To Tanzania with Love | The Laurita Spina Bifida Project wants to donate wheelchairs

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.” — Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”)

I don’t really remember what it’s like not being able to walk. As parental anecdotes recall, I was about two years old when I took my first steps. My parents were overjoyed, of course, but probably more than most parents, because I have spina bifida. According to my doctors at the time, I wasn’t supposed to be able to walk.

I may not remember what it was like crawling around the house or not being able to stand up, but, at age 30 now, I am beginning to grasp what it means to have limited mobility. My knees and back hurt constantly, and my wheelchair is getting much more mileage than it used to.

As I recently learned through a good friend I’ve never met, there are people in Tanzania, and in many other countries, who do not know the privilege of owning a wheelchair— what a blessing it is to have the equipment to facilitate mobility.

Little did I know until these past few weeks, that there are people on the other side of the world who would give anything to have the freedom I am often complaining about— the freedom to move.

That’s why my non-profit organization, The Laurita Spina Bifida Project, has offered to help the Association for Spina Bifida And Hydrocephalus Tanzania (ASBAHT) by raising funds so they can purchase wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and a prosthetic leg for a young girl with spina bifida.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

A shifting perspective

It really gives me pause to reflect on how grateful I am for my “inconveniences.”

Over there, where my friend lives, people aren’t griping because someone took the accessible parking space. Or because their wheelchair won’t fit in their friend’s car when she offers to give me a ride.

They don’t complain about these problems because they don’t exist. Because access to the mobility devices they need doesn’t exist.

Many moms of children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus must push their children in strollers instead of carrying them. If they don’t have access to the brain surgery to have a shunt placed, the children’s heads grow until the parents can no longer carry them. Even these strollers are very hard to come by. As for me, I am only vaguely reminded I have a shunt in my head when the weather changes and I feel a slight headache.

This holiday season, I am fully committed to making the freedom of mobility a reality and not just a dream for at least several people in the Tanzanian spina bifida community…people who are much like me.

Maybe this will make a huge, life-altering difference for them. Maybe it won’t. All I know is, everyone needs someone in their life who refuses to give up on them.

I have you guys. Now, it’s my turn to be that person for somebody else.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

How you can help

What we need, first and foremost, is monetary donations. Whether it’s $5 or $500, every dollar makes a big impact when you add it all up. Trust me on this! How incredible is it that for the price of a latte macchiato you bring us one step closer to giving a deserving human being the gift of mobility?

 

Here’s a rough estimate of what each item costs, in U.S. dollars:

• Wheelchairs – $140.00 each

  • Walkers – $70.00 each

• A prosthetic leg for a youth with spina bifida – $460.00

Other ways to help out

If you own a company or know of a company or organization that might be interested in partnering with us to help raise the funds, please reach out to me at laurita.tellado@gmail.com. I truly believe “it takes a village,” and you are all my shining example of that!

Consider this campaign for your company’s end-of-year charitable contributions. Every donation is tax-deductible.

Also, since there are just so many wonderful social good campaigns during this time of the year, we need your help with getting the word out. Please, post to Facebook, Tweet, share, blog, Pin, Instagram post, etc.! There is truly no action that is too small to make a difference.

Please share / post using the hashtags #TheLSBProject , #SpinaBifida, and #Give5ToThrive (because we want to encourage that no amount is too small!).

Keep up with this campaign by following and connecting with us on social media:

The Laurita Spina Bifida Project on Facebook

@TheLSBProject on Twitter 

@TheLSBProject on Instagram

Remember what it’s all about

Finally, keep in your mind and heart that we are doing this to pay it forward. We have been so Blessed throughout this entire process, and I’m grateful for each and every person who has been part of The Laurita Spina Bifida Project’s journey thus far.

In the words of my friend Sifa of Tanzania, the angel behind-the-scenes who has put me in contact with the ASBAHT: “It will be an honor for ASBAHT to partner with you or any other organization or individuals out there with the heart to help the forgotten children, youth, and adults living with SBH in Tanzania.”

Thank you, Sifa. We’ll do our best.

