The White House Made Me Sick

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez15 Comments

Nathasha bundled up outside the whitehouse with snow on the ground.My friends, I write about my White House trip  as if I were sitting across the table from you at our favorite hang out spot. You get to pick it. I could write this in so many different ways but luckily, I have a friend who knows me, really knows me. He said I needed to tell this to you, the way I told it to him, and I will.

It’s taken me a long time to finally write and publish this article. You see, I’ve been recovering from bronchial pneumonia for over a month. Regaining the strength and stamina going back to the way I used to be isn’t an overnight process. But you’re my friend. You know that I don’t like to complain about my health. But I want you to know how it happened.

White House Invitation

Toward the end of January I received an email inviting me to attend the White House’s Disability and Employment Summit. I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait. I was fortunate enough to get sponsorship for the trip. It was very last minute. The White House Summit would take place on February 3. I’m not a newbie to cold weather so I thought I was prepared. But I wasn’t prepared for what would come!

Several emails came after my acceptance email. I received an email to fill out security information and another one informing me to arrive at the White House’s security gate at 8:15 am and that after a particular time, security wouldn’t let me in.

I was too excited. I made sure I got there on time.

It was 27 degrees outside in Washington D.C. I had on my socks, beautiful boots, long cozy dress, gloves and a thick sweater along with a pashmina scarf. I looked great! When I arrived at the address, I asked the cab driver if he had the right spot because I saw a long line of people waiting outside as if it were a line to a Disney ride. He said it was the spot. So I got out.

I asked the people in line if they were attending the White House Summit on Disability and Employment. They said yes. Whew! The cab driver was right. Slowly the line moved but only to see that the people ahead of me were being turned away. I didn’t understand what was happening but several of the people who had been turned away urged me to go forward. I gave the security guard my license and I had my email invite ready on my phone. He looked at the info and said he had no idea about this event. I turned to my right and the people who were in front me, nodded to say that the same thing happened to them.

Basically, it’s about 8:25 am and we are all standing in line but to the side so others who were attending another event could enter.

I’m thinking that this is crazy! There has to be someone here waiting for us. It’s like throwing a party and not being there to greet the guests. I looked at the line of people waiting from all over the country. People with hearing impairments, visual impairments, physical impairments and the non-disabled all waiting for answers.

Time passed. Nothing! Seriously! I wouldn’t kid you. You’re my friend. I was sending text messages to my sisters and my sponsor for the trip. They couldn’t believe it either.

Who is going to argue with White House security? They have guns! I have good looks. Trust me, guns win every time.

White House Made Human Popsicles

Around 9 am, I realized that the frozen feeling I had in my toes fifteen minutes before has crept up to the rest of my feet. This is serious! People with my type of physical disabilities can die from pneumonia. Being out here 27 degrees or so, not including wind chill, is freaking ridiculous. I had two people who I don’t even know rubbing my back and arms because they could see I was about to become a human Popsicle stick. If I was that way then what about the other people in line?

I asked the people around me if they had called James Sellars who was the person on the email invite. They said no. So I did. No answer. I left a message. Then an intern came gathering names and social security numbers. The people around me said to give my information to her. I asked her what she was going to do with it. She said she was going to give it to someone who would help us get inside. I asked who. She said she didn’t know. Umm okay…so you want me to give you my name and social security but you don’t know who you’re going to hand this information. No thanks!

Another intern came, he asked for names only. This was getting ridiculous again. Why don’t they get someone to get security to let us in? Getting our names isn’t going to help us get past those guys with the GUNS!

Meanwhile, I’m freezing to death as I watch a three ring circus of people who say they are “working on it.”

This is all baffling to me. Absolutely baffling. We have all been invited to a White House Summit. Surely, someone from the White House Summit has noticed that none of the guests have arrived inside the Eisenhower Building. Someone in charge must be wondering where we are, right? That’s what I’m thinking.

White House Security Check

But I’m also thinking that I need to leave now. Thanks for the invite but freezing to death over an hour isn’t my way to start a fun day. Finally! At about 9:30 or so, the line starts to move and I get past the first guard. Woohoo! This is it!

