Janet: I love being convention coordinator. I’ve met so many wonderful people, and it’s such a worthwhile organization. I’m so happy that I can be a part of it.
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Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time.
Liz: I’m Liz Botner.
Chris: And I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: We are blind people, learning what it takes to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.
Chris: The American Council of the blind and National Federation of the blind both hold national conventions every year in mid summer, and both conventions are a great place to network with other blind people who may have similar interests as you do. They’re also a great place to find jobs, business opportunities, and sometimes volunteer opportunities. One of the people who found a volunteer opportunity like no other at the ACB national convention is Janet Dickelman. We invited Janet on to tell us about her very interesting life, how she ended up becoming the volunteer convention coordinator for the ACB national convention, she’s been doing that now for about ten years, and what happens at convention from the perspective of those who attend, and what happens behind the scenes. If this doesn’t get you excited about attending a national convention, I don’t know what will. Before we get started, though, I’d like to tell you about Taylor’s Accessible Branding Solutions. Taylor Arndt is a blind person who is able to provide anything you might need related to accessible web design and accessible web hosting. Visit her website at
to find out if she might have something that might be able to help you. We’d also like to thank Taylor for hosting the
website, and being a sponsor of the Penny Forward Podcast. Now, let’s get started.
Liz: Hello, Janet. Thank you for being here today.
Janet: Oh, Liz, and Chris, thank you so much for inviting me.
Liz: My first question to you is to tell me, and the listeners, who is Janet Dickelman?
Janet: All right, I’ll be happy to do that. Well, I guess it all started out on a nice Fall day in October, when I decided, in my little premi heart of hearts, that even though I was two months early, I did not want to be born at Christmas time. So I decided to come in October instead of December. Because I knew that having my birthday in December was gonna be a problem. And I’m one of these people, my late husband said to me, “You know, you’re always so kind and thoughtful with everyone else, and so generous, except when it comes to your birthday. And then you’re really a little birthday piglet.” And my current husband said, at our wedding, he said, “You don’t know how many people came up to me and said, “You do know about her birthday, right? I mean you really know about her birthday? You understand it’s a month-long celebration, right?” And he said “Yes, I’ve already learned that.” No. But, (Laugh.) I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, was the oldest of three children, was a premature child. I was very, very fortunate in that my parents never coddled me. Being the oldest of three children, my mom had me, you know, in the kitchen helping her for as long as I can remember. I always had my chores to do, had to watch my younger siblings when I got old enough to babysit. I was mainstreamed before “mainstream” was a word, which worked out well for me because the school for the blind was several hours away from where my home was, and my parents really didn’t want to have me away, so I was mainstreamed, had a braille resource room in my elementary years of school. They had several different school districts that funneled into one district, and we had the braille resource room, and we were in there a couple hours a day at first, and then, you know, minimally as I got older. When I went to high school, I went to high school in my own school district. By then, we had learned how to requisition books and find readers to help with tests and things of that nature. Went to a small liberal arts college in Green Bay Wisconsin called St. Norbert. I did not become a Packer fan while I was there, just FYI, and then was very fortunate to get a job right out of college. And that’s just a little bit about me. I’m a mom, have one adult son, and a daughter-in-law. Was married for a number of years, and then divorced, remarried, my second husband and I moved up here in 1992, and then, unfortunately, he passed away in 1995. And I stayed in Minnesota. I am currently remarried. We’re celebrating our twentieth anniversary next month, so that’s great. I’m a guide dog user, came to guide dog use later in life, actually. This is my, I’ve only had two dogs. Isabelle the crazy, and Chrissie the perfect, both black labs, and I really love the freedom that a guide dog offers, and that’s just a little bit about me.
Chris: Talk a little bit about your career, and your retirement, ’cause you are retired, and had quite a long and successful career, right?
