by Penny Reede
The ACB Board of Directors held its fall meeting via Zoom on Nov. 13th and 14th. The first part of the meeting functioned as a workshop for the board, during which ACB officers and staff members provided updates on various projects and issues and described the systematic approach ACB has adopted to organize and track progress with respect to the work that engages the American Council of the Blind. President Dan Spoone told the board that the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) described in the book “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman has launched successfully throughout ACB. Dan explained that this system has been modified to accommodate ACB’s non-profit mission and ethos. It relies on efficiently collecting, understanding and utilizing data and trusting the commitment and skills of committees and staff who meet regularly and utilize a prescribed structure and vocabulary to focus effectively and measure and track progress.
ACB’s executive director, Eric Bridges, described the year’s accomplishments, which included: hiring a director of development; collaborating with two state rehabilitation agencies to support hiring two interns; and establishing a major donor advisory committee. Although the pandemic has led to terrible outcomes nation- and worldwide, Eric reminded the board that ACB can take pride in many of the ways the organization has stepped up to meet COVID-related challenges and to help members cope with them. ACB’s community events, which have provided support, entertainment, education and training, and social interactions for people who are blind throughout the United States and beyond, have been of incalculable benefit to our members and our organization. ACB’s investments in technology and training have allowed us to expand our community outreach via platforms like Zoom, Amazon’s Alexa, and ACB Radio. We have participated with Procter & Gamble to deliver daily living necessities to low-income people with disabilities in several cities. Our virtual convention, which had not been anticipated until a few weeks beforehand and which ACB and ACB Radio staff members and volunteers carried out with professionalism and remarkable excellence, was even more successful than anticipated, garnering praise and admiration for ACB from all sectors of the blindness community.
Our COVID-19 resource page, https://acb.org/acb-covid19-response, offers accessible, reliable information for blind and visually impaired people nationwide. Even though our staff has been working from home, ACB’s mission was never in jeopardy. Phone calls were answered, our community outreach program was launched, our convention was planned and presented, affiliates received the assistance they needed to secure accessible absentee ballots in several states, and ACB remained the viable organization our members and our community have come to expect.
ACB’s thrift stores maintained profitability. Hard work by CFO Nancy Marks Becker, Director of Development Tony Stephens, and the staff in the Minneapolis office led to our securing needed funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the pandemic stimulus bill passed in March.
The public’s awareness and positive impressions of ACB have expanded dramatically because of our successful community events, programming on ACB Radio, podcasts, and Facebook group. We launched the ACB Voices blog, and joined and expanded our involvement as subject matter experts on the Be My Eyes platform. Our recent online events celebrating the 10th anniversary of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) brought ACB to the attention of tens of thousands of people who follow Apple CEO Tim Cook when he joined in our celebration via Twitter.
Despite working remotely, ACB’s advocacy staff achieved success in advocating for improved access to the 9/11 Memorial Museum and expanded audio description on television. ACB’s outreach led to demonstrable recognition of the value of audio description by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a settlement agreement with HBO Max. ACB consulted with the Department of Education as they developed a report on COVID, and with Apple TV to assure realistic portrayals of blindness in the TV series, “See.” ACB was the only blindness organization appointed to the Air Carrier Access Act Advisory Committee, which has spent months deliberating on the rules that will affect guide dog users’ civil right to fly on planes with their dogs. If you are finding the screens for Patreon interactive games or the Peloton biking exercise interface accessible even though you can’t access those screens visually, you can thank ACB’s advocacy team, and even if you live in a state that wasn’t able to achieve accessibility for your absentee or mail-in ballot in time for the November 2020 election, you will be able to consult the voting toolkit at https://acb.org/voting to inform your ongoing advocacy.
Other topics presented by ACB staff members included an overview of the guidance prepared by Mt. Vernon Consulting to help ACB streamline and simplify communications, and plans for implementing the consultants’ recommendations. Tony Stephens told the board that the changes which staff and leaders are already beginning to implement with respect to e-mail lists, community calls, the ACB web site, ACB Radio’s expanded programming, channels and platforms, and other media are designed to reflect ACB’s core message and values, to grow our audiences, and to assure our communications channels efficiently describe who we are, how we interact with our members and the external world, and what we need to do to achieve the goals we agree upon.
Dan and Eric wrapped up the meeting by describing how the methodology presented in the Entrepreneurial Operating System is migrating to decision-making venues throughout the organization, and how, after getting used to the terminology and structure, the approach is finding a positive reception among ACB’s leaders, staff, and committee members.
ACB officers briefly left the meeting to choose three members of the executive committee, and, after the board held a brief executive session, the meeting recessed until 11 a.m. the next morning. During Saturday’s board meeting, staff members, steering committee chairs, chairpersons of two ad hoc committees developing recommendations for streamlining the resolutions process and voting at next summer’s convention made detailed presentations to the ACB board.
Because the geniuses at ACB Radio have transformed the nine hours of the Nov. 14 ACB board meeting into two podcasts, and because space in the Forum is limited, I am referring you to the podcast of the board meeting. To access the podcast, visit this link: https://acb-events.pinecast.co/episode/a960fe3359a548ca/20201114-acb-fall-board-of-directors-meeting-part-1-of-2.