Love,

Laurita ♥

In Case You Are Jealous of My Friday Night

People often comment on my Facebook posts (especially fellow ladies!) saying what a fabulous life I have. They see me gliding from event to event, effortlessly, cozying up to public figures and instagramming delicious food (and coffee drinks)!

I don’t blame you all for commenting, or even feeling a twinge of jealousy or resentment. It’s natural, and to be completely honest, the same thing goes through my mind when I’m instagram- or Facebook-stalking my friends and colleagues.

But, do you want the brutally honest truth? Because here it is.

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There’s A LOT that gets filtered out of my life when I post on social media. Like, a hell of a lot. When I publish a photo of me in a gorgeous dress with my hair and makeup flawlessly done at an event enjoying the company of others, here’s what you don’t see:

You don’t see/hear the laughably-inevitable meltdown/pity-party two hours earlier about not being able to wear the shoes all my other girl peers are wearing (heels, stilettos, etc.).

You don’t see the panic attack I’m having as I’m rushing to make it out the door on time and have to stop and raid every drawer in the house for urinary catheters. Since they are delivered and I need a doctor’s prescription, it’s not like I can waltz into a public restroom with a few quarters and get a catheter out of a dispenser. (But you can easily find tampons or condoms, no doubt!)

You don’t see the frustration I feel when trying to find the perfect purse to match my outfit— that is, one that is sleek enough to carry easily but that will fit at least 5 catheters (because when your LIFE depends on using a plastic tube every three hours, there’s no room for guesstimating. Better to overestimate than…God forbid. And if I have an infection…forget it.)

You don’t see me up all night with indigestion because my digestive tract is much slower than everyone else’s. That expensive dinner I had cost me a good night’s sleep.

But most of all, you don’t see the struggle it is as I try my best to “fit in” (say what you will about being an individual, but don’t kid yourself— EVERYONE wants to fit in) while treading the delicate balance of staying “healthy” (whatever that means, because I haven’t felt “healthy” in many years) and being able to breathe easy and have some semblance of a social life.

That all being said, I know how truly fortunate I am. I have opportunities that many of my peers with spina bifida do not. I don’t lose sight of that.

But, today is Friday. Tonight, God willing, I actually am going out on a Friday night alone (a rare occurrence!) to attend a social / professional function. Just a while ago, I got off the phone after talking to my medical supply provider and my urologist’s office back-to-back. It feels like I am constantly having to negotiate how important a life-saving product is to me. Negotiate how many times a day I am allowed to pee. Can you imagine having your visits to the bathroom regulated? These are questions I actually get from my doctor’s office. (They will actually insist I drink more water, and then ask me why I use so many catheters!)

Not to mention my private medical insurance, which makes me jump through bureaucratic hoops just to be able to receive these bare necessities.

I don’t want to be calculating. I don’t want to be counting catheters. I don’t want to leave half of my meal untouched because I’m afraid of indigestion. I don’t want to walk into the place and immediately scan where the bathrooms are. I don’t want to wonder where I’ll park my wheelchair.

Tonight, I just want to act my age, and know that I’ve earned it. Tonight, I don’t just want to LIVE, I want to feel ALIVE, and know that my posts on social media actually reflect the fabulous reality.

Top 5 Moments & Lessons at Top Blogueras Retreat 2013: UNited & UNdefeated

 

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Above photo courtesy of Myrna Calderón.

 

 

I’m not going to lie to you. (You should know that by now!) The past few weeks for me have involved stress, tears, joy, excitement, more tears, and fears of developing a hernia. That’s usually what happens when I get sandwiched between conferences.

But I did it. I managed to attend the LATISM ’13 conference exactly a week after experiencing my first Hispana Leadership Summit in Orlando– and I also was honored to be invited to attend the second annual LATISM Top Blogueras Retreat in-between!

When it comes to attending conferences, my philosophy has evolved over time. I used to engage in the practice of grabbing an agenda first-thing, then circling and highlighting all of the sessions I wanted to attend.

I have long since abandoned that practice, because the idea of planning ahead for anything just seems ludicrous to me now. There’s the plan, and then there’s reality. 

