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Road Trip

Posted Jul 10 2009 11:04pm

Dave and I went to the HLAA Convention that was held in Nashville, TN in June (HLAA stands for Hearing Loss Association of America).  It’s rare to find an event like this that we can both enjoy, so I was really looking forward to it.  We’ve done conventions for candle making quite a few times before, and they are always a bit frustrating…trying to talk to strangers in huge exhibit halls or at dinner, around a table with 10 other people.  We would attend workshops and never really understand what was being said, unless we could get the front row (for lip reading purposes) and if the person used a microphone.  (Most of the time they seemed uncomfortable with a microphone.)

I’m not really a terribly shy person, but I have a hard time with small talk and usually will not approach someone I don’t know.  My biggest fear is starting to talk to someone and realizing they have an accent, or talk very softly, or are hard to lip read.  It’s easier to avoid eye contact and stay by myself than get stuck in an uncomfortable conversation with a stranger.

But we knew the events at the HLAA convention would have CART, which means that someone would listen and type what was being said, and it would display on a big screen at the front of the room.  They captioned not only the main speaker but also audience comments and questions, which is so helpful.  I can never understand what people are saying if they ask a question or make a comment from the audience.

The convention was held at the Opryland Hotel, which is truly huge and breathtaking inside.  It’s like walking in an air conditioned rain forest!  I appreciated the chance to get a lot of walking in (and we both lost about 4 pounds over vacation, which was a nice plus…LOL).  The convention center was attached to the hotel…the only trick was not getting lost on your way there!  :)

We drove in on Thursday morning, and it was about 8 or 9 hours from Illinois to Nashville (including all of our little potty and food breaks).  One thing that we didn’t take into consideration was that registration closed at 4:00.  I never thought we would get there that late, and we actually did arrive around 3:30 or so.  But finding a place to park and then finding the registration area in the convention center took quite a while…by the time we arrived, it was 4:20 and closed down.  This meant we didn’t get our tote bags, program books, name tags, etc. until the next morning, when registration re-opened.   I wasn’t sure if we would be allowed into the events that evening (the opening ceremony and get acquainted party) without name tags.  A very nice girl who had been working the registration desk was still there and gave us temporary tags to wear.  Next year we’ll be sure to time things so we get there before registration closes!

This was our first vacation in 7 years so we made sure to work in lots of down time in addition to the workshops and exhibit hall visits.  It was really perfect because just walking around the hotel was a fun event in itself!

We went to the opening ceremony and then decided to forego the get acquainted party because we didn’t have name tags (the temporary ones didn’t have our names on them, just the name of the convention we were attending).  We walked in and looked around but it was so loud and everyone was already in groups talking, that we felt weird ‘crashing’ the groups and trying to explain who we were.  We decided to call it an early night to recover from all the driving, and get a fresh start in the morning.

We spent the next couple of days attending workshops and spending lots of time in the exhibit hall.  It was filled with so many interesting vendors, and it was where we ran into the most people.  I spent a lot of time at the Advanced Bionics booth, finally getting to meet in person so many of the people I’ve met online over the past year.  There is NO way to describe how exciting it is!  It’s not like meeting a stranger, and it just adds this amazing dimension to the friendship.

If you’ve ever wondered if it’s worth going to a convention like this, the answer is yes!!  What makes the difference for me is knowing that everyone there either has a hearing loss or knows you have one, so they make that extra effort when you communicate.  Lip reading is infinitely easier for me in these situations, and I’m never afraid to strike up a conversation like I usually am.  I felt comfortable walking up to the various vendors and asking questions, walking up to people I recognized and introducing myself, etc.  Normally I would just never do that.  By the end of the convention, I was even striking up conversations with total strangers.  Having that common bond of hearing loss just seems to make it easier for me.

We got to try out the new CapTel 800i phone – Dave made a phone call with it so we could see how delayed the captions were and how it sounded.  He was blown away!  I still avoid the phone like the plague, and I think this will be a great rehabilitation tool for me.  It’s not on the market yet but should be soon, and we’re on a mailing list to be notified so we can get one as soon as it’s out.  This way I’ll be able to listen with the phone and get used to hearing over the phone line, but I’ll have the captions to fall back on if I can’t hear.  I think this will really eliminate much of my phone phobia, so I’m pretty excited about it.  I know a lot of people complain about CapTel phones and say the captions are wrong or take too long, but it’s still better than nothing.  And as I said, the new phone really performed well when we tried it out, so we’re looking forward to getting one.

I think the hardest part of the convention was the birthday dinner – there was music playing, and just the room itself was already very loud with all the people talking.  Once they started playing music, it was basically impossible to hear.  I could do pretty well with lip reading and my CIs cutting out background sound before the music started.  Dave, however, was completely lost.  His hearing aids just completely shut down from the loud music, and he doesn’t lip read as well.  We stayed for an hour or two and then left to walk around the hotel.

There was so much to do and see, and we managed to hit just the right combination of socializing, information-gathering, and relaxation time.  Once we got home, Dave admitted he figured it would be something he’d have to endure (since he didn’t know any of the people I already knew online).  But he ended up having a really good time, and was really glad we went.  Of course, I knew this would be the case before we even left!  ;)

We got the chance to visit with family too, because my aunt and uncle live only about a 15 minute drive from the hotel.  My mom happened to be visiting at the same time, so we got to spend the evening with my aunt, uncle, mom, cousin and her husband.  What timing!  Although they’ve been up here (especially my aunt, who comes up to see my mom usually once a year), I hadn’t been to see them since I was about 12 years old.

After we left Tennessee, we drove to Arkansas to visit with Dave’s brother and his family.  That was such a treat, because I’ve never been to their house (or to Arkansas at all, for that matter).  We had a great time catching up with everyone.

Another nice little benefit of our trip is that we found a great pet sitter, which makes future vacations easier to imagine.  With a dog, 5 cats and 2 guinea pigs, we never go anywhere that’s more than a day trip.  In the past we’d ask my mom to stop in and feed them and take Toby (our dog), but since she was also gone on vacation, we had to find a pet sitter.  The lady we found was perfect, and it gives us real peace of mind to know there’s someone we can depend on for the animals if we go on a trip now…without bothering my mom (whose allergies act up around all the cats).

The 2010 HLAA convention is closer to our neck of the woods, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  We are definitely planning to be there!

I didn’t take very many pictures (shame on me!) but the few that we did take can be seen here: HLAA Convention

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