Tag Archives: Elizabeth Engel

Don’t Throw the ADA ‘Baby’ Out With the COVID-19 ‘Bathwater’

Originally published Meetings Today

Don’t Throw the ADA ‘Baby’ Out With the COVID-19 ‘Bathwater’

Oh, you bet I want to write about—think about—something else…even something frivolous like summer plans that might include a walk around the block; what you’ve done to manage your “crown of grey” or whether you or someone in your life grew a beard; and how tired you are of take-out food…if you are fortunate enough to have shelter and food—and toilet paper.

But as noted by the WHO and written and discussed in many arenas, this virus is likely to never go away. It will eventually be controllable, yet potentially never out of the possibility of contagion.

Thus, as I work through and around for clients I continue to write about the issues related to COVID-19, or accurately, SARS-COV2.

I began writing as the U.S. returned to work after a holiday weekend where we saw thousands of people, without masks, not physically distancing, putting their lives and ours at risk.

When The New York Times in print arrived Sunday morning, the front page and into other pages caught my breath and attention. On the day the U.S. reached 100,000 deaths, many news organizations headlined their stories about this terrifying number. I’m grateful that the healthcare workers in my life are well, especially the young ER doctor son of friends who survived COVID-19.

We won’t know for some time if antibodies or a vaccine will in fact protect us. We’re a long way off from the knowledge we need.

I can’t stop dealing with COVID-19 because though I’m fortunate to have work, I’m helping clients and colleagues wade through what we must consider to work (many from home), conduct meetings and events now and in the foreseeable future.

I’m pleased that finally, hotel brands and the AHLA and UniteHere created cleaning policies. Others are beginning to create seating and attendance guidelines, including the latest guide from the WHO for how to hold a ‘mass gathering.’

We still need to figure out the issues of potential outbreaks of the virus at an event, helping groups navigate from “we’re a hugging, hand-shaking, close” group to distancing everywhere to keep safe. And yes, it’s confusing because cities, states and countries have “until further notice” on the numbers and the methods.

This CNBC “Global Traveler” article, “What will hotel visits be like? Here’s your room-by-room look at the future” threw me for a loop. This, for Miami Beach, is not unlike other guides to cities and their hotels. All of this is now in what we must do to have meetings and events.

Please read the linked CNBC article before reading on. As you read that article, note what may, because of new policies and practices in hotels, be obstacles for you or those who attend your meetings or events.

Read? Good. Now read on…

Arrival Experience

My usual arrival experience requires an airport or train station wheelchair and attendant to get me to transportation to a hotel. Before arrival, I arrange for a mobility scooter (often through Scootaround that doesn’t discount nor is this promotion for them or others—it’s simply a resource) to be held at the bell desk and brought to the door on my arrival. The transportation provider asks the bell or door staff to bring the scooter to me.

Those who drive—whether in their own or a rental vehicle—may want assistance parking their car, especially if the parking is remote from lodging. They may have luggage or, if exhibitors, displays, to schlep from their cars.

Either no valet to park the car or no bell staff to help even guard luggage will be an impediment and perhaps a danger. I’m trying to find out what the alternatives may be. (Yes, limited service hotels do not provide bell or valet service. I also know that most of them do not have space for meetings.)

Check-In

I prefer check-in with a front desk person who knows the property and can assure me that getting to the guest room is an easy route on the scooter, and that, sans friends  or colleagues to help, there is a staff member (usually bell staff) to help me with luggage to my room.

Just for arrival this article notes: no valet, no bell staff, no front desk staff. A person with a disability traveling alone may face obstacles just arriving and checking in.

Staff may no longer escort you to—or show you around—your room, and elevators are being limited to just the people in your party.”

Anyone arriving with no knowledge of the hotel and a desire for safety may want assistance.

I like having a staff member escort me to my guest room to explain the layout, the emergency procedures and to assist me getting into my guest room. (If you’ve not had to or tried, getting into a room using a mobility device is difficult. Consider that not everyone has use of their arms or strength to hold doors open, or the ability to discern directions; others may have low vision and the lighting at the property is insufficient to see room numbers.)

[Read also: Here’s What Hotels and Resorts Are Doing to Enhance Health and Sanitation Standards]

In-room Amenities

Reading the changes in the above-noted article and in this information from Miami Beach, I am not sure what to expect. Because I have chemical sensitivities and most in-room toiletries are scented, I travel with my own soap. And because I watched Monk and the news stories showing blacklights and germs, I’m very happy with the changes in guest room cleanliness and removal of many items that make it more difficult to keep the room germ- or virus-free.

