Yesterday, my last full day at VISIONS 2012, started off in what may seem an odd way, in that I prevented the hotel maid service from doing its job. I did so by hanging the “Do Not Disturb” tag outside my door, a trick I learned a couple years ago, not long after I began venturing out on trips like this on my own.
You might be asking yourself, Why does John not want his room cleaned? After all, it doesn’t cost anything extra to have clean, fresh towels and new sheets every day, right?
Well, the answer is simple: When they clean a room, they move all of my “stuff” around. (Do some of you remember the George Carlin routine about all of our “stuff?”) When I first check into a hotel room, I take time to orient myself with the layout, and then place my clothes, suitcase and toiletries in certain spots.
I come to rely upon those things being in the same place, and when they are not, it creates an unnecessary source of frustration. I also have found that putting the tag on my door helps me know that I have found the right room when I return to it.
Lastly, as great a job as my wife does keeping our home clean, we do NOT sleep on fresh sheets every night. Do you?
Let me mention just a bit about why I am here alone. Those of us who are visually impaired need to be able to do as much as we can on our own, even if that means regularly testing ourselves. I viewed the five-day VISIONS conference as one of those tests. Yes, having my wife here would have been wonderful, as she always enjoyed the VISIONS conferences she attended with me when I was strictly a volunteer.
In November of 2010, however, I became a part-time staff member, which meant that I’d be working at VISIONS. And the reality is, she can’t be with me every trip I take, partly because she works full-time herself.
She and my children always provide me with tremendous help and support, and would have done so at VISIONS 2012, but the need for me to continue to gain confidence travelling on my own could not be ignored. Those who are visually impaired need these challenges from time to time. It not only helps us increase our independence, it also gives our loved ones and caretakers a bit of respite that they so richly deserve.
So, with that in mind, I’ve continually tested myself over the past several days, going to and from my room without assistance the vast majority of the time. Beyond that, however, I have had wonderful help from Foundation staff and many of my friends here at VISIONS.
That said, it hasn’t all been easy. Yesterday ended, for instance, with a dinner during which a number of awards were presented to volunteers, trustees and board members, and I was reminded of how an otherwise wonderful evening can take a turn. This happened when the “formal” part of the evening was finished and the “party” began.
The “party” consisted of the music being turned on, for dancing, and people getting up from their chairs at their tables and moving about the room, chatting and mingling with one another. Not being able to see the faces or lips of the people I am trying to speak with, coupled with the loud music, makes me feel a bit uneasy. I know that at least some of you who have vision loss know what I’m talking about. I tried for while to tough it out, but finally gave in to the reality that I’d have to retire for the night. So I asked someone for assistance to the elevator and headed to my room.
Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. There were many visually impaired attendees who not only enjoyed the music, but hit the dance floor for the next couple hours. It’s just that, at this point, I’m not ready to do the same. Plus, I’m no Fred Astaire.
Without hesitation, I can tell you my experience at VISIONS 2012 was extremely rewarding, as I knew it would be. The challenges I had navigating some aspects of it I simply chalk up to another of those many tests we all face on a regular basis.
There are more to come, and I’m thankful I’m on this journey with FFB.
– John Corneille