Disability access and being a bystander

I am continuing my posts on disability and #accessiblecons because there are things I need to say.

Yesterday, a commenter, Lou, left this comment to the Disability, Diversity, Dignity post:

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?

When an event is occurring, few bystanders react the way we’d like to react. People observing con harassment often do not interfere. People observing disability-related injustices often do not understand what is going on, are not sure how to react, what is appropriate to do.

In 2002, I was a young graduate student doing summer language immersion school in an Eastern European country. The students were international, from Eastern and Western Europe, the Americas, Japan. It was very cool. The organizers were cordial. Among us students was a girl who used a wheelchair. I do not remember her name now – she was not in my class. One day we were about to go out to a tour to a famous historical site. We got on the buses, and at that point, out of the window I saw the girl in the wheelchair arguing with two of our organizers, and at that point I realized they intend to leave her behind. Some of us ran out to find out what was going on. We were told that the girl cannot come with us because the wheelchair cannot go on the bus. “No worries,” said one the guy students who ran out, “We can easily lift her, collapse the wheelchair, then unload it again. It will fit. No worries.” The girl in a wheelchair really wanted to go and was ready to accept the help. The organizers said no. Even if we loaded the wheelchair, the student would be a burden to “the healthy students” (I remember this phrasing). We kept arguing that she would not be a burden, that we would help her along the way, stay with her in places too narrow for the wheelchair – to no avail. Eventually we gave up and went on the bus and it drove away without her.

The historical site was very beautiful.

I had wanted to stay behind. I should have stayed behind with that student, who, like the rest of us, was paying to be in the summer school and was all paid up to go on the tour. Staying behind with her would have been the ethical thing to do. I did not. I was very young. I was afraid to speak out more than I already did. I have always been a good student and wanted to remain a good student. I wanted to go on that tour. I was very young and had no experience with disability advocacy yet. I was confused and unsure what to do.

I continue to remember this event with great personal guilt and shame. But it taught me something about disability advocacy.

What we can do is act as a community to prevent mistreatment and dehumanization to members of marginalized groups. We have discussed con harassment a lot this year, including what you can do as a bystander, so let us do the same for disability issues.

As I said in Diversity, Disability, Dignity, it is very important that each of us congoers contact the cons we are attending and ask about their disability policy. Also, this is a very good question to ask: “Are you asking attendees whether they have special needs/need accommodations?” All cons should ask attendees regarding their needs, so that attendees on wheelchairs get their ramps, attendees with hearing issues get appropriate aids (e.g. Wiscon has an ASL interpreter – they apply for grants!) etc.

Second, let’s create more public discourse about this. Please consider speaking out online and offline.

Third, if you are on a panel where accessibility issues are not being accommodated properly, get involved. Speak to the organizers (but do NOT pressure the person with disability into accepting help). The person with disability might accept a personally problematic, painful and inappropriate solution because they are likely embarrassed, hurt, unwilling to delay the panel and create issues – in short, they are afraid of being perceived as a burden.

No! It is NOT a burden for cons to provide a ramp, it is no more a burden than providing chairs for rooms, reserving a con suite, providing tea and cookies in the consuite, or any other logistical thing that cons do. Disability access is simply not on the agenda for many cons.

So let’s put it on the agenda. The Other is us. It could be you, or a loved one, mortified and sitting below other presenters, on the floor, in front of a crowd of people who came to listen to your words but can neither see nor hear you. We must uplift each other. The time to care is now.

(People are tweeting and discussing these issues on Twitter using the hashtag #accessiblecons. I am @roselemberg there. Please join us).

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!

Reprint and poetry sale

The new issue of Unlikely Story, Journal of Unlikely Architecture, is out, with a reprint of my Jewish magic realist story “Geddarien.” It was the third story I’ve ever written and the second I have sold, and I am so happy and blessed that my zeide’s story remains meaningful to people. I am grateful to Cat Hellisen for talking me through the writing of it back in the day, and to the Unlikely Story team for featuring it.

In other news, my poem “where the ocean falls into itself…” will appear in the November issue of Apex Magazine.

“Held close…” and other news

Thank you everybody who voted in the Beneath Ceaseless Skies readers’ poll. It was truly an amazing competition. I am happy and humbled to report that “Held Close in Syllables of Light” was the winner, and will be reprinted in Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Year Four. Thank you again!

