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Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Unexpected Humiliation at a Conference on the Humanities, Disability and Health Care

“Ring bell for access”. I have not seen this sort of sign since the ADA was passed into law over two decades ago. When I came across this sign at Hobart William Smith College I knew my presence at a one day conference designed to address disability, bioethics and the humanities  was  not wanted. Had I entered via this entrance I would have knowingly accepted the fact the organizers violated the ADA. I would be as guilty as they are for violating the letter of the law as well as the spirit of the ADA. 

“Ring bell for access” is an artifact of the past. This was my reality for many years. Before the ADA was passed into law, I rang many such bells for access to buildings. Half the time no one answered the bell. The other times after an extended wait someone would arrive to open the door. In short, I quickly learned “Ring bell for access” really meant there is no desire or commitment to wheelchair access. The sign might as well read go away. Until today I thought these signs were obsolete—akin to “white only" signs that are a shameful reminder of segregation. My experience yesterday was deeply unsettling. A victory in terms of civil rights was supposedly won 23 years ago with the passage of the ADA. After yesterday, I consider the ADA a hollow victory as decades later I am still constantly put in the position of educating people about disability. I am routinely the only academic with a disability present at conferences. This is tiring and disheartening. Barriers, social and physical, remain commonplace.

Two thoughts dominate. First, I was and remain deeply humiliated. Second,  how could this happen? The details are as follows: Along with Stephen Kuusisto, I tried to attend the Humanities, Health and Disabilities Study Workshop organized by Sarah Berry and Lester Friedman. The event was sponsored by Central New York Humanities Corridor, from an award by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and held at an elite liberal arts college Hobart William Smith. Dozens of emails were exchanged prior to the event. A website and agenda were established. The hard work required to create a vibrant day long discussion was performed. Sadly, absolutely no one bothered to think about wheelchair access. I knew I was in trouble before I got out of my car. I saw the following sign. 

There was no signage about wheelchair access. Just the above sign pointing one to enter via three steps. The irony to me is that all other participants to my knowledge simply walked up those steps without thought. Not one scholar, people supposedly interested in disability and health care, wondered about the ADA or how a person such as myself who uses a wheelchair could enter. Thankfully Kuusisto is very familiar with the campus. He and his guide dog Nira knew another entrance where I could enter the building. We proceeded to the accessible entrance, went down a hallway to find two steps barring me from the room where the conference was being held. Of course a spectacle ensued. People that know nothing about wheelchair access get involved who desire to help. Ignorance added to the absence of wheelchair access is not helpful. This sort of "help" usually involves powerless people rudely telling me what to do. At this point I am furious as is Kuusisto. I ask Kuusisto to find the organizer Sarah Berry. He sets off and finds her enjoying a cup of coffee. She is blissfully unaware of what is taking place. She is unaware the only entrance to the meeting room is through an emergency exit door. This is a blatant violation of the ADA. I a stunned. Did not a single person do a walk through prior to the meeting? Obviously not. Why should she? I cannot help but conclude she and all others present who were about to spend seven hours discussing disability assumed a scholar with a disability would not be present. This is a fair assumption. Here is a photograph of the group taken after the last time they met. And yes they are standing on the steps I cannot navigate. 

This is my life. I am routinely the only person present at academic meeting that uses a wheelchair. While I am glad Kuusisto was with me I cannot help but feel completely and utterly alone. In retrospect, I think my presence was considered a problem. Equal access was never thought to be a civil right nor did others involved think that I might have something important to offer.  I was a problem. Lip service was paid to wheelchair access. I am sure the organizers were told the event was accessible. This was accepted as gospel truth because either they did not care or were ignorant. Each is equally objectionable.

I was placed in an impossible situation.  I could  enter the building via an obvious illegal entrance or not participate in the event. I was angry and humiliated. I think I had no choice but to do the ethical thing. I asserted my humanity and civil rights and refused to participate. In my opinion Berry and Friedman, conference organizers, did not care one iota. Access and inclusion was never valued. Inclusion was never deemed a priority.  Berry and Friedman should be ashamed. Every participant should be equally ashamed. An event was held about disability and no one bothered to put any thought into wheelchair access. No one gave a damn. 

