Last week in Philadelphia, the Democratic National Convention Committee hosted what it promised would be “the most accessible convention ever.”
“The DNCC has made accessibility an integral part of all aspects of Convention planning since its arrival in Philadelphia, from transportation and housing to designing the traffic flow at Convention events,” it boasted in a press release. Unfortunately, though, the best laid plans too often go awry.
I have lived all 34 years of my life as a disabled American (I was born with cerebral palsy), and this year’s DNC was one of the least accessible events I’ve ever attended. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts and festivals and conferences and sporting events. I’ve even been to another DNC, 2008 in Denver. The least accessible event of all-time, at least for me? The 2015 Duck Commander NASCAR 500 (Don’t ask why I was there; they certainly didn’t bother to wonder either). But this year’s DNC comes in at a close second.
I am not the only person with a disability to come away with the same conclusion.
“Blocked wheelchair ramps, troublesome transportation and non-existent visual aids have frustrated some people with disabilities attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia,” reported Vince Lattanzio of Philadelphia’s NBC 10.
“Visually impaired delegates told BuzzFeed News the Democratic National Convention has done a dismal job of accommodating them, despite the party boasting about the event’s accessibility,” reported Emma Loop.
There are countless other stories.
In many ways, the Democratic Party is a victim of its own success.
This year, there was a 35% increase of disabled delegates and participants over 2012, which is commendable. But clearly, neither the DNC nor the venue planned for this contingency. They should have. They knew we were going to be there.
On instruction, I waited alone for more than an hour for an official DNC accessible shuttle to pick me up from the airport on Sunday before giving up and hailing a cab. Gilda Reed, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Louisiana (and pictured with me in the featured image on this post), spent even more time waiting for accessible transportation to bring her back to the hotel on Monday night; she finally returned at 1:30 in the morning.
On Tuesday, when the DNC beautifully paid tribute to the Americans with Disabilities Act and recognized disabled activists, I was 200 yards away, in the XFiniti Live! center, having been told that the ADA sections were too packed to allow my friend to sit next to me. At a big event, it’s usually not a good idea for a guy in a wheelchair to be stranded (though, to be fair, some people are more skilled at negotiating a wheelchair than I’ve ever been).
Merely entering the convention was a hassle: The handicapped entrance was pocketed with landmines of cables from news vans. The disabled seating sections were not properly staffed or coordinated. On Tuesday night, Wednesday, and Thursday, I found a spot behind the Louisiana delegation, one of only a handful of ADA sections in the venue. But that particular section was also smack-dab in the middle of Washington State’s delegation, which meant that their floor leaders assumed responsibility for all of us. This was unfair to the good people from Washington, who wanted, first and foremost, to ensure that they could manage their own affairs. Suddenly and without warning, they were now also responsible for also keeping track of disabled delegates and attendees from all over the country, and without question, it became a source of frustration for them. It was unfair to everyone else as well. Typically, ADA sections are staffed by either by the venue itself or the event’s sponsors. That didn’t happen like it should have last week.
Don’t get me wrong: It was an absolute privilege and an honor to see Secretary Clinton make history last week in Philadelphia, and I am thankful that the Democratic Party champions the rights of people living with disabilities. Indeed, it is one of the reasons that I am a Democrat. But they- we– must do a better job in the future.
This was not a policy failure; it was a logistical failure, which is far easier to fix.
Four years from now, when the DNC is *hopefully* down in the Big Easy (sorry Birmingham), we will get this right.