Tuesday, September 07, 2010


This weekend I had Eggs Benedict across the street from where I sit now.  I'm not entirely convinced of the innate interestingness of people-watching, but that's what I was doing while waiting for my reading in the Decatur Book Festival.  Lots of people milled past; they were dusty with confectioner's sugar, eating funnel cake.  Fried dough:  that was poetry, man, whoever done thunk that up.  None for me, though, and I really only picked at the brunch I'd ordered.  I was in a bad mood.

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.


Fred Miller said...

"We don't want special treatment; we just want the same shitty treatment everyone else gets." Quote from Mike Oxford, disability rights activist, and general pain in the ass from San Francisco to D.C. I'm proud to know him and proud to know you, too.

Sandra said...

I have a dearest friend with CP here in DC--a fellow poet--and I can't tell you how many times she's had to deal with being unable to access the stage, or even the venue entirely. It's demoralizing. Glad you had a great reading--and glad you spoke up abut it regardless.

Paul said...

It's a fact of life. And I like Fred's quote: "the same shitty treatment everyone else gets." Yeah. That about says it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always, Paul, for speaking up. I appreciate it.


Radish King said...

When I worked in the The Big Airplane Factory I was always pissed at the 3rd floor mezzanine which had a wheelchair accessible toilet stall but you couldn't reach the 3rd floor except by the stairs either up or down. The elevator ignored it. It remains that way to this day. Bah.

Your secret crusher,

Seaweed said...

With that many readers and that many visitors, they should anticipate that not everyone gets around and sees or hears things the same way. Jeez, I've hosted events for 20 people and planned better than that. No excuse.