One last point. In terms of logistics, my time and effort to attend, was disrespected. This is the norm for me. No one considers the logistics I must perform in a world designed for bipedal people. I radically altered my schedule. I taught at Syracuse on Monday and Wednesday. After class I drove to Yale University where I gave a paper at the medical school on Death versus Disability and took on utilitarian philosophers for the first time. My talk drew a good audience. Access was flawlessly handled. I woke up very early the following day, chose not to have lunch with a friend in New Haven or make an easy drive home. I made arrangements for a friend to care for my black lab Kate. I chose to drove five hours back to Syracuse, picked up Kuusisto, drove another 90 minutes to Geneva, NY, and stayed in a hotel so I could be refreshed and ready to contribute. My effort was not reciprocated. In fact I was disrespected in the extreme. So here I sit a day later and I am still seething. How can people supposedly interested in disability appear to be content excluding the voices of people with a disability. How can these people live themselves knowing they humiliated and embarrassed me? Stunned. I remain stunned and wonder when and if a sorry might be forthcoming.Yet again the slogan "nothing without us" seems timely and apt. I dream of a day when this slogan needs to be explained because I live in an inclusive society  That world does not exist. I hope to see it come into existence someday but  I doubt I will live that long. 


Teresa Blankmeyer Burke said...

Bill, I am so sorry you had to go through this. My words fail at this point, because your whole post triggered too many memories for me. Mine is a different disability, but I know that same disregard for my time and accessibility. Troublemakers are we, we wearied disabled scholars! But if we do not fight this battle, is it all the worse for the scholarship that ensues, and for our students who follow?

Take care, dear friend. You are doing good and important work.

John Kelly said...

Absolutely no surprise here at all, it's appalling to say. Reminds me of the time I asked Michael Moore not to talk in inaccessible venues, and after a bunch of back-and-forth, he and the organizers and all the participants trooped off to a bookstore up two flights of stairs. I did an ADA suit in federal court ones, and the final result? A buzzer.

Jo Kelly said...

Bill this is just too unbelievable for a Sunday morning. I think I need to go back to bed and start over.....I'm appalled and disgusted. Please, please do keep at the organizers, sue them if need be! Don't let this go. I totally feel your pain.

Charlea said...

I once attended a conference about accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. When the keynote speaker got up to present the interpreters were ready and CART was running, but the FM loop system did not work. The organizer (hearing)said it "didn't matter" and kept insisting the presenter begin. To his credit the man (who was Deaf) refused to start until the FM system was working. Those of us who are hard of hearing were frustrated and angry with the organizer but really appreciated the presenter's integrity.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Bill, this is just appalling. I especially relate to the issue of disrespecting your time. I have encountered this problem many times as well. With a disability, it can take tremendous preparation to participate in an event, and I am always very conscientious about making sure that I do the right thing for myself and for the demands of the situation. Unfortunately, that concern is often not reciprocated. It's rare that I make my needs known and people step up; I can think of only a few times that it's happened, and it always surprises me. This is how accustomed I am to it *not* happening.

Is there something that any of us can do to write in protest about what happened to you? I think that the organizers really need to hear how badly they acted here and how incredibly backwards and hypocritical it is to hold a conference on disability that is not accessible.

Julie H. Rose said...

The organizers owe you an apology. They owe all people with disabilities an apology. They also ought to reimburse you for your expenses.

I do think these people should be publicly called out on their appalling ignorance. It is shameful, but again, I am not surprised. I have spent too much time amongst people who see themselves as the "do-gooders" who don't actually want the people they see as "less fortunate" to participate. They only want to appear to be doing good, or get higher authorities to institute changes and if they aren't done, they complain about that, as if each individual has no part in a totality of discrimination. I am not sure that sentence made sense. I'm not great at articulating this idea that has troubled me for a lifetime.

spectrummom said...

As an able-bodied person I apologize for my lack of consideration. It is so easy for me to go through each day without considering others' needs. I try to spend each day considering the needs of my boys and how an environ could impact them (all with autism). I would like to think that I could look at a venue and imagine what people need. But I admit that I don't know or always consider.

Dr. Dan's Daffy Deliberations said...

