In my last post, I told you that I recently returned from Chautauqua Institution, CHQ, after spending 2 weeks there with a combination of friends. In addition to hearing extremely intelligent and well known speakers on the themes of “The Power of the Spoken word,” and “the Power of Humor,” I discovered even more ways to enjoy this unique and enriching vacation. One afternoon, we sat in on a piano competition with our jaws hanging open at the talent of musically gifted young people. One morning, we were treated to an interview with the smothers Brothers and another with the manager of Robin Williams. We heard how a Quaker preacher does not believe the story of Adam and Eve, and we heard the well-known columnist/preacher/standup comedian, Susan Sparks.
For the first time, I participated in a talk-back session open to any Chautauquans interested in expressing concerns about anything they think needs improvement at CHQ. The IDEA was not about education, as you might think by the acronym, IDEA, but inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility. Of course I was thrilled to have the opportunity to express my extreme disappointment in the lack of accessibility for people who are blind or have low vision. The gathering was small, about 12 of us, and I was the first to raise my hand to speak. I was darned if I was going to sit through this session, only to have them say, “So sorry we’re out of time.” I began by telling them that 4 years ago, when I first signed up to come to CHQ, I was told that there were no braille daily schedules of activities and no plans to provide them. they said that I was the first person in 140 years to ask for braille. then I asked about audio description for a play that would be presented that year, and I was connected to the drama department. They had never heard of audio description. I let it go until this year, when during the first morning announcements, they proudly told us that there were headsets for enhanced listening, and now there was an app we could download that provided closed captioning. Well isn’t that terrific? I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but what had they done for people who are blind? A big fat nothing is the answer. And that’s why I went to that meeting. Others present had other issues. One elderly woman who used a walker complained that it’s extremely difficult to navigate on the rough walkways that even have pot holes in them. While the famous Red Brick Road runs through the center of town and is meant only for walkers, it is treacherous in spots, but to do away with it would take away the charm of the place. Still, I believe that it wouldn’t hurt to create a narrow paved walkway for the use of walkers and wheelchairs. It could even be helpful for dog guides to use to keep them on track instead of having to zigzag through the river of pedestrians streaming to a lecture at one end or the other of the Red Brick Road. One man pointed out that the leadership roles of CHQ are all held by people who are white. The highly educated and talented African American speakers looked out too an almost 99% lily white audience. There was also discussion about making CHQ more affordable for families. It’s true that the restaurants are all overpriced, and so is housing, except for the denominational houses such as the Baptist House, which is the best deal of all. It’s only $200 for a week, and it’s right on the Red Brick Road centrally located to both the amphitheater and the Hall of Philosophy, where the big lectures are held. Then one day last week, a friend told me he was going to Las Vegas and his hotel will be $300 for a week. Now there’s an idea for CHQ. A modern modest hotel might not have the charm, but I’d trade the “charm” of a shared bathroom with an air conditioned hotel. On the other hand, I’d hate to see it so family-friendly that we’d see zip lines across the lake and video arcades in the Athenaeum Hotel.
I have one more story to tell you about CHQ, but “So sorry, we’re out of time.” Stay tuned.
Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”
Available at Amazon.com, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261