Disability, Diversity, Dignity

So imagine you are an up and coming professional in the field of SFF. You worked hard for your credits. You are publishing, people get to know your work, and you are invited to participate in programming at a major SFF convention. It’s pricey, but this is a professional and social opportunity, so you pay about a thousand dollars (flight, lodging, food) to attend this convention.

Then, on a panel, all the participants sit behind a table on an elevation, but not you. YOU are asked to sit on the floor. Not only are you on the floor, you are also seated BELOW everyone.

And your next panel. And your next. They just don’t have a chair for you.

Would you feel happy? Welcomed? Treated with dignity? Would you feel your 1000$ dollars were well spent?

This happened to my friend Mari Ness at the recent Worldcon. Joseph M. McDermott wrote it up here: :

So, Mari Ness, who is a very smart person that I would love to listen to about many, many things, is in a wheelchair, and she couldn’t get up to the panels where she was on, because there was no way for her to get a ramp up to the same level as the rest of the panel, had to spend her panels down below everyone else, on a lower level than them. That’s not cool. It was an oversight in a huge, fan-run convention, so it’s not worth a rage-fueled rage. But, do please fix that at every con, everywhere, forever, right now, please. (emphasis mine-RL) Are you a Con? Include ramps to the panels. Thanks.

I met Mari Ness in person when I started attending conventions in 2011. I went to WFC in San Diego. I was very ill, but my best friend was leaving the US for G-d knows how long and I had to see her and she was in San Diego. So I flew out. I was in debilitating pain. The con was not accessible. My best friend, who uses a cane, had a very difficult time despite being local. Mari Ness? Dear G-d, nothing was accessible for Mari, who uses a wheelchair. It was atrocious.

We started talking publicly about disability access after that con. I am sure people were doing it even before. In 2012, Mari again went to WFC. And it was HORRIBLE again.

In 2012, the Nebula awards had no ramp. I participated in some SFWA discussions about helping with disability policies at cons. I regret I could not do more than I did, due to my own health and family issues flaring at the time.

It is 2013. Mari DMed me before Worldcon with hesitations about her attendance, and I did my best to talk her into going anyway. Then, during Disability in SFF panel, there was no ramp. There was no wheelchair access at the Disability in SFF panel. Nor for other panels.

For at least three years Mari, who paid full price for attending conventions as an industry professional, had to suffer physical pain, humiliation , and anguish due to the lack of basic accessibility at cons. People who are less brave and determined than Mari would simply not go. How can we give lip service to diversity if our conventions actively exclude the disabled?

People who live with disabilities, or are caregivers to the disabled, do not always have the freedom to choose an accessible place of residence. Those who rely on a primary caregiver are often limited to the location of the primary caregiver. Those who raise children with disabilities may strive to live in places that offer the best services. Those who hold jobs while disabled may feel especially vulnerable in this economy and may be unwilling to risk a move. What this means is that fans and professionals with mobility issues may feel fairly isolated in their regular places of residence; cons then become an important social outlet, a respite from this unwelcome social isolation. But when the disabled SFF geeks go to cons, they may end up spending thousands of dollars only to be in pain, to be humiliated, to be told that one is overreacting, in short to be treated as less than human.

Leaving aside the ever-popular question of the appropriateness of rage, I want solutions to this – and not only to lack of mobility/wheelchair access, but to disability access at cons in general.

What can we do? Most immediately, if you are a person planning to attend a convention, please consider contacting that convention prior to purchasing membership and asking them if they have a disability policy. We need to act on this as a community – otherwise things will not change.

(I am hoping to post more on this, spoons permitting).

ETA: Follow-up post: Disability access and being a bystander

ETA2: This discussion is also ongoing on Twitter, under the hashtag #accessiblecons. It is also a part of #DiversityinSFF conversation. I am @roselemberg on Twitter. Please join us!

61 Comments

  1. sashafeather says:

    I have included a link to this post at Access-Fandom:
    http://access-fandom.dreamwidth.org/73485.html

  2. Samanda Jeude says:

    I *did* Access at Cons in the 90’s & was told “It’s not needed”, or “You’ve taught us, we understand, now go away.” & i did; 3 strokes later, i *can NOT* do it again.…

  3. C.M. says:

    THANK YOU.

  4. lou says:

    What the heck? I would not participate on a panel where one of the members had to be seated separately from the rest of the panel. I would sit on the floor with Mari before I would allow this to happen. What’s wrong with the rest of the panel that they would accept this arrangement?

  5. Chris says:

    Excellent, excellent post. I helped plan events for years with the ACLU, and even at an organization that dedicated to inclusiveness, we were sometimes guilty of forgetting about issues of access. I was thankful for the one staff member who always thought first about people with disabilities, and tried to learn from her.

    Often those of us fortunate to not have physical disabilities forget to consider what an obstacle a staircase, a dais, or a curb or ledge can present–which is exactly the problem. To fail to consider it when you’ve invited a PANELIST who uses a wheelchair is less forgivable.

    This should be a fundamental item on the checklist for every event that is planned, no matter who the audience is. Even if no one actually needs the ramp, ensuring equal access for everyone shows foresight and consideration on the part of event management.

  6. Pyctsi says:

    I find this so weird, I host a very tiny meet for geeks who play a game I like and I tried to make sure that each piece of entertainment I picked was as accessible for anyone who wanted to come and this is making use of local attractions rather than having a reasonably controllable environment.

    When planning this like this I’d have though planning for accessibility would make things easier for everyone, ramps are easier to carry tables up than stairs etc.

    I understand that it might cost a bit to get ramps to make events more accessible, but surely it’s more than worth it.

