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APH Behind the Scenes: Learning All About Annual Meeting

a ballroom full of people sitting at round tables. the wall behind them is lit in APH branding colors of pomegranate, teal, and gold. the aph logo is shown on a screen

For 152 years, APH has hosted Annual Meeting, gathering Ex Officio Trustees (EOTs), Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs), other professionals, and special guests to learn about different products and services that APH offers, discuss important issues in the field, give feedback, and network. We spoke to Mike Hudson, Director of the APH Museum, and Leanne Grillot, National Director of Outreach Services, about the long history of this event, the yearly planning process, and what attendees can expect at the 153rd Annual Meeting this year.


The Evolution of Annual Meeting

According to Leanne, “Annual Meeting is a requirement of the 1879 Act to Promote the Education of the Blind to bring the EOTs together to receive information about the state of the company and to receive education training on APH products and services and to provide their valuable feedback.” Mike continued, “The first Annual Meeting took place in 1880 at the Kentucky Institution for the Education of the Blind (we now call it the Kentucky School for the Blind), on August 16-17, at the regular meeting of the American Association of Instructors of the Blind. These meetings tended to be single-day afternoon affairs with low attendance. In 1969, General Manager Carson Nolan noted that there was an increased use of the APH Annual Meeting for satellite meetings of allied organizations. It was just more convenient if you were already going to Louisville to schedule other meetings. By 1976, the meeting included the traditional business meeting, committee meetings, and additional informational meetings and by 1979, Annual Meeting had come to resemble the modern incarnation, with training workshops, Saturday workshops, and the like.”

While always held in Louisville, Kentucky, the meeting’s host site has moved around a lot. When it was an afternoon meeting, Annual Meeting was held at the Pendennis Club. Since then, it has taken place in various hotels throughout the area, or in the case of 2020, online. This year, Annual Meeting will be at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky on October 6-8, 2021.

Over the years, the list and number of attendees have changed. Leanne said, “Annual Meeting is open to way more than EOTs. It slowly grew from EOTs to them and their assistants and a few teachers here and there. Last year, probably because of the pandemic, we had an explosion of TVIs, which already far outnumber EOTs nationally, actually outnumber them at our Annual Meeting.”



Since 1990, every Annual Meeting has been centered around a theme. Mike said, “The 1990 theme was taken from a poem by Robinson Jeffers. LEND me the stone strength of the past.. and I will give you the wings of the future.'” Other themes over the years have been Touching Yesterday, Reading for Tomorrow (1994), Together We Can Do So Much (2000), and From History to New Horizons (2018). Today, a small group of individuals, including the president of APH, Dr. Craig Meador, pick the theme of Annual Meeting.


Keynote Speakers

Keynote speakers are a big part of Annual Meeting as professionals in the field share their insights with APH and meeting attendees. Past speakers include Dr. Judith Neumann, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Washington, D.C. (1994); Kevin O’Connor, professional speaker, and parent of a son with a visual impairment (1995); and Jim Gibbons, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries International (2010). “In 2000, highly respected educator and author Dr. Dean Tuttle gave a warm keynote speech that touched on the importance of interdependence in our personal and professional lives,” said Mike. “Dr. Tuttle is well known as the author of Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness.”


Sessions and Events

Participants at Annual Meeting are involved in many different sessions and meetings. APH hosts both general and concurrent sessions along with the state of the company delivered by Dr. Craig Meador and the keynote address. “You can get a tour of APH and the museum and see everything that goes on, which is kind of like Mecca to me,” said Leanne. “I get to come and see the birth of some of the products I’ve used with my students.” The product and services showcases provide attendees with the opportunity to engage with and learn about APH’s tools and resources.

EOTs, the Educational Services Advisory Committee (ESAC), and the Educational Products Advisory Committee (EPAC) have their own meetings at this time. At the EPAC and ESAC meetings, Leanne said, “They approve products and give recommendations about services.”

Artists from the APH InSights Art Competition showcase their pieces and are honored at an awards ceremony. One luncheon features the Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field Induction Ceremony, where new members are added to our Hall of Fame. Plus, the APH Scholar panel allows individuals to learn and ask questions to peers in the field. Read our InSights Art blog, Hall of Fame about page, and about the 2020 and 2021 APH Scholars to learn more.


Planning Annual Meeting

As the National Director of Outreach Services, Leanne is in charge of planning Annual Meeting. She said, “My main job is making sure that EOT’s, teachers, and the people they work with know what is available in terms of products and services from APH and know how to utilize them. Annual Meeting is one of the best places. I make sure attendees hear from all of those people at APH and that they get what they need out of this time.”

During the six months leading up to the event, core members of APH meet biweekly for an hour with Leanne to plan Annual Meeting. “I’m a taskmaster, going through that agenda, calling on lead team members for where they’re at for the good of the group, and making sure we’re all doing the pieces and parts,” said Leanne.

Many teams contribute to making this event happen. The Outreach team sets up the registration site while specialists from all over APH prepare for the presentations they will give on their areas of expertise. “Small teams work on the videography components,” Leanne explained, referring to recording the large events, the myriad of concurrent sessions, and any prerecorded videos for our virtual audience. “A small crew makes sure the menu is right, works with the hotel for signage, plans activities, and runs the registration desk. Sessions, session descriptions, agendas, and social activities are ironed out. There are lots of little moving parts, but we break it up to make it more manageable.”


What to Expect at the 2021 Annual Meeting

annual meeting graphic. APH logo. text reads "153rd Annual Meeting October 6-8 2021. Hybrid, Louisville KY. Learn your way" graphic of a path with blocks of color in pomegranate, teal, gold, and purple

APH’s 153rd Annual Meeting will be a hybrid event with options to attend both in-person ($200 registration fee) or virtually ($50 registration fee). However, virtual attendance will be limited with a smaller selection of session options. Leanne said, “We won’t have all the in-person sessions on Zoom, but what sessions can be on Zoom will, such as keynote speakers and bigger general sessions.” Some concurrent sessions will be identified as virtual for online attendees.

The theme for the 2021 Annual Meeting is Learn Your Way, which is the title of our 2020 annual report. Due to the pandemic, many people were forced into a different way of learning. This impacted students, teachers, parents, and even adults as services changed their method of supporting clients. “It’s thinking about what instruction looks like to allow you to learn your way,” said Leanne.

This year, instead of one keynote speaker, we will have a panel with two speakers moderated by Tai Tomasi, APH’s Director of Accessibility, Diversity, and Inclusion. Leanne will be presenting about APH’s outreach services, introducing speakers, at the EPAC and ESAC meetings which she organizes, and is available for questions at the product showcase. She will again be hosting the APH Scholar panel. Since they were not able to use their scholarships to come to Louisville last year, we will be welcoming both the 2020 and 2021 scholars to Annual Meeting in October. Participants will also have the chance to join in the fun at the new APH playground. “This playground will give anyone who desires an opportunity for hands-on activities with the products and services that we have at APH,” said Leanne. “Learn the basics of coding by engaging with Code Jumper. Utilize the Sensory Learning Kit to understand how you could use switch controls to engage with your environment. Explore the Tactile Graphic Image Library and learn how to download and send a graphic to PixBlaster.”


We look forward to seeing you at the 153rd Annual Meeting. Check out the Annual Meeting webpage to learn more and stay tuned for registration information.

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