by Judy Wilkinson, Tom Mitchell, Doug Powell, Denise Colley, Sharon Lovering and Ron Brooks
President Kim Charlson called the convention to order. Jeff Mihelich, president of ACB of Minnesota, officially welcomed us to Minnesota. How did Minnesota get so many lakes? Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, of course. Another Minnesota legend, Bobby Zimmerman, went to high school with Jeff’s mother. She said even back then “Bob Dylan’s voice sounded like a buzz saw.”
Caption: Jeff Mihelich, president of ACB of Minnesota, welcomes everyone to Minneapolis. He speaks into the lectern microphone on stage, wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt and a convention badge, carrying a white cane in his left hand.
Following that, Charlson gave her presidential report. See “President’s Report to the Convention, Part 1” in this issue; watch the next issues for the second and third installments.
A highlight of the opening session is the presentation of life memberships. Charlson reminded everyone that Carl Augusto received a life membership at midyear. This year’s new life members were: Karyn Campbell, Denise Colley, Janet Dickelman, Tony Ferrita, Thomas L. Jones, Ursula McCully, Emily Starr, Cindy Van Winkle, and Lane Waters.
Allen Casey, chair of the Durward K. McDaniel First-Timers’ Committee, introduced this year’s first-timers: Marja Byers, executive director of Lifeskills in Salem, Ore., and Greg Lindberg, editor of Florida Council’s newsletter, “The White Cane Bulletin.” Eric Bridges then introduced all eight leadership fellows, sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. (See “President’s Message: JPMorgan Chase/ACB Leadership Fellows” in the July issue for more information.)
The evening wrapped up with the first credentials report, ACB Angels memorial tributes, and the roll call of affiliates.
The convention started off the morning by adopting the standing rules, and listening to a reading of ACB sponsors. Ray Campbell gave the final credentials committee report.
The first real highlight of the morning was the presentation of the Robert S. Bray Award to Apple, Inc. for their continued dedication to accessibility for blind and visually impaired people. In accepting the award, Sarah Herrlinger re-affirmed Apple’s continued commitment to make their products accessible.
Charles Mossop of the World Blind Union spoke of the continued need for advocacy, and how to be an effective advocate.
Caption: Charles Mossop, president of the World Blind Union’s North America-Caribbean region, talks about the importance of advocacy. He is standing at the lectern microphone, wearing a dark suit jacket, bright blue shirt, a two-tone tie with diagonal stripes, and a convention name badge. His glasses are in his suit pocket.
Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, reported on developments at NLS. She re-affirmed NLS’ commitment to the continued production of braille materials, and reported that research on the development of a braille display that can download books from BARD continues. She noted that a new talking book machine will be smaller and have the ability to download books. The conversion of cassette books to the digital media should be completed in 2017.
Eliot Greenwald, Deputy Chief, Disability Rights Office of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, reported on the commission’s efforts to increase the availability of audio-described programs and assured us that the FCC is continuing to increase the number of hours that audio description will be available.
The session ended with several resolutions and a report on the Recreation Zone by Oral Miller.
Kim Charlson introduced emerald sponsor Uber’s Lindsay Elin and Malcom Glenn. Uber is now operating in 400 cities in 70 countries. The company is experimenting with new services such as UberEats, couriers, and UberPool (sharing a ride with another passenger for a discounted fare). Since most of us can’t see the car and driver, they suggested some tips such as: text the driver with identifying characteristics, stand with your white cane or guide dog visible, and allow friends to follow your route if you wish.
Next, Charlson introduced HumanWare’s representative, Dominic Gagliano. Dominic told us that Essilor now owns HumanWare. The combination will benefit all by blending mainstream products with assistive technology. Two fruits of the blending are the Prodigy Connect and the BrailleNote Touch.
Mike Godino then gave the nominating committee report. The slate of candidates for the board of directors was: Jeff Bishop, Tucson, Ariz.; Sara Conrad, Madison, Wis.; Dan Spoone, Orlando, Fla.; Denise Colley, Lacey, Wash.; and Tiffany Jolliff, Arlington, Va. Doug Powell of Falls Church, Va., was put forward on the slate for the board of publications.