  7. […] a commenter, Lou, left this comment to the Disability, Diversity, Dignity […]

  8. Liz says:

    What puzzles me is how easy it is to ensure an accessible con. I’m on the committee for a con in Melbourne, and every single year we’ve run — nine so far — we’ve been completely accessible.

    Now, we have a wheelchair user on committee, which means it’s an issue we can’t avoid, but it has proved really easy (and not hugely expensive) to get raised areas with ramps, accessible venues and so forth. And it has been more than worth it, to be known as a con that’s accessible to wheelchair users. (We’re still working on being accessible to people with other disabilities, though.)

    • Julia (sparkymonster) says:

      In the U.S. plenty of venues in older cities aren’t accessible. For instance, in Boston a lot of venues (big and small) don’t have a ramp or elevator. More genreally sometimes the only way to get in is through a freight elevator or a delivery ramp.

      Also a venue may say they’re accessible but they mean “we’ll have staff carry a person in the chair over 2 steps” or “we have a portable ramp that’s been broken for 3 years and we haven’t bothered fixing it because expensive.”

      Accessible is more than mobility issues. Is the convention set up well for people with vision or hearing issues? Are event organizers aware of service animal etiquette?

  9. Kate says:

    So effing ridiculous. But it’s also common. My daughter is in a wheelchair, and while she’s too young for cons, it still makes me wild when I come to see some school performance and find that all the kids are standing on bleachers and she’s off to the side by herself. (The school(s) have had an earful after that.)

    Common doesn’t mean okay. There’s no excuse for this willful thoughtlessness. And at this point it is willful.

  10. Ann Burlingham says:

    What puzzles me is why the event sites would not have access options in place. Every convention or gathering they have must come across these issues – I should think that a good hotel or convention center would have someone in charge of offering the organizers their resources. Venues must know they’re required to be accessible, whatever groups booking them know.

    I see no reason to let “volunteer-run” cons off the hook, but I attend Wiscon for a reason.

    • J. Andrews says:

      Even WisCon’s hotel has more stages than it does ramps.

    • Julia (sparkymonster) says:

      Plenty of hotels do the bare minimum lawyers feel meets ADA. That doesn’t mean the space is actually useable by people with disabilities. Also plenty of times venues just discriminate or make able bodied friends help the person with disabilities.

      I remember problems I encountered with a newly renovated hotel that said they were fully accessible. A friend uses a wheelchair and we requested a wheelchair accessible room in advance. When we arrived the hotel desk clerk said he didn’t have a list of which rooms had what kind of modifications (we were looking a wheel in shower & a shower bench). He suggested we go could look at each room that was labeled “handicapped” and decide which we liked. So…yeah.

      With the help of custodial staff we found a room with a wheelchair shower but no bench. We woke up the next morning and discovered the shower didn’t work. Back to the front desk. A different desk clerk was able to tell us which rooms different accommodations. No one could find the three shower chairs that were supposed to be in the hotel. Eventually the weekend manager said she would personally pick up and deliver two types of shower chairs. Only one of them ended up fitting into the shower area but OK fine.

      Day three my friend got shocked while in the bathroom.
      After my friend was shocked, I ran in to see if she needed help. I touched the grab rail, no shock. I touched the toilet handle, no shock. Then I cleverly said “wait let me do exactly what you did” and shocked the FUCK out of myself. If you were holding the metal grab rail to support yourself, and then touched the metal toilet handle you got a severe shock.

      Day four we were checking out and did not want to pay for our stay because OMGWTF. Fortunately the manager on duty agreed. We were comped and given offer to stay in the hotel for free after they double checked all the accessible rooms. They told us later that one of the screws on the grab rail was touching a live wire in the wall. Nothing like getting full current across your chest to make you feel alive!

      Oh and also the interior floor rug made it hard for a manual wheelchair user to get around on their own. My friend has great upper body strength and I still had to push her chair up any ramps inside the hotel.

      The hotel had been deemed in compliance with ADA by adding on a certain number of accommodations. No one had ever checked to see if they functioned. The problems we encountered had been going on for at least two years.

      When we returned to that same hotel a year later, they had lost one of the shower chairs bought the previous year.

      Oh also, ADA complaints rarely go anywhere and don’t help the situation of “I am here RIGHT NOW and can’t use XYZ.”

  11. Eva Whitley says:

    Thank you for this. As someone who has handled con accessibility issues and has gotten the eye-roll when I brought something up, we need to keep having these conversations.

  12. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan says:

    I don’t see a reason to let a volunteer run con off the hook either. I think a lot of it is the venue’s fault. I am trying to think about the situation in the UK and several thoughts come to mind – one, we generally don’t hold panels on podiums, except in the main hall, where I THINK there is a ramp. I think so because one of the organisers of a recent Eastercon was in a wheelchair and se was up there. I also think the UK has fairly draconian laws on accessibility, passed in more enlightened times, but I privileged enough that I don’t know for sure.

    • Mari says:

      According to the people at the other convention happening at the same time (run by People Magazine) ramps were available but cost additional money. They had no idea off hand how much. Charging extra for ramps does happen in several U.S. locations.

      • Randall Shepherd says:

        Mari,
        First of all let me say I’m sorry you encountered accessibility issues at LoneStarCon 3. We truly did have a team go through the convention center as well as inspect hotel rooms for accessibility issues months before the con. There was a limit of three ramps available to us, and was in no means a budget issue. We were met with the unfortunate circumstance that if there were 4 ramps needed in a particular hour we were stuck as they required 30 minutes to be moved and reset.Programming was up late at night working to minimize the issue via scheduling, but obviously did not cover 100% of the needs.
        I will add your experience to our at con feedback which will be made available to future cons, and will also highlight it in our feedback to the convention center.
        Again my apologies for the problems which impacted your worldcon activities.

