After being among the initiators and workshop leaders of the 6 ICCHP Summer Universities (2010 Vienna, 2011 Telc, 2012 Linz, 2013 Karlsruhe, 2014 Paris, 2016 Linz) and chairing two BlindScience conferences (2015 Dieren, 2017 Roosendaal) I retired as BlindScience chair in 2017 because I’m no longer a student and I feel that such events should be maintained by people who belong to the audience (I.E. blind science students). In my speech I expressed my willingness to keep playing a (major) role in subsequent events as long as they were initiated and organized by the audience.
This has not happened so far. Over the years we have seen great involvement from professionals at the Summer University events, but there has always been a lack of blind students venturing on the international trip which could give them so much experience and knowledge to help them in their science studies and careers. At the more locally-oriented BlindScience events there were many more students, and I dare say that the events have made a difference for many of them. The Summer University events also had an evident impact, if only because they consistently managed to – as Joachim Klaus, one of the cofounders who has made this event possible, put it in 2010 – “bring the field together”. I am proud to have played a leading role in those events, and remember them with great pleasure. Not just for all the knowledge and experience I gained but also for the legendary parties and great networking which we enjoyed together.
2018 being the first time in 8 years that there will be no ICCHP Summer University and (probably) no BlindScience conference, we are now at a critical junction point. It is by no means too late to recover. If a board stands up now, there is still momentum and so much goodwill from (among others) workshop leaders and sponsors. I’m a strong believer in giving things the time they need, persevering in one’s goals and coming out of a crisis stronger. At the same time we need to acknowledge that if initiatives like this are neglected for multiple years people leave and die, networks fade, websites go down and initiatives find their way into dusty archives they may never recover from. This would be a great loss because the need to advocate for and spread the word about solutions which help blind science students succeed is as strong as ever.
So it is up to you, and I hope I will soon write a more positive message pertaining to a contribution of some sort to a new initiative. It was and is my vision that there shall be BlindScience-like local events in different European countries, where workshop leaders teach (beginning) students the basics; there shall then be an overarching European event which primarily brings workshop leaders and advanced students (hopefully those groups coincide) together with major players from the worldwide field to have workshops and discussions on advanced matters. This would result in a consistent organization which can serve to create, maintain and spread the knowledge on how to succeed as a blind science student. But students and professionals need to realize that initiatives can only start and survive if there are people willing to take the lead and do the work, and if this task does not end up on the shoulders of the same people year after year – my great appreciation for people like Dominique Archambault, Karin Mueler and the other people from Karlsruhe and the guys from Brno for their incredible efforts at keeping ICCHP-SU running successfully so long. I know that in this era of increasing pressure on students, ever-present organizational politics and increased focus on immediate results it can be hard for people to make this leap. But remember that people who attain great results are those who manage to stand out among the crowd, persevere, take risks, work and have vision consistently. Even if it takes (extra) time and effort, it is worth it.
Please be sure to keep me posted now or in the future, I’m always glad to talk or help get new initiatives off the ground. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and even if someone reads this in 10 years this address should still be working. I’m keeping the BlindScience website in the air for some time for reference or in case a new board stands up.
Hope to see you all soon, in this or some other context.
Tim in ’t Veld