"Ladies and gentlemen, let me call to order the 47th annual convention of the American Council of the Blind!" said Mitch Pomerantz, ACB president. "Let me welcome all of you who are here this evening from all points north, south, east and west, from the United States, Canada, Australia ..."
Following the invocation, Boy Scout Troop 1 posted the flags and Oral Miller led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance. Bradley Mann sang the national anthem and "My Old Kentucky Home."
"It truly is wonderful to be back at the Galt House here in Louisville, Kentucky, for what I believe will be our biggest and best convention ever," Pomerantz said. He introduced Melissa Mershon, a former member of the Louisville Board of Aldermen, representing the mayor's office, to welcome ACB to Louisville. She presented Pomerantz with a miniature Louisville Slugger and read a proclamation from the mayor that stated the week of July 6, 2008 "is hereby proclaimed to be the American Council [of] the Blind Week." She urged convention attendees to have some fun while they're in town.
Darrell Buford, chair of the local host committee, echoed that welcome. He shared the Kentucky motto with the audience: "United we stand, divided we fall."
Pomerantz then introduced Monica Hardin Booker, Miss Kentucky 2001 and the daughter of a Kentucky School for the Blind graduate. "I'm so glad that you all are here in my hometown," she said. She thanked ACB for inviting her, and thanked Carla Ruschival for all the hard work she'd put into the convention. "There's power in one," she said.
Following Booker's story, Pomerantz gave his report. (See the August and September issues of "The Braille Forum" for the text.)
After Pomerantz's report, Carol Ann Ewing-Ragsdale introduced the Durward K. McDaniel First-Timers Award winners: Mary Montgomery of Anchorage, Alaska and Benjaneia "Nia" Green of Summerville, S.C. Both expressed pleasure at being selected to attend the convention. Ewing- Ragsdale invited attendees to the DKM Julep Jamboree on Thursday evening.
Ann Olsen joined Pomerantz at the podium to present life memberships. The new life members were: Gary Austin, Luther Dement, Doug Laprade, Sally Baird, Larry Baumgartner, Lowell Popp, Donald Pohlmann, Vivian Pohlmann, Howard Simons, Arlene Cohen (presented posthumously), Allen Casey, Mary Catherine Jones, Susie Weatherford, John Farina, Pam Robison, Linda Burris, Hazel Burton, Ed "Doc" Bradley, John Dashney, David Lovern, Iris Edwards, and Donna Pomerantz.
Jerry Annunzio gave the first credentials committee report. He thanked the committee members for their work. Two affiliates Maine and the American Association of Visually Impaired Attorneys had been turned in late, and lost votes. Maine's votes were reduced from two to one, and AAVIA's votes were reduced from three to two and a half. The final credentials report would be presented Monday.
Next, the convention adopted the standing rules, which were listed in the program, as well as the program itself. Following their adoption, secretary Marlaina Lieberg called the roll of affiliates.
The first morning of any ACB national convention is a flurry of activity, and 2008 was no exception. The day began with ACB business. Adam Ruschival, president of the Kentucky Council of the Blind, welcomed convention-goers to Louisville.
Pomerantz then introduced credentials chair Jerry Annunzio, who gave the final credentials report. The report was approved by the membership.
American Center on Blindness and Visual Impairment board chair Chris Gray updated the convention on the status of the organization. The full governing board has been meeting since February 2008. Members come to this board from the ACB board and the American Center's provisional board, with the ACB president and executive director also serving. The board has established bylaws for governance and will be finalizing them in the near future.
Dr. Otis Stephens, chair of the constitution and bylaws committee, gave the first reading of two constitutional amendments.
Public relations chair Ron Milliman reported that the ACB radio PSA packets had been extremely successful. He stated that the Press Release Handbook for ACB Chapters and Affiliates was now available in large print, braille and on CD in electronic files.
Brenda Dillon thanked the various convention sponsors, notably AT&T, the ruby sponsor at $10,000. She told the audience that this year the convention received approximately $53,500 in financial sponsorship and in- kind donations from a variety of companies and organizations.
Awards began with Nola McKinney, chair of the awards committee, presenting the Affiliate Growth Award to the New Mexico Council of the Blind. Janet Dickelman, an awards committee member, presented the James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Award to Jim Kutsch, president and CEO of The Seeing Eye, Inc., for his work in the blindness and technology fields.
