Each year, after the AFB Leadership Conference, I like to put together a list of my top 10 favorite things I learned or experienced. This year, I knew 10 wouldn’t cut it—it took some effort, but I managed to whittle the list to 11. This was the largest and most well-attended conference since our first, nearly 30 years ago. We had some 440 attendees, and from what I could tell, they enjoyed it as much as I did.

11) The Thursday summits were a new feature this year and they proved to be extremely popular. For me, the highlight was the amazing participation and enthusiasm that came from the National Transition Summit. The session reunited and reinvigorated the National Transition Network Forum group, and those who participated seem motivated to continue to the effort to strive to promote best practices in the area of transition.

10) The AccessWorld Technology Summit was a huge hit. The summit brought technology companies such as Google, Yahoo!, IBM, and Facebook together to report on their initiatives. The summit also included CareerConnect mentor, Albert Rizzi, who was recently featured in an Our Stories piece.

9) As chair of the selection committee for the AFB Access Awards, I admit to being a bit biased on this count, but the awards ceremony is always a highlight for me. The winners included Image Searcher, the makers of the TapTapSee app, Fleksy, Independence Science, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I use TapTapSee pretty often while traveling to access all kinds of information, including differentiating shampoo from conditioner in my hotel room. Jane Erin, recipient of the Corinne Kirchner Research Award made a speech referring back to her college notebook that really made me think about the path that our field has traveled to this point. A lot of the messages from the early 70s stand true today. Her reflections were truly memorable.

8) The 2014 Migel Medal winners were exceptional. James Kesteloot, Oral Miller, and of course, Helen Keller, represent the very best of the field. It was an honor to hear from Jim and Oral, who have accomplished so much. And to hear from Keller Johnson-Thompson, Helen Keller's great grandniece, who accepted on Helen Keller's behalf. That was definitely an award long overdue!

7) I really loved the opportunity to hear more about initiatives from the Partnership on Employment and Access Technology and the National Organization on Disability, as they discussed their programs and featured tools for employers. I also took the opportunity to mention the United States Business Leadership Network's Disability Equality Index tool. I heard more detail on these great programs that work with employers on creating better access for workers and job seekers with disabilities.

6) I truly enjoyed all of the employment content offered by Mississippi State University's National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision during the general conference on Saturday. Dr. Karen Wolffe's sessions related to employment were also quite popular.

5) Meeting the entire Delta Gamma Fellows group at the meeting was fantastic. I always like meeting the new attendees and university students to see who the future leaders in our field will be. I was extremely impressed by all of them, especially the representative from Florida State University—go Seminoles! The fellows include current professionals who are going back for further education, and it seems our field continues to bring in enthusiastic and inspired people.

4) Meeting and networking with professionals and leaders from around the United States and abroad was truly exciting. I always come back from the AFB Leadership Conference with new connections and possible partnerships for making a greater difference. You never know who you will chat with around the awesome exhibits, bar, after a session, or at one of the receptions. I had the opportunity to catch up with Bryan Bashin from the Lighthouse of San Francisco, Peggy Martinez from the Seattle Lighthouse, Assistant Secretary Kathy Martinez, Mickey Damelio from FSU, David Ballmann from Wisconsin, and my coworkers from around the United States. Who did you connect with at the conference?

3) The presentation of the Stephen Garff Marriott Award—a new honor established this year in memory of our former board member—to CareerConnect Mentor Richard Chen was truly touching. Richard is such a deserving recipient, for the example he sets to all persons who are blind or visually impaired as a mentor, a successful individual, and as a role model. He gave a very eloquent and gracious speech in acceptance of the award.

2) I loved hearing from J. W. “Bill” Marriott, chairman of the board at Marriott International. He spoke with AFB President and CEO Carl Augusto about leadership and the history of the Marriott company. Most people know that I have a lot of respect for the Marriott brand, and this made my year. I loved how Mr. Marriott spoke about learning from his father to listen to employees. The Marriott brand cares about their employees, and I think all of us can take that to heart. I know he mentioned a number of things that will echo with me for a long time.

1) The location! I also cannot say enough about the location of this year’s conference, which was the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. I really liked the layout and the staff was on point. I think the location was the perfect size for the conference. Again, I love Marriott! Plus, you just can’t beat New York City, no matter the weather. Let me know what aspect of the conference topped your list. And don’t forget to mark your calendar for the 2015 AFB Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, April 9-11. I hope to see you there!

Author Joe Strechay
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