by Penny Reeder
ACB’s board of directors met on January 16th to discuss the 2022 Leadership Conference. With omicron raging across the country, ACB needed to decide whether its Leadership Conference should be held as a hybrid or virtual meeting.
The issue weighed heavily on the minds of ACB affiliate leaders and members. A week earlier, Anthony Corona and Debbie Grubb had invited “Sunday Edition” listeners to weigh in on the question. During succeeding evenings, president Dan Spoone held two live-streamed listening sessions to solicit members’ opinions. Responses ranged from skeptical through panic, with many landing closer to the panicked end of that spectrum.
Dan noted that this meeting, originally scheduled for January 27, had been moved up because of the urgency of the need to make a decision. Dan asked Nancy Becker and Eric Bridges to outline ACB’s contractual obligations, especially as they relate to the current public health emergency.
Eric led by telling the board how easy it has been for ACB to work with the Hilton Olde Towne Hotel, with whom ACB has a contract for the leadership conference. He said that, at this time, no deposits have been paid and no money is committed.
Nancy said that ACB included force majeure language in the contract, which stipulates that if 51 percent of our attendees cannot attend, our obligation to hold the scheduled event at the Hilton Olde Towne Hotel will not apply.
“From what I’m hearing right now,” Nancy said, “typically, if there’s an event happening, only 30 percent of the people who would be expected to attend that event are actually attending. Based on that information, I would say that we are going to have less than 51 percent of our expected participants attending our [leadership] meetings.”
In similar circumstances, she stated, what we have done has been to go back to the hotel and talk with them about what is going on and then express our interest in entering into another contract with them for a future year. She said that ACB should be able to withdraw from our contract without paying any previously negotiated funds to the hotel, or any kind of penalty.
Jeff Thom reported that the advocacy steering committee had unanimously adopted a motion recommending that ACB make the leadership meetings a totally remote event. The committee based their decision on three relevant factors: 1) the risk of serious illness for our members; 2) ACB wouldn’t be able to meet a deadline to apply for a permit to hold a planned demonstration at the U.S. Department of the Treasury; and 3) at this time, Hill staffers are not holding in-person meetings with constituents on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, last year’s remotely held legislative seminar was an unqualified success. We were able to get great speakers for virtual seminar presentations, and more people than ever before were able to engage in appointments with legislative assistants using Zoom.
Dan polled each board member. Ray Campbell made the motion and Kenneth Semien seconded it. The 2022 Leadership Conference will be held virtually this year. All meetings will be held via Zoom, and state and special-interest affiliates will schedule virtual telephonic meetings with legislators and their aides, to discuss ACB’s 2022 legislative imperatives.
Other highlights of the January 16 board meeting included the following.
The board reviewed and approved minutes from their Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 meetings, at which the ACB budget was discussed and adopted.
January’s Mission Moment expressed Dan’s and Eric’s gratitude to staff members, industry partners and volunteers who planned ACB’s first Audio Description Awards Gala. Dan thanked ACB’s Audio Description Project (ADP) Coordinator, Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, ADP Committee co-chairs Kim Charlson and Carl Richardson, as well as Director of Development Tony Stephens and communications director Jennifer Flatt, for guiding the event from inception to a successful culmination on November 18. In addition to bringing ACB recognition for working so effectively to expand, improve, and promote audio description, Dan said, the gala also netted ACB $35,000 to support the Audio Description Project.
Eric Bridges reflected that planning an event like this one, which was aimed at an audience that is broader in scope and membership than the blindness community with whom we generally interact, required ACB to expand the skill set we could draw upon to meet the unique challenges associated with an event of this kind. We needed to engage effectively not only with our long-time partners, but also with industry representatives who were new to us, and even to enlist our partners’ support for promoting the event.
Tony Stephens encouraged members who may have missed the gala to check out the video recording at https://adawardsgala.org/. “It’s impressive to think of the scale of the event,” Tony said. “We were able to engage participants on six continents.”
Eric and Tony commended the team effort, specifically thanking Joel Snyder who, along with his team, helped to select awards recipients, and Will Butler, who chaired the ADP Planning Committee.