Paul Edwards, chair of the board of publications, continued the awards presentations with the 2008 Ned E. Freeman Writing Award. Alysia Wells received the award for her piece, "Tainted Crown? Mixed Feelings, Mixed Messages," which appeared in the July-August 2007 issue of "The Braille Forum." The Hollis K. Liggett Braille Free Press Award honoring an affiliate newsletter was presented for the first time. Competition was extremely close; the winner was "The Blind Californian," California Council of the Blind's newsletter, with Mike Keithley as the editor. Bernice Kandarian, chair of the publications board for the California Council, accepted the award.
First vice president Kim Charlson took the stage for the main program. She introduced Steve Wiser, three-time president of the Louisville Historical League. He took the crowd on a whirlwind tour of the alphabet of Louisville landmarks, highlighting such famous names as Muhammad Ali, Colonel Sanders and Federal Express, along with many more of the area's fine attractions.
The kaleidoscope turned again to focus on the international scene with John Rae, first vice president, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. Rae was happy to celebrate ACB's victories and continued efforts in accessible currency. Canadians with service animals had reason to celebrate a recent ruling by the Canadian Transport Board. With 48 hours notice, any Air Canada or Jazz/West Jet flight must set aside extra space to accommodate a service animal. He also noted that his organization has worked with Ticketmaster to eliminate captcha systems on its web site so that blind people can easily order tickets online. The issues facing blind Canadians include access to election materials and voting, quiet cars and addressing poverty of people with disabilities.
Jean Parker, an independent radio correspondent living in India, gave a vivid description of life in that country. She described India as a many- layered place that can exist over a number of centuries at once and spans the range of very wealthy and modern to the poorest of the poor. Indian society, she noted, is built on relationships, which can make life for a blind person of a certain professional and economic status very convenient.
People at Parker's professional level have personal assistants and often drivers, regardless of disability issues. But for her, maintaining her independence is crucial. To do so, she uses a laptop computer, JAWS for Windows, Sound Forge, and a Braille Lite. She noted that braille is critical to her work and personal life.
Two of the most noticeable issues she faces are noise and ignorance. Noise levels in cities can be overwhelming; traffic laws are mostly non-existent. In the country, many people still believe that blindness is caused by a curse. But being blind has not significantly affected her work as a journalist; it has given her some opportunities that her male, non-disabled colleagues may not have. Parker's reports can be heard on NPR's Marketplace and various other NPR programs.
The next spin of the kaleidoscope took conventioneers to the complex world of accessibility and structured negotiations. Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian, lawyers from the San Francisco area, have been working with ACB using this settlement method for several years. Structured negotiation is a legal alternative to litigation in which both parties agree to legally binding settlement terms without going through court proceedings. ACB has worked with Lainey and Linda on 30 such agreements.
There are now over 50,000 talking ATMs around the country. ACB members scripted the information given at these ATMs. There are over 70,000 tactile point-of-sale units at a number of retail stores around the country. Agreements have also involved web site access and alternate formats for bank and other financial statements. The city of San Francisco has committed to 500 accessible pedestrian signals (APS) and has established a procedure for additional installations.
Negotiations are under way with 7-Eleven stores and Rite Aid pharmacies for tactile point-of-sale machines and web site accessibility for Rite Aid's online services. Radio Shack is also bringing tactile point-of- sale units and greater web site access by January 2009. American Express has agreed to shorten the time between on-line statements and provision of alternate formats. All three credit reporting agencies will make their web sites accessible and provide credit reports in alternate formats by the end of 2008. Annualcreditreport.com, established by Congress as a free credit reporting service, is also providing statements in alternate formats.
A letter regarding access to the web site www.majorleaguebaseball.com has been sent in conjunction with the Bay State Council of the Blind and California Council of the Blind. Other efforts include web site accessibility and tactile point-of-sale units in such stores as Target, CVS, and Staples retail and specialty counters. They will also be addressing the health care industry as well as financial investing sites.
Work is ongoing to maintain all existing agreements. This is where ACB members come into play. Ask for statements and other information in alternate formats. If a service is not accessible, an ATM doesn't talk or a tactile point-of-sale device doesn't work, Lainey and Linda would like to know. One such report uncovered a problem with thousands of Bank of America ATMs that was readily fixed. To contact Lainey Feingold, go to www.lflegal.com, or e-mail her at [email protected] You may reach Linda Dardarian at 1-800-822-5000.
