WikiBlind 2020 annual report
2020 annual report for the wikiBlind User Group.
This page is a report on the activities of the wikiBlind user group from its beginnings in April 2019 through 31 December 2020.
Dr Mel Ganus aka DrMel and Graham Pearce aka Graham87 began wikiBlind as a user group on 26 April 2019. We launched wikiBlind as a facebook group, inviting members of the international [“Jobs for the Blind”] facebook group to experiment with joining the free knowledge movement by joining wikiBlind and learning how to contribute to wikipedia. Less than 24 hours later we had more than 30 people from the blind and visually impaired community expressing enthusiastic interest in learning more.
We continued with posts to the facebook group and building the member list on our wikiBlind, recruiting both new wikipedians from the blind and visually impaired communities, and sighted wikipedians who were interested in being allies and supporters of our goals to include more people from these communities in wikipedia, and help overcome the barriers to participation.
In May 2019, Dr Skylar Covich aka Academic Challenger joined Graham and Mel as the third member of the core organizing team. Graham and Skylar are both blind, with wikipedia admins status and the abilities to work through the many accessibility challenges faced by potential wikipedians with visual impairments. Mel is the cofounder and listed as third member of the organizing team, a sighted ally, with connections to American Foundation for the Blind and extensive wikipedia outreach experience.
As of December 31, 2020, we have 24 people who have signed up as wikiBlind members, and an additional 17 people listed as Allies and Supporters on our homepage.
As of February 2021, DrMel and Graham have switched places so the Graham is no longer responsible for organizing activities and Mel has taken the lead role in coordinating our ongoing efforts.
Our communications have been almost exclusively online since our formation, particularly with our membership around the world. Graham is in Australia, Skylar and Mel both in California, able to meet a couple of times face to face.
Our most successful and well attended gathering was at the annual international conventional hosted by National Federation of the Blind and held in Las Vegas, June 2019, which included over 100 blind-related organizations and over 3000 attendees, the majority of whom are blind or visually impaired.
During the NFB convention, 6 members of wikiBlind (Courtney, Lisa, Amir, Kirk, Skylar & Mel) were able to meet as a team and officially announce the launch of wikiBlind to an audience of more than 100 at the AFB reception. We saw enthusiasm from everyone we spoke with about the possibilities. Prior to the event, Mel covered all the costs associated with our work. In preparing to go to the event, we applied and were approved for a $2000 Rapid Grant that helped partially offset our costs for printing and attendance at the convention. For the NFB Convention we were able to create business cards with Braille to hand out during our conversations We chose not to setup and exhibitors both in this event, circulating and networking instead. Between the team, we spoke with more than 200 people at the event
Unfortunately, while the convention was going on and we were launching, the WMF grants department changed the rules for applying for further funding, rejecting all the plans we had made based on the 2019 rules for Rapid Grants, restricting applications to activities like photography contests. When we asked for help from within the WMF grants department to address the changes and how we could make new plans, we received no support.
We had started conversations with an extensive number of potential organizational partners at the convention, but we could not justify taking time to followup with everyone to continue to build an international program for wikiBlind when the WMF showed no interest in providing any support for the ongoing work. All the energy originally in our Facebook group dropped to minimal activity and responsiveness for lack of meetups and other activities we could offer. One step forward, three steps back. We lost all momentum as we had to give up on the organizing activities to reallocate our time to more productive projects outside of Wikimedia.
Since then, we had not organized our own meetups until 15 January 2021, which falls outside the scope of this report. More details about that can be found on our meta page.
While we were not able to coordinate additional meetups, we have continued to attend meetings hosted by others throughout the years, including:
- Skylar Covich attended the National Federation of the Blind's Washington Seminar in February 2020 and had conversations related to WikiBlind.
- Mel Ganus attended the WikiConference virtual event in December 2020, and many of the Global Conversations online meetings.
- both Skylar and Mel have been part of many virtual conversations and meetings with AFB and other Wikimedians around the world interested in moving forward with our work
- (upon request, we can compile more specific lists of dates and names of blind & wiki events and conference calls which Skylar & Mel attended, in person or online, prior to end of 2020)
Graham, Skylar and Mel have also continued to have an active dialog online, to keep the group going even while dormant.
Our most direct partnership is with American Foundation of the Blind and their president, [Dr Kirk Adams] who originally conceived of and started work on wikiBlind with Mel in 2016. AFB continues to be very interested in partnering opportunities, especially when someone within the WMF leadership team shows an interest in partnering to help foster wikiBlind’s growth.
Mel has for years been a Wikian at Large and continues to outreach to blind, visually impaired and sighted people wherever she goes.
Other outreach activities are described in the sections above.
As mentioned above, the wikiBlind group was able to successfully apply for one Rapid Grant for outreach at the 2019 NFB convention before the funding rules changes and prohibited grant proposals for the other expenses we had coming up (specifically related to events, equipment, and travel costs). The grant funds were received and distributed by our fiscal sponsor, Media Arts Center, who provides our 501(c)3 status. The grant report was submitted on X and approved on Y.
When it was announced that the Rapid Grant rules changed in June of 2019, we were given no time to complete applications for our remaining projects before all funding was eliminated for what we needed to do next and we were basically told applications were only being taken in August for photography contests. When we have sent queries to the WMF Grants department asking for advice on how to proceed, we received no meaningful replies or interest. We had no choice but to continue paying every expense out of our own pockets. We could not afford to, and had to stop trying to grow even as we had all the momentum and contacts around the world waiting to hear back from us. It crushed our progress
With our ongoing struggles to communicate with WMF staff over the past years, we have not tried to apply for any additional funding yet, and have covered all ongoing costs at our own expense, totaling several thousand more dollars.
If you reading this now have any questions or suggestions, we would welcome feedback and consideration of any kind. Please contact Dr Skylar Covich and/or Dr Mel Ganus.