by Sharon Lovering
(Editor's Note: To download the file for any convention session, go to www.acbradio.org, select "On Demand," then select "ACB Convention 2012," and choose the day you'd like. The Candidates' Forum and the banquet are also available.)
"Ladies and gentlemen, the 51st annual conference and convention of the American Council of the Blind is now in session!" stated Mitch Pomerantz, president, calling the session to order.
Following the opening ceremony, Mitch Pomerantz gave his president's report. (See this issue, next issue, and the September issue.)
The keynote speaker was Dr. Tuck Tinsley III, executive director of the American Printing House for the Blind. "The theme of your 2012 convention, 'ACB: Full Steam Ahead!,' certainly rings true and in tune with the history that was forged right here on the banks of the Ohio River … The history of the falls of the Ohio and a captain's essential need to read the river offer a powerful analogy for the work of ACB... ACB prides itself on its talented leadership, its captains … To effectively achieve ACB's goals, they … must recognize when you can go full steam ahead, when you have to adjust … In the lives of organizations, just as in river traffic, it's necessary for us to gauge our routes and our solutions and our speed by the condition of the waters in which we're traveling. … To navigate them effectively and to arrive successfully at our destinations, we must chart the course we're taking wisely and cooperatively, and together we must read the river."
Afterward, Allen Casey introduced the winners of the Durward K. McDaniel First-Timers Awards: Cynthia Julun of Texas and Cindy LaBon of Maryland.
The convention next heard from Caleb Olin, a local representative of Major League Baseball's Advance Media. "On behalf of Major League Baseball, I want to thank the ACB for having us here at the 2012 convention," Olin said. "We launched the entire revamped architecture and sites on opening day in 2001." Since then, MLB-AM has grown to about 500 employees, launched an iPhone app, and included accessibility for blind and visually impaired web site and iPhone users.
Pomerantz then presented life memberships to Charles Glaser, Lonnie Lanning, Berl Colley, William Hawkins, Adam Ruschival, and Grady Ebert. He also presented new charters to ACB Students, Blind LGBT Pride International, and ACB Families, then called on Jean Mann to give the first credentials report. The evening wrapped up with the roll call of affiliates.
Following the pledge and invocation, the convention got right to work. Marlaina Lieberg received several updates for affiliate delegates. Mitch Pomerantz announced the names of two new life members: Terry Lewis and Caroline Ward. Margarine Beaman, advertising and sponsorship coordinator, read the list of Kentucky gems.
After a few brief announcements, Jean Mann presented the final credentials report. Washington's vote count was corrected to 17. She read a list of "affiliate annoyances" – things affiliates do that make things harder for the office and the committee, such as making up their own lists instead of using the one the office sends, sending lists from past years, sending Excel spreadsheets with names and no other information, not counting their members, not removing dead people, counting women once under their maiden names and once under their married names, etc. She told everyone that if you know your affiliate is not going to get its list in on time, let the national office know ASAP. She also warned them that if their affiliate sends in a list other than the one the office sent out (with appropriate corrections made to it), the office will return it to the affiliate, and the affiliate will be counted as being late. The convention adopted the credentials report, along with the standing rules and the program.
Next up was John Huffman, who, assisted by Jay Bader, read two proposed amendments to the constitution.
Then it was on to awards! Chelle Hart presented the Membership Growth Award to the Nevada Council of the Blind, which had both the largest percentage and the largest number of new members. She also gave the Robert S. Bray Award to Regal Entertainment Group. Paul Edwards, chairman of the board of publications, presented the Vernon Henley Media Award to the American Cancer Society. Carl Jarvis was the winner of the Ned E. Freeman Award, for his article "Old Attitudes Die Hard" (July-August 2011).
From awards, the convention moved on to the topic of driverless cars. Two women from Google, Naomi Black, an engineering program manager for accessibility, and Laura Palmaro, an account manager with the online sales division, discussed Google's self-driving car. Why is Google investing in a self-driving car? Palmaro said, "Our real mission here is to improve people's lives by transforming mobility."