"I'm from the IRS and I'm here to help." That statement garnered the laughter of many conventioneers. Richard Keeling, Senior Tax Analyst, IRS Office of Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication, told the audience about a pending memorandum of understanding between ACB, other disability groups and the IRS in 84 cities to provide free tax preparation and asset-building assistance for anyone with a disability making under $40,000. He also reminded people to go to the IRS web site, www.irs.gov, to check on or apply for economic stimulus payments.
Lee Giurlanda, Chief Accessibility Coordinator with the IRS, mentioned the availability of training conducted at Lions World Services in Arkansas. The IRS began a five-year initiative to hire people with disabilities in 2007 and thus far have hired approximately 1,000 people. Other parts of the five-year plan involve retention and development initiatives to keep employees and provide opportunities for career advancement. All IRS jobs are posted at usajobs.com or competitive employment. Qualified people with disabilities can apply under a Schedule A, non-competitive process. To contact Giurlanda for more information about employment with the IRS, e-mail [email protected] .gov.
The final spin of the kaleidoscope took us to the Recreation Zone, the place to learn about all types of physical activity. This year, water aerobics were again available, along with information about Ski for Light. Aerial Gilbert, a nationally recognized rower, noted that the University of Louisville women's rowing team would be available to demonstrate the rowing machine featuring Erg-Chatter, talking software that makes all functions of the machine accessible.
Today's focus was youth, students, education, technology and recreation. Patti Cox and the kids from the youth activity center led the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance. Pomerantz brought the session to order and immediately began with business. Brenda Dillon recognized the platinum and gold sponsors.
M.J. Schmitt came up next to report the slate the nominating committee had selected the night before. For the board of directors, the committee selected David Trott, Billie Jean Keith, Michael Garrett, Berl Colley and Marsha Farrow. For the board of publications, the slate was Judy Jackson, Charlie Hodge and Ken Stewart.
Richard Villa, president of Blind Information Technology Specialists, presented the first John R. Mattioli Jr. Technological Innovation Award to Larry Skutchan for his ongoing innovative contributions to technological advancement and tireless services to blind and visually impaired individuals across the USA and around the world.
Following Villa's presentation, Judy Jackson came up and read a couple of resolutions. The first one, resolution 2008-11, pertained to accessible kiosks at airports; it passed by voice vote. Resolution 2008-05 dealt with the presidential candidates' questionnaire. It, too, was adopted.
The convention turned its focus toward accessible currency with help from Jeff Lovitky, ACB's attorney in the currency case. "The case is still in litigation, so obviously I'm somewhat constrained in comments that I can make, because I'm obviously desirous of avoiding anything which would compromise our litigation strategy," he stated. "ACB has been advocating changes in this area since at least 1972, and ... probably before then. ... Unfortunately, the Washington way of dealing with persistent problems is to study them to death. And that's what happened."
Lovitky reminded his listeners that ACB filed the suit in federal district court in May of 2002, and the case went on in district court for four years. In November 2006 the court issued a declaratory judgment stating that the design of currency violated the Rehabilitation Act, but it didn't include a remedy. The government appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court. Oral arguments took place in November 2007. In May 2008 the circuit court affirmed the judgment of the district court. "One of the things that was clearly primary in the court's consideration was the fact that the United States of America is virtually alone in having a currency which has really no means by which it can be identified by visually impaired people," he said.
The government's major concern was cost. "We asked the government to produce for us cost figures which would give us the cost for three different tactile features which we believed should be evaluated," Lovitky said. "Those were embossing, foil and perforation." What were those figures? The government said the embossed numeral would cost $45 million to set up, with an increased annual cost of $50 million; the foil feature, $51 million to set up, with an increased annual cost of $15 million; perforation, $75 million to set up, with an increased annual cost of $8 million to produce. Lovitky stated ACB's position was that the changes it is seeking would be cheaper if they were included in changes that were already planned. The government plans changes to currency every seven years, he noted.
Pomerantz presented Lovitky with a Special Achievement Award "with sincere appreciation and thanks for his tireless advocacy on behalf of blind Americans and their rights to U.S. currency that is identifiable without vision."
Next up was Jeffrey Witt from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, "who wants our input on accessible currency," stated Pomerantz. Witt briefly discussed his job "to help them learn what your experiences [are] and what the potential experiences [would be] if certain changes were made." Witt's plans for the week were: 1) recruit for a survey; 2) do some focus groups; 3) hold an open forum; and 4) do a usability survey to learn what works and what doesn't in terms of currency. "I'm here to learn and to gather information," he said.
