A Toast to the Future and Conference Programming and Planning

By Thomas Reid, PCB Conference Coordinator

While we have so many challenges today and in our immediate future, there are real signs of progress. In fact, taking a look at the PCB Conference may be indicative of not only what is possible for the future of PCB, but for all of those impacted by vision loss. Remember, that was the theme, “Designing Our Future.”

Let’s begin with some highlights from this year’s program.
Responding to the multiple attacks on healthcare by the current administration in the White House, we were fortunate to have Rev. Sally Jo Snyder help kick-off the conference with a conversation around advocacy. Suggesting a new perspective and approach to grass roots movements, Snyder offered PCB some insight into additional advocacy methods to consider as we continue to work towards assuring our voice is heard on all levels of government.

On Friday, the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS) of Pittsburgh in collaboration with PCB hosted a very popular and successful Employment forum called Vision Works. The event featured vendors and guest speakers offering real world advice and experience with the intention of increasing employment opportunities for all those with vision loss.

I’m sure we’re all hopeful that the event as well as the collaboration between the consumer organization and agency is indicative of a new partnership. One with the potential to produce real results for all those impacted by vision loss. Such as:
– Encouraging children of all ages to strive for and expect employment opportunities
– Helping more companies to see all people with disabilities as potential employees
– Developing relationships between PCB and agencies and corporations to further advance the organization’s reach

As stated in PCB’s new branding, we are a “Peer Network of People Impacted by Vision Loss.” It’s therefore imperative that a strong part of our efforts should always include an element of outreach to those adjusting to vision loss. This year, that focus consisted of the Strategies for Overcoming Sight Loss event that took place on Friday morning. We can be hopeful that continuing to design and implement new ways of reaching out to the ever-growing community of people with vision loss will provide those in need with the many resources made available by PCB.

Looking toward the future, there is no denying that costs for both producing and attending the conference will continue to rise. If this conference is a sign of what’s to come, we have several reasons to be thankful. Many of the chapters financially supported various events. We had our first banquet sponsor in Vanda Pharmaceuticals, returning sponsors like the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, the PAB, and new sponsors like BAUM USA. Like any relationship, it takes time and nurturing to grow, and several are beginning to bear fruit.

Attending this year’s PCB Conference provided another glimpse into the future. Not just for PCB but all those with vision loss. Thanks to Chieko Asakawa of Carnegie Mellon University and the NavCog team, conference attendees experienced a taste of the freedom and independence that comes with indoor navigation. Using an iPhone, some conference attendees were able to independently get from one end of the multi tower hotel to the other for the first time. What would have typically required some advanced knowledge of the layout and some extra effort, became as easy as speaking a destination into the phone. I’m pretty certain those who became comfortable using the app are eager to see indoor navigation in a mall, airport, hotel and other facilities. There’s no organization more equipped than PCB to provide leadership and advocacy to bring this technology to the mainstream.

With this article being my final official function as the Conference Coordinator, I want to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who served on the various iterations of the Conference Program and Planning Team throughout the years. I leave the position learning so much more than about coordinating a conference. It gave me the chance to learn more about myself and how to interact with people.

Coincidentally, the things that made serving as coordinator special to me are the same as what make the PCB Conference such a treasure for this organization. It’s the one chance to witness the best of PCB: the friendly welcome from long time members; the willingness to listen to a first timers story and offer advice and encouragement; and the opportunity to hear presentations on topics that can educate and assist both those new to vision loss and the more seasoned members of the blindness community. At the core are the members of the organization. I sincerely thank you all and look forward to having the chance to get to know you all more during future conferences where I can participate more from the general seats.

With the 2017 PCB Conference now behind us I can reflect on the theme and think how the time we spent in Pittsburgh and in other past conferences truly embodies what we seek for our collective future. That’s the environment where disability, white canes and guide dogs and assistive devices are all considered the norm. Accessibility is built into all aspects of our lives from accessible menus and air conditioner controls to navigation technology. Now doesn’t that sound like a future we are trying to design? Here’s to the future PCB!

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