright is the chapter president, and Carla and Adam Ruschival are very involved as organizers. The nice thing is that so many people pitch in to do small group or one-on-one sessions on different topics – iPhone and VoiceOver, braille instruction, family genealogy, or cooking demos. They often have an informational speaker, and I was honored to fill that role the evening I attended to speak about ACB activities. Thirty-seven people attended, and after I spoke, we had a Southern home-cooked dinner that each attendee pays $5 for each week. It was wonderful food prepared by Patti Cox and her stepdaughter, Chastity Starkey, who do the cooking! Dedicated volunteer, Sister Agnes, reads mail for people, and helps prepare and serve the pre-plated meal, beverage, and dessert. It was absolutely great!
But wait, there’s more! After dinner, a small group of people played cards, and a larger group played Bingo. It was so much fun, with camaraderie, and it’s all organized and run by members. It provides members such a great evening activity and opportunity to socialize. If you feel like sitting, you can do that. If you want to learn a new skill, shown to you by another blind person, you can do that too! I was completely impressed, and think the Greater Louisville Chapter of KCB is providing an amazing service, supporting the blind community in Louisville, and showing everyone that they can do things independently and support each other.
Maybe your chapter isn’t in a position to cook a meal for 40 people, but look at the skills your members have and put them to use – crafts, cooking demos, flowers, gardening, informational speakers, refreshments, and remember games, cards, described movies, book clubs, and sharing. Make it an event for everyone! It can be done, and with the collective group involved, one person doesn’t have to do all the work. I’ve seen it work and it’s truly incredible! My commendations to “Roundabout” and the Greater Louisville Chapter for making a place where everyone is welcome!