by Penny Reeder
ACB’s Board of Directors held its winter meeting on Feb. 20, 2021. All board members were present, as well as many ACB staff and contractors. The meeting was streamed live on ACB Radio, and the podcast is available on ACB Radio Events.
The board approved the meeting agenda, minutes of recent meetings, and several motions approved and acted upon by the executive committee since the November board meeting. These included:
- A statement on behalf of ACB deploring the events of January 6 when insurgents attempted to prohibit the orderly transition of power;
- Giving staff authority to move forward with providing training on racial and ethnic diversity, and preventing sexual misconduct and harassment;
- An ACB Community Events policy requiring trained hosts on all community calls and assuring appropriateness of topics for calls; and
- Budgeted funds to create a new full-time staff position for administering the Audio Description Project (ADP) and grant writing.
Doug Powell expressed concern about the frequency of relying on the executive committee to make decisions regarding time-sensitive issues in lieu of convening meetings of the full board for this purpose. This item was added to the meeting agenda as the first item of business. After discussion, it was decided to appoint an ad hoc committee, chaired by Ray Campbell, to consider when and how it is appropriate for the board to rely on the executive committee to make decisions, and when decisions should be deferred to meetings of the full board.
February’s Mission Moment celebrated the ACB Radio team who have supported affiliate conventions and other ACB special events. Dan and Eric expressed their appreciation to Debbie Hazelton, Rick Morin, Deb Cook Lewis, Tyson Ernst, Jeff Bishop, Jason Castonguay, Katie Frederick, and countless volunteers who have supported ACB to provide streaming, editing, podcasting, and Zoom hosting.
The board approved several reports submitted in advance: financial statements summary; editor’s report; development report; social media and web site statistical summary; membership report; and Audio Description Project update.
Dan Spoone noted that much of the discussion on the agenda relates to ACB policy and guidelines. He wanted to assure ACB members and affiliates that ACB’s leadership is not attempting to be prescriptive or dogmatic. “What we are learning as we continue to grow and professionalize the American Council of the Blind is that there is a need — and it is one of the responsibilities of this board — to review the policies and procedures of our organization.”
The board adopted policy changes for ACB community events. Cindy Hollis, ACB’s membership services coordinator, explained that the goal of these policies is to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone in the community with emphasis on acknowledging and upholding ACB’s core values and Code of Conduct.
Kim Charlson, ACB’s representative to the WBU, reported that their virtual 2021 convention, hosted by ONCE, Spain’s blindness organization, will take place June 28-30. The meetings are open to observers; Kim will share information regarding how to attend virtually.
Kelly Gasque reported that as ACB’s steering committees become more familiar with applying the principles of the Entrepreneurial Operating System for administering meetings, they are finding that the structure is leading to greater productivity and more efficiency. Clark said the format has helped the advocacy steering committee to focus and move the committee’s work forward.
The July auction and the December ACB Radio auction raised over $52,000. The convention auction is scheduled for July 20. The deadline for submitting auction items is June 1. The committee will offer “appetizer auctions” during the days preceding the auction.
Executive director Eric Bridges and Clark Rachfal announced that the position of advocacy and outreach specialist will be filled by Swatha Nandhakumar, who will start work on March 1st. Eric said that ACB has extended an offer for the Audio Description Project Administrator/Grant Writer position, and has received grant funding to hire an assistant to work with Cindy Hollis. He thanked Tony Stephens and Jo Lynn Bailey-Page for their success in securing the $40,000 grant from the Gibney Family Foundation. Eric also announced that recruitment would begin shortly to fill the administrative assistant position in ACB’s Alexandria office, and the manager of communications position. Eric especially recognized the work that Erika Keller has done to assist with announcing, recruiting, screening, and hiring for these positions.
Rick Morin, Technical Manager for ACB Radio, is overseeing the transition to Groups.io. We have 157 lists, 12,283 unique e-mail addresses associated with ACB lists, and around 85 list moderators. An urgent goal is for list owners to identify a moderator for each individual list. The team will be hosting community calls to teach members how to access their e-mail and set list management preferences.
Clark Rachfal explained how and why ACB’s work on accessible voting must continue, noting that some gains reported at the November board meeting were only temporary. Many affiliates are resuming their advocacy for securing an accessible absentee voting option. Some states are attempting to roll back the voting protections that apply to people who are blind and visually impaired, as well as other groups. On the federal level, there is renewed interest in voting rights reform, as expressed in bills S. 1 and H.R. 1 which include a mandate for a paper ballot. He told the board that accessible voting would be a key focus of the coming legislative seminar.
Clark said another focus of the legislative seminar will be the Department of Transportation’s recently issued final rule regarding air travel and the right of service animal users to fly with their guide and service dogs. One presentation will feature representatives from the DOT Office of Consumer Affairs regarding their implementation of the rule. Another presentation, moderated by ACB’s Environmental Access Committee and Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI), with panelists representing four airlines, will discuss accessibility of the required form service animal users must submit. GDUI and ACB will continue to monitor implementation of the new rule.
Kelly Gasque, executive assistant and multimedia design specialist, described ACB’s efforts to increase the quality and quantity of traffic to ACB’s web site by assuring that Google’s search results direct lots of people to our web site who have a genuine interest in what ACB has to offer. Kelly is working with Mt. Vernon Consulting on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), to assure that Google’s “accessibility bot” finds our web site to be compliant with accessibility guidelines which will help boost ACB.org to the highest Google search results position. The public awareness steering committee is establishing a process to facilitate collaboration with other steering committees. Staff and volunteers are collecting and evaluating data with the goal of professionalizing all of our media streams, and extending our reach by broadcasting over as many accessible and appealing platforms as possible. Their efforts are paying off with increasing followers on Facebook, Twitter, Facebook Live, YouTube, and others, and an enormous increase in applicants for ACB scholarships.