The reality, I’ve learned, is the far better plan! 

Such was the recurring theme of my five nights in New York City. So, without further ado, I’m sharing some experiences and lessons I acquired during the first part of my adventure, The Top Blogueras Retreat and visit to the United Nations.

 

 

1. Eating out in New York with 100 of your hermanas is, in fact, material for a sit-com. 

During our first night together after all the Top Blogueras arrived, we headed over to Havana Central in Times Square– I think. Because I don’t think any of us knew for sure where we were going, LOL! We had to take taxis in very small groups, obviously, so when I got to the restaurant, I thought, “this isn’t too crowded. Maybe not everyone is here.”

About a half-hour later, our posse was still arriving– in droves. We took over the entire back section of the restaurant. It was awesome. 

Everyone is cramped at these long tables, everyone is talking at once, and it’s doubtful that any of us were actually listening to each other. We were just way too excited to all be together, and in one of Manhattan’s hottest restaurants, no less! 

That night, in my mind, was the perfect way to herald our arrival in New York City– Cuban food, drinks, girlfriends, and chatter. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

 

2. Whether you attend the official conference sessions or not, you will get advice, you will get schooled, and you will get “tough love.” 

I barely had time, between stopping in the hallways to chat and catch up with amigas, to attend every session during the retreat. But, no worries! This event is all about Latina empowerment– and all about putting yourself and your needs first. For me, I needed those one-on-one chats, where the person I need to speak with has my full attention, and I can ask questions and we’re engaging each other. 

I got some sound, personalized advice from a financial guru right out in the hall (thanks, Francesca, for pulling me aside for that invaluable opportunity!), and he turned out to be an amazing man who is, himself, using his social power to effect positive change in the world. I’ll never forget my conversation with him.

During the retreat, one of my fellow health blogueras, Laura Termini, pulled me aside (that happened to me a lot last week!) and gave me some hard advice that I really needed to hear. She encouraged me to seize my potential and truly put it to use for the good of my mission. I can never thank her enough for lighting a fire under my feet! 😉

 

 

3. The United Nations is a global force for good that we all should be connecting and engaging with. They are awesome. 

When I heard we were getting an exclusive tour of the United Nations headquarters, I thought for sure it would be a stuffy, uninspired building with official seals stamped everywhere.

I could never have imagined it would be so beautiful, like visiting a museum or art gallery. The works of art that adorn these halls and majestic meeting rooms are an amazing testimony to the multicultural, multi-national mission that the U.N. promotes. Many works– ranging from paintings to murals, from tapestries to sculptures– have been donated by member nations. 

During an increasingly-hostile political climate in the U.S., which is seeing escalating vitriol towards people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, it was so reassuring to see firsthand how the U.N. embraces and promotes diversity, even in its décor.

 

4. International organizations, including the U.N., not only need to hear from us– they want to hear from us! 

During our briefing with officials that work with the U.N. at the Ford Foundation headquarters, we listened to speakers discuss the diverse issues that the U.N. is particularly concerned about– access to food, water, health care for all; education; sustainability, etc.

They repeatedly encouraged us to Tweet the U.N., especially during this week, which is the Social Good Summit and the U.N. is convening in New York City. The hashtag is #2030NOW, and the U.N. wants to motivate users to Tweet what they’d like to see happen by the year 2030.

I’m using my voice and my platform to make the public aware of how many Ob-Gyns are pressuring expectant parents of child with spina bifida or another condition, to abortThis is WRONG. When a parent makes an informed decision based on the perceived best interest of his/her family, that is one thing; but when a medical doctor entrusted with the care of mother and baby is insensitive to the vulnerable position that family is in, that is pure, unadulterated manipulation. Parents have the right to get impartial, objective but compassionate information from their health care providers about spina bifida, and all of their options. 

The fact that many medical doctors (Ob-Gyns, specifically, who will only deliver a baby and not go on to “treat” him/her) still push an aggressive agenda of eugenic abortion is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy, not from a pro-life or pro-choice perspective, but rather because the family is being deprived of knowing what’s possible for this child. 

