by Patty Sarchi

I recently had the opportunity to attend a four-day conference with the services of an SSP. This lady was my roommate as well. We were matched by the conference sponsor and shared a few e-mails and phone conversations. We were to meet at the airport. It was much easier to hail a taxi with someone else's assistance.

Patty Arnold and I found that we not only shared a name but some common interests. Upon arrival at the hotel, we quickly found a relief area for Brandy. We got settled in our room and she helped me get acclimated to the area. Then we found the dining area. After eating, Patty showed me around the lobby and surrounding areas.

The next morning we attended the first of many meetings. I cannot express how wonderful it was to go to meeting rooms, dining rooms, restrooms, etc. with the help of an SSP. My mobility skills are good, but my hearing loss is a barrier. Finding the restroom is not too hard; it usually has an odor of detergent or air freshener. But is it the men's room or the ladies' room?

Once in a meeting room, it is hard to tell if I am facing the podium or on one side of it. I like to be facing the speaker, not the wall. A blind person can judge the size of a room by the sounds and echoes. But I don't get the feel of the sound.

My guide dog is a wonderful tool, companion and guide, but I have to know where I am going so I can direct her. As smart as guide dogs can be, they are not mind readers. The service of an SSP is extremely helpful to those of us who are sight AND sound impaired. They alleviate lots of stress in a day's work. A conference is less exhausting, confusing, stressful and much more enjoyable with the help of an SSP.

The role of an SSP (Support Service Provider) in a conference/convention setting should not be viewed as an added expense to the organization. SSPs should be matched with an individual at the beginning of the conference so they can serve the needs of the individual who needs them. Any of us who embark on a week-long convention do not need a person 24 hours a day; a guide for daytime meetings, meals, and maybe some evening events and tours is sufficient. If a person wishes an SSP to accompany them to a meal, it is reasonable for that individual to pay for the SSP. I hope that ACB will begin to understand the need for SSPs for SASI convention attendees.

Anyone who needs an SSP or interpreter during the ACB convention in Jacksonville should contact Lori Scharff at (516) 887-1336. This is NOT a service for people just wanting a companion. Proper screening will be done. Arrangements must be made by June 20, 2006.

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