I am a bit over six foot tall, bipedal, and sighted. These aspects I had always taken for granted.
The morning of the convention I arrived early just to make sure everything was ready to go. The attendees would be arriving in a few hours expecting copious amounts of food, entertainment, SWAG1 and if they must, a bit of education. This wasn’t the first event I had planned, but it was certainly the biggest and most complicated. Based on the comments from last years convention, I would be OK if I provided both types of coffee morning and afternoon with lactose free creamer and blue, pink and yellow sweetener, both types of soda, also morning and afternoon, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, nut-free lunches, iced tea (sweet and unsweet) and an afternoon cookie snack. The evening would include BBQ and entertainment and I knew that the comment cards would give me plenty of pointers on how the convention could be made better next year. For a volunteer job it was surprisingly un-rewarding.
Like most hotel convention centers, there was an abundance of parking. Still, I found myself parking by the dumpster. The entry was easy to find but a bit a unusual. As I approached, I realized that the doors were closer than they first seemed. And quite a bit smaller. It reminded me of that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wilder not Depp, where as they enter the factory the hallway seems really long, but it’s an illusion, a tiny door at the end of a narrowing hallway. I actually had to duck to go through. I suppose the local building officials were quite lenient.
Just inside a receptionist-slash-security guard sat at a modern brushed steel and synthetic stone desk.
I’m not capable of leaving-well-enough-alone, so I inquired, “Why are these doors so short?”
“Good morning,” she responded politely to reinforce my faux pas. “These doors are plenty tall for most of our guests.”
“What? I had to duck to get inside and I’m not THAT tall. How could this not be inconvenient for most of your guests?”
“It’s obvious. The mean height of our guests is exactly 5′-6”. 50% are shorter than the mean height. Add all of those who are in wheelchairs or walk with a stoop and more than 50%, or put another way, MOST are under 5′-6”. She said this with too much delight. “So you see, we just can’t accommodate everyone. The problem is not that our doors are too short, but that you are 6” too tall. Frank Lloyd Wright would agree with me.” This said as though Wright was some authority on architecture.
I wandered off without asking for directions. All of the events were to be held in the Grand Ballroom, so I headed down the widest corridor expecting to easily find it. Unfortunately there were quite a few meeting rooms, all of which seemed quite grand but there were no signs. Finally, I found someone replacing light bulbs, also no taller than 5′-6”.
I interrupted his work,”Excuse me, can you direct me to the Grand Ballroom?”
His look was response enough but still he replied, “Why don’t you just read the sign? You’re standing in front of it.” He gestured towards a cream colored placard almost invisible on the cream colored wall. At first it appeared there were no words on the sign, but on closer inspection there were placard-colored raised letters with Braille characters beneath. The raised letters spelled “Bag of Sand”.
“Hey, this says Bag of Sand.”
“Yeah,” he replied, “It’s Cockney rhyming slang. Bag-o-sand….Grand. Obviously.”
“O.K….., “ I let this sink in, “But the Braille doesn’t seem to match, I know enough Braille characters to guess that the Braille spells Grand.”
“Look if you knew how to read Braille, why are you bothering me?”
“I’m just confused. The signs are almost impossible to read since they are all one color and for some odd reason are written in an obscure street slang and only the Braille has the correct room name.”
Another responsive expression, “Hey Mister, what do you want? It’s not practical for us to try and accommodate every sighted, non-Cockney visitor. The signs would be 6′ tall.” He quickly vanished with his light bulb cart before I could challenge this further.
I ducked into the “Bag of Sand” and began scraping the wall for a light switch. My eyes adjusted to the dim light from the few windows and rare emergency lights just in time to be startled by Victoria, my event coordinator. Also no taller than 5′-6”. I was beginning to suspect that this was a prerequisite for employment (Would that be covered by the ADA2?).
“Good morning,” she sang. “How does it look?”
“Hi Victoria, it’s a bit dark. I was just feeling around for the light switch.”
“That wouldn’t do you much good since there are no light bulbs.”
“er,” I wittily retorted.
“You should have let us know that you would be having sighted guests. I’ll have to check with Robert, he’s responsible for accommodating our special needs guests.” She needled out a message on her mobile, presumably to Robert.
“…er, special needs?” actual words this time.
“I just hope that the bulbs aren’t being used already. You really should have given us advanced notice,” without allowing further interruption, “the tables are all set-up and the banquet has both kinds of soda and coffee, all three kinds of sweetener, does anyone use sugar anymore, and the cookies are baking. What else?”
“Chairs?” I said with all the hope I could muster.
“Oh, you didn’t bring any? All of our guests in wheelchairs bring their own, but since you are bipedal and probably don’t like crouching for hours on end I suppose we will have to order some chairs. I’ll inform Robert.”
“Please do,” I pleaded risking a glance at my watch.
Victoria furiously tap-tapped to Robert.
“Thanks. One more thing,” cautiously now, “I’m a bit of a safety wonk, could you point out the emergency exits?”
“Why? Are you planning on starting a fire?”
Despite all of the setbacks, the convention was a success. Or not a complete disaster. The bulbs didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon and the chairs were being unloaded as we left for the evening. At least we could sit on day two.
The kudos/complaint ratio on the feedback forms was similar to previous years. Surprisingly few complaints about the lack of signage, chairs, light or fire exits, but several complaints about the sugar-free cookies.
There was one very complimentary response from Sean, the blind, Cockney arsonist in a wheelchair. He had a great time.
1Convention freebies or Stuff We All Get.
2Probably not, since being 6′ tall is not a disability as defined by the ADA….in the real world, but in this fictional story it apparently does affect a major life function.