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President's Report (2015 Conference and AGM)

Friday, May 1, 2015

This presentation was delivered by Anthony Tibbs, National President, at the 2015 conference and annual general meeting.

Good evening everyone, and welcome to the 2015 annual conference and annual general meeting for the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. I’ve never been to Halifax before. Many of you probably have not been to Halifax before. This organization has never hosted an event in Halifax before. This is the furthest east we’ve ever gone. And I congratulate all of you, especially those of you from as far as British Columbia, on making the incredible trek to be here and to participate in this important occasion.

So to begin … the first order of business tonight is a whole lot of thanking, and a whole lot of applauding. First, I want to extend my greatest thanks to the board members who I have worked with over the past two years, and between 2006 and 2010 when I was Treasurer, for what I can only describe as their tireless efforts on behalf of you and on behalf of this organization. All of us work extremely hard to make this work. Some of them, and I’m looking at the John Rae’s, the Dar Wournell’s, of late the Sharlyn Ayotte’s, make all but a full time job, albeit an extremely poorly paying one, out of their role as board members. And it is because of, and in some ways only because of, their incredible individual efforts that we are here where we are today, and that we, the AEBC, accomplish all that we accomplish. So to your current and outgoing board, and to all the boards who have served before today, I want to say, on behalf of the membership: thank you for your service.

Next, not in importance but simply because there is no right order to do this in, I want to thank our members. Without you individually, and without you collectively, AEBC would not be … well, anything at all. AEBC is what it is because of people like you who make it a “thing”. Without the members, AEBC is just a corporate number on some paperwork. It has no life of its own. It has no heart. It has no brain. It’s just a canister. And it’s what we put into that canister, the guts that we fill it up with, that will make it the voice of the blind, the voice of the deaf-blind, and the voice of the partially sighted community in Canada. So to all the members who have and will continue to serve on committees, who tell their friends about us, who educate the public about why they shouldn’t feed our guide dogs bacon, and who stand up for what they believe in, for equality – I say thank you.

And then there is everyone else. Our donors, some of whom are also members, who make our work possible. Our partners. Our conference sponsors, including:

  • Our Platinum sponsor, Accessible Media Inc or AMI
  • Our Silver sponsor, T-Base Communications
  • Our Bronze level sponsors, including Author Donna Jodhan, Sharlyn Ayotte, and the Armdale Fairview Rockingham Lions Club
  • and Our Champion level sponsors, including Richard Papadina from RBC Dominion Securities, Sterling Creations, Nancy Riley, and Barry Hartling, and Brenda Cooke (who wishes she could be hear but has contributed some door prizes)

The exhibitors. Everyone. Together we make AEBC, AEBC. Without all of these moving parts, we are nothing.

Now I want to look back at the past year. A lot of the work that the board has undertaken has been a bit behind the scenes, and organizational in nature. By that I mean, we’ve been working hard to get the strategic planning process complete, to get some committees established and operating, and to sort out the who and the what, so that great work can be done.

We have developed a new model for our Communications and Public Relations efforts. As part of this work we set social networking goals and we have not only met them but exceeded those goals – more twitter followers, more facebook likes. Having a Communications and Public Relations Plan provides us with the ability to communicate more effectively with potential new members, Governments, nonprofit and business partners and donors with clear and succinct messaging.

Over the last year calls have gone out to members on our list and as individual invitations to members with specific skills to participate and contribute their talents to our Committee efforts, with mixed results. Many people have stepped up to work on committees and we are more than thankful for their significant effort as they have been instrumental in raising the bar on a number of fronts.

We are continuing to work collaboratively with other organizations through efforts such as the Consumer Access Group. Several position papers are in development and will be the subject of consultations in the year to come, and which provide AEBC with a platform that it can stand on, alongside other blindness-focused organizations, to get a concrete message across. In a community that is defined by, and known for, its divisive and contrary nature more than for its consistent messaging, the fact that such agreement and consistency is being achieved is not something to be scoffed at.

Our "library committee" -- which really has more to do with accessing literature and other information than it does libraries themselves -- has been busy trying to get a handle on what exactly is out there for folks, how you can access these services, and what people think of them. The recent announcement by Canada that it will implement the copyright provisions necessary to bring the Marakesh Treaty presents a new opportunity for the next year -- to make sure that happens, and to really gain an understanding of what that means for us, and where the gaps still remain.