Not all guests will be. If people are paying premium rates, much more will be expected even if they know that it’s smarter and better for cleanliness. Planners and hotels should communicate, before arrival, changes to expect.

Some removed in-room items are not, however, “amenities” and are, rather, necessitiesRead on in Part 2 with comments from the Rev. Cricket Park and Shane Feldman about both what’s in the room and generally the experience many will face without assistance and assistive devices. (Not noted in what I’ve read is how hotels will ensure cleanliness of assistive device cases. I’m trying to find out and will update when I do. You may be more familiar with the cases like this. By posting this link we are not recommending any of these items. They are shown only for example.)

Food Service and Sustainability

I hate not having room service. For some reason—cost being one that I do understand—hotels began doing away with room service, believing that “most of us” were happy ordering via an app and going to the lobby to get our food, or preferred going out to eat. Sadly, in many cities, restaurants are closing, and not all of us have the ease of ability to get to the lobby to pick up food.

I heard on a Web event that a hotel will, to make the experience at higher-end hotels more elegant, use non-sustainable containers. It was said that for a while, we’d just have to “deal with” that. I was disappointed—especially now that we’ve cleaned the air and water by keeping cars and people off the road. I hope that either guests or hotels will see that long-term sustainability is far more important.

Conclusion

I have no idea what’s next. No one does–even those who are prognosticators for a living. It’s best to have plans “B to Zed” at this point, for 2020 and onward.

Go review all that is being written by hotels and convention centers and cities with which your meetings are contracted. Ask deeper questions: “tell me more” and “Yes, and” will serve you even more now—and then confirm changes in writing. Read the updated WHO Guide for Mass Gatherings.

We are all moving through this together, and in order to ensure we all move and participate, let’s not throw the ADA baby out with the COVID-19 bathwater. And please remember not all who have disabilities will disclose their needs, or perhaps they acquire a disability on the way to a meeting.

Regardless of what you think, we all—groups and facilities and transportation providers—must consider all those who may attend our meetings and make accommodations.

More from Joan:

Postscripts

It is impossible not to note the horrific death of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the safety implications for all of us as diverse people. It’s time for our industry to speak up on inclusion and racism and other “isms” that are harmful to all, including the “ableism” that seems to exist in thinking about meetings during and ‘post’ COVID-19. It will be time for us all to consider the safety of residents and meeting participants when we select destinations.

If you’ve not, have the conversation with your customers, your participants and your providers of services and facilities. Let’s be safe and inclusive.

If you are a U.S.-eligible voter, register or check your registration. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote. 

Vote in upcoming primaries and national elections. There are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all. Because of COVID-19, many U.S. states and territories have changed their primary dates and/or have added special elections. Please check your state’s or territory’s dates at their board of elections.

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Can Meetings Help Alleviate a Major Healthcare Epidemic?

Vivek Murthy, MD, who served as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General, and someone whose life and work have made a great impression on me, wrote, in this Harvard Business Review article, about his family’s experience after Hurricane Andrew: “Looking today at so many other places around the world ravaged by disasters of all kinds, I think about how often tragedy brings us together—and how fleeting that connection often is. …

“There is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees—and half of CEOs—report feeling lonely in their roles.

“During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. The elderly man who came to our hospital every few weeks seeking relief from chronic pain was also looking for human connection: He was lonely. The middle-aged woman battling advanced HIV who had no one to call to inform that she was sick: She was lonely too. I found that loneliness was often in the background of clinical illness, contributing to disease and making it harder for patients to cope and heal.”

As I read Murthy’s article on “the loneliness epidemic,” my thoughts turned to meetings—conferences, seminars, conventions—some with a few people where it’s easier to feel lonely if one is new or has less in common with others, or is an “other” than the majority attending—an “outsider.” And then there are those large-scale meetings of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands where you’ve come with colleagues you may or may not know well or with whom you may not feel comfortable around in a different setting. Or you may have only had a virtual connection to them—as many of us in the hospitality and meetings industry do when we attend a meeting—and you may still feel lonely.