The convention then returned its focus to youth and students with the 2008 scholarship presentations. Pomerantz turned the gavel over to Dillon, who turned it over to Patty Slaby, chair of the scholarship committee. She announced the CCLVI scholarship winners first; they were Charles Michael Newell, Matthew Kickbush and Paula Warren.
Nationally, the winners were: Kimberly Aguillera, Austin, Tex.; Terry Baker, Polk City, Iowa; Rebekah Balmer, Elizabethtown, Pa..; Keith Blocker, Tacoma, Wash.; Meghan Briggs, Portland, Ore.; Dan Perkins, Kansas City, Mo.; Ashley Brow, Mashpee, Mass.; Ray Campbell, Glen Ellyn, Ill.; Lisa Drzewucki, Freeport, N.Y.; Sam Herbert, Billings, Mont.; Barry Hyde, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Leah Irish, Kent, Ohio; Elvin Izaguirre, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Patricia Kepler, Aloha, Ore.; Lana Lee, San Mateo, Calif.; Dawn Lloyd, Pottstown, Pa.; Zachary Mason, North Stratford, N.J.; Sharon McLennon, Yonkers, N.Y.; Curtis Norton, Medford, Ore.; Justin Salisbury, Willington, Conn.; and Catalina Roisum, Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Following a break, the convention turned its focus to technology. The first presenter was John Glass, customer support manager at Bookshare.org. Glass gave a bit of background on Bookshare before updating his listeners on what's new. "We're adding about 200 books a week now," he said.
Bookshare books are available for download in DAISY digital text or braille-ready file. For new subscribers who sign up at convention, Bookshare is waiving the $25 sign-up fee. People can also sign up online.
Last October Bookshare received a grant from the Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs that allows it to offer free membership to all qualified students living in the United States. That grant will also allow Bookshare to add up to 100,000 more books to its collection over the next five years, and to work with publishers to get more books directly from them in digital format. Glass noted that several publishers have signed on already, including Harper Collins and O'Reilly Media.
The convention next turned its attention to the availability of accessible recreation equipment with the help of Paul Schroeder, vice president of programs and policy, American Foundation for the Blind. "The bad news is that I'm filling in for Darren Burton, so you don't have him, you have me," Schroeder stated. "The good news is that along with taking care of his dog, Darren Burton is back at AFB Tech doing what he does well, which is writing about accessibility for Access World, our magazine at AFB, including work on recreation and fitness equipment ..." He advised listeners to check out "Access World" on AFB's web site, www.afb.org, as it contains a great deal of information on access to digital audio players, recreation equipment, and other devices.
"How many of you here in the audience are regular exercise enthusiasts?" Schroeder asked. Many people responded with applause. "[There are] lots of excuses for not exercising. One of them that we do hear ... is that it's difficult to exercise because the equipment that I need to use isn't accessible for me as a blind person." In November 2007, Burton and Lee Huffman wrote an article on accessible fitness equipment for "Access World," which is still available on AFB's web site.
All excuses aside, he said, "We know that people with disabilities are more likely to be sedentary, more likely to have health problems, and more likely to have barriers to participating in physical activity." Articles suggest that only one-third of people with disabilities participate in physical activities, whereas about half of people without disabilities participate. He advised listeners to ask fitness center staff to let them test the center a few times to see how accessible the equipment is, what kind of help the staff provides, and to get oriented. Schroeder reminded them that the ADA is just as applicable to fitness centers as to other public accommodations. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, www.ncpad.org, has a great deal of information on physical fitness activities. Schroeder thanked Darren Burton for his work on access to fitness equipment.
Finally, it was time for the convention to hear from Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.). He began with a story that his family used to tell him while he was growing up. "Awhile back -- and this was probably every bit of 50 years ago -- a group of Kentuckians got together to form a school for some very, very special students. These students were the best and the brightest, and they had some very high expectations from themselves, their teachers and their parents, expectations that were often quite higher than many students their age. And as the school building unfortunately was crumbling around them, with falling plaster and leaky rooms, they never faltered in their studies. Establishing this school was a feat in and of itself, so the school administration was wary of asking for more support, either monetary or otherwise. But a small group of parents decided that they would do whatever it took to make sure that these students had an acceptable, functional and safe place to learn. They did their research, they wrote letters, they made requests, and still nobody would help them. Well, one day a man with an infectious smile took them in. He listened to their requests; he listened to their concerns; he knew right then and there that this was a worthy cause and that these students deserved the best opportunity to succeed. So he gave them money to do so. That school was the Kentucky School for the Blind, and that man with the smiley face was my grandfather, then-Kentucky governor Happy Chandler. And I want you to know that story ... was very special to me. It's a heritage that I am very, very proud of, that example that my grandfather set for me."
