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'Something's Wrong': Accessibility Issues Frustrate DNC Attendees

Five convention attendees shared their frustration about a lack of accommodations for them at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week

NBC10/Vince Lattanzio
Syed Hassan, 55 of Arlington, Texas, sits on the concourse of the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Hassan said ADA accessibility was troublesome during the convention's first day.

Blocked wheelchair ramps, troublesome transportation and non-existent visual aids have frustrated some people with disabilities attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The troubles even forced at least one delegate to avoid attending part of the convention because accommodations couldn’t be made for her.

A handful of delegates and a committee member shared the issues they faced over the past few days with NBC10 Wednesday.

“Something’s going wrong, big time,” said Vivian Queija, a delegate from Washington State.

Queija has mobility issues and uses a cain and wears a knee brace. She had to walk clear across the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Monday, leaning on a fellow delegate, to get to convention buses because staff were not sure where she could be provided a wheelchair.

Once she got there, the 57-year-old waited outside, without a seat, for a bus to come.

“There’s this huge line, in the heat, and there’s no buses,” she said.

When a bus eventually did arrive, she said she had to help the transportation coordinators hold back non-disabled people from boarding the bus as another delegate, who uses a wheelchair, was lifted on-board.

“[The coordinator] was trying to hold back a mob,” she said.

The situation at the Wells Fargo Center improved for her, but not for others.

Queija’s delegation jumped into action to help lift a delegate from Idaho, who uses a wheelchair, over a curb after the perimeter fence was put down over the wheelchair ramp.

A delegate from Idaho was unable to get up onto the sidewalk on his own power after the perimeter fence at the 2016 Democratic National convention was placed in the middle of a wheelchair ramp, delegates say.
Photo credit: NBC10

The man had been dropped off on the opposite side of the arena from where ADA accessibility accommodations had been organized, Oueija said.

“They helped wheel him all the way in,” she said.

Queija shared the experience recounted the experience in a Facebook Live interview Wednesday.

Barbara Ollmann, another member of the Washington delegation, has a broken foot and recently had shoulder surgery, preventing her from rolling her own wheelchair.

Ollmann said she made arrangements to have an attendant push her around prior to coming to the convention. But for two days, convention staff couldn’t provide someone.

Frustrated and tired, she chose to take Wednesday off from the convention because of the issue.

“It made me feel like I was a piece of crap and not worth their time,” she said in a phone interview.

Twice, the 55-year-old delegate from Tacoma, Washington, had to make a football-field-length walk from a security checkpoint to the Wells Fargo Center because there was no one to push her wheelchair, she said.

“They made a lot of promises that they didn’t fulfill,” she said.

Another disabled delegate Syed Hassan, a 55-year-old credentials committee member from Arlington, Texas, has been unable to sit with the Texas delegation because their location in the arena doesn’t have ADA accessibility.

Instead, he’s on the arena floor with the Nebraska delegation.

“They should have included people with disabilities in their committees,” he said of the Democratic National Convention Committee. “A lot of things were overlooked. It could have been much better.”

The troubles weren’t limited to those with mobility issues. Mark Lasser of the Colorado delegation said a braille version of Tuesday’s roll call ballot was not provided.

“We couldn’t see who I was voting for,” he said standing on the busy concourse Wednesday.

Lasser, 49, and fellow delegate, Jestin Samson, a 27-year-old from Orange County, California who is also blind, said they had trouble securing floor passes for dedicated sighted guides and weren’t provided audio descriptions of convention events, among other issues.

“I would have really benefited from audio description, what’s on the screen there, who those individuals are. Maybe those individuals are someone I look up to and respect and I’d like to know [who they are] so I can applause too,” Samson said.

Lasser said he contacted the party back in April, after learning he was chosen to be a delegate, about being provided aids. But even with months of lead-way, he wasn’t helped.

“I just think they didn’t want to be bothered,” Lasser said.

In a statement, the DNCC said they are "unwaveringly committed to the letter and spirit of the ADA."

"As part of our convention planning we established a specific unit dedicated to meeting the accommodation needs of our attendees and worked with our various planners to ensure that our convention is inclusive of people with disabilities, seniors and individuals who need a reasonable accommodation," the statement read in part. 

The committee went on to say they made sure all public facilities were accessible, that accessible transportation and mobility assistance was provided and that people with disabilities were included in "all levels" of planning.

Several convention attendees who had accommodation issues said they were treated better at past conventions, like the 2012 event in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For Queija, it’s a question of commitment to inclusion that the party promises.

“We have Trump making fun of disabilities and we are saying ‘Oh yeah, we’re the champions’ and this is the way we’re treating people with disabilities?”