compiled by Ardis Bazyn

The ACB membership focus call on April 15 focused on ideas for affiliate conventions. All participants were asked to discuss possible program items for state or special-interest affiliates.

Conventions should include a variety of events. Most state conventions have a banquet with an interesting speaker. Some conventions include fundraising events such as raffles, auctions, and dances. Some members enjoy the pre-convention welcome receptions and first-timer meetings, breakfasts, or luncheons. Several also have a special breakfast, lunch, or dinner for presidents to share issues and activities in the local chapters and special- interest chapters/affiliates.

Many states award scholarships to students. Scholarship receptions, luncheons, or dinners provide a way for members to meet these recipients. It also lets students meet a variety of other blind people. One affiliate has its convention near graduation time and invites graduates to come to a special graduation event.

Some state conventions have pre-convention tours highlighting local historical sites. And people of all ages enjoy talent shows! If you have one, let convention participants know in advance that all are welcome to sign up. It's especially interesting if a variety of talents is included in the program.

Youth activities and classes are also provided at some conventions. Youth can then be encouraged to participate in other convention sessions. Georgia encourages both sighted and blind students to attend, and the sighted and blind students pair up. After a day together, they write an essay on what they've learned about the experience. Texas has a separate conference for youth to learn about the legislative process and leadership. Washington has a youth training conference at the same hotel during the state convention. It then plans times when the students can join the WCB members during breakfasts, lunches, and some programs. It also has a separate hospitality area for students.

Most state conventions have regular updates from the school for the blind and blind rehabilitation services. You can ask those speakers to discuss a particular topic area rather than an overall update, especially if you know a certain issue is of great interest to your members. Another good program option is technology: explore the latest cell phone alternatives, laser cane options, updates in notetakers, less expensive software, low-tech items, etc. Braille literacy is another topic, focusing on how to encourage more blind people to learn braille.

Continuing on the technology theme, you could request a speaker to discuss guidelines to help make web sites more accessible. This would assist blind people in telling companies what's wrong with their web sites and how to fix them, and help affiliates and chapters explain it.

Possible mini-508 laws for states could be explored. And employment panels are always well received. Everyone likes to hear what types of jobs other blind people have. A panel focusing on various education levels would go over just as well. Panel members could share how they got their current jobs, how they complete their daily job tasks, and what education would be necessary to obtain that job.

Proposed Access Board regulations could be discussed and members urged to make comments when appropriate. Multicultural and diversity topics could be beneficial to members.

Some state affiliates work together with state special-interest affiliates to provide programs of interest to all. They provide separate times for the special-interest affiliates to hold meetings and then have joint sessions where members of all affiliates can participate. When groups hold joint conventions, it can save each group money. Smaller conventions generally have higher costs for rooms and meal functions. One affiliate had a special program highlighting the benefits of guide dogs versus the benefits of a white cane. Another had a guide dog blessing ceremony.

Having program items relating to specific issues of a special-interest affiliate, such as the current Randolph-Sheppard issues, might entice that affiliate to participate. Likewise, low vision in seniors might get CCLVI and AAVL members to participate more. In California, Library Users have a luncheon where members share their favorite books they've read recently. They also have luncheons for the Randolph-Sheppard and Guide Dog Users affiliates. The Council of Citizens with Low Vision has programs with the state access and transportation committee. The Blind Students of California also host special programming during the convention.

Most conventions have an exhibit area for companies (especially those pertaining specifically to the visually impaired) to showcase their products and services. Exhibits may draw members who are specifically looking for blindness-related products and services that have been advertised by the companies in advance. Most states charge either no fee or a small fee. Some states allow exhibitors to advertise in the program for a fee as well. Some have exhibits only when break-out sessions take place. Others have them at the same time as general sessions. Most have exhibits for one full day; others have them for two days.

Many state affiliates hold conventions in a variety of cities throughout the state. Most try to choose a facility that isn't too expensive. Other alternatives for some states are one-day conventions in a local blindness facility or a school with boarding capabilities. Some state affiliates try to find ways to assist members in paying some convention costs, such as paying part of the hotel charge -- $5-$15 per room.

Several states assist by offering cheaper luncheons and banquets than the real cost or offering meal plans which cover multiple meals at one low cost. Members wishing to take advantage of this lower cost must pre-register. Since the state affiliate is paying for the meals, they pay no sales tax. Some get meals or food products donated so hospitality rooms can give free snacks or sandwiches. Discounted take-out meals from restaurants can also save participants money. Some affiliates find companies willing to sponsor a meal or event.

Other states provide buses that pick up members from some cities within the state or give stipends for transportation. Some local chapters provide stipends for delegates to attend the state convention. Some also provide funds to at least one first-timer to attend a convention. Your state might consider a fundraiser expressly for first-timers in the future.

Convention sessions should be recorded so members who cannot attend can have access to the programming. Of course, audio streaming the sessions over Internet radio would be best, but not all states or affiliates can afford the cost. Less expensive options include recording the sessions on audio cassette or CD, or making them available on your affiliate's web site.

The next membership focus call will be held on August 27, and the following one will be held on October 21. Keep these dates open on your calendar. As always, the call-in number will be 1-866-633-8638. The pass codes will be the date of the call, 082707 and 102107, respectively. The topic for the August call will be "communications, internal and external": communicating within your chapters, state affiliate, and nationally with one another and communicating with outsiders. The October call topic will be "Boosting Your Membership: Getting them in and Keeping them in."

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