With closing time approaching the Exhibit Hall, I managed to catch Laurie and Jennifer as they were just leaving the state leaders meeting and from the looks upon their face, nothing was accomplished. We started to gravitate to the opening session featuring the keynote speaker, Ollie Cantos. First glance, the Grand Ballroom featured the most coveted crystal chandeliers and sculpted ceiling niches that this east coaster has even seen. There were so many different layers of elegance to this room from the rich brocade carpentry to refined look of fabric upon the walls. Since my eyes are more apt to notice details in the distance, especially when you can't miss them, I noticed there was two huge screens, one was for the CART which stands for Communication Access Real time Translation. The other screen was for a power point presentation. There was a sign language interpretor bubbling around the stage as well. I noticed that the sign language interpretors out there all wore a black shirt which deviates from New Jersey interpretors, ours just slap on any old shirt of any color.
Mike, Laurie, Jennifer, and I strolled up the aisle to some grab seats as close as we could to the stage, we noticed a never-ending sea of chairs. We struck gold because once we managed to get seats in the second row right in front of the CART screen. As the hour drew closer to the commencement of open session, the sea of chairs was being replaced with people that suffer from a hearing loss, just as I do. I was not alone here. The feeling of being a minority was replaced with a signifying impression that I was among a group where people suffering from a hearing loss was a majority.
Barbara Kelly kicked off the opening session welcoming the lot of us. She introduced Brenda Battat, executive director of the HLAA and Anne Pope, President of the HLAA Board of Trustees who extended their wholesome greeting and salutations. Barbara completely blindsided Dr. Mark Ross with a surprise, the Lifetime Achievement Award. I quote Barbara when she called him the "Father of Audiology." You can read more about Dr. Ross here. When I first started reading the Hearing Loss magazine, I had read a few of his articles showcasing his expertise as an audiologist and a consumer. The May/June magazine that I appeared in, Dr. Ross wrote an article called, "Listening to Music through a Cochlear Implant." I have to admit when I was reading the other articles, most of contributors had three lovely little letters attached to the end of their names such as PhD or ESQ and I have the bookkeeper. :) At least I am in good company!
Now came for the pièce de résistance of the opening session, Mr. Ollegario "Ollie" D. Cantos VII, ESQ. (there are those three little letters again!) I am a little rusty with my Roman numerals but I think that VII means seven. Ollie is the Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice. His status of special counsel makes him one of the highest placed persons with a disability in the ranks of the federal government today. What kind of disability does he have? He was born blind. The status and the respect that he has achieved in his 37 years are truly remarkable. If you do a Google search on him, you will see a list a mile long of his accomplishments, awards, marathons. He is definitely someone you would want to rub elbows with. :)
When Barbara introduced him to the audience, we watched him make his way to the stage utilizing his white cane with such skill. Once he took his place behind the podium and began his speech, we were mesmerized with his careful and powerful dictation of motivational quips. He emphasized that there are several disability rights laws which he had no problem citing but they end up being buried and because of that, they lack in the enforcement. He stressed that it is dubiously important that those of us living with a hearing loss must reach out make the U.S. Department of Justice HEAR US to continue to enhance disability rights awareness and enforcement. He proved that he is downright serious about reaching out to us because he provided the audience with his email address and telephone number. This provided us with a way of cutting through the red tape and getting the answers that we need from the tippy top branch of government. He stressed the importance of "networking" with one another. He went one step further and said that he is staying for the entire convention he wants to talk to each and every single of us there. He wanted to hear what we had to say. When he was done talking, I think it is safe to say that he left a profound impact on us and was ready to put his tips to good use.
As he made his way to the stairs, he became dangerously close to a part of the stage that didn't have the steps. I think the entire audience leaned forward and gasped in unison. Jennifer, Laurie, and I stretched our arms out as if they were going to prevent him from taking another step forward. Next thing we see is Barbara scrambling up the steps to guide him in the right direction. Whew, crisis averted!