I thought about the desire for connection during the first months of the MIMList (the first meetings industry virtual discussion group founded by Rod Marymor as part of the MIM – Meetings Industry Mall) that I moderated and how many wrote asking “Is anyone attending [fill in the blank name of an industry meeting] so we can all meet face to face?” All because no one likes being alone or lonely at a meeting or event.

Yes, there are many of us Introverts who “want to be alone” because that’s how we recharge, but we don’t want to feel lonely. Meetings are designed specifically for connections: years ago, MPI’s Foundation conducted ground-breaking studies about why people attend corporate and association meetings. The studies indicated that one of the main reasons people attended meetings was “networking” or as I came to call it, “peer to peer interaction and learning” (Sadly, the studies are out of print; I do have PDFs that we will get to you if requested—email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com).

As I read Dr. Murthy’s comments and as I thought about my own experiences with organizations and at meetings, as a first-timer and as a “veteran,” I remembered:

  • My first MPI Chapter (PMPI) meeting in D.C. when Bill Myles (now of blessed memory) came up to me as I hugged a wall, introduced himself, and invited me to serve on the Membership Committee!
  • Then my first national MPI meeting in 1984 when, though I was president of PMPI, I didn’t know others. Weldon Webb and Beverly Kinkade, both from the St. Louis Chapter (SLAMPI), took me under their wings. Oh how much easier it was to participate and meet others and to commit to greater involvement!
  • At my first International Association of Facilitators (IAF) when I walked into breakfast of 1,200 and thought I’d find a table in a corner until, when walking by three people deep in conversation, they invited me into their conversation and to a seat at their table. Included, I felt less lonely and became involved.
  • Patti Shock and Ed Polivka (he now too of blessed memory) who, at my first PCMAmeeting, welcomed me with smiles and conversation ensuring I was included.
  • And at my first meeting as an MPI delegate (thank you Doug Heath for appointment me) to the (then) Convention Liaison Council (now the EIC) Board meeting when Bill Gehron representing HSMAI, Keith Sexton-Patrick representing ACOM (now ESPA), and Sandi Lynn representing SGMP, all included me in conversations and my loneliness disappeared and my involvement grew. The two often seem to be related!

What is the obligation for those in the hospitality industry (see definition adefinition b) to help people feel less lonely? How can meetings help alleviate the loneliness epidemic and contribute to better health, just as we’ve added healthier foods, yoga, fun runs, policies to combat sexual harassment and to ensure diversity and inclusion?

How do we do it? Here are some ideas.

1. Understand the roots of loneliness. Dr. Murthy in Harvard Business Review (HBR)wrote: “Loneliness is the subjective feeling of having inadequate social connections.”

He went on to say “Happy hours, coffee breaks, and team-building exercises are designed to build connections between colleagues, but do they really help people develop deep relationships? On average, we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than we do with our families. But do they know what we really care about? Do they understand our values? Do they share in our triumphs and pains? This isn’t just bad for our health; it’s also bad for business. Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work…”

“Connection can also help indirectly by enhancing self-esteem and self-efficacy while also shifting our experience toward positive emotions—all of which can buffer an individual during stressful situations and have positive effects on health. Indeed, studies have found that companies whose workers feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher health care expenditures than their counterparts with low-stress employees. … My experience has been that people bring the most to their work when they feel connected to the mission and the people around them.”

No kidding! Because of all those who invited me into conversation and allowed us to get to know each other as individuals as well as colleagues, I immersed myself in our hospitality industry. Where would I (or you) be today if someone hadn’t taken time to include you? And I’m sure we can all think of times where we weren’t included.

2. Create opportunities for deeper connections.

Dr. Murthy, as Surgeon General wrote about his work with staff, new to him and he to them: “To bring us closer, we developed “Inside Scoop,” an exercise in which team members were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen. I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference [emphasis by Joan]. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.”

I asked in a number of social media groups about how people felt as first-timers or if they felt lonely at meetings, especially if they were at a meeting at which they knew few, if any, others. The responses reflected the sense of isolation many felt, some believing that “first-timer” designations made them stand out and they were only approached by those who were told (often board members or executive staff) to do so.

This response, slightly edited, is from colleague and friend, Elizabeth Engel. In this narrative, she is describing who makes what efforts at meetings and events:

“My first time at a [association related to hospitality and meetings] event in 2000. I’d only been in the profession for a few years, and I didn’t know anyone outside the confines of my own association employer and the staff members of our three ‘sister’ associations.

