by Dan Spoone
Our friends of the Hawaii Association of the Blind (HAB) always welcomed us to their gatherings with a warm “Aloha.” Aloha is a wonderful word that makes you feel welcome, and also means “hello” and “good-bye.” It is with a very big Aloha that we welcome in a new team of ACB officers:
First Vice President: Mark Richert, Arlington, Va.
Second Vice President: Ray Campbell, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Secretary: Denise Colley, Lacey, Wash.
Treasurer: David Trott, Talladega, Ala.
We also give a warm welcome to new board member Donna Brown of Romney, W.Va., and new board of publications member Zelda Gebhard of Edgeley, N.D.
We must say “thank you” to Mitch Pomerantz and John McCann, who will be stepping down from the board of directors. However, both will still play an active role in ACB, with Mitch continuing to serve as our World Blind Union (WBU) delegate and as the first vice president of the North America/Caribbean Region. John will serve as president of the Arizona Council of the Blind and as vice chair of ACB’s constitution and bylaws committee.
We must give a huge “hip, hip, hooray” to Kim Charlson for her outstanding accomplishments over the past six years as ACB president. Kim steered ACB into a new level of vitality with the promotion of Eric Bridges to the position of executive director. Kim and Eric have worked together with the support of the ACB board to reach financial stability for our organization, implement a new strategic plan, launch a state-of-the-art website (acb.org), create new member communication channels with the ACB Advocacy Update podcast, Facebook Live broadcasts and the new Dots and Dashes email blasts. We have a new energy in both our Alexandria and Minnesota offices with the hiring of Clark Rachfal, director of advocacy and governmental affairs, Claire Stanley, advocacy specialist, Cindy Van Winkle, membership services coordinator, Nicole Beito, accountant and HR specialist, and Nancy Christine Feela, administrative assistant. These new hires have brought energy and excitement to a growing and productive organization. This team looks forward to the challenge of growing our ACB membership, strengthening our affiliates, increasing our external partnerships, reimagining our organizational structure to improve efficiency and increase two-way communication. We will launch the pilot advisory board in September, and I will visit both the Virginia and Minnesota offices to meet our staff.
Aloha brings the thought of travel and transportation through the air, over the tracks and across our nation’s highways. ACB is playing a significant role in improving the lives of the blind and visually impaired community in all these transportation venues. Leslie and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Hawaii for their March convention, and we were frustrated to learn that there was no audio description with the in-flight video programs on our 12-hour Delta flight from Orlando to Honolulu. At this year’s convention in Rochester, ACB had the opportunity to meet with Dana Folsom, Delta Air Lines Disability Programs, on solutions to this issue. Dana has reached out to ACB leadership to request ongoing dialogue to meet the needs of our community.
Two years ago, we took an Amtrak train from Orlando to Savannah to participate in the Georgia Council of the Blind convention. It was a lovely trip, but there were no accessible menus in the restaurant car and there were troubles accessing some of the common amenities. Claire Stanley and Clark Rachfal are now serving on the Amtrak Disability Working Group and are bringing these issues to Amtrak’s leadership.
Lastly, one of ACB’s key legislative imperatives is to support the AV START Act to reduce red tape and streamline regulations to promote the development of autonomous vehicles (AV) that will be a major positive disrupter for automobile transportation across our country and around the world. Fred Schroeder, World Blind Union (WBU) president, shared in his Sunday morning comments at the Rochester convention, “The United Nations study estimates that over 253 million people worldwide have vision loss that prohibits driving, and this is a whole lot of new potential customers for the automobile industry.” So, whether your travels are through planes, trains or automobiles, ACB is playing a role to improve your lives. Thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime to serve as your president. Together we can make a difference!