On Saturday, Ollie gave a workshop called, "The ADA and YOU." This was more like a lets pick Ollie's brain session. It was a full house, and questions were being fired left and right and he answered every single one of them. I've come to realize in the workshop that the issues that people with a hearing loss face with receiving simple accommodations to enable them to perform their job to the best of their abilities are very real and beyond frustrating. I knew the man was resourceful, but I had no idea that he was a walking encyclopedia and address book! This was a man that you had to develop nicknames for, Jennifer called him WikiOllie and I call him Olliepedia. The man is like the blind Einstein! Even if he weren't blind, I would still be blown away just the same by the ease of how he can just ramble off email address's telephone numbers, cites statues, and cases in milliseconds. We left with a whole sheet full of contacts. I have shared some of them with you in the bottom of this post.
Back to opening session on Thursday, we were ready to network. We were walking around networking and I noticed a man that looked as though he might have been born in my generation. I must say, I felt as though I was the youngest one there which wasn't a bad thing but I welcomed anyone that knows what wax on, wax off meant. :) Turns out his name is Zac from Denver, Colorado who is very easy on the eyes. He is the vice-president of his local HLAA chapter. We invited him to go to dinner at Johnny Rocket's with us and since we didn't scare him too much, he stuck around. :)
While we were eating dinner, Jennifer decided to be mischievous and hide Mike's blackberry in her back pocket. By the time, that Mike realized that his third arm (blackberry) he started grilling us for its whereabouts. I had no idea that Jennifer cleverly disguised it until she miraculously produced Mike's blackberry from her back pocket. I finished the final bite of sandwich when Mike said to me, "Why you call me?" I looked at him as if he had three heads. I motioned his attention to my cell phone that was being suspended in midair atop a salt shaker. Unless my cell phone has a mind of it own, I didn't call him. I looked at it to appease him. It showed that I had one miss call and that miss call was Mike. So I fired back with, "You called me!" Well, it hit me and I started laughing uncontrollably, hysterically, tears streaming down my face and gasping for air. Since my name starts with A, it was a logical assumption that I might be the first entry in his address book. Somehow they managed to understand my unintelligible gibberish when I concluded, my dear readers that Jennifer's dereirre somehow navigated, quite skillfully might I add, through Mike's address book and rang my ass up. Talk about talent. :) We laughed so hard that our sides hurt.
After dinner, we all scrambled to our designated hotel rooms to get ready for BOWLING! I am not a bowler but give me a glass of rum and coke and I'll throw anything anywhere you want. :) I couldn't even recall the last time I went bowling. Laurie, Debra, Kim, and I formed a team, if you want to call it that. Jennifer opted out because she just had a manicure done. So did I but I'm a rebel, so what if I broke a nail. That was before I actually broke a nail. :) Deb was the bowler extraordinaire and tried teaching me some tips and trick. I applaud her efforts because I totally sucked, but I must say I was absolutely surprised at how horrible I was doing because I do so well on the Wii. :) She managed to get one really great throw out of me and then I bombed since I broke my nail. :) I even applied chapstick to my thumb!
I couldn't even remember the rules because if you got a split you got a prize. I think when I had my cochlear implant surgery some of the bowling knowledge leaked out. As expected, I got a split and I had no idea I had to run to the booth and claim my prize. Everyone is yelling to go run and go get the prize and I hadn't the faintest idea of what the hell they were talking about. They were all pointing at this guy in a crazy hat and I walked gingerly in his direction. Kim came up behind me and grabbed my hand and kicked the walk up a notch. I claimed my prize and had my picture taken, again. My prize was plastic bowling ball and pin set. Was someone trying to tell me to practice? :) I walked back to my aisle thinking to myself what the hell am I going to do with this and apparently my face read the same thing. I thought that I could practice by setting up a mini bowling alley in the hotel room but in the end I gave it to housekeeping to give to one of their kids.
Then I decided to change my bowling technique and I wasn't doing too shabbily.
Then I noticed Ollie was a couple of lanes down and I watched him get two strikes in a row. I took notice of my score - 8 and I walked down to see his score.
A blind guy royally beat me in bowling.
Sigh... to be continued!
Email Ollie Cantos at Ollie.Cantos@usdoj.gov
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors.
Job Accommodation Network
National Counsel on Disability Youth Advisory Committee
National Youth Leadership Network
Office of Disability Employment Policy
Institute Educational Leadership
US Business Leadership Network
Americans with Disabilities Act
Google Division of Vocational Rehab – Provides services that enable individuals with disabilities to find jobs
Disability 101 - Discusses various disability benefits
Technology Act of 2004 – Support programs of grants to States to address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities, and for other purposes.