John Huffman gave the first reading of several amendments to the constitution and bylaws. Following the reading, Charlson turned the microphone over to presiding officer John McCann.
McCann introduced Michael Garrett, who introduced this year’s scholarship winners. (Watch for an article in a future issue.)
After a break, McCann introduced Clint Covington, Microsoft’s head of accessibility. Covington promised that Narrator will be reading everything on the screen by the end of the year, and noted that Microsoft now has a dedicated help number for accessibility issues: 1-800-936-5900.
Caption: Clint Covington of Microsoft looks out at the audience from behind the lectern microphone and talks about his company’s partnership with ACB. He sports a navy blue suit jacket over a blue-and-white gingham shirt.
The convention then heard a panel presentation on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. Mark Richert moderated the discussion, which focused on changes in this update of the Rehabilitation Act. Tony Stephens talked about the final regulations of WIOA. Some of our concerns about these new regulations include:
- No more homemaker category for services will be recognized, but they’ll extend current consumer services for a year;
- Extended employment (with supports) are expanded to 4 years;
- There is now a 15% minimum that agencies must spend on pre-employment transition services; and
- There will be a strong emphasis on competitive, integrated employment for a job placement to be considered successful.
Lori Scharff, practitioner in the field from New York, talked about how the new regulations will play out in the states. State plans will require cooperation between the workforce boards in the Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education.
Michelle McDonnall, director of the National Rehabilitation and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University, emphasized several concerns about the new regulations:
- Research has always supported separate services for people who are blind or have low vision and older blind as being more successful;
- The data shows that loss of the homemaker category will affect blind people more than others; and
- The new 15% minimum expenditure on pre-employment transition services is a little more than was being spent previously, and the eligible population to qualify for the expenditures has been narrowed, so fewer people will be receiving a larger piece of the funding, leaving less for other rehabilitation services.
Richert added that given historical patterns of how newly blind and low-vision consumers negotiate their conditions, we’ll need to advocate for alternatives to the homemaker category. He also suggested that we could improve things by being involved in providing peer mentoring, advocating for jobs in NIB, working with independent living centers to improve services to our community, and advocating with parents regarding IEP preparation.
The day began with the introduction of our emerald and ruby sponsors. Kelly Egan, blindness and low vision outreach specialist from Sprint (emerald), and Joel Moffatt, vice president of communications accessibility at Comcast (ruby), gave brief presentations.
Egan talked about what’s changed at Sprint in terms of how it is approaching the blind and low-vision community. Sprint is putting emphasis on ensuring it has accessible devices, affordable plans and wonderful customer service. Sprint now has a dedicated toll-free number for customers with disabilities to call to get needed technical assistance: 1-855-885-7568.
Moffatt gave an update on some of the things Comcast has been working on in terms of accessibility and product updates. He mentioned the Comcast Accessibility Customer Support Center, where customers with disabilities can get help and support for Voice Guidance with the X1 operating system, video description and any issues with the Xfinity service. To contact the accessibility center, call 1-855-270-0379, or send e-mail to email@example.com, or visit xfinity.com/accessibility.
Some new features will be coming out shortly on Voice Guidance. One will be the ability for notifications to be read out without browsing for them. For example, if there’s a notification about something on your program guide that is also available on your DVR on demand, Voice Guidance will read it to you. In terms of video description, anytime you are watching full-screen video with X1, pressing the down arrow key will bring up a transport bar in the lower third of the screen with playback controls and accessibility toggles that you can down arrow to, and it will all be spoken.
One of the highlights of every national convention is meeting and hearing from a talking book narrator. This year’s narrator was Martha Harmon-Pardee from Talking Book Publishers, Inc., in Denver, Colo. Her presentation was great!
Next, the convention heard a panel discussion on braille developments and policy issues. The moderator was Paul Edwards; presenters were Mark Richert of AFB and Sandra Ruconich, ACB’s representative to the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). Sandy informed us that the organization has updated its document “BANA Formats, Principles of Print to Braille Transcription” to include changes necessitated by UEB. It has also published a new braille music manual and a new document entitled “Guidance for Using Nemeth Code in UEB Contexts.” All three documents can be found at www.brailleauthority.org.
