By Carla Hayes, Washington County Chapter
This year’s Southwest Regional Convention was hosted by the Washington County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. It took place on Saturday, April 25, at the North Franklin Township Volunteer Fire Company in Washington, PA from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
We began the day with coffee, pastries, and registration. During this time, members of the host chapter, Melvin and Diane Krek, regaled us with several lively polkas. Attendees also had time to visit our exhibits. Some of the products on display included the Quantum Barcode Scanner which works with notetakers, the new Victor Reader Stream, several versions of the Go-Bible, an inexpensive talking caller ID, and the simple to use, relatively inexpensive, new Olympus Vn7200 Digital Recorder. The Washington County chapter also exhibited several cutlery sets for sale. In case you did not get to see any of these products, be sure to visit the Lengua-Learn table in the exhibit room at the PCB State Convention this fall.
At 9:30, we kicked off our formal program with opening remarks by chapter president, Karen Rockey, the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner led by Jody Mullis.
The morning included several interesting presentations. First, a representative from the American Red Cross of Southwestern PA spoke to us about basic home fire safety. After giving a summary of some of the products and services that the American Red Cross provides, he informed us that most fires happen between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. He also stressed the importance of having an evacuation plan, home fire drills, working smoke detectors and an action plan for how your family will handle fires and other emergencies. Finally, he shared some useful web sites that one can visit for more information, including redcross.org and ready.gov
Our next speaker was Representative Brandon Neuman. Since there is not a lot of funding for transportation, Representative Neuman shared his opinion that not much will be done to improve public transportation and paratransit over the next five years. On a brighter note, he said the new administration is working on legislation to address the conflict between Highmark and UPMC. After a lengthy discussion about not being able to see our own doctors at particular hospitals, Representative Neuman suggested that we write letters to him and to medical service providers to express our concerns. He ended by saying that the new administration is moving forward with new activities and new goals. They need to hear from us and learn what is important to us. In general, legislators do pay attention to our letters, phone calls, and email messages.
Our final presenter of the morning was PCB President Tony Swartz. First, he spoke about the history of the disability movement and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He stated that there is still a lot of work to do. With the decline in the membership of PCB, he asked how many of us will be willing to be involved, to serve on committees, to call legislators, and to develop content for the new PCB web site. He stressed the importance of learning to use digital media and social networking because it is vital in our society. He recommended that we read “The End of College” by Kevin Carey (available from Bookshare). This book suggests the implosion of higher education as we know it in favor of an online model; many colleges and universities may close their doors within the next 20 years. Where does this leave us as people who are blind or visually impaired? We need to advocate for online technology and ways of representing online visual images which are usable by people who are blind or visually impaired. He ended by thanking us all for our support during his presidency. He emphasized that we should keep in mind our legislation call-in week at the end of June and remember who we are. We need to continue to advocate for what is important.
Our lunch was a sumptuous feast. The menu included chicken marsala, sliced roast beef with gravy, baked ziti with tomato sauce, roasted red potatoes, mixed vegetables, a fresh-cut fruit salad, rolls and butter, and vanilla and chocolate cupcakes for dessert. The lunch was served as a buffet, but this was not a problem because we had plenty of sighted help. Several students from the Trinity Area School District Junior ROTC Program generously volunteered their time and were on hand to help throughout the entire day. I would like to take this opportunity to thank these students for all of their time and hard work. They helped to make our regional convention a success. The lunch hour also included more entertainment and additional time to visit the exhibits.
After lunch, we had a 45-minute ABIPITA session. For those of you who do not know, “ABIPITA” is an acronym for, “Ain’t Blindness A Pain In The Anatomy.” It is a regular column in “Dialogue” magazine which features readers’ stories about true and funny things that happened to them as a result of their blindness. During this session, we entertained each other with our own ABIPITA stories and everyone was in stitches!
The day ended with chapter reports and closing remarks. Of course, there were the usual door prizes and raffles throughout the entire day and there was plenty of time to socialize, exchange ideas, meet up with old friends and make new friends. In all, we learned new information, had a lot of laughs, and enjoyed a wonderful day together! Again, thank you to those who made this regional convention possible.