#blog by Kristina Misiunaite
"Do I hear someone else with a touch stick on the platform?" The fun could already begin on the train to Antwerp. A pity when that thoughtless alarm turned out to be a rolling suitcase or an unlucky person on crutches. Upon arrival at Antwerp Berchem I would curiously wonder if I was the only one who had thought it would be wise to arrange station assistance... Anyway, you eventually met each other, somewhere in the (walking) corridors or at a nice hot meal, at the start of a fantastic weekend for blind and visually impaired people up to about thirty years from all over Europe. This is - and remains - a really great concept. So I was very happy when it turned out that ICC Belgium didn't let the unpleasant COVID 19-era get in their way and, as always, thinking in terms of opportunities and possibilities, just organized an online weekend in November!
The special ICC atmosphere, right from the start
Full of excitement I logged into ZOOM that Friday evening for the first meeting. Immediately I was in for a treat, so to speak. Or better said: I immediately felt that indescribable ICC atmosphere again! Online seemed to be anything but an obstacle. Saved travel time or search and find time for sleeping places and/or lost stuff could be used to have an extra long chat in the virtual ICC bar. To top it all off, this virtual bar stayed open even after the weekend. A polonaise on the last evening was not entirely without damage in previous years. This is a risk of the trade, so to speak, for those who dare to start dancing without seeing (well) where they are walking and who else is there. We had to skip those this time. Nor was it going to work to physically show each other all the handy gadgets. Fortunately, Black Friday later that month provided a solution for the latter in some cases. Although the person who enthusiastically demonstrated something on the spot could not guarantee that returning the product would be too much trouble in these crazy times. I myself have kept two souvenirs from these weekends in the form of smart speakers, but more about that soon.
Super useful information
Besides openness, genuine interest and a great atmosphere, you can always stuff your backpack full with useful information. This can be about technology, but also all sorts of other, more general, subjects. This is served up in the form of great workshops, and I didn't have to get bored for a second. This is precisely because of the interactive nature, combined with the boundless enthusiasm of both workshop leader(s) and other participants.
A few anecdotes about failures via trial and error, but also creative solutions, are always good. Anyone who is interested in a particular topic can still contribute to the discussion in one way or another. Sharing one's own experiences, respectfully in a safe atmosphere, with room for different views, proves once again to be the golden formula for a very informative time. It really saves a lot of time to be able to put yourself in the 'energy-saving mode' when it comes to research, by not having to reinvent the wheel each time. During this weekend I attended a cooking workshop, among other things. This was richly filled with tasty stories about cooking and baking experiences, but above all, all sorts of practical gadgets and handy tricks so that I never have to sit around with a growling stomach again. Earlier years, I was introduced to audio editing here for the first time. I was also taught the tricks of the trade to work efficiently with Word, for example.
There was certainly enough time for relaxation as well. The legendary Online World Quiz should not go unmentioned. This gave the participants a hilarious evening prior to the online party, full of audio fragments to guess. The required team work spirit via break-out rooms ensured in my case that we lost with a minimal difference in points, but that should not spoil the fun. It is really impossible to list all the workshops here, which also shows how impossibly difficult the workshop selection was to make. Really everything seemed interesting and relevant to me.
'Difficult to say it in English?'
Language barrier? In today's online world, you don't really have to worry about that. It's not different with such international activities. And if the English word escapes you, just take a wild guess in another language and there is bound to be someone who (approximately) understands what you mean. At that moment you expand your vocabulary and, thanks to a good portion of everyone's helpfulness, in most cases you will be able to find a solution, or at least new insights that will really help you at the end of the evening, or the beginning of the night, to go offline again. So cool to be able to present your 'struggles' to each other in complete freedom, to find recognition or to see it put into perspective, all wrapped up in a 'joke'. Such events are indispensable and I personally would not have wanted to miss them for anything. Apart from that, it is a good thing that national and regional boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred. This development of increasing internationalization and cross-border cooperation opens doors, or even gates, for access to information or the use of useful products to make things easier. It was great to see my English skills noticeably grow during these weekends. Especially in the courage and the confidence that it does not have to be perfect to be good enough.
Craving for more!
As the above has undoubtedly made clear, weekends like this are definitely worth repeating. It did feel a little strange to end the weekend separately from each other by clapping, cheering and stamping our thanks to the organizers. We did this with all the power we had left in us, because they more than deserved it! Not only the knowledge gained is indescribably valuable. The same applies even more to the friends for life that you find there. It is great to maintain contacts and to be able to exchange how certain things work in different countries. Especially in these times, when - at least at the time of writing - it is less obvious than before to cross physical borders. It was extra special to be able to meet everyone from the comfort of your own home: familiar voices from previous years, but also new faces of people from all over the world!