For Chandler's grandfather, it wasn't about popularity. "What mattered to him was being able to leave the world a little bit better than he found it. ... The measure of your worth is not whether people like you or not, but it's that you earned the respect of respectable people. That's what you ought to do in a public career ... and you do that by doing what you believe is right." Shared American values are what draws us together, he noted. He discussed the ADA, calling it "one of the principle examples of the good things that this country stands for: the recognition that while we all have enormous value, we're all not always treated the same way. ... As a country, we ought to strive toward that. We ought to make every effort ... to make sure that all of our citizens have access to the freedoms of this country. ... That's one of the responsibilities that goes with the freedoms that we enjoy."
He said the ADA has transformed the United States, bringing about changes in access to transportation, buildings, employment, and public services. "Recently the United States took another great step to ensure equality for all. Just as disability should not be used as cause for discrimination, your genetic code should not be used against you either." He co-sponsored the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 as well as the ADA Amendments Act. "It prohibits group health plans from adjusting their premiums ... on the basis of genetic information. I think that's very important. We haven't seen that happen, but it sure could, and you can imagine who would bear the brunt of that!"
Chandler asked his listeners to think about what kind of world they would leave for future generations. "As the father of three children, I can tell you it really concerns me when I think of the world and the country we're going to leave our children. It's extremely important." The USA has a $9 trillion debt; eggs, milk, bread, and gas all cost more now than they did in February. And many schools have a lack of materials, falling plaster in the classrooms, and crumbling facilities. "This earth -- we've got to protect it for the future. ... What my grandfather did for the Kentucky School for the Blind, I want to be a part of doing for every school in the country, because that's where our future is."
The Wednesday morning session began with the reading of the third and final proposed amendments to the constitution and bylaws by Otis Stephens. Judy Jackson presented several resolutions, which were adopted. Marlaina Lieberg presided over the session; she introduced the first speaker, Susan LaVenture, whose presentation told members about the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI).
LaVenture informed the audience about Family Connect, the new web site that was developed as a joint venture of NAPVI and the American Foundation for the Blind. To get to it, you can either go to www.afb.org and select Family Connect, or go to www.familyconnect.org. It contains a wealth of information for parents of children with disabilities. Carl Augusto of the American Foundation for the Blind also provided information about the cooperation of our two organizations, indicating that Jeff Thom had been elected to the AFB board and that Brian Charlson had been made an emeritus member of the board. He also announced that LeRoy Saunders had received the Migel medal at a ceremony earlier in the year. The Migel medal is the highest award offered by the AFB.
The next speaker was Chris Kuczynski from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He reported on the New Freedom Initiative and indicated that there was an effort under way to get federal agencies to set themselves a goal of having 2 percent of their employees be people with disabilities. Currently less than 1 percent of federal employees are people with severe disabilities. Kuczynski also discussed many cases that the EEOC has filed over the past several years involving discrimination against employees who are blind or visually impaired. He indicated that there is still much to do and hoped that individuals and ACB would continue to file discrimination claims. Finally, he reported that his agency had fewer resources than they had 10 years ago and had much more to do, or would have, if new legislation passed.
Frank Kurt Cylke from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped gave an update on goings-on at the library. Much of the presentation was made by Ed O'Reilly, head of the collection development section. His department is responsible for making decisions about which books are chosen for the NLS collection. He reported that NLS produces 2,000 audio books and approximately 550 braille books each year. This represents about 1 percent of the total number of books published in the United States each year. O'Reilly also briefly described the work of the collection development committee, which includes an ACB representative and which meets once annually to discuss policies that might be implemented to improve the process of collection development. He indicated that, while the transition to digital books for NLS is clearly a positive and encouraging occurrence, there is much concern being expressed in the larger community on the impact of the digital revolution. He commended users of NLS for maintaining a much higher rate of reading than does the general public.
