After I publicly denounced the Hilton New York last week for their gross oversights in wheelchair accessibility, something of a magical nature (as any blogger knows!) happened: I got a response.
This past Wednesday, only a day after publishing Accessibility is Not Optional: An Open Letter to the Hilton New York, the Resident Manager of the Hilton himself, called me up and apologized for the whole mess. We spoke for almost an hour (!), during which time he repeatedly expressed his regret for all that transpired, and he also took the time to tell me about steps that the hotel administration is taking to ensure better access for all patrons.
One thing that I found really interesting is that some (not all) of the rooms already have a system that causes lights to go on, illuminating your path on the floor when you get out of bed during the night. He also told me about some other key accessibility features, such as a vibrating pillow in lieu of a clock’s alarm and strobe lights for people with hearing impairments.
They are also working on a separate accessible bathroom, to be used only by patrons with disabilities, on the second and third floors where I spent so much time during the BlogHer conference.
Kenneth Jarka, the Resident Manager I spoke with on the phone, was kind enough to share with me an E-mail that was forwarded to him. It’s related to the elevator incident, and it was sent by the Director of Security of Paramount Group, Inc., the building that leases the space in question and that is used by the Hilton. Above is a screenshot of that E-mail, which tries to explain what happened.
While the changes described by Mr. Jarka are, indeed, very promising innovations, I feel it is still very important to hold the Hilton accountable, especially after an E-mail I received from a fellow blogger, who has been working on a story about this. The Director of Corporate Communications replied to her:
“There was a misunderstanding and everything has been since clarified with our resident manager who spoke to one of our guests who was affected by an elevator being out of service. Our resident manager spoke to the guest for an hour this afternoon and everything has been resolved. In fact, she was very pleased at how we handled BlogHer ’12 this year and praised various team members for doing their due-diligence and [taking] special interest in her situation when one of the elevators was affected and personally escorted her to an event on an other floor.”
Well, here, in turn, is my complete response to the blogger, in regards to Hilton Corporate’s statement:
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say the issue has been ‘resolved.’ Rather, there is a resolution to resolve it. According to my conversation with Kenneth Jarka, the resident manager, they are putting systems in place to solve these problems. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the whole story while I was staying at the Hilton New York, but after my conversation with Mr. Jarka, here’s what I know: there is, in fact, a working elevator (and I’m told, it’s a nice one) that could have taken me from the second to the third floor for the events held in America’s Hall. Here’s the problem, though: the Hilton leases that space– they don’t own it. It is part of a separate building next to the hotel, owned by Paramount Group, Inc., and the security personnel was in charge of keying on the elevator leading to that space. Well, that didn’t happen– the security personnel in that building failed to do so, leaving me no other choice but to take the cargo elevator.
My conversation with Kenneth was actually very pleasant, very honest on both our parts, and he genuinely apologized for all of the inconveniences and negative situations that took place. But I think the issue goes deeper than that– it is a matter of communication between the personnel at the Hilton and the personnel at the other building.
On the bright side, Kenneth took the time to tell me about other innovations that have been made to ensure accessibility and comfort to all guests, and he welcomed suggestions I had that might make it easier for wheelchair users, in particular.
While the initial feelings of negativity that I was left with after this experience are gone, I’m looking forward to an ongoing communication with the Hilton management in which I can hopefully express some of the needs of people with disabilities in terms of accessibility. I feel very encouraged as to where this is headed, but the Hilton New York– and no doubt, other hotels with similar issues– have their work cut out for them. Accessibility is an issue to be taken seriously by all corporations, not because we deserve ‘special privileges,’ but because we need certain accommodations to ensure we have equal access like all other patrons.
According to the latest census, there are 36 million people in the U.S. living with a disability. That’s a huge economic power we wield, so we need to hold all businesses accountable to the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
So, there you have it. That is my somewhat-confused response to a very confusing situation. I think the real lesson here is that corporations are not single units. Rather, they are large organizations comprised by thousands of people, and while, as a corporation, they might share a core value or general opinion on an issue, for the most part, you will get very different reactions and interpretations from different people on different issues.
While the response from corporate left me feeling as though they are scrambling to do damage control (although my blog post was not written with the intent to “damage,” mind you, but merely to shed light on a problem), my conversation with Kenneth shall forever remain in my mind as a genuine attempt to make personal amends, from one human being to another.
After all, why go through all the trouble of forming departments such as “human resources” and “corporate communications” and “guest relations,” if we fail to see the value in communicating and relating, one human being to another?
And that’s what my conversation with Kenneth was all about. No statements, no agenda– just one human being chatting with another.
I’ll keep you all posted as anything else develops.
© 2012, Laurita. All rights reserved.