Rudi Ullrich » „With certain challenges, if you knew in advance what they involved, you might not take them on in the first place“ - this is how Jürgen Nagel, Chairman of the Organising Committee for the 13th International Mobility Conference (IMC) began his closing speech.
But looking back at the four days of the conference, he came to a very positive conclusion: „When you look back at the 90 talks and papers, the intense discussions, the exhibition and especially at the many interesting exchanges, at the barbecue party for example, you are very glad you took on the challenge.“
The conference participants’ applause and the many spontaneous
positive reactions and feedback show that he was right in his assessment.
A questionnaire completed by about a third of the participants gave the
blista team over 90% of good to very good marks for the organisation and
the subject matter of the conference – a report we can certainly be
Repeatedly, the answer sheet contained the comments: ‘Marburg was great’ or ‘Thank you!’
Praise was extended not only to the organisers but also to the speakers from five continents who covered a wide range of topics and certainly did justice to the title of the conference ‘more than a cane’.
It became clear in the talks, for instance, that talking food tins or
bus stops or navigations systems for pedestrians will be taken for
granted in a few years’ time and can make many things in everyday
life easier for blind people.
This will be made possible by, among other things, computer chips which were originally used in inventory management and are now being developed to suit the needs of partially-sighted people.
The computer-chip also plays an important role in medical research.
Professors Dr. Eberhart Zrenner and Dr. Peter Walter’s lectures illustrated how they are developing so-called ‘retina-implants’ using various procedures.
„Retina-Implants“ are retinal prostheses for low-vision and
blind people whose photoreceptor cells have been damaged by eye
disease, but whose optic nerve is still intact and transmits information
to the brain.
According to the experts, this development offers patients new hope that they will at least be able to recognize shapes. Research is still in its initial stages.
Despite all the technical progress being made, the experts all agreed that intensive instruction in orientation and mobility for the blind and partially-sighted remains paramount. These new developments can only be put to good use by the blind if they are familiar with and have a sound knowledge of the techniques of the long cane or of living with guide dogs.
This is an opinion supported by recent research carried out by the Marburg researcher Dr. Katja Fiehler. In a study involving pupils from the Marburg Carl-Strehl-Schule she was able to gather evidence showing how blind children who started intensive instruction in orientation and mobility before the age of twelve are in a much better position to imagine and explore their surroundings than pupils who received instruction at a later stage.
It is essential to learn to cope with new challenges.
Many of the experts agree on new dangers the visually-impaired have to face, such as increasingly quiet cars, dissolving barriers between traffic and pedestrians in so-called ‘shared space’ areas, or cyclists increasingly using the pavements.
Solutions have to be found here to combat these dangers.
Alongside the importance of world-wide research and academic exchange,
it is the personal encounters that are essential.
It was a particular aim of the conference to achieve this and this is what IMC-president Dennis Cory referred to at the very beginning in his opening speech.
„We are neither an association, nor do we have any fixed structures. There is a president, because someone has to sign, and there always has to be a ‘madman’ or a ‘madwoman’ who organizes the world conferences every three to four years.
And, thankfully, the blista has been the first world-wide organisation to accept the challenge for the second time and to bear the staff costs amounting to tens of thousands of euros for the planning and running of the conference.
But the effort was worth it, because the most important aim of the conference – learning from each other and improving work for blind and partially-sighted people – was again achieved in Marburg, too, according to all of the experts.
The relaxed and friendly atmosphere among the participants, who, in
spite of an exhausting programme, continued their discussions into the
breaks, underlined the special character of the conference.
The importance of autonomy and mobility was also emphasized by the Minister for Work and Social Affairs in Hesse, Jürgen Banzer, representing the patron Hesse’s State Premier Roland Koch, in his opening ceremony speech.
Marburg’s mayor Egon Vaupel underlined the close contacts between the university town of Marburg and the blista and its international importance in this field.
