First-time Con adventures
Chicago Con is over, and what a great adventure we all have packed away in our memories, now! I hope this account, written also for myself and for my family, will be interesting to those who did not make it to Chicago.
To start at the beginning, it was a 1 1/2 hour drive to Ottawa Airport for my direct flight to O'Hare Airport on Wednesday, July 18th. Flight time was 1:30 p.m., arrival time 2:25 (one hour time difference).
My flight left Ottawa about 35 minutes late and went well except for some rough spots. The 12 row plane was less than half full. Arrival at O'Hare was an hour or so late, but I hoped to get to the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown North in good time. I found the shuttle bus area (I thought) and waited for the Continental Airport Express, while many other busses came and went. There was nobody at the nearby information booth and no other source of information near the bus stop. Finally I decided to cross the street to the Airport Hilton to enquire. I was told to walk a block away and cross a road to the shuttle bus stop. Trundle, trundle, trundle went my suitcase wheels once again. I found the stop but in a long list of hotels which the bus stopped at, mine was not included. So I was forced to ask a driver and was told yes, my hotel was included. After a long wait the proper shuttle came and set off through the Chicago rush hour for a 1 1/2 hour ride. At the hotel I checked in and headed up the elevator to the 14th floor. On the way up I opened the folder the room card was in, and there discovered the number was for the 17th floor. Since I was already headed for the 14th I decided to check that room first, inserted the card, and the door opened. "Eeeelaine???" And so two people only familiar in e-mails met!
That evening we had a special event - our Bob Elkins, one of the founders of SayWhatClub, and a people shepherd if ever there was one, had turned 65 that day, and a number of members were on hand to gather and help Bob demolish his cake (very suitably decorated with a grinning computer!) This was a time for some to renew acquaintances from previous Cons. I, a first-timer, enjoyed the chance to meet some people before the rest arrived.
The next day, Thursday, saw many more members arrive. The special event was a "Chicago Style Pizza Reception" at the home of member Mary Clark. Mary lives in an area of Chicago which is unique and special in that many of the homes were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. As an artist, I was delighted to find that his home and studio were just a block from Mary's place and I twice walked around the block, getting to know different SWC'ers on each walk. Mary's large house was surrounded by a veranda where we all made ourselves at home, ate, and tried valiantly to ignore the hot and humid weather. Mary's warmth and her consternation about the expired mouse on her pathway soon put us at ease and we all had a fine time. Thank you, Mary, for this special time.
One of our members from Texas, Ann Stalnaker - a golden-hearted lady indeed, arranged for a bus to carry all the participating members to Mary's home. Many members had been worried about making their way there on their own and about the extra expense. Ann wiped away those concerns. Unfortunately, Ann herself was unable to get to Chicago as planned and so I did not have the pleasure of meeting her in person.
Friday came, and we got down to business and of course, more pleasure, starting with a breakfast buffet. Five workshops were available. I attended four. As well as the workshops, there were several outings planned during the Conference that I did not participate in but which got good reports - a Blue Man show, a dinner cruise and other events. Many of us walked the area or took the free sightseeing buses. The heat and humidity that we found difficult did not seem to deter the crowds of people everywhere. The smog eliminated any view of the lake and the skyscraper tops most of the time. I did, however, find the area very interesting and attractive - nice parks, fine buildings, various panoramas.
These workshops were, from my point of view, very interesting indeed. The first, "All the Livelong Day with a Cochlear Implant" was by Chicago career consultant Patricia Clickener, who has a long list of accomplishments and involvements and who received a CI in l988. This workshop also had several CI users describing their CI-related experiences.
The second workshop on Friday was a Cochlear Implants Presentation by Bryan Rees of Med-El Corporation. This technology-based workshop was very informative.
Thirdly, the panel "Successful Living with a Disability" was presented by Dr. Malisa Janes, a Rehabilitation professional, and Sandra Macias, Certified Seminar Leader and Entrepreneur. This workshop included information about such as the American Disability Act, more relevant to the American attendees, and I attended only part of it.
A mini-workshop by our own Jane Schlau and Christine Seymour running over the noon hour encouraged me to learn a few signs and to plan to learn more. I did not attend a mini-workshop in the afternoon by Malisa and Sandra, "Building a Coalition for Community Access."
Saturday started with a breakfast buffet again, followed by the workshop, "The ADA and You." I did not attend. A half-hour Cochlear Implants Presentation by Jennifer Arcaroli for Cochlear Corporation was another interesting technical presentation.
My favorite presentation, "Relationships and Hearing Loss", lasting an hour and a quarter, was too short! It was a wonderful presentation which touched me, a nearly life-long HOH person, profoundly. Our own Jane hosted a panel of five couples - Marti and Tom Castor, Brenda and Walt Dawe, Ling and Bob Elkins, Claudia and John Glenn and Karen and Dan Sadler. The title of the panel is self-explanatory. The couples had all been married +20 years and had many similar experiences but also different ones. Hearing loss varied. Their experiences were poignant and helpful, sometimes amusing and sometimes sad. I wept buckets and ran out of tissues. (Thanks for the pat, Susan!) If we have more such panels in future cons I suggest they be in a room with an escape door which will permit one to dissolve in the corridor but still be able to see the panel!
