Tag Archives: ADA

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter to and for Hospitality, Tourism and Meetings

“Diversity fatigue is real,” said Greg DeShields, CEO of PHLDiversity.

And it’s true. People groan when they hear the words “diversity and inclusion.”

They’ve been through training at work, in their spiritual homes, in their communities. Yet, the fear of those “not like us” is great and the lessons learned are not sticking.

The following was posted to the Meetings Today Twitter account from a presentation on storytelling at the MPI Northern California Chapter’s Annual Conference & Exhibition:

“The story always came first. Without a great story, everything would unravel.” The quote is attributed to Matthew Luhn, who worked with Pixar on the Toy Story films and others.

Because the subject is not sexy—a bit like ethics or contingency planning, as I was once told by an industry association staff person—diversity and inclusion at meetings often gets overlooked or, perhaps even worse, we assume that it’s no longer an issue.

I began to write this blog post with the intention of identifying the many things you can do to ensure your meetings, conferences and events are more inclusive.

My initial advice included, but certainly is not limited to the following:

  • Destination and Site Selection: Don’t meet in destinations where laws are passed that discriminate against those who attend or want to attend your meetings. Don’t give business to places where people may be in danger because of who they are, what they look like or their abilities, such as states with “papers please” laws or anti-LGBT laws. Instead, seek out venues with facilities that don’t exclude people who are transgender and where accessibility goes beyond the minimal ADA standards.
  • Speakers: Enlist representative speakers versus the example making its way around the internet of the math-for-women poster showing a panel of four men. Present different points of view and make sure that those who speak are inclusive.
  • Room Sets, Lighting and Activities: Create environments and opportunities that are designed for different learning styles. Ensure you ask what people need to fully participate at your meeting or event and that you then provide for those needs. Some people may require Interpreters, including ASL Interpreters. Some people may need assistance in seeing or taking notes. Make sure to include seating that is appropriate for those using mobility devices. At networking events you should ensure that food is appropriate and labeled and that noise is low enough to allow conversation.

Possible additions to my list included the offering of printed handouts versus having everything web or cloud based because not everyone has a device capable of access.

We also know people learn better by writing than by “keyboarding.” And let’s not forget to ensure that images used in all levels and types of marketing are representative of different ethnicities, gender, attire, age and visible ability.

Then I thought: you know this. You get it.

You are a unique person who wants to be included versus excluded; you hate the pain you see in children and adults when they come to an event dressed differently than others because no one told them or showed them what was acceptable.

At some time in your life, you too were left out for being different. We all were.

I thought the examples shared by those I interviewed for the March 2018 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter would help. And yet, only a few shared personal stories.

As noted earlier in this blog post, the “story comes first.”

Here are some of my own experiences that have instilled a desire to seek out and ensure inclusiveness and diversity in the world in which I live and work.

I am or was:

  • the child who was kept at school to be “babysat” by teachers when all the others who weren’t like me went off (public school) campus to Bible School.
  • the young person called a “Christ-killer” on the playground because of my religion.
  • pained when other children were bullied or left out because of their looks or income or weight or other circumstances that they most often could not control.
  • the child who saw her parents fight “redlining” and “blockbusting” [look them up; they continue today] and whose family hosted people from Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Greece, Norway and other countries and who realized, by the age of 16, how big the world really was and why it mattered and was grateful.
  • the younger-than-many representative on an industry board who was patted on the head and told “honey just wait until you’re older—you’ll know more.”
  • the industry professional who, in too many negotiations was told I was trying to “Jew down” the salesperson and “oh, don’t take offense—it’s just a saying.”
  • the industry professional who was tired of trying to explain why the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners existed and was needed in our industry.
  • the planner of LGBT events who had to explain to a Director of Catering why it was acceptable to have men dancing with men and women with women at a fundraiser.
  • the non-college degree holder who constantly hears that people without college degrees can’t make it anywhere and wouldn’t be hired even by my own clients who, still though, want my expertise, and who realize I have, by sheer will and lots of continuous learning, done pretty well.
  • the person dealing with a mobility disability and who, upon finally getting the white hair my great-grandmother had and that I had for years thought I wanted, is now experiencing age and ability discrimination and exclusion.
  • and the highly sensitive person who notices exclusion and wonders why it has to be hurtful—or why it even has to be in the first place.

You can check calendars for dates to avoid so that you don’t meet over holidays and you can delve into why some religious holidays are more important than others.

You can learn by talking with people who aren’t like you—that includes those who are your members or customers or who want to and could be if they were just asked. You can talk with your HR departments and those who conduct diversity training like Jessica Pettitt and learn more about the importance of diversity and inclusion for all.

You can read what people are posting about the “math for women” conference that showcased a panel of four men and realize your marketing isn’t showing who you want to attract—you too hotels and cities!

You can read the U.S. Department of Justice website to understand your obligations to help people with disabilities attend and participate in your meeting and you can stop asking why you have to provide sign language Interpreters because they’re expensive.

You can read what Tracy Stuckrath has written about food and beverage and shared elsewhere in our industry. Or why meeting the needs of those who “claim to be vegan” really means they need to eat what they need to eat so they feel valued.

