by Penny Reeder
President Dan Spoone called the meeting to order at 10 a.m. Eastern. Secretary Denise Colley called the roll. The meeting agenda and minutes from the April board meeting were approved. Motions regarding approval of standing rules for the coming convention and approval of changes to the ACB employees’ retirement plan were adopted.
July’s Mission Moment celebrated the ACB convention planning and broadcast team for the innumerable hours Debbie Hazelton, Rick Morin, Deb Lewis, Janet Dickelman, Jeff Bishop, Katie Frederick, Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, Nancy Becker, Tony Stephens, Kelly Gasque, Cindy Hollis, Jennifer Flatt, and countless volunteers had spent preparing for the 2021 conference and convention.
Eric Bridges, ACB’s executive director, said that, while the 2020 virtual convention had presented 108 separate events, this year plans were already set for 166 events – including simulcasting the opening ceremony of the Olympics, as well as the pre-show that would focus on audio description for Olympics events.
Jeff Bishop added that, in addition to building the ACB Media Network platform and having it ready for convention, staff and volunteers had also created the ACBConvention.org web site, which has had 12,000 visitors since its launch. He noted that converting to the Azure operating system, building members.ACB.org, and launching the ACB Media Network have moved ACB’s digital access into a realm of unlimited opportunities.
Dan moved on to the consent agenda, which included a number of written reports from staff members, which board members approved unanimously.
Dan asked Kim Charlson, newly elected president of the North America and Caribbean region of the World Blind Union (WBU), to report on the organization’s recently held quadrennial meeting. Highlights of the meeting included development of eight thematic recommendations for returning the worldwide community of people who are blind and partially sighted to what will become the post-pandemic “new normal;” election of Martine Abel-Williamson to the presidency of the WBU; and a mutually agreed upon decision to use the term “partially sighted,” rather than “visually impaired,” to describe people whose disability is characterized by limited vision. Resolutions were adopted with the goal of improving opportunities for women who are blind, and guaranteeing educational opportunities for every blind child.
Kim announced that, henceforth, the United Nations will recognize January 4 (Louis Braille’s birthday) as World Braille Day. She said that more than 100 nations have ratified the Marrakesh Treaty, and since our own government ratified the treaty in 2019, nearly 700 new titles in English and other languages have been added in braille to the NLS collection. The next quadrennial meeting of the WBU is scheduled to take place in Madrid in 2025.
Dan expressed special appreciation for Joel Snyder’s panel on audio description throughout the world and Karen Wolffe’s presentation on the topic of varied educational opportunities within the global blindness community. He also expressed ACB’s appreciation to Mitch Pomerantz for his 12 years of service as ACB’s representative to the WBU.
First vice president Mark Richert reported on the work that the ad hoc committee which he co-chairs has been doing to examine what the executive committee’s role should be going forward with respect to reaching decisions outside of scheduled board meetings. Dan said that he will be joining the committee, and he invited Jeff Bishop, Doug Powell, David Trott, and Denise Colley to join as well. Mark said that the board cannot implement any changes until 2022, but the committee will resume its deliberations after the close of convention. They expect to make a preliminary report at the October board meeting.
Members of the voting task force told the board that the universal sentiment expressed at virtually every meeting they have held to describe the newly implemented voting process has been that members are excited to have universal, accessible, remote voting available to them at this year’s convention, and now that they know it’s possible to vote regardless of whether one attends convention, they want this right to continue to be available from now on. Dan explained that a motion would be voted upon during Friday’s general session which would allow the business meeting to be suspended until August 14, at which time constitutional amendments which would align ACB’s constitution to provisions in the D.C. Nonprofit Code related to remote, in-person voting would be read aloud, debated, and voted upon on the following day.
Jeff Thom explained that if the proposed amendments are adopted, then voting will proceed, presumably following the same process we utilize this summer, at next year’s hybrid convention and going forward. The task force will investigate other voting-related issues during the coming months, and will develop additional recommendations, which will be debated and addressed next summer.
Dan thanked Gabe Griffith and members of the resolutions committee for their work on the resolutions. He reported that the board would determine which resolutions to adopt, and added that resolutions could be submitted until the end of the last day of convention. He assured members that makers of resolutions will also attend that board meeting and be encouraged to provide input during deliberations. Mark Richert and several others encouraged ACB members to attend the resolutions committee’s Zoom meetings.
The final topic for the president’s report was the 2022 D.C. Leadership Conference. Dan said that he and the staff are hoping the meetings can be conducted in person. Unfortunately, the Holiday Inn where ACB had planned to hold our next three leadership meetings was unexpectedly sold. The Holiday Inn staffer with whom ACB had been working to prepare for next year’s conference suggested several hotels within the same geographic area, and Kelly and Eric are investigating those venues. Dan concluded by saying that regardless of whether the leadership conference can be an in-person event, from now on, we will expect all ACB events to be hybrid.
