Bully Pulpit: Compensatory Progress?

Gauging progress in accessibility is like “seeing” global climate change. Both are happening, no doubt, but how much and how fast is difficult to pinpoint. Nonetheless, on a recent pleasure/business trip, I got an up-close look at how discrimination is changing.

On my flight from Portland, Ore., to Burbank, Calif., I was assigned a seat on an Alaskan Airlines/Horizon flight that was so far back the aisle chair couldn’t squeeze between seats. I complained and they accommodated — because they had to. I got a seat near the front with an arm that raised up and more space in the aisle.

When I reached my destination for a family wedding, the accessible room with two king beds and roll-in shower I had “reserved” for my wife and me, our daughter and her son, was no longer available. I threw a major fit, loudly invoking the ADA, and they comped me two connected rooms — one an accessible king room — for the price of one.

Two days later we arrived back in Burbank, my family flew home, and I stayed and rented a regular minivan with hand controls to go to the Media Access Awards. They didn’t have the Chrysler Town and Country they had “guaranteed” me — with an automatic sliding door and stowaway seats so I could roll my chair in without disassembling it. Instead they offered a Nissan Quest, no automatic door, no movable seat, and a hellacious transfer — a monster chasm to cross before my butt landed safely. The customer service agent saw me balking at renting it. “If you can make it work, Mr. Gilmer,” he said, “we’ll comp you the minivan.”

Next stop, Beverly Hills. Now, I’m not in the habit of laying out $300 for a hotel room, but this was the Media Access Awards, it was only one night, and it would save a lot of stress and driving through Los Angeles traffic if I stayed at the venue site.

The Beverly Hilton is a very classy hotel. But in terms of accommodating me and my wheelchair, it was the same story.

I had a reservation. Check-in time was 3 p.m. and I arrived at 5 p.m. “Sorry, Mr. Gilmer,” said the pretty starlet-clerk, “but your room isn’t ready yet. We’ll comp you two free breakfasts and two free drinks for your inconvenience. If you wait in the lounge, we’ll call you on your cell.”

I bargained. “Four drinks. Forget the breakfast.”

I drank two of my free martinis and people-watched. An hour later, still no room. I called the front desk.

“Mr. Gilmer, sorry, your room is still not ready, but we’ll comp you an upgrade at no additional cost.”

A little tipsy, I slid my card and opened the door to the compensatory upgrade — a $750 corner executive suite, balcony with a 270-degree view, bathroom the size of a swimming pool, and Bose surround sound system.

“You know,” I said, my voice echoing in the tiled bathroom, “this discrimination business ain’t all that bad.”

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