Mark Richert spoke about some legislation AFB has heard about regarding provision of braille instruction to blind and visually impaired children. Currently, federal law requires that children who are blind or visually impaired receive braille instruction unless the IEP team determines that it is not appropriate for the particular child after doing an evaluation. The evaluation process has become the subject of a lot of concern at the state level, because in several states legislators are being asked to approve proposed legislation that would either specifically name one particular type of evaluation tool, or only approve the use within the state of those evaluation tools and techniques that teachers of students with visual impairments use that comply with certain very rigorous research standards.
Tony Stephens, director of advocacy and governmental affairs, gave the national advocacy and legislative update. He briefly talked about the state of affairs in the Beltway, stressing that we need to stay positive, even though it feels like nothing is moving forward. Passage of the Cogswell-Macy Act continues to be an uphill battle. The Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act has made progress, in that we were able to create bipartisan language that got members of both parties to sign on. He hoped to get the bill into an appropriations package. ACB is also working with the Department of Transportation to assess what positions need to be made with regards to autonomous vehicles, working to make sure that the technologies being installed on airplanes for entertainment and communications are accessible, and to redefine the definition of service animals on aircrafts.
Blair Anderson, deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), discussed quiet cars, transportation regulations and updates. NHTSA sent a final rule related to quiet cars to the Office of Management and Budget for review in March. What needs to happen now, as the Department of Transportation moves forward on autonomous vehicles, is to put a regulatory structure in place that will help the public feel comfortable and believe that automated vehicles are safe and should be on the road. NHTSA plans to release operational guidance for the auto manufacturers that will provide the principles on which DOT would further regulate how a manufacturer could demonstrate that the vehicles being manufactured are safe to be out on the road. The administration is also putting together a model policy that states can use with regards to automated vehicle technology.
The final presentation of the morning was an update from Eric Bridges, ACB’s executive director. He discussed the different roles and responsibilities of both the D.C. and Minneapolis staff. He talked about the national office’s move to Alexandria. He also talked about the many relationships we have been building with companies such as Uber, Microsoft, and JPMorgan Chase. We were able to successfully resolve the taxi lawsuit in D.C. (See “ACB Reaches Agreement with Four D.C. Taxi Companies” elsewhere in this issue.)
The session began with the second readings of four proposed amendments to the constitution and bylaws. The language in all four replaced the word “session” with the word “meeting.” All amendments passed.
Kim Charlson introduced Mark Richert for a few resolutions. One dealt with braille instruction, another with Unified English Braille and mathematical codes. Both passed.
Charlson then turned the microphone over to presiding officer Carla Ruschival, who introduced Craig Meador, the new president and CEO of the American Printing House for the Blind. Meador talked briefly about the consortium that helped put the Orbit Reader together. “What’s going on at APH right now is this idea of partnerships,” he stated. “We’re way past the day when anyone can go it alone. … To think that we can do it all and be it all and make it all happen is foolishness.”
Ruschival introduced Lukas Franck, senior consultant for special projects at The Seeing Eye. He became interested in access in the mid-1990s by working with blind people who were having trouble crossing streets. It soon became clear that what was happening was the computerization of intersection control. He and others worked in coalition with ACB to create the federal standards that allowed for the installation of accessible pedestrian signals around the country.
In terms of access to streets now, we are in difficult times because of development in several areas, including intersection design and roundabouts. “You’re not going to stop roundabouts coming,” he added. “And the reason for that is … they’re much cheaper to build in than signalized intersections.” They’re also safe for drivers; the rates of injuries and fatalities drop when a roundabout is installed.
Franck also talked briefly about quiet cars and the hazards they pose to blind pedestrians, stressing the need for standardization of car sounds. “It doesn’t do us a great deal of good to know that you’re about to be hit by a Porsche as opposed to a Mercury,” he quipped.
The convention next heard a report from the resource development committee. Dan Dillon thanked everyone for participating in the ACB Angels program, and invited everyone to visit the memorial wall. Leslie Spoone thanked the members of the auction committee, donors of items, bidders, and Verizon; the auction raised $17,460. Donna Brown thanked the teams and individuals who participated, congratulating the top fund-raisers. (See “10,000 Steps and Beyond” in next month’s E-Forum.)
