Saturday, July 5, 2014

HLAA Convention: Day One

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Hearing Loss Association of America's convention June 26-29 in Austin, Texas. This was my second time attending their convention as I had been to the one in Milwaukee in 2010. When I went that time, I had gone with a group of friends from my local support group. This time I was on my own, but I had a great time meeting new people and making friends who share the hearing loss experience.

The first new friends I made were a couple I met while on the plane travelling from Chicago to Austin. I flew on Southwest Airlines which allows passengers to choose their own seats. Believe it or not, the seat I chose was next to a deaf woman and her hard of hearing boyfriend. Naturally, I assumed they were going to the convention as well. But they weren't and had not heard of HLAA before. I shared my latest issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which I had brought to read on the plane, with Leslie and she read it from cover to cover. I invited the couple to come over to the vendor expo in the convention and we exchanged contact information. What a great start to my trip.

The next amazing thing that happened to me was on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel. A man sat next to me and said I looked familiar. I did not remember meeting him before, so I mentioned that I write an online blog. He asked me what the name of the blog was. I said, "Speak Up Librarian" and he said, "Yes, that's it." I have never been recognized from my blog before so that was pretty thrilling for me. He asked me what I've been blogging about lately and I told him the story about SoundBite. He told me his name was Richard Einhorn and that he was the keynote speaker for the conference. I felt a little embarrassed that I hadn't recognized him! I mentioned that I was interested in talking with HLAA staff and he told me he would introduce me. We had a lovely time chatting during the half hour ride from the airport to the convention hotel, the Renaissance Austin.

Photo of me & Richard Einhorn taken during the convention.
I had arranged my hotel room too late to get into the convention hotel, so I was booked in at a nearby hotel called Staybridge Suites Arboretum. I'm giving this hotel a shout-out on my blog because their guest service was incredible. The hotel staff ran a shuttle van service back and forth throughout the day to the convention hotel. All guests needed to do was send them a text message. I really appreciated the way they never made me feel like a bother and were quick to respond to my messages. 

A half hour after arriving at the hotel, I took the shuttle over to the convention. I registered and received my conference bag and T-shirt. Then I headed up to my first workshop, Pat Dobb's presentation on The Hearing Loss Revolution: Empowering People with Hearing Loss through the Nine Guiding Principles. Pat organized her workshop around telling her own story. She was a very interesting speaker. She gave her audience a bookmark with the 9 principles printed on it. If you are curious to learn what those are, please visit her website where you can find them and much more.

The next workshop I went to was Brian Patrick Jensen's talk on Perserverance to Triumph. At 48 years of age, Brian suffered a sudden hearing loss which cost him his job as a vice president of human resources. When this happened, he talked to the contacts in his job network and asked them to tell him honestly what his chances were of obtaining a similar position. They all told him no, it wouldn't happen. Brian's workshop acknowledged that employment bias against the deaf is real. He talked about how humans are hardwired to be overly optimistic and how that can be a trap. He said that people who persevere are "cynically wise".  Brian is now employed with Communication Services for the Deaf. I really appreciated what he had to say because I had never considered life from that perspective before. You can learn more about his perseverance beliefs at this blog post on his website. 

Then it was time for Richard Einhorn's keynote address. I found a seat near the front of the large auditorium. The room was looped so I switched my hearing aid to the T-coil setting which delivered the audio from the sound system directly to my hearing aids. Richard showed us a short video from "Voices of Light". He composed the music for this silent film about Joan of Arc. You can hear a small sample here. I was glad he added this to his presentation as I was unfamiliar with his work. Richard is a tech wizard who uses many gadgets to deliver the sound quality he needs in difficult hearing environments like restaurants. He spoke of PSAPs - personal sound amplifiers and wireless multi-mic assistive listening systems. He said that we need to get over our embarrassment about hearing aids which leads the manufacturers to make them smaller and less visible. He reminded us that larger devices are more powerful and will give us better sound quality. Most memorable of all, he stated that the smart phone is a "Swiss army knife for hearing loss". Alas, I do not own a smart phone so that part of his talk was lost on me. You can learn more about Richard's approach to dealing with hearing loss on this NPR interview. You can find the transcript of the NPR broadcast here.

My exciting day ended that evening with a Get Acquainted Party which featured a western theme. Caption Call sponsored this event and offered raffle prizes and a Wild West photo booth to add to the fun. I put on a western shirt and had my photo taken against a plain backdrop. The photographer selected a Wild West background for my photo and printed out a copy for me. I scanned the photo and some of the sepia color is gone but you can get the general idea. It was really fun to watch other people try out the various costumes provided and take their turns posing. I enjoyed chatting with the women I had met throughout the day and getting to know them better.

On the shuttle ride back to my hotel, I had the pleasure of meeting another one of the conference speakers, Nancy Williams. It was marvelous to connect with her ahead of her presentation which is one I had picked out to attend with great anticipation. 

I can't imagine a better first day at a convention. I knew I had come to the right place even if I had to come on my own. I will share more about my convention experiences in additional posts to come.


Xpressive Handz said...

Sarah, what a great write up about your experience! You were especially blessed to have had a chance to meet such inspiring people from the conference. Your blog has made you quite famous. :-) It's pretty cool Mr. Einhorn recognized you! I'll be watching for your next post. BTW.. thank YOU for putting the Oticon Focus on People at the to right hand corner of your blog and the link for people to vote for me.

Liz Fisher said...

Hi Sarah. I have so much looked forward to reading this post. It sounded like you had such a fun day with lots of information. I look forward to further posts and will certainly be looking at the other links you shared here to read more.

Sarah Wegley said...

Thanks, Joyce. It was an amazing time. What a difference communication access makes. I felt so empowered as a traveler on my own. I met great people in every workshop and event and even just hanging around in the hallways.

I am so happy to put your nomination and the link to vote for you on my blog and to make it as prominent as I can.

Sarah Wegley said...

Thanks, Liz. I would have loved to have gone there with you. The Texas hospitality was great. You would have had a good impression of America.

Thanks for letting me know you will look into the links. I am hoping by writing about my experiences to share some of the knowledge I learned with those unable to attend.

Dee said...

What a wonderful adventure! Nice narrative.