Thursday, 2 July 2015

Geekfest: Wheelchair Using Fans Not Wanted?

UPDATE

Nine Worlds/Geekfest were very quick to reply and address my points, which I'm genuinely very impressed by, and where they had missed out on an update (the FAQ page), they quickly adopted my suggested wording for making it clear that the suggestion wheelchair users should consider the Marriott was room availability,  not a general recommendation. (I think there was an under-estimation of how seriously wheelies might take being 'advised' to use another hotel, most walkies don't understand just how unaccessible the built environment still is to those of us who come with wheels attached). The agreement to reimburse wheelchair users for taxi fares between the con hotels is a good compromise to the accessibility problem.

So am I completely happy and am I going now? Not entirely and probably not. Geekfest have fixed the access problem, but the problem still existed until a month before the con without being addressed, that's something that needs to be addressed for Geekfest 2016. The issue splits into two linked points, with the first of these being the attention given to access in the initial con hotel choice. It looks awfully like that got overlooked this time around, with the result that attendees were booking into hotels it was physically impossible for some of them to get between. That's a pretty fundamental problem. Either you pick hotels wheelchair-using fans can get between, or you make sure there is some accomodation in place and publicised in time for people to make informed hotel choices (and that second option is very much the worse of the two). The second point follows on from that, access information needs to be in place from the moment booking opens, if not before, because wheelchair-using, and other disabled fans, have to make serious decisions about whether their needs are being addresssed and whether getting between places will still leave them able to enjoy the con. Access isn't something you can leave until the last minute.

That last point is why I'm probably not going. I'm neurodiverse as well as a wheelchair user, and for various reasons taxis stress me badly. The solution will work for most people, but for me it just creates more problems. When I found myself thinking "well maybe I could use my wheelchair as a walker between hotels, that'll get me past the lack of kerb cuts and avoid needing to use taxis" I realised that I needed to say no, because either I was going to wear myself out physically or mentally. (And to be fair to Geekfest I've also thought of another way to use the money, it's likely a combination of both reasons, rather than solely one on its own).

I hope Geekfest 2015 goes well. I trust Geekfest 2016 will do it better still.

*****





When a friend noted she was planning to go to 9 Worlds/Geekfest, due to be held 7-9th August at Heathrow, I was initially excited, I'd missed going to Eastercon for health reasons and this looked like a good substitute. Heathrow is a bit too far to commute from Kent, so I went to check the con hotels for accessibility, and that was when I was left with a nasty taste in my mouth.




How to Book A Hotel Room
The convention hotel for 2015 is the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow, on Bath Road just north of London Heathrow Airport. Rooms at the Radisson are now sold out. We've agreed convention rates at two nearby hotels:
  • Renaissance Heathrow - £89 / night for one person or £99 for two. The Renaissance is on the other side of Bath Road. It's close to the Radisson, but you have to cross over pedestrian crossing points as Bath Road is a large dual carriageway. The crossing points are unsuitable for motorised wheelchairs as they are not properly lowered. It's about a five minute walk at 'standard' walking speed. Google Maps walking directions are incorrect for this route as you can just go straight between the two sites.
  • Park Inn Heathrow - £86 / night for two people, or £77 for one person. The Park Inn is also on Bath Road, on the same side of the road as the Radisson, but there are a couple of junctions, a few unrelated buildings, a petrol station and a McDonald's between the two hotels. It's about an eight minute walk at 'standard' walking speed​​.
Both hotel rates include free breakfast and in-hotel wifi. Bookings are made with the hotel rather than Nine Worlds, and they can take bookings over the internet or by phone. For wheelchair users, we would advise considering the Marriott hotel. The Marriott is slightly closer than both of these - it's further down Bath Road on the same side as the Radisson, has good access facilities, but we were unable to agree an affordable room rate with them.​​​​ It's about three minutes walk at 'standard' walking speed, with one junction to cross.

(my italics, note that the pricing information given for the 'official' con hotels isn't repeated for the one wheelchair users are being advised to use - too embarrassed? Note also that there is no indication as to whether the junctions between the Park Inn and the Radisson have kerb-cuts - and the petrol station and McDonalds are also likely to be a problem for that. And if the route from the Renaissance isn't suitable for motorised wheelchairs due to lack of kerb-cuts it probably isn't suitable for most manuals either, not all of us can wheelie up a 6" kerb.

I need to know distances, not 'x minutes at normal walking speed' - here's a clue, people who need to know don't walk at 'normal' speed, and I need to know if every junction and entrance (McDonalds, petrol station) on the route between hotels has a kerb-cut, because falling arse over tit out the back of my chair into a busy road trying to wheelie up a too high kerb does not appeal).

 

From the access page
 

Whoa there! This policy is from Nine Worlds 2014. We're at the same hotel for 2015's Nine Worlds, but we're still reviewing all of the content on this page.

 (my italics, it's a month to the con, and you still have accessibility covered by a placeholder? Seriously!?!)