        Regards
        Randall Shepherd
        Chair LoneStarCon 3

  13. Sharon Pierce says:

    LSC3 had an Accessibility Services Desk right next to Registration. We advertised on our website that any questions should be sent to our email. Mari never contacted the Accessibility Desk nor the Con for availibity of ramps. I know because I was the owner of those lists and on the Concom. Several of my assistants tried to find out who on the panels would need one of the three portable ramps to get to the table. There had been no contact requesting such assistance. They went in search of program participants who had requested assistance to make sure they were able to make it up to the table. Don’t bad mouth a convention about Accessibility if you don’t know the true facts. I am disabled myself so I made sure we offered everything to make it accessible. Several services were available but not one person requested them. Money was available to provide outside services but no one asked.

    So to all disabled Authors or ANYONE–no matter what you need–ASK for it. It may be right there just waiting for you!

    • Rose says:

      LSC3 had an Accessibility Services Desk right next to Registration.

      Interesting. But when Mari, who uses a wheelchair, approached registration, which is right next to disability services, it has not occurred to anyone that she might need a ramp to access any of her panels.

      Don’t bad mouth a convention about Accessibility
      Where again did I badmouth your convention? I relayed the events as they occurred, the same as J M Mcdermott and many others.

      Several of my assistants tried to find out who on the panels would need one of the three portable ramps to get to the table.
      Why didn’t you ask during online registration? Why didn’t you ask at the registration desk? As I see it, it is not hard to find out that someone needs a ramp if they are in a wheelchair. Moreover, if they need a ramp for Panel A, they are likely to also need it for Panels B and C.

      It seems that you are saying this was all Mari’s fault. For shame.

    • Ummm, shouldn’t you have done your homework and know if one of the panelists you invited to participate had need of those ramps, and have it already in the room where the panel was to take place? It’s a bit like staying that the panelists should go somewhere and request that they have a microphone. Shame on the con for this kind of oversight and shame on you for blaming the panelist.

    • Several of my assistants tried to find out who on the panels would need one of the three portable ramps to get to the table.

      How was this done? Were all the panellists contacted about their possible accessibility needs?

      Even if this was done, it should be expected that not everyone will reply. (Many reasons people don’t reply to important emails, such as lack of time/energy, aggressive spam filters, etc.) There should be the organisation in place so that if someone arrives at a panel and needs assistance, it is as easy as possible for a staff member to get that assistance. If it means the panel starting 5 minutes later, so be it.

      If there were 3 portable ramps in the convention, why was it impossible to get one for Mari? (Unless all 3 were in use, in which case this is a moment to acknowledge the need for more than 3.)

      Several services were available but not one person requested them.

      Not one person? This rather suggests that the availability of these services was not sufficiently advertised.

      So to all disabled Authors or ANYONE–no matter what you need–ASK for it. It may be right there just waiting for you!

      Or it could be provided as standard, without people needing to ask for their dignity.

    • This is a problem that really seems endemic to WorldCon as a whole. I had a friend on a panel at ChiCon last year who is in a wheelchair. He couldn’t get on stage because we all got there and, uh, hey, where’s the bleedin’ ramp? Someone was sent to go find an attendant. This was minutes before the panel was scheduled to begin.

      When somebody was finally located to unload our WHAT THE HELL, PEOPLE on, they told us that ‘the ramp was being used for the masquerade’. Implying that A: There was only one goddamned ramp available in the whole of ChiCon, and B. They didn’t give too much of a damn that they had just utterly failed my friend. The information was relayed with what one imagines was a hearty shrug. No effort was made to rectify the situation. I mean, cripes, at least ACT like you feel bad about being a bunch of dilweeds.

      My friend declined to make a big fuss because that’s not the kind of person he is. The rest of us, however, were livid, because that panel could have sorely, SORELY used him.

      So no, it’s not just a LSC issue, it’s an issue with WorldCon in general. The onus of having a ramp available for these panels should not be tossed onto the lap of the disabled person. They shouldn’t have to make special requests; the ramp should already fuckin’ well be there waiting in case somebody needs it. That’s like saying WELL THERE WERE NO CHAIRS IN THE ROOM TO SIT IN BUT YOU DIDN’T REQUEST CHAIRS SO WE JUST FIGURED EVERYONE COULD STAND UP AND THAT WOULD BE COOL, IF YOU WANTED CHAIRS WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST ASK? I’m vastly simplifying the issue, but you get me, right? We get each other. I’m feelin’ it.

      I cannot believe I’m actually having to point this crap out. This is basic courtesy and respect for guests. Or should be, anyway.

      • Julia (sparkymonster) says:

        Even if you ask attendees in advance, contact the hotel, etc. there will still be situations of “the panel starts in 3 minutes and where is the ramp?” One big question for me is what happens next?

        Does someone go to find a ramp? Is it con staff or a friend of the wheelchair user? Is there a portable ramp/back up plan of action? Do con staff communicate what is happening? etc.

    • shaunduke says:

      Several folks have more of less said what I’m going to say, though not as directly:

      If someone approaches your registration desk who clearly has mobility issues of some kind (I dunno, a wheelchair seems pretty obvious), it should be on the convention itself to ask and address the following:

      1. Are all relevant areas for attendees accessible by wheelchair? If not…fix it.

      2. Is this individual on panels? If so, when? Once you know that, you can make sure a ramp is available.

      In fact, any convention should keep a list of where the various tools and what not for panels/events need to go and when. And then you should make sure it happens.

      That these two things were clearly not addressed from the start is really quite fecked. That’s *basic* stuff right there.