Bill I'm very sorry you had to experience such abject humiliation caused by lack of access and more pointedly a willful ignorance of ADA standards ironically at a venue where an academic conference on disability is held! It's one of the dangers of being ensconced in an ivory tower. It' definitely warrants a 504 lawsuit since the college received federal funds trot the event! Good luck in seeking redress!

carol parish said...

Thank you for writing about this. I am sorry that it happened. I have sent your blog post to the President of HWS. At the very least, hopefully someone will send you an apology. At the very best, most optimistic, perhaps their institutional embarrassment will cause them to insure accessibility for future students, staff, faculty, visitors. Sadly, as I'm sure you know, this could also have happened at countless other institutions and happens repeatedly to many, many people each day. What makes this so remarkable/ironic is that it was a conference on disability rights and no one gave a thought to accessibility. Your writings have helped educate me and I know they will continue to educate others. Unfortunately it is a very slow process. Unacceptably slow.

Tom SInclair said...

I'm also an able-bodied person but my wife has been diagnosed with M.S. for about forty years now so I'm quite sensitized to accessibility issues as well.

It does indeed require a lot of logistics to travel anywhere, even to a local restaurant and I'm continually stunned at the lack of sensitivity for something that should be a public right.

The ADA has been the law of the land for over twenty years and it's about time that everyone took it seriously.

Sue them all.

Stephen Drake said...


This is really terrible, but you should not be the one who feels humiliated. The organizers should feel ashamed and embarrassed.

If you have the time or energy, the best ways to expose this conference in a way that leads to corrective measures is to edit and polish this blog post down and then send as a letter of complaint to:

The student paper at the University;

the sponsors of the conference;

the funders of the conference (grant givers);

and any publication dealing with disability studies.

You might also want to specify that the conference was inaccessible to people who use mobility devices, since that's the only thing you're sure of. But it wouldn't surprise me if they made no efforts in regard to accessibility in regard to people with other disabilities either.

Peter said...

This is quite a stunning story. Have the organizers made any form of apology, offered any type of explanation?

Dana said...

By this date, decades after the ADA had passed, the college should have definitely ensured an accessible path of travel to all of its meeting rooms. I do hope that you file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights so that even more people understand how important it is to build in immediate and effective access whenever possible.

Thank you for expressing how deeply you felt about this. It's so important for more people to understand how a failure to plan for accessibility can profoundly affect people on a personal level, but it does take courage to speak out. Thank you for having the gumption to speak up!.

Dr. Von said...

Seriously, seriously pathetic. Bill, keep seething.

freeb said...

You didn't mention the fact you were using a wheelchair to attend the meeting? We all know how clueless able bodied people are as to access...some of this is on you because you need to be proactive and not assume others are intellectual enough to understand your situation.

Gaedhal said...

I guess "bioethics" in academia doesn't encompass the realities of actual human beings. Nice.

Stephen said...

“Ring bell for access.”

Hardly a relic of the past. I was traveling along Columbus Ave. in New York City THIS MORNING and noticed store after store with this sign.

Rather than pour a concrete ramp to to allow access, these establishments claim "compliance" by offering to bring out a portable ramp upon request. The bells are frequently positioned too high up for many users (which assumes they have use of their arms).

Julie H. Rose said...

In response to freeb: It was not "on" Bill to inform anyone that he uses a wheelchair to attend an event called "Conference on the Humanities, Disability and Health Care." Furthermore, it's ridiculous to say one needs to be an intellectual to understand the need for accessibility. On top of that, I presume that the organizers of this event are all people with advanced degrees. And, on top of that, to hold this particular conference in an inaccessible building is an insult to all people with disabilities, not just Bill.

william Peace said...

Freeb. The organizers were well aware I used a wheelchair.

apulrang said...

Wow. What an example of the gap between theory and practice! It's a classic example of ableism, but also an example of the idea that "academia" is all intellectual wankery, with not an ounce of practicality. What use is all their intellectualizing on disability when they can't even be bothered to attend to basic accessibility?

In similar situations, have you ever taken the other tack ... stayed and then publicly shamed the planners by directly mentioning the lack of proper accessibility in your presentation?

Gene said...

Bill, you wrong to expect an accessible venue. I don't get around much but if I know accessible venues are rare.