 
In summary

We’re running at the Radisson Edwardian, Heathrow. We have step-free access, accessible toilets, gender neutral toilets, designated quiet space, car parking, kid-friendly content, a minority of clearly marked 18+-only content, and space for feeding and changing. We’re running as 75-minute sessions with 30-minute breaks, and attendees can enter and leave sessions as they like. The Radisson has a limited number of wheelchair friendly / accessible hotel rooms. We recommend the Marriott next door as an accessible alternative if the Radisson books out.
(my italics, they recommend the Marriott, but don't mention it isn't a con-hotel)

Hotels

Nine Worlds 2015 will be held at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Heathrow. The following is a brief overview of some of the hotel's features from an accessibility point of view; if you have any specific access queries please contact access@nineworlds.co.uk, tweet @9Waccess or contact the Radisson hotel directly.
....
The main circulating and social space for Nine Worlds is in the atrium at the top of the building. Access from the lobby is by climbing 38 steps (with four landings) or by lift; the lifts are not directly in the lobby/atrium but are clearly signposted along a side corridor. Lifts are big enough for a standard wheelchair plus companion, although users of larger wheelchairs or scooters may have difficulty. The lifts contain mirrors to aid reversing out.
The atrium is naturally lit from a glass ceiling and consists of smaller self-contained areas. These are connected by walkways and shallow ramps (including temporary ramps which will be in place for the duration of Nine Worlds where necessary).

One area is earmarked for possible use as a children's area; access here is down two steps which may not be possible to ramp. More information on this will be available in due course.

The main entertainment and vendors areas are in a large room off the atrium. This room is a couple of inches below the level of the corridor, with a carpeted ramp in the doorway. The entertainments and vendors room, along with most side rooms, are carpeted. Access to this room is through double doors which are held open when the room is in use.

Direct access to the main convention bar is down two steps from the atrium; step-free access is via a ramp at the opposite end of the atrium.
....
 
 (my italics, people with powerchairs or scooters may have trouble accessing the main con area? WTF? Why are they in this hotel with so basic an access fail?And as for scored-through access information, does that mean it's no longer relevant, no longer accessible or what? Access to the bar is pretty damned fundamental as far as I'm concerned!)
 

Hotel layout - Marriott

....

 (Note, no mention that the Marriott isn't a convention hotel, in fact no explanation why it's mentioned at all - if you can't even list the relevant hotels?)

Hotel layout - Sheraton Skyline

....

(Note, no mention that the Sheraton isn't a convention hotel, in fact no explanation why it's mentioned at all - if you can't even list the relevant hotels?)

Restaurant layout - McDonald's

As a lot of Nine Worlds attendees use the McDonald's on Mondial Way outside the Radisson, we had a brief look here too. The step-free route from the pavement has narrow chicane barriers across the footway which would block access for users of most mobility aids including wheelchairs; the only way of avoiding these is via the roadway. The building has automatic doors opened by push buttons, although these were not working when we visited. Assistance dogs are welcome.
 

(my italics, this seems to confirm there are access issues between both secondary hotels and the main con hotel)

 

No access information is given for the two actual secondary con hotels, the Renaissance and the Park Inn. The price difference between the official con hotels and the one wheelies are being advised to use is marked: Radisson Con-rate: ? (not stated in faq, presumably as sold out), Renaissance Con-rate: £89, Park Inn Con-rate:£77, but Marriott £127. So that's between £38/a night and £50 pound a night extra, a minimum of £114 extra for a wheelchair user who wants to stay three nights to ensure they see the whole con.
 

It looks awfully like Geekfest have stuck with a semi-accessible hotel rather than look for a better one as that's convenient for them, then negotiated con-rates with different secondary hotels to last year without giving any thought to accessibility, then stuck up an oh, wheelies had better stay at the Marriott excuse when they realised it's an issue, and just hoped they could keep quiet about the cost issues this imposes on wheelchair using con-goers.
 

Not impressed, don't know half the information I need, have no confidence in the rest, refuse to be exploited for being a wheelchair user, probably not going :(


2 comments:

  1. Hello David,


    We're mortified to wake up to this and extremely sorry. Wheelchair users are very welcome at Nine Worlds and we would never expect a wheelchair user to pay more to attend the convention.

    The entire convention area in the Radisson is wheelchair accessible, recently confirmed by a wheelchair using organiser and we do not use any parts of the hotel that fall short of this. Organisers, guests and ticketholders have attended the convention in wheelchairs (manual and electric) and we engage in a survey to monitor any issues that could result from this and other access issues.

    We’re sorry there are no accessible rooms available in the Radisson at this point. the Radisson has been full for both accessible and un-accessible rooms for several months, with the Renaissance selling out subsequently.

    (At time of writing) There are 12 accessible rooms remain available in the Park Inn, the other local hotel that we were able to negotiate a reasonable group booking rate at, however, as now noted on our accessibility page this hotel is some further distance from the Radisson, with possible kerbing issues for some wheelchairs. We will pay for and assist with taxi services between the Park Inn, Renaissance and Radisson for anyone for whom a disability creates problems moving between the sites, with free blue badge parking at the Radisson for anyone who would prefer to use their own transport.

    As we cannot create more nearby rooms, we felt obliged to mention that, although they had refused us a reduced convention rate, the Marriott may be easier to travel from than the hotels that had agreed to work with us, meaning that it has a higher cost for all rooms.

    We are extremely sorry our Access page was not fully up to date; you are quite right that this is unacceptable and several people, including a wheelchair using organiser with up-to-date knowledge of the site, have worked to update this. The information is now accurate and should have been before; we can't make excuses for ourselves about that. The updated page is here: https://nineworlds.co.uk/content/accessibility-information

    -Nine Worlds organisers

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