    • AMD says:

      Sharon, I did not attend LSC3. However, as a person with multiple “invisible” disabilities, my experiences with seeking assistance at WorldCons has been extremely dismissive and disabling. This ranges from being ignored by the services desk because they were so focused on matching people up with scooters that they’ve forgotten not all disabilities are immediately observable, to requesting specific information in advance and being told “we don’t have the money for that”. If WisCon can do it, WorldCons (which I assume have much larger operating budgets) can certainly at least invest time into exploring whether a particular request can be met through alternate routes.

    • Hi Sharon,

      So basically you’re saying that all of the panelists and attendees should be psychic and know *before* going to the rooms that the rooms and stages aren’t properly accessible to people with physical disabilities?

      Also, were you prepared with ASL interpreters if somebody asked at the convention?

      I was a member of Chicon staff (and other con staffs), and I’m an advocate for people with disabilities. I’ve been on concoms for my daughter’s rare syndrome conferences. Like Chicon, LonsStarCon had issues with accessibility services. In both cases, those departments didn’t make sure the facilities were appropriate for people with physical disabilities. You should have done a roll through before the convention in order to make sure *all* of the rooms were accessible.

      You didn’t.

      And your response to people who are bringing up your mistakes is *exactly* why so many attendees have bad feelings about the conrunning community. Blaming the people with disabilities is the least professional thing I’ve seen in the post-convention discussions.

      LoneStarCon made mistakes. People are criticizing. This is perfectly reasonable considering the job you did, and the desire of fans with disabilities to be treated with dignity at future Worldcons.

      Cordially,

      Michael Damian Thomas

    • Ann Leckie says:

      Don’t bad mouth a convention about Accessibility if you don’t know the true facts.

      Sharon, Mari’s experience is, as it happens, a true fact. And pointing out a problem isn’t “badmouthing.” If you look bad when someone points out a problem, complaining about the person speaking isn’t actually going to solve that problem, or prevent future criticism. And calling criticism “badmouthing” really does make it seem as though your main concern is nobody saying negative things about you, not actually addressing problems. Complaints are not the problem here.

      Considering the number of people I know have disability issues who were at the con, I’m pretty amazed that no one asked for any assistance–it suggests, as has been already said, that the availability of that assistance wasn’t as visible as it needed to be. It shouldn’t be something people have to search for. Why not take this as an opportunity to improve this for future cons?

      Please take the time to consider the replies you’ve received here, and to seriously think about what Rose has posted.

    • Sofia says:

      “We apologize. We will do better. Thank you for taking the time to draw attention to the problem.”

      That was one option for a response.

    • Bogi Takács says:

      I must say you’re not making it an enticing proposition to attend your con. I, as a Random Online Person in Fandom (can we make an acronym out of that?), would expect to see a formal apology after this at the very least, as it has happened in similar situations in the past. Not only for the situation Mari found herself in, but now also for your behavior as an organizer and responsible party in this post. Shifting the blame on the parties who suffered as a result of your actions (or lack thereof) is unprofessional and offensive.

      I have been trying to put this mildly, but as someone with accessibility issues of their own, I don’t think I have the emotional capability to do so.

    • When we arrived at LaGuardia to fly to LoneStarCon, United Airlines immediately spotted that Teresa currently walks with two canes, and rustled up a wheelchair (and someone to push the wheelchair) in a giant hurry. We were whisked through the priority security line and to our gate. The same thing happened when we changed planes in Houston, and on both of our flights home.

      This wasn’t because we’d read some tiny-type section of United’s website explaining who to email in advance if we wanted to Fly While Disabled. It was because an actual conscious human said “Hey, look, that lady’s walking with two canes; she could probably use some help.”

      As many frequent flyers will agree, United Airlines is not exactly acclaimed for its fantastic service overall. And yet on this issue, in our experience (and this trip wasn’t unusual), they’re currently doing better than LoneStarCon, or most Worldcons for that matter. I’m well aware of the stresses that Worldcons are run under. But I really think we can do better than United Airlines, for cry eye.

      The point of disabled access is so that disabled people can, as best as we can manage, interact with their fellow human beings with as few obstacles as possible and with as little advance preparation as possible, rather than having to make elaborate plans in advance which then can’t be deviated from. Obviously, given how the world works, and given the limitations of already-built facilities, we can’t do a perfect job of this no matter how dedicated we are. But it’s hardly absurd to suppose that Worldcon might notice in advance that a program participant is visibly disabled — when they register, when they check in at the programming desk, or any of a number of obvious checkpoints — and ask if they have special needs that can be met. Getting defensive because someone didn’t send the right email in advance is really not good.

    • I think it is interesting that Rose is told she is bad-mouthing the con when she is merely quoting me.

      If anyone would like to talk to me about the accessibility issues of the convention, feel free to talk to me directly. My e-mail is sankgreall gmail com.

      It is fair to say that there were serious issues, and these issues continue to happen, and maybe the attempts to improve these issues have not succeeded, yet. Blaming the guests and members of the Con for their failure to find a desk in the giant maze of the convention center seems counter-productive. Blaming people who care about these issues enough to speak up also seems counter-productive to the goal we all share of a space and event that is accessible to everyone.

    • Mari says:

      Sharon, thank you for taking the time to respond. In return, a few clarifications of the facts in the hope that this makes things better at future Worldcons.

      1. When I arrived at Registration Wednesday morning, in the wheelchair, a grand total of zero people informed me that Disability Services was in the area, right next to Registration. I spoke to the person who gave me my badge, who did not know where Disability Services was, as well as some of the people working the volunteer table.

