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President's Report

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following is the Report delivered by Gordon Dingle, President of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality at the 2002 NFB:AE's Annual General Meeting, held in Toronto, Ontario May 18, 2002

Welcome .

Let me begin by publicly expressing my pride and appreciation of my colleagues on the Board of Directors. Each and every one, as I have come to know them are dedicated, committed, and talented individuals. The trials and tribulations we have gone through this past year have given each of us insights, as to how individual abilities complement our efforts, in pursuit of the organization's interests and strengthened our resolve to work toward achieving them, as a group. Most assuredly, I personally and as a group, we will miss Irene's presence, and thank her for the many occasions when she provided a calming influence on the more reactionary inclinations. I can say it was with regret on the part of all of us that, Ross chose to resign. Even with diverse personalities there is always the capacity to work together. As a Board that has operated primarily on a consensus model we have demonstrated this.

Each Director in our own right has been active in many ways. I am told as a President one is permitted certain latitude in their actions, but choose rather to involve the Board. I do prefer to operate openly, and wherever possible with consensus. This can result in positions, or responses taking a little longer in processing, but it is consensus and mutual respect we need. At the same time, recognizing that one can not always satisfy everyone at which point, a decision must be arrived at. To paraphrase a quote Beryl Williams recently offered, "you cannot please everyone, and if you try, you will come to a grinding halt."

It has been nothing but a tumultuous year for many of us. It has been a very demanding and exhausting period for the Board. If there is one activity that, keeps the Board constantly preoccupied it is the ongoing operations of the office in Kelowna. The situation is now exacerbated with the difficulties of operating at half-staff. We are in the process of trying to relieve some of these pressures on both Board Members, and our staff through a complete review of internal processes.

A number of activities have been touched upon in some degree over the last year. In each and every instance the entire Board contributed input. It should be noted too that, a number of these activities included input from a number of the membership. What are some of the highlights?

Various interventions to the CRTC, on issues relating to accessibility, or in support of certain initiatives. We cannot always measure the true weight of our contributions. But we have seen evidence of positive decisions, such as, inclusion of provision of DVS in the granting of license renewals. It is not enough. Some mechanism needs to be established possibly within the CRTC structure, whereby the disabled community could be consulted directly in developing goals and standards for applicants, as opposed to the intervention proces.

Consultation in the development of a Manager's Guide for producing information in multiple formats. It is worth noting that both NFB:AE and CCB were consistent in their positions, in terms of expectations and applied standards. The Guide is now complete. It's value will only be demonstrated by the extent to which people access information services. It might be suggested that this Guide could have broader applications, if promoted and adopted in those provinces that do not have established guidelines.

Efforts taken to generate interest and joint support for development and issuing of a national photo identification card through several Federal Ministries, those being Transport Canada, Heritage, and CCRA. They have all responded. At this point in time, only Transport Canada expressed a real interest. It should be pointed out that such a proposed card does not meet with the approval of all consumers.

Contact has been established, and will be maintained with the federal 'Office for Disability Issues.' This is a forum where we must actively work toward inserting blind 'consumers,' as the ODI are becoming increasingly more active in promoting the Federal Disability Agenda. They are also a means of working toward effecting change at provincial levels, as they (ODI) work in concert with the Federal Provincial Territorial Working Group. In other words they will be a focal point for implementation of the Disability Agenda. This could expand the potential for relations at the provincial levels. This contact has achieved some positive results. We are seeing indications of a broader inclusion of our organization in the consultation processes.