Janet: I did. I was very fortunate. At the time I was graduated from college, the Social Security Administration was looking to hire people who were blind, visually impaired, for answering, doing phone work at their phone sites that they were starting to establish, and it was kind of funny actually. I finished my last final, my senior year of college, and at the time, they were sending everyone down to Daytona Beach for screening at the Florida Center for the Blind in Daytona Beach. So I finished my last final, flew to Daytona for my four-day screening, flew back for graduation. So that was kind of a whirlwind week. And I was very fortunate that I got hired with Social Security, so I graduated in May, and started my training for social security in July. And got a job, so, was able to get a job right out of college. I started working in Milwaukee, and worked there for about four years, met my then husband, we got married, and decided that … He hated winter, and we had really loved visiting my parents at their winter home in Arizona, so I transferred out to Phoenix, and we lived out there for eleven years. I got promoted, … I never do anything singly. I got promoted from what they call the teleservice representative, who answered phones for the social security offices, to a claims representative, where I took applications for people for their benefits for retirement and disability, and I got promoted, just at the time I found out I was pregnant with my son. So, ended up going to a training class in California and was there until four weeks before he was born, and then ended up coming back to Arizona and having to finish my class off just after he was born locally. So, you know, nothing like being a new mother and having a new career at the same time. So that was kind of interesting. Worked in Phoenix, as I said, for a number of years, ended up moving back to the Midwest when I was about to remarry to my late husband Don. And ended up back in Milwaukee with social security because that’s where he happened to get a job, and then we moved up to the Twin Cities in 1992. And I wasn’t sure, there wasn’t anything open, I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do, if I was gonna go back to work or what I was going to be able to do. I was on a leave of absence, and all of a sudden, a position up here opened up as a supervisor, and I decided to apply for that, and was selected. So, I ended up, my last seventeen years as my career with social security, working as a supervisor in Minneapolis and St. Paul. So that’s my career with social security, and, you know, it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I was in college, I thought about being a teacher. Then I kind of decided I wasn’t sure if that was for me, ended up with just … with a BA in English, and, you know, maybe working for social security wasn’t … wasn’t … You know, as a little girl, I never played social security like I played school. But it was a very rewarding, and it was a wonderful career. And I was with them for 35 years. So I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity. And I’ve been retired now for about ten years.
Liz: How did you get involved in the American Council of the Blind, and what are some of your current, and/or past, rolls with the organization?
Janet: Oh boy. Well, I had been a member of ACB of Minnesota for a number of years on and off. In 2004, I was elected secretary for ACB of Minnesota, and in 2007, I was elected president. 2007 was also the year that the ACB convention was in Minneapolis, and I had never attended a national convention because I was always working, and it was always over the fourth of July, and I thought, “Oh, I don’t really, you know, want to take the time to go to some silly national convention.” And, you know, it was a busy time at work, and the other supervisors had things to do, so I usually, you know, never took off in July. Well, when the convention was here in Minneapolis, and being president of our affiliate, and then being involved on the local host planning committee for the convention, I kind of thought, “Well, I guess I better take a few days off and, you know, go down and at least show up to this convention.” And I did, and I ended up helping out at the convention information desk. I really enjoyed it, and enjoyed the comradery at the convention. That first year I didn’t have the whole week off, so I stayed down at the Hyatt in Minneapolis. Several days I had to run back from the Hyatt in Minneapolis over to my office in Bandana Square in St. Paul to open the office, work for a couple hours, go back down to the convention for a few hours, go back to the office to close the office, … (Laugh.) And it was kind of a whirlwind crazy. But I got bitten by the convention bug, and starting in 2008, I always took the time off, and always attended the national conventions. And I helped out at the convention information desk in 2008, and then in 2009, the person who had coordinated the information desk had to leave that volunteer position because of family considerations and work considerations, so I was asked by the then president of ACB if I would be willing to be the information desk coordinator. And I said “Well sure.” So I was in charge of basically living at the information desk for the eight days of the convention, and answering questions, and giving people information, and I also ended up then helping, we had just started doing online convention registration, so I helped out with pre-registration for the convention. And in 2011, the individual who was the convention coordinator called me up and she said, “Has the president called you yet?” And I said, “No. Why?” And she said “Well, I’ve decided that I want to pursue other things, so he’s gonna call you and ask you if you’d be convention coordinator.” And so I got off the phone and I said to my husband Terry, “Wow! They asked me to be convention coordinator. I can’t believe it! What an honor!” And he said “Well, how much work is it?” And I said “Well … I don’t really know, but, you know, they asked me to do this and I can’t believe they think that I could coordinate this convention! You know, I’ve watched what Carla, my predecessor, does, and it’s, you know, it’s … it’s a lot of responsibility.” “Well how much work is it?” So we went back and forth. “I’m honored.” “How much work is it?” “I’m honored.” “How much work is it?” Well, after the first few months, … (Laugh.) I realized how much work it was and it wasn’t an honor. No, I love being convention coordinator. It is a volunteer position, and I probably, from March through the convention in July, I probably spend fifty, sixty, seventy hours a week on convention, and then the rest of the year, this time of year, it’s maybe 20, 30 hours a week. But it’s a lot of time, but I really enjoy doing it. And I’ve met so many wonderful people, and it’s such a worthwhile organization. I’m so happy that I can be a part of it.
