This is the standard end of convention debrief and probably contains many of the standard post-convention observations. I posted it to the ACB-L list and am copying it here simply because some of my readers are not on the list. I have expanded it a bit for this post.
I noticed that people were far more hurried and pushy this year than I remember from years past. I haven't been to a convention in several years; so it is possible that I am just not remembering well and I am experiencing culture shock. In any case, it occurs to me that we could all stand to learn to take a step back and listen to each other before charging ahead. This includes ACB leadership. At a number of conventions, I have observed that leadership tend at times to shove their way out of elevators, through lines, etc. It is certainly understandable that someone might be in a hurry to reach a meeting on time if they are a presenter; but this is no excuse for rudeness. And if you are a leader and you are going to dinner and you end up at the back of the elevator, the folks at the front get out first no matter if you are in the middle of the elevator. Non-leaders have places to go and people to meet, too; and they consider these meetings important. It is entirely possible that those meetings might lead to the formation of future leadership. But if you trample on a lowly 22-year-old, you have just communicated nonverbally that the 22-year-old is a piece of scum who should get out of your way because you are the almighty top dog.
In my list post, I suggested that perhaps a Braille Forum article could (and should) be dedicated to discussion of issues such as how to communicate and find out whether someone is getting off an elevator before charging in, who gets off first when the elevator is full, etc. Trampling of people and dogs might be prevented by this. The reaction to this idea was quite negative. The preferrecd solution seems to be for those in the elevator to holler at the top of their lungs, "Coming out!" and rely on the masses outside to get out of the way. I don't think it occurred to those who prefer to holler that it is equally the exiters' responsibility to be aware of the climate outside the elevator and travel gracefully when exiting. In a throng waiting to enter an elevator bank, there can be a great amount of pushing and shoving; and getting out of the way may not always be an easy thing to do even when it is intended. "Coming out!" also needs to be accompanied by a good awareness of who is standing outside and might be slow in moving or disoriented or fearful of the door closing upon the exiter's leaving. It happened to me a number of times: someone left the elevator and the door closed and the elevator was whisked away before I could enter.
It was difficult for me to figure out how to work with housekeeping this year. I assumed they would come while we were out of the room; but often we arrived back and they had not come. We only used the do not disturb sign once while napping for a couple of hours. I tried to make things relatively painless for them by keeping the room tidied up, garbage cans in site, etc. They did not come for two days, and we had to call on the third day. They finally came in the evening and did not replenish our soap supply or change the bedding. It was very late at night, so I didn't worry about it.
Friday morning, I was in the shower and heard some odd noises... Upon finishing, I called out and found that there was an English-speaking housekeeper standing just inside the door. I dressed and thanked her for waiting. Normally, I would have been quite annoyed that she had stuck around while I was in the shower; but I was so relieved to see someone and be able to ask for what we needed and was very impressed that she was polite and unperturbed by my dog who was lying quietly on the floor that I didn't suppose it was worth being annoyed about. She didn't mind working around me while I fed the dog and finished up my late morning routine; so I engaged her in conversation while we did our respective things.
Her name was Jamie. She had just graduated high school. She was considering a career in interior design but said she had also thought about "hair school." She had worked previously as a waitress but likes housekeeping much better. She has worked at the Galt House for three weeks. She has a dog at home and said the staff did prepare the housekeepers for the fact that a lot of dogs were coming. Of course, many of the housekeepers do not speak English at all--I learned one day that one of them is from Africa. Her native language is probably Swahili or some other unusual dialect. When interacting with her, I did a lot of pointing and using key words: "sleeping" while pointing to the closed bedroom door to indicate that the person in there was asleep and we did not want the beds changed; "sleeping" while pointing to the dog lying down to indicate that the dog would not hurt her; "two soap" while holding up two fingers to ask for two bars of soap instead of the one that we had gotten the previous day. She was a very sweet lady and later called out to me, "398?" as I got back to my room. I got the distinct impression she was making sure I got home ok, and I appreciated it. But she was afraid of dogs, and I cannot imagine she felt adequately prepared.
