By Jackie Wissinger, PCB Secretary
If you were unable to attend the PCB conference this year, you missed 4 days of fun, and yes, some work, filled with presentations and activities designed to appeal to almost any interest. Hopefully you were able to catch some of the proceedings which were streamed on Facebook, thanks to the expertise of Doug Hunsinger. As the conference sessions will be available for your perusal on the PCB website, I will attempt to present some of the high points of our 4-day event.
The 82nd conference of PCB was held this year in Pittsburgh at the Doubletree by Hilton from Thursday, October 26th through Sunday, October 29th. The first session began at 7:00 and was called to order by our president, Sue Lichtenfels. This was followed by the pledge of allegiance to the flag and an invocation led by Jackie Wissinger. Sue began by welcoming PCB, the organization that she calls home to Pittsburgh, the city that she calls home. She told us that Pittsburgh is known as the city of bridges and further that bridges get us where we want to go and where we need to go. Bridges are transition points in life as well as in transportation. “For people who are new to vision loss,” she stated, “we, the members of PCB, provide a bridge to independence and opportunity. Our shared experiences and understanding provide support stronger than any steel or concrete bridge.” Our tag line: “PCB- A Peer Network for All Impacted by Vision Loss,” she continued, “best defines who and what we truly are.” Whether we are involved in PCB as advocates or for the socialization or for whatever reason, the thing which binds us together is “That we are all impacted by vision loss.” Continuing with her bridge analogy, Sue informed us that, “The bridge to organizational survival stands before us. If we do not cross this bridge by transitioning into a new membership model, then we should be prepared to see this organization die.” She pointed out that we will have lost 3 chapters in 2 years. She told us that the new membership model focuses on people and their needs and not on collecting their money. Referring to the new membership model she stated, “Our amazing product that we believe will attract and continue to interest new members is our peer network of support, resources, awareness, advocacy, information, discussion and shared personal experiences. If we build it, they will come.” She urged us very strongly to, “Cross that bridge together to save our beloved organization.”
Our next speaker was the Reverend Sally Jo Snyder from the Consumer Health Coalition based in Pittsburgh. Reverend Snyder was an extremely dynamic speaker whose presentation focused on advocacy. She divided it into 3 areas: What is advocacy and what does successful advocacy look like; a discussion of reality including a reality check-in; and a discussion of successful advocacy campaigns and what we can learn from them. She defined advocacy as, “The application of pressure on those who can give you what you want.” Her entire address focused on healthcare, which she stated should be, “From the cradle to the grave,” and how we can better accomplish this goal. She gave us the 3 Cs of advocacy, which are constant, consistent and creative. She encouraged us to both educate and advocate She said that advocacy is about creating a movement, and we do it by being constant, consistent, and creative. According to Reverend Snyder, it’s about being proactive rather than reactive. Anger fires you up, “But if it’s what drives it, you don’t have a movement; you have a reaction.” When women got the right to vote, it didn’t just happen. “It was a steady, constant push.” In advocating for Medicaid or anything, she told us that the power of the narrative is important. She exhorted us to “Get this advocacy going and win this battle … and preserve Medicaid for what it means to us.”
Next up was the first reading of the proposed bylaw amendments presented by Tom Burgunder representing the Parliamentary team. This was followed by a brief presentation of the MMS fund raiser by George Holliday. The evening wrapped up with a game of Family Feud. Teams faced off, prizes were won, and it was great fun for those who participated as contestants or members of the audience.
There were 3 activities on the menu for Friday morning. We could attend the vision loss symposium, participate in the audio darts tournament or tour the trolley museum. Exhibits also opened on Friday morning.
The 2nd general session of our conference began with a presentation by Brandon Taylor, who is a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, on the printing of 3D tactile maps. Mr. Taylor kindly offered to print and send out maps to anyone who would go to his website and generate a map. He added the disclaimer that he would do this as long as the requests for maps did not become too overwhelming.
