I wore a bulky backpack, a GoPro in one hand and a notebook in another. I didn’t have a disability, but I had my hands full. I was in Chicago and I was here to plan an accessible conference. Was I ready?
Conference chairs Coco, Nate, and Stuart, diversity lead Paul, and I visited Chicago in mid-October for our first walkthrough of the conference venue at the Hilton Chicago. After 2-3 months of preparing for the trip, the site visit was finally going to happen.
The main goals were getting everyone together for conference planning, going over space, and getting a taste of Chicago. A lot of the work as the experience director depended on my ability to anticipate the needs of our attendees at the venue. My m.o. was to experience the venue from a “first impression” state of mind: Where am I? Where am I going? Why am I going there? How am I getting there?
Designing an accessible conference means ensuring an optimal experience for everyone. Wider doorways, ramps or elevators, and real-time captioning are all accessibility features that I’ve benefited from – and our conference will have all of these. Oh, and having clear, legible labels on everything is important. But, as an Information Architect, I suppose that concern is an occupational hazard by now. Of course, we also consulted a number of resources on ADA hospitality.
This post is a summary of our considerations for an accessible conference experience. Take a look at what we’ve thought out, and give us feedback on our plans for a more accessible IA Summit.
What does it mean for a conference to be accessible?
We know that a lot of factors play into your decision to select a conference — your plans with training, budget, travel plans, and continuing education. Here are some ways that we are incorporating accessibility:
- Offering a lactation room for nursing mothers
- Offering a scholarship program for post-secondary education students
- Offering seating accommodations for individuals with vision and hearing disabilities
- Designating a quiet, cellphone-free space near the main conference area, free of fluorescent lights
- Ensuring that navigating between spaces accounts for distance and multiple ability levels
- Providing chairs without arms
Mobility & Getting Around
The Hilton Chicago was a beautiful historic hotel — big, busy and distracting. Of note, the hotel staff has done a great job in responding to specific concerns we had about navigation, and accessibility in the space.
The elevator banks are awesome. There are banks of 14 elevators on 3 walls with lots of waiting areas in the middle. On some floors, there are seating areas. The elevators aren’t very large in general — large enough to fit 4-5 people with light luggage. Honestly, the tight space is expected, given that this is a historic hotel.
The lower level (LL) and the 2nd floor have specific accommodations to note. A wheelchair/scooter lift and a ramp are available on LL in the main conference space. A lift is available on the 2nd Floor to get to and from the Boulevard rooms.
Read more in our Accessibility FAQs
Designated seats for people with disabilities will be reserved at the front of each breakout room. Should you wish to use one, please ask an IA Summit volunteer.
We are planning to offer a designated quiet room. This room is for people sensitive to sound and light, as well as people who simply need a secluded space. IA Summit attendees may not use the room as a meeting space nor a working space, and we’ll have volunteers regularly monitoring the room.
A lactation room is a secured space for nursing mothers and will be located in a nearby hotel room. Please stop by the Registration Desk for access during the conference.
During the conference
Getting to the hotel
Two airports serve Chicago: O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW). Both are accessible to the Hilton Chicago by taxi, shared ride service, and public transit (CTA). You might want to buy a pass in advance (https://www.ventrachicago.com/) and use that. While the airport L stations are accessible, the entire system hasn’t caught up yet – please be aware of that.
When I visited in mid-October, I took the CTA from O’Hare. The ride took about an hour from the time I got off the plane, walked to the Blue Line station, figured out how to purchase a one-way ticket, to when I arrived at the hotel. Buying a ticket is always a fun challenge. You might get caught up in observing how people used the ticketing machines, how the machine interacts with you, and tells you if your card doesn’t work.
If you expect to bring heavy wheeled luggage, you might have some trouble once you get off the train because there are steep, narrow stairs out of the LaSalle station, which is a 10-min walk to the hotel.
The nearest accessible station to the hotel is Jackson on the Blue Line or Roosevelt on the Red, Green, and Orange Lines (if you’re flying in from Midway). More information can be found on CTA Accessible Services.
Checking into the hotel
The hotel has 2 entrances. From Michigan Avenue is an entrance that opens into the grand foyer that branches off into the Grand Ballroom and International Room, and allows access to the elevator banks. Revolving doors and push doors are available. The other entrance is off of Balbo by the valet/parking roundabout.
Once inside, the hotel registration desk has high and low counters for hotel registration. The check-in lines are separated into “regular” hotel guests and Hilton Honors hotel guests. And, the Hilton Chicago does offer accessible guest rooms.
Have Other Accessibility Needs?
The Hilton Chicago is a beautiful historic hotel — big, busy, and distracting – but the hotel staff has done a great job in responding to specific concerns we had about the space, navigation, and accessibility.
We’re making a real effort in making sure that we can accomodate your needs. If you have more questions or concerns, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul McAleer, Dylan Wilbanks, Stuart Maxwell, and Anita Cheng helped with the writing of this article.