by Kim Charlson
Ladies and gentlemen: it is again a true honor for me to come before you for my third report as president of the American Council of the Blind. I have much to report to you since our conference in Dallas last year. It has been a year of many transitions, travel, calls, committee meetings, e-mail, more calls, and decision-making in collaboration with others to keep our organization moving forward on so many key issues.
I have come before you on this beautiful Sunday evening in July here in Minneapolis to offer my report to you, the thousands of men and women comprising our strong ACB family. Whether you are attending our 55th annual national conference and convention in person, or listening from across the nation and around the world on ACB Radio, you are all an important part of our dynamic and democratic organization.
I want to acknowledge the tremendous participation and support from so many of you at the local, state, and national levels; for your affiliates, committees or task forces, or on issues of personal importance. Without your efforts, there would be no American Council of the Blind.
ACB continues to address many issues and challenges of all types since last we gathered together. I’ll cover the highlights and how we are dealing with them over the next several minutes.
First, I would like to deliver some very important and well-deserved “thank you”s. It is widely known that the everyday work of ACB is carried out by our small, yet highly dedicated professional and administrative staff. In our Minnesota office, we rely on Lori, Nancy, and Dee to keep the business wheels turning. Because the convention is here in their backyard, they are even more engaged in all aspects of convention, as well as day-to-day operations. Heading this important team is controller Lane Waters, who always knows the answer to questions and what is going on with everything all the time. Lane will be reducing his schedule with ACB in August, to begin semi-retirement. He will still be working with ACB in many areas, but some of his current roles will be transitioned over to others in the office over the next several months. Lane, I can’t say enough about what your service to ACB has meant, and how glad we are that you will be continuing on with us in several capacities. We truly love working with you!
In the Virginia office, the first transition was an actual move from Arlington to Alexandria in January. ACB is now located at 1703 N. Beauregard St., Suite 420, in a very nice building, on the same floor as AER (the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired). We have realized many efficiencies to space and productivity, and other enhancements are in process to increase productivity.
“ACB Braille Forum” editor Sharon Lovering works hard every day to make our lives and the lives of blind and visually impaired people everywhere better by producing a top-notch publication filled with information about the important work of ACB, among many other duties.
Continuing with ACB’s transitions, we hired a new executive director in November, Eric Bridges. Eric hit the ground running, and hasn’t slowed down since. He has amazing skills at knowing the right people for the right situation, building relationships, fund-raising, and guiding the organization on some very major advocacy and legal initiatives. Every day, Eric keeps me informed on so many fronts, outlines work to be done, and plans activities for the future growth of ACB. It is a pleasure and honor to work with him, and I have great confidence that he will guide our organization into the future with a solid position of strength, effectiveness, and promoting key issues.
With the transition of Eric as ACB’s new executive director, it was necessary to search for someone to handle our advocacy and governmental affairs work. We were incredibly fortunate to hire Anthony (Tony) Stephens to serve in this capacity beginning in January. Tony came to us from National Industries for the Blind, where he worked in a similar capacity; and now he is working on a broad range of blindness issues, attending meetings on Capitol Hill, and writing regulatory comments, letters and testimony on all of our key issues. Tony has a real passion for advocacy, and he is a tremendous asset to ACB’s governmental relations and advocacy activities.
Rounding out the staff in Alexandria is Kelly Gasque. She is an invaluable member of our team. She has countless valuable skills, and we continue to learn more of her numerous talents every day. Kelly has taken on responsibilities around the coordination of our social media presence, primarily on Facebook and Twitter.
The ACB Twitter account has grown over 40 percent since our last convention; many are other disability and civil rights organizations. This increased exposure on Twitter gives ACB much more recognition and visibility in the social media realm. I want to publicly express appreciation to both the Twitter and Facebook teams. The Twitter team consists of four individuals who handle tweeting responsibility for designated weeks in a rotating schedule. The team includes: Michael Capelle (Wis.), Jim Denham (Mass.), Michael Malver (Minn.), and John McCann (Ariz.), who serves as board liaison to the Twitter team. For those of you who want to follow the convention on Twitter, use the hashtag #acb16.
ACB’s Facebook page has undergone amazing growth during this past year. We have roughly 2,230 followers, an increase of 900 since last year’s convention.
ACB treasurer Carla Ruschival (Ky.) is the Facebook team leader. She has been assisted this year by Kelly Gasque and Katie Frederick.
Here’s an example of two of our most successful and wide-reaching posts: May 17th: Samsung presents the “Blind Cap” for Paralympic swimmers, 11,559 people reached, 123 likes and reactions, and 261 shares. On February 17th, the post What you didn’t know about Stevie Wonder’s “braille joke” at the Grammys, had 9,566 people reached, 59 likes, and 94 shares.
Working alongside our strong staff are several contractors that do specific work for ACB in a variety of areas. Tom Tobin is our hardworking director of development, and partnering with him this year is Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, our grant writer. Together, they are building a strong foundation for ACB’s financial future.
Joel Snyder, director of the Audio Description Project, Larry Turnbull, managing director of ACB Radio, and website administrator Annette Carter, all continue to work extremely hard for ACB. I extend to each of you a special thank you and commend you all for your efforts on behalf of ACB.
I want to recognize and thank the 15 other members of the ACB board of directors and the members of the board of publications for their service. Both groups have kept me on track with the issues and helped in so many ways to keep the work of ACB moving forward.
At the close of this convention, two members of the ACB board of directors will be completing their terms of service. I want to thank Berl Colley (Wash.) and Michael Garrett (Texas) for their service as ACB board members for the past eight years. They have made many valuable contributions to ACB, and I know they will continue to work on behalf of ACB in the future.
In addition, I want to thank the members of the board of publications – Denise Colley, Ron Brooks, Doug Powell, Judy Wilkinson and Tom Mitchell, for their dedicated service to ACB. Tom and Judy are stepping down due to other responsibilities in their home states, and we wish them well.
I can’t go on thanking people without recognizing the large group of leaders who guide ACB’s more than 40 different committees and task forces. These groups help Tony Stephens and Eric Bridges tremendously, because a small staff just can’t get all the work done that needs to happen. We couldn’t get it done without all of you. You all have my heartfelt personal thanks!
Finally, let me take just a moment to recognize the help and support I receive every day from my family. In spite of his many responsibilities at work and with ACB as the Information Access Committee chair, and president of both the Bay State Council of the Blind and Library Users of America, Brian continues to be incredibly supportive, making it possible for me to focus on my ACB work. I couldn’t do all that I need to do in this role without his support, and that of my life sister, Vicki. Thank you to both of you for making it possible for me to serve ACB! I love you both!