by Nancy Burns
From the Editor: Each year I receive a tidbit after convention expressing the concern that we are not as polite as we should be as we hurriedly travel the halls on our way from place to place. Sometimes this is attributed to a more aggressive younger generation, sometimes to people who lack good mobility, and sometimes to people who are so preoccupied with their technology that they are like the driver who is simultaneously texting and shaving while driving to work. I have been reluctant to run some of these articles, crediting that there will be a certain amount of bumping and jostling in any group that includes a couple thousand blind people, but the fact I have received items like this for the last few years makes me wonder if a word about convention courtesy is in order.
Nancy Burns is a former resident of California, having served for a time as that state’s affiliate president. She and Don are longtime Federationists, and when she speaks, it is always after significant thought and reflection. Here is what she says about her experience at the 2016 National Convention in Orlando:
Not long ago our phones weren't smart; they were just phones. The word JAWS might have reminded us of a scary movie, and an Angry Bird was absolutely not something you wanted to play with.
Advances in technology continue to introduce us to new ways of life. It has changed the way we travel, the way we communicate, the way we work, and the way we play. It is fair to say that nearly all of us depend on at least some modern technology to function in society. Our dependence on technology does come with some responsibility. Sometimes it is just difficult to keep up with our fast-paced world. Our Victor Readers and notetakers must stay charged in order to allow us to read that favorite novel or keep track of notes, dates, etc.
We, as blind people, may not step into pools while texting, or step into ongoing traffic while playing Pokémon, but it is imperative that we pay close attention to our surroundings. When moving about the world, either in airports, cities, or large buildings, it is imperative that we use our hearing along with our cane skills. If we become distracted, for whatever reason, we may bump into someone or trip over some object.
The recent National Convention in Orlando was a perfect example of the need to be aware of not only ourselves, but of those around us. As a longtime cane user I was rather surprised at some of the behavior of convention attendees. It is understandable that excitement prevails at such conferences, and that fact may contribute to our lack of concentration and even lack of courtesy at times.
In discussing this matter with others, several thoughts emerged, but the one common thread was that many of us seem to abandon our manners and simply plow through a crowded area. This is not a blanket indictment of all blind travelers, but some of this behavior was disturbing. We are all ambassadors of education, and as Pam Allen, director of the Louisiana Center said, "We must constantly be aware of our nonverbal impressions that we make on society.” When asked if she felt that today's young travelers were less cautious than previous generations, Pam answered that we all seem to believe that our own generation was better but that her observations do not confirm such a conclusion.
One of my fellow convention attendees who is also a cane user said that she spent a fair amount of time being bumped and jostled by others and that she took the time to direct, and even instruct in some cases, the invading culprit.
I also took my concerns to Julie Deden, director of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Julie agreed that the blind, as well as the sighted, need to be more aware of their surroundings. She said that we all need to slow down.The good news is that, because of the NFB centers, more and more blind and visually impaired people are receiving cane travel instruction. It is not likely that any blind person without proper training will be able to successfully mix and mingle with the sighted world and make a positive impression. With training and support by peers and qualified instructors a blind person can safely and courteously navigate from coast to coast or border to border. Once we have acquired confidence in our travel skills, we are able to lead the life we want.