A sign directs me to make a left. I do it with my fingers barely frozen to find myself looking at some obscene never ending ramp. I’m shocked again. Isn’t this a federal building? Doesn’t the ADA apply to them as well? The nice blond woman who helped keep me warm asks me if I need a push. I HATE saying yes. I hate accepting help. I hate feeling helpless. I work out. I pushed my manual wheelchair in a 10k on Thanksgiving morning. But despite all of that, I had to succumb and say, “Yes, please.”

Once we got to the top of the ramp, I had to go through another security check point. But this was inside a small guardhouse. The security guy asked me to stand here. I looked at him and I’m not lying but I thought to myself, “Does he really want me to stand or is he using figurative language?” He has a gun. I don’t. So I told him that. I said, “I know you have a gun and I don’t but I can’t stand.” He apologized for his mistake. I didn’t take it too personal. We say things like that but with all of the abuse of power going on in our country, I didn’t want to take any chances at the White House.

Once I passed the dog sniffing test, I was good to go. Freezing, but happy to finally be a part of the Disability and Employment Summit! Woohoo! Or so I thought.

White House Beverages

I entered the auditorium, shivering and praying the feeling in my feet would return. I’m wishing for something hot like coffee or hot chocolate. A lady goes to the podium to speak to 20 or 30 of us who are inside as we find a way to warm up. The lady asks us if there’s anything she can do for us. I raise my hand and ask for coffee.

Maybe I didn’t say it right. It’s not my first summit, conference, convention, gathering, or whatever you want to call it so when you make guests stand outside for over an hour in 20 something degree weather, it’s nice to give them FREE coffee. Right?

Wrong!

She tells me and the others that if we go OUTSIDE this building and around the corner there is a cafeteria.

Umm…okay. So after almost freezing to death, you want me to leave this warm auditorium to go back outside to buy coffee?

I don’t think so.

But others do go buy their coffee. They return with the coffee. Now the hellos get friendlier as people are warming up and finally being allowed to enter. We still have to wait for the rest of the people. The lady goes back up to the podium. By now, I’m in the back of the auditorium sitting next to two other women in manual wheelchairs as I envy them with coffee in their hands.

But then..bam!

The lady at the podium says that everyone with a beverage must leave the auditorium because drinking isn’t allowed inside.

I’m sorry, my friend. I had to laugh out loud. I swear I didn’t mean to laugh that loudly. But can you picture this? People with physical disabilities warming up with their bought coffee after waiting outside for over an hour in 20 something degree weather are being told to go outside to drink it. I couldn’t hold it in. It was too hilarious. The two women next to me quickly hid their coffee. I would’ve done the same thing!

Once the summit finally started, I learned so much. Not everything was great, not everything was bad. I’ll probably write about it soon.

Post White House Visit

I’m still catching up. You see, I returned to Miami immediately after the White House Summit and ended up with bronchial pneumonia.

I was extremely angry. There were no words to describe how I felt and still maintain some class. Luckily, I was too sick to write about it. As a middle school teacher, being absent for two weeks is not a good thing.

Having pneumonia is something I dread. I couldn’t breathe, coughed up blood, broke ribs from the coughing. I lost strength. I had to depend on others. It was a nightmare.

I should have stayed home longer but I didn’t have any more paid sick days. I don’t have anyone else to pay my bills so I had to return to the classroom. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I kept thinking why did this happen? I don’t question why I’m disabled. I don’t question why I was born this way. I don’t question things like that. But I question making people with disabilities wait outside in freezing weather for over an hour. I question why there was never an explanation for it. An apology, yes. Reason? No.

This could have been prevented. You, my friend, could have known about what I learned at the summit in February. But I was too sick to write. We are now at the end of March. Finally, I’m ONLY NOW starting to feel a little like myself. A LITTLE.

Why the silence? I’ve searched for articles about this and found nothing. If we stay silent over this how can we stop it from happening again?

Why are we silent over this?

If I write about this, does that mean I will never be invited to another White House Summit? I’m told I’ve just ruined my chances of ever being invited again.

But shouldn’t we talk about this?

During the White House Summit, we were encouraged to discuss the issues that people with disabilities face in the workplace. Why not discuss what happened at the Summit?

Am I the only one who thinks that leaving over 100 people with physical disabilities out in freezing weather in front of the White House with no one to contact from the White House Summit a bad move?

Let’s sip our hot drink and think about how we can prevent this from happening again.