The president’s report was followed by reports from staff members. Clark Rachfal reported on the status of resolutions which were adopted in 2020. Advocacy is ongoing with respect to a majority of those resolutions. He said that when ACB contacted the U.S. Postal Service regarding the inaccessibility of their Click-and-Ship web site, the postal service responded that making the web site accessible is, in their opinion, an undue burden. Clark said that ACB believes that, as technology improves, asking USPS to make the web site accessible will become a more reasonable request.
With respect to the resolution introduced by Blind Pride International (BPI) regarding NLS’ obligation to include LGBTQ-themed titles as a subject category, Clark said that BPI and the national office have persuaded the NLS to add an LBGTQ+ classification and to identify titles that fall into this category. ACB worked with Library Users of America (LUA) to persuade NLS to make “Reader’s Digest” available in braille and recorded editions. He added that ACB recently heard that they will be adding a Spanish-language edition as well.
Clark said that Mark Richert and Jeff Thom have been working closely with the Aging and Vision Loss National Coalition (AVLNC) to advocate for expanding currently very limited rehabilitation services for older adults who experience vision loss.
In his discussion of fund-raising and development, Tony Stephens introduced recently hired Director of Communications, Jennifer Flatt, to describe the notice ACB has already garnered from two ACB-focused videos which Verizon Media is sponsoring on the Yahoo News home page. She said both videos – one focusing on ACB’s upcoming convention, and the other on the “60K for 60” fund-raising campaign – are available for viewing on the ACB home page and on ACB’s YouTube page.
Tony described the “Get Up and Get Moving” campaign, which would launch the next evening. He went on to describe preliminary plans for an October event. It will be an in-person event, aligned with White Cane Safety Day, and in coalition with ACB of New York, and will raise awareness of critical health and wellness initiatives while focusing on empowering all of us who are blind and partially sighted to take back control of and responsibility for our own health.
He briefly described a planned gala to celebrate audio description. He urged board members to attend the gala, which will be virtual this year, but which, post-pandemic, is expected to become a live event.
Cindy Hollis, Director of Membership Services, spoke of how community events and the community’s recent involvement with ACB’s Clubhouse group are expanding public awareness of our organization and inspiring new members to join. She encouraged board members to become more involved on community calls and Clubhouse events.
Cindy also said that she plans to re-convene the POSSE (Providing Outreach through Sharing, Support, and Engagement) team to help state and special-interest affiliates recruit and keep in touch with their members. She hopes to convene a monthly call for ACB chapter presidents.
Several board members, as well as Cindy and Dan, lamented complications that arise from several aspects of ACB’s organizational structure which is characterized by varying affiliate election dates and the three avenues — chapter/affiliate/members-at-large — for joining ACB, and inconsistent processes that affiliates follow for updating the AMMS database. Both Dan and Cindy said that ACB is well aware of the challenges that can arise from the disparate processes that are implemented by chapters and affiliates. Dan spoke of discussions that occurred at the June 11 meeting of the Advisory Board, which focused on membership and how to collect better and more accurate data. He said that a new member of the Advisory Board has offered his expertise to help ACB resolve these challenges, and that getting a better handle on the situation is a goal for the executive director, for membership support, the Minneapolis office, and the organization as a whole, for the coming quarter.
Following ACB treasurer David Trott’s financial narrative, CFO Nancy Becker’s update, and Michael Garrett’s report on the ACBES thrift stores, Dan said, “Fantastic work! For us to have survived and now be thriving through this pandemic is a testament to everybody’s hard work and leadership. Thank you so much.”
In a brief report, Penny highlighted this year’s reliance on Microsoft’s digital voice named Jenny for reading the convention newspaper, which will streamline the process of recording and distributing an audio version of the newspaper. She noted that the BOP had been pleased with how well the candidates’ forum had gone.
Clark Rachfal updated the board on proposed changes to ACB’s reasonable accommodations policy. He thanked Nancy Becker, Janet Dickelman, Donna Brown, and Carl Richardson for helping to update the proposed policy. Clark indicated that the changes are needed to align our policy with the virtual environment in which we find ourselves today, and to clarify that an ACB event is defined within the reasonable accommodations policy in the same way as our ACB Code of Conduct defines ACB events.
Several board members felt that the specificity of language regarding which and how reasonable accommodations are provided for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and people who might attend conventions to assist registered attendees should be improved. The board unanimously adopted the proposed reasonable accommodations policy as presented, and asked Clark to return to the topic at the October board meeting with further recommendations that will address the concerns raised during the meeting.
Steering committee updates focused on coming convention events. In her convention report, Janet informed the board that the 2021 convention was 30 percent bigger than last year’s convention. She thanked Deb Cook Lewis, the ACB Media staff and volunteers, and the ACB Minneapolis office.
On behalf of the board, Dan said a grateful farewell to Dan Dillon and Sara Conrad Alkmin, whose terms of service were ending at the close of this meeting. The meeting adjourned at 2:45 p.m. Eastern time.