Recently, as Organising Committee Chair, although based in UK at that time, I flew one conference attendee (now dear friend) in an electric wheelchair from Budapest to Vienna for the EMA General Assembly (23-25th February 2019) with joint events with the Marie Curie Alumni Association conference.
It was no easy task, I had to juggle tight finances and service providers based in Germany who could not understand. In the process, at no point did I take no for an answer; my work around inclusivity of people with disabilities started in 2007, and there was no stopping me since. Besides, the main focus of the conference was on #SteeringEMAforward and #EMAzingChangemakers
In all the hassle, there were two things that I could rely on:
- My Steering Committee members for trusting that I knew what I doing and how I was doing it
- My organising team (which consisted of my immediate Professional Development team members), and most importantly my right hand, mentee and Vice-Chair of the organising committee
At no point in time did I have to convince this team; I was more than lucky and grateful for their faith in me.
On the way, there were few compromises that I had to make, but none felt important enough to exclude an electric wheelchair user from being all in all into the event with us in Vienna.
What I had to do, you ask! Well what I did, I still ask this myself!
- We swapped venue – it took my team longer to find a new venue; especially during the ball season in Vienna. Fortunately, we were blessed to have some leprechauns helping us on the ground and who visited the various venues. One venue had a tiny lift for food trolleys. My first reaction was “Are you going to get someone up through a dumbwaiter?”. Obviously, the lift was unsuitable for an electric wheelchair. The Service Provider who deals with our payment, was by far less supportive. I recall having to send them measurements of an electric wheelchair to prove that it would not fit in tiny lifts and that we needed enough space for a wheelchair user to feel comfortable. We finally settled on a ground-floor venue, there was no panoramic view of Vienna, but given the temperature that week, no one would have ventured on the balcony anyway.
- We downgraded our food – yes we did! There is no need to dine on a 5-star menu when one participant is left at the front desk and hardly enjoying.
- We set up a team of volunteer participants to operate the lift in the conference venue, which needed a special key (that is apparently how it was done in that conference venue). On the conference day, I was still not happy enough, I used it myself to check how easy and comfortable it was. Some fellow participants came forth on their own volunteering to help out the participant if needed. I was proud of all those leaders and forthcoming leaders.
The beauty of diversity to cater for diversity.
One thing I had not mentioned so far is that, majority of participants to that conference were non-Europeans; all, I say all, have been educated both in their country and in at least 2 other countries; and all, I say all, are part of European Commissions’ vision for a global community of new leaders.
At no point in time did I have to convince this team, I was quite lucky for various reasons, because we are a team of future leaders.
I was a proud leader, proud of my own team members, proud that distance did not prevent me from executing the first disability-inclusive event for EMA. The cherry on the cake for me, that every single one of my team members was recognised for their contribution over the 18 months of working under my leadership:
EMA Star award – In recognition of contributions to EMA and the world
- EMA Star of the Year – Dr Nayyab Naqvi
- EMA Alumni of the Year – Dr Pavlo Bazilinskyy
- EMA Social Impact “Changemaker of the Year” – Konstantinos Maragkos
EMA Presidential Seal of Excellence Award- In recognition of outstanding commitment and contributions to EMA (in alphabetical order)
- Dr Katharina F Heil
- Manasseh Anand
- Meerim Karybaeva
- Nikhil Persad
- Prashant Kumar
- Radu Serrano
- Tiago Welter
Here is a list of all EMA stars