So how does it work? "The first step is we build a map," Black said. She and her team build this map by driving the road, using cameras, lasers and radar to put together a model of what's on the road, such as construction zones, speed limits, traffic safety zones, etc. Once they've collected the data, they send it to data centers to turn it into a detailed map. Then they drive the route without driver assistance, using the cameras and sensors to record what's changed. "When we're driving these cars on the road and running through our tests, we have a safety driver present in the car at all times," she noted. "And that driver can take over in any situation the car hasn't been fully programmed to handle."
When will we see these cars on the roads? Probably not for several years, Black says. "Organizations like ACB can really help us; you can help support our efforts in discussions with lawmakers at the state and federal level."
Kim Charlson then introduced David Strickland, an administrator with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to talk about progress toward providing sound for quiet cars. "Before I became the administrator of this agency … I worked in the United States Senate as a lawyer," he said. "And one of the issues that was brought to me several years ago by … the members of ACB … was the problem of hybrid vehicles and the fact that it is making it very dangerous for people that are visually impaired and blind to actually know where a car is …"
In 2009, NHTSA did a study, which recognized that hybrid vehicles in parking lots and other slow-moving environments doubled the crash risk for pedestrians. When the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 passed, it gave the agency the opportunity to finish the rule regarding hybrid vehicles and sound. "You will not be … surprised by another vehicle again when this rule gets finished and the implementation of this technology comes to the fore," Strickland said.
After a break, the convention heard from Arnt Holte, first vice president of the World Blind Union, of Norway. "In Norway we have one organization, [the] Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted … which takes care of the advocacy work, but it is also a service-providing organization," he stated. Norway's population is 5 million people; the association has 12,000 members. "Norway is one of the richest countries in the world today, and of course that also gives an opportunity to give good services to disabled people and also to blind and partially sighted people."
One thing that surprised him was the similarities in unemployment rates of blind people around the world. "Why is it so that even if we have a rich country, we still have unemployed blind and partially sighted people? My belief is that it is because there is an attitude … that blind and partially sighted people cannot produce, they are not equal with other people, and we need to change that."
The World Blind Union has developed a strategic plan, Holte said. "We have been working to achieve a treaty which will open the borders for braille and accessible format [books] for blind and partially sighted; it's called the WIPO Treaty," he says. "And we try to get this treaty through to secure … braille from one country to another." One of the World Blind Union's goals is to try to improve the situation for all blind people around the world. He invited listeners to be a part of WBU's work, and to "act locally, think globally."
Charlson introduced the new director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Karen Keninger. One of the important things is to maintain the quality of materials the library produces, Keninger said. NLS has produced about 2,000 audio titles and about 500 braille titles per year. "That's maybe 1 percent of the number of books published in a year. That's not enough." How does NLS plan to remedy that? "There are a number of things on the horizon," she added. "BARD is up for a makeover, and one of the things that we're going to do … is to open it up so that the material that Kim produces in Massachusetts … can be loaded on BARD and everybody can have access to it." NLS also plans to look at commercially available audio material for inclusion in its collection, and to look at ways to improve the digital talking book machine. The library is currently working on an iPhone app.
Members of the Visually Impaired Veterans of America led the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterward, Eric Bridges announced that "late yesterday afternoon, President Obama signed the FDA Safety and Innovation Act." Margarine Beaman read a list of this year's titanium and platinum sponsors. Pomerantz then introduced Dominic Gagliano of HumanWare to give a brief report.
Next, Pat Sheehan gave the nominating committee report. The slate for 2012 was: for the board of publications, Judy Jackson, Marcia Dresser, and Denise Colley; for the board of directors, Berl Colley, Michael Garrett, Dan Spoone, John McCann, and Sara Conrad.
After Sheehan's report, Pomerantz called on John Huffman to read the remaining proposed amendments to the constitution and bylaws. He then turned the podium over to Brenda Dillon, who introduced Patty Slaby, chair of the scholarship committee, to present the 2012 scholarships. To see who won, read "And the Winner Is …" elsewhere in this issue.
After the break, the convention heard from Allan Steinberg, former executive director of the Kentucky School for the Blind Charitable Foundation. He asked whether there was anyone in attendance from the commonwealth of Virginia; shouts came from the rear right. "Do you know why you are important to Kentucky? … The entire commonwealth of Kentucky was a county in Virginia, and then we became a state, and that's why we are a commonwealth." Kentucky was the 15th state, in 1792, and is represented by the last stripe on the U.S. flag.
