by Penny Reeder
The American Council of the Blind held its first-ever hybrid board meeting on Oct. 9, 2021. To hear the podcast version, visit https://www.acbmedia.org/2021/10/12/acb-board-of-directors-meeting-october-9-2021-hybrid-from-omaha/.
President Dan Spoone convened the meeting at 10 a.m. All board members were present except Jim Kracht, who was excused. Minutes from the board’s Aug. 31 meeting were approved, along with reports included under the consent agenda.
The board celebrated the achievement of providing audio description for more than 100 National Park Service (NPS) brochures through the collaborative efforts of ACB staff members and volunteers participating in the UniDescription (UniD) Project along with the National Park Service, the University of Hawai’i, and the ACB Audio Description Project. Executive director Eric Bridges noted that the project grew from our partnership with Google, who provides funding which has allowed ACB and NPS to make national parks more accessible to blind and low-vision visitors. Jo Lynn announced a new agreement with the National Park Service’s Midwest Accessibility Program which will fund audio-described brochures for Midwest national parks through 2026. The Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail Headquarters, located in Omaha, will be a tour venue for the 2022 convention.
Janet Dickelman enthusiastically presented her report from the Omaha Hilton. There are a number of walkable restaurants, and the convention center is connected to the hotel via a skywalk. There’s also an accessible pedestrian signal for crossing the street between the hotel and convention center. (See “Announcing ACB’s 2022 Tours” elsewhere in this issue for details on the events being planned.) The convention committee recognizes that in-person and virtual conference experiences will be different, and is building that knowledge into marketing and planning for an inclusive convention.
Dan appointed Deb Cook Lewis and Gabe Griffith as co-chairs with Ray Campbell on the Resolutions Task Force 2.0. Kenneth Semien will move from resolutions to the Voting Task Force 2.0. Pat Sheehan and Jeff Thom will chair the voting task force, and Koni Sims will be the communications lead. Both task forces will deliver reports at the leadership conference.
Kim Charlson reported that Jose Viera, CFO of the World Blind Union, will be leaving to serve as executive director of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), a United Nations cross-disability organization. The WBU adopted a constitutional amendment to allow delegations from countries with smaller populations to pay lower membership dues.
Dan announced the creation of an archives committee, which will be co-chaired by David Trott and Chris Gray. The committee’s mission will be to gather and organize archival materials from ACB’s last 25 years.
Eric, Clark and Swatha attended the recent M-Enabling Summit, where Eric participated on a panel which focused on the challenge of finding a repository that can provide an accurate listing of audio-described content. He also conveyed ACB’s disappointment that some providers have failed to consult with consumers before deploying audio description that relies on synthetic speech. Clark participated on a panel regarding data security and privacy considerations associated with the use of navigation apps, emphasizing the importance of including people with disabilities in policy discussions on how data will not be exposed unnecessarily.
Clark said that ACB is focusing on expanding electronic voting options for people who are blind and low vision in those states where electronic absentee ballots are being made available to voters in other than in-person categories. Although the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed in the House, Clark stated that, as long as the filibuster continues to present an obstacle to passing voting legislation in the Senate, he doesn’t expect the legislation to come up for a vote or to pass any time soon.
Clark explained the importance of Planet Fitness’ commitment to purchase accessible exercise equipment as it becomes available. This provides an incentive for fitness equipment manufacturers, hotel chains, fitness centers, etc., who make large purchases of fitness equipment, to prioritize accessibility.
Clark said that ACB continues to follow up with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) regarding the importance of providing necessary accommodations for blind and low-vision athletes. ACB’s advocacy contributed to USOPC’s formation of a working group whose goal is to assure better outcomes for disabled athletes who will be participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Clark pointed to one example of the benefits of long-nurtured relationships with our corporate partners. When Apple released the 15.0 update to the iOS operating system, and ACB began hearing from members about a problem that prevented Siri from responding to previously available commands, Eric contacted Apple right away. Apple quickly indicated their awareness of the issue, and their plan to repair the defect as soon as possible. Apple’s head of global accessibility thanked ACB for bringing the issue to their attention.