“Volunteering Is for You” was the next presentation by Thomas Reid and our president, Sue Lichtenfels. Tom began by defining the word volunteer. The first definition is “A person who offers him or herself for undertaking.” The second is” A person who performs a service willingly and without pay.” He stated that the supply of volunteers is waning. He proposed that PCB could, “Be a sandbox for learning or improving our skills.” Members’ reasons for becoming involved with our organization varied from advocating for Braille to wanting to be involved with peers and to serve others. He said, “We can all be inspiring to someone and not even know it.” He told us that the more people serve others, the happier they are. Sue’s remarks supported the points that Tom discussed. She encouraged us to think about some of the things that we enjoy doing and to consider how those hobbies and interests could benefit PCB. She mentioned specific talents or areas of interest such as crocheting, baking, or talking on the phone. Sue asked specifically for volunteers to help with The PCB Advocate, coordinating discussion calls, being a liaison to new members, and assisting with the AccessiDocs project.
Alisa Grishman from Access Mob spoke to us about various advocacy issues that Access Mob Pittsburgh is involved in to educate business owners in the area and to bring about changes which will benefit those with disabilities, including the One-step initiative, which provides for bypassing the permit process for turning a one-step entrance to a store or restaurant into a ramp. The group is also encouraging restaurants to provide Braille and large-print menus. Access Mob is also looking toward collaborating with GTCB to have a beacon guidance system installed in one of the area malls. Access Mob works with other groups to get “people together to make positive change.” She feels that the best way to make positive change is to provide a win-win situation for area businesses and for those with disabilities.
Mary Ann Grignon, as the Membership Development Leader, next welcomed the first-time attendees to the conference. We had fourteen first-timers and four scholarship winners. Each of the 4 scholarship winners was given a few minutes to introduce themselves and tell us a little about themselves. I was so happy to see that there were so many first-timers at our conference and hope that they all come back next year and that we can add to that number.
There were 2 workshops available after Friday’s general session for those interested. We were invited to experience 3D printing or the indoor navigation workshop. We had the opportunity to download NavCog on our iPhones and then to use the beacons to navigate the hotel. Unfortunately, I did not participate in either workshop but hope there will be an indoor navigation one next year.
Friday night’s activity was the long-anticipated PCB auction. There was much laughter and fun and enthusiastic bidding. This year, as well as last year, phone bids were accepted. Even I, who am normally reticent, got in on the bidding action and was beaten by a phone bid. Maybe I’ll try my luck again next year.
Mary Ann Grignon was our first speaker of the Saturday morning session. She informed us that PCB has lost six chapters in less than ten years, and within the past three years, our membership as a whole has dropped twenty-five percent. She told us that because people are so busy today, “The chapter model may not be a good fit. So, we are looking to create a new membership model that meets not only the needs of our old-time members but also makes PCB attractive to new people.” She compared PCB to a “strong tree” with many branches, which include chapters, chat lists, discussion calls and public awareness and advocacy, just to name a few. We were given chocolate palm trees to illustrate this point. She informed us that we are hoping to implement 3 membership related changes. They are the revised membership form which will be used regardless of whether the proposed bylaw changes pass. The second proposal is to drop the collection of PCB dues. She informed us that the collection of dues accounts for less than one percent of our PCB budget. The third proposal deals with ACB membership. It is proposed that PCB provide complementary ACB membership to all members who reside in Pennsylvania. Chapters are still free to collect their own dues in this new proposal. Cathy Long also spoke to us about her feelings about and her experiences as a member of PCB. She spoke to us about others who have forged a path of advocacy for us to follow. She shared memories of her twenty years as the secretary to the board and encouraged us to keep going and to keep advocating. She ended by saying: “If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail”.
Marsha Drenth was our next presenter and spoke to us about living well and independently with a Dual Sensory Loss. She works for the DBLWS, (Deaf Blind Living Well Services), which is a state-wide program based in Harrisburg. She educated us about SSPs, (Support Services Providers), who provide 3 main tasks, which are human guiding, environmental information and facilitating communication. An SSP can help in many situations where a deafblind person would have difficulties. These can include, but are not limited to shopping for and labeling groceries, going to parties, the gym and other social and community activities, health related situations, reading mail, filling out forms, and education and employment assistance. SSPs do not provide personal care or cleaning services and they are not interpreters. She related that the SSP program is in very serious jeopardy because of the lack of funding, but she will continue to fight for this program, as, hopefully will we all.
Object recognition was our next topic and was presented to us by Chieko Asakawa, who came to us from Carnegie Mellon University. Her focus was on using communication technology in our daily lives. She and her colleagues have developed technology which enables a blind person to take a “good picture.” I am definitely an amateur in this field, and I was fascinated to see this technology actually work.
