For as long as I've been a member of the American Council of the Blind, I have heard two frequently repeated comments: first, that ACB has no philosophy of blindness; and second, that ACB doesn't do enough to publicize what it is doing to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired persons. In this column, I will address both issues and how we should respond to such comments.
In my opinion, ACB most definitely has a philosophy regarding blindness and blind people, not to mention a philosophy which guides this organization. Succinctly stated, the American Council of the Blind believes in the ideals of individual freedom of thought and action, autonomous state and special-interest affiliates, and policies and decisions made by the rank-and-file membership and carried out by the leadership. We do not believe that there is only one right way to be blind, one overarching system of rehabilitation, one correct method of mobility, or (and even more importantly) one prescribed approach to thinking about blindness.
While our critics argue this is a weakness and no philosophy at all, I submit that this is one of ACB's primary strengths and represents a philosophy of tolerance and inclusion which can be very attractive to others. As I have participated on ACB-L for a number of months, I've observed how many folks indicated that they were former members of the National Federation of the Blind. During our recent national convention and in attending a number of state conventions over the last several years, I have encountered many individuals who are now active members of ACB as a result of our philosophy.
What ACB perhaps has not done as effectively as it could is to export its philosophy to the larger blindness community; to write about it, to expose those outside of ACB to that philosophy, in short, to be proud of and talk about our values and beliefs whenever and wherever we get the opportunity. And no, it isn't ACB's way to proselytize and "beat our chests." We can, however, be far more vocal about what we believe in and what we stand for.
To date, ACB has drafted two outstanding white papers. The first, written in 2002, deals with the education of blind and visually impaired children, and the most recent, written just last year, addresses our perspective on rehabilitation. Both are available through the "Helpful Resources" page on our web site. If you do not have computer access, call the national office and request copies. So, have you read either or both documents? If you haven't, why not learn what our positions are on these important topics? Better yet, read both papers and circulate them to the education and rehabilitation professionals in your state.
It is my hope and expectation that over the next two years, many ACB members will participate in preparing and distributing more such position papers. I am particularly interested in ACB developing written statements on key issues such as transportation and employment. We need to establish a body of information about the American Council of the Blind in order to begin publicizing who we are, what we are all about, and why we feel so strongly that ACB is the greatest consumer advocacy organization of blind and visually impaired people in this country.
Briefly, let me mention a couple of important outreach efforts which will be occurring around the time you read this. In late October, Melanie Brunson and Patricia Beattie, chair of our rehabilitation issues task force, will present the aforementioned Rehabilitation White Paper at the annual meeting of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB). This will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase ACB's philosophy of rehabilitation.
On the Monday following the regional convention of the Maryland, D.C. and Old Dominion affiliates, Donna and I will host a reception at the ACB office for government agency officials and not-for-profit organization leaders in the area. It will be an opportunity for them to meet the ACB president, but more importantly, for myself and the other ACB leaders in attendance to spread our positive message and philosophy of blindness.
Beyond these activities, what can each of us as individual members do in this regard? As former longtime Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas "Tip" O'Neill used to say, "All politics is local." When we attend meetings of our paratransit agency, commission on disability, city council, or county board of supervisors, do we mention when we speak that we are members of the American Council of the Blind? Are we handing out our state affiliate brochures or other material?
ACB is only as strong as we, the membership, make it. I consider it an honor to be your president. If you don't already, it is my sincere hope that you will soon consider it an honor to be a member of the American Council of the Blind. All of us share equally the responsibility for helping to make ACB the most influential organization of blind people anywhere. Please join me in this worthwhile effort.
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