      2. I was initially not on any panels. Thursday morning I was told that several people had had to cancel at the last minute and Programming needed some volunteers. So I went to Programming in person.

      3. Programming was NOT near Accessibility Services. It was on an entirely different floor and separated by carpeted floors (I’m in a manual wheelchair so carpets take more effort.) Characterizing the situation as if all I had to do was go to the next door is false because the two were NOT close.

      Registration did NOT handle panels. Programming did. I was told to contact PROGRAMMMING, not Registration, with panel questions.

      3. Programming put me on two panels. The woman I spoke to (whose name I am blanking on, sorry) looked at me in my wheelchair and noted that there could be a problem but that she would work on it.

      And that right there illustrates the basic issue:

      Someone thought it would be ok to have a panel discussing DISABILITY in a room with a stage without a ramp, but two stairs.

      4. Rachel Swirsky texted me asking me to join the Poetry/Prose panel about two hours before that panel started. I didn’t contact Disability Services because I was also trying to get to the SFWA meeting, which was scheduled at the far, far end of the convention center

      In the case of this panel I think it’s marginally understandable that a ramp wasn’t provided — after all, only Rachel Swirsky and Nancy Hightower knew I would be there, and I was only told that the room was on a stage without a ramp about five minutes before I got there (by Juan Sanmiguel who showed me where the room was and helped get me there.)

      But note I said marginally. For the very good reason that this shouldn’t have been an issue at all.

      Many, many people in our community use wheelchairs. Many are far more disabled than I am. Others may not use wheelchairs, but still have problems with stairs.

      There’s a solution to this:

      Provide ramps in the first place, instead of just when they are requested.

      I am aware that in most locations ramps will be an additional expense. But against this, you have the reality that con participants will change at the last minute; that programming and other panelists may not be aware of mobility issues of all participants; and some panelists may have unexpected last minute issues.

      Specific examples: I talked with David Kopaska-Merkel online multiple times and never realized that he uses a power chair until we met in person. It honestly never came up online. Seanan McGuire had her foot in a cast and was using a mobility scooter at this con.

      5. I did ask Worldcon volunteers several questions about the best ways for me to access to the convention center and other issues.

      In nearly all cases, the answers came from not from Worldcon volunteers, but from the Marriott Rivercenter hotel staff, the Rivertaxi staff, and the San Antonio police department.

      6. Look, I can handle a panel or two without ramps. In itself, that isn’t an issue.

      What is an issue is that the failure to consider full disability access is endemic to the community. If this had been an isolated incident, I would have shrugged and said, whatever.

      But it isn’t. On Twitter David Kopeska-Merkel has noted that he did not have ramps at his panels at a previous Worldcon. Chicon had a lack of ramps. And so on.

      Is all of this your fault? Absolutely not. But it might be helpful to consider this in context, and to remember that in that same convention center on the same days another convention managed to provide ramps and access to all participants AND passed out the helpful maps updated daily by the San Antonio police department.

      And this endemic issue is exactly why I am speaking up. If I don’t speak up, nothing is going to get changed — and the People Magazine conference showed that change could happen.

      6. I am not, as you put it, badmouthing the con. I am reporting what happened: Worldcon scheduled a Disability in Science Fiction panel and did not provide a ramp to the stage.

      7. It is the job of programming, not the panelists, to provide ramps and accessibility. Blaming me for someone else’s failure is a bit much.

  14. Curt Phillips says:

    Very glad to see this article, and as a con-committee member (DeepSouthCon 52, Bristol, VA, May 16-18, 2014) I’ll be watching to make sure that our event can be accessed at every level by all who want to be there. And if we fail anyone in this regard I hope that it’ll be pointed out to me so that I can learn from the mistake.

  15. Sharon Pierce says:

    Thank you all for your responses. I, as a legally blind person have ‘ALWAYS’ had to ask for assistance, no matter what Con I was at. If I wanted large print or audio or a thumb drive or DVD with the program on it – I had to ask for it. We DID advertise on our website and in each PR that we had assistance for those with other disabilities.

    I would say that one thing that needs to be done in future cons is for ALL Divisions to work together to help those with access issues, not just Accessibility Services. One of you – I beg forgiveness for not naming names- suggests that the registration form should have accessibility questions regarding ‘needs’. I couldn’t agree more, but I know those forms are kept from the rest of the ConCom to protect privacy. The final list of program participants and which room they are in is not released until shortly before the con. Upon arrival this SHOULD be reviewed and corrections taken to make sure all rooms that are accessible are used for those panels. One thing LSC3 did was to have as few programs as possible on the badly accessible second floor of the convention center. There were two elevators that could only hold one scooter at a time.

    All Volunteers that work at Reg should be advised by the Head of Reg to make sure that any member in a wheelchair or scooter or otherwise visibly needing assistance is put in contact with someone on staff who will make sure their needs are met. There should be HUGE signs at Reg offering assistance to those without visible needs.

    I have to say that one reason I don’t attend D*C is that I can’t find my way around to get to where I need to be because there is no assistance and the signage is horrible. I used to attend D*C, the last time was in 2001. I’m not saying the burden SHOULD be on the attendee, I’m saying without better communication between Divisions, I had no knowledge of who did or did not need assistance with the panels. If Mari experienced this at the first panel – why not complain and it WOULD have been fixed! I can’t help that the convention center had poorly designed rooms.

    I can say that I am an advocate and will do my damnedest to see it gets corrected in the future!

    • Hi Sharon,

      I definitely agree with the better communication. When I talked to the Chicon Chairs/Vice-Chairs after the con, we discussed how Accessibility Services really needs to communicate to the other departments about the needs of attendees with disabilities, what ADA says about how the function space should work, and how we can make this the best possible experience for all of the attendees. All of this needs to begin as the facilities are being chosen.

