by Mitch Pomerantz

It's June, and by the time most of you read this month's "Braille Forum," the 49th annual ACB national conference and convention -- July 9-17 -- will be just a couple of weeks away. Since assuming the post of president almost three years ago, I've discovered that preparations for a convention the size and scope of this one (e.g., the 2010 gathering in Phoenix, Ariz.) commenced prior to holding the 2009 convention in Orlando, Fla. This is a fact of life for ACB's outstanding convention coordinator, Carla Ruschival. For me, however, planning for this year's convention truly began shortly after the close of last year's get-together. Let me begin by explaining the name change from "convention" to "conference and convention." This isn't simply a matter of semantics, but a sincere effort to more accurately describe what takes place at ACB's annual meeting. Many of our special-interest affiliates and committees hold workshops and seminars that are of the highest professional quality. It is our hope to attract more professionals in the field of blindness and perhaps, as early as next year, to offer CEU's (continuing educational units) to those in attendance. We also believe that expanding the breadth and scope of our annual gathering will be an enticement to potential conference/convention sponsors. For the record, it runs upwards of $200,000 to hold a convention the size of ours, so bringing in sponsors from the corporate sector is extremely desirable. My first chore is selecting a convention program committee which I chair, and a convention coordinating committee, which is chaired by the aforementioned Carla Ruschival. She and I consult on the make-up of the latter committee and I typically accept her recommendations; after all, she's the one who will be working with these folks during the upcoming year. Members of her committee will make one or more visits to the convention hotel and surrounding community checking out such things as the guide dog relief area, training hotel staff, arranging for tours, and generally doing their best to ensure that attendees have a pleasant stay during convention week. As you might imagine from the title, the members of the convention program committee work with me in developing a program which will be of interest to those in attendance. If I were putting the agenda together without their input, my bias would be toward packing the convention agenda exclusively with speakers on blindness-related political and social topics: legislation, rehabilitation, disability law, etc. Fortunately, committee members remind me that a great many conventioneers want to be entertained as well as informed, thus last year's participation by a Florida singer/song writer, Amy Carroll Webb. Our committee began the process of putting the 2010 program together in early January, a bit earlier than in past years. Altogether, we held four committee meetings by teleconference. The initial meeting is really a brainstorming session with everyone contributing ideas for possible topics and speakers. In addition to ideas suggested by committee members, we had a couple of topics which could not be included in last year's program agenda to consider. After reaching consensus on topics to pursue for the 2010 convention program, we divvied up the work -- researching and/or contacting proposed speakers -- among committee members. Subsequent meetings involve fine-tuning the program based upon the availability of speakers and the need to incorporate convention business items into the overall agenda: awards and scholarship presentations, resolutions, amendments to the constitution and bylaws, and various and sundry reports. Before going any further, let me acknowledge the efforts and hard work of the 2010 convention program committee, which included: first vice president Kim Charlson, second vice president Brenda Dillon, board member Carla Ruschival, host committee representative Barbara McDonald, Denise Colley of Washington, and Terri Lynne Pomeroy of Utah, along with Melanie Brunson. Everyone contributed to what I believe will be our best convention program in a very long time. If you don't believe that arranging for individual speakers can be a time-consuming and nerve-wracking process, let me offer a personal example. Even prior to the first meeting of the convention program committee, I wanted to invite as our international guest of honor a visually impaired woman, Kerryann Ifill, whom Donna and I had met last year while attending a World Blind Union North America/Caribbean Region meeting in Barbados. Ms. Ifill, who serves in her nation's parliament as deputy president of the Senate, had provided me with her e-mail address when we met. Shortly after the committee held its first meeting, I sent her an invitation to attend the convention as ACB's international representative. By the time of our second meeting (some three weeks later), I'd yet to receive a response. Following a couple of further futile attempts at contacting her, I sent a message through a third party who was able to convey my invitation. Thanks to the vagaries of the Internet, her service provider was blocking my messages. Luckily, Kerryann has an alternate e-mail account and we were finally able to communicate. And yes, she will be attending and speaking at our convention next month. So, what's in store for you in Phoenix? Many of you have, by now, probably gone online and gotten a sneak preview of things to come. This year, our agenda will include those political and social issues with more high-ranking government officials than we've had at convention in some time. Among others, we will hear from Kathleen Martinez, who heads up the federal Office of Disability Employment Policy (Kathy is also an ACB member); Sam Bagenstos, the Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice; and several directors of state rehabilitation programs. There will be panels on the future of radio reading services and ACB Radio, as well as on fitness and health concerns. Additionally, the lighter side of life will be part of the proceedings with a popular talking book narrator, an expert on Arizona history, and a representative of Major League Baseball (no, not a player). This year's banquet address will be given by Michael Armstrong, a blind gentleman who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Other surprises await for those who venture to Phoenix next month.

A couple of quick notes in closing. Out of respect for those who appreciate punctuality, not to mention our many presenters, all plenary sessions will begin as close to the times listed in the program as possible. While delays and glitches are inevitable, we will do our utmost to remain on schedule throughout the week.

Beyond this, our constitution and bylaws committee, chaired by Dr. Otis Stephens, will be bringing forward recommendations relative to whether a number of committees currently mandated within ACB's bylaws should continue to be institutionalized, or function at the behest of the president and/or the board of directors. My expectation is that discussion regarding these recommendations could be time-consuming since there are more than a dozen committees listed in the bylaws. Hence, it will be necessary to keep things moving to avoid not being able to conclude all convention business by the 5 p.m. deadline. And just to make things more interesting, we have several board elections on tap for our Friday business session. So, plan to consume lots of coffee or tea at breakfast and prepare for a busy day. See you in July.

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