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Chris: So what goes into planning a national convention, from start to finish?
Janet: Well, first thing I do is look for potential hotel sites. And I am contacted, because we are a large group. We have about … On our peak nights, we need about 700 hotel rooms a night, and we’re there for almost ten days, so it brings a lot of revenue into a city. So cities are … And then we purchase a lot of food for our functions that we have during the convention, our meal functions, so it’s a good revenue producer for the hotel, and for a city, because we take a lot of tours. We, you know, utilize bus companies. We utilize airport shuttles. And we always go around the fourth of July, which normally isn’t a busy travel, especially corporate travel, for a lot of cities. So they’re always happy to have us. So I will look at the bids that they give me. If it’s something that looks like it might fit our needs, if they’re willing, I’ll go down and look at the sight, and check it out. But I look at things like, we try to have everything, as much as possible, under one roof, because I don’t want to make people have to go blocks in between facilities. People say to me sometimes, “Well why do you have these large hotels? You know, sometimes it’s hard to get around.” Well, yeah, because we do try to keep everything under one roof. We do have larger venues, but I try to get it so that … and we need a lot of meeting space, because in addition to our ballroom for our plenary sessions, our general sessions, and our exhibit hall, we have, at any given time, numerous break-out sessions, from eight to twelve break-out sessions going on. So I need a lot of meeting rooms. So I take all of this into consideration when I’m selecting a venue, and of course, price, because I want to keep it at a good hotel rate so as many people as possible can join us. And then I make my proposals, if I have a couple of proposals, I will give them to the board, and I will give my recommendation, but of course, the board makes the decision as to what they want me to pursue. Usually they follow my recommendations, of course, which is great. And then, the fall before the convention, we always hold our fall board meeting in the city that will host the next year’s convention, and I also bring in my convention committee, and that’s when we start planning things like tours. During any given convention, we’ll have about 15 different tours. So we start looking for venues that are going to be of interest to our attendees. We’ll work with bus companies to hire tour buses to take us to these tours. My volunteer coordinator will meet up with groups. Church groups, Lions groups, other civic groups, so that we can provide volunteer assistance for our attendees, both at the airport and at the hotel, because when you get over a thousand people who are blind/visually impaired, in a brand-new venue, it’s not always easy to figure out where you’re going. So we like to have that volunteer support available. We will contact different decorators and our exhibits coordinator will get the exhibit hall set up. We look at the AV that the hotel has to offer, and how we’re going to set up the meeting rooms. Where we’re gonna put our various sessions. How we want to configure the ballroom for our general sessions. And I work very closely with the convention and visitors Bureau of the city that we’re going to, and they send out information to all of their business partners about our coming. When the convention was here in Minneapolis in 2007 vs. when it was here in 2016, things have really changed a lot. In 2007, we walked around to a lot of the restaurants around the Hyatt and said, “Hey. Here’s information about our convention. We gave them a little hand-out. We gave them contacts for getting menus put into braille. Now, the Convention and Visitors bureau just sends E-mails to all the local restaurants and area attractions to let them know that we’re coming, and, you know, to give them sources to get menus put in braille. So that has made it a lot easier to host a convention locally for the local host committee. And then I work putting the convention program together, and last year we had a hundred and, or, this year I should say, a hundred and sixty-seven different sessions. So getting all the information for all of those segments. Getting the registration form put together. And then, we have eighteen different special interest affiliates. Anywhere from teachers to diabetics to recently blinded individuals to Randolph Shepherd Venders. We have a lot of committees for things like women’s concerns, and multicultural affairs, and they all have programming throughout the convention. Sometimes each entity will have several sessions. So, making sure that we have the information for all of their presenters. In a virtual world, making sure that they all got presenter invitations via Zoom. Because we had everything on Zoom in 2020 and 2021 so that people could participate live in the sessions if they wanted to, and then ACB also has our ACB internet radio, ACB Media, we have ten different media channels. ACB Media 1 through ACB Media 10, and all of our sessions were broadcast on ACB Radio, and of course we use ACB Radio throughout the year for many, many different things. So, and then for an in person convention, when the convention is all over, then we get this wonderful hotel bill. That we have to go through with a fine tooth comb to make sure that all of the charges for all the … We probably have 20 to 30 different meal functions throughout the convention. So, I have to make sure that, “Oh yes. I did guarantee forty-five people for this breakfast.” And, all right, this breakfast was sponsored by this affiliate, so they get the charges for this.- And “this … ” you know, we have to go through everything, make sure everything is in order, and then I start again with the next year’s convention. So it’s a, it’s a year long volunteer opportunity.