      Cordially,

      Michael Damian Thomas

      • Selkie says:

        I have been working Access Service at Arisia for a couple of years now, I have also worked on Readercon this last year, and have worked behind the scenes a little bit now on Worldcon (Publications). I also work in the field for my dayjob, so I have been thinking about this a lot, how we as convention runner can offer better services, and what efforts scale well as you go from a 500 person convention to a 5,000 or 50,000 person convention, and which do not.
        I would like to see a change to the current system (which I see as one or more people, who go around making sure things are accessible, and making changes if not) to something more like what exists at American Universities, an Access Coordinator. To scale well, and be done well, Access should be part of every departments planning. We build our conventions from scratch every single time, so we have to opportunity to make a big door with a ramp and a button, instead of a plywood ramp nailed up at the last minute, and we can build our conventions with the expectation that people with disabilities will attend.
        If this person is assigned early, conventions can plan better. The seating plans and stage plans for the big events can have the parking spaces and reserved seating for people who need line of sight seating roughed in from the beginning. Tech can be ready for CART or to plan if they need to light ASL transcribers for an event. Registration form can have places for attendees to let the conventions know what they need. Getting investment in access from all departments spreads the knowledge around, and helps cement the idea that access for all attendees should be central to the convention, not something we add on at the last minute. We can’t anticipate everything, but you can have a plan.

    • Heather Dudley says:

      D*C has improved a lot since 2001. I was an attendee at D*C in 2001 myself; it was certainly a maze! In the intervening decade, they’ve made amazing strides in accessibility services. The place is much larger, and they have a professional staff at the many hotels who can help.

      I recall the year that I attended, I helped a blind woman with one of the Weyrfest panels, because there was no one there to help her; I described what she was unable to see, because no one else could. It was pretty terrible, but they’ve improved a lot since then. Give it a try.

  16. […] ran across this account of an accessfail at a major (perhaps the major) science fiction convention. The author, Rose Lemberg, raises […]

  17. Laura says:

    I am so tired of this. I have worked on many conventions including Worldcon, world fantasy and nebulas. We work really hard to help out all of the disabled members of our convention especially since we have several committee members (myself included) who are disabled. Tis is the FIRST time I am ever hearing of this problem. It never occurred to me as I ASK people to help me on the stage if I need it. I will keep this in mind for future conventions, but honestly… I am so tired of people looking at the oversights made at a convention that is really trying to help all members. Did anyone ask for help? I am sure all of the members of the audience would have been more than happy to lift her wheelchair to get her onstage. We are not trying to humiliate her or point out that she is disabled. I have also sat on the floor before as well and it has never bothered me. I pipe in whenever I feel and people listen to me. Honestly, people… How about some constructive solutions given to the people who need to hear it so they can fix the problem rather than whining o a public board about a problem that can be fixed and not congratulating these conventions that are far and beyond more accessible than anything else I have ever attended and always try to be a welcoming place for the physically and mentally disabled. If someone is uncomfortable, then make sure your complaint for the next one is heard by the CHAIR of the convention and you are absurd that you will be onstage BEFORE the convention. These people work extremely hard and constant whining after a convention really makes me never want to help anyone at a convention again.

    • Laura,

      The constructive solutions have been laid out in these comments – read through them, let them inform your commenting next time.

      So you’re tired of people outlining the problems at your con? Tough. Not as tired as the rest of us are of seeing your con representatives shift blame for lack of organization, planning and accommodation onto those affected by it.

      Own up to the facts: this conversation wouldn’t be taking place if the con preparations had been enough. Commit to doing it well next time.

    • Jinian says:

      “The system can be made to work for me” is not the same as “the system works.” Honestly, having a group of audience members lift a wheelchair I’m in is not something I would accept — it’s rude to them and frightening for me!

      Right in this thread we’ve seen multiple constructive suggestions on how to increase accessibility for multiple types of disability, which would not have happened in the case of an individual direct complaint to the convention organizers, and an organizer of a completely different convention understanding the problem and improving their own process as a result. Community discussion is a positive thing. If you feel targeted or ashamed by it… well, maybe that’s something you should think about.

    • I think this is a singularly uninformed response. I hope that by now you’ve read the suggestions in the comments. I just want to mention a couple of things. First, I use, by necessity, a power wheelchair. I plus the chair weigh 580 lbs (~260 kg). I don’t think 2 burly volunteers can safely lift me onto a podium. I need a ramp. Second, it is disrespectful to expect a panelist to ask audience members to lift her up. Third, you can get an 8′ portable ramp (which I think weighs about 50 lbs/23 kg) for $300. Maybe the concom could buy or rent a couple of these. Last, I think we ought to try to be respectful in our comments, especially if we represent major conventions.

      • Judy Bemis says:

        David, I am also disabled now, and have been working on Worldcons since 1982 in one capacity or another. Buying ramps is probably not an option for conventions that move around; we already have a big problem with stuff we want to move from one Worldcon to the next.

    • Lisa Bradley says:

      “We are not trying to humiliate her or point out that she is disabled.”

      Yet you, Laura, cannot bring yourself to remember or use Mari’s name. Basic courtesy, please! Mari uses a wheelchair; people already notice she’s disabled. The point is whether she is shown equal courtesy as other attendees, or if she’s relegated to second-class status.

      “we have several committee members (myself included) who are disabled.”

      That does not excuse the committee or absolve it from its responsibility. Being disabled does not automatically confer understanding of all people’s needs. Being willing to listen to people’s feedback, good or bad, without calling it whining–that will go a lot farther to filling in your knowledge gaps.