The board then heard a request for a name change for the Environmental Access Committee. Chris Bell explained the committee’s reasoning. He believed that associating the committee’s name more directly with the sphere in which they seek to improve accessibility for people who are blind will encourage more ACB members to volunteer to work on shared accessibility goals. The committee asked to change its name to the Pedestrian Environment Access Committee; the board approved.
The board unanimously approved adding an additional $1,500 to the Get Up and Get Moving Campaign budget to cover expenses for planned events that will occur during the coming months.
ACB’s auction planners asked the board to approve directing proceeds from this year’s summer auction to support the ACB Community. Treasurer David Trott noted that, when planners have linked auction proceeds to supporting popular ACB programs, members have responded enthusiastically. The board approved the motion.
Dan told the board that the task forces that were created to address modifications in constitutionally mandated processes necessitated by pandemic-related prohibitions have been meeting regularly. These groups plan to meet during February to evaluate each group’s proposals and assure a coordinated organizational strategy. The voting and resolutions task forces, the executive committee, and the constitution and bylaws committee will all present reports at the board’s March 11 meeting. Each of these groups will give presentations at the presidents’ meeting.
Eric Bridges reported that, after several months of interviewing, ACB has selected Kaitlyn Herrera as an administrative assistant in the national office. Ms. Herrera, who is also pursuing a graduate degree in social work, will work in ACB’s national office for 20 hours each week.
ACB posted job vacancy announcements for two full-time employees to manage and coordinate ACB Media Network operations, and for an additional contracted position also associated with ACB Media, on Jan. 7. Eric said that our experiences with the way ACB Media has come online and grown in importance and diversity of streaming content has informed the way ACB has written the job descriptions for these positions. There were more than 200 applicants for the combined posted positions, and Minneapolis and national office staff members are evaluating applications.
Finally, Eric said that ACB will also be posting a job description for a thrift stores general manager. ACB’s goal is to bring these four employees on board by March 1.
Cindy Hollis reported on the success of this year’s Community-a-thon. The event yielded well over $12,000 - 13 percent more than last year. She said that about a third of the people who provided the 12 hours of streaming content for the event were under the age of 35, and most people who volunteered to host or facilitate participated throughout the event. “The Community-a-thon really speaks well of the commitment all those who are involved have to the ACB community,” she said, “and it makes me proud.”
Chris Bell had volunteered to revise language in the ACB reasonable accommodation policy statement which Clark Rachfal and others had been working to update. Chris presented the revised proposed policy to the board for their approval.
Chris said that his primary approach was to reframe the discussion embedded in our policy statement to make clear that, since even before the ADA became law in 1990, ACB had been providing accessible events for people who are blind or have low vision, or who are deaf-blind, and we have always built that accessibility into the infrastructure of our events. This philosophical commitment to accessibility is not what is meant by reasonable accommodation. Accommodation is something you do for an individual to address their specific disability-related needs, upon their request. Essentially, we have a planning process that anticipates the needs of our members for effective communication, assistance with mobility, and so forth.
Chris moved acceptance of the policy according to the revised language he has provided, and the board accepted the policy unanimously.
Toward the end of the meeting, a number of board members expressed concern regarding COVID-related accessibility issues that have had such a negative impact on our ability to cope independently with the pandemic. Kim Charlson was quoted in a recent New York Times article regarding the inaccessibility of rapid COVID tests. She and Mark Riccobono have exchanged e-mail on this topic, and the Federation is equally concerned. She urged ACB members to express their concerns to the Biden administration regarding the inaccessibility of these tests for people who cannot access results visually, and how this impacts us.
Ray Campbell expressed related concerns regarding the degree to which Americans have needed to rely on accessing the Internet to acquire information, schedule vaccines and tests, and now to order rapid tests. Jeff Thom assured the board that these issues are known to advocacy organizations like Disability Rights California, and are being communicated to the administration.
Chris Bell formally requested that the issue of inaccessible rapid COVID tests become one of this year’s legislative imperatives. Dan expected this topic to be discussed at the next advocacy steering committee meeting. Kim pointed out that these issues are global in scope, and it’s important for ACB as a leader in the World Blind Union to lead on this issue as well.
As the meeting concluded, Dan speculated about how the virtual format of our leadership meetings may allow us to modify our typical meeting schedules. He thanked ACB members for sharing their concerns.
The meeting adjourned at 10:51 p.m.