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President's Report (2014 Conference and AGM)

Monday, April 28, 2014

This address was presented by Anthony Tibbs, President, to the members of the AEBC at the national conference and annual general meeting in Ottawa, on Friday, April 25th, 2014.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending this year’s conference and annual general meeting.  We are a smaller crowd than usual, based on the results of the past couple of years, but many of those who are here today more than make up for any lack of quantity by their dedication and tireless efforts to strive for a more inclusive society.

The past year has been characterized by some significant movement forward in some portfolios, and some stagnation in others.  Through the strategic planning process, and through discussions with members, we have begun to confront the new realities that face this organization.

A few weeks ago, a long-term member, past president, and lifelong advocate posed a question: Where have all the advocates gone?  He was thinking back to a time when AEBC was led by, and greatly influenced by, people who were fierce advocates: the type to protest on Parliament Hill, to barricade a convention center, to write letters to politicians, to appear before government committees to plead our case, to file complaints before the Human Rights Commission, and so on. 

These things still happen.  Sometimes, indeed most of the time, they happen because some individual takes on the initiative themselves.  Sometimes, but less often, they happen because AEBC as an organization takes on the battle.  There seems to have been a societal shift from collective action (through AEBC) to individual action (everyone doing their own thing).  This might be a sign of a certain amount of progress, in that more and more in the blind and low vision community are connected online, have access to resources to solve their own problems, and AEBC is no longer the necessary link between them and the rest of the world.  That is a sign of progress, in a way.  But it also means that for AEBC to remain relevant, to remain important, to serve a definitive purpose for its members and for the community of blind and partially sighted Canadians that it strives to represent, we need to be doing more to create advocates and give them the opportunity to learn the skills to be effective.  Our role should, in my view, be more about empowering individuals, than about simply speaking for them. 

This past year, we’ve continued our tradition of running the scholarship program, awarding two scholarships from AEBC and partnering with T-Base Communications to award a third.  That program will continue in 2014, and the application deadline is in June.  If you’re a student at the post-secondary level and you have not applied, you should consider doing so. 

We have continued to participate in various processes around television and broadcasting, including involvement with the Descriptive Video Working Groups, our nomination of Chris Stark to represent the blind and partially sighted population in connection with the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund, participation in CRTC’s “Let’s Talk TV” initiative, and through our continued relationship with AMI (Accessible Media Inc.).

On the library front, we have learned a great deal more about where the public libraries are headed with the notion of accessible library services.  We do not really have anything definitive and concrete yet to show for it, but after years of attempting to get the government to do something productive with the IELA project (the Initiative for Equitabble Library Access), we are at least making some progress toward accomplishing those goals.  That work will continue into 2014 and we can use your help.

Of note, we are working with Braille Literacy Canada, Citizens with Disabbilities Ontario, CNIB, T-Base Communications, and others to plan and run a summer camp for children age 8-12 with a focus on Braille literacy.  Jeff Stark, a member of AEBC, a parent, and an advocate, [will/has] speak more about the details of this program, but it’s our first venture toward delivering actual service programs and is important on many levels.

That’s the good news.

The bad news, or perhaps I should say, the news that is not so good, is that some portfolios have stagnated, and we have, as an organization, overreached with our objectives.  Last year, inaccessibility of web sites was identified as a priority issue – but there has been nobody willing or able to step forward and really take a leadership role in working on that issue.  It is not that it is unimportant, or that there is not the skillset out there to do it.  It is a reflection of the fact that many of our members are busy with families, with jobs, and with other commitments.  Important or not, some things just have not happened.  In that particular case, the issue is in part that “website accessibility” is such a broad topic that it is difficult to measure whether we have made any progress toward achieving it.  We’ll talk more about this in connection with the strategic planning though.

We need to decide what it is we can do with who and what we have.  We need to be realistic.  We need to provide training and information so people can take on tasks themselves, so they can work on AEBC projects.  But the reality is that over the course of the strategic planning exercise, we heard from, perhaps, 40 to 50 people.  There are more than 220 members now and that number has stayed relatively constant for at least the last five years.  If only 40 of those were interested enough to throw in their input, and perhaps 20 of those have the time or interest in actually tackling an issue facing our community, that does not leave us with much.  To me, this means we should simply do what we can do and not worry about the rest.  If most people in the membership are members because they want information and educational opportunities, then we should focus on that, rather than trying to force people into roles that they are not truly interested in filling.

We’ve had some challenges this year, largely around the national board.  Many of the national board members work full time and simply do not have the hours to give to AEBC that past boards have sometimes had the luxury of having.  To get the work done, then, we need more people to step up and take on a role in the organization.  Maybe you know a bit about web sites and can help with updates to ours.  Maybe you like talking to people, and can make phone calls to new members to introduce them to the organization, find out why they joined, and hook them up with people that are doing things that interest them.  Maybe you are part of a community organization (Lions Club, Rotary Club, etc.) and have some experience with fundraising that can help us out.  Maybe you simply have $10 a month to give to help AEBC work toward its goals.  (If 20 or 30 people did that every month, we could hire someone to do a lot of this administrative work and keep your board members for more direct advocacy work.) 

My point is that every member has something to contribute.  AEBC is nothing without its members.  Put another way, AEBC is AEBC because it made up of people like you.  Let’s try to work together more closely, more collaboratively.  Let’s try to work together to make a real difference.  Look back at my January President’s Report if you need some ideas about how you can make a difference – dozens of people are doing it every day. 

Again, I welcome you to Ottawa, and to this exciting 2014 conference and AGM.  Let this be the beginning of a bright 2014-2015 year, and let’s find the ways in which each and every one of you can do your part to further the AEBC mission.  There is strength in numbers.  Let’s use it.


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