I think there should have been at least two people from the White House Summit at the security line waiting for the guests to arrive to make sure that nothing went wrong. If something did go wrong, the two people should have contact information and a procedure in place.

I think there should have been free coffee and tea waiting for us in the auditorium. Yes! I really do. It’s the WHITE HOUSE for goodness sakes!

I think that the White House security guards should have used some common sense and realized that leaving all of those people in wheelchairs, crutches, scooters, canes, and with guide dogs with the same invite to wait outside for over an hour was a bad idea.

I definitely think that an open apology with an explanation is in order.

Am I asking for too much?

Would this have happened to a summit of world leaders?

As people with disabilities, are we expected to stay quiet as we get treated like this?

 

What do you think about the way the White House Summit on Disability and Employment handled its guests?

 

This post was brought to you by Zuni Transportation. The company sponsored my entire trip to the White House Summit on Disability and Employment! Thank you Zuni.

Contact me if you would like to sponsor upcoming event or future articles. Email me at nathasha@audacitymagazine.com

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While you’re here, check out my other article on resolutions.

  • Great article Nathasha! It’s terrible how this thing wasn’t very well organized; it’s sad really. For an event at the White House, I’d expect more communication between the people putting on the Summit and the security team. It’s a good thing you wrote about it because it definitely is something that needs addressing!

  • Annessa

    Excellent article, and I’m so glad you’re better now, Nathasha. The way this was handled is an outrage, and I’ll bet you weren’t the only one who got sick, either. I think you or someone should forward this article to The Washington Post, or one of the major cable news stations. Maybe even one of the cable news stations. Perhaps Anderson Cooper’s Ridiculist thing he does, where he talks about ridiculous things that go on in government, or maybe the Rachael Maddow show, or even (loathe as I am to say it) FOX News. Someone should pick this up nationally. A little post-conference embarrassment might prevent this from happening again to some other group in the future.

  • Vicki Winters

    That is shameful. I would like to hear their side of the story. I’m so sorry you got sick too.

  • nathashaalvarez

    @vicki_winters:disqus I would love to hear their side but they didn’t comment on it. NOT because I didn’t ask.

  • nathashaalvarez

    I might do that. thanks for the tip.
    I don’t know if anyone else got sick because I don’t have their contact information. Maybe if they read this article they will comment.

  • nathashaalvarez

    @rangeelichick:disqus hey! thanks! I think that that’s why I wrote this article. It’s the WHITE HOUSE! They should have the best communication.

  • ladivalatina

    greatly insensitive what they did!

  • nathashaalvarez

    I agree. I’m still shocked that no one else has spoke about it. It’s as if everyone drank some weird kool aid.

  • Christine Hart

    I bet if you continue to reach out to the President directly, he’ll reply & rectify the situation. Although there’s nothing that can change what’s already happened, I’m sure he’ll make sure it won’t happen again. Perhaps even implementing a better plan of action regarding having visitors waiting inside vs out. Keep reaching out to him. He is great at making people comfortable & feeling heard.

  • L_Coast_Mom

    I’ve read about long lines entering the White House and I know this wasn’t the first time people with disabilities have been invited for one thing or another, so is it fair to assume this is not the onl

  • L_Coast_Mom

    I’ve read about long waits getting into the White House and I know people with disabilities are invited there for a variety of reasons, does it therefore stand to reason this is not the first or only time people with disabilities have been left to deal with the elements? D really needs to pay more attention to the comfort and well being of invited guests and citizens. Someone involved with this and other summits has a list of attendees abilities and disabilities, would it be expecting too much to have a few aides available to assist those in need and to have beverages brought to guests?

  • L_Coast_Mom

    I guess I got a little wordy, I’ve been edited! Anyway, sorry for the rant, thank you for sharing your article. It makes me angry that the White House doesn’t know better. I hope you have completely recovered.
    Cathy

  • Anikola Bitter

    There is no, “their side of the story.” The W.H. called a conference and left people outside in freezing weather for over an hour. That is abusive, thoughtless, uncaring, a total disregard and lack of respect for people–forget about the fact that those in question were disabled. The horror of the story is unimaginable. But it happened. We now know and ir shakes our belief in the humanity of our government.

  • Anikola Bitter

    Why are you so sure he cares about making people comfortable?

  • Nathasha Alvarez

    Yes, I have. Thank you very much. 🙂