The convention then heard an update on developing regulations following the passage of the Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Mark Richert from the American Foundation for the Blind was the panel moderator; panelists were Melanie Brunson; Brian Charlson, director of technology at the Carroll Center for the Blind; and Paul Schroeder, vice president for programs and policy at the American Foundation for the Blind.
Richert informed his listeners that what Title II of the CVAA does is require video description, up to 450 hours of it every quarter. It also makes sure that your TV, cable box, satellite equipment, etc. is as accessible as possible, and includes access to emergency information that scrolls across the screen with a beep tone.
He then introduced Paul Schroeder. "Starting last Sunday, July 1st, we finally have the law in place that many of us fought for a long time, lost for a little bit … and got back for the 50 hours a quarter of video-described program[ming] on the top 4 broadcast and the top 5 networks in America," Schroeder said. Those nine networks are ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, and Disney, USA, TBS, TNT and Nickelodeon.
There are difficulties ahead, he noted. They are which programs are actually described, and how you find out about them, and how you get access to them. "We're going to talk a little bit about some of the issues that have yet to be dealt with …" One issue was quality. "What is a good quality description? Arguments were very heated about that …" There was a great deal of discussion about information, too, he said, including making lists of described programs and putting them on web sites so people would know which programs were being described. Another contentious issue that was hard to resolve was how to provide the description.
Melanie Brunson addressed the topic of emergency alerts. "Everybody initially reacted the same way that Mark did – 'yeah, this is motherhood and apple pie, this is what we need to do' … but, but, but … and the buts got more emotional every time we said 'and so this is what you need to do.' And we ended up in a situation where the devil was in the details, and by golly, there were lots of devilish details. … The goal of the emergency alerts group was to figure out how to make emergency information accessible." The short-term solution was grouping emergency situations into several levels of severity, from most serious (which would interrupt the broadcast, such as tornado warnings) to least.
Brian Charlson spoke next. "I came into the process when the time frame was half over, and the first thing the committee decided to do was to junk everything they had done … and literally start over," he said. They broke it down to bare-bones basic concepts, beginning with on-off. "How do you tell how to make it go on or off? I laid out the 8 remote controls in my living room and I tried to find commonalities between them, and we used some of that experience to write up our recommendations. We said, 'All devices which happen to have an on-off capability, you need to be able to readily identify where the control is, either by its location, its shape or its texture … And this needs to be readily achievable for those who are blind or visually impaired and those who are deaf or hard of hearing.'"
Brunson chimed in. "It is important for individuals like you out there to make comments as well, because the more comments they hear on either side, the more they have to back up their action that they want to take," she stated.
After the pledge and invocation, Margarine Beaman read the list of Kentucky gems and the list of gold sponsors. Judy Jackson read several resolutions. Marlaina Lieberg then introduced the talking book narrators, Jack and Jill Fox from the American Printing House for the Blind.
"It's great for us to be here and get to meet you," Jack Fox said. "It helps us to know who we're reading to."
Jill Fox added, "I definitely followed my father up the hill, and I've been tumbling along ever since." Jack Fox told everyone he started in radio, and Jill followed along. Jack began reading at APH in 1978; his voice is also featured in many airports at the TSA checkpoints and on the moving sidewalk systems.
At one point, father and daughter had "The Jack and Jill Show." Jill said, "I was 16, I think … and Dad was at the radio station, and I came down and I helped him … and that was my intro to radio." After graduation, she returned home, and APH was holding auditions for narrators. She began working there in 1996, and has recorded 964 titles, including children's books, non-fiction, cookbooks, knitting, how-to books, and magazines. More recently, she recorded "The Help." She then read a selection from "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed, which she is now recording. Jack followed with Charles Osgood's essay "Words to Live By."
Lieberg introduced Eric Bridges, ACB's director of advocacy and governmental affairs. "The President late Monday signed the FDA Safety and Innovation Act into law. … What does this mean for us, ultimately? The need for accessible prescription drug labeling is great and is only going to grow, especially as the baby boomers age, and some of them age into vision loss and/or blindness." The law sets up a working group at the Access Board that will be composed of consumers and pharmacy representatives.