Tony Stephens and Jo Lynn Bailey-Page noted that during the pandemic and increased interest in equity, corporate giving and foundation grants are focusing on health and wellness issues, as well as social justice, which align with several ACB projects. ACB’s Get Up and Get Moving initiative is planning events in three major urban areas with attention focused on diabetes, which has a devastating impact on people of color. Our goal is to engage members of the blindness/diabetic community in ways that can give people means of empowering themselves. Jo Lynn discussed how the Gibney Family Foundation supported ACB to achieve our mutual goals by providing resources to the ACB community activities.
Membership services coordinator Cindy Hollis reminded the board that during the first week after things were locked down, there were 11 community calls. “This week alone,” she said, “we will have held 93 events.” Our events, she continued, represent a positive place to be. People uplift one another and support each other, and we are making a positive difference in people’s lives. Participants find out about us from rehab agencies, from Hadley, from teachers, and from one another. The calls show no sign of slowing down. Our at-large membership doubled between the close of convention and the end of the year.
Chief Financial Officer Nancy Becker provided several financial and administrative updates, including a breakdown of the disbursement of proceeds from the Blair Trust donation to ACB and reminders to affiliates regarding deadlines for submitting membership information to the Affiliate Member Management System (AMMS) and for remitting affiliate dues. In compliance with the resolution adopted in August 2020 regarding collecting census information for ACB, Nancy noted that two fields have been added to the AMMS database, one for gender and one for race/ethnicity. No one will ever be required to supply this information. Affiliates can ask members to supply the information, or the member can add it to their AMMS personal profile. A current goal is to merge members’ information from three separate databases into one comprehensive master database, allowing ACB to have the most current and accurate information in one easily accessed and searchable master file.
Jeff Bishop proposed ACB policy amendments which were approved by the board. These amendments:
- Allow board members to attend the fall board meeting virtually, while, at the same time, encouraging them to attend in person if possible; and
- Increase the stipend for board member participation to $1,000 per board meeting in order to provide more support to individuals interested in serving.
Several board members reiterated the board’s collective goal to diversify board membership, to attract younger ACB members, and to lessen the financial burden of serving on a board which requires in-person attendance at several meetings throughout the year, as well as the ACB convention. Dan said he calculates serving on ACB’s board costs between $3,000 and $5,000 annually per person. In addition, he noted that requiring younger professionals to give up their vacations in order to attend in-person board events represents a work-life balance burden that some younger professionals cannot easily assume.
Debbie Hazelton and Rick Morin explained that, as ACB Radio extends outreach and expands services they provide, the team is renaming itself the ACB Media Network, which more accurately reflects its broader responsibilities within the organization, and changing the web page to ACBMedia.org. There will be enhanced search capabilities, content aggregation capabilities, podcasts, radio and special event streams, and access to the many platforms ACB uses to communicate. She emphasized that the team needs adequate notice about events where they are requested to provide streaming services. They are already booked to stream affiliate conventions through October. ACB Radio Café has moved to Live-365, and they hope to move all of their streams onto that platform. In addition, they plan to refresh what’s available on ACB Radio Café with expanded content from blind musicians. Jason Castonguay’s recent Valentine’s Love Songs concert demonstrated the viability of raising funds with live events, and they expect to air affiliate sponsorships from April through August.
Penny Reeder reminded everyone of deadlines for Board of Publications awards nominations. The BOP expects ACB-L to morph into ACB-Conversation at the beginning of April, and she encouraged all board and ACB members to give the new list a chance. By launching ACB-Conversation, the BOP hopes to create a climate which encourages members and leaders to know one another better and reinforces everyone’s understanding of each member’s importance in directing the kinds of work the organization pursues.
Reeder said that the May Forum will include the BOP’s announcement regarding Candidates’ Pages for this year’s elections. If you are thinking about running for any of the 13 positions that are up for election, the BOP encourages you to respond to this year’s candidates’ questions. Only candidates who have responded to the questions by the deadline will be permitted to participate in the two BOP-sponsored candidates’ forums.
In her convention report, Janet Dickelman stated that she and the Hyatt were able to negotiate a release from ACB’s 2021 contractual obligation, with no penalty and no obligation to re-book in Phoenix. ACB’s goal is to book future conventions at hotels within the Hyatt family, but, for various reasons, the Phoenix Hyatt is unlikely to be a convention destination in the near future. The board authorized Janet and her team to proceed with negotiating contracts with the Jacksonville Hyatt for 2024 and the Dallas Hyatt for 2025.
The theme for our 2021 virtual convention, submitted by Jenine Stanley, is “ACB – Better Together Wherever We Are.” Registration will open on May 20 and close on June 28, and then re-open for registration during the convention. The Friends-in-Art Showcase will launch the convention on Friday night, our talking book narrator will be J.P. Linton, who will speak in general session, and also to Library Users of America (LUA), and is allowing himself to be auctioned off for ACB’s auction. This year’s banquet speaker will be Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”
Patrick Sheehan and Jeff Thom, co-chairs of the Voting Task Force, as well as several members of the committee, reported their recommendations to the board regarding how voting will be done at this summer’s virtual convention. The board unanimously accepted their recommendations. Every ACB member in good standing will be eligible to vote in every election, and votes can be cast electronically as well as by telephone. Affiliate votes will also be collected and counted, and individual elections for each of the possibly as many as 13 positions to be filled will be scheduled over the course of the convention, beginning on Monday and wrapping up on Friday. Resolutions will be considered for adoption by the board. There will be no voting on proposed constitutional amendments this year.