On that page, you will find the link to the second podcast as well as a link for subscribing to future podcasts of ACB board meetings and other special events. Listen to learn how helpful the advisory board has been and promises to be during coming months to ACB’s staff and elected leaders.
Because of the many hours of advocacy provided by Clark Rachfal and Claire Stanley, at least 18 states and the District of Columbia offered some form of accessible absentee voting solution to their blind and visually impaired citizens; five states allowed voters with disabilities to use a fully electronic voting system during recent primary and national elections. Dan and Clark shared how ACB’s focus on accessible voting presented opportunities for collaboration with other disability-focused organizations, including the VisionServe Alliance, the National Coalition on Accessible Voting (of which ACB is a founding member), and the NFB. Dan said that ACB has been pleased to participate with the NFB in a mutually interesting project, and follow-up meetings on opportunities for collaboratively pursuing solutions are already scheduled.
Ray Campbell, co-chair of the ad hoc resolutions committee, described the new procedures and deadlines for submitting, presenting, and voting upon proposed resolutions, on the virtual floor of next summer’s convention.
Patrick Sheehan and Jeff Thom, chair and co-chair of the ad hoc committee on in-person voting, discussed the considerations they are taking into account as they prepare a report for February’s Leadership Conference, to provide options for remote voting at next summer’s virtual convention.
Jeff Bishop and ACB Radio Technical Director Jason Castonguay talked about the current and planned technical modifications that will improve ACB lists’ performance for all subscribers, and make it easier to quickly convert ACB Radio programs to podcasts, vastly expanding the audience for all of the information and entertainment ACB Radio provides.
ACB Radio Managing Director Debbie Hazelton discussed current and anticipated programming on ACB Radio and the excitement that has been generated as ACB Radio has begun to stream the conventions of our ACB state affiliates. Dan noted, “A real plus of our virtual conventions is the opportunity they provide our officers, our staff, and our board to participate remotely in those events. It’s exciting to get out there and meet people who don’t normally come to an ACB conference and convention, and to get to know these folks. I walk away every time just extremely impressed with the quality conventions that our ACB state affiliates produce.”
Next, ACB treasurer David Trott and CFO Nancy Marks Becker described how ACB has managed to meet and exceed its budget goals in many areas.
During the final portion of the meeting, spokespersons from the nine ACB steering committees updated the board on their current activities and goals.
Claire Stanley reported on the status of the currency case. Unfortunately, the news was not good; the D.C. court denied our recent appeal. The soonest we can expect the Department to comply will be in 2026, when the $10 bill is scheduled for redesign. If the Treasury wants to delay this obligation even longer, Claire added, the department will have to bring its argument before the courts again. If that happens, ACB will also be there to advocate for accessible currency.
Another highlight of these reports was the news that Cindy Hollis was the recipient of the Roxann Mayros Organizational Champion Award, which the VisionServe Alliance has established to honor senior leaders of member-driven organizations that have demonstrated extraordinary service to the field. Cindy said, “That recognition is really about our community. The award recognizes the energy and the enthusiasm and the passion that people are bringing to the community.”
BOP chair Deb Cook Lewis and public relations committee chair Katie Frederick described a joint proposal for streamlining ACB’s e-mail lists so that messages exchanged on the Leadership list and ACB-L would better conform to those lists’ original purposes, and so that forwarded and duplicative messages would decrease, making it easier for subscribers to retrieve the information they need. Deb explained, “The changes we propose are meant only as a means to streamline traffic on these forums, and to make managing e-mail less overwhelming and the exchange of information more useful to our members and our affiliates.”
Discussion of the proposed changes was spirited. The outcome was that ACB-L will change its name to ACB-Conversation to reflect that list’s focus on freely flowing dialogue on blindness and ACB-related topics. ACB members will be encouraged to join the ACB-Conversation list, where forwarding of messages from lists not related to ACB will be discouraged, and revised rules will encourage conversation while minimizing duplication.
Membership on ACB-Leadership will remain as it currently exists, and the BOP will conduct an analysis to determine who is on that list and which ACB committees, contractors, affiliates or other entities are currently represented there. The BOP will report back to the board at the February board meeting.
As discussion concluded, Dan suggested that BOP meetings could be streamed on ACB Radio, and Deb responded that the BOP has always welcomed any member of ACB to attend their meetings and participate in discussions. The Board of Publications, she said, would welcome the opportunity to stream their meetings in the future.
The November 14 meeting adjourned shortly after 8 p.m. Subsequently, the board met twice via telephone. At the second of those meetings, Dan and Janet Dickelman proposed changing the dates for ACB’s 2021 convention so that our events won’t conflict with the Summer Olympics, the dates for which had recently been announced. The board approved rescheduling the 2021 convention to July 16-23, 2021.
During the course of those telephonic meetings, the proposed 2021 budget was discussed and approved by the board. The next scheduled board meeting will be held during ACB’s Leadership Conference, on Saturday, Feb. 20th.