Being PC Matters

WheelchairMeeting planners, generally speaking, want all of their attendees to enjoy their events. Many of us go to all lengths to make sure we have all eyes dotted and tees crossed. Even with all the preparation, it only takes one bad apple or misstep to ruin it.

I once helped a senior citizen group plan a meeting and when the site inspection was completed and the client choose a hotel, I asked if it was okay that the hotel was not 100% compliant with the Americans with Disability Act. "No. We have no one registered with a disability," was the answer.

I shook my head and replied, "Are you sure? If someone in a wheelchair shows up, it may be an issue." Not all of the function space was accessible. They were sure. No one would be coming that would need such accommodation.

You can guess what happened. I got a panicked call about two weeks prior to the event. Not only would one person be there in a wheelchair, but five folks in wheelchairs would be attending. In this case it worked out. The hotel was able to construct a temporary ramp to the function space where the opening ceremony was to take place. Everyone was happy.

But what would have happened had the hotel not been able to comply? Would those attendees have been forced not to participate? Would they have soured on attending that event again? Worse, would they have bad-mouthed the organization?

At another meeting, during a reception, one of the attendees jumped on the empty stage after the opening remarks, with a hot mic, and started a comedy routine in which he poked fun at homosexuals. You would have guessed from the laughing that most people thought it was funny. But the organizers were embarrassed and knew for a fact that not everyone found it humorous, regardless of their sexuality.

We can't control each attendee, but we can monitor what's under our control and confirm that all audio-visual is monitored. We can also include policy in our registration materials that frown upon such behavior. In that same material, we can inquire about special accommodations, whether we know if our attendees need them or not.

We know we can't please all the people all the time, but steps exist which can help us create an environment in which more and more of us leave the meeting with a positive experience.
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