Friday, February 22, 2008

The Houston Obama Rally (Part I.)

My best friend, who lives in California, called me last Saturday to inform me that Senator Obama was planning to be in Houston for a rally that upcoming Tuesday. Well, excitement filled my spirit, and I knew I had to do whatever it took to get there. There was no way I could allow this event to touch my town, and I not do whatever it takes to have my face in the place.

Well, Miko stated that we needed to register for the event. The next thing she told me is that it was free. Free? Yes, it was free! From what I hear, the Clintons had also planned a few events in the area. But their events were top dollar events. So, even though I was prepared and willing to pay for a ticket to hear Senator Obama speak, it did my heart well to be able to experience the Obama magic, without having to give up a dime.

Well, we took care of the RSVP business on line to make sure that we would be in the house. After we registered, I immediately became concerned about the crowd, the entrances for the crowds to use to get in the building, and the stadium style seating. I knew that if I was going to attend the event, I needed to make sure that there would be an accessible entrance and seating for people with disabilities. I planned to take my mother with me. So, I needed to make sure that my mother, who uses a wheelchair when she goes out in the community, was going to be able to have a place to sit. I also needed to make sure that your girl wouldn't have to go down a lot of stairs to get to a seat. (Sometimes, steep stairs, in a very unfamiliar territory, frightens a sistah. LOL)

Since I am a proactive sistah, I immediately started making my calls. I called the Houston Obama office and talked to some guy that appeared to be someone official. But from what I hear, it is more likely that he was a volunteer. But whatever...

Well, I told the man about my accessibility concerns. He stated, and I quote, "I would assume that there will be accessible entrances and seating for the disabled." I told the man that I would also "assume" that there would be accessible entrances and accommodations if I was living in a fantasy land. But I told him that living life with a disability has taught me that assuming that accommodations provisions have been considered and put in place was not a good idea. I explained to him that as sad as it may be, it is more likely for accommodations to be unavailable. And most of the times it is not because it is completely unavailable. It is mostly because the people that are assigned to assist the public are often uninformed and unaware that the accommodations are there.

Allow me to give an example. When I go to restaurants, if I'm feeling radical, I always ask the staff for a braille menu. Most times, the staff is embarrassed and shocked that I am asking for a braille menu. Well, half the time, the person has to shamefully inform me that there is not a menu available. And the other half of the time, The staff come back with a smile on their face and hand me the menu. They often state when they return, "I didn't even know we had a braille menu to give to our blind customers." My point exactly.

Of course there is accessible seating for people who are disabled at the Toyota Center. But what I needed to know is if whether or not the event coordinators for the Obama Rally had considered and made provisions for the accessible entrances and seating. I needed to make sure that the event coordinators had informed all of their wonderful volunteer staff that would be working the event how and where to direct people with disabilities.

I called the Obama office again and again, talking to different volunteers, and getting the same tired answer from each of them. Well, finally the morning of the event, a light bulb went off in my head. The day before, the official Obama office had opened in Houston, and this particular office was being ran by actual staff and not volunteers. I figured that the Obama staff would be able to offer greater insight on my accessibility concerns.

I called the volunteer Obama office and got the number to the Houston HQ. I spoke with a very nice woman, who is the office manager for the official Obama HQ in Houston. She told me that people with disabilities should use the Bell Street entrance, which was set up for people with disabilities and the VIP guests. She told me that the campaign had designated that entrance and seating for people with disabilities. I was so glad that the Obama folks had remembered to make provisions for the most "forgotten population" in our country.

I called my mother and gave her the great news. My mother was immediately put at ease when I told her that we wouldn't have to be worried about standing in the long lines with the larger crowd, and that we were going to have accessible seating once we got on the inside. I knew that my mother wanted to go. But I also knew that she was experiencing a little anxiety about going to an event like that. She feels so uncomfortable being pushed in a wheelchair in crowds. Can you blame her? She also feels uneasy about going places and not knowing if a restroom is going to be close and accessible. I think any of us who have a bladder can imagine what it is like to have to use the restroom, but be too ill to walk a far distance to get there.

**Stay tuned for part II of this experience. Trust me, I got a lot to tell.**

1 comment:

Cherie said...

People should read this.