Enough is enough. I’ve never been one to care over offending companies, especially when they’re doing wrong by the blogging community, and so, I want to start talking more about accessibility at blogging events. Are Brands, PRs, & Bloggers doing enough for disabled bloggers? The short and definite answer is, hell no. Some are not even trying. Some don’t even acknowledge that there are disabled bloggers. It’s hard enough being disabled in such an ableist world. Getting out and about with a severe lack of access to so many venues is beyond frustrating, but when you’re trying to network and meet new people and contacts for a hobby or career that you love? It’s seriously infuriating.
The majority of companies don’t even ask about accessibility needs and with having an invisible condition, it means they won’t see it on my feeds to even think to ask either. But surely something so important as mobility issues should be taken as seriously as allergy concerns? Surely in the planning of an event an accessible venue should always be one you aim to have before you start your guest list? I recently heard how a blogger was embarrassed to share that she would need a little extra help at an event in the form of just having a table reserved for her, so that she can rest. Something as simple as that makes the world of difference to a disabled blogger.
I asked other disabled bloggers for their good and bad experiences with accessibility at blogging events and there were some seriously distressing stories, as well as some lovely brands and PRs out there that actually are thoughtful. We aren’t asking for a lot, we’re just asking for basic common courtesy. Here are a couple dos and don’ts for bloggers, PRs, or brands planning an event….
Don’t assume everyone is abled just because they haven’t told you otherwise
When planning an event, an accessible venue should be at the top of your list regardless. We shouldn’t have to scream that we’re disabled at you for you to consider this. A lot of people have invisible illnesses and conditions. A lot of people don’t write about them on their beauty and fashion blogs.
Shona – ‘I’ve had to turn down countless event invites because companies just don’t seem to think about disabled people/bloggers when planning. Accessibility should be up there on the checklist alongside food and drink, it should be one of the most important things that is checked. I’ve actually had brands say to me before ‘we didn’t think anyone disabled would be attending.’ This industry needs to do better.’
Faith – ‘The event was up several flights of stairs with no lift. I had a new powerchair, and to be fair to the organiser he thought I might manage on crutches because I had previously done at other venues – but the assumption and lack of asking is the problem. Either assuming someone can or can’t do something, or just not asking at all – it only takes a minute.’
Don’t ever offer to carry someone
Not only is it degrading and completely inappropriate, but it’s also potentially dangerous for the person and their mobility device.
Sarah – ‘I’ve been invited to quite a few events and when I’ve asked if they have wheelchair access, they haven’t. Or they say they’ll ‘carry me’ and my chair down stairs. I use a £6k power chair that is 140kg, there’s absolutely no way anyone is picking that bad boy up, and I wouldn’t let them. If it was dropped or damaged, that’s my mobility device gone. I probably turn down at least two events a month because of accessibility problems.’
Don’t react as if catering for disabled people is an inconvenience
The only inconvenience is that the event decided not to make basic health warnings. Not fixing the problem straight away is quite honestly disgusting and disrespectful. Surely catering to someone’s health needs is no trouble for your event than having to deal with the after effects?
Ashleigh – ‘Generally it was all good until we were all told to go into a certain room where announcements would be made. Sadly there were a lot of flashing lights in that room and I was not comfortable so I asked to leave. The response I was given was essentially ‘no, everyone has to stay in that room until the announcements have been made’. When I informed them that I have epilepsy and that I would rather not risk a seizure, the brand representative acted like I was the biggest inconvenience, she was all huffy and told me she had to check with someone. Like, I should feel bad my condition made her life difficult. I did not blog about that event.’
Natalie – ‘I have MS which makes it so difficult to attend blogging events. In fact I’ve yet to find one which can accommodate the unpredictability of my illness and high levels of fatigue. I contacted a blogging conference organiser recently about if there would be anywhere I could rest during the course of the all-day event and was told I could lie down on the floor. Needless to say I didn’t feel comfortable with that suggestion so wasn’t able to attend!’
Don’t be against disabled bloggers having a carer with them
A carer is essential to some people, imagine a complete stranger having to take you to the toilet because your trusted carer isn’t allowed in? 1 extra person really isn’t a big deal, carers are there to look after the person, and ensure they’re OK. I’ve been fortunate when I’ve needed my mum or Alfie to come with me to events, they’ve been treated incredible well, fed, watered, and sometimes even leave with a spare goodie bag. It’s a very decent and appreciated thing to do to ensure that a blogger is completely comfortable and most importantly, safe.
At the end of the day you’re inviting that blogger, so you should cater to their needs.
Jenny – ‘I also need a carer to come with me, as I’m unable to travel by myself and need help with various things, and some brands have had an issue with me bringing a carer with me. I’ve been told that my carer (usually one of my parents) can drop me off but would then have to go away somewhere and come back to pick me up, which is OK if the venue is accessible (with accessible toilet) and we’re staying in one place, but if we’re having to move around a lot I need them to stay with me!’
Faith – ‘They told me they couldn’t ‘fit’ a career/attendant with me (when I had manual attended chair), and told me they’d carry me and push me to the loo when needed!? Nice lack of dignity there.’
Shona – ‘Some bloggers cannot attend events if they can’t bring their carer, which is essentially ableist!’
