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Conference Fear

I really should be excited about going to Computers and Writing, and a part of me still is. It is the absolute best conference for people like me who are obsessed with rhetoric, composition studies, and all things digital. However, this time I am feeling a bit anxious because of how hard it is to fly for me. The thought of transferring at O’Hare is more than I can face, but I must face it. I will request a shuttle or wheelchair to be waiting for me, but I know how fallible the process is. I also know that because of my height, airport seating and the wheelchair itself cuts off the circulation in my legs and makes them swell, the absolute last thing I need as someone with bad knees from osteoarthritis. That is just the journey. I have other fears to face once I get to the conference.

I find myself wondering about information that is not included on the conference site, especially based on past attendance at Computers in Writing in Ann Arbor and in Raleigh. Both of those conferences were wonderful and I have good memories of each. However, each had challenges for someone with osteoarthritis, something I did not know I had at the time but now know. Back then I just thought I was a wimp. I now know all the cushion has been eaten away in both knees and they are rubbing bone on bone with some cute little bone spurs to make it even more interesting. Ann Arbor (2011) was long ago enough that walking was not a problem. By the time I went to Raleigh though (2012), it was, mainly because of the cross-campus walk that involved an outdoor tunnel with a staircase. I actually broke into tears at the sight of it, but somehow made it to the end. For a while it looked like I was going to have to stay in the banquet building and miss all the rest of the day’s sessions in order to be there for dinner and the keynote, but the organizers called around and found a shuttle bus. That was good, but it was a very high van, one where the doorframe bottom was thigh-high. We literally borrowed an ottoman from the building for me to stand on (with help so I could–I’m 5’1″) because it did not have a step stool or steps for those with limited mobility to use in order to use the van that was needed because of limited mobility. I spent a lot of that conference with my feet up taking care of the damage I did the first day.

Clearly, it is very important to know how much walking is involved and if there are unavoidable stairs. Having a van available for buildings that are not near each other is important too and something that should be publicized and already arranged, not a last minute addition because unexpectedly, someone can’t walk far. Not all disabilities involve a wheelchair. I see as I am planning my sessions schedule that there is more than one building for sessions and things like the keynotes. I can do a block (five small houses worth) without too much trouble if I take it slow and I can walk that block back if I have a few hours rest in-between. Moving from room to room in a building is okay also with the rest time the sessions will give. I wish I knew. A (scaled) campus map on the site even would help me gauge potential problems.

Unfortunately, the conference site does not address any ADA issues and it really should. On the other hand, no previous year did either, so they shouldn’t feel too bad. I wonder though, how much longer will this go on? How many times must it be shown that not all attendees will see the scenic walks between buildings as healthful exercise? I used to buy into that and now I have no knees. I emailed to find out and do expect a fairly prompt response. This is one area though that the campus-to-campus move with new organizers each time hurts the conference. It is far too easy for past lessons like this one to be forgotten in the planning only to be relearned each year at the conference itself.

Until this past summer, I did not have a diagnosis for osteoarthritis. Friends and colleagues finally pushed me to do something rather than feel that I was somehow at fault for not being able to keep up. I now know and get gel in my knees which allows me to walk at almost the level I was at a few years ago at Raleigh. I even timed my gel injections so that my knees would be at their best for the conference.Unfortunately, I had an allergic reaction to the treatment this time and am not at my best after all. In the past I have found that the simple question, “How much walking is there? I have limited mobility due to arthritis.” invariably has the answer “That won’t be a problem. Nothing is more than a few blocks–an easy walk.” I hope that you can see that a few blocks is more than I can do, especially when it is really a half mile or so and even more importantly, when that walk is repeated and done for several days in a row. It all adds up.

Not to be a pill, but I also have to think about hearing. I have 30% hearing loss in both ears and depending on acoustics, have gone to conferences where I literally could not understand any of the speakers. It would be nice to know if any captioning is planned, for the keynotes at least. Room amplification options would be helpful. Something. I wish I had hearing aids, but they are not covered by insurance and are ridiculously expensive, especially if you need them for both ears.

I wish I didn’t have to apologize for my disabilities. They are really not my fault after all. My not being able to walk all day is not because I am a wimp or too fat (another issue) and most definitely is not something that will “get better” if I get out and walk more. I wish I had an extra $5500 or so for hearing aids, devices that my insurance and virtually all insurance companies see as cosmetic and thus don’t cover. I wish I could look forward to conferences or even travel in general again. Until some things change though, it’s going to continue being a problem. I only hope that it’s the situation that’s seen as the problem and not me.

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