Attended a meeting sponsored by CCD and CCDS in Ottawa. The theme was "Future Directions." There was representation from all disability sectors. The focus being primarily on identifying the practicality of a "lead" voice so to speak, in terms of relations with the government, and developing consultation mechanisms that, would serve all sectors. It was acknowledged individual organizations would retain autonomy to speak to specific issues, but in general terms there would be a unified approach. There appeared to be consensus that the issue of 'Disability Supports,' in its broadest application was one of commonality through the disabled community. The process is evolving, and a paper proposing a strategy and agenda is to be produced, and distributed for input from the participants. It is anticipated there will be another meeting, to review such a proposal

As everyone knows, there was a meeting held between some members of the national Boards of the NFB:AE and the Canadian Council of the Blind. We have agreed to hold additional meetings. It was clearly evident to the participants that there are common interests. It was agreed in the initial stages wherever practical to support each other on issues. While we have done so, in indirect ways, there is another step we proposed to take but it has not been implemented yet. That is, to prepare a joint letterhead to release formal position statements. We did discuss fragmentation in the blind community, and the practicality in terms of resources, credibility, and visibility of somehow establishing a unified framework. Such discussions are preliminary, and what evolves would be subject to the approval of our respective memberships

Additional activities have included positions, contacts and/or communications in various venues such as in Ontario and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA), the Alberta Government and input into draft legislation, the National Library (noting we still have difficulty with representation, but a presentation and participation in a forum by Irene has served to insert NFB:AE in a constructive manner).There is the situation in B.C. with the Audio Library and with the support of the Board, Richard took a lead role in establishing a Committee whose activities and future directions I am sure he will report on.

As noted earlier there is a tremendous amount of time spent on dealing with administrative and operational matters. This included preparation and monitoring the conducting of a CCRA audit which many have speculated about. We can say we provided all documentation and necessary information to support a positive outcome. To date we have nothing to report of a negative nature. The Board has been involved in developing improved public education materials. Another issue of ongoing concern is the funding source of our magazine. Efforts are ongoing, on how to effectively address these matters.

That being said I have come to several conclusions, most of them brought home through some of the dialogue that has gone on, and with direct input from members. Some of it unduly critical, but most of it constructive. Its significance is not lost upon us, as a Board.

At times, I have often thought consumerism in Canada as it relates to our population is not that much better than that in many of the developing countries. I do not mean in terms of social, or service models available (though some are suspect), but in the recognition, empowerment and capacities of people, and the development of our organizations. Factors, particularly historical ones could uphold such a view. Like it or not, despite efforts from various quarters we, as organized consumers are in too many instances relegated to secondary roles, or add-ons, as an afterthought. I dislike pointing a finger, but it is commonly known that CNIB have and continue to pre-empt consumers from achieving inclusion. I have seen little evidence of them disengaging from any activities, or dispelling the perception they (CNIB) were not representative of consumers. Whereas in fact, they represent the interests of a Corporate, structure and its client base

In my personal view, this brings into question again the practicality, or viability of separate organizations. In defense, one might point to the co-existence of two organizations in the U.S. In fact, they are very different and arguably one resembles a service provider more than a consumer advocacy organization. Of course, there are those who would debate the defining of advocacy. At this point in time, I believe it is the latter type of organization we strive to be. Nonetheless, the reality is, they have the numbers to sustain two groups. We do not!

In many ways we are over-extended and we have brought this upon ourselves so intent are we, on trying to insert ourselves into the many different forums that, in truth we must be part of. Frankly, it is overwhelming, impractical, if not impossible. Yet we persist, in stretching our limited capacities and resources to the point where efforts too often may appear to be of minor consequence. That is not to say ineffectual, but it contributes to a sense of insignificance, or discouragement. As has been pointed out we have tended toward being reactionary, rather than proactive

IT IS a major problem, we do not have the capacity, or the resources (people, or financial) for such broad plans of action. In trying to do so, as well intentioned as these efforts are, and as we have been recently reminded, we may have either lost sight of, or diluted our energies, on a number of key issues. One has recently been highlighted, poverty. Employment is another. They are just two examples. We need to re-visit some of these core issues and develop a strategy that will allow us to mount a more focused and public campaign. A campaign, that could include not only other consumer organizations of the blind, but perhaps something of a cross-disability nature.

I would offer some suggested focus for the next year.

  1. Develop Communications Strategies - First I want to speak to the criticisms of our not being open, or transparent. It must be recognized that many things may be "works in progress." To publicize these efforts on a public list, as some would have us do, is irresponsible. In the first place it is not fair to other parties directly involved and by its public nature, it could and I would say does, place us at a disadvantage. Movement, progress, actions may be hampered, if not impeded, or damaged by critique of a relatively small number. Not to mention expending our time trying to satisfy them.

