Benefits of special-interest affiliates to ACB and State Affiliates

by Ardis Bazyn

The membership committee thanks Kenneth Semien Sr. for hosting this quarter's "membership focus" call and taking notes for this article. Our focus for this call was on special-interest affiliates and how they can help build membership in ACB and ACB state affiliates. Our special-interest affiliates encompass a wide range of professions, hobbies, and aspects of the lives of visually impaired individuals: computer users, social service providers, Randolph-Sheppard vendors, government employees, teachers, attorneys, entrepreneurs, Friends-in-Art, Lions, students, guide dog users, ham radio operators, diabetics, LGBT pride, library users, braille users, veterans, families, seniors, and people with low vision. A list of all affiliates is contained on the affiliate page of the ACB web site: State affiliates are listed first, followed by the special-interest affiliate list. If you click on the link of the affiliate you want to contact, you will find the name of the affiliate's president or membership chair, phone number and/or e-mail address, and web site link if available.

Special-interest affiliates are often the gateway to membership in ACB. One participant said she wanted to meet people with an interest in braille; she was introduced to a member of the Braille Revival League. Another said a number of students joined ACB Students and their state affiliates because of receiving an ACB scholarship. Another participant told about getting involved in the Library Users group when she attended the ACB national convention. She had always loved reading, so she attended some of their functions, which led her to working to make local libraries meet the needs of visually impaired people. Special-interest affiliates are also a great way to make friends with others with similar interests. The professional interest affiliates provide a great opportunity for networking on work-related issues and technology.

One caller explained how she met a woman who wanted a guide dog, which led her to introduce the woman to Guide Dog Users, ACB, and ultimately a local chapter. This new member then got her husband involved. Another member informed people in Arkansas about Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America because they were seeking self-employment. ACB Lions are welcomed at local Lions Clubs, which appreciate keeping informed about ACB and often offering support for members to attend ACB conferences.

Some states have special-interest affiliate chapters. California has eight, Florida has four, Kentucky has two, Missouri has three, Pennsylvania has one, Texas has three, Washington state has one, and several states are considering a student group. It is challenging to keep a student chapter going because they need to find someone to lead it. Once leaders graduate, the process has to begin again. It is helpful if you keep past students as mentors.

Council of Citizens with Low Vision International has found that some people were surprised those with some usable vision were welcomed in ACB. Large-print readers are the largest subscriber group for "The Braille Forum." Others are encouraged to join ACB when they find members who have some functional vision.

ACB Families supports both families with blind children and blind adults with sighted or blind children. Both groups were encouraged to join. Special-interest groups are a testimony showing blindness alone is not the only issue of interest to members. When ACB affiliates advocate for Randolph-Sheppard issues, it will help Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America grow.

Special-interest affiliates have a variety of communication methods to keep members involved throughout the year. Some have monthly or quarterly conference calls. E-mail discussion lists are a more informal way of sharing ideas and issues. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are communication methods used more recently. An active moderator is important for maintaining discussion. Kentucky has a monthly conference call for guide dog users and tries to have an in-person activity every month. States with special-interest chapters meet during state conventions. Most special-interest affiliates publish newsletters during the year. Library Users distributes a newsletter twice a year. Online discussion groups and Facebook discussion groups sharing topics of interest are good methods of sharing information. Washington is starting discussion groups on topics such as "All things i" focusing on the iPhone and iPad, a student group, and a young adult group (because all students are not young adults and all young adults are not students). These ideas will be used to recruit and retain members as well as meet the needs of any blind person needing support. Membership is not required to be a part of these activities. Members at large can become involved in discussion groups.

A chapter in Texas has implemented a new dues option to reduce the work involved in retaining members for the upcoming year and reduce time collecting as many dues every year. If they pay three years worth of dues, they get a reduced rate for the second and third years, because they only pay for their state and national dues. In California, the special-interest groups pay a flat rate of $50 into the state as long as they have a minimum of 10 members.

It is important to keep members involved so they have a personal reason to belong. One of the benefits of having diverse age and interest groups as part of your affiliate is to prevent cliques. Leaders should work to create an environment of fairness and inclusion throughout the group. It is imperative to identify the skills and abilities of each member when they first join in order to get them involved.

Please join our next ACB "Membership Focus" call on Aug. 27 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern/5:30 p.m. Pacific. The topic will be "Identifying and mentoring committee members for your affiliate." The call-in number is (712) 775-7000 and the passcode is 640009.