WordCamp US 2022 was an amazing event. I met so many talented people in the WordPress community, attended amazing workshops, and learned more about contributing to the WordPress community. The space was for the most part very open and accepting and one could tell a lot of work went into it. As we are all excited for WordCamp 2023, I wanted to share my ideas on what I think could improve the experience even more. While there is a handful, I wanted to focus on two in particular. Being more mindful of accessibility limitations and a call for WordCamp-sponsored transportation.
I first must commend the closed captioning teams for their extremely hard work in making sure the different panels were transcribed. As someone who is hard of hearing out of one ear, this made my conference experience three thousand percent better. I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to have a team of organizers and volunteers who went through and did this for everyone. Where I was a little shocked was at the lack of accessibility by the actual hotel/resort that we were staying in.
Michelle Frechette is truly one of the most remarkable people in the community. (Yes, I fan girled out seeing her and seeing that we had the same matching wonder woman cape.) When she went up to ask Matt Mullenweg a question, he called her the hardest working woman in WordPress. We all love Michelle – there’s no contesting that – but that being the case why was the host hotel such an accessibility failure? Michelle detailed her experience, giving a voice to not only herself but so many others that may have not been able to put to pen their experiences. In it she talked about how the hotel did not have automated doors, distance challenges, not being able to adequately bathe and ADA rooms that seemed to have numerous accessibility issues. Food accessibility as well, which is life or death for a lot of people. Another member other the community, Dan Knauss, wrote about his experience trying to get an ADA room and staff admitting the “ADA room sucked.” Just many issues.
This made me incredibly angry. We have so many members in the community that work hard to keep the community going. The least we can do is make sure they are able to enjoy the fruition of their work. I have said this many times before, but if we are a community, we must take it upon ourselves to look after every single member. I want to say also this is not an attack on the volunteers and organizers. No one can know and do everything. Also, I am not exempt from this as I could have also taken it upon myself to ask Michelle, Dan, and more members if they needed anything or if there was anything I could help with. What I am saying is we must take these experiences and learn from them. So that in 2023 we all do better as a community as a whole. As my Grandma Ruby instilled in me, charity begins at home, and the WordPress community and its members are just that.
WordCamp & Company Sponsored Transportation
I again commend the resort and most of the outside resort activities for being relatively close together. The trip from the airport to the resort was one of the shortest I’ve taken from an airport in California. I was so thankful for this as I had no idea how much Uber/Lyft/taxi would be since I took a flight in and didn’t rent a car. Also, the resort having a coffee shop/café was a nice touch as well. Where do I think things could be a little better? Maybe if there was a coordinated shuttle service from WordCamp that helped attendees get around to the resort, and one sponsored by the companies throwing events to make sure people get there safely. Why? A few reasons.
Financially, having free or low-cost shuttle/transportation options would be a big boon to those attending the conference. MasterWP, with the help of the lovely Winstina Hughes, was responsible for sponsoring a good number of attendees this year. We made sure their transportation and flights were paid for so that they could attend this WordCamp. It was a HUGE success despite the criticisms we faced before it even launched. What also could have helped is an affordable way for not only those people but everyone to have a way to attend everything WordCamp around the city at a low cost. WordCamp could provide a shuttle from the airport/train stations for attendees, and companies throwing events could provide shuttles to their events from the hotel. That way those at the conference could continue to socialize and enjoy the wonderful, sponsored events. Going back to accessibility for a moment, knowing that there was accessible and free transportation for those who needed it would have been a big help to our members. It also would’ve helped with another super important reason: safety.
In a major city like San Diego, safety is a big concern. We had many people have their things stolen, and many others worried about how to get to different places as a group to keep an eye on each other. Having sponsored transportation could help move people in larger groups and cut down on people being alone. Also, there are the occasional
racist jackasses people who discriminate that can make traveling in another city a nightmare. I have a personal story about that as well.
I had my California racism cherry popped by Uber at the end of WordCamp. I have not had a chance to detail my experience in writing yet, but as I was leaving the conference, an Uber driver refused to take my coworkers and me to the airport because of our skin color. My coworker did not have a picture up on their profile and the Uber driver apparently thought we were of a different race. This process was so dehumanizing, because not only was he extremely rude and hateful toward us, but I also had to be asked repeatedly if I truly thought race played a part in my mistreatment.
Like I haven’t been black and a woman my whole life. Maybe soon I will have an article on how when racism happens to people of color, they must demonstrate, have a witness, and two forms of recording to act against the racist. The racist need not just be caught.
I was even more shocked when Uber refused to do anything about it. While a million thoughts have gone through my head since then – cuss words, anger – I thought, “How can I make this easier on other black and brown people going forward?” It seemed like Uber would do absolutely nothing about it, and for me when I experience racist events my biggest goal is to make sure it stops with me. Nobody else must go through that. Having shuttles that are sponsored by WordCamp and event-throwing companies there for us would have helped with that. Now don’t get me wrong – there are racists literally everywhere. A sponsored shuttle doesn’t mean that someone won’t be hateful or have an issue with picking up someone like me. But in my experience with sponsored transportation, the drivers have little say over that. Also, if driving people of other races is that tough of a thing to do for them (can’t believe I’m writing this) then they can bow out and make it a better environment.
There are many other suggestions that I have for WCUS23. Our team will even have an episode of Press The Issue out next week that weighs in on the ups and downs of the event in more detail. I wanted to focus on these two major ideas today because of the nature of the issues.
Michelle noted on Twitter that a major reason she shared her story was for the people who also went through this that didn’t have a voice or platform like hers to speak out. She observed that the issue was not solely hers. I feel the same way about my racist incident with Uber and their refusal to do anything about it. Even another coworker of mine reached out to me about certain levels of discrimination there. If we want our community to feel safe at our events, welcomed, and cared for, sometimes we must make people uncomfortable. Sometimes we must speak out about the harm done to us. Whether intentional or not. It is integral for us to do so, so that we may pave the way for others. I do not want anyone else to experience what Michelle and Dan went through. I don’t want anyone else to ever go through what my coworkers and I did with Uber. So, I will shout their stories and mine through the rooftops until something changes.
I again want to thank the wonderful volunteers and organizers for putting together a great event. It is thankless work to be a volunteer at times so please understand this is not a condemnation of you all at all. I just want to help in any way possible to make next year an even better event. And if there is any way I can help, don’t hesitate to let me know.