That smell at WordCamp? That was me.
You might be wondering how I ended up that way. It’s a tale of disability and inaccessibility.
To be fair, I had a wonderful time at WCUS 2022. People were amazing. My Post Status team was awesome. My StellarWP team was awesome. Seeing people I hadn’t seen in years, and meeting new folks was amazing. It was ALL SO GOOD!
But…I got stuck in the lobby bathroom. And I couldn’t access my hotel room shower. And most doors were next to impossible to get through without human assistance. (Including my hotel room door.)
The accessibility at WCUS was disappointing at best, and tear-inducing at its lowest point.
ADA Hotel Room
On arrival at Town & Country Resort in San Diego, the first thing I noted was that the front door to the lobby was propped open, which was fortuitous, as the main entrance to the hotel had no automated entry. There was no sensor to automatically open a door (like some hotels with sliding doors), and no push button to activate a motorized opening for the door. Had this door not been propped open, I would not have been able to access the lobby without assistance.
Propped or not, I was barely out of the car before Topher DeRosia was by my side offering assistance with my luggage and anything I needed. He even followed me to my room after I checked in to assist with my giant suitcase. (Big suitcase = more room for swag). I’m usually able to maneuver well with my giant suitcase as it has four wheels and is easy to roll alongside my mobility scooter. However, this resort was so spread out, and there was so much sidewalk to cover, that I would have found this difficult to navigate alone. Many thanks to Topher for his assistance.
As I checked in, I was told that the hotel would be happy to change my small room to an accessible room. While I was happy to hear this, I was also perplexed, as Nancy at Liquid Web had booked an accessible room for me, which I confirmed when I viewed my initial reservation. Regardless, I was happy to learn I’d have a room that could accommodate my needs.
Except that it didn’t.
My room was on the 5th floor of the building furthest from the lobby. There were paths, and an elevator, so it was technically accessible with any mobility device. I couldn’t help but note, however, that had I still been walking with a cane, this would have been impossible for me to access, as the distance was difficult to traverse before I had a motorized scooter. Having never been a self-propelled wheelchair user, I cannot say how this distance might have fared for some of the other attendees at WordCamp. I know that for me and my physical challenges, it would have been difficult, if not impossible.
Arriving in my room proved that it was indeed a larger room (and bathroom) in which I could move my scooter with relative ease. However, the accommodations stopped there.
The bathtub and toilet were equipped with grab bars. So I assume those met ADA requirements. However, this did not meet my needs. There was no shower chair, no handheld shower head, and no way to get into the shower without stepping up and over the side of the bathtub. Even after my roommate (and constant helper, Michele Butcher-Jones) called and asked for a shower chair for me, it was too precarious for me to attempt a shower at all while at WCUS. I resorted to the sink and washcloths, and eventually hats to cover my dirty hair.
One thing this hotel room included that I had never seen before was a push button to automatically open the main door to the outside. I was delighted! I’ve injured my hands before trying to exit a hotel room door with heavy springs. My delight quickly turned to disappointment to discover that the automatic mechanism had been removed from the door. In fact, the door, once opened, needed to be closed manually as well, as the entire spring system had been removed. This meant not only was exiting alone difficult, but shutting the door behind me was, too.
I was not the only person who had difficulty with the resort. Dan Knauss reports a similar issue on his blog, and I spoke with others at the conference who were finding things difficult as well, but whose anonymity I wish to protect.
The Lobby Bathroom
Dear reader, I shall spare you most of the tales of woe from my bathroom experience, except to share two things that were incredibly frustrating.
- In my scooter, it was difficult to be close enough to the sink to actually wash my hands before exiting the bathroom. (Yes, I did manage.)
- It took me almost 3 minutes to actually exit the bathroom back into the lobby. The area by the door was narrow, which meant opening it from my scooter wide enough to actually go through the door was next to impossible. While I did, eventually, manage it, I had to employ anti-anxiety techniques to keep from having a full-blown anxiety attack. (Future trips to the restroom included bringing a friend to make sure I could exit again.)
