Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Access Denied

Have you ever opened up the Sunday paper or scrolled through Twitter and come across an event you just knew you had to attend? Maybe it involved a passion of yours or an author you've always wanted to meet. Or perhaps it offered you an opportunity to improve your skills in a field you wanted to work in. For most people, attending events is as easy as clicking a button and purchasing tickets. Mission accomplished. 

In an ideal world, I'd be able to do this without a second thought. But as a deaf person, I don't get anything out of attending events where there's a lot of talking unless there's an ASL interpreter front and center. It's not a luxury; it's the law. I won't bore you with the legalese, but the Americans with Disabilities Act was written with the intent to create a more level playing field for people like me.

Recently, I had two very different experiences here in Chicago. One made me love the city's library system even more than I already do. The other left me disappointed with a large-scale social media conference that takes place in the city twice a year.

The Chicago Public Library recently hosted Austin Kleon, an author I admire for his inspiration. Unfortunately for me, I spotted the event info three days before the talk -- and CPL requires 10 business days before an event to set up an interpreter. I knew it was a long shot, but I emailed the library's contact person anyways, just in case another deaf person had requested an interpreter. I received a reply rather quickly, but nobody else had asked for an interpreter so I was out of luck. Still, I was happy with the services and the communication.
I appreciated CPL's quick response and the fact that their services are so easily accessible. I'm keeping a close eye on the event calendar from now on. 

However, my experience with Social Media Week Chicago was on the other end of the spectrum. I emailed them two and a half weeks before the event, asking them if they would provide an ASL interpreter if I purchased a pass. I prefer to request services in a friendly, polite way, rather than demand them -- it's just the Minnesotan in me.

No response. 

The next week, two weeks before the event, I tweeted their @SMWChicago handle asking for a reply about the sign language interpreter and the accessibility of their event. 

No response. By a social media event. An event sponsored by Microsoft, a company touted on their sponsor page as an "industry leader in accessibility innovation."

Frustrating? Quite. I'm the social media chair of a nonprofit in the Chicago area and there were several classes that would have benefited me. I want to move into social media professionally; it's a great fit for me because it's a space where my disability does not matter one iota. I can move around and talk to people easily -- communication flows from the fingertips so much more fluently.

I'm also an active Instagram user and would have liked to attend the Instagram Masterclass presented by several photographers I admire, including Nick Ulivieri and Jason Peterson. I'm good at reading lips and often surprise people with my skills. But attending a panel where three or four people would be talking -- sometimes in rapid succession? I'd be in way over my head.

I write this blog not because I'm playing the "poor me" card, but because I refuse to let things like this get swept under the rug, and perhaps so situations like this can be avoided in the future. Education can be a powerful tool.  

And I'll repeat what I say every year as a Minnesota Vikings fan: Maybe next year. 

No comments:

Post a Comment