American Council of the Blind names new leadership, continues battle for accessibility and inclusion

Jul 12, 2019


The American Council of the Blind, an advocacy group for the rights of visually impaired and blind people, elected new leadership at the organization’s 58th Annual Conference and Convention in Rochester.

Around 1,200 people attended, along with roughly 300 guide dogs at the Riverside Convention Center for the week-long event, which wrapped up Friday.

ACB President Dan Spoone said his journey of progressively losing his sight while growing up, not only presented its own challenges, but was matched by a culture of stigma and discrimination.

“Here I was with an MBA in accounting, tutoring people at the University of Florida, applied to all eight big accounting firms and was turned down,” Spoone said. “And finally, one of the partners for Price Waterhouse pulled me aside and said, 'Dan, we’re just not going to hire a blind guy. We just hired our first woman last year.’”

That was roughly 30 years ago, about the time the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. Eventually, he was able to break into the field.

“If I went into a meeting the initial response was always ‘what in the heck is the blind guy doing here?’” Spoone said. “And my goal was, within a month, I wanted them to say ‘we can’t have this meeting without Dan Spoone. If Dan Spoone isn’t available, we’re going to wait until he’s available to have the meeting.’ At that point in time I knew I was adding value and making a difference.”

ACB leadership from left to right: Mark Richert (Vice President), Eric Bridges (Executive DIrector), and Dan Spoone (President).
Credit Noelle Evans

Today, there is more inclusion in the workplace, but challenges remain. The ACB is now looking into technological advances like self-driving cars and wearable artificial intelligence to assist community members with day-to-day life.

Some advances, like the latest in healthcare technology, still exclude the blind. For instance, even though diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness for people between ages 20 to 55 according to the National Institute of Health, diabetes monitoring devices are not accessible for the blind. Vice President Mark Reichert said this part of a systemic issue.

“Our healthcare system fails people who are blind and visually impaired,” said Reichert. “The kind of technology, even if it were accessible, isn’t being covered by Medicare and Medicaid systems the way it should, nor do the services meet the unique needs of the blind and visually impaired, particularly our older friends.”

While healthcare remains an ongoing battle, the organization has managed to breakthrough with entertainment access. Spoone said the ACB has been working with the FCC for a long time to make audio descriptions for movies, television, and streaming services the new normal.

“All nine of the academy award nominated movies were audio described this year, [and] many television shows are audio described," Spoone said. "We’re not there yet but we’ve made huge progress."

This story was produced by WXXI’s Inclusion Desk, focusing on disabilities and inclusion.