      ” I have also sat on the floor before as well and it has never bothered me. I pipe in whenever I feel and people listen to me. ”

      Again, you being disabled doesn’t mean you get to speak for all disabled people. Just because something’s never bothered you doesn’t mean it’s not a valid complaint. We are “piping in” here and you ARE NOT LISTENING. You’re not as open to feedback as you claim. And if you’re reacting this way online, I wonder what you’re like in person.

      “these conventions that are far and beyond more accessible than anything else I have ever attended and always try to be a welcoming place…”

      WOW, I FEEL SO WELCOME NOW.

  18. Isabel Schechter says:

    Laura,
    I don’t know how this can possibly be the FIRST time you are hearing about this, especially if you have participated in other conventions, especially Chicon, which received more than an earful about their dreadful Access. I am SO sorry that you’re tired, but frankly, my dear, I’m much more concerned about the folks that are suffering as a result of this and other Worldcon’s actions and inactions. There were plenty of constructive comments given after Chicon, as well as after other conventions, and somehow they didn’t seem to get quite the same attention as complaints, which you so condescendingly refer to as whining. This attitude, as well as actions/inactions by concoms are completely unacceptable. If I were disabled, I’d sue for violations of ADA and then see what conventions had to say about how tired they are about having to make reasonable accommodations.

  19. Mari says:

    Laura —

    Thanks for your comment. I need to bring up some counterpoints that you may not be aware of.

    1. Yes, I asked for help at various points during the convention, and received it from various attendees, other pros, the San Antonio police department (who were great, I need to add), and the Marriott Rivercenter. The issue is not me asking for assistance.

    2. Regarding getting lifted up to the stage:

    This was brought up as a possibility before the Poetry/Prose panel (the one where three panelists were up on the stage and I was on the floor.) We didn’t do it for two very good reasons:

    A. Insurance; if something went wrong (some well meaning person dropped me or something) there was a serious question of liability issues with the convention center, the lifters, and Worldcon.

    B. I get dizzy, and I was worried that if I was lifted up and people tilted me during the process I would get dizzy/pass out. (I have passed out when I have been transferred from the chair to a table.)

    At the other panel, tables had already been placed in front of the stage.

    And now I need to be a bit indelicate here. I don’t weigh much and I use an ultralight wheelchair. Many wheelchair users, however, do weigh more than I do and/or are in VERY heavy powerchairs that weigh more than 150 pounds. Lifting such a powerchair can present problems.

    In addition, it’s not just wheelchair users; other members of our community have problems negotiating stairs for various reasons — I met one older woman with arthritis, for instance, who can still walk but finds stairs difficult. That’s not an unusual situation.

    3. I am a little surprised by your statement that conventions are “far and beyond more accessible than anything else I have ever attended.” As I’ve noted elsewhere, I do have the good fortune to live in central Florida, which has numerous elderly people and which therefore has gone to some lengths to make things in general accessible. That’s not to say that there aren’t hiccups, especially in my town, which dates back to the Civil War, but in general, I’ve encountered fewer accessibility problems here than at science fiction/conventions, with my main complaint being that my particular part of the Orlando area doesn’t have adequate bus services (for anyone, not just the disabled.)

    Even apart from this, however, I have found that many other events tend to be more accessible than fantasy/science fiction conventions — even events run by organizations that are not exactly known for being welcoming and inclusive. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the PGA Tour in golf, an athletic event absolutely NOT known for inclusiveness (I think most people would argue the opposite), has provided more accessible venues than many science fiction/fantasy conventions.

    This is a problem. Our community should not be worse than the PGA Tour.

    4. I am on record as praising MegaCon for excellent accessibility access. I have also praised other events/venues/organizations for getting things right.

    Just as you are dismayed at hearing yet another complaint, I am rather dismayed to hear myself accused of constant whining.

    5. You are right: the problem can be fixed. And that’s exactly what’s frustrating. I have brought up these issues, and they have not been fixed. I can only imagine how frustrated you are at the constant complaints (and yeah, I hear you on the frustration; constant complaints make me go ARRRGH as well, and it’s gotta be terrible to deal with it) it’s equally frustrating to arrive at a convention to find that even after all the complaining, no one thought to put the Disability in Science Fiction panel in a room with ramps.

  20. Mari says:

    And with that, I fear I need to bow out of this conversation — not because it isn’t interesting or necessary but because my time is more limited than I would like.

  21. Deirdre says:

    I’ve been a conrunner (local, regional, and worldcon), and I’m going to point out a few things this worldcon did right and wrong.

    1) showing accessible paths on the maps between the convention center and hotel. Nicely done.

    2) Blocking the exits out of the exhibit hall facing the Hilton after the first day, I suspect in violation of fire code. There were even people at the exit, but no. I happened to be staying at the Hilton. Boo.

    3) The mobility-abled definitions of “right next to” and the mobility impaired’s definitions of same rarely agree. Here’s a number for you: I had a 23-second variation in my best and worst times crossing the intersection between the Hilton and the convention center. My fastest time was getting the 17-second warning. If you want to really understand what it’s like, then walk that length at those speeds. For the bonus reality round, add debilitating pain on top.

    4) I’m going to second pnh’s comments about United. Even though I use nvms (no visible means of support), I’m sometimes asked (usually by United, my primary carrier) if I need assistance. Never happened at a con.

    Asking for help or complaining aren’t things I should have to do.

