In the United States, July is Disability Pride Month. It marks the 1990 enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark U.S. rights law that extended civil rights protections to persons with disabilities and assured that all Americans would benefit from their talents.
The familiar adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” rang in my ear for about six months following my illness and diagnosis. I was an emotional rollercoaster convinced that there was no way that I could continue to be a successful meeting planner with the limitations that come with severe degenerative rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. I was grieving the loss of a career that I love, not to mention the loss of independence (at least in my mind).
Maybe it was because Mercury went out of retrograde or something, but the negative slowly subsided and I realized that I have spent the better part of my life making pillars in rooms disappear, extending food and beverage offerings to feed the masses, locating shipments that mysteriously vanished in transit, calming dissatisfied consumers, and most recently slashing outrageous AV costs. So let me dust off my magic wand and banish this obstacle too. Sounded easy, well it’s not.
Here are some of things I have observed recently that I never would have questioned or concerned myself with 2-3 years ago:
- Airlines are in desperate need of training modules for baggage handlers. All too often mobility devices – wheelchairs, motorized scooters and walkers – are broken or damaged after spending some time with these folks. Or maybe the device manufacturers and the travel industry need to team up and design better carriers/containers for these devices so that they can survive being handled or mishandled. Either way, something needs to happen.
- Hoteliers have their heart in the right place when they convert rooms from standard to ADA, but it’s the little things they kind of screw up like placement of the curtain pulls, the height of the toilet paper dispenser, the placement and/or weight of the door that has to be opened and closed by a wheelchair bound individual, the width of the space next to the bed to allow for access, and the location of outlets especially for those hotels that haven’t given into the need to place them on lamps and desks.
- Trying to navigate industry events has become disheartening due to little or no seating, buffet tables with food placement not conducive to folks with limited reach, beautiful venues with handicap access around back and through the kitchen, beach parties without access ramps, inadequate transportation options for those with limited mobility (let me see how I can drive my scooter onto this motorcoach for the city tour because my magic wand is not working).
I list these items, not to complain (okay maybe a little) but to say we have come a long way, and yet there is still progress to be made; and all progress begins with the identification of issues that need to be “solved.” As a firm believer in the saying “if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”, I needed to identify how I (hopefully “we”) can be an advocate for change. While I understand that there is a lot of work to be done in the accessibility in meetings and events industry, here are some things I’ve begun to do to bring light to some of the issues:
- After I attend an event or stay at a hotel and encounter access issues, I pen an email to the organizer and/or management about what I encountered, and suggest ways to possibly eliminate or alleviate future problems.
- Before I attend events, especially ones involving transportation or off-site experiences, I alert the organizer of my accessibility issues to allow accommodation to be made in advance. In addition, if I receive an invitation to a venue that is not ideal, I ask the organizers is it possible to do business at another time.
- As a planner I welcome feedback from my attendees that require special accommodation, not only to ensure that their needs were met, but to build a better set of requests/requirements when searching for future venues or suppliers.
- As a new member of the limited mobility community, I am expanding my knowledge base on equity in accessibility, and challenging myself to push for solutions.
Even though it may take a little more effort for me to make the magic happen, I have learned that:
- I CAN continue to be a successful meeting planner and provide stellar events for my stakeholders;
- I WILL make every effort to improve the response and reality of this fabulous industry to those with limited mobility and other challenges by being a continuous and conscious voice for change and improvement; and
- I AM an advocate for equity for ALL, especially for ALL to be able to actively and effectively participate in meetings and events.
I hope you will join me in continuing to identify the little things that can help make our industry better; your awareness and support is vital to change.