So, if you agree that doctors coercing a family to abort is wrong, please join me in Tweeting and using the hashtag #2030Now to try to bring an end to eugenic abortions (in the U.S., too!) 

 

5. When you’re with familia, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing! You’ll have fun doing it. 

The Top Blogueras and the LATISM Sports Tennis Team were invited to the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center (home of the U.S. Open!) to meet and play with a group of kids with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Unfortunately, due to several buses breaking down, the children weren’t able to meet with us. :(

We were devastated that we all missed out on the opportunity to get together for some fun, but we did have some undisputed fun on the train ride over to the tennis center! 😉

Check out this short instagram video to see what I mean.

 

 

 

Well, that’s all for now in this edition of Holdin’ Out for a Hero. Please stay tuned as I’ll be working on another recap on the conference itself! Thanks a million, LATISM, for believing in me and choosing me to be among so many ladies that I admire and respect!

Hugs,

 

Laurita ♥

Hispanicize 2013: When Sleep is Overrated #ToyotaLatino (Part 1)

On Sunday, I returned from one of the most awesome conferences– no, experiences–  I’ve ever had. I’d been at Hispanicize 2013 all week!

When I was first asked to moderate a panel at Hispanicize, my first thought was “Thanks for the invite, but how will I get there?

What I discovered, however, as I’ve said before on this blog, is that the journey is often just as important as the destination. 

What happened next is kind of a blur, but I know it involved contacting my good friend Javier Moreno of Toyota Latino, and asking him if sponsoring me would be possible, in exchange for promoting their brand in every which way.

After a few back-and-forth calls and E-mails, Javier made a proposal I’ll never forget– he asked me to be the official correspondent for Toyota Latino at Hispanicize! :)

So, all I had to do was prepare for a week of learning, Tweeting, Facebooking, interviewing and photographing some of the biggest stars in the Latino community. Oh yeah– I also had to overpack. I can never travel light! 

 

 With Donna and David of Central Florida Toyota. They were kind enough to drop off the 2013 Toyota Sienna LE we used this past week. My family enjoyed great conversation with them! 

 

The Sienna had great trunk space for all our luggage, plus my wheelchair! 

 

 My very good friend Alberto Saldamando, of El Mundo Tech, rode with us to Miami. What a fun road trip! 

 

 Papi is an awesome driver. Very focused. Don’t try to small-talk him when he’s scanning the roads for the exit. 😉
 

I’m so perfectly content riding in the backseat. Plenty of room to relax, open up my laptop and monitor my social media outlets. No time for napping! Too excited. :)

 

View of the console from the backseat. Very nice! Thanks for including a GPS, too, although the family that gets lost together, stays together. :) 
As comfortable as I was in the Sienna during our four-hour drive (only one stop, thank God!), I was eager to arrive in Miami for my first event. Sherwin-Williams invited several bloggers and journalists to go on a tour of the Downtown Miami Art District

The #SWpintura tour not only offered our group a night out on the town of food, drinks, and seeing Downtown Miami– we got to see a side of Miami that I, personally had never seen before. 

The Miami Design District is the kind of area that, as they say, “blink and you’ll miss it.” At first glance, the graffiti-covered walls and industrial buildings seem to belie the pure genius that is contained in its parameters. But, a closer look reveals gorgeous, elaborate murals painted by upstanding artists, many of whom are Latino.

The Tour also allowed me to meet Sonia Velasquez and Teresa Correa for the first time.

Sonia Velasquez is the host of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America, a model, and has produced and been host of many other TV programs. She is also a staunch activist for HIV/AIDS and domestic violence-related causes. In short– she is a force for good and a true agent of positive change. 

 

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Photo Courtesy of SoniaVelasquez.com
 

When I met Sonia, I honestly didn’t expect her to be so disarming and down-to-earth.  I was standing (okay, sitting in my wheelchair) near her with my Mami as she chatted with my good friend Pili Montilla (*AHEM* another star with a huge heart!). I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, but suddenly, Sonia glances toward me and yells…

 

LAURITA!!!”

