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Monday, September 26, 2016

ALDAcon Day Three - part two

This is the final installment of my experiences at the national convention for the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) held in Brookfield, Wisconsin, September 14-18, 2016. Since my last post, I changed my mind about writing about the dinner plans that didn't work out. Instead, I'm going to share about the Saturday night karaoke party and the Sunday morning Farewell Breakfast. All photos in this post are by convention photographer Ken Arcia and used with his permission.

The karaoke party is an ALDAcon tradition which I had heard about but never experienced before. I was very much looking forward to it! In the photo above, I am singing "If I Could Turn Back Time" by Cher with friends from ALDA Chicago. I had never sung karaoke before and I have to admit that sometimes the words just passed me by. I didn't know the song as well as I thought I did! Later on a group of us got back on the stage to sing "I've Got Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks. This time (in the photo below) I'm in the back row on the far left, only partially visible. 

We held balloons so we could feel the music through the vibrations on the surface of the latex. The volume in the room was LOUD. Foam earplugs were available for those of us with residual hearing to protect.

Elvis was in the house!

At midnight, we all gathered round in a circle and clasped hands to sing "The Wind Beneath My Wings", the traditional closing song of ALDAcon karoake nights. Then, some of us went upstairs to get some sleep and others went out to a local restaurant for an after party. I knew I had an hour's drive ahead of me the next day, so I chose to return to my room. I heard later some people had an after party after the after party which continued until about 5 a.m. Party animals!

At 8 a.m. the next morning, we had a Farewell Breakfast. In the photo above the crowd is "deaf applauding" my newcomers group. I hadn't known it in advance, but it's customary for the newcomers to come up to the microphone to share their experiences at the con. I managed to get those that were there up to the front and I stood close by for support as they shared their remarks. As you can see from the photos below, it was an emotional moment. I was very glad I had the opportunity to serve as Newcomers Chair for the convention and get to meet all these great people. I hope to see them again at next year's con.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

ALDAcon Day Three - part one

This is the third installment of my experiences this past week at the national convention for the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) held in Brookfield, Wisconsin. I was involved in this event as the Newcomers Chair and as a workshop presenter.

Saturday, September 17
Today was the day for my second presentation of the convention. I was excited to share my material on the subject on how to communicate effectively with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

In my workshop, I provided background information about hearing loss, discussed three behaviors a speaker can use proactively to make communication easier for the listener, hosted a Family Feud style game to brainstorm ideas for coping with the problem of background noise, and explained what to do when misunderstandings occur.

I realize that by presenting at ALDAcon, I was preaching to the choir, as they say. To my knowledge there was only one hearing person present in my audience. All the same, I received positive feedback such as this comment from my friend John Garvey on Facebook, "The communication workshop you gave not only put things into context but what can be done to communicate better was tangible....I can use it!" People also asked for the links to the resources I used so they could share the information with others. I was thankful for all my friends from ALDA Chicago who showed up to hear me speak as a sign of support, some of them having already heard the beta version of my presentation the previous year!

I was thrilled that two people I admire, outside of ALDA Chicago, chose to attend. In this photo taken afterwards, I am standing with John Waldo and Rebecca Herr. John Waldo is the lawyer who successfully litigated a lawsuit against major theater chains to force them to provide captioning access. John's work was an inspiration for my Show Us the Captions advocacy campaign in 2012. I wanted to follow up on what he had done and get people out to the movie theaters and using the access now available. When he commented online that the campaign was a good idea, I was empowered to make it happen.

John shared two pieces of advice with me after my presentation. He said to include in my section on social bluffing that people should NEVER pretend to understand when dealing with law enforcement. He also told me that when mentioning someone, it is helpful to place the context of that person ahead of their name. For example: librarian and blogger, Sarah Wegley rather than Sarah Wegley, librarian and blogger.

Rebecca Herr is an advocate I met at the 2011 ALDAcon in Indianapolis. I had surprised her back then by telling her I had come to the con just to meet her, after reading her bio in the program book. She graciously allowed me to have my photo taken with her. Fast forward five years to the Milwaukee con. I passed Rebecca in the hallway and she remembered me. She told me that she was pleased to see my name in the program book this time and that she was coming to hear me speak. When she said that, I felt like I was walking on air!

