Phoenix Extends Sunny Welcome 

by Christina Hitchcock

 

BVA members, regional group officers, delegates, staff, and families of all of the above have much to look forward to as they anticipate arriving at the Association’s 63rd National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to the customary official business meetings and events, meals, and social functions, a number of features unique to the Phoenix area have been built into this year’s gathering, which officially runs August 12-16.

Convention Week Overview

 

The week of activities and events kicks off with the opening of the Exhibit Hall on Monday afternoon (August 11). The Hall is a great opportunity to learn about new services and receive hands-on explanations of new tools and technologies that have been developed specifically for the blind and visually impaired. Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation will host a wine and cheese event early Monday evening for VA employees and early arriving BVA members. EVAS is sponsoring a box lunch in the exhibit area on Wednesday. The Exhibit Hall will remain open until 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

The first ticketed event of the convention is the President’s Reception held Tuesday Evening. This time-honored tradition includes an opportunity to meet national officers and other dignitaries invited to the event. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind is offering financial support to the President’s Reception.

The Wednesday Opening Business Session will feature a local color guard, a keynote speech by a VA representative, a review of BVA finances by National Controller Kathy Ruais, and election nominations. Guests and spouses not participating in the business meeting should check out the Auxiliary auction or visit local shopping or tourist attractions. Several area casinos provide shuttle service to and from the Hyatt Regency.

The Northern Arizona Regional Group has been hard at work organizing a Thursday trip to Sedona. Known as the stunning high country of Northern Arizona, Sedona is situated 3,000 feet above the desert floor and offers a much cooler climate than Phoenix.

On the way to Sedona, attendees will visit Montezuma Castle, a five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling carved into the side of the mountain by the Sinagua Indians more than 800 years ago. There is a visitors center with a small museum adjacent to the castle. Because Montezuma Castle is part of the National Park Service, guests are encouraged to bring their park passes on the trip.

The castle visit will be followed by the group’s arrival in Sedona, where the towering, vibrant red rock formations form the most captivating horizons ever witnessed. The town of Sedona, the state’s second most visited attraction, is situated between these monumental formations. The natural beauty is paired with small-town charm as visitors stroll walkways in search of art, artifacts, and keepsakes of their visit. The rendezvous through the red rocks of Sedona is said to leave every guest breathless.

Three forum presentations will highlight Friday morning. The first will deal with research into an assistive device that provides visual information to the blind using the tongue and a camera system as a paired substitute for the eye. Visual information is collected from the head-mounted camera and translated into electrical patterns displayed on the surface of the tongue. Users have described this process as the drawing of pictures on the tongue using effervescing champagne bottles from which a spatial reference is formed. Mapping cutaneous information on the tongue that is relevant to the individual’s environment helps him/her perceive aspects of shape, size, location, and motion. The ultimate goal, which will be discussed during the presentation, is to transition this technology from the laboratory to the real world where the blind and visually impaired will be assisted in their educational pursuits, employment, and travel.

The second Friday presentation will feature Dr. Mark S. Humayun, professor of ophthalmology at the Doheny Eye Center. He will speak about the latest in vision research and its applications. The third presentation will explain the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), which provides assistive technology to individuals with disabilities who are working for the federal government. A fourth morning component will present information about the American Foundation for the Blind’s relatively new but highly successful “Senior Site,” an interactive webpage for seniors with vision loss.

The convention contingency will remember Father Thomas J. Carroll, BVA’s first national chaplain and blind rehabilitation pioneer, at the traditional memorial luncheon named in his honor. The guest speaker for the event will be Major General Gale S. Pollock, presently assigned as Chief of the Army Nurse Corps and the Deputy Surgeon General for Force Management. She has also been serving most recently as the Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command/Acting Surgeon General since March of 2007. Major General Pollock is scheduled to retire on July 3, 2008 some six weeks prior to her scheduled speech.

Following an afternoon of District Caucuses, convention attendees will be treated to a southwestern fiesta courtesy of the Tony F. Soza-Ray Martinez American Legion Post 41, also known as "Thunderbird Post 41" from its historic early days. The group is further known as the “Most Friendliest Post in the West.”  Remaining true to their name, members of the post are providing the traditional cuisine. Thanks to the efforts of the Northern Arizona Regional Group, Elvis will serve as the entertainment for the evening.

Saturday morning features an early start to the Closing Business Session, which includes adoption or disapproval of the bylaws and resolutions recommended by the committee, election of officers, and voting on upcoming convention sites. Convention attendees and delegates must be present in the meeting in order to vote.

Saturday afternoon sessions include a legislative update by Tom Zampieri, a forum on field service activities moderated by Steve Matthews and including all of the Field Service Program Representatives, and a leadership training session directed by Sam Huhn.

