Your Shoes are Killing Me

 

One of the definitive moments of the feature film, “Sex and the City,” shows protagonist Carrie Bradshaw entering the large closet of her would-be new apartment. As the lights flicker on, she takes in the size of it (really, it’s ginormous) and imagines all of the designer shoes she will fill it with.

I cringe whenever I watch that scene, as much as I love that film (can you say, “guilty pleasure”?).

Because I would never find enough “sexy” shoes to fill that closet with, even if I could afford them all.

Because the shoe industry has neglected to make shoes for women like me. Women with small feet. Women with spina bifida

For me, an assertive invitation of “Let’s go shoe shopping” from Mami evokes feelings of being a lamb dragged off to the slaughterhouse.

I’ve been that girl— the one who has broken down in the size 5 aisle of Payless, or many a shoe store. Because they don’t carry anything smaller for me

Indeed, some of my cutest “girly” shoes are in children’s sizes. And yes, they’re flats

I can’t wear heels unless they are even. None of those stiletto-style heels or wedges— even the shortest heels will have me teetering off-balance within seconds of standing.

 

Shoes

One of the few pairs of shoes in my closet that have short heels. I wore this outfit to a vintage-themed event. When I posted this as my profile pic a while back, I received compliments on my cute pose. Little does anyone probably realize I am grasping at the tree to keep from stumbling.

 

As I visit shopping malls and see signs indicating accessible entrances and restrooms, and ramps conveniently placed across from accessible parking areas, I am reminded of how far we’ve come as a society that is striving to welcome people with spina bifida and other disorders.

As I scour the ladies’ footwear section of any major department store, I am cruelly reminded of how far we still need to go. 

Indeed, I think my gender makes things worse for me as a shoe consumer. Men can get away with wearing more comfortable shoes, and even dress shoes don’t have heels. In fact, they could probably get away with wearing the same pair of shoes for a week straight, and no one would be the wiser.

The entire culture of being a woman in the 21st century is centered around footwear. “I don’t know if I have shoes that will match this outfit!” “Let’s go shoe shopping this weekend.” “Oh, my shoes are killing me, and I didn’t bring rescue shoes.” 

Guess what? Your “rescue shoes” are what I would wear to a social function. For me, there is no such thing as rescue shoes, because I cannot wear the shoes you need so badly to be rescued from. 

I can recall so many occasions on which I’ve attended parties with girlfriends. Near the end of the night, they are complaining about their shoes. “God, my shoes are KILLING me, Laurita! You are so lucky you get to use that wheelchair. Can I borrow it?”

No, you may not borrow my chair, because it is not a one-time deal. With this wheelchair, (which I use often for events, especially when I have to resort to wearing uncomfortable boots to match an outfit) comes a lifetime of regret. A lifetime of envy, resentment, and anger, because I cannot wear the shoes that are killing you right now. Because I wasn’t granted the luxury of being able to wear strappy heels that I will remove in less than two hours to dance barefoot on the dance floor after my feet have blistered.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, especially to myself, I LOVE the shoes that every woman loves— the strappy, shiny heels that you seem to glide effortlessly in, while I stumble clumsily in my flat boots.

Because Fate long ago decided that I do not get to live the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy for one lousy night, because that’s life.

Oh, your shoes are killing you? Then by all means, be my guest and remove them. You know what? They’re killing me, too. 

Accessibility is Not Optional: An Open Letter to the Hilton New York

On August 1st, I arrived in New York City to attend the BlogHer 2012 conference. From then until August 5th, I stayed at the Hilton New York, which, conveniently, was the site of the event. 

The BlogHer conference is one of the largest conferences for bloggers out there, and the largest social media conference geared towards women. 

 

 

Let me first mention that this is not the first event I’ve attended at the Hilton New York. In 2010, I attended the BlogHer conference for the first time, and that’s where it was held. Last year (2011), I attended Affiliate Summit East, also held at the Hilton New York.  Not being one who likes to dwell on the negative, I overlooked– twice– the obvious accessibility issues that are impossible for someone using a wheelchair to ignore. 

I’ve had enough. I’m speaking out. 

At least three of the events that weekend (August 2-4) were held at a ballroom which, I later learned, was part of a separate building where the Hilton rents space. Still, imagine my horror when I first found out that the only way to access that ballroom is by using the escalator– or a cargo elevator.

Yes, you read that correctly. 

In allowing several of the parties that weekend to be held in a separate location that was inaccessible by a regular, human-friendly elevator (as opposed to a cargo elevator, which is totally unacceptable), the Hilton New York sent BlogHer attendees the message that they are both unprepared and unwilling to cater to the needs of guests with disabilities.

I personally paid to stay at the hotel during the conference because, ironically, of the ‘convenience.'” But if convenience to them means being condescendingly treated like cargo and being forced to a ride a potentially dangerous freight elevator, then I will unfortunately have to miss out on future events. 

