by Penny Reeder
The January 31, 2023 meeting of the ACB Board of Directors was held via Zoom. The podcast is available at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/20230131-acb-board-meeting/id1125754641?i=1000597749553.
President Dan Spoone convened the meeting shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. All directors, except for Doug Powell, who was attending the Ski for Light event, were present, as well as several ACB staff members. Minutes from the December meetings were approved.
The board joined Dan and Eric Bridges in an enthusiastic cheer for Nancy Becker, Lane Waters, Nancy Feela, and ACB’s accounting team, to express heartfelt gratitude for their diligence in navigating COVID-era guidelines to successfully apply for and receive over $900,000 in funds from the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and the Employee Retention Credit Program (ERC).
“Their work has been critical to the forward movement of our organization,” Dan said. “The funds allowed us to continue meeting our strategic goals, to support our staff, to staff our development department, and succeed despite an uncertain national economy.”
Second vice president Ray Campbell said that ACB also needs to express its appreciation to Tony Stephens. “Tony was the first person on our staff to recognize that the federal funding programs were applicable to our organization,” Ray explained.
Staff members’ written reports were submitted to the board in advance of the meeting, and were approved under a consent agenda.
Considerable discussion focused on the topic of increasing membership, with some emphasis on the state affiliates for whom retaining and growing membership continues to be a challenge. Although Cindy Hollis’ written membership report focused primarily on the growing number and diversity of weekly ACB Community events and training and support for hosts and facilitators, she assured the board that her department continues to focus on affiliate membership as well. Cindy hosts a Wednesday afternoon meeting with affiliate presidents every week, and monthly leadership training seminars are also continuing. Because we are at the beginning of the year and affiliates are still in the process of reporting their membership numbers to ACB, it is too early to provide a clear accounting of current affiliate membership numbers.
Dan told the board that membership development remains a major topic for discussion at every steering committee meeting, and that D.C. Leadership meetings will be focusing on membership retention and growth through scheduled focus group discussions and the Sunday evening fireside chat.
“A decline in dues-paying members has been a growing concern for service organizations of all kinds. It was a problem before the pandemic,” Dan said, “and the pandemic has only served to exacerbate it. But the Community has been helpful in terms of bringing in new members to ACB, at a time when it was so hard to bring new members into the virtual environment. The world has changed. Can the model of membership that sustained us for our first 60 years sustain us in coming years? We don’t have all of the answers, but we hear our affiliates’ concerns loud and clear.”
Treasurer David Trott added that a focus on the viability of the ACB Community does not and should not take focus away from helping our affiliates with retaining and growing membership.
Ray suggested that membership chairs for affiliates and chapters become aware of and reach out to people who might be interested in joining their affiliates as a result of their mutual engagement in community events.
Dan said, “As our director of development, Bill Reeder, reminds me virtually every time we have a conversation, the true gold within this organization comes from our members and friends, and the passion they bring to this organization. Many of the not-for-profit organizations out there are struggling to find what ACB already has, and that is amazing, passionate members. Even while our paid membership enrollment has decreased in the last several years, our passion and interest and enthusiasm have exploded. We keep adding more committees because our members want to be involved in more issues, we have added to the number of people who serve on our committees, we have had the best participation in our history in our recent conventions and our leadership conferences.”
Between meetings, the board had voted unanimously to increase the budget for the D.C. Leadership Conference by $15,000 to provide professional support for and promotion of the accessible currency rally, scheduled for March 10. The board ratified that online action with their in-person affirmative votes.
Dan told the board that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADX) committee, whose mission involves assuring the accessibility of at-home medical testing and diagnostic kits, including the COVID home testing kits, has been very favorably impressed with ACB’s public outreach capabilities. Team leaders have invited ACB to collaborate with them to develop a plan for disseminating information about the committee’s work.
Describing ACB’s outreach to the medical test development manufacturing community, communications specialist Kelly Gasque explained that their first outreach on behalf of the RADX Project involved a document which describes best practices to assure accessibility, which ACB distributed to medical test manufacturers in December. “We are working hand-in-hand with the committee to assure that we share the most up-to-date information,” she said.
Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs, added, “Our first outreach to the National Institutes of Health, which ACB initiated because of our concern about the inaccessibility of the first federally funded home tests for COVID, has developed into a strong, ongoing relationship which includes monthly calls and checkpoints for new developments. We are looking forward to our ongoing collaboration with the NIH RADX committee.”