 

I. Kid. You. Not.

 

Here I was, freaking out because on Saturday, a woman who I thought did not know me from Eve was going to speak on my “Blogs with a Cause” panel, and I thought, “no way we will have a chance to really connect by then.”

Here she was, totally blurting out my name and running over to hug and kiss me like we’ve known each other for ages. EPIC. 

 

With Sonia Velasquez of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America. This woman has captured my heart with her love for serving others!

With Sonia Velasquez of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America. This woman has captured my heart with her love for serving others!

 

 Sonia, me, and the fabulous Pili Montilla. Don’t mess with us! 😉

 

Soon, we left for the tour on a charter bus. I really didn’t expect to learn so much about the history– the good, the bad, the ugly, the pretty– of Miami on this tour. But our tour guide, artist and radio personality Susana Baker, provided us with a vast wealth of information that most of us– even born and bred Miamians– didn’t know about!

The Downtown Miami Design District is very “blink-and-you-miss-it,” and you will miss out on some stunning, cutting-edge sights if you don’t have your camera ready during the ride.

 

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I actually met Teresa during the tour, on our first art gallery stop. Meeting one of my panelists for Saturday was priceless. She and I had only recently connected on social media, but it felt like meeting a family member for the first time.

 

With Teresa Correa, Founder of La Femme Latina and Head of Ambassadors Program for Red Shoe Movement 

 

During this amazing, very-thorough tour of the art galleries, we got to see works of art created by Latino masterminds that were fun, poignant, and political. We saw social commentaries embodied in a pile of clothes or created in clay. We saw photographs that epitomized the history of the Cuban people of Miami.

 

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“Follow the Leader” by artist Guerra de la Paz. 

After visiting several awesome art galleries with mind-blowing installations, The Sherwin-Williams group treated us to dinner at the chic, bohemian Mexican Restaurant, “Mercadito.”

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 One of the coolest people I met this past week– Joe Ramírez, President of Attenta Group,  who represented Sherwin-Williams. 

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I must give a *lot* of credit to Lillian Ayala of Vanguard Comm, who took great care of all the guests. She actually called me up when I was still in Orlando and we had a great conversation!

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This should be a work of art itself! My beautiful family– and forever my “plus-ones.” 😉  

 


I will be posting plenty of photos on my Holdin’ Out for a Hero and Espresso con Leche pages. I’ll also be posting more details on here, and on Espresso con Leche. Stay tuned! 

I’m Catching a Ride to #Hispz13 with #ToyotaLatino!

 

Yes, it’s true. Once again, I’m heading to the Hispanicize conference in Miami! Only this time, *I’m shifting gears* and “catching a ride” with my friends over at Toyota.

Although this will be my very first time partnering with Toyota for anything, I daresay we’re both entering uncharted territory here. As their first blogger sponsoree, I’ll be setting a precedent for future bloguer@s interested in partnering with this amazing automotive brand.

 

 

My assignment: to be the official correspondent for Toyota during Hispanicize! Oh em gee!  

I’m unbelievably excited about this opportunity, and my mission is to meet and interact with as many people as I can during the week, to find out what they’re up to, and also to share with attendees my experience traveling to the event in a Toyota vehicle (which will be announced later!).

Of course, the second part of my mission is to absorb as much Miami culture as I can, because I love that city. I wish I could live much closer to a town with such a flair for all things Latino. So, I will be doing my part to share with you as much as I can of the sights, smells, sounds, and flavors of Miami! To get the full experience, please be sure to stop by my other blog, Espresso con Leche, where I’ll be elaborating on my culinary, musical, and all-things-cultural perspective of Miami!

Also, during the conference, I’ll be Tweeting from two Twitter accounts: @Laurita86 and @EspressoYLeche, and I’ll be using the hashtags #Hispz13 and #ToyotaLatino. And…don’t forget to follow my friends over at @ToyotaLatino on Twitter, and to “like” them on Facebook

I want to give a very special shout-out and gracias to Janice Lusky Greenspan of PRecise Communications, and to my dear, longtime amigo, Javier Moreno, for making this all possible. 