The next speaker was Mitzi Friedlander, a talking book narrator from the American Printing House for the Blind. She reported that she had started recording talking books in the early 1960s at the suggestion of Dale Carter, then a talking book narrator, who was in a play with her. Her very first book was "The Summer of the Falcon," which was sent back because she mispronounced the word "falcon." She has now recorded well over 1,000 books. She told her listeners that reading talking books is the love of her life and that it is truly a joy to be able to do it.
The next presentation of the morning was a panel discussion moderated by Marlaina Lieberg which featured Mark Richert from the American Foundation for the Blind and Eric Bridges from the American Council of the Blind's national office. They discussed legislation that was before Congress. There was lots of audience participation, lots of humor and lots of good information shared.
Finally, Mike Calvo from Serotek made a presentation on System Access To Go, a screen reader that can be accessed free from any computer with Internet access. He announced a contest and asked ACB members to spread the word that Serotek is making a package of its products available to students in elementary or secondary school in the United States free of charge. He urged listeners to refer people to www.serotek.com for more information.
Thursday morning's session began with a brief report from Jeff Thom, head of the task force on voting by secret ballot in ACB elections. Thom said that our members feel strongly about this issue, both for and against. On the positive side, since ACB is a democratic organization, people should be able to vote by secret ballot as we do in America. Several reservations were expressed, however. Voting by secret ballot could take more time than the simple standing vote we currently use, and there could be the potential for fraud if ballots were tampered with. Also, the standing vote gives affiliate delegates vital information about how people are voting, which would be lost with the secret ballot.
Several affiliates already employ some sort of secret ballot, such as tearing off a corner of a piece of paper, poking holes in a piece of paper with a nail, or choosing a different shape of tile for each candidate. In addition to these low-tech solutions, the task force is considering high-tech options. The secret ballot would replace only the standing vote. Thom concluded by saying that the task force's goal is to give the membership as much information as possible so that we can make an informed decision. The task force encourages further input from the membership, and will keep you apprised of future developments.
ACB second vice president Brenda Dillon recognized the bronze sponsors of the convention.
Next, Dr. Otis Stephens, chair of the constitution and bylaws committee, presided over the second reading of and voting on three proposed amendments to the ACB Constitution. The amendments to Article II, Purpose, and Article IV, Officers, were adopted by a voice vote. The proposed amendment regarding the Internet oversight committee was defeated in a roll call vote, with 406.5 in favor and 336 against. Although a majority voted in favor, constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority for adoption. The convention unanimously approved a motion that the ACB secretary be authorized, under the supervision of the chairperson of the constitution and bylaws committee, to correct technical errors in punctuation and spelling so long as such corrections do not alter the substantive meaning of any provision of the constitution and bylaws.
Following the break, ACB executive director Melanie Brunson presented the Virginia Association of the Blind award to Ron Hepler. After the award presentation, there was a panel discussion on distance learning. Panelists were: Brian Charlson, vice president of computer training services at the Carroll Center for the Blind, Newton, Mass.; Charles Young, president of the Hadley School for the Blind, Winnetka, Ill.; and William Penrod, director of the teacher preparation program at the University of Louisville, Ky.
The Carroll Center for the Blind has been offering distance learning courses on a wide range of computer skills for the past five years. These courses provide 30 hours of content at just $100 per course. In order to broaden its course offerings, the Carroll Center has established a number of partnerships with other organizations, including the Perkins School for the Blind, the Washington School for the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. For more information, go to www.carrolltech.org.
The Hadley School for the Blind is currently serving 11,500 students from around the world. Hadley's 125 distance education courses are free to legally blind people, their families, and professionals in the field of blindness. Course categories include literacy, employment, business, leisure, and independent living, as well as courses for parents of blind children. Courses are available in braille, large print, recorded format, and online. Since Hadley is also an accredited Illinois high school, students can graduate from the Hadley high school or transfer their credits and graduate from their local high schools. Most of Hadley's high school students are adults. For more information on Hadley courses and other initiatives, go to www.hadley-school.org.
The University of Louisville offers distance education and on-site courses for students striving to become teachers of the visually impaired or orientation and mobility instructors. Braille competency is a cornerstone of the program. The goal is to provide accessible programs to all populations with the convenience of being able to remain at home with family and continue working. For more information, go to www.louisville.edu.