Our last presenters of the morning were Kathleen George, who shared with us some of her experiences as an author and Don Ciccone from the Carnegie Library. It was fun to have an author with us, many of whose books are available on the Bard site. Don spoke to us about some of the rules governing the recording of books. The books have to be of national interest, which is why there are few localized books available. He said that the library is striving to keep pace with advancing technology, adding that the library is looking at the possibility of downloading books onto the library players via Wi Phi for those who do not own personal devices. He said that the library is reaching out to different areas trying to increase awareness of the services that are available. He welcomed suggestions for ways that the library could improve its services.
Saturday afternoon was our convention part of the conference and was devoted to team reports, the election of officers and board members and to the consideration of the proposed bylaw amendments.
Advocacy and Governmental Affairs: This report was presented by Joe Wassermann. The team is still working on passage of the Coggswell Macy Act. Some members participated in 2 AFB conference calls, one of which dealt with the Coggswell Macy Act and the other was regarding the House Bill 2050 which dealt with the Medicaid exclusion of low vision equipment. There was a great deal of legislation to keep track of. Joe also mentioned House bill 620 which deals with the ADA and is very important to all of us.
Communications: Sue reported that the Philmore system is functioning well but that more assistance would be helpful in order to keep it updated. She pointed out that our conference was being streamed via Facebook. She encouraged all of us to like our Facebook page which is facebook.com/pacounciloftheblind. Press releases and fliers have been sent out regarding the conference. The content style of the advocate is changing from strictly reporting the news to an informational and story based publication. The team has done a great deal of outreach, especially to teens in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. They are also working on getting the new brochures and membership forms on the website.
Education and Employment: Chris Hunsinger reported that the team has been working with the AGA team on various advocacy issues. They also worked with BBVS on their seminar. The team is trying to come up with ways to interest young people in becoming TVIs and O and M instructors. Progress has been made regarding the Civil Service issue, with the commission saying it would no longer be pre-qualifying disabled test-takers.
Finance Team: Michael Zaken reported that the team is consulting with Greg Knight, our financial advisor, and is continuing to seek ways to generate income. Our organization is doing well since the market has begun to recover. He said that PCB is stable and “has a good future.”
Fund Raising: Michael gave this report as well. He related that the calendar raffle was down for this year. Work on the Cross 4 games is still in progress. Michael also asked for volunteers to help with AccessiDocs. He reported that the room rate fund provided a $10 reduction per night for every room registered to a PCB member. Sue extended a big thanks to Tony Swartz and Sherri Crum who worked so hard on the auction.
Information Access Team: John Luttenburger read this report prepared by Lisa Sallinger. The team has prepared a list of principles and resources to be used in purchasing and learning to use equipment. They also prepared the Braille documents for the conference.
Membership: This team has facilitated several extremely successful discussion calls. They have changed the membership form to better engage and meet the needs of the members. They are reaching out to former members and trying to bring them back and also are working on an online report card for PCB. They facilitated the giving of first timer scholarships and also the first timer lunch, which, she said, “was fantastic.”
Organizational Development Team: Sherri Crumb reported that the team has been collecting documents which have been prepared in past years. This material will be stored for the benefit of future members of the organization. Some of the documents still need to be created. Jule Ann Lieberman is working on an ethics document and Tony Swartz has prepared a fund raising document.
Parliamentary Team: Carla Hayes reported that the team has been working very hard on the bylaws. She encouraged members to work on substantive resolutions and to remember the deadlines. The team is ready to help chapters to prepare resolutions or their own bylaws if needed.
Technology Access Team: Jule Ann reported that the team has been working on expanding the membership data base due to the changes in the new membership form. They have also been helping to obtain new recording equipment for Christina to use in recording audio messages. They also prepared a spread sheet of information for those in need of technology who may not be able to afford it.
Vision Loss Team: Jule Ann reported that the vision loss symposium went very well but that it was not well attended. This was probably due to the BBVS event which was being held at the same time.
Michael Zaken presented the budget. A motion was made to accept it and it passed.
