I went to hear Natasha Trethewey read from her new memoir Beyond Katrina. A great reading, a great audience. I was scheduled to read in the very same spot a few hours later. When I entered the room, my eyes scanned out over the area, checking for any potential problems with access. There were three or four stairs up to the ramp. No ramp. I couldn't see an alternate way on to the stage. I wouldn't be able to get up to the podium and microphone.
If this were the first time something like this had happened, at any reading anywhere, I would have been bemused. But it wasn't the first time, or even the second or third. Instead, I was just unsurprised. When Natasha finished, I left and went back through the crush of people to the author check-in site. I mentioned the problem. After some repeated explanation, the organizers began rapidly iPhoning. There was nothing they could really do at that point, I knew, but I felt compelled to speak up.
I read on the floor in front of the stage with a plastic ironing board for a podium. No big deal. It went just fine.
But I think I should say this to All Organizers Everywhere:
If you invite a disabled person to your party, make sure he can get in the house. If you invite a disabled person for a job interview, don't be annoyed that the person really is, you know, disabled. If you invite a disabled person to read at your campus or festival, whether he reads from a memoir about disability or not, don't ask them to read in places which act as obstacles.
I should also say that I know that running something like the Decatur Book Festival, with its hundreds of writers and tens of thousands of visitors, must be insanely difficult. I can't even know. The Festival was great and I encourage any writer to come if asked. I've always had a great time and look forward to reading there again. But, please don't forget, amidst the frantic sprawl of preparation, to ask if a person's needs are being met or if they're being forgotten.