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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.


Ken Arcia said...

It was so great to meet you, Sarah. You did a fab job with the Newcomers and I see you going far in the ALDA organization. Look forward to more of this blog too. Glad to share my photos with you as well. Patiently waiting for the next post... :)

Jean - Librarian said...

A wonderful recap of Day 1. Very well-written!