Animated GIF. William Shatner as Captain Kirk screaming CANE in place of KHAN.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In Praise of Consol

After all of the grief I’ve recently experienced with the Pittsburgh Port Authority, I cannot begin to express what a relief it is to be driven to write a positive review of something.

I really do mean driven, too – I wrote out a long post on Facebook as soon as I could last night because I was so excited by the staff training and implementation of accessibility procedures I witnessed last night at Consol Energy Center.

To set the scene, it was around 6:45 when I got off my bus and headed in toward the American Eagle entrance of Consol, bouncy and eager to see Ed Sheeran. As I closed in a staff member strolled up with a smile and an atypical lack of patronizing condescension and said to me “Miss, if you’d like to come with me, there’s an elevator entrance over here that may be easier.” As the lovely gentleman walked with me and asked about Ed Sheeran and how long I’d been a fan (instead of asking how long I’ve been disabled or keeping an uncomfortable silence, both of which I have become accustomed to), I saw two other people going up to a woman using a wheelchair and another woman using a crutch and cheerily offering them the same option.

When I got to my seat, I knew immediately that it wouldn’t work for me. It was certainly what it was advertised to be – accessible for someone with a mobility impairment. Just not the same type of physical issues as I have. It was on the end of an aisle and there were no stairs, but there was no place for my walker and, more importantly, given the layout of the arena there was no bar of any sort to help me stand up or keep me pitching forward. I have really bad vertigo at times, and looking down at the sharp slant of seats in the arena I knew I was going to have a problem.

I looked at the usher in a panic and said, “I can’t sit here. I have really bad vertigo and that’s going to make me very sick or cause me to fall. Can I just sit on my walker here in this corner behind this other seating area? I don’t care if I can’t see.” The usher… was amazing. He smiled and said, “I don’t know if that’s allowed, but also, we can find you a better option than that! Let me go contact guest relations since they’re down the hall and I don’t want to make you walk it. You just have a seat and relax.”

A few minutes later he came back with his supervisor, who was somehow even friendlier. The supervisor talked to guest relations and found that there was a seating section behind the regular arena seats that had pull-out chairs that hadn’t sold out. He brought me over and apologized profusely that the seat was further away from my original one despite my assurances that I felt this one offered a better view and less chance of being deafened.

After I’d made myself comfortable, the guest relations person popped in to make sure I was happy with my seat, asked if there was anything he could do for me, and let me know where his desk was in case I had any problems.

In writing this down it does look like the amount of attention I was paid was a bit excessive, and I will admit that it got a little bit wearing, but what has me so impressed isn’t the amount of effort, it was the staff’s attitude during this time. I have become accustomed to three things: 1. People condescendingly treating the disabled like children or, worse, sub-humans. 2. People acting annoyed that they have to go out of their way to accommodate the cripple. 3. Dripping, oozing, unctuous sympathy. My experience at Consol was a polar opposite. I truly felt like a plain old regular guest who they wanted to make sure I was happy because I’m a person, not because I’m a cripple. I have no doubt that they would go to almost the exact same amount of effort to help someone who got their seat only to find it was covered in someone else’s beer… and I really, really like that. It was so blessedly humanizing!

I don’t want to imply that Consol is the only place that has been this fantastic about assisting their disabled patrons; I fully intend on writing up more glowing reviews about places such as my favourite coffee shop, the Carnegie Libraries in Oakland and Squirrel Hill, and pretty much every Panera everywhere in the future. But Consol’s policies and procedures were outstanding, the staff courteous and knowledgeable, and overall I had an incredibly positive experience in their arena.

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