If you want to improve access, you may want to delete the word "cripple" from your vocabulary. If you call yourself a cripple, people treat you like a cripple. Your behavior doesn't justify someone else's ignorance but it is part of a much larger picture.


apulrang said...

By the way ... what the hell could be the rationale for a conference titled "Humanities, Disability, and Health Care"? It sounds like they put a bunch of topic words in a lottery spinner and just drew them out at random.

Mark said...

Hope you'll file a formal complaint.

oyvey65 said...

I, worked from a power wheelchair in excess of 5 years, prior to A.D.A. --- your story brings me back.

I was my Healthcare Firm's POSTER CHILD for "Compassion" --- I was the only staff member [Audiologist] --- willing to 'come out of the closet'
and even SIT on their 504 Task Force. I did not win
any Brownie Points, however --- instead of addressing MY NEEDS, as a physically challenged HUMAN --- I addressed the needs of my patients [the Hearing Impaired].

Also, while recovering from a Catastrophic Injury (--- the personal wheelchair van I was driving home from a work-related meeting, was T-Boned,
by an under-insured 19 year-old driver. The policeman [who was summoned to the scene by a passer-by] decided that since it was dark and raining --- it did NOT matter that the person who
hit my second wheelchair van had a Stop Sign AND
did NOT Yield right-of-way; the policeman called IT an 'ACCIDENT' --- no one's fault.)

I do not know what the law is in your state, but I was forced to TAKE both a written and a road TEST
every year, just to KEEP my driver's license.

I read for the BLIND --- while I was recovering from my 'Brain-Lash' [T.B.I. + WHIPLASH] injury.

After I recovered, I was part of a motorcade of wheelchair van drivers --- who left from our local
VA Medical Center [IT was sponsored by our local PVA CHAPTER] and drove ~ 2 hours to our state capital --- to see Washington State's Governor sign OUR State's ACCESS LAW [1987]; ADA was NOT enacted until 1990.

Like you, I have tried to attend 'Bio-Ethics Symposia' in inaccessible SITES --- all have included the word DISABLED in THEIR titles. I have
learned 'over the years' that JUST because THEY SAY they want to include US --- does NOT mean US --- bottom line. oyvey65

freeb said...

William Peace, I understand they knew you use a chair. But them knowing you use a wheelchair is a far cry from them intellectually understanding what that entails as to everyday living and accessibility. I'm not excusing this behavior at all, or what happened to you, it's happened to me countless times. I'm glad you stood your ground, so to speak, and didn't attend. They should be ashamed, sure, but they're human and sometimes the most obvious goes right over their heads.

Julie Rose -
Intellect: the power or faculty of the mind by which one knows or understands, as distinguished from that by which one feels and that by which one wills; the understanding; the faculty of thinking and acquiring knowledge.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

freeb, Bill has done a great deal over the past 35 years of his life to advocate for accessibility. He shouldn't have to spell it out for people at a *conference about disability*, any more than a person of color should have to spell out what racism means at a conference on racism. If people don't get accessibility at a disability conference, they need to seriously consider whether they are in the right profession. The onus isn't on us to explain; we've been explaining our whole lives. The onus is on people to stop, to question, and to say, "What do you need as a disabled person?" if they're not sure.

Gene, Bill calls himself a cripple in order to reclaim the word. If people treat cripples badly, it's on them. I don't care what people call themselves. They deserve respect.

Jesse CS70 said...

Contact info (thanks for the details, William Peace; and thanks for the suggestions of the student paper and funders, Stephen Drake):

Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Main Phone: (315) 781-3000
Publicity and Media Relations:
Web Site Feedback:
Hobart Dean's Office Phone: (315) 781-3300
William Smith Dean's Office Phone: (315) 781-3467
The student paper: ;

Central New York Humanities Corridor :
At the Syracuse University Humanities Center, ask for Prof. Gregg Lambert, Founding Director; call Kelly Pickard, Administrative Specialist: (315) 443-7192 and Mi Ditmar, Mellon Coordinator: (315) 443-5944
At the Society for the Humanities @ Cornell University, ask for Prof Timothy Murray, Director (on leave AY '13- '14)
and Prof Brett de Bary, the Acting Director for this year; call Mary Ahl, Administrative Manager and Assistant to the Director: (607) 255-4086
At the University of Rochester, ask for Dean Thomas DiPiero, Dean of the Humanities & Interdisciplinary Studies dept; email: Patricia Pascarella, Senior Accountant:
At the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium, contact Amy Doonan Cronin, Executive Director: call (607) 351-5602; email:
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (funders): (212) 838-8400;

