By Greg Lindberg
It may be ironic for me to describe the 2016 Florida Council of the Blind state convention as being “eye-opening,” but this adjective is truly fitting for my experience at the annual gathering of the most driven group of visually impaired people that the Sunshine State has to offer.
Being my first rodeo, I really had no idea what to expect at the convention. I had numerous conversations with my fellow Pinellas Council of the Blind members. I talked to President Jim Kracht and the amazing Sally Benjamin. I carefully reviewed the convention schedule. But I still had plenty of questions running through my mind: How many people will be there? Am I going to make any friends or professional connections? Is the information presented truly going to mean something to me? Will I avoid embarrassing myself by hitting a few too many people with my white cane or by accidentally stepping on a guide dog’s precious paws?
All of those questions – and many more – were answered with a resounding “yes.”
During my four days in Jacksonville, I made more connections than I ever imagined with some super talented and interesting people. Thanks to Sharon Youngs, I met some of the “founding fathers” – and mothers – of FCB. I got to talk about some of my passions with others, like beep baseball, technology, music, writing, and career advancement. I had a few unexpected chances to speak at the banquet on Friday night and the party on Saturday night. While I retired to bed early when I got home on Sunday evening, the exhaustion I felt was absolutely worth the lack of sleep.
The workshops I attended were extremely informative and helpful. I particularly enjoyed the employment session, which featured a panel of 5 business professionals who were either visually impaired or worked with others who are visually impaired. I thought Emily Michael, a writing professor at the University of North Florida, was the most engaging presenter. (But maybe that’s just because of the writing thing.) They each offered up valuable nuggets of insight and information about their own experiences applying and interviewing for jobs, dealing with challenges in the workplace, and the main message of why blind and visually impaired individuals must constantly advocate and educate the business world about how we can do the same things as anyone with 20/20 vision would – just in different ways and with some pretty sleek gadgets at our disposal.
As for the exhibit hall, I’ve told several people that it’s like a candy store for the low vision community. I could not believe how many vendors were there, the variety in the organizations and companies, and the amount of incredibly cool devices on display at each table. I could’ve easily walked out of there with 10 or 15 of the adaptive devices I saw, but I know my parents would not have been thrilled with such a shopping spree. Fortunately, I got lots of ideas on the types of devices I want. I came home with enough literature to help me research the various items so that I can make the best purchase decisions to meet my specific needs.
Even the Sunday morning board meeting was much more interesting than I expected. I loved getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into FCB as an organization and in terms of how much money it brings in and spends. It really put things into perspective for me about FCB’s true footprint in both our state and nation.
Also, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the assistance of the volunteers. I got to meet at least 7 or 8 of them, and they were all so helpful and friendly. I can’t forget to give Mikey Wiseman a shout-out, either. Mikey – you’re the man! I wish I could learn some of your tricks on how to make things happen. I can only hope that people with other disabilities are just as fortunate to experience gatherings like we are – and that they have people like Mikey and terrific volunteers willing to bend over backwards for them like we have.
To sum it all up, I was truly inspired by everything I experienced at the convention. I have never been exposed to such a large group of visually impaired people like that. But I learned very quickly how capable, gracious, and determined the members of FCB are. I can’t wait to catch my flight to Minneapolis for the national convention in July, and I look forward to many more state conventions in the years to come!