Saturday afternoon, Dr. Janes had another mini-workshop, "Cookbooks for doing Self Advocacy". I did not attend.
Already, it was time for the Saturday Banquet and we all polished up our persons accordingly. Surely the winner in elegance was the nearly 90 years old LaVon in her high heels! The banquet was enjoyed and the part I liked best was the chance to visit with a few people I hadn't yet met. For entertainment we had a good presentation by Jerry Schloffman for Advanced Bionics Corporation, "The Clarion Bionic Ear, The Future in Cochlear Implants, Today". Patricia Clickener was the keynote speaker.
Sunday came. We brunched together and had the Town Hall Meeting. Bob gave one of his poignant and entertaining talks on being deaf. The 50/50 results ($475 raised, if I recall correctly) were announced and Everett Chard of Forum was the happy winner of half the amount. There were hugs all around. We began to head homeward and that, it turned out, was more than adventure for many. Reports have come in, and my trip home was not the worst one! I had a 4:50 flight to Ottawa but an intense storm hit about an hour before flight time. The rain beat against the windows and they soon were car-wash clean. Then my plane took a very long time to come from somewhere, during which time many planes - evidently there were 40 at one point - lined up and crept slowly to their allotted "slot". Elaine and I and Jean Eisner (World) had bussed to O'Hare together. Elaine (as I found out later) caught an earlier plane. When my plane finally did arrive, it was a long time before it could take off, and eventually we did take off - four hours late. Strangely, it seemed a quick trip from then on.
It was a tired husband that awaited me in Ottawa and we didn't arrive at home until 12:30 a.m. He didn't have trouble staying awake for the drive, however - I was talking his ears off!
Thoughts and experiences re the Chicago Con
To start off with, I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this (for me) first-time Conference. This was due to the many people involved in the organizing and carrying out of the conference as a whole. I am impressed at the terrific job that you all did - thank you, every one.
It was not possible to get to know everyone attending but it was very special getting to know the folks that I did spend time with. I must first mention my room-mate, Elaine Procida. Elaine made me immediately welcome even though I was much later arriving than we expected. As a third-time Conference goer, it was helpful that she showed me some of the ropes. There was an extra rope involved when she became aware of my remarkable ability to go in the wrong directions and she soon got to work imprinting on me the right ones. I think I noted some progress on the last day.
Elaine and I had of course become acquainted on e-mail. It was gratifying and a bit surprising to me that we could then be compatible as room-mates when we had actually never met in person. We did most of the same things and skipped the same things too, and that worked out well. We even "arranged" to have one breakfast all by ourselves one morning, while everyone else had theirs in the conference room. Yes, we know how Bob got wind of that, Ling!!!
It was amazing to me how comfortable I felt with this group of people I had never met before. I am generally not relaxed in a social situation and this event was entirely different. Here at home I end up exhausted after every social demand, even a trip to town for the weekly groceries. Even after a day of conference and sightseeing in all that heat, my energy lasted well and the exhausted feeling didn't evolve. I think that says a lot about the stress that hard of hearing and deaf people experience in their daily lives.
This event held a number of new experiences for me other than that of interacting happily with a lot of people. I felt a little bit out of it when I realized how many people could sign and how important signing was for many in order to communicate, especially the more recently deafened. I have resolved to learn some signing even though I have nobody at home to sign with. Despite the difficulty of not knowing sign myself, communication still was good, I thought, because everyone could use an alternative method. Notepad and pen, speech reading, help of others - it would work somehow. And wonder of wonders, nobody got embarrassed if you didn't understand right off, like happens in the hearing world. We just tried again. The whole situation was just so stress-free for me that I felt renewed.
This was my first experience of interpreters and CART. They were wonderful. The interpreters were so easy to speech read and so pleasant to talk to afterwards. The CART - captions - was the means whereby for the first time ever I was able to follow all that was being said. Right there, an impossibility for me became a reality. Even the technology-based workshops were easy to follow.
I found the whole program in Chicago was good. It was informative and enjoyable and the subjects were appropriate and generally well presented. We had free time in which to socialize and follow up on various aspects like talking to the presenters or checking out the silent auction. I had expected that the time might drag at times but instead, found that there wasn't enough of it!
There were times when I would have liked my husband to have been on hand to experience some of the presentations. However, and this is a personal explanation, after +43 years of our married lives mostly revolving about his needs and professional requirements, I needed to prove to myself that I could be a person in my own right. I have a hard time meeting the public and need to push myself to take on challenges in order to upgrade my confidence and self-esteem. Chicago Con was a good chance to do this - to travel alone, to meet people and deal with them without help (necessary or otherwise!), to feel free to follow my inclinations without putting another person first. I was aware that my husband, who does not easily reveal his feelings, was having a reaction to my trip that was not clear to me. I felt it was important to explore this and he then explained that he felt he was not needed and his feelings about me taking off on my own were ambiguous - he felt it would be good for me, but he also would have like to have gone himself. I had no trouble understanding these feelings and felt better that they had been expressed. I thought it might be interesting for some of you to see this other side - the hearing spouse has feelings too. This was one of the points brought out in the special Relationships and Hearing Loss Panel that I so strongly related to.
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