Over the next year, the group will meet and identify ways that blind people can go into a pharmacy and, upon request, gain independent and private access to the label information on their prescriptions. After the group decides on what best practices are, pharmacies will have some low- and high-tech solutions, from large print and high-contrast printing to RFID tags and accessories like ScripTalk. Sometime later, GAO will do a study to look at the adoption rate of best practices and look to see if there are other barriers that prevent people from gaining information from their prescription labels.
Other issues Bridges is working on include the vehicle donation legislation, which currently has 289 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. He reminded his listeners that their advocacy is crucial to ACB's success. "There's a lot happening, and I can assure you that when you listen to the resolutions being read here, that it's not just stuff that is done at the convention and gets filed away on a bookshelf somewhere in the national office. We take the lead of the membership, and I'm proud to represent ACB on these issues."
After the break, the convention learned about accessible TV and audio description. Richard Orme, head of accessibility for the Royal National Institute of Blind People, addressed accessible television. "Access to television was identified by us as an important issue many years ago, and we considered this to have two key aspects: the content and the interface, the access to the equipment."
In the United Kingdom, they use the term "audio description," Orme notes. Audio description is very popular; "when we polled our members last year, 70 percent of our blind members are using audio description on TV, and 40 percent partially sighted. Eighty-two percent of those using it wanted us to encourage broadcasters to produce even more." Currently in the UK, 69 TV channels carry audio description; they are required by their licenses to describe at least 10 percent of their programs all the time. "The most popular channels … have committed to produce 20 percent themselves, voluntarily, and many in fact broadcast more than a third of their programs with audio descriptions, some even reaching 40 percent." This week in the UK, 1,335 programs are being broadcast with audio description.
Broadcasting is important, but so is the equipment, he said. "Navigating the many TV and radio channels … is really challenging if you find the onscreen messages, menus and grids difficult or impossible to read." Many people were having trouble finding the programs they wanted to watch, programming their recorders and controlling their TVs, so RNIB started talking to TV manufacturers about making their sets accessible to blind people. "But when we met with manufacturers, we were told, 'It's just not possible to make televisions usable by blind people.'" So RNIB partnered with companies that made television equipment, and developed the world's first talking set-top box, which launched in 2010. More than 10,000 homes in the UK now have one, he noted.
Once people had talking TV, they wanted more options, including the ability to record programs, Orme said. RNIB worked with a leading manufacturer to create a spoken interface for their digital video recorders; it also has worked with Panasonic, which now has 30 models of talking TVs on the market in the UK. "The TV industry is highly competitive, and when one company introduces a feature, often the others follow," he noted. "We've shown what's possible, and it would be wonderful if the voice of ACB could also be heard by these companies so we can really get them to deliver for blind consumers. Accessible TV is real; it is achievable, and there is no reason why you shouldn't have it in America."
Next on the agenda was Josh Miele of the Video Description Research Center at the Smith Kettlewell Institute. "My wife calls me a mad scientist," he said. "I'm not mad, but I am irritated about a bunch of things. And one of them is the fact that it is so difficult to get hold of video description."
The VDRC is developing a system called the Descriptive Video Exchange (DVX), which is at the heart of a number of the technologies the company is investigating and developing. "The research center … is a place where we're looking two, three, five, ten years down the road to see what types of technologies are we going to need to address the barriers that may exist now but will almost certainly exist in even more profusion in a few years. Because as technology progresses, of course it creates opportunity but … it also creates barriers. And unless there are plans laid to figure out how to address the accessibility barriers of the future, we are going to be stuck in the same cycle that we always are …"
The Descriptive Video Exchange was a concept they came up with to address the availability of video description, he added. "Television is beginning to be a smaller and diminishing part of the video market. What about YouTube? … What are we going to do for equal access to education when educational materials are largely video and are largely on the Internet …? These are the issues that we need to be thinking about."
