Accessible accommodations at the ASA Conference

The hotel industry is customer-focused by nature, but here in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa has taken hospitality to a new level in hosting the Autism Society of America’s (ASA) 38th Annual Conference.

ASA and Westin staff began laying the groundwork for the conference last fall, with much discussion on how to make the resort an especially comfortable and inviting place for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families.

“It is very important to us that everyone feel welcome here. We wanted to minimize any guest concerns by paying attention to the details that would allow everyone to really enjoy themselves,” says Conference Services Manager Stacie Stephenson.

Some of those details have included staff sensitivity trainings attended by a representative from every department — so information could then be relayed to every person working in any capacity during the conference.

A waterfall in the lobby has been turned off for the duration of the conference because it might be distracting to individuals on the spectrum.

Resort chefs spent a great deal of time shopping for and preparing menus to guarantee that individuals with sensitivities to gluten and casein have a wide variety of food choices in each of the resort’s eight restaurants. The room service, box lunches and kid’s menus have also been modified to provide gluten-free, casein-free options.

Additional signage serves to make the sprawling accommodations especially easy to use. And extra staff is on-hand to provide assistance to any conference attendees needing a little extra time and attention.

“This is a positive learning experience for everyone involved, and our staff are truly benefiting as much as our patrons,” says Public Relations and Marketing Director Christie Noble.

Many people with autism and their families live in a society that may not understand or be accustomed to their needs. This year’s ASA Conference is themed Together a Brighter Tomorrow. The staff members here at the Westin Kierland have proven to be a great example of what we can all hope for.

Read Julie Dorcey’s biography.


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  1. Julie Dorcey Says:

    Hi Wayne!

    Thanks for the response!

    I agree that this is the way it should be everywhere.

    I would be happy to send you contact information for both the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa and ASA, if you would be interested in speaking with them in greater detail about the selection process.

    Again, thank you for reading: it was a phenomenal experience!

  2. Wayne Cummings Says:

    All I can say is, wow! No, I mean WOW!! As one who grapples with a mobility disorder, I’ve found that the hospitality industry’s support for guests with disabilities is, well, let’s just say ‘uneven’. As an example, I recently stayed at a major brand name hotel and needed a room with a roll-in shower. Despite my making that need clear at reservation time and despite having re-confirmed the specification some time later, when I arrived at the hotel I was told that there was no such room available. The manager on duty rather callously added, “that type of room is not guaranteed, you know” – as though I had objected to the color of the linens rather than the fact that I did not have a room with accessible indoor plumbing. Unfortunately, this is about par for the course in my travels.

    Considering that mobility needs are better understood and responded to by hoteliers than the needs of Autism Spectrum Disorder, I’m just stunned and delighted to hear about your experience with the Westin. I hope you will post more details about your experiences with the ASA conference, the hotel selection process you went through, and thoughts on what folks living with ASD should look for in accommodations.

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