28 April, 2006

Hilton in the Crosshairs

Greyhawk has an update on the Fran O'Brien's situation that includes a rather pointed photo. He also reproduces the following email sent by a disability rights activist to Hilton's Corporate offices:

Dear Sirs:

I recently read an article on line about the Hilton in Washington D.C. stating that the Hilton hotel refused to have reasonable access for disabled vets. Several years ago my husband suffered a stroke during a simple surgery. The stroke left him paralyzed. I must admit that before his stroke, I never paid much attention to curb cuts, handicap access, support bars in bathrooms, etc. However, since my husband’s stroke, these issues have become a major part of my life.

At the age of 58 my husband wasn’t ready to retire in a rest home for the rest of his life. Outside of not being able to walk, he is quite able to travel, go to town on his own, eat in restaurants, and do all the other things a person without disabilities can do. However, in the real world, that is not the case. It has not been easy to function in a world that is indifferent to disability issues. We have to fight for every inch of mobility. A simple curb might as well as be a ten foot wall if you are in a wheelchair.

How many times do you use a public bathroom during a week’s time or even in a day’s time? Something you might take for granted, but to my husband and others with disabilities, it can be a major problem. Not too long ago, we were at a luxury hotel and because we could not find the bathroom that was accessible and because the restaurant staff wasn’t aware of its location, (it was located four floors up from the restaurant), we, subsequently, had to leave the family function and go home without finishing our meal. My husband has sat outside a glass doors for 20 minutes in the rain waiting for someone to open the door because it was too heavy for him to pull open from his chair. We have entered rooms through allies and back doors; we’ve waited with embarrassment while the staff, in restaurants, fumbled around trying to figure out where the portable ramp was or until guests were disturbed and furniture moved as they realized there was not enough space for a wheelchairs to maneuver through the space; and we even have been turned away from restaurants not because of race or ethnicity but because there was no access. At one special event function, they carried my husband up the steps, but had to leave his motorized chair on the first floor, so he was confined to one area of the room all evening. We have taken train rides where they packed my husband away with the luggage.

Consequently, every time we plan to leave the house, we have to figure out where we can go that will accommodate a wheelchair down to the last detail and even that doesn’t always work. Sometimes it is just a matter of a door sill that is too high for his chair to cross over. For instance, in the case of your D.C. Hotel, I am sure your staff is trained to say that you have access. Going through back doors, kitchens, etc. is not access! It is time for big corporations to realize that the disabled are tired of being treated as third class citizens. We are tired of the sighs, raised eyebrows, and secret thoughts of you are making so much more work for us. We are also tired of phrases as “we didn’t know”, or “we are grandfathered in and don’t have to comply”.

After years of humiliating experiences, my husband and I decided, we were not going to stand for it any longer. We have become proactive and major advocates for the disabled. Before my husband’s stroke, we were involved in the Meeting Planning Business for 20 years in the Anaheim area. We have many contacts still with people in the industry. We have made it our task to make meeting planners take notice that accessibility is a major concern when planning any event. We have been urging party planners not to hold functions at facilities that do not meet ADA requirements. We have also organized an Orange County Chapter of the Californians, for Disability Rights that actively fights for the rights of the disabled. We have also pursued legal matters against those establishments that choose not to make changes. The disabled person is no longer content to “go away”. We have gone before city council meetings and we even have gone as far as to file lawsuits. It is sad that it comes down to cash…..however…. that is all that most businesses nowadays seem to understand.

I was alarmed when I read this article. This is our country’s capital, and instead of having our best foot forward as an example for the rest of the nation, we have a major corporation playing games with the ADA Laws. Is the Hilton Hotel chain that insensitive to the needs of our own disabled soldiers? This article reported that not only did the hotel not have public areas accessible, but that the hotel went out of its way to circumvent remedying the problem by not renewing leases. Then there were the statements that you plan to carry on some one else’s tradition after you kicked him out in the cold. If all of this wasn’t bad enough, the real question remains, “What is being done to make that area accessible?” Moving one event to another area does not remedy the accessibility problem. So in my eyes you are batting 100%.

I am hoping that this was not a “true” story and I am waiting to hear from you your side of the Hilton in D.C. restaurant incident before our organization plans a course of action against the Hilton chain here in Anaheim.

Marilynn Pike,
Secretary of the Orange County Chapter of Californians for Disability Rights
From what I have read, CDR is well-respected and effective, so this is no idle threat.

[Background on the Fran O'Brien's story here.]