Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 1

Well, I made it to Milwaukee. My flight was the very last to come in, so I started out pretty tuckered out. Boy did I have a day ahead of me. When I first walked up to the convention registration desk I was cheerfully greeted by a convention volunteer and given a registration bag (sponsored by Oticon), a program book (sponsored by Verizon) and a chance to pick up an assisted listening device generously donated by Williams Sound.

First up, newcomer orientation:
The orientation was given by none other than Sue Miller, who is anything but a newcomer to the convention (see earlier post). There was a major emphasis on total accessibility. From hearing loops and real time captioning to infrared assisted listening devices this convention has it all to ensure that every hard of hearing attendee may fully participate. I was told that there are about 800 attendees at this year’s convention. It certainly is refreshing to know that for once, even though I was among a large group of people, I could be certain that everyone around me understood in some way what it meant to be hard of hearing. I believe it was Michael Stone who said during the orientation that “convention going is a contact sport. You get information. You make contacts. You make new friends. On an average day as a hard of hearing person you might feel completely isolated from the rest of the world. At an HLAA convention you meet so many people who understand. You share stories about dealing with hearing loss. It’s life changing.” Then we were left to go off in our separate directions and experience these things for ourselves.

There are 5 education tracks this year which include advocacy and access, hearing technology, medical issues, relationships and communication, and young adults. A workshop in the advocacy and access track which I found particularly interesting was “Advocating for Hearing Loops.” I had recently been talking to friends about my frustration that there aren’t very many places that have hearing loops, so this was very interesting and informative for me. Loops are so simple and accessible to anyone with a t-coil in their hearing aid. I often find fm systems, (and the infrared system I tried out today) to come in fuzzy and distorted, but hearing loops always come in clear for me. I’m glad to hear there are more initiatives around the country to get hearing loops more widely available.

Keynote Speaker Bill Barkeley:
Bill Barkeley is quite an inspirational person. He has Ushers syndrome and is deaf/blind. He also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. He acknowledges that he had a lot of help. There is a lot of technology available to us now and we should embrace it. He believes it’s important that he takes the emphasis off of himself and puts it on the issues of hearing and vision impaired people. He is also convinced that hardships “can make us bitter or make us better” and that we must let them make us better by using them to help others. We, as hard of hearing people, also need to be comfortable helping others help us reach our goals. Mr. Barkeley was a very inspiring speaker.

After the opening session and keynote speech there was a casino-themed “get acquainted party.” It was an exciting start to a promising weekend.

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