Liz: When does convention planning start from year to year?
Janet: I’ve already started for next year. So I am already started with my tour coordination. Our conventions are in July, so we’re doing a convention survey for 2021 right now, but I’m also working, I have … We will be in Omaha next year, Omaha Nebraska, and I have reached out to local ACB affiliate in Omaha, and I have people on the local, what we call our host committee. I’m starting to get ideas about potential tour venues at Omaha, and we’re starting to look into entities that we can reach out for volunteer opportunities, so I’ve already started for 2022.
Chris: Talk a little bit about what happens at convention both for people that are attending the convention and, and what’s going on behind the scenes to keep it running.
Janet: Well, what happens for attendees is, you walk into the hotel, you get checked into your room, you go to our convention registration area where, theoretically you’ve already registered for the convention, so you pick up your badge that has your name tag on, you pick up any tickets for any tours, or any meal functions that you’ve purchased, if you’ve purchased a ticket for our banquet, you’ll have a ticket for that. If you asked for the program in braille and/or large print, you will receive it at that time. Otherwise, if you have the program electronically, you’ll have already downloaded that, and you can download it electronically and also get it in braille and/or print if you’d like, that’s not a problem. And then, many of our sessions are open, meaning you don’t have to have a ticket for it. You can just walk into a meeting room, look at the calendar, decide you want to attend this particular session, and walk into the meeting room, and be a part of it. The only sessions that people have to actually pay for or purchase tickets for are luncheons that we have, or our banquet, or our tours that we go to. And, as I said, we have about 15 different tours. Some of our standard tours are, people love going to some kind of a confectioners. A candy factory, a candy store, a … you know, something, something chocolatier wise, where people can learn about the making of candy, and also buy. We also, the last several years, have had what I lovingly refer to as the adult beverage tour. Whether that is going to breweries, or wineries, or distilleries, or, in Rochester we had one that … in all of those venues. It was a day long tour. That was a fun one. We always do at least one all day tour. In Rochester we went to Niagara Falls for a day. We try to get in some kind of an audio described, whether it’s a play, or some kind of a concert, we try to get in an audio described tour. We work with different museums. We work with all kinds of entities. In Omaha, we’re trying to set up, covid willing, a tour to visit Boys’ town. Now Boys’ and Girls’ Town it’s called. And I’m sure we’ll do some kind of a river boat. We, if we’re near water, we always try to do a river or lake cruise. So there are many, many things for people to attend at the convention. And then we also have our exhibit hall that has about 70 different exhibiter booths. And it’s anything from technology to jewelry to things for your guide dog, and all of the guide dog schools are represented, or many of them are, so you can go visit with any one of them. Then we have our general sessions that run Saturday through Thursday during convention week. And during those sessions, of course we have our elections. We also have speakers. We also have an international guest. We have NLS. And then give a lot of our different reports and information to our membership. And of course, you don’t have to be a member of ACB to join us. Anyone is welcome. You know, we’re very happy to have anyone come and attend our convention. As far as behind the scenes is concerned, I kind of think of my job as, I’m a fire fighter, because with that large of a group, things are gonna go wrong. You’re not going to see the things that go wrong, but I’m gonna see the things that go wrong. Maybe a room that’s having a reception didn’t get their appetizers on time, so I’m working with the hotel to get that. Somebody’s lost an item. I’m working to try to reunite someone with their lost Victor Stream. Anything from a medical emergency to a misplaced briefcase. I end up kind of hearing about all of it, and working so that you, as an attendee, have a smooth and an enjoyable convention experience.