We will want, over the next year, to build up our relationships with other organizations and to work in greater partnership with them. Not to tie the future board to anything, but I personally think we can do more to work alongside organizations like Guide Dog Users of Canada or even the Canadian Council of the Blind to further our aims and limit the spread that AEBC has to cover. What I mean by that is … we need to focus. We can’t be everything to everybody. Part of the strategic planning process has been determining that focus. Our web site has an issues page. It has 20 something issues on it. We can’t do active work on 20 something issues. We don’t have enough people doing work to do that. So the issue of “guide dog awareness,” for example, we shouldn’t call an AEBC issue – we should work with an organization more specialized in that, such as GDUC, and lend our support to their efforts. Not only does it solve the problem of AEBC being spread too thin and doing little or nothing about a wide range of issues, but it builds community, builds collaboration, and that will become ever more important as time goes on.

Elections Canada is in the spotlight. The Elections Canada position paper has been circulated and more work will be needed to update that to reflect the current reality. We held an Elections town hall a few months back to bring our concerns to the attention of Elections Canada, and to gain a better understanding of their role and position in the whole election debate.

Our work on television, broadcasting, and telecommunications issues has continued. Through our involvement with the Access 2020/Media Access Canada group, and through a series of individual member submissions and presentations, we were highly active in the Let’s Talk TV consultation process that the CRTC went through last year. Several of our members presented to the CRTC in Ottawa, and many more sent in written submissions. The result, while not perhaps all that we could have hoped for, was that some of our core issues have been acknowledged by the Commission.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re about to launch out on a public awareness campaign of a like never before done in AEBC – a national campaign on social media, through regular media, through members, to draw pointed attention to the rights that blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted Canadians have when dealing with government, when dealing with private enterprise. The “I Am Your Customer” campaign is going to be formally announced tomorrow, but these are exciting times. This will get us on the map and get us the media attention that we need to make us “relevant”.

But as your outgoing president, and as an outgoing board member, I must return to where I started and remind you that you are what makes AEBC, AEBC. A recurring question that has come up in the strategic planning process, a recurring theme was: "This is all good, but who is going to do the work?" I think we need to fundamentally answer that question before we can implement any sort of "strategic plan," because at the end of the day, if we cannot identify the human resources needed to turn the plan into action, then we have a much bigger problem. We are and can be a vibrant and motivated community. I have seen it before. There are pockets of it happening now. There are people out there with the skills and the tenacity to really make a difference. But we need to engage them.

I am heartened, and really, truly, awesomely ecstatic, that so many have come forward and expressed an interest in running for and serving on the national board of directors. I suppose this can be taken in one of two ways. One possibility is that all of you folks have come out of the wood work because you’re so dismally annoyed at the poor job we’ve done for you that you’re determined to do it better. I haven’t heard much complaining, though, so I don’t think that’s it. The other possibility, and what I think is more likely, is that our energy and determination over the past 12 months have inspired you to come out and get more involved. And if we’ve managed to do that, then I think we’ve done our job pretty well. This organization needs new blood, new leadership, new direction, and I for one will say that I’m seeing a new life and a new vibrancy in AEBC that I’ve longed to see for many years.

My time as President is coming to a close. Partly because of my commitments at work, and partly because I’ve now been on the board for the better part of the past decade, I think it is time to hand the torch over to my successor and let some new ideas permeate and take the organization forward. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time. It’s time to move on, but I will leave my term in office feeling very optimistic that the organization will be in good hands and will make some strides forward in the next year.

Thank you again to everyone. I look forward to spending the next couple of days with you and sharing in this great time. Our motto this year, “live like a champion”, harkens back to the old idea of self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you’re a champion, you’ll be a champion. The psychologists and sociologists in the room have fancy names for this – the theory of planned behaviour – but whatever you call it, success breeds success, happiness breeds happiness, and momentum is everything. AEBC has that momentum. Let’s collectively keep it going and give everyone a round of applause for all that we've done, all that we will do, and all that – most importantly – all that we – the champions -- can be!