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Friday, June 20, 2014

Clarion Inn at Syracuse: Incompetence Abounds

On Wednesday my son Tom and I took a quick trip to Syracuse. I wanted to show Tom the Syracuse University campus as well as where I will be living when I move. I did not want to stay at the Red Roof Inn where I stayed many times last academic year. I wanted a slightly better environment. To this end I reserved a room at the Clarion Hotel in Syracuse. The on line reviews were largely positive, it was not too expensive, and had a free continental breakfast for my son's bottomless stomach.  Better yet I was able to book a room that had two beds and a roll in shower. Here is a screen shot of the Clarion Inn reservation information:

The screen shot is poor quality and likely cannot be read. It states in part "2 double beds accessible. Also included mobility and hearing accessible, Roll in Shower, ground floor".  Perfect I thought. The days of sharing a bed with my son are long gone. We left for Syracuse very early. We arrived in time for lunch and I had a great time showing him around campus.  I also took him to Wegmans and he was massively impressed. In short we had a great time and by late afternoon were ready to check into the Clarion Inn. The second I walked in the door I knew we were in trouble. The two employees at the desk looked at me with trepidation. People who use a wheelchair and travel know this look. It is as though you have a bomb on your lap and the employees are fearful it will explode at any second. I identified myself and the employee at the desk ignored me. After I told her my name she looked at Tom and asked him for a credit card. Tom looked at her, then looked at me and remained mute. I put on my stone face and handed over my credit card. She ran the charge and did whatever needed to be down to check us in. She then tried to hand my credit card back to Tom. He did not reach for it and stepped back making it impossible to reach him. I put my hand up and wondered when did I catch the plague. I put the credit card away and the employee then tried to hand Tom the keys and directions to the room. We had driven around the building prior to entering the lobby and noted multiple entrances--most of which inaccessible. I asks very clearly what entrance was accessible and was annoyed in the extreme.

I navigate to the entrance on foot and Tom drove the car around the building. We arrived at the entrance at the same time. There were four steps to enter the building. We both turn around and head back to the check in desk. I am not impressed. The employee that continually tried to engage Tom is gone. A very young employee is alone at the desk. She has absolutely no clue how to help  me. I am quick to ask for the manager at this point.  Two employees emerge from the back. Neither employee identifies himself or herself as being a manager.  There are now three employees at the desk and all appear stunned I am present. It is as though a Martian has just entered the lobby. I was a problem that was solved a few minutes earlier. My presence was clearly unwanted. A man starts to furiously type away at the key board and a discussion ensues about which rooms and what entrance is accessible. No one has a clue and massive confusion reigns supreme. I am angry; however I do not raise my voice or change its tone. My son was furious and told me he would wait outside. I wait as more keys are struck and I am told there is an accessible room but there is no roll in shower. This is contradicted by another employee who says there is a roll in shower but it has only a king bed. No one is sure where the accessible entrance is. My confidence in anything I am told reaches zero.

I ask again about the accessible entrance and two employees contradict each other when they answer at the same time. They then contradict each other about the room number and location of the supposedly accessible room. I give up. At least 15 to 30 minutes after I arrived I cancel my reservation and walk out in frustration. We did not see a room or the inside of the hotel. No apology is offered. Off the Red Roof Inn we go. Upon arrival we are warmly welcomed and the manger jokes that "my room is available". She throws in a AAA discount, gives my black lab Kate a bone and offers her some water. Check in takes all of three minutes. The manager addresses me at all times. She has ignored my son who stands at a respectful distance. When ready to go to the room I introduce her to my son. They great each other warmly and off we go. I am routinely impressed by the Red Roof Inn. As always, the shower head is down in the room that has, gasp, a roll in shower! The staff in every Red Roof Inn I have stayed in knows the location and features of the accessible room instantly. Check is smooth and simple--normal if you will. In fact I almost feel like a typical bipedal traveler.

In the last year I have traveled a great deal. I have stayed at high end hotels. I have stayed at some real iffy motels in questionable neighborhoods. Generally speaking I have had far more positive experiences at budget motels over high end hotels. Obviously exceptions exist. I would speculate this is a numbers game--a matter of basic economics. People with a disability are in overwhelming numbers poor. The few that can afford to travel surely stay in budget accommodations. High end hotels without question do not get nearly as many visitors with a disability. As a result, budget motels like the Red Roof Inn are extremely responsive and familiar with accessibility. Other chains I avoid. The Clarion Inn is at the top of that list now.  I know certain hotels to avoid--some of them are top notch hotels. The Grand Hyatt and the high end Marriott for example are typically terrible in terms of access and the reservation process is time consuming.

In spite of the needless trouble we encountered we had a great trip. My son was relieved to see that I am not going to be living in a hovel. He saw the town I am living near and was impressed. The surrounding area is gorgeous and I am literally living on a lake a mere 30 minutes from the Syracuse campus. Here is proof the location the lake I will be I will be living next to is lovely.

The highlight of our trip took place in Roscoe, New York on our way home. We visited Prohibition Distillery that sold bourbon and vodka. We ate a sub made at the local sandwich shop that was delicious. Better yet, we ate outside and Kate ate our bread scraps. We then went to the distillery and had a sampling at the that we shared. My son had bourbon, I had the vodka. Wow. Best vodka I have ever had and the bottle design was cool. Such is my life. Never ordinary and many highs and lows. When we got home I can assure my readers I had a stiff drink--in fact I will confess I had more than one and went to bed a happy man.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chronicle of Higher Education Story Features Me on the Lack of Access at Academic Conferences

In the Chronicle of Higher Education a story appears about the lack of access at academic conferences. Unfortunately the article is behind a firewall and is only accessible to subscribers. The Chronicle of Higher Education reporter that wrote the story was kind enough to provide the following link that will provide access to the story for the next 24 hours. Link:  Attending an academic conference is never easy for a person with a disability. All academic conference are expensive and are to an extent designed for privileged academics. Conferences routinely involve travel which by itself is highly problematic for people with disability. Airlines are notoriously bad when it comes to the most basic reasonable accommodations.  Thus even before a scholar with a disability enters the conference hotel he or she has already gone through a gauntlet simply to attend. I for one often arrive tired, hungry and pissed off because of travel related hassles. This says nothing of the utter lack of information provided by hotels and academic organizers about access in a city I have likely never visited. Once settled in at the conference hotel I then get to insure the room I will speak in is accessible--never a sure thing.

Last night I was speaking with my son about the Chronicle of Higher Education story and thought I am to a degree privileged. I am an established scholar and when the lack of access goes from difficult to impossible I know people that I can call who will help. But what I wonder happens to a graduate student or a recently minted PhD trying to jump start his or her career? They will assuredly encounter barriers that cannot be eliminated. And this is exactly why I advocate for myself. Sure it is to an extent selfish. But the reality is I am far more concerned about the person with a disability that will follow me in the years to come. I do not want that scholar to encounter the same barriers I did. It is not about the present for me but the future. It is my hope that future is one in which scholars with a disability do not experienced discrimination or encounter needless barriers.