The Braille Monitor                                                                                       March 2003

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The 2003 Washington Seminar

by Barbara Pierce

Priscilla McKinley and Brian Miller of Iowa and Jerry Darnell of Louisiana enjoy the student banquet.
Priscilla McKinley and Brian Miller of Iowa and Jerry Darnell of Louisiana enjoy the student banquet.

In lots of ways this was the largest and busiest Washington Seminar in our almost thirty years of conducting this event early each year. The Capitol Holiday Inn provided us 200 sleeping rooms for about 500 visitors from across the country. An increasing number of workshops, seminars, and meetings took place during the weekend preceding our Monday morning descent into the halls and tunnels of Congress on our way to meet with our legislators. Forty-seven states were represented at this year's seminar. In fact, more than 200 people attended the banquet following the National Association of Blind Students mid-winter conference on Saturday, February 1, the first full day of pre-seminar activities.

As usual, the students kicked off activities with their Friday evening party and then conducted an excellent day-long seminar on Saturday. Also meeting that day were the lawyers and, at the National Center for the Blind, the Research and Development Committee. Dr. Fred Schroeder was the featured speaker at the Saturday evening student banquet. As part of the festivities the students conducted their most successful auction to date, raising funds for division activities during the coming year.

The great gathering in meeting in the Columbia Room.
The great gathering in meeting in the Columbia Room.

Sunday and Monday mornings, buses ferried Federationists to Baltimore for a quick tour of the National Center and a chance to browse in the Materials Center and the International Braille and Technology Center.

Sunday afternoon before the Great Gathering In at 5:00 p.m., various events of interest took place in meeting rooms at the hotel: a background session on the Help America Vote Act; a conference considering quality orientation and mobility training; workshops on obtaining NFB-NEWSLINE funding and making the case with state vocational rehabilitation agency officials for quality blindness training; and a meeting of the National Association of Blind Merchants.

Jim Gashel and Jim McCarthy work on their electronic notetakers at the head table while President Maurer addresses the crowd.
Jim Gashel and Jim McCarthy work on their electronic notetakers at the head table while President Maurer addresses the crowd.

With all that to do during the afternoon, one might have expected that by 5:00 p.m. Federationists would have been anywhere but preparing for yet another meeting. But NFB members are always ready to work hard, so by the time the Great Gathering In began in the Columbia Room, no chairs, virtually no floor space for sitting, and very little wall space for leaning were to be found. The area outside the meeting room, which was equipped with loudspeakers, was full of those who could not get any closer. President Maurer briefed the group on what has been happening recently in the organization and with the capital campaign. Then Jim Gashel and Jim McCarthy of the NFB Governmental Affairs Department reviewed the three issues for discussion with Congress this year. The texts of the legislative memorandum and the three fact sheets follow this article.

 

The Mercury Room is almost always busy.   Here, Sandy Halverson takes a phone call at her post near the boxes of congressional reporting cards.   John Antonacci in the foreground gives a report.
The Mercury Room is almost always busy. Here, Sandy Halverson takes a phone call at her post near the boxes of congressional reporting cards. Jim Antonacci in the foreground gives a report.

For the remainder of Sunday and throughout the next three days and evenings the Mercury Room became the nerve center of the Washington Seminar. Sandy Halverson and her superb team of volunteers assembled the schedule of congressional visits as they were turned in and took reports after those visits. They entered the data in the computer so that the staff knew where to appear for key meetings taking place on the Hill. People came and went, gathering materials to assemble into presentation folders to present to each legislator.

If you have never experienced a Washington Seminar, you cannot fully appreciate the intense and purposeful activity that goes on every hour of the day and many hours of the night. It's gratifying to note how quickly and easily Federationists are absorbed into the daily pace of our nation's capital. Cab drivers migrate to our hotel, knowing that fares will be plentiful. The security guards at the entrances of the House and Senate office buildings call to those coming in the doors to direct them to the

The hallway outside the Columbia Room just after the Sunday evening meeting broke up.
The hallway outside the Columbia Room just after the Sunday evening meeting broke up.

security conveyer belts. Those in the halls give casual directions before going on their way, rightly presuming that blind citizens who have gotten themselves this far are going to have very little trouble finding the offices for which they are looking.

By late Wednesday the final reports were coming in, and the file boxes were being packed up for another year. The Washington Seminar had come to a close, and the 2003 legislative work of the National Federation of the Blind was just beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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