Questions about Accessibility at Viable Paradise

Recently, several people have asked questions about accessibility at Viable Paradise on social media. This has helped us realize one very important fact: While we have made and continue to make significant efforts to address accessibility concerns for students who have been accepted to the workshop, we have done a bad job of communicating details to prospective students considering whether or not to apply. Thankfully that is a mistake that can be easily rectified.  We have updated and expanded our Accessibility at Viable Paradise page, and you will find that expanded information below as well.

The science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres derive their strength from the full community of writers, and from the diversity of their stories. The faculty, staff, and alumni of the Viable Paradise workshop believe that these diverse voices need to be heard, and that there are stories, styles of storytelling, and points of view the field has yet to fully promote. That includes those with disabilities, and as a workshop we support you, welcome you in our community, and work to give you the complete Viable Paradise experience wherever possible.

If you would like to discuss accessibility, please reach out to the Viable Paradise staff. We’ll be happy to discuss how things work, and are committed to solving the accessibility challenges of this particular venue when at all possible.

Accessibility at Viable Paradise

Viable Paradise hopes to provide a workshop that is comfortable for all of our students, faculty, and staff. For those with accessibility concerns, the Island Inn (the workshop’s venue) may pose some particular challenges.

Because of the breadth of information here, we have divided the overview into several sections:

The facility has three floors, with classes and workshop activity typically happening on two of the three (only residences are on the middle floor). The bottom floor – where group lectures and discussions are held – is accessible via outdoor stairs and an outdoor (paved/concrete) ramp. The middle floor (where most students reside in the hotel’s “Condo” suites) can be accessed via the ramp without needing to climb stairs. The third floor – where students who have taken Townhouse suites reside, and where the faculty and staff rooms are located – is only accessible via partially-covered outdoor staircases. While some small-group and personal instruction takes place in those rooms, those locations can be changed to accommodate participants’ needs.  In inclement weather, all staircases and walkways may prove slippery and caution is advised.

The hotel suites themselves vary in their configuration. The two-floor townhouses on the third floor feature an internal spiral staircase. Many other suites – including some (but not all) of the single-floor condos – have one or two steps inside, leading from the hallway to the main living area. We recommend that students discuss specific room configuration with the hotel when making their reservations.

The vast majority of student activity is confined to a single building at the Island Inn, however students will need to visit the hotel office at check-in and check-out. The office is located in a separate building, approximately 500 feet away. The hotel provides golf carts for transport if necessary, and the Viable Paradise staff can accommodate with their cars as well.

During the week, some workshop activity will take place off-site. For example, this may include a nighttime walk to one of Martha’s Vineyard beaches. While those students who wish to, may walk, the VP Staff also drive to these off-site locations to accommodate those faculty and students who do not wish to do so. Please be aware that none of the current VP Staff drives a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

While some instructors may use visual aids in the lectures (e.g. diagrams, props, etc.), the vast majority of the workshop experience occurs through conversation in small group settings.  Students are expected to read and critique classmates’ stories assigned to them. All workshop material is provided on paper to incoming students. The VP Staff can also provide electronic versions of this material for use with screen readers or other accessibility tools.

As of 2017, the Island Inn did not provide braille room numbers on its doors, however the VP Staff will ensure that rooms are numbered and labeled in braille if requested.  If desired, upon arrival the VP Staff can provide students with a walk through orientation of the facility so as to help establish a sense of the Island Inn, its layout, and configuration.

The Island Inn can accommodate service animals. However, Viable Paradise as a workshop has not had to accommodate service animals, and we have in the past had students with life-threatening dander allergies. Therefore, if a student would like to bring a service animal to the workshop, we would kindly ask that they reach out to the VP Staff so that we can learn more about how to best accommodate them and their service animal.

While the hotel’s interior and immediate surroundings (balcony, patios, etc.) are well-lit, the grounds (lawns, driveway, etc.) are not. As a result, visibility at night will be limited.

We recommend that students who are visually impaired review the section about food at Viable Paradise below, as well.

