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What Is It Like For a Deaf-Blind Person to Attend a Conference?

I am a new member of NFB: AE, who is deaf-blind, and who attended the annual conference held in Toronto in May, 2000.I learned of NFB: AE when someone sent me an email copy of the Canadian Blind Monitor. I use a Braille display and this gives me access to a lot of information. Reading about a national federation of advocates, was so exciting. I found myself instantly interested. The Monitor contained a variety of subjects that are important to me. I know nothing changes until people work together to develop ways of improving situations. I wanted to be a part of that plan for change in our country.

Going to any meeting is difficult for me, my communication is a tactile sign called British Two Hand Manual. With little hearing and no sight, I depend on an intervener, who signs to me what others say so that I can participate. Rarely do I get the financial support to pay for this necessary professional service. I sent my email to NFB: AE, saying I was interested in being a member and doing whatever I could to help advocate for changes that would give us better access and more services.

I expressed an interest to attend the conference, but I wasn't sure this would be at all possible. A conference where people are constantly communicating, that is a tremendous challenge for a deaf-blind person. The personal challenge of concentrating is but a small aspect of the total challenge. First step, before anything else was looking after my communication needs, interveners must be located and the resources to pay them for the duration of the conference. It requires two people, since the communicating is happening from the time I get up, until I go to bed. If I am to interact, a person must be there at all times to help with the process of speaking to others, something everyone else takes for granted.

I had to locate two professionals who know my method of communication, the British two hand Manual, and coordinate all the details. I use short forms, making the speed of signing faster. So the two interveners had to know my short forms, in order that we could keep pace with the activities.

With members of the Conference committee and myself we managed to acquire financial assistance from CNIB, and I located a team of interveners who could do the job.

During each day, I rarely communicate continuously for more than a few hours, and this is definitely not a daily occurrence. I know I can communicate for long hours but how long could I do this at a fast paced conference? I wasn't sure. Yet, I remained excited to have the real opportunity to be a part of improving services and acquiring new services that are needed. This conference was the first time I have used intervention to participate at a group meeting, over 3 days, at a regular conversation speed. I have been at conferences for deaf- blind persons, where the communication is slowed down to accommodate the varied skills and abilities of those using many different methods to communicate. I have sat on committees with persons who are not communication impaired, but only for limited periods of time. I am pleased to learn what capabilities I have, thanks to everyone who helped me to attend and participate as everyone else had managed to do. We were all tired at the end of each day. I certainly was!

Many of the needs of a blind person, match those of a deaf-blind person. The need for information produced in Braille, the training in technology both equipment and software use, removal of mobility barriers and accessible pedestrian signals. I do have the unique need for intervention services, provided on a daily basis, but many of my other unmet needs are needs that others have who are blind and vision-impaired. Meeting people, explaining my communication method, learning from presenters, listening to the processes of how NFB: AE operates, reviewing the constitution and bylaws, all these things I accomplished at the convention. It wasn't an easy task, but it was an enjoyable one. I listened, through my left hand, to the conversations and gave my opinions or questions as I felt the desire. Just being a part of such a dynamic group of hard working persons has sparked my energy and will to see that we are heard by those who can affect our lives for the better.

I had both interveners with me at meetings, so that they could take turns signing for half hour periods. In this way they can maintain their concentration. They worked for 14 hours each day. We rarely had to ask for persons to slow down, entirely due to the excellent professional skill of the interveners, and my will to succeed. I don't quite know how we did it, but it felt great to be a part of something so important to the future of persons with common needs.

NFB: AE has recognized that deaf-blind persons can be involved, and that we do have several common needs that must be addressed had a lot of information in Braille, that really helped me to assimilate all the information covered at the conference. I learned that I can give to others more than I had given myself credit for being able to do. I went with a big question mark about what Penny could do, and found out I have more to give than I had imagined. I learned that blind and sight impaired persons want to know about deaf-blind persons, and are quick to understand how the process of intervention works when communicating with a deaf-blind person. I plan to use my abilities to continue to be an active advocate of NFB: AE. Thanks to all participants who were so cooperative and understanding at the conference. We are working together formulating solutions and informatively advocating for our needs.

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