Sarah Berry (one of the organizers): Visiting Prof in English dept.; ; (315) 781-3000 ext. 3359 ;

Lester Friedman (the other organizer): Chair of Media and Society dept. ; ; (315) 781-3000 ext. 3580 ;

The Humanities, Health, and Disabilities Studies Working Group (note the slight difference in name: "Studies Working Group", not "Study Workshop" -- that's why it didn't show up on Google at first) is mentioned here:

Please go forth and contact them! And report back on what responses, if any, you receive.

Monique Boulanger said...

You know, telling Bill that part of it is on him for not telling the organizers he is in a wheelchair smacks of victim blaming. All public buildings, should be accessible. Period. Universities, even privately owned, should have ground level doors, or ramps, and inside, ramps or elevators. I understand the financial logistics to get these put in on older buildings, BUT, it's not an excuse, the ADA has been out for quite some time now, so the owners of said buildings have had plenty of time to secure funding to get these adaptations put in.

Kat Majors said...

Jesse CS70, thank you for the contact info. This is the email I sent to all the addresses:

"Hello, I recently read about your Conference on the Humanities, Disability and Health Care, and the inability of one of the people involved in your conference to attend due to the lack of access for those who are wheelchair bound. I find this very interesting and offer myself as a bipedal human without an advanced degree, who has the ability to "see" stairs and realize that wheelchairs cannot access them. I am prepared to offer you a reasonable contract (including travel and housing expenses) to help you avoid these types of problems (and possibly lawsuits) in the future. "

Overand said...

Gene - I have to second what other people here.are saying. Bill is using the word "cripple" in much the same way that the LGBT community uses the word "queer" - reclaiming it.

Regarding Bill being wrong to expect an accessible venue - even if this *weren't* a event about disability, I don't think it's wrong to expect the world to perform well. You may find yourself disappointed, but it's not WRONG.

But for goodness sake, this is an event about disability!

Sue Katz said...

What a powerful piece of writing about an outrageous experience. I look forward to your book (mentioned in the intro to your blog).

Liz said...

I hate this so much. Over and over, I go to speak at events where conference organizers pay lip service to access without putting any practical thought or effort into it. It's intensely disrespectful. Then the same organizers often ask me how they should do "outreach" to get more diversity at their events, more disabled speakers and attendees.

Penny Wolfson said...

Just walked into my local library--a building less than ten years old--and realized the handicap access plate which initially was installed to open the door had disappeared. The doors remain and are virtually impossible for anyone with a wheelchair or indeed any kind of severe physical impairment to push them open. I was informed there was a handicap parking space around the back and that if you used a wheelchair you could enter there IF YOU RANG THE BELL. There was, by the way, no sign at the front door; you couldn't possibly know where to go. And then there is the little problem of the bell. I was not with my son who uses a chair, but I asked the clerk at the desk who seemed not at all interested and told me there was probably someone at Town Hall who could help, but she didn't know who. THIS IS A PUBLIC LIBRARY! My love and sympathy to you, Bill.

SKNM said...

I saw this post circulating on FB and was immediately interested!

Do you think it's true that all other participants walked up those steps without a second thought?

That would not be me...
I see details in everything!

When I took my child to art class and had to walk up a long staircase to get there, I wondered: "What happens when a child in a wheelchair wants to go?"

When we designed and built our home at the age of 34, we had a conversation about accessibility. Then we roughed-in for wider interior doors, built bigger showers that were easy to get in and out of, and allowed for more space in bathrooms and hallways. We also designed it with one bedroom on the main level.

We didn't think of or do everything, but we made it possible to have a visitor in a wheelchair; and, we didn't want to exclude future buyers. It just made sense to us to design a home that is more welcoming...

I'm not sure I believe my hubby and I are alone in looking at the world this way as part of every day life... I hope not...

william Peace said...

SKNM, You are extremely unusual. I have no doubt every scholar walked up the stars and did not give wheelchair access a single passing thought. I would also suggest the vast majority of the population does not give a damn about wheelchair access. I encounter inaccessible venues every time I travel or walk out the door of my home.

