It’s time for me to sit down and write down some reflections on my trip to the NFB convention in Orlando last week. Overall, I have to say I was rather surprised with what I took away from it.
The week did not get off to a bang-up start. The flight to Orlando and even the Uber ride to the hotel went pretty much without incident. The fun began when we stepped into the lobby of the hotel. The line for checking in was very, very long, and the staff seemed to be having various issues with various people. After around 45 minutes, I finally made it up to the front desk, gave my name, produced my method of payment…and was told that our room wasn’t ready yet. At this point it was well past 4 PM, we had been traveling pretty much all day, and we were hungry, among other things. Luckily we had friends who allowed us to crash in their room until our room was available, roughly an hour and a half later. On the up side, I can say this was the low point of the week. It was mostly upward from there. We had a pleasant dinner with friends old and new in the hotel café, and we then retired to our room to get situated and get prepared for Monday.
Monday was pretty much uneventful, at least until the evening. With not much going on, much of the day was spent in the room, as I described it to a friend, getting my sea legs. I had one command performance in the evening; as this was my first NFB convention, I attended the event for first-time convention goers, which had the monicker of the Rookie Roundup. So off I went, got myself hopelessly lost, had to get bailed out by my eternally patient bride, but I made it. Upon the conclusion of the event, I got myself mired in the worst tangle of humanity I had ever gotten myself into. I attended a Beach Boys concert at Albi Stadium in Spokane in 1982, and that mass of humanity was tame compared to this. I had an impenetrable crowd of people in front of me, to my left, to my right, and behind me. I found myself in the throes of a full-fledged panic attack. Once again thanks to my bride and some other very good Samaritans, I got myself out of the scrum. At this point, as we made our way back to our room, I emphatically told Sarah “Never again. Never ever again.” I had had enough. By the end of the week, my turne had changed.
I need to backtrack really quick and relate something I did Monday afternoon. I participated in two research studies dealing with making graphical images accessible using audio output. My takeaway was while this is a worthwhile endeavor and I hope work on it continues, at this point it’s got a long way to go.
After Monday night’s shenanigans, Tuesday turned into pretty much a down day for me. By this point we had discovered that we had forgotten to change a patch I wear for blood pressure maintenance. This explained a whole lot about my panic attack reactions on Monday, as my blood pressure and anxiety levels shot sky high. Because of this, I had to seriously curtail my planned activities to minimize my stress levels. So, as I said, Tuesday turned into an off day.
Wednesday I ventured out to attend the meeting of the NFB in Communities of Faith group. Sarah has become active in that chapter, and I might follow suit. Earlier in the day, we had spent some time in the exhibit area, where we bought a whole lot of coffee and some raffle tickets (we did not win), and while we were there we were able to meet up with one of Sarah’s dog trainers, who is now a mutual friend, and we had an enjoyable conversation with him over coffee. And that for all practical purposes was all she wrote for Wednesday.
Thursday began the business portion of the week. Because of my medical issues I for the most part participated vicariously via streaming. I will say there were several things on the agenda that were interesting to listen to. For me the personal highlight of Thursday was babysitting for a friend’s dog for a few hours. He was a very good boy, and it was kind of fun to hear a dog snore again.
Friday night was pretty eventful. First I met with an old friend I hadn’t seen in 15 years. It was great to catch up, and for me it was a reminder of how precious friendship is. Then, I attended the talent show in which Sarah sang. While it went rather long, there is no denying there is some very superior talent in the NFB.
Saturday was the last day of Convention Week, and I have to admit that for me the highlights of the day didn’t really have anything to do with the convention itself. In the afternoon we were fortunate enough to have a very pleasant lunch with a family member who had driven two hours to see us. It was actually the first time we had met in person, and it was a wonderful time. Thanks, Cousin Becky! Then, in the evening, we had dinner with a friend of Sarah’s she hadn’t seen in many many years. That, too, was a wonderful time, and a good way to wind up the week.
The less said about Sunday, travel back home day, the better. The important thing is we made it home safe and sound.
Now we come to the part of this missive where I give my general reflections. I need to concede that, because of my medical struggles, I really could not give a completely fair assessment. I was unable to participate at nearly the level I had intended to. Because of this, and some other things, I feel it is important that I give the convention another shot when I am properly medicated. What I saw, I have to say, I was quite impressed with. I admittedly went into the week with a whole lot of preconceived notions. I have been to 15 national conventions of the rival advocacy organization, the American Council of the Blind, so I was probably thinking some rather unfair things. Over the course of the week, many, if not all, of my preconceived notions were dispelled. The Federation is full of first-rate people doing some great things, and while I certainly don’t agree with everything they do that can’t color my overall perception. I am still, and will probably always remain, uncomfortable with how some of what goes on in sessions resembles, at least to me, a cross between a pep rally, camp meeting and fundraiser. But I know now there is way more to the organization than that. So, with all that in mind, if everything breaks right and all the planets align and the Fifth Dimension sing about the Age of Aquarius, I’ll be back in Orlando next year. And, for all who helped me last week and bade me welcome, all I can really say is thank you.