by Ron Brooks
For the past six years, I have served as a member of the ACB Board of Publications — three of those as chairman. I have enjoyed numerous opportunities to meet many of you, to hear your comments and concerns, to answer your questions, and to learn from your experiences. At the end of this year’s ACB conference and convention, my time on the BOP will come to an end, so this seems like a good time to reflect on where the BOP has been and where the BOP may be heading in the future.
From Lemons to Lemonade – The ACB E-Forum
In 2012, the economy was on the rocks, and ACB needed to stretch every dollar. Meanwhile, more and more ACB members were accessing the Internet, signing up for email and subscribing to lists, and obtaining electronic braille displays and other assistive technology. With these trends as a backdrop, the BOP decided to expand non-paper alternatives for the newly renamed ACB Braille Forum. We began producing an electronic version of the ACB Braille Forum which we called the E-Forum. We began alternating the two versions of the Forum, and we began actively promoting the non-paper versions as a means of maintaining content and managing cost. Over the next several years, we opened additional avenues for consuming the ACB Braille and E-Forum magazines, including ACB Radio, the ACB Link mobile app, via podcast and even by phone. These efforts culminated in 2018 with the launch of the ACB Braille Forum, the ACB E-Forum and the ACB Mini Mall Catalog on NLS-compatible cartridge. So what began as a pretty sour lemon has been squeezed into a very sweet glass of lemonade that is available to almost anyone thirsty for information about the ACB.
Partnering in Print
Early in my tenure on the BOP, a number of large-print readers were at a meeting expressing concerns about the large-print format being used for “The ACB Braille Forum.” This was a longstanding issue that needed a resolution. So the BOP and the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International (CCLVI) partnered on what we called the Large Print Reader Preference Survey. Our goal was to gain statistical information on what worked best for large-print readers so we could incorporate those findings into our approach for producing ACB publications. We launched the new ACB Braille Forum design in 2018, and so far, the feedback has been positive. We are still working to refine the formatting for other ACB publications, including our convention program; a redesigned format will be introduced at this year’s convention. But the real story is the open and cooperative partnership which the BOP and CCLVI have forged; it is a partnership that will continue to pay dividends long into the future.
Out with the Old and In with the New!
As mentioned earlier, we transitioned from cassette tapes to NLS-compatible cartridges in 2018, and we are seeing very positive results. First, cartridges are easier and quicker to produce. Second, they offer more storage capacity, which means we are now able to share all publications with cartridge recipients, including the Braille and E-Forum magazines, ACB Reports, and the ACB Mini Mall catalog. And the proof is in the pudding. Since launching the cartridge format in 2018, we have seen a steady increase in the number of cartridge subscriptions, which means we are better addressing the needs of those members who prefer this format.
Expanded Election Coverage
At the 2017 fall board meeting, the ACB board encouraged the BOP to hold the ACB Candidates’ Forum before the convention as a means of getting candidate information to prospective voters and the affiliates more quickly. This meant introducing a new format hosted by ACB Radio and Zoom. With some trepidation, the BOP agreed, and we hosted our first-ever totally remote ACB Candidates’ Forum in June of 2018. The forum was a complete success, enjoying high turnout and good member engagement. We supplemented the Candidates’ Forum with a Town Hall Meeting during the 2018 convention, and it was also well attended. We are following the same approach in 2019, and we have every reason to believe that this year’s Candidates’ Forum and Town Hall Meeting will be just as successful as it was in 2018. Better still, the new approach is making our election process more accessible to more members, including those who cannot attend the annual convention.
The Theme is Success
Perhaps the most fundamental change the BOP has made in terms of its publications, and the action for which I am most proud, is our introduction of themed issues of “The ACB E-Forum” in 2018. About three months before the publication of each edition of the E-Forum, we select a theme that we believe will be relevant for our members, and we develop content focused on that theme. This content has included everything from traditional articles to affiliate profiles to stories and poetry. So far, we have covered a range of topics, including going back to school, employment and rehabilitation, traditions, relationships and diversity. At the end of each edition of the ACB E-Forum, we include a short survey, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to kudos for the new format, we are getting lots of ideas for future themes. A further indication of the success of themed issues is the board’s decision to increase funding for “The ACB Braille Forum.” This has allowed us to increase the amount of content we include in each edition of “The ACB Braille Forum,” and recently, we began to introduce mini-themes in each hard-copy edition of the Forum.
More for the Story
The accomplishments listed above are notable, but they only tell part of the story. The BOP produces and maintains ACB’s Editorial Policy Manual, oversees the production of the convention program, the convention newspaper, and a number of other publications. We also conduct an annual writers’ workshop at each year’s ACB convention. Finally, we present three annual awards, the Ned E. Freeman Excellence in Writing Award, the Hollis Liggett Braille Free Press Award, and the Vernon Henley Media Award. All of these activities require time and commitment on the part of BOP members. For this reason, I encourage anyone who is interested to learn more about the BOP and to get involved. You can learn more by checking out the BOP page on the ACB website and/or by speaking to any of our members.
The Road Ahead
The Board of Publications is working hard to support ACB’s information needs in a rapidly changing environment. Content needs to be shorter, easier to consume and available in minutes or hours rather than in days or weeks. This almost certainly means a stronger focus on social media, email updates and other channels that emphasize brevity and speed of publication, and the BOP will be collaborating with ACB Radio, the ACB web team and a myriad of affiliates and committees to ensure success in all these areas.
Although electronic media sources will grow in prominence, traditional channels will continue to be of critical importance as well. To this end, the BOP will continue to place tremendous emphasis on the quality and quantity of materials published in the Braille and E-Forum magazines. We will also work with the ACB editor on other publications, including the new bi-weekly update “Dots and Dashes.” Our goals will be writing excellence, production quality and speed of distribution.
Thanks for Sharing the Ride
The past six years have been amazing for me and successful for the BOP, but none of the achievements noted above could have happened without tremendous support from many. In addition to the hard work done by each member of the BOP, president Kim Charlson and the entire board of directors, Eric Bridges, Kelly Gasque and the rest of the ACB staff, and especially editor Sharon Lovering, all made immeasurable contributions of effort and support. These gifts of time, money and hard work were critical for our success, and I will be forever grateful to everyone who gave so much. In addition to everyone noted above, I want to thank each person who read our publications, who provided feedback, who took one of our surveys, and/or who submitted an article for one of our publications. You are the reason the BOP exists, and I speak for the entire BOP when I say that we are grateful for each of you.