Life Just Isn’t Fair

“It’s so quiet there? What bar are you at?”

I’m not at a bar, I’m at home.

“What? It’s Friday night! Is this the same LoriLoo? Not used to that 40 hour work week?” and with that he laughed, mockingly, mocking me.

It’s been a particularly stressful week at work. One of the conferences that this company produces is opening in Los Angeles next week. I’m working in the Operations department, so that means preparing everything. Kind of like throwing a party for 15,000 of your closest friends. Normally, I enjoy the planning, the detail work. But an issue came up this week that has weighed heavily on me.

Press are allowed to attend our conferences free of charge, with press verification. This is done so that, hopefully, we will get good media coverage of our event. Or coverage, at least. Many times, however, people claim they are press, but they aren’t, really, in order to circumvent paying the several hundred (sometimes thousand) dollar conference registration fee. They audit classes, accessible with a press badge, yet never write the follow up articles. It’s one of the challenges of this business. You want media coverage, but only by true press members.

A team of press members signed up from a Deaf publication. They seemed legitimate. We had never heard of the publication they were with, but, then again, we don’t read Deaf culture publications that often.

The editor requested a sign language interpreter for 4 days of the conference – one 9 hour day, three 13 hour days. This seemed excessive. Usually, press come for a couple of hours, usually on one, maybe on two days, visit a couple of classes, maybe interview a speaker, visit the tradeshow floor, then leave and write their article.

I called the Los Angeles Convention and Visitor Bureau. They recommended a sign language interpreter service. For the hours requested, it would be almost $10,000 per reporter (there were four) for the week. When I relayed this information, I was met by dumbfounded looks and incredulous gasps. I offered to research other interpretation companies; the director went to contact our legal department to find out exactly what our responsibilities are under current ADA laws.

Our legal department returned with this advice: Since the prospective attendee would be on a work assignment, it was his or her employer’s responsibility to provide the sign language interpretation services. When this information was relayed to the Deaf press applicant, a scathing email was returned, threatening our company with litigation and malicious press if we did not meet their demands. I spent the majority of a day researching other interpretation options (I found one, offered through the county, which was about half the price of the private service) and researching ADA laws, precedents and frequently asked questions. Though I’m not trained as a lawyer, it did seem we were in the right. That, by the letter of the law, the Deaf press person’s company was responsible for providing an interpreter. Had the person registered as a paying attendee, it would be our company’s responsibility to ensure equal access of information. But since they registered as a Press person, that responsibility should rest upon their employer.

It just didn’t feel right, though.

I thought about all the times I’ve lived in an area where, linguistically, I was at a disadvantage. Kuwait. Cairo. Korea. I wish someone had offered me translation services. But they hadn’t. And it was hard.

I approached the director. “Is there any way we could offer, say, 5 or 6 hours a day of interpretation services? Not because the law requires it, but, well, just because. Sort of a compromise.” The decision wasn’t hers to make. It went to another director, then another. Discussions were held. Numbers were crunched.

While all of this was going on, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The United States is one of the few countries that tries to ensure equal access to all people. We’re not always successful, but the law is there, whether or not it’s actually implemented, well, that’s another story.

Is this a good thing? Is this good for our society as a whole?

I thought about my abilities. And lack thereof. There are some things I should not do. I have absolutely no sense of direction. I should not be a bus/taxi/limo driver. It would be bad for everyone involved. I’m tone deaf. As much as I long, I desire, I crave, to be a back-up singer in a rock and roll band, it’s probably a good thing that I’ve never been extended that opportunity. I have horrible sinus problems. I shouldn’t have an equal chance to be a deep sea diver.

I thought and pondered and thought some more. In theory, equal access works out well on paper. Someone’s blind? Provide a tactile way for them to receive information. Someone’s deaf? Provide a visual way for them to receive information. Physically challenged? Provide alternative entrances, exits, pathways for them. But whose responsibility is it to pay for all of this? The government’s? They made the laws. The individual’s? That doesn’t seem fair. Businesses? Pretty soon those business will be out of business, not able to provide services to anyone.

It’s weighed on me. I can’t stop thinking about it. And haven’t come up with any solutions or definitive thoughts.

In the end, my company did offer the Deaf press correspondent 6 hours of interpretation per day, as a goodwill gesture. It was graciously received by the press correspondent.

Our lawyer left us with these words, “It’s not our legal responsibility to do this, but, god forbid I was handicapped in some way, I would want someone to do the same for me…”

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