Thursday, 21 October 2010

Who are the congresses for?

"Tiger" by Susie Mallett, 2010

Who are congresses for?

This is something I have been thinking about and discussing with several people recently, including with one of my MS clients this morning when he mentioned a recent event held by the German MS Society here in Nürnberg.

With the two conductive congresses on the horizon, in Würzburg and in Hong Kong, many of us have been talking about who the organisers wish to attend. I have already mentioned on my blog that it will be difficult for conductors to attend the whole of the Würzburg Congress, as it starts on Friday morning when many of us will be working. Conductors are not on the published list of people expected to attend either, which presumably tells us a great deal about that side of the story!


On the other hand the World Congress's organisers certainly are expecting to have disabled users of our services in the audience, and prospective users too, as there are are people with disability making presentations. I have every confidence that there will be a barrier-free environment for them, just as there was at the Nürnberg Congress in 2009 and Munich in 2008. I do not think that peple should even consider that they might need to ask about this, unless they have extra medical needs

Knowing in advance

On the Hong Kong social-networking site there was a message from Elliot Clifton. His questions there got me on my high-horse last weekend. They, and my high-horse, have occupied my thoughts quite a lot since.

Elliot was asking about accessibility for wheelchair users in the hotel and congress centre in Hong Kong. I was rather shocked that he had even to think about something like this, let alone spend time asking questions. Attending such a conference, he should be able to set off from home taking for granted that within the congress environment he will be in a barrier-free environment.

If Elliot and others cannot confidently assume that a World Congress on Conductive Education will get this right, with no questions asked, how can we expect the rest of the world to be accessible to wheelchair-users.

Elliot and others should be able to make this journey knowing from the start that they will be able to get around with no problems in the venue and the hotel, and between them. and to and from the airport. Once Elliot knows this then he can begin enjoying the Vorfreude (the joy of anticipation) that the rest of us are experiencing. If he does not know it, then the next few weeks will be full of worries instead of the joys that such a trip should bring him.

If wheelchair-users know that the everyday living is going to be easy for them, then they can look on the rest of the trip as an adventure, and can set out to conquer the rest of Hong Kong as tourists as well as they can.

As it has turned out, the information is now being given and I think that Elliot will have been put at his ease.

My high horse was due to Elliot having to ask at all.

Who does the IPA provide World Congresses for?

The International Petö Association could so easily have made sure that everyone feels welcome, going out of its way to make a happy time for wheelchair-users. I have had the impression that there has not been an equal hand held out to disabled people and their carers, never mind a special one.

It is not that provision has not been made in Hong Kong, but that this was not made clear early enough. Much of the enjoyment in preparing to be there may have gone for Elliot because of having to be concerned about things that should have been made clear earlier.

I used to be a carer myself. I know from hand personal experience the number of advance phone calls, letters and extra visits that it took to make sure that we could holiday and not have obstacles in our way all the time. Someone in Hong Kong I am sure will have been doing the same caboodle, maybe even someone in a wheelchair has been testing out the venue etc., just like they did here in Nürnberg last year, but this has not been communicated, giving cause for Elliot’s worries and, one hears, at least one person to cancel altogether.

In a strange way I am embarrassed that anyone needs to ask at all. We, the able-bodied congress-goers do not have extra worries and it is just not OK that disabled people should, not at a congress that is all about disability and the upbringing and lifestyle of disabled people.

I have been incredibly impressed with the efficiency of all those I have had contact with in Hong Kong during my own preparations for this trip. Everyone has been so kind and helpful, and amazingly fast at solving all sorts of problems. Perhaps I am particularly prompted to mention access because of my own personal experiences in the past while travelling with a wheelchair-user, and knowing how a hiccup in organisation can ruin a wonderful holiday.

Early congress communications made no mention of disabled people and provision for their special needs. Disabled people could be forgiven for thinking that the IPA does not really want them there. It should have taken so very little for those who have been working in disability all their lives to give a little thought and care to the matter.

It has been nice to see that over the last week there has been more information going up on the Congress website that begins to answer Elliot’s questions and hopefully put him and other wheelchair-users, and people with special needs, at their ease. Hopefully, they can begin to enjoy the excitement and the Vorfreude that accompany the planning of such a wonderful adventure.

I can come down of my high horse now, and wish Elliot and co. a smooth journey.

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