  22. […] discussion is here and also on Twitter under #accessiblecons and #diversityinSFF (a more general hashtag). Warning: […]

  23. Bill Thomasson says:

    I would like to double-reinforce what Sharon said: COMMUNICATION,COMMUNICATION, COMUNICATION. That includes two-way communication between Accessibility Services and con members as well as between Accessibility Services and other areas of the con. As head of Accessibilitiy Services I must take partial responsibility for our deficiencies in this regard. I didn’t begin aggressive communication efforts until maybe a couple of weeks before the con. As a result it wasn’t until after I arri ed at the con that I knew whether there were ramps in all, some, or none of the panel tooms.

    It it important to understand that thte convention center controls availability of rams. I don’t know, and it is now far too late to find out, whether the convention center would have allowed us to bring in ramps from outside, as many have suggested. I suspect not, but I could be wrong. In any case, thet is something to check out going forward.

    The feedback has been useful. I hope that goes both ways.

    • Hi Bill,

      I’m glad that you’re at least taking “partial responsibility,” but I find it very troubling that you were *head* of Accessibility Services and didn’t even ask if the facility had accessibility issues or ramps until weeks before the con. You should have been involved with the team Randall mentioned when the facility was being inspected for accessibility. Did anybody on this team have any experience with accessibility or ADA?

      I would say that this came with inexperience, but you were on the accessibility staff at Chicon. As you should recall, Chicon had enough issues for their mobility-impaired members that they issued an apology after the convention.

      http://www.chicon.org/feedback.php

      Did this apology have so little impact on you that you didn’t feel the need to be proactive at the next Worldcon when you were head of that department?

      I realize you are a volunteer, but you might want to reconsider volunteering for such positions in the future if you are unable or unwilling to perform the duties to acceptable standards, especially when your job at the convention impacts the safety, well-being, and dignity of the membership (not to mention certain liability issues).

      Cordially,

      Michael Damian Thomas

    • Lisa Bradley says:

      “That includes two-way communication between Accessibility Services and con members as well as…”

      Yes, Bill, communication is a two-way street. But continued (albeit veiled) victim-blaming is a roadblock. The implication that Mari someone didn’t communicate her needs and is therefore partly to blame is revolting. I’m glad “The feedback has been useful.” I’m less pleased by your conclusion, “I hope that goes both ways,” which again implies that both parties are somehow in the wrong here and can benefit from feedback. You should look upthread to see a more reasonable, more acceptable apology from Randall Shepherd, chair of the con.

  24. Isabel Schechter says:

    I thought I was upset before. Now, I am furious. Just as Michael said, Chicon did a terrible job,and instead of learning from their mistakes, a statement of “partial” responsibilty is what we get??? Unacceptable.

  25. […] about the disability panel at Lonestarcon and the lack of a handicap ramp for that panel. Rose Lemberg’s post is here, and Mari Ness’s is […]

  26. Julia (sparkymonster) says:

    I’ve been on the accessibility team at Wiscon for several years. The first or second year I did it officially, I experienced the problem of discovering there wasn’t a ramp for a panelist. I’m telling this not because I think I did a perfect job. There are things I could have done differently.

    I walked into the room where I was going to have a panel and discovered there was a raised stage with stairs and no ramp. One of the panelists, Liz Henry, is a wheelchair user. I stared and starting freaking out. I told Liz & the panel moderator I was going to go find a ramp. I dashed down the hall to the registration table and asked for help on who to call to fix this. I was able to get someone from the hotel within about five minutes. Basically Wiscon had notified the hotel where the ramps were supposed to be, but in this case someone forgot to move it. We could get a ramp moved into the room but it would take about 15 minutes. Still freaking out, I ran back to the panel room and talked to Liz and the moderator. As I remember we did not want to start the panel until we could get Liz seated with the other panelists.

    I talked to Liz about options. I didn’t want her to have to deal with talking to the hotel because it would be stressful. Liz indicated she was fine with that. We also talked about how if Liz wanted to wheel over and have a disabled rage coma I was not going to stop her. She had every right to be pissed off if she wanted to and I wasn’t going to block that to smooth things over.

    In the end Liz decided to walk up the steps to the stage. I was worried she might get hurt, but since she is an adult I didn’t try to stop her. I did ask if I could stand near by in case she needed any help getting up on stage.

    Hotel staff came in to ask if we still wanted the ramp moved. I asked Liz what she wanted to do and she decided that she was OK without the ramp.

    While the panel happened, programming staff & the hotel reviewed the list of rooms that needed ramps to make sure there wouldn’t be other mistakes.

    Basically my priorities were 1) talking to the person who needed accomodation about what she wanted 2) Being the person to run around and get stuff fixed so the burden wasn’t pushed back onto the person with disability. 3) Doing the fixing in a way that was discreet so that it didn’t become a circus.

    I find anger difficult to deal with, so I tend to work overtime to smooth things over. In this case it was OK. But in other cases I think I could have come off as silencing or trying to cover things up. In the future I would like to find a way to allow space for people to express negative feelings.

    I hadn’t thought in advance about what to do if a ramp didn’t show up. I naively thought that since everyone had the information, there wouldn’t be mistakes. Huge error on my part. There should always be a back up plan.

    Wiscon is in the same hotel every year and I find it frustrating that the hotel doesn’t invest in more infrastructure (such as more mobile ramps) to make things easier for wheelchair users. They’re probably aiming at the most minimal accessibility they can legally have because the hotel sees it as an expensive add on. I wish the hotel could see accessibility as a necessary part of any space (universal design).

    So…yeah.

  27. […] Lemberg on Disability, Diversity, Dignity and with a follow-up: Disability access and being a […]

  28. […] the last few years, there have been numerous instances of SF/F conventions failing to provide an accessible experience for their members with disabilities. […]

  29. […] do we need to have the conversation about the appalling lack of accessibility at many major cons over and over and over for […]

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About

Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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