I am assuming that volunteers get at least a bit of basic orientation/training. In the future, it might be better if they were encouraged to ask questions like, "Can I help you?" rather than, "Where are you trying to go?" I often felt acosted by volunteers every few feet, and sometimes i felt invaded when I did not really need help. I wondered if they were approaching me simly because I had a dog and I as moving. I generally answered that I did not need help; but it feels awkward to answer, "Where are you trying to go?" with "I don't need help, thank you." I feel like I have not answered the question at all. But if I said, "I'm going to the elevators," the person often forced help on me that I did not want. Convention for me is an opportunity to stretch my O&M skills and use critical thinking strategies in an environment where I know that help is available if I need it and there is no shame in asking for it. This is not the case for everyone; but the question, "Can I help you," leaves open the option for the person to take or leave the help as needed. As much as some of us make fun of the NFB's use of callers to announce the location of rooms, such a system may have advantages worth exploring.
Several people on the list reacted very negatively to the suggestion of the use of callers. There seems to be a perception that the callers would holler out at the top of their lungs, "So-and-so room!" How this is better than wandering up and down hunting for a volunteer, I'm not sure... I seemed to have volunteers in my face when I didn't need them and none in sight when I needed them. having actually attended an NFB convention, I found the use of callers very tasteful and unobtrusive. I would compare it to an auditory sign. In fact, motion detectors can be programmed with a label for just that purpose. Why not use something like this? Are we that caught up in having the right to "deny the accommodation?" Deny it by walking by and ignoring it! Sighted people ignore signage all the time! If we had any idea what kind of signs are in sighted people's faces at every turn, I think we might truly be overwhelmed! Most of the time, I am glad I don't know. But sometimes, I wish I did. If I did, I could certainly use my perfectly good brain to ignore the sign. Audio signage is no invasion of my personal dignity. It is not calling out my name or providing me information that isn't already there. We have fought for audible traffic signals. With this attitude, we might as well forget that battle and look for a volunteer to get us across the street! There are certainly plenty of people who think street-crossing is dangerous for a blind person and would be willing to help out in those busy areas. (Tongue is firmly in cheek!)
I found that several servers in the hotel restaurant would direct me "left" while guiding me right and then argue with me when I explained to them that "this is my right." I consider this critical information for a person to have when interacting with a blind person because if someone tells me left, I will go left. It was a very stressful situation, particularly for the person to insist that he/she was correct when the problem was that the "left" was based on his/her orientation, not mine. I certainly understand that not all people are good at left/right reversal; but this is something a person should be aware of about him/herself and take some kind of steps to address it (e.g. turn in the same direction as the blind person when giving directions). I did learn that the servers had classes before convention. I didn't ask what was included in the classes. I suspect that left/right ability was assumed. In case it seems too much like I am complaining, most of the servers did a tremendous job of providing varous kinds of information, helping with things like showing us to the exit, etc. Some remembered us from day to day, and that was a very pleasant thing given the length of time we stayed there.
I've heard rumblings about concern that the restaurant menu was abbreviated for the sake of space-saving. I have no idea whether this is true or not. I know that it took me three days to learn that there were specials at Magnolia. As a person with significant food allergies, I know that I need to see all of the food options available in order to determine what I can eat. I liked the Kentucky pot roast, but I needed a break after a couple of days. (Fortunately I got one once I learned about the specials.) Since posting this originally, I've found out that the menus were not abbreviated but that sometimes menus in general are abbreviated for large conferences.
A joke was made about Mark Maurer, president of the NFB, at our banquet. I protested this on the list and have gotten my hand slapped over it. "You can't stop it, so deal with it." I don't know if the person thought I was talking about what people say in their private conversations... No, I certainly cannot control any of that. But we ought to rise above this and stop acting like elementary school kids. I posted back saying that along with bettering our opportunities, we ought to be about bettering ourselves. We should not publically create an environment where former NFB members or others who are investigating both organizations feel unwelcome. There is just no need for that. Aren't there enough ways to be funny without putting down other people?
I have been out of the ACB for six years because my well-thought-out emails were treated like stupidness. I'll be feisty and constructive as appropriate for a little while this time, and we will see where it goes. If there is a place for me, I will take it. If leadership continues to slap me down, I will not continue to beat my head against a brick wall. It's just not who I am, and I don't have the energy for it. I realized this week why I like conventions. I like and need the networking opportunities and the information. The information is important to me. I'd like to think that I could offer something back. But I cannot make them take anything I have to give.