Jeff Thom for 2018 ACB Board of Directors
7414 Mooncrest Way
Sacramento, CA 95831-4046
Phone: (916) 995-3967
Find me on Facebook at facebook/jeff.thom.961
1. Introduce yourself and explain why you wish to serve as a member of the ACB board of directors.
My name is Jeff Thom and I am seeking re-election to the board of directors of the American Council of the Blind. I am a husband, father, and grandfather. My wife Leslie and I have also hosted a dozen foreign exchange students. I spent most of my professional career as an attorney for the California Legislature, with a focus on health and human services. I am someone who looks ahead, but who uses the past as a guide to shaping the future. I have always been a consensus builder, but the older I get, the more I am willing to take unpopular stands.
ACB is at a crossroads and I would like to serve a final term on its board of directors in order to contribute to the decision-making process and hard work that will be necessary if we are to remain the leading organization of Americans who are blind or have low vision. Under the leadership of President Charlson, executive director Eric Bridges, and the ACB staff, the organization is making great strides towards both fiscal sustainability and fulfilling our mission of being the most important advocacy organization of consumers with vision impairments. However, as the national organization begins to thrive, our state affiliates, and to an extent our special interest affiliates as well, face problems that threaten their long-term viability. It is an open question as to whether we can equip ourselves with the tools to tackle this problem, and if we can’t, what organizational and cultural changes, large and small, might we need to pursue to avoid serious harm to the national organization as well. Working on this issue, more than any other, is the primary motivation behind my decision to seek a final term on the ACB board.
2. Summarize your experience with the national organization and/or with state, special-interest or local chapters that qualifies you for service on the board of directors.
I joined the California Council of the Blind (CCB) in 1976 and have been a member ever since. I have served as a board member of CCB and as its president for 10 years. I have been an ACB board member and served two terms as its first vice president. I am a past chair and current member of the ACB Resolutions Committee, chair of both the ACB Advocacy Committee and the ACB Voting Taskforce and have served on various boards and committees on the local, state and national levels, both inside and outside of ACB. I have served in every office in my local CCB chapter, including president and treasurer, and am currently its first vice president. I am an officer and past president of the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys, a current board member of the Alliance on Aging and Vision Loss, and a member of several other special interest affiliates.
In my view, the scope of my service within all levels of ACB gives me a unique perspective on our past, and far more importantly our present and future. As I stated in my answer to the prior question, the viability of ACB due to the threats posed to its affiliates is my biggest concern for this organization. We cannot wait much longer to develop our long-term approach to addressing this issue and I believe that my knowledge of the inner workings of all levels of this organization will enable me to contribute to the development of the most beneficial solutions. In addition, I feel that my institutional knowledge and common-sense approach will enable me to be of assistance in mentoring new leaders for ACB.
3. If you could strengthen the ACB’s performance in any area, where would you focus your efforts, and what would you do?
Like many of you, the biggest reason why I an active ACB member is to advocate on behalf of persons who are blind or have low vision on the local, state and national levels. Thus, notwithstanding the commitment we will need to attack the affiliate viability problem, what I most enjoy doing and will continue to do whether on the ACB board of directors or not, is participate in our advocacy efforts.
I am honored to serve both as chair of the Advocacy Committee and a member of the advocacy issues strategic planning group. The recent hiring of an additional advocate position in the ACB office underscores the unmet need in this area. Efforts to create a cadre of advocates throughout the country from within ACB have not been successful, and it appears as if we will need to use other strategies to address this problem. It is my hope that the addition of a second advocate from within the office will free up more time for the development of resources such as the Pedestrian Safety Handbook, that was produced more than a decade ago, and the upcoming voting rights guide which is in development. It is likely too much to expect of our membership to produce guidance materials on issues from education to aging, from library services to civil rights, but we can certainly use the expertise of our members to refine materials produced by our staff and to provide training to our members on specific issues. I would be pleased to work on such advocacy materials and training modules. My work in California and nationally on an array of advocacy issues, as well as the connections I have made outside ACB, is valuable in enabling me to work on these tasks.
4. How would you strengthen the cohesiveness among the ACB and its state and special-interest affiliates?
Building cohesiveness between ACB and its state and special interest affiliates begins with communication and ends with action. First, we need a comprehensive look at the severity of the affiliate viability issue. Affiliates need to know that the ACB board recognizes the crisis that is upon us. This is not to say that limited efforts have been and are not being made, including presidents’ meeting discussions, focus groups, the work of affiliate liaisons, and strategic planning efforts. However, I think that we have not sounded the alarm bells with sufficient volume to bring about a shared political will to tackle this crisis. Although I feel that affiliate liaisons can play an important role in providing guidance to affiliates and information to ACB, I am convinced that these arrangements fall far short of the ongoing level of assistance that we need to provide to enable our struggling affiliates to meet the legal and operational exigencies of the 21st century.
If we conclude that we can handle this crisis by providing affiliates with the appropriate level of resources, then we must plan on how to accomplish that goal within the next few years. If we conclude otherwise, then we must look at our decentralized model and determine what refinements, including potential major structural changes, we must make to ensure that we can remain the foremost advocacy organization of consumers with vision loss.
We also need to do a better job of involving affiliates in decision-making that impacts them. This is not to say that we don’t attempt to accomplish this goal, but we do so haphazardly and sometimes we are faced with backlash that could have been prevented had we been more systematic in reaching decisions.
5. What are the most important areas where the ACB should focus in the 21st century? How can you assist the organization to excel in those areas?
If I had to select two areas in which ACB should concern itself, they would be access to information, as broadly defined, and services for seniors who are blind or have low vision.
Similar to NFB and AFB, there is probably no area of advocacy that requires as much time and effort in ACB as does access to information, which to my mind means the ability to independently perform activities of daily living. Our footprint in the area of information access has become very impressive in recent years. However, there is much more to do. Our goal should be to have the same access that sighted people do through their use of vision.
With respect to services for seniors with vision impairments, we face the dual challenges of filling both the unmet and growing need for services applicable to all seniors, including transportation, health care, nutrition and the ability to age in place, and for those specific to the population with vision loss. The blindness community has done an inadequate job of integrating our advocacy efforts into that of the general senior community, and that has meant that our efforts fall even farther short than they might otherwise have done. We need to make the senior community understand our needs and work with that community for services that benefit all seniors.
With respect to my contribution to these two areas, I have reached out successfully in California and have urged increased efforts at doing so. I would work to encourage similar efforts within ACB to form the collaborations that will produce the results we seek. I would also work within ACB to make seniors services a higher priority.