DVX is one approach, he noted. "Imagine that one of Richard's video players could have any video described simply by turning on the description feature. That description doesn't have to be recorded on top of the existing program. … [It] can be provided separately." The other half of the system is a server that stores only the description information. In a system like this, there can be multiple descriptions of any given video, Miele said. "What I'm trying to excite you about today is all of the ways in which a technology like this can provide better access for the video of the future."
The final presenter of the day was Joel Snyder, who updated everyone on ACB's audio description project. "Description is everywhere, and can be everywhere, and should be everywhere," he said. "Consumers must advocate … the producers are not going to do description until they see it in their faces. We have to put it in their faces."
Snyder mentioned that it was the fourth year of the audio description project, and offered a few highlights. Thursday through Saturday, there would be the Audio Description Institute, an intensive three-day training seminar for describers and would-be describers. This past year, the project received a $5,000 grant from the Aid Association for the Blind of Washington, D.C. to provide description for Access Dance Theater, a company of dancers with a variety of abilities. He referred people to the web page, www.acb.org/adp, and the project's Facebook page.
Snyder told his listeners that this year's described movie would be "Hugo," and that the White House would soon have an audio tour of the East Wing and White House public tour route. He then turned the mike over to Chris Gray to announce the winners of the audio description awards (see "Here and There," September 2012), as well as the Young Described Film Critic of the Year Award. The winner was Rebecca Baumgarten for her reviews of "Wall-E" and "Rio."
Following the pledge and the invocation, the convention heard from Patty Slaby, who announced that Kae Seth was the winner of the Oregon scholarship. Mitch Pomerantz then presented a life membership to Dennis Yacks. Margarine Beaman read a list of convention sponsors and silver sponsors (plus one platinum sponsor). Jack Mendez from Vanda Pharmaceuticals gave a short sponsorship presentation.
Pomerantz then called on John Huffman for the constitutional amendments. The first proposal concerned the establishment of an advisory board; following discussion, the amendment passed.
Melanie Brunson presented her report next. She mentioned the work of Annette Carter on the web site, and Larry Turnbull as ACB Radio manager, and Joel Snyder. She thanked Lane and Lori, who have been working hard in the registration office; Sharon, who has been busy making sure everyone gets "The Paddlewheel Gazette"; and Steve Obremski for their work. "I have a special thank-you to two people. Back in the office … is Barbara LeMoine, who's holding down the fort for us in D.C. … I want you to give a special thank-you to somebody who has done some dynamic work and is now… celebrating their 5th anniversary with ACB ... Eric Bridges has now been with us for five years." She also thanked Chi, Dee and Sheila of the Minnesota office.
One of this year's highlights was working with RSVA to get an executive order encouraging federal agencies to recognize and enforce the Randolph-Sheppard priority; the order was issued in January. Another item was the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. "Back during the Bush administration, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was put forward by the UN, and there's been an interest among the disability community … [in] having our government ratify it," she stated. "And just recently efforts have gotten under way to push that process along."
A related issue is copyright and access to books. "We are constantly involved with issues related to copyright and the impact and the interest of copyright rights holders has on our ability to get accessible format books," Brunson said. ACB is also working to make sure that Medicare covers devices that people with visual impairments need to access their medications and to live their lives independently.
Ongoing activities include monitoring of Social Security for compliance with the decision to provide documents in alternate formats and tracking the progress of the currency case. Coming soon is work on the budget for 2013. And the midyear meeting will be held Feb. 22-26, 2013 at the Holiday Inn-National Airport in Arlington, Va. If you have questions, concerns, ideas, or suggestions, contact the national office.
Pomerantz next called on convention coordinator Janet Dickelman. She thanked the Galt House and its staff, the national convention committee, the Arlington and Brooklyn Center office staffs, the communication center, registration, and the local host committee. "This was a convention of firsts," she said, "the first-ever national leadership institute … the first-ever Marketplace … Hope you enjoyed all that the convention had to offer." She requested that people send her their compliments, complaints, and suggestions via e-mail (email@example.com), and in the subject line, put "convention suggestion box."
