DNCC Accessibility Scorecard: D-
Day 1 at the Democratic National Convention (Monday)
I decided that today* would be spent determining how accessible it is to get around the convention as a disabled person. Between my Asperger’s and my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (and the 100 degree heat) it is QUITE obvious that I am not a healthy, able-bodied person. As a matter of fact, I’m sitting here in a t-shirt I bought at the Wells Fargo Center after a volunteer at the Pennsylvania Convention Center asked me if I got wet in the rain… and I looked down in horror to see that my dress was soaked with sweat.
(* This did not get posted on Monday night as planned because of reasons that will become obvious by the end.)
On the media shuttle from the PCC to the WFC, I ended up grabbing the front seat of the bus next to a woman who ended up being very helpful to me, helping me find the right way in and making sure I ate lunch. It turns out that her husband has Asperger’s, too, so it’s like she instinctively wanted to help me.
It’s 3:00 pm, and I’ve been at the WFC for 2.5 hours now. After lunch, my new friend and I went our separate ways from the Facebook Lounge, where I’ve been charging my phone all afternoon. Just the few minutes of video I was able to get of the protest earlier killed my battery. The phone actually overheated and cut my video off. It was at 5% when I got to the WFC. I’ve been tethered to the charging station because of this.
Searching for a Unicorn
Except for my attempt to find the Quiet Room. This has been touted as the most accessible convention in history, and one of the things I made a point to discover on my first day here was what the Quiet Room was like.
It doesn’t exist.
There are signs that indicate that it is located on the Mezzanine level. I went up to the Mezzanine level and followed the arrows…until they got me back around to the place I started by the escalators. I asked no fewer than seven volunteers for help finding the Quiet Room, and two of them actually walked with me to try to find it. No luck.
I came back down to the main level to ask another of the blue-shirted volunteers if they could help me, but again, I got a blank stare and an incredulous, “The QUIET Room?” This particular volunteer indicated that she wouldn’t officially recommend it, but just to sneak into an empty suite if I found a door open if I needed some quiet.
So if you are autistic and at the Democratic National Convention (and NOT a delegate…they have their own spaces) you are completely out of luck if you need a place to decompress. I am completely overstimulated at the moment, and finding the Quiet Room was initially an academic exercise for me…the inability to locate it has driven me a little bonkers, and I could really use the peace and quiet.
There is handicapped-accessible seating available, though I did not require that. I’m seated in regular stadium seats with the rest of the “unassigned press,” and these seats are as narrow and uncomfortable as when you come here for sporting events and concerts.
But logistically speaking, the DNCC is a bit of a nightmare for a person with special needs. None of the people wearing the clothing marking them out as “helpers” have the meaningful information I’ve been looking for except for where to find the closest charging station. Charging stations are quite popular, as everyone’s cell phones are in constant need of charging. My problem with them is that they don’t have seating nearby the charging stations, and I have a problem being on my feet.
In addition, I later found out that people with more severe mobility issues than mine (walking with a cane) had a lot more trouble getting around. Delegates who use wheelchairs encountered a nightmare when it came to transportation. Fellow MOMocrat Jennifer Miller-Smith told me about the bus situation from the Pennsylvania Convention Center to the Wells Fargo Center, in which delegates in wheelchairs were unable to navigate through the crowds on the sidewalk to get to their buses. And even when they could, there was not enough wheelchair-accessible seating to accommodate everyone who required it. I know that they must have sorted something out in order to get everyone to the Wells Fargo Center in time for Gavel In, but the added stress could not have been good for anyone.
It’s very difficult when you feel helpless because of the limitations of your body; it’s even worse when you are literally helpless because you have to rely on someone or something outside your control in order to do what you need to do.
The amount of walking required just to get from where the media shuttle dropped me off to the media entrance of the arena was significant. I saw golf carts waiting outside at the end of the evening, but I don’t know what had to be done in order to get a ride from one of them – and there had been none available when the media shuttle dropped me off earlier in the afternoon.
I ended up with blisters on my feet, walking with a pronounced limp because I injured my hip somehow during the evening, but by the end of the evening, I really didn’t care how I looked as I walked.
As a convention, the DNCC failed at accessibility. Based on the official literature being distributed, there should have been a Disability Services Desk, a Quiet Room (marked as Handicap Accessible), a Lactation Room for breastfeeding mothers…none of which existed on the opening day of the convention. The good thing I can say is that, on an organizational level, accessibility was a real problem. But individual people – conference volunteers and others – showed willingness to help me to the best of their abilities, even when they could not provide what I was looking for. As I type this up on Tuesday from my bed as I rest up with the DNCC video feed streaming on my phone, and people with disabilities are lining the stage for the beginning of the evening, I hope that the situation has been remedied. If you are a DNCC attendee with disabilities, please let us know of your experience at the convention!