Stephen said...

The battle for human rights is hardly started and the hardest people to convert are ultra-liberals, the intelligentsia, academics, the media. The believe themselves above the fray.

On Prince Edward Island Canada, the University of Prince Edward Island moved all the accessible parking, and there wasn't enough, to the campus perimeter to be fair. Despite violating the National Building Code and civil bylaws they did it and never gave it back. I waged a two year battle to no avail, although I did get my named smeared in the press.

Dina Q said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dina Q said...

"I was placed in an impossible situation. I could enter the building via an obvious illegal entrance or not participate in the event." How about entering through that 'illegal door' and making it your mission at that event to change things so next year this door would no longer be there? Wouldn't this have been a win-win for everyone, unlike your refusal to participate?

william Peace said...

Dina Q. If I entered a blatantly illegal entrance to the building I would give tacit or passive support for breaking the the law. Many different things could have happened. The organizer could have apologized at the time and suggested we find another location to meet. It was a somewhat small group we could have met in the student center. These are less than ideal options but would have demonstrated a modicum of effort and support for my civil rights. Based not the organizer's reaction I could only conclude I represented a "problem". My inclusion and humanity was not deemed valuable. Under these circumstance you expect me to enter and then educate the scholars present? I don't think so. In retrospect I have no doubt I did the right thing.

DandG said...

You indicated that they were, in fact, expecting you. Did you get any sense ahead of time that they didn't want you there for any reason? Also, was the event open to the public or was it by invitation only? The website does not make this clear. Are they planning to do things differently for their next meeting?

william Peace said...

DandG, There were indeed indications before the event that problems would arise. For example, the post meeting dinner was to be held in an inaccessible restaurant. In an email the organizers stated they moved the dinner to an inferior second option. I was willing to participate in the Spring. I sent a detailed letter to the senior organizer with many suggestions. Suffice it to say things did no work out. Even weeks later the organizer stated "mistakes" were made. This to me indicated a giant cultural gulf. What took place was not a "mistake" but rather a violation of my civil rights that could and perhaps should have been subject to a Department of Justice investigation. At this point, I think my participation is pointless. At a fundamental level the people involved do not get disability.

gps said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DandG said...

You did not answer the question. Did the organizers have some other reason (e.g. personal dislike? academic disagreement?) to want to exclude you? Could it be that the inaccessibility was an intentional passive/aggressive way of avoiding you?

william Peace said...

DandG, To my knowledge the organizers had no reason to exclude me. I was in fact invited to participate.

william Peace said...

DandG, Hobart and William Smith is going to renovate the building to insure the inaccessible room is accessible. I will not participate in the spring. The suggestions I made to the organizers were dismissed.

Mark Forgea said...

Oh boy. Talk about editing to make an artificial point. And a tasteless one at that. The building shown was built in 1928, subsequently incorporated into a newer structure next door, with an access ramp just to the left of this building entrance with a straight shot from the sidewalk. The reason the access ramp wasn't put at the door shown was due to the width and pitch restrictions required by the ADA. Restaurant without access? I want to know where. If it was on campus then this is a story made of whole cloth. This kind of petulant protest and artificial complaining hurts people who have a legitimate complaint. This sounds like something else, and I hope the original author will correct his complaint to admit this building is fully accessible and can be seen on Google Earth (I placed a pin titled "ADA Access to Old Hamilton Printing Building" on Pulteney street (coordinates 42 51 32.01 N and 79 59 10.61 W, 588 feet in elevation with and eye altitude of 529 feet).

william Peace said...