During lunch, the board went into executive session to discuss legal issues and personnel matters. No motions were made. When the board meeting resumed, officers and board members met separately to select representatives to the executive committee. The 2022 executive committee consists of Dan Spoone, Denise Colley, Deb Cook Lewis, Jeff Bishop and Doug Powell.
Tony Stephens, Director of Development, said that launching and sustaining the growth of ACB Media, initiating the Sixty for Sixty campaign, planning and promoting the Audio Description Awards Gala, and sponsoring “Get Up and Get Moving” events, are converting people who were already familiar with ACB into lasting friends. A new focus on communicating through video (in addition to audio) broadens ACB’s outreach to people with low vision, as well as their sighted families and friends, and the broader community. During our convention, ACB Media filled 10 streams with appealing and relevant information, and subsequently shared podcasts on eight tracks that rolled out over 166 episodes, equaling more than 400 hours of edited content.
Kelly Gasque shared that the public awareness steering committee’s recent development and maintenance of a public awareness calendar improves our ability to keep track of upcoming events and to bring the public’s attention to our involvement in activities and events that can attract widespread interest. Last year, our top Facebook post reached 478 people; this September, our top post reached more than 25,000 people.
ACB communications manager Jennifer Flatt elaborated on how data allows ACB to capture what is actually happening with respect to our outreach and communications. The new emphasis on data analysis lets us know who we are reaching and who we are missing. “We want to be able to speak to our members in ways that they want to receive the information, not via methods which don’t really interest them,” she stated. ACB can use data to evaluate our activities, our communications channels, and our audiences, and then tailor priorities to match what the data is telling us. Data is also a key factor for telling our story when we pursue grants, identify partners, interact with members, and report to the board.
Cindy Hollis, membership services coordinator, highlighted statistics that reflect steady growth in community participation and events, in new at-large members joining ACB, and in the number of at-large members who are discovering and joining affiliates. She presented several proposed additions to guidelines for administering community events, and, after discussion, the board approved them. The revised guidelines have been shared with hosts and facilitators, and implemented for all community events.
Nancy Becker described the process that staff and ACB committees will follow to develop the budget for the coming year. She reported that the scholarship committee was developing the 2022 scholarship application. She said that the ongoing pandemic continues to impact thrift store operations and revenues. Nancy and David provided the year-to-date financial narrative.
The board approved a new travel policy and an internship policy. Clark presented a revised proposed reasonable accommodations policy. Chris Bell advised that the suggested policy was incomplete. The board adopted the policy, subject to rewrites and revisions, with which Chris will assist. Those revisions will be presented at one of the next two scheduled board meetings.
Penny Reeder described recent BOP-sponsored training in keyboard commands for formatting with Word offered to ACB affiliate newsletter editors. The editors’ list continues to attract participation, and additional meetings are being scheduled. She reminded everyone that the BOP meets on the first Tuesday of each month, the meetings are streamed live, and guests are welcome. BOP chair Katie Frederick added that the BOP is collaborating with the public awareness steering committee to develop processes for submitting material to the ACB Voices blog and assuring that blog content is timely and of the highest quality.
Jennifer Flatt shared statistics related to our virtual convention and the increasingly important role the ACB Media network is playing within ACB and in our communications outreach. She described the recent reorganization of ACB Media channels that allows listeners to know what kinds of programming to expect on which channels. Channel 5 is dedicated to ACB Community events; channel 6 is for ACB events and meetings. She said that the ACB Media team is developing a process for streaming state affiliate conventions, and the team needs to collaborate with individual state affiliates at least four to six months in advance of a scheduled convention. Since August, the team had streamed 12 state conventions, with four more scheduled for the coming weekend.
Dan and Eric then asked the board to think about what is working with respect to the EOS steering committee reorganization. Board members agreed that in most ways, the EOS committee structure, consistent methodology for organizing meetings, and commonality of accepted terminology are serving the organization well.