Janet Dickelman thanked the Minnesota host committee, the Hyatt staff, the Virginia and Minnesota office staff, the volunteers, and the convention committee. Next year’s convention will be held at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nev. The dates are Friday, June 30 through Friday, July 7, 2017. The opening session will be held Saturday night. Room rates are $89 plus tax.
Carla Ruschival then presented the treasurer’s report. Direct mail fundraising has raised $16,486 so far this year. Telemarketing will be cut completely. Planned giving has brought in $14,174. Life membership and ACB Angels are also doing very well. Grant income has increased, too. Some expenses have gone down, such as rent on both ACB offices.
Michael Garrett, chairman of the ACB Enterprises and Services board, thanked the members of the board and the Minnesota staff, along with the thrift store managers and staff. As of May 31, ACBES was more than 25 percent ahead of budget; Garrett hoped that trend would continue.
Ruschival next introduced Dan Spoone, chair of the Audio Description Project steering committee. Spoone introduced Joel Snyder, director of the project, to tell everyone what’s going on with audio description. Snyder mentioned this year’s Audio Description Conference, which brought people in from 15 states and the District of Columbia, plus 7 other countries; the Audio Description Institute; the ADP website, which includes a listing of described TV shows; and more. The ADP recently received a grant from the Aid Association for the Blind to describe two parts of the Holocaust Museum.
After the reading of the sponsors, resolutions committee chairman Mark Richert presented a number of resolutions. Resolutions adopted by the membership included:
- An expression of support for H.R. 5227, which would enable the National Library Service (NLS) to distribute braille displays to clients;
- A call for ACB to persuade the Social Security Administration to improve accessibility of the check-in process at Social Security offices around the country;
- A call for ACB to contact the commissioners of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission demanding that appropriate guidance on the use of assistive technologies be incorporated into the agency’s guidance for the provision of reasonable accommodations;
- A call for the Centers for Medicaid Services (CMS) to begin providing printed materials (e.g. applications, letters of determination, explanations of benefits, etc.) in accessible formats;
- Direction that ACB partner with other blindness advocacy organizations to pursue legislation or executive action to ensure that personal medical devices be accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired;
- Requiring ACB to include strong language in convention hotel contracts that requires hotel signage to meet all applicable ADA Accessibility Guidelines standards; and
- Calling on ACB to take a position in support of audible pedestrian signals which include countdown clocks for pedestrians and that pushes for more research to better learn how this technology is impacting the safety of blind and visually impaired pedestrians.
For a complete summary of all resolutions adopted during the convention, watch for an article in a future issue of the Forum.
While the organization worked through resolutions, elections for members of the board of directors and board of publications were conducted. This year, there were several contested elections; all were decided on the first vote. Elected to the board of directors were Jeff Bishop, Sara Conrad, Dan Spoone, Dan Dillon, and Denise Colley. Doug Powell, Debbie Cook Lewis and Susan Glass were elected to the BOP.
Friday evening was a time of recognition and celebration. Recognition events included a reception for ACB life members as well as a number of awards, which were presented during the banquet. One of these awards was the Ned E. Freeman Excellence in Writing Award, which went to Allen Casey for his article “Remembering Durward,” which appeared in the November 2015 issue. Another award was brand-new this year. The Margarine G. Beaman Volunteer Service Award went to its namesake, Margarine Beaman, for her years of volunteer service.
Caption: Allen Casey accepts the Ned E. Freeman Excellence in Writing Award. He stands on stage talking into the microphone, thanking all those who helped him write the article “Remembering Durward.”
Caption: Margarine Beaman displays the award plaque she just received. She sports a light tan jacket over a green blouse, with a gold Texas pendant necklace and a multicolored toucan pin on her left lapel.
The banquet also featured singer, song writer and humorist Terry Kelly. He entertained and inspired attendees with a number of fun and thought-provoking songs as well as a speech dealing with how we can overcome the limitations we place on ourselves.