People First of Oregon

People First Conventions

Introduction to Conventions

This is the yearly gathering of People First when everybody in the state involved with People First gets together.  It provides a time when the local chapters can unite and help form some common direction for the coming year. 

What is a Convention

A convention is the time when all People First members gather together to speak, to get support, and to make some common action plans. People have time to support each other throughout the various phases of the convention. A People First convention has some aspects that other conventions don't have such as concern for interpreting, concerns for architectural barriers, concerns for learning skills that are completely new, and helping people integrate the total experience. The People First convention must try to provide a full range of experiences to cover the vast range of persons assembled. There is something for everyone, from registering, to using a key for your room, to sleeping at a resort facility, and speaking in front of a large group. 

There needs to be a time when all People First members in the state can gather and see each other. The convention provides this time. It has proven to be an event that people look forward to year after year. For the helpers, the convention is a time of watching, listening, and learning. Hopefully through this experience they will learn how to become more effective helpers. 

Why Have a Convention

Conventions set the tone and the direction for the organization. They give an opportunity to see the progress that has been made throughout the last year. Chapters have a chance to see the energy present and to return home to do their own work. In the long run, yearly conventions allow all of the persons present to unite and take political and personal stands, which demonstrate a sense of power to themselves and to the public. 

The convention is a tremendous public relation event. The general public becomes educated about the real capabilities and needs of the handicapped persons. Hopefully the sensitivity of the general public will be increased through the television and newspaper coverage of the convention. 

How to Have a Convention

The initial phase of having a convention involves all of the preplanning for the upcoming event. Preplanning includes determining when the convention will be held, where it will be held, a price package for each person coming, and the responsibilities of both the People First group and the tentative convention facility. 

Where a convention is held depends on the number of people coming. Small groups of 100 to 300 people usually have a wide range of selections. The selection process should be done by a joint committee of handicapped people and helpers who look at possible options, visit the sites, and then present the options at a state workshop. Large groups of 400 to 1,000 persons usually have one or two options available. These options are usually found in the largest city of the state. Major concerns that need to be dealt with in negotiating for any facility are: 

1.     Access for wheel chair people; are doors wide enough in individual rooms? Are curbs slanted? Do bathrooms have rails? Are there stairs at the entrance? 

2.     Can the entire group eat together and have their general seminar together? (Any split shifting of meals is very disruptive.) 

3.     s the facility willing to work with handicapped persons? 

Due to the limited funds that People First members have it is extremely important to shop for the best deal. One of the ways to keep the price down is to strive for near maximum occupancy, which means that people will share double beds. The best convention package with the lowest prices can usually be negotiated in the off-season for convention facilities. Negotiating with the chef around possible menus also helps keep the prices down. Food needs to be prepared attractively and tastefully. It needs to be decided whether there will be a buffet or sit down meals. With a buffet style, servers are needed and extra kitchen staff is needed to help carry the plates to the table. 

The responsibilities of People First and the tentative facility need to be worked out. The first major item is the whole area of preregistration. Form need to be developed and mailed out. The forms should ask for basic information such as: (1) Sex of participant. (2) Wheel chair needs. (3) Interpreter needs. (4) Whether or not the person is attending with a group. (5) Who the helpers are. There needs to be a registration deadline. We have found that the money needs to be sent in at the time the preregistration form is returned. A statement about refunds should be included. Unless the money is collected beforehand, an exact number of persons attending the convention cannot be arrived at. This number affects room assignments, food needed, and the final bill. Preregistration includes negotiating with facility staff about who sleeps in which room, what person in each room gets the key, and trying to keep groups that come together in rooms close to one another. It is important that your registration process is timed so that facility rooms are vacated by those using them the night before. 

The registration process should take place in a room that will allow for many tables to be set up and for many people with their luggage to get through the registration process and the room with relative ease. It is helpful for there to be accessible parking and facility staff assigned to take people directly to their rooms after they register. Registration is an exciting and chaotic time. There are usually some people who come without having pre-registered and there are people who have pre-registered and at the last minute chose not to come. The actual processes of assigning rooms and collecting money at registration land themselves to active support and direction from helpers. In time helpers will have less of an active role in these complicated processes. 

The facility where the convention will be housed should receive staff training before the convention. This training can include: 

1.     Showing the People First film. 

2.     Sharing information about seizures and how to intervene with them. 

3.     Discussions about the effects of mixing alcohol and drugs. 

4.     Discussing the right that handicapped persons have to enjoy a convention in all the same respects as non-handicapped persons.

Sensitizing staff has been extremely helpful and seems directly related to the overall smoothness of the convention process. 

Who Has Conventions

People who attend conventions include handicapped persons of all types (mentally retarded, physically handicapped), parents, political figures, and professionals such as doctors, social workers, psychologists, etc. It is the handicapped themselves who call the meeting to order, handle any business at hand, and provide leadership for the program. Helpers can be assisting at some of the more chaotic times such as during registration and they can help negotiate the details for the convention. 

Where and When to Have a Convention

Where and when to have a convention is decided upon at a state People First workshop which is held at least six months prior to the convention. At this meeting specific options of convention sites and dates are discussed. Votes are taken by the group and choices are made.