I also owe an overwhelming amount of gratitude to Hispanicize founder and CEO Manny Ruiz, who invited me to moderate a session called: “Blogs with a Cause: Meet the Bloggers Devoted to Social Good” panel on Saturday!

I’ll have the honor of introducing some amazing movers and shakers in the social media sphere:

I simply cannot say enough about these women to actually do justice to their labors of love. You’ll just have to wait until Saturday. 😉

Above all, I need to thank Godseriously. You have Blessed me so richly and abundantly, more than I could ever possibly deserve or imagine!

To all of my friends looking forward to learning more about entertainment, technology, social media, and marketing– ¡nos vemos in Miami!

 

😉  Laurita

Help Keep a Hero Moving Forward

A few days ago, a longtime friend of mine, Julie Harley, reached out to me and told me about a contest she entered for her daughter, Ruby. Ruby has spina bifida. Ruby also has been diagnosed with autism.

As a mom, Julie spends a lot of time, energy, and love making sure Ruby and her sister have the best quality of life possible. I remember several years ago, the first time she contacted me through Twitter. She seemed like most of the fabulous moms I know– worried, anxious about the future, often frustrated with the lack of resources or knowledge in the community.

A precious moment between Julie and her daughter, Ruby.

 

Julie is not like most moms, though. She might be like most moms in the spina bifida community– strong-willed, determined, compassionate, and activist-minded. She also isn’t afraid to share even her family’s most vulnerable moments, in the hopes that their story will help others.

One of the greatest challenges Ruby went through recently was when she had to be on a strong antibiotic for an infection. As a result, the prolonged use of the antibiotic resulted in her contracting C-Diff, a dangerous infection that is very difficult to get rid of.

In addition to her daughter’s own challenges, Julie has struggled through back surgery and multiple knee surgeries, making it hard for her to lift 75-pound Ruby into their current van.

Now, she needs the support of her community– our community. She has entered to win a custom wheelchair-accessible vehicle so that she can continue giving beautiful little Ruby an amazing life!

Normally, I know I don’t write posts like these. But, I have come to care so strongly about the Harley family, as they are a true example of people who are always smiling, no matter what they’re going through. I have nothing but admiration for all of them!

And while Ruby is indeed the focus of this contest– the little heroine– there is no doubt in my mind that she inherits her courage and resilience from her incredible mom.

Please, take a moment to visit this link, and vote for Ruby. It won’t take up more than 30 seconds of your time, but it will be life-changing for Ruby and her family.

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

Teachers Insurance Specialists Florida Caters To The Hearing-Impaired

 

Longwood, Florida (PRWEB) November 27, 2012–

The insurance agents at Teachers Insurance Specialists Florida announce the launch of their new Video Phone, phone number and the addition of their newest Florida insurance agent, Amber Evans.

Teachers Insurance Specialists can now cater to the hearing-impaired with the use of their new phone number (407-268-6364) and with Amber’s expertise in communicating with hearing-impaired individuals. Amber is fluent in sign language and is hearing-impaired herself.

“There are not many Florida insurance agencies that cater to the hearing-impaired. Insurance can get complicated. By offering a hearing impaired phone number and having an insurance agent on staff who can effectively communicate with those who are hearing-impaired, we can cater to this niche consumer,” says Simone Baldwin, Exclusive Agent/Owner of Teachers Insurance Specialists Florida.

Florida residents can rely on Teachers Insurance Specialists for their auto insurance, homeowners insurance, life insurance and retirement planning needs. Teachers Insurance Specialists Florida consults with clients over the phone and in person. Residents who are educators and non-educators throughout the State of Florida can seek insurance coverage with Teachers Insurance Specialists. For more information, please call 407-622-6634 or visit online at http://www.teachersinsurancespecialists.com

 

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I was not compensated for publishing this post. All the wording and graphics were provided by Teachers Insurance Specialists. In short, I’m just helping to get the word out. Amber Evans is also a fellow member of the spina bifida community. 

The Resolution to Resolve: Following Up on the Hilton New York

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. 

 

Laurita 😉