Braille Monitor               January 2024

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A Hot Time in Houston

by Maryanne Melley

Maryanne MelleyFrom the Editor: Maryanne is the energetic president of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. It is obvious that she serves her fellow blind people, but what may not be so obvious is that, when a hotel lets her down and fails to properly staff an event, Maryanne is found behind the serving table and functions just as well as she does behind the head table. Here are the experiences she had at the 2023 National Convention:

The National Federation of the Blind Convention in Houston this year was hot and steamy both outside and in. There were many pleasurable moments and some disappointments. For the most part the positives outweighed the negatives. I send my sincere gratitude to Norma Crosby and the Texas affiliate for hosting an amazing event. I can only imagine the magnitude of effort it takes to prepare for such a task, and Norma handled it with such grace and grit.

It was a wonderful surprise to have the return of local tours at the convention again. The last time I recall this taking place was In Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008. Tours of the Museum of Natural Science, The Houston Space Center, and a Houston Astros baseball game offered a variety of choices. Having President Riccobono throw the first pitch at the ball game to chants of “NFB” from the crowd was incredible. And that’s just the fun stuff. The vast array of meetings that we were offered the opportunity to attend and learn about so many products and issues was enough to keep anyone busy throughout the week. The speakers during general sessions were compelling and informative.

It is difficult to pick favorites for this article and not take up ten pages, so I will only pick three. Saturday’s “What’s New with JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion” seminar shed new light on many new keystrokes that are up and coming that will make using our computers much more streamlined. But one of the best new features coming out in the autumn will be JAWS assisting you to line yourself up properly for a Zoom meeting. It will be able to tell you if your face is on the screen rather than your shirt and will orient you as to how to fix it. If you forgot to put the dirty laundry away, it will let you know that also. Imagine how professional you will look in a job interview or in a meeting with your legislators if they are seeing your face and a clean background.

Another informative meeting was the National Association of Guide Dog Users. President Raul Gallegos held a meeting with updates on the Air Carrier Access Act for travelers with guide dogs. We have been having issues with the airlines which you may recall hearing President Riccobono speak about. They require us to fill out a form for our dogs before they can fly with us. These forms are inaccessible. Though we would prefer the airlines to have the same ADA laws apply to us, for now thanks to NAGDU there is progress being made to these forms becoming obsolete.

Finally, at the “How to Get Legislation Passed in Your State” session, the information that was shared on electronic ballot delivery and return was frustrating but helpful. Hearing about the hard work that was done on bills being passed just to be vetoed by the state governor was disheartening. However, we are not deterred. With what I learned at the meeting plus the language of Resolution 2023-04, I now feel more confident than ever to approach my legislators in Connecticut to achieve accessible independent voting for the blind.

The only disappointing part of this convention is the same I find at every national convention. It is the lack of common courtesy at the elevators. Many people do not allow those who are on the elevators to get off before they go charging in. They also trample over people who are in front of them waiting in line, even though they have been told that they are there. Why does this happen every year? What happens to we are a loving family when it comes to elevators? Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people were very kind and helpful with swiping their card so people could then press their floor number. Doing both was a challenge. I just wish people would remember from year to year how to behave in a more generous manner. We are all going to the same places. We all must be patient and wait our turn. In the big scheme of things, this is a minor matter but an important one. All in all, let us all keep deep in our hearts and minds what President Riccobono said in his banquet speech. It is up to us, the blind, to change our world for the better. Whether it be accessible websites, voting, medical devices, or more, nobody is going to do it for us.

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