Compiled by Ardis Bazyn, ACB Membership Chair
Why is chapter and affiliate membership so important? Lawrence Carter, president of the North Carolina Council of the Blind; Don Wirth, first vice president, Iowa Council of the United Blind, and Julie Brannon, president, Washington Council of the Blind, tackled that question on our most recent membership focus call. For various reasons, some blind or visually impaired individuals join the American Council of the Blind as an at-large member. Some may join a state or special-interest affiliate without knowing there are local chapters or special-interest affiliate chapters as well. The following list of benefits may help you decide if membership in these smaller groups may benefit you personally and professionally.
One of the most important benefits to joining a local chapter is the ability to make friends and extend your knowledge of blindness community offerings. Most states have state special-interest affiliates anyone can join. Most states have annual conventions as well as newsletters providing relevant articles sharing future activities which might interest you.
Many local chapters meet virtually or in person on a monthly basis. In the local chapter, you connect with many local blind people and often hear speakers giving resources and other related information to blind individuals. Most also share legislation or regulations or public policies specifically affecting blind individuals in your state. They explain how interested participants can advocate for change.
Chapters also provide many events outside their regular meetings. Some have an annual picnic in a local park. Some have Christmas or other holiday celebrations. Some celebrate birthdays and other special events. Some have a booth at state fairs or low vision conferences or low vision facilities. Others have game nights, Bingo gatherings, technology training sessions including iPhone trainings, book clubs, and advocacy and outreach events.
State and special-interest affiliates often have virtual meetings between conferences and conventions. Some special-interest affiliates have state chapters that meet online or in person at the state affiliate conventions. These state special-interest chapters also often meet monthly to discuss business, share legislative or regulation updates, and provide speakers on topics relevant to the affiliate mission.
When you join a local chapter or special-interest chapter, you have the opportunity to volunteer to serve on committees, chair a committee, or run for an office. These activities give you experience to get more involved later at the state or special-interest affiliate level. Either level gives you leadership experience, which can be valuable for you either as personal development or in your career. Adding your leadership positions to a resume can highlight some of your capabilities. You can ask chapters and affiliates for letters of recommendation for awards, scholarships, or for interviews or on resumes.
ACB has numerous community calls on a wide range of topics. State and special-interest affiliates also offer community calls on a regular basis. Some chapters hold community calls related to the affiliate’s general goals. As a member of a local or special-interest chapter, you have the ability to recommend topics for discussion as well as speakers for upcoming calls or events.
ACB has several email discussion lists, as do most state and special-interest affiliates. Many local chapters and special-interest chapters do as well. Some open email discussion lists or announce lists for affiliates are listed on https://www.acb.org. Some email lists are available to members only. For more information about what state and special-interest affiliates offer, check each affiliate website. Links to many are provided on the ACB website under the state and special-interest affiliates links.
Please stay tuned for the summer conference and convention ACB membership seminar on July 5 at 4 p.m. Central. Also, watch for future ACB membership committee focus calls. If your affiliate doesn’t have a membership chair or vice chair on the ACB membership discussion list, please let us know. Focus call information and membership-related articles and issues are shared on that list.