National Convention Commentary
By ACB of Maine President Mary Ellen Frost
Why do I like or want to go to the National ACB Convention? I take this on as a labor of love, sort of a working vacation. I never in the other fifty weeks of the year work so diligently; but at the same time feel so rewarded, excited and part of the whole purpose. Here you meet, converse and discuss the best and the worst of the situations facing blind Americans across the states; and you have the joy of a much larger pool to draw from when seeking answers. Each committee and special interest group all share and are part of the same goal. How to better the rights and liberties’ of their blind community, by offering ideas and practices that have worked for them, sharing with each other how they make it work. This year the convention was held in Nevada, and so my story begins.
When the sparks fly in Sparks, Nevada!
I arrived several days before the opening of the 56th. National American Council of the Blind Annual conference began. First, I wanted to be familiar with the location of the events for the coming week. With two towers and a gamete of meeting rooms, it is nearly a mile walk from the time your feet hit the floor, till you reach your destination. Second, I wanted to lend a hand where it may be needed to put the pieces together that will bring fourth this great event involving over fourteen hundred blind and visually impaired persons, across this United States from sea to shining sea. If you have never been to a national conference, it is a stretch of the imagination to comprehend the many pieces it takes to put together this large of a puzzle. Committees, affiliates, special interest groups, vender’s and so much more require hands on team work to coordinate this great effort.
While wandering around this huge convention center (and casino, sorry not my favorite place) I found much hassle and bustle. The ACB Mini Mall which is based in Louisville Kentucky shipped nearly the entire store of goods to Sparks. Upon arrival, crates and cartons need to be opened, marked in Braille and print, set up and displayed for shoppers. Items include everything from clothing to gadgets that bare the Sparks 2017 logo, which is a huge fireworks display. I worked with the Louisville team and many others from various states for two days setting up a temporary store in the exhibition hall.
The host committee is responsible for preparing the complementary ACB gift bags, which include numerous items such as gift cards, information tickets, trinkets and many other items that have been donated. Each and every person registered receives a bag, numbering well over twelve hundred. There again a good days work, with more than twenty people participating in completing this task.
The communications room is buzzing with Braille printers and large print copy machines, computers preparing articles for the daily newspaper all being checked by readers for accuracy, stapling and transporting to the information desk; which is another hub of wonder and excitement. Everyone wants to know where meetings are being held, how to get there, and many more questions than there are answers. All of this requires an army of volunteers who show up willing to work and make the attendees visit as pleasant as possible.
The huge banquet hall is set up classroom style with rows of tables labeled alphabetically by state names, special interest and affiliates. On opening night, each one is called by the secretary. His announcement is by name and the number of seats required for that group; and generally a little humor, like how many lobsters did you bring from Maine and plan to present the leaders of the body tonight!
I was so pleased to have board members Lindsey Ball and Joel McQuade with me this year in Sparks. This was their first time at a national conference. Lindsey was there to accept a scholarship for her continuing education in blind rehabilitation, and Joel is very interested to see the whole picture of how local, state and national work together to better the lives of blind and visually impaired persons in all areas across urban and rural environments. We all have the same struggles wherever we are located.
As the week progresses, tours are offered to areas of interest in the location of the conference. There is truth in the old adage “all work and no play, makes for a very dull boy”. The sports fans go to a baseball game, and many choose to do the city bus tour. Joel went to a dude ranch for a day trip and met many new friends. He also joined me on the old Western Country tour. I was fortunate to enjoy two very exciting trips. One was a dinner cruise on Lake Tahoe, and another was to Virginia City, which was the old west town where television shows like Bonanza and Gun Smoke were filmed.
As the days moved on and more attendees arrived, you could start to hear the Sparks buzzing, as old and new friends met once again to laugh and reminisce. Every committee and special interest group that chooses to, has its meeting scheduled time of forty-five minutes, and there is a fifth teen minute slot to transfer to your next spot. Transition is when you just get a glimpse or hear a voice of someone you have not had a chance to catch up with to say hi, and add the statement, “let’s have coffee, do lunch or meet me at the ACB Cafe”.
When we finally get down to the work to be accomplished, it is almost always a difficult decision not to double book yourself. I want to hear what the (C C L V I) Concerned Citizens with Low Vision International is offering, but I really need to gather information from the rehab task force meeting; and so the juggling begins. I always plan to attend one of the leadership seminars, because each time there is new leadership and new ideas presented. Membership is also high on my list, and here you will find out how other affiliates have managed growth, the best way to make new members comfortable without overwhelming them, and the opportunity to gain better communication skills.
Even during this busy time there is an opportunity to socialize. The sister power breakfast sponsored by the Women’s Concern Committee is a must. And also the Alliance on Aging lunch offers shared ideas with your peers. It was here I met an 84 year old gentleman who was attending his 56th consecutive convention, and now in a wheelchair, he still is involved with many committees and activities. As I have heard Marje say, “we are a bond from cradle to grave”. At this convention there are activities organized for every generation of life.
The general session runs four consecutive days from 8 am till noon, and the last day is a full day until all business is satisfied. Sponsors such as Sprint, Google, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Morgan Chase and many more speak to how they are making their companies more accessible, and the benefits they offer. Many reports are given from officers and leaders to keep the attending body informed of how the organization is running, handling business and issues that come into focus. The afternoon schedule consists of meetings, social gatherings, work sessions and rest as needed! This is an exciting, eventful experience and friendships grow from year to year.
All considered I enjoy the pieces of the puzzle I am able to contribute, and will look forward to the 2018 conference in ST. Louis, Missouri. Each person comes with an agenda. You may be a presenter, which I have had the privilege of being, and you may need to attend cretin meetings to gather information pertinent to questions for which your group needs answers. Some come only for the vacation tours offered, others work to come to the aid of persons having a difficulty navigating their way to and fro. Whatever the reason you choose to attend this amazing event, please know there are hundreds of people putting in time and effort to make this an experience you will remember!
Wishing you all the best,