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post-convention reflections

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.

Convention etiquette:</b>

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.

Misc observations:

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.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 12th, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree that making fun of Mauer is in very poor taste. You made good and very common-sense points, here.
Jul. 13th, 2008 12:14 am (UTC)
I was a member of the NFB for years-not because I agreed with it, I didn't, but rather because when I was in my hometown in California, the NFB was the only game. When I moved here, I dropped my NFB membership, and have not committed to ACB, though I tend to lean more towards their philosophies. Much of what you say in this post is so very true. The disagreements between ACB and NFB are so wide-ACB wants accessible currency, NFB doesn't, NFB wants to allow folks to sit in exit rows on a plane, etc. If the two orgs cannot agree, okay, so be it, but they both have to stop picking at each other in public settings like conventions. I plan on being in Orlando next year, and I do want to sit through some of the general sessions. But much as I'd like to, I cannot work up intrest in the leadership or resolution aspects of it. I hope your posts to the ACB lists are taken seriously.
Jul. 13th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC)
If we are both in Orlando, I would absolutely like to do lunch or something. *smile*
Jul. 13th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC)
Re: Orlando
Consider it a plan! *smiles*
Jul. 13th, 2008 01:24 am (UTC)
I found the opposite to be true in terms of traveling around the hotel. I thought people were well-oriented and very considerat. We must have been traveling in different throngs of folks.

There is no good solution for elevators at conventions like these. I would be perfectly content to et a room somewhere between the first and third floor of the hotel so I could avoid them the majority of the time.

I despise having humans screaming at the top of their lungs. However, if we could develop electronic signs that spoke very loudly, I guess I would be ok with it. That probably doesn't make sense, but I would just hate to be the one who was asked to direct people to a given destination.

I totally agree re the NFB jokes. I wish both orgs would just mind their own business. I am sorry you feel so beat down by listers and the leadership. I admire your courage to speak up.

So, what did you like about convention?
Jul. 13th, 2008 01:36 am (UTC)
convention positives
That is a fair question, and I'm still working on it. It does look pretty negative just reading this. Much of what I appreciated this year had to do with re-forming relationships and experiencing the feel of the general convention environment--I don't get out enough, really. I attended the Morris Frank presentation, and it was phenomenal. Tuck Tinsley's speech was worth going to the banquet for, and I don't regret it at all. I missed a lot of things I registered for, either because I wasn't feeling well or because I ended up having a conflict. So some of the things that were "positives" for me this year were things I took as learning experiences for my future particpation (e.g. buy tickets at the door even though they're more expensive because it allows more flexibility).

I learned a lot about interacting with people, and even though I'm critiquing a lot of things I consider the experience a positive thing for me personally. These are things I take away into my daily interactions, and they change the way I interact with the people I live and work with every day. So for me, there are mostly very hidden positives and it is a case of writing not conveying my intent well at all. If I was talking about it in person, my tone would be a lot more laid back and generally encouraging than it probably sounds.

Oh, the relief areas were positive experiences... There were at least four of them, and that ensured none were overused. I ended up finding one I preferred, and this kept Loretta from experiencing rleief stress.
Jul. 13th, 2008 03:17 am (UTC)
Re: convention positives
I skipped most of the general sessions, because i had most of my own views on things,and couldn't beplowed down by the blinded world for very long. Even going across the skyway that was colder then ever, was annoying to me. I do agree people need to get along with each other from both orgs though, I mean if you want to go to a different guide dog school, you're no better then I am if I went to one you dispised. I did have a nice time with the two of you. Shazza if I can swing it, I'd love to meet you as well.
Jul. 13th, 2008 03:29 am (UTC)
As someone who will probably be involved in organising the Australian equivalent next year to a greater or lesser extent, I found this really interesting reading. Not just because there are points in here which are relevant, but also because there are some clear cultural differences between our two countries. At last year's Convention here, I don't recall a single problem with getting people in and out of lifts -- it was just managed with conversation among the people involved ("Are you getting out on this floor?", or "Is everyone out? Can we come in now?") without any need for shouting or trampling. It never even occurred to me that this would be a problem.
Jul. 13th, 2008 08:09 am (UTC)
volunteers and elevators
Sarah, your comment that volunteers constantly approached you surprised me. No one ever came up to me when I had Ellie unless I stopped and stood still or called out for help. They did approach me the 2 or 3 times I used a cane and left Ellie behind. I found this frustrating there were times when I would've at least liked reassurance that I was going in the right direction when working Ellie. They would've been a great help in general session as well. I stodd for 15 mins one day after walking around for ten looking for my table finally a high partial helped me. The volunteers I ddi work with were wonderful especially the guy who put up with my frustration and thenm embarrasment when I realized I was on the wrong floor grin. An article about the evelvators would be great. people should appoint one person to stand at the door and ask about how many people are getting out ect something needs to be done because its hard to shove your way through a crowd milling near an elevator. you end up seeming pushy even when you don't mean too.
Jul. 13th, 2008 11:31 am (UTC)
differences in conventions between Australia and the U.S.
Sarah, this was a really interesting post. It would be great to come over to a convention some time as I think it would be a great experience. I echo crypticgirl 's thoughts in that I experienced no problems with elevators at our Australian convention last year.
Like you, i found our volunteers a bit difficult to work with at times. Sometimes I just wanted to try and find a place in the hotel on my own but every time I attempted going somewhere without help I'd have someone asking me where i was trying to go.

One of the main differences which influences the atmosphere and the general running of the conventions is size. At our Ausie convention we probably had about 150 people. From my understanding, ACB and NFB have a few hundred? Your conventions also last for a week, ours only go for a weekend. You have two organisations, we have one, which is similar to ACB and NFB in some ways but is very different in others.
Jul. 13th, 2008 11:49 am (UTC)
Re: differences in conventions between Australia and the U.S.
Your conventions are much more like our state conventions in size. Our national convention attendence was around 1,500 this year. It makes a very significant difference in the elevator scene just because of crowd control. The state conventions are much more manageable. My first experience of convention was a state convention at a rather small hotel. It was very empowering and I remember nothing at all negative. There were probably several hundred attendees, as it was the big state of Texas.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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