Mark, I am taken aback at your grossly misleading observations. The main entrance to the student center is accessible. The room selected in the building was not accessible. One navigated down a long hallway to encounter two steps effectively barring me from entering the room. My only option to enter the building and room where the meeting was held was through the emergency escape door. This is a blatant violation of the ADA. Correct me if I am wrong but does google earth show the interior of the building where the steps were? The President of Hobart and William Smith acknowledged the lack of access and the college will correct this barrier between semesters. This is not the first time William and Hobart Smith has had ADA issues. Stephen Kuusisto sued the university many years ago and won. All institutions have flaws although you seem to want to give the college a free pass on a gross civil rights violation. The fact remains the organizers botched this from start to finish. Do I really need to provide copies of email to you to demonstrate the level of incompetence and disregard for the ADA. The odd part here is I went out of my way to be polite to the college. I could have simply filed a formal complaint wit the the Department of Justice. To suggest my complaint is without merit is not only wrong but insulting. After 35+ years of paralysis I think I know when I am being discriminated against. I have much experience sadly.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Mark Forgea, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. If you read the article and the comments carefully, you'll see that a) the room was inaccessible (yes, the presence of stairs constitutes inaccessibility if you use a wheelchair) and b) the restaurant was inaccessible. On what basis do you have the temerity to suggest otherwise? Anything less than full access is a civil rights violation, as we disabled folks are well aware, and any complaint against such a violation is fully legitimate.

You owe Bill an apology. Some respect for the man, his experience, his life's work, and his writing is in order here.

Jocelyn said...

I find your writing so thought-provoking. I skipped to this post from a subsequent one about speaking for people with disabilities where I was provoked to thoughts about my own frequent public speaking.

I find it at times hard to relate to the level of vehemence with which you write - though I encounter many of the same inaccessible indignities in my daily life as a wheelchair user, and would consider myself a vocal self-advocate. However, the longer I have my disability (i was born with it, and have used a wheelchair since I was a child), the more things like this - the cruelly ironic moments - can really get at me. Host a conference on disability and healthcare and don't bother to make sure it's accessible? That sounds like only lipservice was given to inclusion.

Coming back to your post about speaking for people with disabilities - I get asked to speak a lot, but I realize that perhaps my speaking is more palatable to many because my experiences have sprung from the privilege of living in a relatively young west-coast city, where much, if not most, of the architecture was built or renewed since accessibility was factored into the building code (in Canada we don't have the ADA, but accessibility is considered throughout building codes across the country). Additionally, I was 8 when Canadian hero Rick Hansen wheeled across the country and around the world in a wheelchair - though he's now a controversial figure, I witnessed the change he had on Canada first-hand... as suddenly it became cool, if not heroic, to use a wheelchair. Suddenly people wanted to hear my story. I grew up in an unprecedentedly accepting society for people with disabilities.

I still encounter ridiculous situations like the one you describe here on a regular basis. Some bother me more than I can explain, and I try to make change whenever it happens so the person who comes after me hopefully will have a better place to live in. But sometimes, even the best of us, even those who have seen it all, or those who have benefited from the privilege of all the change that people like you have created, sometimes we still get mad as hell and can't take it anymore. Who is anyone to say what you experenced at this conference was not the last straw for you?

Sometimes we have to draw lines... nobody else will draw them for us if we don't.

marjorie said...

Clearly, there is a continuing need for public education regarding disabilities and access. I was very fortunate to work in the Tukwila School District some years ago, when an enterprising special education teacher involved middle schoolers in such a program. For the better part of a month, students were introduced to the various barriers the disabled are met with every day: glasses to simulate visual disabilities, ear plugs to simulate hearing, an arm or a leg tied up, a mouth full of gum, use of canes, wheelchairs, etc. -- it was an immensely valuable experience for these young people, one they did not forget. Two years later, I became aware that those students had identified -- and demanded action -- for a variety of barriers, including public water fountains placed too high, department store aisles too closely crammed with garment racks to allow free movement for people in wheelchairs, thresholds that presented a stumbling hazard... The hands-on experience made ALL the difference. Maybe these highly-educated members of the Conference on the Humanities, Disability and Health Care could benefit from something similar.

william Peace said...

Marjorie. I have a cranky reply. The ADA is almost 25 years old. When will educating people about disability rights sin in. Two decades seems like a long time for a lesson to sink in. Not critiquing you but the lack of progress.

EM said...

I sit on the sidewalk reading my NYT telling ppl walking past that I can't get in. When SUNY opened an ATTAIN lab in a CUNY building, I outed all the attendees (pols, the CUNY president etc). A CUNY PR hack told me the Inwood campus (a 4th floor walkup in a local Catholic school) could be inaccessible because the Grand Concourse was accessible! Now I understand my WC makes me invisible but does it drop my IQ 100+ points?