Viable Paradise has a long history of working with faculty, students, and staff who are hard of hearing.  As a workshop, we are able to make certain accommodations, but not others.  Much of the workshop experience is oriented around group discussions, including small group discussions (8 people), larger group discussions (30 or more people), communal meals, and individual conversations. There is often cross-talk, which may cause concern for some students.

To help alleviate this concern, faculty and instructors will take steps to ensure that line-of-sight with students who are hard of hearing is maintained during lectures and group critiques. The workshop does not have the facilities to offer ASL interpretation, but we are willing to discuss other options.

After you have been accepted to the workshop and confirmed your attendance, Viable Paradise will ask you a variety of questions related to emergency management.  These questions include emergency contacts, food allergies, non-food allergies, and other information that you would want a first-responder to be aware of in the event of a crisis.

This information is kept strictly confidential by the workshop, and is only used to prepare meals accordingly and provide first-responders with relevant information should it prove necessary.

Food is a big part of the Viable Paradise experience, and the workshop strongly believes that it is a glue that binds our community together. The VP Staff work hard to accommodate students’ dietary restrictions when preparing meals to the extent that we are able.

The workshop provides one communal meal daily, and snacks (fruits, vegetables, popcorn) throughout the day.  Students are expected to prepare other meals themselves. Each suite at the Island Inn has a small kitchenette with a range, oven, refrigerator, and freezer.

The health and emergency details we collect will include information about food allergies and dietary restrictions.  The staff will take these into account when preparing meals: Each meal will typically be served with tasty meatless and vegan alternatives, and dishes will be planned so as to eliminate allergens that students have told us about, although we cannot entirely rule out cross-contamination.

Communal meals are served buffet-style, and each dish will be accompanied by an index card that identifies it and lists ingredients.  For students who are visually or mobility impaired, the VP Staff can assist in food selection. This may include reading the card and ingredients to aid those visually impaired, or preparing a plate for those students or faculty who would otherwise find the buffet line difficult.

While staff works very hard to accommodate students’ dietary restrictions, there are circumstances where we cannot. These may include particularly complicated health conditions, observance of kosher or halal, etc. In these circumstances, we will privately let the student know after reviewing their dietary restrictions so that they can be prepared to make their own arrangements.

Staff make regularly-scheduled trips to the local grocery store in Edgartown and are usually happy to take along passengers and/or short wish lists with cash. Please note: There are soft drink vending machines, but no snack vending machines or restaurants, on-site at the Island Inn.

Some students choose to bring companions with them to the workshop, and we welcome them to public activities.  If they will be eating with the workshop, we ask that they contribute $5.00 per meal or $25.00 for the week per person to cover food costs.  They can pay when they arrive to the workshop.  On the questionnaire we send you, please tell us how many guests you’re bringing.  Your guests should be aware that you will be heavily engaged in workshop activities throughout the day and evening, and thus they are likely to be left to their own devices much of the time.

If you would like your companion to assist you during non-public activities – particularly lectures, critiques, etc. – we can arrange for that. However, we would ask that you reach out to the VP Staff for us to coordinate appropriately.

Viable Paradise strongly believes that students, faculty, and staff should all feel safe at the workshop. At the beginning of the workshop, the VP Staff provide an orientation during which we specifically discuss our harassment policy, and the steps we take to provide a healthy environment for our faculty, staff, and students.  During this orientation, we also make space for faculty, staff, and students to discuss particular issues or concerns they may have.

This is a good opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to establish their own boundaries (e.g. “if I need help, I will ask”, “try not to surprise me”, etc.), set expectations (e.g. “if I seem like I’m ignoring you, I’m not – I may just not have heard/seen you”), and make requests (e.g. “if I don’t hear the joke, please repeat it”).

If you are uncomfortable speaking up about these issues in a group environment, that is okay, too. Speak with the VP Staff before orientation, and we will incorporate the message you would like delivered into our general orientation without mentioning your name or putting you on the spot.

If you would like to discuss accessibility, please reach out to the Viable Paradise staff. We’ll be happy to discuss how things work, and are committed to solving the accessibility challenges of this particular venue when at all possible.