When BlogHer attendees obtain a conference pass, they are assuming to be treated on an equal level as all the other attendees. What happened to me– having to wait 20 minutes while an employee verified that there was no alternate access to the event, therefore missing the first part of the party, then being addressed in childish terms (“it’s okay, sweetie”) by an unprofessional Hilton employee, and riding an elevator that is not intended for guests– is a far cry from the sense of equality and solidarity that one usually feels at BlogHer. And for the Hilton, it is a blatant and unapologetic violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

 

After I Tweeted the Hilton New York account several times (with much restraint, I might add), I finally received direct messages from them, claiming they wanted to “meet with me” to “rectify the situation.” After several misses, I was mortified to discover their idea of atonement was to seek me out during the Voices of the Year ceremony (during which I was an honoree), a formal, sit-down event with speakers that had already begun. They made a paltry attempt at apologizing to me in front of my bewildered parents (whom the Hilton people did not even address) and went on their way.

The disability is theirs, not mine. I still can’t believe how rude they were to the two people who have been supportive of me in every way. 

I Tweeted them again before checking out of the hotel, asking to meet with them again in the hopes of having the chance to discuss things calmly, without other people around, but they replied after I had already left, rendering their “efforts” pointless.

Now, I cannot speak about the situation without pointing something out: I was not the only blogger with a disability at this event. I saw plenty of wheelchairs during the conference, and God only knows how many others had invisible challenges. I’m not trying to make assumptions based on what I saw– I’ll only surmise that I wasn’t the only one.

If there is one good thing at all to be found in this humiliating experience, it’s this: two fellow bloggers I had just met and who were eager to join the party insisted on waiting with me and then rode the ‘fright’ elevator with me. I can’t thank them enough for their genuine concern and willingness to stand by a fellow blogger. They were just as outraged as I was, and they followed up with me to ask if I had been contacted by the Hilton.

 

 

So to me, that one positive aspect of these unfortunate events highlighted a promising point: while the Hilton New York drew a metaphorical dividing line between a minority group (those with disabilities) and the rest of the group, the BlogHer community didn’t hesitate to cross this very same line in their support of me. I felt very proud to know that my fellow bloggers didn’t see a distinction between “my problem” and “their problem.” When one blogger is slighted, the entire community stands beside her in solidarity. 

And my fellow bloggers weren’t the only one to take a special interest in this situation. TheAssistant Director of Food and Beverage at the hotel, Jason Tresh, happened to be standing near the ballroom at lunchtime. I didn’t have time to sit down and eat, because my volunteer shift at the registration booth was about to start. 

The kind employee offered to bring me a plate of food to the booth, and I got to talking with him about what had happened the night before. He was outraged. He couldn’t stop apologizing to me, even if he had nothing to do with it. 

Near the end of our earnest conversation, he handed me his card. “It doesn’t matter what time it is– if you need anything at all, you call me at that number.” 

I thanked him wholeheartedly. The next evening, just as attendees lined up at the escalator to go up to another party, I took him at his word, and called. 

He was there in five minutes, to personally escort me, along with Kelly Kwok Lee, Meeting and Conference Service Manager, and an intern, in the same freight elevator, to the party. Only this time, I was treated with the dignity and respect worthy of a guest. I was the first person admitted to the party, and the way I was treated, by this man who decided to take responsibility for another’s inaction, made me feel truly like an honored guest, and not like a nagging inconvenience. Jason instructed me to let Kelly know whenever I was ready to leave the party, and he would come to escort me. 

 

Mami and me with Jason Tresh, who helped turn a negative situation into a positive one! Thanks so much, Jason!

 

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that, after we checked out of the Hilton New York, my parents and I checked into the Hilton Garden Inn, a very small hotel, just a few blocks away from where we had been, and yet it was worlds away in service.

We showed up at the hotel, and we asked if by chance our room was ready. It was already 3 p.m.-ish, but it wasn’t ready yet, so we asked to stow our luggage in the lobby in the meantime, so we could walk around the city. They had no problem with this. 

When we returned to the Hilton Garden Inn, it was past five, we were tired, we needed to change, and we were informed the room still wasn’t ready. In total PTSD mode (once, burned, twice shy!), we said, almost in unison, that that was unacceptable. We needed a room– now. 

The young manager immediately took it upon himself to rectify the situation. He offered to show us another room that was available, identical to our original one but on a different floor. He said if we liked it, we were welcome to stay there instead. We agreed that was fine for us, and he said “I’ll be buying you breakfast tomorrow morning.” All this, with a pleasant smile and every reassurance. 

Customer service done RIGHT. 

I’m glad Mami took the initiative of snapping a photo of a notice that is prominently displayed at the front desk of the Hilton Garden Inn: 

As good as gold for me!

 

And that, Hilton New York management, is at the very heart of the problem you are facing. Social media isn’t about who’s manning the Twitter account and is able to respond quickly– it’s really all about one thing: our shared humanity.

I’m looking into the process of filing a formal complaint against the Hilton New York. Not because I’m trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but because everyone else at BlogHer (or simply staying at the hotel) who I saw with wheelchairs, walkers, and canes, deserve better. 

Our humanity demands it.