Don’t book an accessible venue to hold the event in an inaccessible area
I don’t always want to announce that I’m disabled or ask questions, which means I use Google to ensure the event is at an accesible venue. Many of times I’ve turned up to find that the venue IS accessible, but the event is being held on a different floor without a lift. In some cases I’ve just rolled my eyes and haven’t wanted to cause a fuss, willing to take on the extra pain that I’ll be in. It wasn’t until I got talking to a lovely lady from LOOK Magazine about my chronic pain, unknowingly to me, she went up to the organiser and got them to move the entire event downstairs, I then realised how easy it is for them to do this. And that I shouldn’t be afraid to speak out.
They haven’t all ended happily, it’s hard to walk away when you’ve travelled for hours to an event and turned up to ask for the lift to hear ‘it isn’t many stairs’. The fact you’ve spent hundreds makes you take on the extra pain and I’m not the only one…
Jenny – ‘I’ve also been to an event where I spoke to the brand beforehand about being in a wheelchair and was told the venue was completely accessible. Yet when I got to the event, there was a flight of stairs to get in and no ramp or anything. In the end my Mum had to help me walk up the stairs, which wasn’t easy especially as it was really hot and my blood pressure kept dropping, and my Mum then had to leave me at the top and try and manhandle my wheelchair up the stairs. Thankfully I wasn’t in my electric wheelchair that time, as there’s no way you could lift that, but if I had been I would have had to turn around and go home again (after travelling all the way to London for it!)’
Don’t fail to do very simple and easy adjustments
Small things such as a ramp are easy and cheap enough to afford, it means that disabled people will actually be able to enter your venue/event/establishment. Need I say more on how small the adjustments can be to make a huge difference?
Faith – ‘I appreciate lots of old buildings (like in Leeds) have restrictions on access and modifications that can be done to make them more accessible, but the obvious and relatively cheap fixes that can be done, are often just overlooked.’
Adding on from this, Faith has actually been told that the reason one establishment doesn’t have a ramp is because they have really nice walls and they don’t want to ruin them by storing a ramp. Sounds ridiculous right? Disabled people hear shit like this weekly.
Of course there are some brands, PRs, and bloggers that have ensured disabled people are comfortable at their events. It doesn’t take a lot to make us happy, a couple examples being…
Jenny – ‘I do want to give credit to my local shopping mall though – Festival Place in Basingstoke. I’ve been going to their events for a few years now and they always go out of their way to accommodate me and make me feel valued. Just little things like saving me a space at the front of the catwalk where I can sit in my wheelchair, booking me in for a treatment/experience so I’m not having to queue for too long. And just generally making sure I’m OK and don’t have any problems accessing their events.’
Chairs are important
Elle – ‘I went faint at the event and went to sit by the door to cool down which helped a lot, they made me feel so comfortable being there and provided seating, I faint if I stand up for too long (10/15mins) so I was so pleased with how that event went. They’ve moved shop now so they don’t have them stairs anymore and are a lot more accessible.’
Rhiannon – ‘I have a herniated disk in my spine and find that standing for long periods of time is difficult, most places are happy to provide a chair when asked but isn’t something that usually pops into their minds straight away.’
A dedicated person
(We realise not every event can afford to do this, but wow! It makes such the difference and ensures your guests are safe.)
Ashleigh – I went to see Goosebumps Alive. It’s a given that live theatre experience will have strobes so I informed them upon arrival. They were all very kind, told me which rooms to avoid and after leaving one area, there was a lady waiting for me to guide me through to a different part of the experience where there were no flashing lights.
Laura – ‘I’ve found that PRs & event organisers in or visiting Glasgow have been so accommodating and have bent over backwards to help me – allocating staff to push me around, making sure there’s space for me and getting me refreshments etc. I’ve been amazed at just how helpful they’ve all been.’
Still involving us
Quite honestly, Martyn’s experience was terrible.
Martyn – I was turned away from Google and reviewing a product because I couldn’t go to an event that wasn’t accessible. Not going meant I couldn’t review even though they had organised an inaccessible event!
At another event there was no access and had to be carried up and down. And although it was part of the event and was actually the hotel where all bloggers were I was left stranded when the fire alarm kicked off.
In general I just turn down events due to access.
But there are ways to fix this and keep a good relationship between blogger and brand/PR, simply by still working with a blogger.
Sam – ‘Or at least send out the goody bag so we can still be a part of it. I’d love to do events but it’s unrealistic.’
And obviously if it’s impossible for us to attend but you’ve personally invited us you can simply…
Sarah – ‘I did get invited to the Thorntons factory and bless their hearts when they found I wouldn’t be able to go due to stairs they sent me a huge box of chocolates, they kept the family happy for a LONG Time haha.’ Sarah continued, ‘it was a working factory where they don’t normally do tours, so there isn’t really a need for it (accessibility)’.
We totally understand that sometimes it really is impossible but as Michael from Traverse Events (yes, an actual events company) said,
‘We always do everything we can for all abilities and disabilities, both physical and invisible. However there are some things that are not possible at some points, IMO if you speak to an organiser and they can’t explain this and why they can’t accommodate certain things then they are not doing all they can, and that is not acceptable.’