By Marsha Robinson, CSUS
In compliance and
still inaccessible, how could this be? After attending this session at NEC, I learned very quickly that in this industry where it is our job to be hospitable and inclusive for all attendees, we still have a ways to go. Until this session, I had never given much thought as to whether or not an attendee using a mobility scooter or wheelchair is able to park and charge their device in their accessible hotel room or if in the event of an emergency, what staff have I put in place to make sure a hearing or visually impaired person is not left behind in the chaos of an emergency evacuation?
In this session led by Joan Eisenstodt, practitioner expert, I was quite curious as to what could I possibly learn that I had not heard before. I quickly learned that I was in for a great surprise. Ms. Eisenstodt is a captivating speaker. In her session you will not find the urge to "check-in," check emails, or scroll through Facebook to see what you've missed in the last few moments.
Before this session began, NEC attendees who were attending one of two luncheons had to evacuate the convention center when the emergency alarms began to ring. This caught us all by surprise and many of us did the exact thing we are told not to do during an emergency evacuation....we stood there lingering around in the room trying to determine if it was real or just a drill.
Ironically in that crowd, there were members who had agreed earlier that day to participate in Ms. Eisenstodt's afternoon session. Their assignment was to experience how to maneuver through the conference as a disabled person by using either a mobility scooter, wearing hearing aids, or an eye patch. In the actual session, the participants shared what their experiences were like during the conference and the emergency evacuation. Some had reported that not a single person offered to help them while others had a more pleasant experience. Those who were in mobility scooters shared how difficult it was to enter and exit the bathrooms as well as maneuvering around in the stall to lock the door. Just because an area is considered accessible by ADA regulations, it still may not be the required access needed for a disabled person to maneuver around the bathroom or access necessities like paper towels. They also shared their experience with seating at the luncheon. Spacing between tables must be considered for our guests using mobility devices.
We learned that many problems experienced by those with aides and devices can easily be solved if enough time is given to preplanning and communication. Some of the important "take-aways" I learned from this session were: people with disabilities feel they are treated as if they do not exist by the general population. Many are ignored by others even though there is nothing physically or mentally wrong with their cognitive skills. If you are unable to make certain arrangements or provide the necessary assistance for persons with disabilities, have staff available to help. Make your event as inclusive as you possibly can. Conduct site inspections using a mobility scooter or wheelchair. If your hotel uses robots, do they have the ability to interact with hearing or visually impaired individuals? Check to see if there have been any new revisions to the ADA regulations. Chemical and allergy sensitivities are now included within the ADA. Be prepared for guests who may request unscented rooms and products.
It is important to make sure that all of our attendees or guests have the opportunity to experience our events like anyone else. Our speaker closed her presentation by making sure we understood one of the most important questions we should ask our attendees in the early planning stages of an event, and that is: "What can we do for you to make sure you have an enjoyable experience?"
"Our jobs are to be hospitable. To be hospitable is to be inclusive. To be inclusive is to consider all those who may attend your meetings and stay in your facilities."
NOTE: The Sacramento Chapter plans to present an ADA session in the coming year.