By Carla Hayes
Believe it or not, I have been a member of PCB for 33 years; since July of 1985 when Carmen Deems, the President of the Washington County Chapter, invited me to a chapter meeting. I liked what I experienced that day and joined immediately. I was a member of ACB since 1982 when I joined the National Association of Blind Teachers, an affiliate of ACB. In short, the past 36 years of Council membership has brought me many new experiences and lifelong friends, and through its programs and publications, I continue to learn new skills which increase my confidence and competence as a blind person.
FOR me, the three annual conventions have always been the highlights of each year as a Council member. In the spring, there is usually a regional convention. Even though it only lasts one day, it brings plenty of opportunities for education, entertainment and networking. As an example, I will describe this year’s Southwest Regional Convention which the Washington County chapter hosted on June 2nd. We began the day with coffee and pastries, music, the Singing of the Star-Spangled Banner by Jody Mullis, the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer and opening remarks. Our first presentation was given by Occupational Therapist, Holly Stants, who spoke to us about the advances in technology that can help people who are blind or visually impaired and ways to obtain occupational therapy and equipment. This was followed by a presentation about emergency preparedness for people with special needs given by a representative of Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency and a supervisor from Allegheny County’s Emergency Management Service. Our last speaker of the morning was Senator Camera Bartolotta who brought us up-to-date on current legislation, education, transportation, and voting issues and who answered our questions on these and other issues. At noon, we had lunch and time to visit exhibits. Our lunch menu included chicken, roast beef, ziti, red parsley potatoes, mixed vegetables, rolls and butter, fruit salad, and cupcakes. After lunch, we had a lively game of Out-of-Sight Jeopardy in which all the categories were blindness-related. After the game, Sue Lichtenfels reported on the latest news from PCB and answered our questions. Finally, Jennifer Smith, a teacher of the visually impaired and a Washington chapter scholarship winner, spoke about her work as a TVI, universal design, and what students who are blind or visually impaired need to learn. Of course, there were the usual chapter reports, door prizes, and plenty of time to socialize! In all, it was a great day! I hope that each of you will take the opportunity to attend your next regional convention. Better yet, when it’s your chapter’s turn to host a regional, help to plan it.
The next Council convention of the year takes place in the summer when ACB holds its annual week-long national conference and convention. Except for the 1993 Convention which was held in San Francisco, I have been fortunate enough to attend all the ACB National Conventions since 1986. Using the convention as a business trip makes it easier for me to budget for it since I can write off some of the expenses. When I go to an ACB National Convention, I always work like a dog and play like a puppy and I have enjoyed every one of them. This year’s convention in St. Louis was no exception. As usual, I had a booth at the IVIE Business Expo and spent many hours in the Exhibit Hall examining new products and recording interviews with vendors for IVIE’s quarterly radio-style news magazine. The independent Visually Impaired Entrepreneurs (IVIE) is an affiliate of ACB.) This year’s ACB Conference and Convention also included a plethora of opportunities to get up-to-date on issues which are important to people who are blind or visually impaired and learn new skills. Some of the topics covered in the ACB General Sessions included News from the National Library Service, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the American Printing House. Additional topics included Audio Description, the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Employment Issues, Legislation, and Talking Appliances. (You can visit acb.org for archives of the General Sessions). There were also seminars on technology, education, employment, rehabilitation, legislation, self-defense, diabetes, membership, writing and guide dog issues to name a few. I attended many of these. For the first time, conference attendees were given the opportunity to earn continuing education credits for several of the sessions and activities; a bonus for attending!
Then there were the tours! The ones I attended included a trip to the St. Louis Arch, the City Bus Tour with a Twist, (we actually traveled through the city by trolley), the Missouri School for the Blind, a Monday evening trip to the Muny, an outdoor amphitheater where we had dinner and enjoyed an audio-described performance of “Singin’ In The Rain” complete with a backstage tour, and the day-long Mark Twain Adventure tour on the last day of Convention Week which included a walk through the labyrinth cave featured in Mark Twain’s books, a lunch cruise down the Mississippi River on a paddle boat and more. The convention took place at the Union Station Hotel which really was a railroad station until it was converted into a hotel in 1982. I had the opportunity to take the Historic Union Station walking tour and learn all about the history behind it. I loved that hotel and hope I can return there again someday.
It’s not too early to make plans to attend the 2019 National ACB Conference and Convention. It will take place from July 5-12, 2019 in Rochester, NY. You can already make reservations by calling one of the two convention hotels: the Hyatt Regency Rochester at 800-233-1234 or the Rochester Riverside Hotel at 585-546-6400. Room rates at both hotels are $89 per night for single or double occupancy, with an additional $10 per person for up to four people. This does not include tax which is currently 14%.
Of course, the third Council convention of the year is the Annual PCB Conference and Convention in the fall. It always includes interesting seminars, a live auction, exhibits, the Saturday night banquet and program, business meetings, usually a tour and more! Hopefully by now you have made your plans to attend and your room reservations. It promises to be another great convention! Hope to see you there.
In conclusion, attending conventions will enhance your experience as a Council member. Conventions will give you the opportunity to mingle with new friends and old, learn new skills and coping techniques from your peers, get hands-on experience with technology and adaptive products that you can otherwise only read about in catalogs, have new experiences, and visit new places. If you make it a priority to attend Council conventions when you can, you will be glad that you did!