It’s pretty easy to understand why people want to be included in all the activities at your conferences and in your facilities. And why it hurts so much when people are not.

We need to be hospitable and welcoming in all that we do.

It all matters because we live in a global society and we all need to support each other, no matter how much we or others might think or say otherwise. It all matters. It just does.

Related Reading From the March 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

Accessibility, the ADA and Inclusion – It’s Our Job!

Accessibility, the ADA and Inclusion – It's Our Job!

Shortly after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I was an MPI delegate to the board of the Convention Liaison Council—the previous name of what is now the Convention Industry Council (CIC). Speakers were invited to address and inform the board about topical issues, such as music licensing and the ADA, that impacted our industry and each organization. Cricket Park, then deputy executive director of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), and now, the Rev’d C.B. “Cricket” Park, rector, The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda, Md., addressed us about the ADA and its impact on the meetings and hospitality industry.

Cricket was the only person to ever write a book and, for PCMA, a white paper, on the ADA and meetings. Alas, both are out of print.

Like many of you, I was blown away by what we hadn’t paid enough attention to and what we needed to learn and to implement in regard to the ADA. Not many years later, my company was responsible to help plan and execute a meeting conducted in the U.S. by the U.S. and Canadian governments on issues of accessibility around the world.

On a site visit with representatives of both governments, I observed how clueless the hotel salespersons were about the ADA and compliance and general accessibility issues. Illustrative of that: the clients were in the guest room bathrooms taking measurements and there the sales people were telling us about their turndown service and wonderful spa and pool, the latter two which were totally inaccessible for someone with a disability and had no materials or people to help those with hearing or sight needs.

To date, not all countries have disabilities acts. This blog and the accompanying newsletter specifically address laws in the United States. For those who are in or do meetings outside the U.S., these resources will help: U.S. State Department “International Disability Rights”Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DRED)Disability Rights International; and International Disability Rights.

Alas, none of the above noted resources, unlike this from the U.S. Department of Justice, specifically address meetings. Reading further into this blog post and referencing the somewhat limited resources from our industry—thanks to Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA), formerly ACOM, for their work creating an accessibility toolkit—will help make our industry more accessible, in addition to asking participants what they need to fully participate and experiencing some of the obstacles they face firsthand.

That and common sense on the part of meeting professionals—planners, professional development designers and suppliers to our industry—can help guide us to better inclusion practices and simple adjustments.

I am not an expert on the ADA and all the components of helping to make meetings and facilities inclusive. Niesa Silzer and I, with assistance from Kristen McCosh (here’s a profile and a short bio) who is the Boston Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities, at a PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Boston in 2014, lead an experiential session in which attendees participated in several hands-on exercises. This will be somewhat replicated again, as they did a few years ago, at this year’s SGMP NEC on June 7, for more than discussion about disabilities and inclusive hospitality and meetings.

And why this is personal: I took my unassisted mobility for granted. Yes, I’d broken bones necessitating crutches, but somehow I managed. Even after back surgery, I was immobile for a bit but eventually regained my ability to walk and move about well.

Until I couldn’t.

The need for a mobility scooter came long after my knowledge of the ADA. By the time I needed assistance, I was already aware of and in tune with the extreme difficulty of being a person with a different ability or with a disability when traveling or even just getting around in my own city (Washington D.C.)! Others may not be.

These are ways to begin thinking and planning differently in order to have more inclusive meetings. They are by far not all you need to know or do and do not include sensory and other areas of disability. It’s up to you to do more research by starting with a list of questions for your meeting participants and hotel guests.

1. Conduct site inspections using a wheelchair or power chair or mobility scooter.

  • Consider the timing for elevators and see what it takes alone and with others to get to the elevator once it arrives.
  • Once the elevator arrives—or will it? See this video, created by The Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Zach Anner, experienced with humor that I sometimes don’t have—is there room and will you and your device fit?
  • Check on the restroom(s) that have this sign (or the more traditional version):

    …to see if they really are accessible from the outside as well as the inside. A wide stall is not all it takes to make a restroom accessible. If the door can’t be easily opened from inside or out or the turning radius isn’t great enough for a power chair or scooter, how is it then accessible?
  • For guest rooms, how does one traveling alone using a power chair or other device open the door and access the room? How easily is it to exit the room or get around? And where can you park and charge your mobility device in the room? Where are the controls for HVAC? Are the window blind pulls accessible?
  • While moving around the hotel (or other venue) did you find that all doors have push buttons to open them? Or do you, as I have done, just push through hoping not to break glass and wood and not to injure yourself?

​2. Conduct a site inspection wearing an eye patch or with cotton or ear plugs in your earsNOTE: for safety, just like in commercials for cars with a professional driver winding down a mountain road where it tells you not try this at home, it is advised you not do this on your own.

