Future Reflections        Convention Issue 2013

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Flinging Open the Closet

by Deborah Kent Stein

Deborah Kent SteinAs I prepare this issue of Future Reflections, I ask myself how I can best convey the experience of a National Federation of the Blind convention. Vibrant ... intense ... jam-packed ... The words are the right ones, but they hardly capture the convention spirit. An image springs into my mind--the famous closet from the old-time radio series Fibber McGee and Molly. At some point in nearly every episode, an unsuspecting character opens the closet door and unleashes a clattering cascade of pots and pans, tools, toys, mops, brooms, and boxes. Attending an NFB convention is a bit like opening Fibber McGee's closet. Once you've opened the door, it's impossible to close it again, and you never know what will tumble out.

Each day of convention is filled with carefully planned events, opportunities for attendees to learn about technology, legislation, education, and careers. There are workshops on everything from math and Braille to movement, science, and art. There's a book fair where kids can pick out free Braille books, and there's even a fashion show. Groups gather to discuss areas of special interest: blind writers, blind musicians, blind people in health and human services, blind lawyers, blind parents, blind entrepreneurs, blind people who work in information technology, and blind people in communities of faith. All of these meetings are open to anyone who wishes to listen and to share ideas.

The scheduled activities are rich and informative. Yet for most convention attendees, the real excitement comes from the unexpected, the moments when a door opens and sets loose an avalanche of possibilities. A child with a long white cane steps onto an escalator for the first time. A shy girl finds her way to the pool and spends the afternoon hanging out with a crowd of other teens. A pair of blind college students discover they share a passion for chemistry and compare strategies for participating in labs. And everyone, everywhere, seems to be talking about the latest in accessible apps for the iPhone. Strangers strike up conversations as they wait for elevators or stand in line to be seated at hotel restaurants. By the end of the week, they are strangers no longer, but friends who will stay in touch all year long.

Faith Switzer with a large Braille bookThe seventy-third convention of the National Federation of the Blind met from July 1 to July 6 at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida. Convention began with "No Limits," an all-day conference for parents and teachers, sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Other activities of special interest to parents and professionals were spread throughout the week. Children from infants to age ten played and learned in NFB Childcare, while tweens and teens took part in a series of Youth Track activities.

During the general sessions, more than twenty-five hundred blind people, as well as their friends and families, listened to presentations about our challenges and triumphs. NFB President Marc Maurer inspired his audience with an account of the Federation's achievements over the preceding year. Convention closed on a high note with the annual banquet. Dr. Maurer delivered a stirring address entitled "The Power of Belonging," and the 2013 NFB Scholarship winners received their awards.

Some of the articles in this issue of Future Reflections are drawn from presentations given at the NOPBC conference or during the general sessions. In others, convention attendees relate their experiences and share what convention meant to them and their families. The photos capture moments of fun and excitement typical of convention week for all who take part.

If you attended convention in 2013, the photos and articles in this issue may bring back memories of your own experiences. If you haven't yet been to an NFB convention, perhaps you will be inspired to join us next summer. Come to Orlando in 2014. Fling open the closet and see what discoveries tumble forth!

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