Acting on Your Input: An Overview of the Implementation of 2001 Trustee Advisory Committee Recommendations

Mary Nelle McLennan

"It is not merely our moral, but our legal duty to listen to your suggestions. You are the controllers of this great American National work," pledged Judge W.F. Bullock as he addressed the 1880 Ex Officio Trustees on behalf of APH and its’ Board of Directors. It was true in 1880, and it is true still today. APH continues to be a "great National Work" made better by and with our Trustees, our colleagues, and our consumers. It IS our moral and legal duty to listen to the needs and priorities and insights of our Trustees and to those of our entire field.

The input of our Ex Officio Trustees is vital to the work of APH. One of the most essential roles of each Trustee is serving as a conduit of information regarding APH products and services – a conduit in both directions between APH and the professionals and educational systems providing direct service to students and clients. While individual Trustees carry the responsibility of voicing the needs and priorities of the students they serve, the Trustee Advisory Committee are the corporate voice for the body of Trustees. Their committee recommendations greatly impact APH’s direction.

At the 2001 APH Annual Meeting, Dr. Lee Robinson of Utah, Chair of the APH Publications Committee, and Bill Daugherty of Kansas, Chair of the Educational Research and Development Committee, presented a landmark committee report in which both committees recommended strong, systemic changes for APH and many of its processes. For the first time in the history of these committees, the two groups chose to author one combined report. The body of Ex Officio Trustees approved this comprehensive report at its formal meeting, and the report has served as a road map for APH’s work in the 2002 fiscal year and beyond.

At the recent Annual Meeting, I shared some of the major implementations of the 2001 committees’ recommendations. It is impossible to inventory here the scores of positive impacts these suggestions and directions have made because, in many instances, these recommendations have led to changes in more than procedures, but also to changes of mindsets and paradigms. Some of these changes are subtle and have been integrated into "our way of living," now seeming second nature, while numbers of these are obvious changes that have also been central to our work in the last year and which will last far beyond the tenure of these committees. The full committee report was published in the FY2001 APH Annual Report and is also posted on the APH website, www.aph.org.

Rightly, we must first recognize and thank the 2001 committee members:

What a hard-working group these people were! They and their work were diligent and insightful and accurate. They spoke, and we have listened!

Their combined committee report included numerous commendations through which the committee recognized and encouraged the work of APH. It always helps to know what is working for you out there so we can continue to do those "right things." Yet, in the truest spirit of continuous improvement, we know that we need to hear the "tough" messages if we are to better and advance our work.

The committees’ recommendations fell into three major areas:

Priorities for product development: In sync with the recommendation that APH develop new approaches for prioritizing products to be developed, APH staff had earlier put in place the categorizing of all our products into areas that reflect the Core Curriculum and the Expanded Core Curriculum. The product categories are used in our catalogs and for the basis of our internal reviews of our product lines.

In the bigger picture, APH has initiated a strategic planning process that looks at the entire spectrum of our product development – the identification, selection, and development of appropriate products. The resulting processes will be centered on field-based needs and priorities for visually impaired learners. This revised plan and its resulting processes will be the foundation of APH’s product identification and development and of the Educational Product Advisory Committee’s work.

Advisory committee structure: The committee very insightfully hit the nail on the head here! They recognized that there is no longer a clear line between what traditionally fell into the realm of the Publications Committee and what fell into the dominion of the Research and Development Committee. The two committees had come to rightly hold much territory in common – topics such as tactile graphics, electronic files and the APH file repository, accessible tests, and the development of programs to teach Braille reading.

The 2001 committees suggested several strategies for committee change, one of which was to unify the two committees into one that would addresses all products produced by APH, using subcommittees if needed. APH acted on this very smart recommendation, and with a formal vote of the Trustees, combined the two former committees, morphing them into one titled the Educational Products Advisory Committee. The purpose of this committee is to provide oversight and accountability for products developed through the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind, which funds the Federal Quota Program. This new committee is made up of 7 members – a chair and six regular members serving 3-year terms.

But the changes do not stop there! Earlier in 2001, we at APH revised our mission statement to embrace the provision of services as well as specialized products and materials. The range of these services include the informational, consultative, and administrative services provided to Trustees and the field; Louis and the APH File Repository; presentations and workshops; catalogs and product literature; referral services; tech support for the Federal Quota Census.

Even before the merger of the two existing committees took place, APH administrative staff had garnered Federal approval for a new advisory committee for services conducted in support of the Act to Promote the Education of the Blind. With the approval of a Trustee vote, APH created the Educational Services Advisory Committee. This committee is made up of 5 members – a chair and four regular members who serve 2-year terms.

Both committees are elected by the body of Ex Officio Trustees and meet twice a year – once for an extended period of days in the spring when their in-depth work takes place and again in October in conjunction with the Annual Meeting. And "nowadays," with the help of email, they are on constant report for our questions, discussion, petitions, and requests for product approval.

To summarize this, you still have two committees, but each with a new name, a new nature, and a new focus.

Again, the changes did not stop there! Not only did we change the committee structure, but we also radically redesigned the nature and process of the Educational Products Advisory Committee meeting. The framework and process for the first meeting of this committee, held in May 2002, were structured around specific content and product areas. The committee divided into teams of two or three members that worked concurrently, conducting in-depth fact-finding reviews and interviews into the goals, process, and issues of each topic area. Each team reported their respective findings to the full committee, and together, they authored the committee’s report and recommendations.

Expertise of key project staff: APH considers an understanding of how students with visual impairments learn to be the basic element in the unique and specialized skill set required to accomplish the creative yet technically detailed work of product development. Job postings for professional positions in Educational Research, Advisory Services, and the Accessible Textbook Initiative and Collaboration (ATIC) require both education and experience in the field of visual impairment. National searches are conducted for open positions, and APH is committed to employing professionals with the necessary skill sets to accomplish our work.

I emphasize that this is article provides only a thumbnail sketch of the impact of the work of the 2001 advisory committees and of APH’s work to implement their astute and incisive recommendations. A full report of APH’s implementation was distributed to the 2002 advisory committees, and this report is available upon request from the Advisory Services Department at APH.

As Judge Bullock put it 122 years ago, APH really is a great national work – the product of associated efforts. It is our moral and legal responsibility to listen to your suggestions, but equally important is the fact that APH cares about your input. Please keep talking!

Mary Nelle McLennan
Executive Advisor to the President
October 11, 2002

Visit Our House!