Next, Dr. Douglas Dean, professor of ocular molecular oncology at the University of Louisville, discussed stem cell research as it relates to curing eye diseases. Stem cells were first identified in very early embryos; they give rise to all the different kinds of tissue in the body. A major discovery was that those early stem cells in the embryo could be cultured and maintained in a petri dish and turned into all different kinds of cells. This led to the idea of replacement therapy. Another source is adult stem cells; however, they don't work as well as the embryonic version. It may soon be possible to turn skin cells into stem cells for therapeutic use. There have been promising results with ongoing studies in animals. The major obstacle right now is that while stem cells can be turned into any cell in the body, they need some specific instructions. The challenge is to figure out how much information must be given to the cell before injecting it into the eye or the pancreas to perform a specific function. Dean feels that this research is promising. To learn more, go to the University of Louisville web site at www.louisville.edu and follow the links to the ophthalmology page. Dean's e-mail address and phone number are also on the site, and he is happy to answer any questions.
In his treasurer's report, Mike Godino stated that ACB is doing rather well financially. "The Braille Forum" has been expanded, committees have some funding, and board and BOP members receive small stipends for travel. In 2007, the finance committee budgeted $1,027,194 for expenses. At the end of the year, ACB had spent only $922,949. Income was projected to be $1,055,200; ACB actually took in $2,090,291. Our net gain for 2007 was $1,167,342. Total assets at the end of 2007 were $2,137,467. It should be noted that ACB received several bequests in 2007. We carried over $312,342 from 2007 into 2008. Some money was reinvested in ACBES, and some will be used for new software and to upgrade the phone system. New staff may also be hired.
Before adjourning the session, Pomerantz urged everyone to enroll in the Monthly Monetary Support (MMS) program.
Friday was devoted to elections and action on the many resolutions remaining from earlier in the week. The morning began with reports from the chair of ACB Enterprises and Services, the executive director, and the convention committee's chair.
Michael Garrett told the members of activities aimed at maximizing the profitability of the thrift stores being operated around the country. Melanie Brunson spoke of some of the advocacy accomplishments of ACB. She also announced the dates and place of next year's mid-year meetings, Feb. 20-24 in Arlington, Va. Carla Ruschival shared details of various practicalities of administering the gathering, including an explanation of the delayed postal delivery of advance convention registration materials to members. She proudly reported that this convention was one of the best attended in many years.
Three seats for two-year terms on the board of publications are filled in even-numbered years by elections, the other two BOP positions being filled by presidential appointments in odd-numbered years. The nominating committee had adopted a slate of nominees in its closed Monday evening session.
The names on the slate put forward by the committee were considered in the order they were adopted by the committee. Nominees Ken Stewart and Judy Jackson were approved without opposition. After the name of Charlie Hodge was put forward from the committee, Marcia Dresser was nominated from the floor. Dresser came away the victor. She acknowledged the laudable contributions of Charlie Hodge, who then shared his warm sentiments toward, and noted the praiseworthy work of, Dresser.
Next up were elections for the five seats on the board of directors. All were elected without opposition. The winners were: Michael Garrett, Berl Colley, David Trott, Billie Jean Keith, and Marsha Farrow. Keith and Trott were re-elected; the other three were new to the board.
Judy Jackson, chair of the resolutions committee, was heard from the podium frequently during both the morning and afternoon sessions. The membership considered more than a dozen proposed resolutions, some written by individual members and some submitted from affiliates. All the proposals had been the subjects of deliberations by the committee in its open meetings each evening. Most proposals survived; a few were withdrawn by authors. Once reaching the convention floor and introduced with a "do pass" recommendation, they typically received unanimous voice approval from the body.
Floor debate on resolutions was typically about a particular choice of words in its text. The hottest debate was on the appropriateness of the use of "retarded" as a synonym for "slowed" in the wording of one resolution. A closely divided voice vote eventually came down on the side of sensitivity to a fellow group of people with a disability rather than on the side of resistance to political correctness. In each of these debates, the tone was respectful of differing views, prompting Pomerantz to observe at the end of the session the civil manner of the body's deliberations. The texts of all resolutions passed by the convention have been placed on ACB's web site, and can also be requested from the national office.
Friday afternoon concluded with a few more words from convention chair Carla Ruschival. She offered practical tips for those planning to attend the convention banquet, and happily noted that the 450 ticket holders represented the largest banquet turnout in five years.
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