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Liz: You’ve talked about this a little bit already, but what happens after convention, and what, if any, mechanism or mechanisms are in place for collecting feedback?
Janet: I am always available twenty-four seven for phone calls and E-mails, and I do get them during the convention, before, and after the convention, so I get a lot of feedback that way. We also do a survey that we have set up that’s open now, and will run through the end of August. And we know that, because we have ACB radio, we ask people to register for the convention, and we did have a ton of people register. And for registrants at the convention, they received a daily E-mail with the Zoom links to attend any session that they chose to. But we do know that people listened on ACB Media, either on their echo device, or their Victor Stream, or by going into ACB media on their computer or from their iPhone. And so, we’re saying, anyone who listened, even if you didn’t register for the convention. If you listened to some of our sessions, please. Fill out the survey. We want your feedback. And we’ve had several debriefing conference calls with various groups. I have my final, I think, final convention related conference call on Wednesday with all the different state and special interest affiliate convention presidents to see if they have any feedback. And then we put all of this together, and we work to make the convention even better in the following year. And we do know that next year, we are going to do some type of hybrid convention. Because we know that for a lot of people, being able to attend virtually really helped them. We had a lot of first time convention attendees. Which was wonderful because a lot of people can’t attend due to family issues, health issues, financial issues, so, and we don’t want to lose those people. So we want to make it as hybrid as we can. And how that’s going to look, we’re just beginning to discuss that now.
Chris: Where can people go to learn more about ACB, if they’re not familiar with it already, and about next year’s convention?
Janet: If you’re not familiar with ACB, we have a great website, and that is
and that will give you all of the information that you need during the convention. We also still have our
website open, and that has a listing of all the 2021 venders and how to contact them. It has a listing of any handouts that were offered, or power points that were offered during the convention. You can pull up any of those. And you can still download our convention program. I also have a convention E-mail list that is just a one-way E-mail list, so people are not responding to it. You’re just gonna hear from me, and that will give you all the latest updates on the convention. This time of year, you know, I don’t send out a lot of E-mails, but as it draws closer, I’ll be sending out many, many E-mails to anyone who’s interested. And to subscribe to that, you can send a blank E-mail to
acbconvention+subscribe at acblists.org
And I’m just gonna go ahead and give it out because it’s all over the website, so it’s no big secret. If you want to speak with me directly, you’re welcome to telephone me at 651-428-5059, or send me an email, and my email address is
Liz: How can people get involved either in their state affiliate or in any of the special interest affiliates?
Janet: State affiliate, if you’re in Minnesota, our website is
and we have a join renew tab on our website, so you’re welcome to join us or just get some general information. All of the special interest affiliates, as I said, we have eighteen of them. They are all listed on
and you can reach out to any of the special interest affiliates that you would like. Or if you’re listening to this from another state, your state affiliate, and find out what’s going on. Here in Minnesota, we have a monthly board meeting, and our board meetings are open to everyone. We’re doing these via Zoom. We just went back to having our quarterly membership meetings in person in July. We have a monthly coffee gathering the second Saturday of every month. And then we have a Zoom social gathering on the fourth Wednesday of every month. So, we have a lot going on, and of course, we try to do a lot of advocacy for people who are blind, visually impaired, and we try to do a lot of social things, so check us out.
Chris: Any last words before we go?
Janet: Any last words. You know, get involved. We’d love to have you. I never, in a million years, thought that I would be involved on this level with ACB or ACB of Minnesota. As I said, I was the president of ACB Minnesota from 2007 to 2011, and then they just reelected me again in April of this year, so I’m the president again of ACBM. So I’m always happy to talk with anyone, and help you out, and get you started on your journey.
Liz: Well, thank you, Janet. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. We really appreciate it.
Janet: Oh, it was great. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Chris: If you enjoy the Penny Forward podcast, please rate, review, and share it with your friends. We’re supported by your donations. Please help us to continue producing Penny Forward by following the tip jar link in the show notes, or by visiting
Liz: The Penny forward Podcast is produced by Liz Botner and Chris Peterson. Audio editing and postproduction is provided by Byron Lee, and transcription is provided by Anne Verduin. Music was composed and performed by Andre Loui, and web hosting is provided by Taylor’s Accessibility Services.
Chris: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time. Visit
to learn more about who we are, and what we do. Until next time, for all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: And I’m Liz Botner. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.