The election of PCB officers was held. For the first time that I am aware of, wrist bands were used to identify those who were eligible to vote. The following persons were voted into office by acclamation: Sue Lichtenfels, President, Jule Ann Lieberman, First Vice President, Christine Hunsinger, Second Vice President, Jacqueline Wissinger, Secretary and Michael Zaken, Treasurer. The elections for the vacant seats on the board followed. The following were elected by acclamation to 2-year positions on the board: Thomas Reid, Tony Evancic, Michael Gravitt and George Holliday. Since Chris was elected as the Second Vice President, a 1-year position became available. The name of Cathy Long was placed into nomination, and she was elected by acclamation. Congratulations to all those who have been elected to serve in these positions. Tom Burgunder administered the oath of obligation.
The convention next turned to the bylaw amendments. Sue explained that in order for these amendments to be passed, a two-thirds majority must be reached. If there was any question of this threshold during a voice vote, voting by ballot would then take place. Tom Burgunder first read the noncontroversial proposed amendments, which passed. All of the proposed amendments were printed in the previous issue of The PCB Advocate. The amendment to move from a dues-paying to a free registration based organization was read. After a spirited discussion and the call for the question, the voice-vote was indecisive. Voting by individual ballot and chapter delegate count was conducted. Though there was a slight majority to approve the amendment, it was not by two-thirds, so the proposed amendment failed. The amendment which provided that PCB pay ACB dues for all members who are residents of Pennsylvania also did not pass. Since the remaining amendments were closely tied to the passage of the dues amendment, the body agreed to dispense with those.
The banquet and awards presentation were held on Saturday evening. Three awards were given to some very deserving recipients. The lifetime achievement award was presented to Dr. George Zimmerman, who was unable to be present to receive it. Another lifetime achievement award was presented to Dr. Audrey J. Smith, who, when I knew her, did an internship at the Western PA School for Blind Children. What a pleasure it was for me to renew my acquaintance with her. Audrey very kindly said she would be donating funds to support the next 50 new members of PCB. The corporate service award was presented to Comcast, and Bob Grove, who is employed in the Pittsburgh office, was there to accept the award for Comcast. Karen Orband from Vanda Pharmaceuticals, who sponsored our banquet, spoke to us briefly about Non 24, a Sleep Wake disorder. She told us that every one of us has Non-24, and if we do not set our clock every day, our sleep cycle will be disturbed. Light is the thing which resets that cycle. We next had the opportunity to be entertained by the PCB Comedy Club. After a rather intense day, it was fun to relax, to laugh and enjoy the talents of some of our own members. We even learned to speak Pittsburghese.
Our Sunday breakfast meeting began with the necrology report, which indicated that six of our members had passed away in the past year.
Carla Hayes next presented the 2 courtesy resolutions, which passed.
Tom Burgunder and Thomas Reid next presented the Convention planning report. Next year’s conference will be held from October 18-21 at the Doubletree by Hilton in Pittsburgh and the room rate will be $99.00 per night. At this point, we do not have a conference site for 2019. Next year’s theme will be: “Sowing the Seeds for Success.” Thomas Reid thanked everyone on the team and several others for their help in planning the conference and for making it happen. He stated that every conference should have “an aspect of reaching out to the community.” A special round of applause was given for Carnegie Mellon for all of their work with NavCog. Thomas thanked all of us and encouraged us to continue working together and helping each other in PCB.
Sue next reminded us that since the new membership model did not pass, that dues need to be collected and in by the 15th of January. Those whose dues are not paid by our reporting date for ACB will not be pre-paid by PCB as we had done for some people in the past. She encouraged us to continue to think of ways to attract new members to join our organization. She announced that when we receive Audrey’s gift, some of the money will be used for the conference first-timers to join PCB. Michael Zaken also announced that the final total from the auction was $3,895.
We next moved into a Q and A period. A discussion took place regarding how The PCB Advocate could be received in a timelier manner in Braille. BRF files were mentioned, but it was decided that more research needed to be done on this matter. Sue asked for suggestions for topics for the discussion calls. Several ideas were mentioned. It was also suggested that the calls could be recorded for those who cannot participate in the live calls. Doug suggested that rather than streaming next year’s conference on Facebook, that Zoom Cloud could be used. He offered to do some research on this matter. The establishment of more special interest affiliates was also discussed, in particular, a Spanish speaking affiliate. Other topics were discussed. The Q and A session was a very good opportunity for a frank and open discussion about concerns that members had for our organization.
The conference could not be officially concluded without a special round of applause for our “youngest volunteer,” Maya Lichtenfels. She was a joy and a special addition to our festivities. I always enjoy our PCB conferences and am already looking forward to next year’s exciting event.