by Paul Edwards
A convention is a gathering of people. It is also a custom. In a very real sense, a convention of the American Council of the Blind is both. I find myself thinking about the “virtual” convention that is planned for July and thought I would share some of what I am thinking about.
Those of us who are totally blind do not see the people who are there. We know those who are present by their voices, mostly. So, in a way, we will be able to imagine those we hear through headphones or speakers with more reality than may be available for those who have some vision. For us the voice is much of what a person is. For us, though, there is more. There is the sound of a dog’s harness or the smell of a familiar perfume. There is sometimes a special way a person uses a cane or a particular cough we recognize!
There are so many conventions at conventions that we will probably miss. We are in lines and we speak to each other and gather a sense of another person. We find ourselves at meetings sitting next to a stranger who becomes a friend. We are part of a cacophony of voices at a reception where we often stand quietly simply allowing the sea of noise to flow around us with occasional comprehensible phrases and a sense of wonder. All these people have come from their different places to be here, and many are frightened or lonely or disconnected from their reality and float like flotsam on the surface of where we are mumbling conventional platitudes and having no notion of what the conventions really are.
We know the rules, though. We obey them. We give a little of ourselves to our neighbor but most of us avoid letting people know much about who we really are. We drink. We talk. We dip our toes into the water of acquaintance and, by the end of the week, we will have people to take home with us. We will have experiences to remember! We will have friends we have made! We will have pride that we have survived and flourished in an alien and frightening environment where noise and smell and tactile inputs are the creators of our impressions.
A virtual convention is less immersive, but I am sure it will have its own defining qualities. Perhaps it will be a purer kind of exercise without the uncertainty and submergence in the experience of the senses that is being somewhere new with new people and old friends and unfamiliar places. And yet there is something to be said for the virtual convention. People who can’t afford to come can participate as fully as those of us who usually go. We will be choosing events because we can’t be everywhere. But we will not deviate as we might have if present in Illinois. At conventions we meet people; plans change; what seems important before we get there is lost in the sudden onslaught of relationships. We change our plans because of people. We alter our attitudes because we have been enriched by the interaction with others and deepened our sense of who we are through contact.
I guess it is my hope that our virtual convention will persuade people who have never come before that the exercise of being a part of ACB’s national convention is worth the effort of getting geographically to the next one. I hope that those who experience the virtual convention will want more. For me, though the virtual convention is a fine and noble undertaking, it will not take the place of the in-person assembly. I will miss it all! I cannot wait ‘til next year when I hope I will be able to once more be a part of all of the regular and usual conventions of our convention! I am overjoyed that our convention is happening, but I say to all of you that next year is the lodestone toward which I look!