Whatever initiatives we are involved in as a Board, they generally flow from direction of the membership at large, or are grounded in the precepts of our mandate. Until we do find a way to practically inform all membership we cannot allow ourselves to be governed by the few.

Improving communications within our membership, through the blind community, and especially through government and private sectors should be a priority.

Acknowledging our limited resources, we must somehow broaden our reach, increasing by extension our visibility. Our visibility as a community within government forums should be of major concern.

Current activities are not putting us at the head of anybody's participants lists. Shall we invest our energies and resources toward establishing a presence and a coordinating vehicle in Ottawa? Do we look at a more sustainable magazine, and means to broaden its distribution, privately and publicly?

  1. Membership - Which by extension, could/would be enhanced/improved through communications. How many have not renewed memberships, and why? If we are to claim to represent member's interests, and to offer ourselves in a consultative capacity, then we need to establish real links and networks. We cannot be reliant on the listserve, as providing an accurate sampling of members views, or positions. What do we need to do to tap into the countless thousands of potential members out there? Some have suggested offering services. Defining what these would be and them being consistent with the mandate of the organization, and having the capacity to provide them must be evaluated. Not only that, never mind offering such services, first we have to have the resources to study such a proposal.

In any kind of membership drive because of our current limitations you need a campaign that would cost next to nothing. For example, just about every community has a local cable station. Following a prepared format, it might be possible to conduct a weekly infomercial type program. And just before someone else might bring it up, yes there are established chapters of the CCB out there, and why don't we encourage them to take out memberships? A typical answer will be, why should we pay two memberships? They do not see a real difference between the two organizations and what they are doing, and in many respects this is true. In our own individual circles have we really tapped into the potentials for membership? Bottom line, two issues, one and the same.

You have to be prepared to give people active and direct roles. On the flip side, people have to be prepared to make the necessary commitment.

  1. Fund raising - We all know the pitfalls of third party fund raising and the need to find sustaining alternatives. Until we can find such opportunities, we do acknowledge the need to re-structure our current arrangements, and should undertake to do this.

  2. Research and Project funding - There are people out there, who have put forward various constructive strategies. While this does not relieve us of a responsibility, if those authors were willing to invest the preparation time, and in some instances assume oversight for such programs, we would be prepared to review and sponsor proposals. In this regard our limitations again rear themselves, in that we cannot devote primary attention to these types of activities.

  3. Committees - Frankly I will be the first to admit that we have not effectively exploited the talents within our own membership. We should rejuvenate the Committee structure. I do not know how they functioned before, but I would imagine them, as groups with specific tasks such as, developing public strategies, project proposals, membership campaigns, and give them the freedom and responsibility to implement them. Perhaps committees assigned to address each of the four areas listed above. This presupposes people will step forward and take up these challenges. A Board cannot do it alone.

Ironically, much of what I have spoken to are the very same concerns and issues facing "the other organization." Energies and resources on both sides will be expended on duplicate agendas. We must give serious consideration to investing in developing a truly national platform and a vehicle which, united will advance the interests of blind and partially sighted Canadians. I could speak to our rights of citizenship, accessibility, universal design, but all of the concerns surrounding these issues are self-evident. There is no need to preach to the converted. To me, for many of the reasons previously touched on, we must not only bring people together, we must bring new people in.

This does not sit well with some, but I would maintain, IT IS supported by a majority. How can you not recognize the practical merits of going down this path. Numbers, effective use of resources, stronger presence, a focal point for government and agency interactions, and the list is lengthy. It is something I will work for. I WILL NOT do it at the expense of my obligations, as your President.

Elected, we are entrusted and empowered at that time to act in the best interests of the organization, and that includes the notion of some kind of alliance, or whatever might evolve. In the end this Board, our agenda can, and should be weighed by the membership - accountability is measured by the electoral process .