Following the break, the convention heard from Lane Waters. In 2011, ACB took in revenues of $1,941,891, and expenses were $1,276,305, giving a surplus of $665,586. Non-operating income, consisting mainly of convention funds and investment income, totaled $130,222, which gave ACB a total surplus of $795,808 for 2011. Reserves at the end of 2011 were $1,773,401. The endowment fund wrapped up the year with $856,317.
2012 has gotten off to a rough start, Waters said. Revenue as of May is $369,026; expenses, $518,745, leaving a deficit of $149,718. Investment income is $74,120. Reserves are $1,591,785. Endowments have grown to $875,997. He noted that ACB was lucky to receive generous bequests in both 2010 and 2011.
Following Waters was Michael Garrett, who gave the ACB Enterprises and Services report. He explained that ACBES was a subsidiary of ACB, which consists of six thrift stores. "Our thrift stores are not only set up to help us financially, but it's also a way to educate the community about ACB," he said. The stores are holding their own, and he believed they would give their full portion to ACB this year.
Next, Marsha Farrow and Dan Dillon discussed ACB's fund-raisers. Farrow thanked the committee members and auctioneers for their work on the auction, which raised $26,870. Dan Dillon thanked all walkers, pledgers, the walk committee members, walk sponsors and volunteers. The walk raised $24,725.
John Huffman presented an amendment concerning submission of a list of officers and chapter presidents with the annual membership list. After much discussion, and a roll call vote, the amendment was referred back to the constitution and bylaws committee.
After the pledge and invocation, the convention dove right into business. Margarine Beaman thanked the Kentucky gems and bronze sponsors. Mitch Pomerantz then called on John Huffman for the remaining constitutional amendments. The first proposal dealt with references to "The Braille Forum." After an amendment, and much debate, the change to "The ACB Braille Forum" was approved. The second proposal dealt with the removal of exclusion language from Article III. After heated debate, the amendment failed. Huffman thanked the members of the constitution and bylaws committee for their work. The convention next dealt with a resolution on autonomous vehicles, which failed.
After a break, it was time for elections. Pat Sheehan restated the slate for the board of publications and the board of directors. The winners were Judy Jackson, Marcia Dresser and Denise Colley for the BOP. The convention then broke for lunch. When the session resumed, so did elections for the board of directors. The winners were Berl Colley, Michael Garrett, Dan Spoone, John McCann and Sara Conrad.
The remainder of the afternoon session dealt with resolutions.
Chelle Hart presents the Robert S. Bray Award to Regal Entertainment Group. She is standing behind a wooden lectern marked "Galt House" on stage at the front of the general session room.
Arnt Holte tells ACB conventioneers about the Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted and his role in the World Blind Union. He is standing behind the Galt House lectern on stage. Behind him, just visible, is the American Council of the Blind banner, hanging off the pipe and drape at the rear of the stage.
Karen Keninger discusses NLS' plans for the future, including an upgrade to BARD and an iPhone application. She's wearing a red jacket over a white blouse, and a multicolored beaded necklace, and carries a white cane in her right hand. She's standing behind the Galt House lectern, speaking into the microphone.
Paul Schroeder, Brian Charlson and Mark Richert discuss video description and the Communications and Video Accessibility Act. Richert stands behind the lectern; Schroeder and Charlson are seated at the table to his right. Charlson is speaking into the table microphone.
Jill and Jack Fox, talking book narrators from the American Printing House for the Blind, talk about how they began recording books. Jack is standing behind the Galt House lectern; Jill is to the left.
Richard Orme talks about audio description and accessible TV in the United Kingdom. He surprised convention attendees when he told them that in the UK this week, 1,335 programs would be broadcast with audio description. He stands behind the Galt House lectern, facing the audience.
Melanie Brunson congratulates Eric Bridges on his 5 years with ACB. She's standing behind the Galt House lectern on stage, speaking into the microphone.
Lane Waters tells the convention about ACB's finances, explaining that 2012 has gotten off to a rough start. He's wearing a green-and-white-striped shirt, standing behind the Galt House lectern, looking out at the audience and speaking into the microphone.
Dan and Brenda Dillon wait for their turn at the microphone as Marsha Farrow, standing behind the lectern and talking into the microphone, discusses the success of this year's auction. Dan carries a box full of trophies, and Brenda is double-checking to be sure they're in order.