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What’s in a Name?

Editor's Note: Devon Wilkins is an AEBC member in Peterborough, Ontario, and an advocate in the assistance dog field.

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”--Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Most of us who gathered at the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality’s (NFB:AE) Special Meeting in Toronto on October 16, 2004, had likely studied Romeo and Juliet during high school. As we would soon discover, however, very few of us agreed with Shakespeare’s lovelorn Juliet. For us, the name of our organization mattered.

Several years prior to the Special Meeting in Toronto, one of NFB:AE’s members from British Columbia began to question our organization’s name, saying that it was far too long and cumbersome. Besides, he and others argued, it identified us much too closely with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in the United States, an organization whose policies frequently disturbed blind Canadians. The American NFB’s pronouncement that people who choose to use guide dogs aren’t travelling independently was the last straw.

In the spring of 2004, a resolution to work towards changing NFB:AE’s name was introduced at our Annual General Meeting in Saskatoon, and passed. The membership actually voted for “Advocates for Blind Canadians”, but that name was subsequently rejected by Industry Canada; hence, the Special Meeting in Toronto to choose another.

A call for suggested names was sent out to the general membership prior to the NFB:AE Special Meeting. John Rae, National President at the time, recalls being surprised by the 180 responses. The following is a direct quote from the Call to the Special Meeting:

“We will be using a two-stage voting process. The Board's prioritized list will be considered, as will any other name that is moved and seconded from the floor.

“All names will be voted on separately. If more than one name receives two-thirds of the votes cast (both in person and by proxy) in the initial stage, these will be voted on a
second time to determine priority choices. The name receiving the largest number of votes during the second round will be proposed as our first choice, and second most will be proposed as second choice if needed, and so on, in case our first choice is rejected by Industry Canada.”

The Special Meeting began at 9:00 AM on October 16. We spent a good deal of the day considering, deliberating, and voting again and again. Finally, in the late afternoon, the then President of the Toronto Chapter suggested the name “Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians.” It struck a chord with almost everyone, and before we knew it, the meeting was adjourned.

To make the transition as smooth as possible, the National Board had a small quantity of letterhead printed with our new name at the top, followed by “Formerly the NFB:AE.” The rest of us mentioned the change of name whenever and wherever we could.

I like to think that, as arduous a process as the name change was, it turned out very positively in the end, and that our new name has been at least partly responsible for the fact that we now have about 15 Chapters of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians across the country.