Dan reported that the ACB Media Auction grossed over $40,000. “This is an amazing testimonial to our members, their involvement, and the fine work of ACB Media,” he said. “Thanks to everybody who was involved.”
Dan and first vice president Deb Lewis updated the board on the progress that has been made on reconfiguring the ACB Leadership e-mail discussion list, cutting down on list traffic, and sharing and implementing revised guidelines. The ACB-Conversation list is growing in terms of participation and the kinds of information that members are sharing with one another, she added.
Dan shared the good news that the team that has been working with the History and Archives Committee to identify and collect all ACB policies adopted during the 60-plus years of the organization’s existence is making good progress. Board member Koni Sims has already reviewed meeting minutes, beginning with the most recent board meetings and working backwards to 2010. Koni has identified all of the official policies that were adopted and reported in meeting minutes. She has created a summary description for each policy, and where possible, created a pointer that can be used to locate hard-copy documentation for each approved policy. She has populated a comprehensive spreadsheet with the results of her research. Her plan is to continue working back through time until she can identify, describe, locate, and share this categorized information for all of the official policies that ACB’s directors have adopted over the entirety of our 60-plus-year history.
David Trott reminded the board that the process was begun several years ago when Berl Colley chaired the ACB History Committee. Over time, the process stalled, until Dan appointed David, Kim Charlson, and Koni to assist the current committee with a renewed effort. Both David and Kim praised Koni’s progress. Dan’s goal is to have all of the ACB policies on ACB.org by convention.
Eric told the board that he and Nancy Becker continue to recruit for a human resources specialist, as well as for a full-time employee to take on Lane Waters’ duties when Lane retires in early March. Eric and Nancy are also looking for a development assistant who will be working with Jo Lynn Bailey-Page and Bill Reeder. Negotiations with ACB’s next landlord are wrapping up, and Eric expects that the ACB national office will move to the Old Town Alexandria location in April. Meanwhile, every ACB staff member is focused on planning for the leadership conference and currency rally.
Newly hired Audio Description Project Coordinator Tabitha Kenlon was on the call, and Eric introduced her to the board.
Nancy Becker thanked Lane Waters for his many years of service to ACB. “There was never a time when I told Lane that I needed some help,” she said, “when he didn’t come in, even when he was supposed to be enjoying time off. I want to thank Lane for everything he has done for ACB since 2006, and to wish him well in retirement.”
Interim Director of Development, Bill Reeder, and his Associate Director of Development, Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, reported that the department raised $1.5 million for ACB last year. “My number one goal is to repeat that,” Bill stated. “My number two goal is to increase it!” He explained that, in 2023, the development department will focus not only on individual giving and grants from foundations, but also on our corporate relationships, and on trusts.
Jo Lynn said, “Advancing our major grants agenda has become a priority, and our development work will extend beyond writing proposals, to inform and become informed by the overall development plan.”
Kelly Gasque spent some time describing the comprehensive calendar which her department continues to expand by adding dates of significance to ACB and also to the wider blindness community. She also noted that “The New York Times,” which had approached ACB to obtain focus group feedback on best practices for creating alt-tags for newspaper content, has asked ACB to provide similar assistance with respect to alt-tagging NYTimes e-mail messages and newsletters.
Clark opened his report with the news that bills were introduced in the 117th Congress that dealt with all four of our 2022 legislative priorities. At this year’s legislative seminar, we will renew our efforts to reintroduce these bills and build support for their passage in the 118th Congress. He added that ACB is confident that sponsors will be found to introduce the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act in the 118th Congress. He complimented several affiliates who continue to work to achieve remote accessible voting.
Dan commended ACB’s advocacy and legislative staff members for their continued successful collaboration with the NFB on matters regarding which our two organizations share priorities. Passage of the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act and the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act are two legislative priorities which ACB and NFB share.
Clark told the board that NFB’s third 2023 legislative priority, which calls for introducing legislation to eliminate the SSDI earnings cliff, is an issue which ACB supports as well. NFB has also gone on record in support of ACB’s remaining 2023 legislative priorities.
After Clark and Dan and others described many of the details associated with the upcoming virtual and in-person D.C. Leadership events, including the ACB Currency Rally, the public meeting concluded. The board met in executive session for approximately one hour to discuss legal issues. When the session ended, there were no board actions to report. The meeting adjourned at 12:02 a.m. Eastern on Feb. 1.