Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Your Accessibility Conscience

My Biggest Challenge with Presenting at SXSW: Getting on Stage

Filed under: Accessibility 100 — by Glenda at 2:33 pm on Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another Accessibility 100 postA month prior to presenting at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, I dutifully requested an accessible route up to the stage, if, indeed, there was a stage. The conference organizers assured me that the stage would be accessible.

Awesome. One less detail to worry about.

Glenda Watson Hyatt watches lift install at SXSWi 2011
(Photo credit: Sheila Scarborough)

Minutes before I was due to begin my presentation, Austin Convention Center staff wheeled in a monstrous wheelchair lift. After plugging it in and fiddling with it for several minutes, the guys decided that it might work better on the other side of the stage.

The lift was moved to the other side and fiddled with for several more minutes. Meanwhile the audience was becoming understandably restless. With so many sessions to choose from, attendees do not stay in sessions that do not capture their attention. I envisioned everyone leaving before I could get on the stage.

For some unexplainable reason the lift did not work any better on the other side and was brought back to the first side. This time the lift did go up but not down. Because I have yet to master jumping several feet with my scooter, I needed the lift to go down before going up. Obviously that was not going to happen any time soon.

Glenda Watson Hyatt on stage with empty scooter at SXSWi 2011
(Photo credit: Sheila Scarborough)

Time for Plan B.

With only three stairs up to the stage, I suggested that, with assistance,  I could walk up onto stage. Both Becky McCray and Paul Merrill kindly offered their assistance.

On my way over to the other side of the stage, Becky offered Plan C: move the computer down so that I didn’t need to go up on stage. I considered her suggestion very briefly: Damn it, I had worked my butt off getting my presentation ready a getting to Austin. I was going to present from that stage – like everyone else.

Glenda Watson Hyatt presenting on stage at SXSW 2011
(Photo credit: Paul Merrill)

The three of us made our way up the stairs and over to the waiting chair. Thankfully everyone had waited; they were engaged in the live accessibility lesson unfolding before them.

I began my presentation, many minutes late. With Becky’s, Sheila’s and Paul’s assistance during the hands-on rubber band demonstration, the session rocked despite the rocky start!

To the Austin Convention Center and other conference facilities, I offer these recommendations:

  • Keep lift equipment in good operating condition.
  • Test the equipment prior to when it is needed.
  • Train facilities staff in how to use the equipment. Offer refresher training as needed;say,before an event where the equipment is needed.
  • Keep a portable ramp on hand in the event of mechanical failure. A less than ideal way to get on stage is
  • better than no way at all.

I was able, with assistance, to get up on stage and to proceed with my presentation. Another presenter may not be able to do the same and the presentation (and all associated costs) would be lost.


Accessibility 100 is a series of 100 easy-to-implement, free and inexpensive tips for improving accessibility for people with disabilities. This is a community project. Feel free to leave your comments, questions and ideas for future Accessibility 100 posts.

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15 Comments »

Comment by Lori-ann

April 13, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

Oh gosh! Nothing like having the best laid plans that go awash…I’m so glad you had some friends in the audience that were able to lend a hand. You did it! Congratulations!

Comment by Lucretia Pruitt

April 13, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

Wow Glenda!
I don’t know that you could get a better case study on “make the stage accessible for the woman coming to present on accessibility.”
Kudos to you, Becky, Sheila & Paul for finding a work around.

Comment by Jennifer

April 13, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

Hi Glenda! The last time I saw you was at the Las Vegas Speedway! I’m SO sorry I missed your presentation at SXSW but even more sorry I was not there to chew someone out for not being prepared for you! I am glad they were finally able to get you on stage where you belong! We hope to see you soon.

Comment by Sue

April 13, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

Where there is a will, there is a way. And there is nothing better than a live demo of accessibility (or INaccessibilty, as the case may be). I’m glad you were able to get up on stage and rock the session!! You go!!

And hopefully, the organizers and conference facility will have learned much from you — and this “exercise” — and will be better prepared in the future.

Comment by Des Walsh

April 13, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

To echo Lucretia, a compelling case study. You will no doubt use the story to good effect in future presentations!

As you well know, a lot of accessibility preparedness is about attitude, although doorways, lifts etc are very important. In a research project I co-managed some years ago in Australia, I was surprised to find that in some public venues there was a “problem” mentality, not a “let’s be more accessible and find out more ways to do that” attitude among some key staff. So venue training has to incorporate that from the outset. And of course I have learned more from sitting with and discussing these issues from people with disabilities (such as your good self) than from lectures by “experts” not obviously mobility-challenged.

Comment by Paul Merrill

April 13, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

Glenda – you were very cool under pressure. As you implied, it ended up for the better… the whole audience could see in real life the challenges a person with accessibility needs faces!

Comment by Liz

April 13, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

Oh man I have so, so been there. Exactly one assurance that a stage would be accessible has ever been true – it was at BlogHer 2010. They go the conference hotel in NYC to put in a lift and actually tested it, many hours before presentations started. Amazing, and in my dozens of conferences over the last 10 years, unprecedented…

Comment by Liz

April 13, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

Honestly, also, it’s hard to keep thinking “Oh, I hope they learn from this” when it isn’t the first time, and can’t possibly be the first time that a hotel or conference has ever had to accomodate a wheelchair user. But it’s as if it’s the first time and a giant surprise, over and over again. So while we have to keep a good attitude on one level, I have to say, it’s infuriating and makes me feel extra tokenized when that happens. Extra especially if I’m talking about disability and technology at a technology conference!

Comment by Joanna Paterson

April 13, 2011 @ 10:59 pm

Glenda, I admire your cool, and your ability to carry on, but honestly, this is is totally unacceptable! I think the conference organisers need some ‘recommendations’ too, like taking responsibility for delivering on their promises.

Comment by Lucretia Pruitt

April 14, 2011 @ 2:17 am

You know Liz, that really bugs me. I’ve seen both you and Glenda at numerous conferences over the past 4 years and I’m appalled that “they” still haven’t learned.
The concept of speaking about accessibility in a venue that clearly sees it as something ‘above & beyond’ what is normal is just wrong. Accessibility should be the norm, not the exception.

Comment by Kara

April 14, 2011 @ 6:52 am

Wow, what and adventure. Way to go on getting onto that stage. I wish I could have seen your presentation! Definitely sounds like it rocked. How exciting to present at South by Southwest. Awesome.

Comment by Sheila Scarborough

April 14, 2011 @ 7:24 am

I was there and I was so mad I could spit.

I’ve forwarded a link to this post, along with my thoughts as an eyewitness, to the leadership folks at SXSWi, with a request that they also forward it to the Austin Convention Center leadership.

If I could have picked you up and carried you onstage like a queen, I’d have done it. :)

Comment by Kimberly Chapman

April 14, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

This kind of thing drives me batty. People should not have to be disabled to care about open accessibility for all. It shouldn’t have to be something you chase down. Accessibility should be the norm, not a special service you’re supposed to feel grateful for.

Of all the cities where I’ve lived (Toronto, Ottawa, Las Vegas, and here in Austin), Austin is hands-down the worst in terms of accessibility both in limitations and attitudes. At least people in other cities are ashamed when caught illegally parking in a disabled space; here they get all uppity and list the reasons why they’re entitled.

I wish there was more that I could do. You’ve got my support, but that’s not helping much, is it?

Here’s to hoping the next time you do a talk, the only thing to worry about is the talk itself and not whether or not you can get on the stage. :(

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