She did even more for me. She sat with me at two of the meals and shared samples of the work she has been doing in the past year. Earlier, I had been raving about her to my roommate and when she gave me the handouts, I turned to Michelle and said, "See! This is why I admire her so much!" Rebecca has wonderful skills for advocacy and I know I can learn much from her as a role model. I plan to stay in touch with her and share her materials with my ALDA Chicago chapter with her blessing.

Pat Graves, the CART reporter for my presentation, suggested that I could do this presentation for human resource personnel at large corporations. An idea like that had never occurred to me and I'll have to give that some thought and see how that kind of connection might be made. Diana Thorpe, one of the interpreters, said that she could tell I enjoyed public speaking and that I ought to continue making presentations. I have not yet received the audience evaluations, but Kathy Evans, Program Chair, told me they were unusually positive. I deeply appreciate the affirmation I received from this very supportive group of my peers.

photo by Ken Arcia

At Saturday's Inspiration Luncheon, we heard Richard Brown, retired chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, share his story of coping with hearing loss. I was moved by his speech but his words meant even more to Michelle, who had undergone the same surgery as Judge Brown. 

In my next installment, I will write about dinner plans that went awry and the awesome karaoke party that followed. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

ALDAcon 2016 Day Two

This is the second installment of my experiences this past week at the national convention for the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) held in Brookfield, Wisconsin. I was involved in this event as the Newcomers Chair and as a workshop presenter.

Photo by Ken Arcia

On Friday morning, I attended a workshop about the forthcoming ALDA national website. I was interested in the subject because I am the webmaster at my library job and for the ALDA Chicago chapter's site:

The new ALDA Inc. website will use WordPress and provide a landing page for each local chapter that wants one. In the picture above you can see a hero banner layout that allows an image or video to fill the background of a section with text in the foreground. This design feature was new to me.

A major goal of the upgrade is to change from a text heavy site to one that is more visually appealing, has clearer calls to action and is a breeze to navigate. Brian Patrick Jensen (seated in the photo) is leading the project and he said he would allow me access to the test site so I can provide him feedback. I'm looking forward to that.

Later at the Appreciation Luncheon, I was thrilled when my friend Kim Mettache won the Fearless Leader Award. Kim was the first person I met through ALDA. Back in 2008, I walked into her Northwest Indiana chapter meeting and knew I was where I belonged. Congratulations, Kim!

Other awards announced were Angel to Ken Arcia; Able ALDAn to Carolyn Piper; Brainstorm to Joe Duarte, Innocaption; and President's Appreciation to John Waldo.

Photo by Ken Arcia

In the afternoon, Tess Crowder taught us how to be happy through SCHLUVITTT. Her acronym taught to us through repetition is
  • S - say something nice
  • C - compare 
  • H - health
  • L - laugh
  • U - understand
  • V - volunteer
  • I - inner child
  • T - train your brain
  • T - try something new
  • T - thanks
Tess is an amazing speaker, full of energy, and someone who likes to have fun in life. She is now hosting a weekly captioned radio show called Tess Talk on Saturday mornings. You can learn more on her website.

On Friday evening, we had an opportunity to dress up for a banquet. Prior to the start of the meal, all of the folks from ALDA Chicago gathered for a group photo. According to Ken, there were 27 of us. I'd say we were a presence at the convention. 

Photo by Ken Arcia

Here is a photo taken back inside the hotel. I am standing with two other board members for ALDA Chicago - Tom Garvey, treasurer and Marsha Swetin, secretary. 

After our dinner of salmon or prime rib, I went upstairs to chill and review my speaker notes for my presentation the next morning. It felt good just to relax with my roommate Michelle Donnelly, who is also on the ALDA Chicago board. Here's a photo of the two of us at the Thursday luncheon. It was amazing getting to know her better and was one of the best parts of my convention experience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

ALDAcon 2016 Day One

This is the first installment of my experiences this past week at the national convention for the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) held in Brookfield, Wisconsin. I was involved in this event as the Newcomers Chair and as a workshop presenter.

