Tag Archives: ESPA

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.

Sales May Sell But It’s Event Services That Brings Repeat Biz

Originally published Meetings Today

Sales May Sell But It’s Event Services That Brings Repeat Biz

When meeting planners express frustration with the CSMs (convention services managers) (aka ESPs, event service professionals) who don’t call or email in a time frame that is acceptable to the planners, or who suggest that the CSMs don’t know enough about properties, I bristle.

Many of us who’ve been in the industry for some time know that sales will sell the world and that those in service must make it happen, regardless of the realities of what has been sold.

That’s not just an opinion, it’s the reality of the current and former CSMs I interviewed.

My First Professional Experience with CS and Sales

I moved to Washington, D.C., where I still live, in 1978. My first job here was as an association planner for the association’s 10th anniversary meeting. Although I had planned meetings and events around the U.S. prior to my move, I wasn’t schooled or trained in the profession.

On my first visit to the already-contracted hotel, I met with the sales manager and convention services manager and said, “Tell me everything.” They did and it was the beginning of my “love affair” with convention services and all they brought to the process and execution of meetings.

This convention services manager and all those who worked the back—or heart (Thank you, Mark Andrew, for the better term.)—of the house to set and service meeting and event space ensured my employer’s 10th anniversary meeting, celebration and related events were flawless.

I could not have done it without them.

I’m guessing that you planners could not manage without them. And I know that those of you in sales depend on them to deliver the magic you sell.

Who Plays What Role

Those in sales and marketing do lots to woo planners and groups to come to their properties. They are given budgets to entertain and attend industry events to schmooze planners. CSMs must produce what sales sells and it is not always easy. And in the end, they do it, sorta like the analogy of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire—backwards and in heels. Well, not exactly—rather, they do it working very long hours and days for much less money and far less respect than those in sales receive. In fact, I’d compare their role with ours as planners; we make it look easy even when it’s not, and get far too little credit.

Many planners will understand when I say that too often the salesperson shows up on day four of a five-day meeting to see when you’ll book the next meeting at their property. The CSM is there with you from the start of the pre-con(vention meeting) and through the post-con, and every day and evening of the event. And if they can’t be there that late, they ensure someone who knows the meeting will be.

If it goes well and the group rebooks, the CSM, unless we planners specifically say it, won’t get the credit for the return booking. If it goes badly, and it can, the CSM is blamed (sometimes fairly as in the one with whom I worked who showed up at 9 a.m. for the 7 a.m. general session rehearsal and left by 3 in the afternoon) even if they executed their role magnificently.

Relationship of Planner and CSM

Like some of you, I, too, have been frustrated when a phone call is not returned “promptly” (which some believe is within 10 minutes!) or an email is not answered with the information urgently requested for a meeting in a few months or later. When a CSM is working with an in-house group, their “desk-time” (as noted in the interviews I did) is limited. They are giving their attention to those in-house. We’ve all seen the domino effect of one planner late with their meeting specifications (“specs”) on upcoming meetings: No one gets what they need on time.

In 2019, when I spoke at a conference, the CSM was the person who, with the client, helped me the most. The CSM managed a complex in-house meeting with many demands while begging the next groups to please send their very late specs. It was all done with a smile and kindness.

I know and you do, too, that we get very cranky when our employers or clients or volunteers with whom we work don’t tell us what they need or do it very late or make changes—frequently! We all depend on each other.

CSMs must be part of site inspection.

Intuitively, I knew that. Experience confirmed that too often those in sales, who usually conduct site inspections, don’t know the intricacies of the space and its use. They are not exposed in too many circumstances to the intricacies of set-ups and flow that a CSM has that can then benefit the planning of our meetings. And if the CSM is also responsible for all or aspects of catering, they can add their knowledge at the time we are still considering which property to use

Wait…are you bashing sales?

Nope. I wish all hotel, convention center, conference center and other venue salespeople had convention services and operational backgrounds. In fact, I think it should be mandatory for anyone selling space and its use to have first been part of a service team. The industry doesn’t understand or work to ensure complementary roles and training.

Salaries and incentives, too, may be part of the issue. Salespeople are tasked with booking quotas that can push them to book more without explaining all that a planner needs to know. Too often those who plan are not trained, and we need to have partners who understand all aspects of their properties and how our meetings and events will work. You’ll read in the interviews of situations where CSMs saved everyone by their attention to detail.

When it’s not working

An experience with a client meeting at a major convention hotel taught me to ask many more questions in the RFP about the CSMs’ experience, including whether they are members of ESPA. On a site visit with just the CSM, I was surprised when they—a director—who had been with the hotel many years never, as we walked through, addressed any of the set-up people by name. I want to see teamwork from the first experience.

About 15 minutes into the inspection, and with other hotel options from which to choose, I stopped and asked why they were not addressing the staff by name. I was told, “They work for me. I don’t need to know their names.” My response? Buh-bye—I want to see a team that respects each other and works with respect to make meetings happen.

The relationship starts with the first call or visit and asking about experience and how they work with the entire staff. If there is not knowledge and cooperation, the meeting can suffer.

Training is available

I served on the customer advisory boards of a number of hotel companies, and on the (then) CIC (now EIC) Board as one of MPI’s delegates.

During service on the hotels’ advisory boards, I repeatedly asked why CSMs were not sent to industry meetings to meet and learn with planners and with salespeople, and why CSMs weren’t part of the tradeshow team. It made sense since I knew they were the reason groups rebook.

When I served on that Board, I got to know both Keith Sexton-Patrick and the now-late Bill Just, he the founder of ACOM, now called ESPA. Spending time with them was invaluable. They worked hard, as do all now on the ESPA Board, to persuade hotels, convention centers and conference centers to support their CSMs with ESPA membership and for attendance at industry meetings to learn and build relationships.

Alas, too many service departments are understaffed and those who do the work are too often stretched too thin by the planners who don’t provide their specs on time, and so getting away is difficult. See what Deidre Reid, ESPA Treasurer has to say about the support she receives.

Hmmm… a vicious circle?

What can be done

  • Salespeople and planners must promote—even insist—that the CSMs in the properties in which they work be made members of ESPA. (I gain nothing for this promotion.)
  • The industry must elevate the standing of CSMs. Thankfully, of those inducted into the EIC Hall of Leaders (I’m a proud 2004 inductee.) are some from convention services. I was thrilled that Keith Sexton-Patrick was honored, with Jim Daggett, the late Doris Sklar, and me, by HSMAI, with the Pacesetter Award in the 1990s.
  • We all need to establish and meet deadlines to help each other shine.
  • Meeting planners can help train CSMs just as they have helped train us. Help them learn more about adult learning and the work we do.
  • Planners must write specific praise of CSMs in real letters to GMs and owners.

This blog and edition of Friday With Joan is dedicated to a number of people, all in convention/conference services, some who have passed away, and all of whom made clients’ meetings and events great and made my life richer and my work smarter: Alvin A. Brazile, Jr., Michael Conod, Bill Just, all of blessed memory; and Devon Sloan, Kim Peterson and Linda Tudor.

Postscript

  1. Keep up to date on novel coronavirus/COVID-19 and the repercussions around the world. We are trying to tweet from @meetingstoday as often as information is available. Wash your handsDon’t touch your face. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Read information at CDC and WHO. Assume nothing about the spread and impact of this virus. We are seeing more cases in the U.S. now that testing is available, and more deaths. As I finish this, more deaths have been reported in Washington state.
  2. If you are a U.S.-eligible voter, go to this link and 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 electionsThere 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.

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.