Future Reflections Convention 1999, Vol. 18 No. 4
by Pauletta Feldman
From left to right, Jamie Weedman, Paulette
Feldman, Maria Jones, Carol Dahmke, and
Editors Note: Coming to an NFB convention involves many important decisions for a family. There is the matter of money, of course, but often the most important consideration is: Do I want to use my limited vacation time at a convention? Here is Pauletta Feldmans enthusiastic, good-humored answer to that question:
My husband Maury, son Jamie, who is 15 and totally blind due to Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), and I left for vacation in Atlanta early on the morning of Tuesday, June 29. We were excited about attending our first National NFB Convention; two other families that we knew from our newly-formed Kentucky Parents of Blind Children (KPBC) group were going, too. But I have to admit, I had some reservations about spending our "family vacation" at a conference. How would staying in a hotel and going to meetings all day compare to a week at the beach?
We arrived in Atlanta about 5 p.m., and just walking into the lobby of the Marriott Marquis was thrilling for usnot because it was a beautiful hotel (which it certainly is)but because we had never seen so many blind people all in one place! Canes and guide dogs everywhere! Jamie couldnt believe it.
On Wednesday, Maury, Maria (our KPBC president), Carol (our KPBC treasurer), and I attended the great meetings for parents, while Jamie and his friend Chris attended the activities that had been planned for teens. We all had fun and learned so much. The Wednesday evening social for parents was a real networking opportunity for parents and children alike. Day one down, and I wasnt missing the beach yet.
Thursday, we registered for the NFB convention. THAT was interesting! We got to the registration area around 8:30 a.m., and already there was a line hundreds of people long. As we waited our turn, the excitement of the group grew, and the line behind us snaked around the huge convention level floor of the hotel. NFB registration gave me a whole new outlook on the word "efficiency." Within 20 minutes, we and the hundreds of people before us in line had been registered and were free to go to our next activity. For us moms, that was shopping! For Maury and the boys, it meant swimming. So far, this was turning out to be a pretty good vacation!
Thursday afternoon, we went to the exhibit area, and I was hooked. Hundreds of exhibits, all manner of technology that completely amazed me (since Im kind of technologically impaired) but thoroughly engrossed my husband (who is the tech specialist in our home). And the free stuff! What fun we had picking up Braille mouse pads, free "Captain Braille" T-shirts, Braille recipes, articles on tape, etc., etc., etc. But the best part for Jamie and Chris was the "Sensory Safari." I had heard that it was really neat, but had no idea how truly impressive it would be. There were full-size bears and buffalo and even a tiger and a lion, complete with mane. The boys could experience them to their hearts content without so much as a scratch! Thursday evening, we walked to Underground Atlanta for more shopping and dinner and got back in time for the reception with a Blues band. We all were having a wonderful vacation!
Friday, it was back to the exhibit areaI just couldnt take it all in in one day (actually I went back several more times). Then we left for a tour of CNN and had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe on our way back. More really great parent meetings in the afternoon, then the wine and cheese reception sponsored by NFB of Kentucky, with lots of good friends.
Then came the highlight of my convention experience. Little did I know it would be. I thought when I went to the NAPUB (thats short for National Association to Promote the Use of Braille) meeting that it would be a serious discussion of Braille. Serious topic, yes. But the discussionwell, just let me say that "spirited" doesnt really do it justice. I never knew Braille and a group of blind people discussing it could be so much FUN! Suddenly, I was remembering just how irritating sand mites could be.
On Saturday morning, the convention officially opened. We went into the massive convention hall and joined the Kentucky contingent. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. There were 3,000 blind people from all over the U.S. and from several foreign countries. The Georgia contingent danced into the hall with a Dixieland band as Dr. Maurer called the convention to order. We whooped, and cheered, and whistled, and clicked our clickers through the rousing speeches and incredible door prize give-aways. I felt a swell of emotion that brought tears to my eyes. Here was power, here was pride, and here was the future of my son.
Sunday morning brought a moving memorial to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, whom Jamie had come to love during quiet moments in the room when he would turn on "NFB TV" (a hotel station that broadcast NFB speeches from previous conventions).
But our time in Atlanta was coming to a close; jobs were calling us home.
Thats our convention in a nutshell. A wonderful family vacation with no sunburn and no souvenirs of sand in our clothes, and hair, and eyes, and luggage. Just as with any family vacation we came home with great memories. We couldnt wait to tell family and friends about our trip and show our vacation pictures. But unlike any other family vacation we have taken, we also came home smarter and even more hopeful for Jamies future. As Jamie put it, "Just being there made me proud to be blind."