The final event, and the capstone of the BVA convention week, is the traditional Saturday evening reception and Awards Banquet. Highlights include presentation of the Gold and Silver Gavels and the David L. Schnair, Irving Diener, and Melvin J. Mass Awards. The BVA Auxiliary Raffle and BVA Sweepstakes winners will also be selected and announced as a finale to the banquet program.

Pre-Registration

 

Convention announcements and pre-registration packets were sent to all BVA members in mid-May. Members and other interested parties expecting a packet who did not receive one should call BVA National Headquarters at 800-669-7079. The complete packet and additional registration forms may also be accessed and downloaded from the BVA website.

The pre-registration fee is $90 for adults and $55 for each child 12 years old and younger if the registration form is received by Thursday, July 31. After that date, the respective fees become $100 and $65.

Flight Reservations

 

Most airlines no longer offer group discounts and now charge a $10-$20 fee for reservations made by telephone. Online reservations usually do not incur such fees. To secure the lowest price possible in reaching Phoenix, attendees may wish to consider the following:

AMERICAN AIRLINES: Promotion Code A8988AR. Receive the option of a zone fare or a 5 percent discount off the lowest applicable published airfare. Reservations must be made more than 30 days prior to travel. Call 800-433-1790 or refer to www.aa.com.

FRONTIER AIRLINES: Meeting Identification Number is 3W3Y3F. A 10 percent discount on all published round trip tickets is being offered. Call 800-432-1359 or refer to www.frontierairlines.com. Select and click on “More Search Options” in the “Flight Finder” box on the Frontier homepage when attempting online reservations.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: No file number exists for Southwest. Although this carrier no longer offers travel contracts for large groups, the rates are competitive and discounts are frequently available. At press time, a special senior fare of $176 was being offered for travel one-way from any location in the continental U.S. For reservations, call 800-435-9792 or click on www.southwest.com.

Ground Transportation

 

The Hyatt Regency Phoenix is located approximately 12 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The hotel does not offer a shuttle. Visit the BVA website for coupons and updates on transportation information.

The Hyatt Regency Phoenix Hotel offers convention attendees all of the benefits of being in the heart of downtown. Across the street are the Phoenix Convention Center, Symphony Hall, and the Herberger Theater Center. Photo courtesy of the Hyatt Regency.
The Hyatt Regency Phoenix Hotel offers convention attendees all of the benefits of being in the heart of downtown. Across the street are the Phoenix Convention Center, Symphony Hall, and the Herberger Theater Center. Photo courtesy of the Hyatt Regency.

Attendees traveling alone are encouraged to use SuperShuttle, which is currently offering a one-way $10 per person special fare for the convention. You may also print a coupon from the BVA convention webpage or book online by going to www.supershuttle.com. The discount code is MAX9F.

Attendees traveling with companions are urged to use taxis since companies, as of April 18, offered a 1-4 person flat rate of $16.00 per trip.

Hyatt Regency Accommodations

 

The Hyatt Regency Phoenix is conveniently located in the heart of downtown near a variety of restaurants, shopping outlets, bars, and clubs.

Each guest room features basic amenities: coffee maker, iron and ironing board, in-room movies, voicemail, standard high-speed Internet access, and daily newspaper delivery. Four dining facilities are onsite: Compass Restaurant, Networks Bar and Grill, Terrace Cafe, and Einstein Bros. Cafe.

Reservations are secured by calling toll free reservations, 800-233-1234, or through the Convention page of the BVA website, www.bva.org/convention. Individuals making reservations by telephone must remember to indicate their affiliation with the Blinded Veterans Association in order to receive the negotiated rate. Participants are urged to reserve rooms as far in advance as possible with July 5, 2008 being the final date to receive the Association’s $94 per night room rate.

Remember These Dates

 

Saturday, July 5—Deadline for receipt of hotel reservation form or phoning in reservations at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix Hotel. The form is available on the aforementioned page of the BVA website.

July 23—Deadline for receipt of the completed official proxy form for non-attending members. The form was included in the convention package mailed to all members.

Wednesday, July 23—Deadline for receipt of the completed regional group delegate credentials form, mailed to regional group officers by the BVA Administrative Director.

Thursday, July 31—Deadline for mailing pre-registration fees to BVA National Headquarters.

Friday, August 1—Deadline for cancellation of pre-registration in order to receive a full refund.


Sweepstakes Update

 

As of May 22, the sweepstakes total revenue stood at just under $17,000, meaning that the total prize pool was valued at $8,500. Half of the funds generated through the sweepstakes will be awarded as prizes and the other half will be used to defray convention expenses.

Continue sending the tickets to BVA National Headquarters! The larger the donations, the greater the value of the winnings to the four lucky persons whose tickets will be randomly selected at the convention’s Awards Banquet. For additional tickets, contact Keleeba Scott at 800-669-7079, Ext. 3323. The deadline for returning the completed tickets is Thursday, July 31.