Monday, June 21, 2010
This past weekend, I went to Milwaukee with friends for the 2010 HLAA Convention. As it was my first hearing loss convention, I wasn't sure what to expect. Overall, I enjoyed the social aspect of meeting other hard of hearing people and getting to know better some that I had only known online previously. Some of the workshops I attended presented material I already knew but a few were more interesting.
Bill Barkeley was the keynote speaker on Thursday night. This amazing man who copes with Usher's syndrome (deafness + progressive vision loss) told us the story of his climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. After hearing about his inspiring adventure, I felt motivated to meet him and tell him about my friend with Usher's Syndrome. Initially I wanted to get his autograph for her with perhaps a brief note, but I had second thoughts about whether that was feasible with his vision loss and the lighting in the room so I got my photo taken with him instead.
Then it was time for the Welcome Reception. I enjoyed getting to meet old friends and new at the beautiful Milwaukee Hilton Hotel.
The next day I attended a research symposium where several respresentatives from the major hearing aid manufacturers discussed their latest research and development projects. As fate would have it, I ended up sitting in the seat right in front of my friend (e, who I had never met before in person. She writes a terrific blog and you can read her version of our meeting here. The funny thing is that while reading her blog, I had always pictured her as a brunette and as someone who lives in the opposite part of the country than where she actually lives. In real life she is just as fun, artistic, and energetic as her writing style. I hope our paths will cross again someday.
At the exhibit hall, I went to a product demo by Oticon where I learned about an FM system that may be a solution to hearing better at the reference desk. Julie (pictured) was excited to learn about additional products that will work with the streamer she already has which provides Bluetooth access to her cellphone.
The most exciting event of the conference was the Oktoberfest Banquet held in the Crystal Ballroom of the Hilton. The Crystal Ballroom lived up to its name. It was one of the most beautiful rooms I had ever seen. The German food served was absolutely delicious. I felt as though I were Cinderella at the ball. Later I was even asked to dance by a member of the Blaskapelle band and my fairy tale fantasy was complete. This was the first time I had ever tried to polka, but my partner reassured me I did fine and as a bonus didn't even step on his toes!
The next morning, I attended the convention's worship service. How wonderful to have everything captioned and accessible. I sang the hymns with joy and a sense of freedom from wondering what others might think. It didn't matter here.
Truly, throughout my four days in Milwaukee, it was an amazing experience to see almost everyone around me wearing a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. I felt as though I was attending a family reunion of sorts. There was a very real sense of community at the convention. If you have any questions about the conference, be sure and let me know.