My Feelings on Using ADA Accommodations at Large Events
In my last post, I talked about Securing ADA Accommodations at Large Events, and listed some of the benefits to asking for assistance when navigating events with Crohn’s disease and co-morbid conditions.
I wanted to share a direct experience I had this week to give some insight on the feelings I experience when utilizing disability accommodations.
Finally able to attend this event
My husband and I have a great love and affinity for the comic and entertainment industry, and I have been incredibly jealous of his being able to attend San Diego Comic Con the past many years. The event is held at a very, very large convention center and easily has over 120,000 people in attendance. I have always had major concerns about being able to comfortably attend and participate in the event. This year, we worked very hard to address these concerns and plan around them. This enabled me to attend the event with less apprehension.
As soon as we secured badges for the convention, I emailed customer service to inquire about the ADA accommodations that might be offered. Due to the size of both the venue and the crowd, I was worried about things like being able to walk the show floor for hours at a time and days in a row, not being able to stand in long lines, knowing where the bathrooms were and having an exit strategy to reach the bathrooms at any moment in time, being able to carry my medications, water and snacks, and if there would be medical personnel on site in case something happened.
I was surprised to find that neither the return email I received nor the event website had very much information to answer my questions. Once we got to town, my husband and I waited in a short line the night before the event began in order to speak with someone at Deaf and Disability Services. With a quick introduction, the kind staff member put an accommodations sticker on my convention badge, provided me a map of the convention center including all entrances and exits, bathrooms, and where medical help would be available, and took our information for a wheelchair rental. I explained that I wanted to be able to walk through some of the floor, but if my joints were taxed or I was feeling weak, this would be critical to my continuing to participate in the con.
I was also quite pleased to see once we were on the convention floor, every booth with a line also had an ADA accommodations option – whether that was to sit somewhere and wait until your turn or to have a shorter queue preventing a long line. This was more helpful than I am able to express in terms of knowing that I would be able to spend time on the floor seeing and doing the things I wanted without having to sacrifice my health or comfort or stamina.
I did notice that the majority of ADA accommodations offered outright involved mobility, sight and sound. This was interesting to note when a specific situation became challenging for me.
At this event, the larger halls and ballrooms with exclusive panels offered a bathroom pass – an opportunity to swipe out and then back in to use the restroom (or get a snack or drink) without losing your seat and having to wait in line again. In theory, this idea seemed helpful, however, in practice, I stumbled upon some frustrating difficulties.
The first time I had to use the restroom, I had to wait in line nearly 15 minutes just to exit the ballroom. Then, I had to walk to the bathroom and wait in line there, something that was not unexpected. However, when I returned to the ballroom, I found a line with more than 200 people waiting to get back to their seats. They all had the same pass I did. I explained to the event staff that I had ADA accommodations and that I could not stand in line for that long. Given that they were unable to provide a solution for this challenge, I asked to speak to the head of the staffing agency regarding the lack of ADA accommodations available.
My biggest anxiety
As someone who has IBD, my number one source of anxiety is my body’s unpredictable need to use the bathroom. I was highly concerned about being required to wait in line just to exit the room, a room that I was planning on sitting in for upward of 8 hours, in addition to having to wait in lengthy bathroom lines, and then stand for upwards of 30-45 minutes just to return to my already acquired seat. As my anxiety rose, I told my husband that I was going to have to leave if something couldn’t be worked out.
I then finally spoke with two kind women – one who worked for the staffing agency, and one who ran logistics for the convention center itself. I showed them my IBD restroom access card and explained my challenges and concerns about the way they were operating in and out privileges for that room. While they were willing to remove the last obstacle – the line waiting to get back into the room, they weren’t able to adjust the other two pieces. I expressed my fear about basically doubling the wait to use the restroom each time, and they apologized, but told me this was not something they could change. I returned to my seat and told my husband how upset I was and how mortified I felt.
Explaining myself did not feel good
As much as I am an advocate for Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, having to explain the uncomfortable details of my disease and the accommodations I was requesting, and then being partially denied those accommodations did NOT feel good. Unfortunately, this is something that I had to sit with for the remainder of the day, knowing that leaving my seat for any reason would produce high levels of anxiety and unpredictability of if/when I would be able to return to the room after using the restroom. This is also something that I will forever think about in regards to future events I hope to attend.
This difficult experience only surrounded one policy/procedure at the event, and I have tried to keep that in perspective.
Effects on my mental health
While there may be perceived benefits of asking for/using available ADA accommodations from other con-goers, they are just that – accommodations made for people who deal with disabilities and illnesses on a daily basis and would otherwise be incapable of sharing in this type of same common experience. Now that I have utilized different portions of available accommodations at several events over the last two years, I have found that this understanding often comes with an emotional price. In truth, this affects my mental health more than I would like to admit.
I often feel guilty that my disabilities are not typically visible to the naked eye, and many people who watch me bypass a line or drink water in a prohibited area have no idea what I’ve had to overcome just to share that room with them. It also makes me think about the stressors my caretaker (usually my husband) must balance in these situations. In taking these things into account, my husband encourages me to be open with him about the things I am feeling, and about the best way to approach any given situation that we encounter.
In the end, I’m grateful these services exist
At the end of the day, asking for and utilizing ADA accommodations at large events may feel emotionally difficult for me, but without them, I would almost never be able to participate in and enjoy said events. Using available accommodations may not always be able to address the specific challenges that we as IBD patients face, and this may mean that some events are less friendly/feasible for us to attend, but I do have to say that I am grateful that these services do exist.
If you’ve never looked into ADA accommodations surrounding larger events, I would highly encourage it.
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