“The conference was in the city in which I live and work, and being my first conference with this organization, I didn’t realize that I should clear my evening schedule for the receptions and parties that would take place in conjunction with the event.

“So I went to sessions, sat in the back of the room all by myself, didn’t really talk to anyone, and scurried off at the end of the educational program each day to keep my evening commitments. In short, I was the attendee with no friends.

“I did learn a lot, but I kind of missed the point of an in-person event: I didn’t expand my network at all.

“I didn’t attend another large association conference for another two years. [When I did return to this conference] I still didn’t really know anyone outside my (still the same) employer and (still the same) ‘sister’ associations.

“But in the interim, I’d learned two key things: keep my evenings free, and make the first move. I knew it was on me to create a better outcome, and I did. This time, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to look for the other person in each room who didn’t seem to have any friends, go over to her, and ask her a question about herself, which is the easiest way for introverts [and others!] to get conversations with strangers going.

“That was the start of building the professional network that has sustained me for the past twenty years, through multiple job changes and launching my own business five years ago.”

3. “Make strengthening social connections a strategic priority in your organization” said Dr. Murthy, and to which I add, and in and at your meetings.

To what Elizabeth learned and did and what Dr. Murthy suggests and the MPI Foundation studies indicate, and what we know from our own experiences and observations, when our noses are in our electronic devices at meetings, peer to peer interaction and learning can’t easily happen. If we set participation examples and explain why we are doing so, we may be able to turn around the current usual behavior and help people create better connections that can lead to more involved members.

More involved members become informed and active participants in our professions, which leads to more commitment to buying and selling from those we know.

4. Change tradeshow interactions.

It’s not just the brief hello on the tradeshow floor for buyers to obtain tchotchkes or a chance to be entered into a drawing [oh … ethics, a discussion for yet another time!] or for sales and marketing professionals to get a name to add to the database. Deeper connections can be made with real conversations like one I had with colleague Marlys Arnold at ExhibitorLive with an exhibitor in a wheelchair about shows and the ADA.

As Dr. Murthy wrote we need to “Encourage coworkers [and in our world, meeting participants and tradeshow exhibitors] to reach out and help others—and accept help when it is offered.” Read on to the sidebar to the interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy to see more of what he has to say about how meetings can help people feel less lonely.

5. Encourage interactive education.

Many of us connect best when we are talking about meaningful ways to solve problems or sharing anecdotes about our latest success or problem.

We need to help “speakers” become, and treat them more like, trainers or facilitators to encourage interaction in sessions. We also need to encourage the use of appropriate seating outside session rooms where, during breaks or at times desired, people can share what they learned and make different connections over a shared raised eyebrow in a session. In both instances we have enabled learning and encouraged less loneliness.

What are your experiences and what have you observed at your meetings—or in your hotels and convention or conference centers—that have encouraged connections and less loneliness for travelers and meeting participants?

  • When you were a first-timer at a meeting especially when you knew no one or few people, what made you feel welcome?
  • What’s your reaction—or that of those who attend your meetings—to “first-timer” designations—stickers or ribbons on badges?
  • In what ways do you encourage interaction in sessions and at social events? In what ways does it succeed and how is it measured?
  • If you’ve measured the return to future meetings (or joining or renewing membership) of first-timers or their buying habits based on meaningful versus brief interactions at tradeshows, what did you learn?
  • And what makes you feel “lonely” at a meeting and in what ways could our industry and especially our industry associations help alleviate what could lead to a greater health epidemic?

Our industry has an opportunity to help people feel less lonely and isolated. Maybe it was “bold” to suggest we can “cure” a health crisis but I think we can go a long way to alleviating it in one of aspect of society that touches many.

And so … On October 29, many of us observed the yahrzeit—anniversary death—of Rosie Ledesma-Bernaducci, a colleague and friend. Those of you who knew her and the circumstances of her death may believe as I do that loneliness contributed to her suicide. It’s that deep loneliness that though one has a smile on their face, and is well-connected and respected, masks a deeper sense of not being connected, truly connected, to others. To her, I dedicate this blog and newsletter in hopes that we can create better connections to solve the issue of loneliness in some way through meetings.

For those who would like to respond privately with a comment to be posted anonymously, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post it for you.

Click here to view additional content in the 11.03.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.​