The Conference Center
The conference center itself did have push buttons to enter from the outdoors, however, that’s where the accommodation ended. None of the rooms I entered — session spaces and the organizer room — were possible for me to enter or exit without assistance.
Personally, I had no issues with food. I don’t have dietary restrictions, allergies, or any special needs. However, this is not true for all of us. I know of several people who had to order out or go without because their kosher meal wasn’t provided, they could not be assured that their allergens were not present in the food, or their only dairy-free option was the vegan meal.
At past WordCamps I’ve seen vegans end up with nothing because those closest to the front of the line decided the vegan option looked better than the non-vegan option, leaving nothing for the vegans further back in the line to eat.
Food accommodation is just as important as a disability accommodation.
Where WCUS Succeeded
It wasn’t all bad, and this isn’t meant to shame or scathe, so I do also want to report on things that worked well.
- Aisles and rows were wide enough to get through in all the speaker sessions.
- The microphone was accessible at the Q&A in the final session.
- The live transcription service was awesome.
- The box lunches had bags available to put your food, beverage, sides, and utensils in to make carrying easier.
- People. People checked in with me and helped when I needed it.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the people of WordPress, this would have been worse than disappointing. It would have been impossible for me.
- Michele Butcher-Jones roomed with me, and she helped A LOT. At the end of day one when I burst into tears because I was distraught and discouraged, she sprang into action to try to get the hotel to meet my needs. She also helped me when I could barely move at the end of each day.
- Mark Westguard checked in with me frequently, rode to the airport to help me (an hour before he needed to be there himself), and made himself available if I needed anything.
- Kimberly Lipari checked in with me, made sure I knew where the best bathrooms at the conference center were, and she offered to help with anything I needed.
- Ryan Marks tried to help me get into the Q&A a bit early (along with others with mobility issues), but unfortunately, we were made to leave again. Then the crowds were allowed in before I was. This was disappointing. Thank you, Ryan, for trying.
- Topher DeRosia — thank you for your assistance on arrival. I truly appreciate it!
- My StellarWP/Nexcess teams — these folks were there for whatever I needed. Thank you for everything. And the Stellar/Nexcess Campchella party was 100% accessible, of course!
- My Post Status team — same thing. You are all so wonderful!
- Pagely — thank you for making sure I was happy and provided for at your party. The ramp onto the boat was awesome, the food was on the main floor, and Lily was amazing! Top-notch all around.
The Future of WCUS Accessibility
I’ve never been one to complain without proposing solutions. So here are my ideas going forward.
- Employ an accessibility expert to make sure the venue is fully-accommodating before the event. If there are areas that need improvement (like broken push buttons, inaccessible bathrooms, etc.) make sure those are addressed with the venue prior to WordCamp. If they are not able to be addressed, then other accommodations need to be in place.
- Add an accommodations role to every WordCamp. This person can be on the attendee experience team if necessary, but accommodations should be their only role. Tasks for this person could include:
- Checking for ADA compliance.
- Checking with anyone who specified disability accommodation needs to make sure that their needs can be met at the venue, afterparty, and in the conference hotel. This includes accommodations for blind, visually impaired, deaf, and hard of hearing attendees, as well as anything covered under ADA laws.
- Checking with each person for allergies and special meal needs to ensure accommodation is met.
- Label meals with the person’s name so that it is clearly reserved for them alone.
- Be in contact with both the kitchen and serving staff to make sure all special meals are present.
- Be present at meal time to assist with any issues.
Why It Should Matter to Us All
Oftentimes, I hear in communities that people with disabilities just have to understand that sometimes their needs can’t or won’t be met.
We shouldn’t be that community.
In the WordPress community, all of us matter. All of us are important. All of us contribute.
All of us should be able to attend without concern.