(I wrote part of this before BlogHer but forgot to post it!)
Anyone other people with disabilities going to BlogHer, by the way? I have not tried to mobilize to find out, but I’m wondering.
I am going to be able to get around town pretty well with regular taxis. My wheelchair folds up and fits in a car trunk and I think my hotel is close (though I have not actually checked! ) My main concern is that sometimes I just need to lie down somewhere. And I am fine with getting out of the chair and getting on the floor for a nap, which tends to freak people out. “OMG are you okay! Do you need help getting up! Did you fall?”
So, at BlogHer, the access was more or less okay.
The conference center at Navy Pier was very spread out, which means it’s exhausting and sometimes time consuming to get around. For example, there was no bathroom on the same floor as most of the panel rooms. The first time I needed the bathroom, it was hard to find one and I went way off in the wrong direction, and then had to take an elevator to it. Plus, you’d have an event on one side of the conference center, and then another event on the other side, separated by a giant crowded hall and two elevators.
I loathe Moscone Center for this reason as well. It is just Too Big and spread out. WisCon, in contrast, is in a hotel that perfectly fits 800-1000 people. The elevator problem is still there, but the exhaustion of moving around a huge space is eliminated!
Buildings in downtown Chicago had worse access, on the whole, than ones in downtown San Francisco. There were more tiny custom-installed lifts, and less ramps.
Lifts suck because they are almost always locked or not working or both. They’re loud, conspicuous, fussy, isolating, and clunky, and often they’re installed in the backass end of nowhere of the building while your friends are all going somewhere else, either because it doesn’t occur to anyone to keep you company or because they’re not allowed in the tiny awful lift.
The main problem, though, is that they’re kept locked and turned off. I flounced around Chicago telling building managers and security guards that it was illegal to keep the lifts turned off and locked. I don’t know if that’s true! But I can’t imagine that it’s not. It sucks, whether it’s illegal or not. I’ll go look it up and edit this entry later.
I ran into the “just two blocks” issue a few times. Someone would tell me somewhere else was just a couple of blocks away. It is always a mistake to believe this! It ***never*** is. Instead I found myself braving traffic and curbs and wheeling uphill 12 blocks over cobblestones, chain link fences, bricks, shark teeth, hot lava, and paths made of swords and darkness. Next time I will have prepared much better, with maps, and more phone numbers of taxis.
The big hotels were halfway okay. I became totally furious in the W Hotel when there was a ramp down from the lobby to the bar, but the ramp ENDED IN STAIRS. What the hell, people! I bitched. And rather than listen to anyone I told the hotel people to go away while I hobbled down the steps. I can totally do steps but it’s somewhat painful and after all day sitting up in the chair, I was not in the mood. It is awkward, and people stare, and I’d rather they stare at me and think “Oh Cool” while seeing me in a confident moment rather than seeing me limp and lean. Not that limping is bad mind you. Just that I was NOT WEARING MY PITY SHIELD that evening.
So then at a super fun fancy-ass dinner with a gazillion bloggers I had to swear my way into a dark pantry closet with some manager with a key while all the other employees and various random people stared and thought “Oh look the crippled chick is going to go and pee…” And was vastly annoyed and told them to leave the damned lift ON… with a light on… and with signs that say lift this way and bathrooms upstairs with a nice blue and white disability access logo.
I won’t even go into the Tale of the Sushi Restaurant and the Security Guards and the Building Lift and Chris Carfi helping me up the stairs! GAH. But I was grateful to the nice busboy who shook his fist at the non-working lift and who repeated my “fuck you!” that I yelled up the stairwell at the totally not-there security guard with the mythical lift key.
At City Centre hotel in contrast, I spoke to a polite manager once… and she was sympathetic. And the next time I came back to the hotel, I found this:
THE KEY in the lift!
That was so exciting, and it has never happened to me that a polite complaint has resulted in a policy change of this kind!
It was heartening beyond the happy convenience of being able to pee, get food and drinks, and talk with people upstairs when I wanted to… at my convenience… without fuss or frustration or delay.
Thanks, nice hotel manager!
About a week before the conference I think Elisa asked me if I knew any other bloggers with disabilities who would be there and what the issues might be. She was worried that I would not be able to ride the shuttle buses! I appreciated that concern. But the issues are sort of more complex than that!