  • What’s printed in Braille or where and how accessible are human beings to assist? If the hotel uses robots, how do they interact with people who are deaf, hard of hearing or blind or low vision? How much of the printed-for-sighted-people materials—in-room safety cards? Menus in guest rooms and restaurants? Menus and ingredient labels on food for your events?—are accessible for all?
  • As Shane Feldman notes in the accompanying Q&A sidebar, take note of how much information on the in-room television and elsewhere is close- or option-captioned.
  • Ask about all recreational facilities and those who work in them. What Stacy Patnode Bassett experienced on her honeymoon and at the movie theatre (see Q1 in the related Q&A sidebar) was so stunning to me because it’s not 1950 or 1970 or even 1980 or 1990! Yet, I know that her experiences are not unusual.

3. Check guest rooms for accommodations.

  • Is there a bar in the closet that can be raised and lowered for clothing? Or is the only bar a low one that makes all clothing pick up lint from the floor? Just because we use mobility devices doesn’t mean our clothes are short or that we aren’t traveling with someone who needs their clothes to hang higher!
  • Is the extra roll of toilet paper, the hair dryer, the safe and everything else within easy reach regardless of one’s height or ability?
  • How many cases do they have to make any room accessible for someone who is deaf, hard of hearing, has low vision or is blind?
  • What is the owner/developer/management company doing to create designs that are more inclusive? (See: “Making Hotel Rooms Fully Accessible, Discreetly” and “An Artist’s Manifesto for Accessible Hotels”).

4. Check meeting and public space for more inclusive features.

  • Measure the height of buffet tables and items on them (chafing dishes and other food or food displays) to see if everyone can access them. Discern the knowledge of the convention services and banquet staff about doing so. Determine how your group or the hotel will assist those who cannot carry a plate of food on their own.
  • Is the hotel designed for what it is assumed all millennials want and need—that is, with low seating and lighting and many other “modern amenities”—that for anyone, millennials and Gen Zers included, might not be accessible?
  • Is the knowledge of meeting room seating audience-centric for sight-lines? (One of my favorite books, “Seating Matters” by Dr. Paul Radde*, shows how).

*I learned long after I wrote the foreword for the book—I was and am not compensated for the foreword I wrote or for “plugging” the book except to hear great things from people like Gail Hernandez who used seating from Paul’s book and how successful it was!—that Paul worked with Interpreters and the Deaf community on seating to ensure good sight lines.

5. Know what the Amendment to the ADA included.

  • In addition to swimming pool lifts, which a segment of our industry fought, and are now mandated, food allergies and chemical sensitivities are also now included within the ADA. Determine if hotels have unscented guest rooms and unscented products for those who need them.
  • When in doubt, contact the U.S. Department of Justice/U.S. ADA Hotlines: 800.514.0301 (voice) 800.514.0383 (TTY).

6. Make no assumptions!

  • On your registration, use the mobile wheelchair symbol and the statement “Tell us what you need to fully participate in the meeting, including mobility, sight, hearing, food and scent” with multiple methods of contact.
  • Just because someone doesn’t “look” like they have a disability, or because, when the registration form asked they didn’t note it, plan for all possibilities. Someone could be injured just before or while traveling to your meeting. Many who have disabilities do not want to disclose that because it may harm their reputation “if it gets out.” Others have what are considered “invisible disabilities” and prefer to keep that quiet (I’m forever indebted to the Invisible Disabilities Association and their great booklet, “But you LOOK Good”). When you see a person who has a placard and parks in a “handicapped” space and “looks fine,” stop before you admonish them.

7. Prepare for everyone.

  • 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.
  • Know the ADA and go beyond it where and when possible. If room service has a “policy” of not substituting meals for those with, say, low-salt diets which may be a result of serious health issues, work with the chef to come up with menus for different diets (See what Tracy Stuckrath has written and said about these issues).

As you read the stories from D’Arcee Charington Neal, Shane Feldman, and Stacy Patnode Bassett in the accompanying April 2017 Friday With Joan Q&A sidebar, think about what you would have done in their situations and more, what you will do now to ensure others at your facilities and your meetings do not endure these types of incidents.

When a venue says they are “in compliance with the ADA” ask them how they know. Then take it the next step to see if they go beyond compliance to real inclusion.

“Inclusive Hospitality” the issues of the ADA and beyond

In February 2015, Marlys Arnold and I, colleagues and friends for years, were at the same trade show, at which I also did a session on “Inclusive Hospitality” taking the issues of the ADA and going beyond. Marlys was curious to walk the trade show floor with me to see how accessible it was. (It wasn’t.) On our walk we met Lee Jacobia, an exhibitor, working the floor while sitting in his wheelchair. Marlys on foot and me on my (rental) scooter [have you ever traveled with a scooter? The airlines, not friendly to luggage, are far worse on these items. I prefer to rent when I travel and leave mine at home] spent time talking with Lee.

Lee, Marlys and I are not ADA experts. We are people who are either faced with mobility disabilities and/or those who care about ensuring access at meetings and shows and in venues. Listen, learn, and spend some time thinking about how accessible what you create is.

Thanks, Marlys, for doing this: http://www.tradeshowinsights.com/accessibility

And this may help too: http://www.meetingsfocus.com/NewsEvents/EventDetails/tabid/104/ItemID/3992/Default.aspx

Your tips for design and other methods of inclusion will be helpful added here.

Oh and it’s not just in the US. Use this for more information for international destinations: http://tinyurl.com/kdtoxdj