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Reflections on New Westminster

Editor's Note: Brenda Cooke, this magazine's Editor, asked three first-time attendees for their thoughts on AEBC's 2009 Conference and AGM. With the assistance of Sara Bennett, Associate Editor, she has recorded their perspectives here.

The 2009 Conference and Annual General Meeting of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) took place at the Inn at Westminster Quay in New Westminster, British Columbia, on the weekend of May 1-3, and saw the largest attendance yet in the 17 year history of the organization. Friday afternoon began with opening remarks from President Robin East and the Keynote Address by entrepreneur and activist Donna Jodhan. The Conference wrapped up at noon on Sunday, after a brief brainstorming session on the future direction of AEBC. In the interim, delegates attended workshops on employment, transportation, poverty, assistive devices programs, overcoming barriers to daily life, and abuse of blind and partially sighted women. In addition, members introduced resolutions on issues like advocacy, copyright, a clearinghouse for accessible information, digital rights management, calling out transit stops, and an AEBC listserv and archives. In their spare time, attendees enjoyed strolling along the Fraser River's boardwalk, dining at local restaurants, getting to know each other in the Hospitality Suite, and more.

Rob Gourley, President of AEBC's Saskatoon Chapter, found his first trip to an AEBC Conference and AGM a great learning experience. "I chose to attend the transportation workshop," he says, "because the presenters were long-time disability rights activists, and I wanted to learn from their knowledge and experience." He thought the resolutions passed later in the weekend, on access to print were particularly interesting, not to mention the method used by the large group of blind people for the process of voting at the AGM. Rob continues, "Socially, I enjoyed the paddleboat cruise and the Hospitality Suite, because I got to meet people from across Canada, learn about the types of blindness-related issues they face, and how they handle them." Rob also appreciated the hands-on exposure to the Trekker device, which assists in mobility, that a fellow AEBC member afforded him.

One of the advantages of attending AEBC's National Conference and AGM is the feeling of community it fosters. This was true for Mike Cornett, a member of the South Georgian Bay Chapter. "Because I come from a fairly small area in Ontario--sometimes feeling quite isolated--I was impressed that people at the conference were friendly, open-minded and willing to be of assistance," says Mike. "I thought, as a newcomer, I might not fit in, but I was relieved and pleased to discover my fears were unfounded." Mike heard about the Registered Disability Savings Plan for the first time at the conference, and was particularly interested in hearing about technology to assist with mobility. When he returned home, he had one more item than when he left--a talking alarm clock that he had won as a door prize!

Finally, Donna Jodhan, of AEBC's Toronto Chapter, went to the conference "to listen, learn, understand and interact." An entrepreneur and activist, she delivered the event's Keynote Address, and was later elected as AEBC's 2nd Vice President. While Donna went to the conference with few (if any) expectations, "What impressed me the most," she says, "was the superb job the organizers did at ensuring everything ran smoothly. The hotel accommodations were excellent, the boat cruise was well planned and executed, and the sessions all went off without a hitch. My heartiest congratulations to all!"

Here's looking forward to AEBC's 2010 AGM in Montreal, Quebec!

Note: To read notes from the President's Report that Robin East delivered at AEBC's 2009 AGM, see "A Glimpse of the Past and a Look into the Future for Rights Holders" elsewhere in these pages, and for more information on AEBC's Officers, see "2009-10 AEBC Board of Directors."