Prof. Michael Brambring gave the audience an outline of the development of ’Orientation and Mobility’ from the end of World War II in the USA up to the present, underlining the necessity of continuously adapting the concepts to technical and social developments.
The highlight of the opening ceremony was undoubtedly the presentation of the honorary award to Dennis Cory for his life’s work by the DBSV (the German Association of the Blind and Partially-Sighted). To quote from the award statement “Dennis Cory is being awarded the honorary medal of the DVBS for his outstanding contribution to the development of ‘O&M training courses’, for his personal achievement in promoting the independence of blind and partially-sighted people through orientation and mobility.
The effects of his work in the field of self-help for the blind and
partially-sighted both in Germany and internationally have been
For this we owe him great respect, appreciation and our special thanks.“
The „Come-Together Barbecue“ the evening before the end of
the conference was certainly the social highlight and many of the
participants will remember it for a long time.
The former blista pupil Rainer Husel, with his experienced host-talk and fantastic singing, started the evening and soon encouraged the audience to sing-along and dance. Then „Blind Foundation“ a band of blind and partially-sighted musicians who played free of charge, courtesy of the Frankfurt Foundation for the Blind and Partially-Sighted as a gift for the hosts, really began to heat things up.
People from numerous different nations communicated without words or sang well-known favourites from the 60s, 70s and 80s together. In fact, you would be right in saying: at the conference we had a ball!
Another highlight of the conference was the presentation of the „Suterko-Cory-Award“ to Dr. Bruce Blasch. To quote from the award statement: “In countless publications Bruce Blasch has collected knowledge about mobility and by travelling all over the world giving lectures and establishing support programmes for the blind has played a major role in improving their situation“
Dr. Nurit Neustadt will take over the role of President in future and Dennis Cory, to the applause of the audience, was named Honorary President of the IMC.
Jürgen Nagel closed the event with the words: “New Zealand. Good luck, Steve, for all that lies ahead, and we’ll be seeing you in Palmerston North 2012“.
„More than a cane“ was the title of the 13th International
Mobility Conference, which was initiated in Frankfurt in 1979 by two
former blista-colleagues Dennis Cory and Jochen Fischer and which has
circled the world on its journey via Paris, Vienna, Jerusalem,
Eindhoven, Madrid, Melbourne, Trondheim, Atlanta, Coventry, Stellenbosch
and Hong Kong back to Germany.
It all began 30 years ago with 10 speakers and 89 participants; this time there were 90 talks by speakers from every continent and participants from 35 countries.
This development shows just how global the exchange among specialists has become.
A significant feature of the conference was also the fact that all of
the speakers were not only willing to contribute free of charge, but
they were paying the participants’ fees, travel and accommodation
costs out of their own pockets.
“A look at the Marburg programme reveals how many different facets have to be taken into consideration in up-to-the-minute rehabilitation instruction or barrier-free mobility planning as a result of regional specifics, and new technical and medical developments“, said Claus Duncker, blista Director.
“ - the large group of visually impaired people, with the support and intervention opportunities available to them, is becoming increasingly significant.“ Mr. Duncker continued.
The Deutsche Blindenstudienanstalt e. V. is one of the world-wide leading Centre of Education, Rehabilitation and Media for blind and visually-impaired people. It has consolidated the Carl-Strehl-School, the only fundamental Grammar School for blind and visually-impaired in Germany, a boarding school where the students live together in familial groups and the rehabilitation service RES with its multifarious special services.
With its German library for the Blind and the Braille print office the institute makes a constitutive contribution to allow the approach to information for blind people by producing and borrowing books and magazines in Braille and on disk.
The guidance and training for the handling with electronic aids, the vocational training of rehabilitation teachers, the early intervention until the entrance into school, the mentoring of blind and visually-impaired children at public schools or the vocational training of IT-specialists are further examples of the multifarious offers. Due to its long-standing experiences in the work with and for blind and visually-impaired people the institution has built up information services for affected people, dependants and specialists. The large spectrum of the advanced training is intensively used national and international.