Thursday, September 15
The first event of the morning was the Newcomer's Breakfast. I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation for this orientation session and arrived early to set up. This paid off because it's never good to start your day with someone asking, "Where's your HDMI cord?" My what? I thought to myself. It turned out that the slot on my laptop did not fit the HDMI cable the hotel had provided. Oh dear. Fortunately, Bob Brewer, ALDA's tech wiz, solved the problem.

I enjoyed speaking to the group, although I was overly mindful of pacing myself with my ASL interpreter and CART writer. Another hitch was not being aware that the event sponsor needed to speak before I did. Oops. I found that out in the middle of my friend Marsha Swetin's introduction of me. To fix things, I walked to the microphone after she finished speaking, but instead of beginning my speech, I introduced the Hamilton Relay sponsor, Mitchell Levy. No sweat. It was all part of learning the ropes of Newcomers Chair.

In the photo below, I asked the newcomers to raise their hands if they're a fan of baseball. In my speech, I welcomed them to Milwaukee and then talked about the ALDA organization and its leadership team. I provided tips for making the most of the con and described the various events planned. I wanted to help the newcomers know what to expect during their stay and who they could turn to if they needed any assistance.

photo by Ken Arcia

Here's a photo of our newcomers group, all of them being first time attendees of ALDAcon. They each took a turn at the microphone introducing themselves at the end of the program. Seven of them are from the Chicago area so I look forward to seeing them at my local chapter gatherings.

I was surprised and deeply moved when Prem Gurung, a newcomer from Nepal presented me with a gift in appreciation for the informative emails I had sent to him in advance of his arrival at the convention. Below is a photo of the sculpture of Arya Tara, a goddess or "wife of Buddha" as my new friend explained. She represents a message of peace that Prem carries to the world in his travels. I've given her a place of honor in my home.

After the breakfast, it was time for the keynote address by the first deaf woman to lead an American college or university, Dr. Jane Fernandes, president of Guilford College in North Carolina.

photo by Ken Arcia

Her speech was very inspiring to me. She seems to have found her home at Guilford, a school founded by Quakers. After her unsuccessful bid to be president of Gallaudet University, Jane told us she "started to search for a place where I could be the person I am." She decided she would be deaf and herself. She said that "the limits we put on ourselves are the most damaging". Her speech made me feel better about myself, especially in terms of my own perception of being not deaf enough for some.

After this opening session, I attended a one-hour workshop on basic sign language taught by Tina Childress and Sharaine Rawlinson Roberts. For me, it was a good review. I attended because I wanted to see if I was making my signs correctly. One that needed fixing was the sign for "nice". I had been signing it as "excuse me". I liked that we had two presenters to help illustrate the regional differences. The signs I know are the ones Tina, who is from Illinois, used.

Then, it was time for the President's Luncheon featuring former Gallaudet President I. King Jordan as our speaker. This was my first time to see this famous man in person. He is perhaps best known for the Deaf President Now student protest in March 1988 that ended with his appointment as president. I. King Jordan is also known for saying, "Deaf people can do anything but hear.” 

I. King Jordan and Jane Fernandes
photo by Ken Arcia

I especially liked the part of his speech where he shared the advice he gave to ALDAn Jane Schlau at a previous convention. He told her to go back to her room, look in the mirror, and say to herself, "I am a deaf woman. I am deaf and will always be deaf. A deaf woman is who I am." His point was about accepting yourself as you are.

I was surprised to learn that despite all of his achievements and the recognition he has received, he still faces communication access obstacles in our society. To me this says, more work needs to be done to raise public awareness of our needs.

Later that evening, I had an opportunity to meet I. King Jordan. I could not resist the opportunity to have my picture taken with him although he was reluctant at first because I was wearing a Cubs t-shirt, ha ha. My friend Tom Garvey took this photo after the film showing of Signs of the Times.

The movie was a documentary on the origin of hand signals in baseball and included Dummy Hoy who made history as the first deaf major league baseball player. He’s famous not just because he was deaf; he was also a talented baseball player. I know because my husband looked him up and said his stats are impressive even by today's standards.

After the film, I had fun reconnecting with Lisa Rettino, a friend I had made in Austin two years prior at the convention for the Hearing Loss Association of America. We had lots of giggles together with my roommate, Michelle Donnelly (not pictured) and learned a bit more about deaf culture. What a day! And that was only the first one. I'll continue the narrative later.