In addition, my poem Resh, referencing abjads and Serabit el-Khadim, will be published in Through the Gate alongside poems by awesome people.

In other news, I LOVED Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story Found, in the latest issue of Clarkesworld.

“Held Close…” is a finalist in BCS Readers poll

My queer Birdverse novelette “Held Close in Syllables of Light” is a finalist in the Beneath Ceaseless Skies readers’ poll. It is a story which is close to my heart and very important to me. The winning story will be included in The Best of BCS: Year Four.

If you feel so inclined, go vote for one of the finalists. The stories are:

“The Ivy-Smothered Palisade,” by Mike Allen
“One Ear Back,” by Tina Connolly
“Held Close in Syllables of Light,” Rose Lemberg
“Fox Bones. Many Uses.,” by Alex Dally MacFarlane
“Serkers and Sleep,” by Kenneth Schneyer

The voting closes on August 2nd.

Sociolinguistics panel follow-up (Readercon)

Our “Sociolinguistics and SFF” panel at Readercon went very well; the room was full, and some people had to stand. The panelists Anil Menon, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Sabrina Vourvoulias, and John Chu all had excellent things to say. We got great comments from the audience. Of course there wasn’t enough time, but overall I think the range of things discussed was just right for the first panel on the topic.

Some topics we covered:

-language and immigration; language shift in immigrant families
-linguistic hegemony; issues of prestige, literary vs. nonliterary dialects
-(briefly) language and colonialism
-language and gender
-SFF books that incorporate sociolinguistic issues, successfully or unsuccessfully

and during “Writing the Others 1: Theory” we talked about the following linguistic topics:

-incorporating languages other than English into fiction (who can do it; how to do it best)
-multilingual characters
-working with non-hegemonic English variants, including immigrant Englishes
-code-switching / code-mixing

I would like to propose a follow-up panel for Readercon 2014 on Sociolinguistics (and?) with a slightly different and if possible, narrower focus than this year’s. I am also toying with an idea of proposing a Sociolinguistics workshop. Regardless of whether you’ve attended this year’s Readercon and these panels, it would be excellent if you could comment and let me know what you’d like to discuss at the next year’s panel and workshop.

Please note that I want to keep discussing sociolinguistics, i.e. how language interacts with society. This is not an appropriate forum for constructed languages unless people want to discuss “constructed languages and society”, then I am game 🙂 🙂

Looking forward to your comments, and to next year!

Two short announcements

My flash length surrealist story, “Theories of Pain,” is up on Daily Science Fiction website today.

My prose poem “The Rotten Leaf Cantata” will appear in Strange Horizons later this year.

My Readercon schedule

Hurray! I have a Readercon schedule. In fact, it feels like I am on All the Panels… Those are some awesome panels!

If you can only make one, please come to the Socioling panel. It will be fabulous, and it is a useful thing for writers. I would also be happy if you came to my reading. Birdverse is cool and full of linguistics.

Friday July 12

12:00 PM G Writing Others I: Theory. Michael J. DeLuca, Andrea Hairston, Rose Lemberg, Maureen F. McHugh, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski (leader), Sabrina Vourvoulias. Authors who want to write outside their own experiences of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexuality face a multitude of challenges. How do we present each character’s unique perspective while celebrating their distinctive identity and avoiding stereotypes and appropriation? How is the research and writing process affected by differences between the author’s and the character’s levels of societal privilege? Is it possible to write about future diversity without oppression, or does today’s reality require us to write in today’s frame? Which authors have handled this well, and what form does “handling this well” take?

1:00 PM G Writing Others II: Practice. Michael J. DeLuca, Rose Lemberg, Daniel José Older, Joan Slonczewski, Sarah Smith. This practical discussion, led by Joan Slonczewski and Michael J. DeLuca, is for writers who have read Writing the Other, or otherwise carefully studied the pitfalls of cultural appropriation, and decided to take the plunge of writing about people whose experiences differ significantly from the author’s. How does one go about acquiring sufficient understanding of another culture, gender, or sexuality to write about it respectfully, productively, and effectively? We’ll discuss research techniques and writing methods used by successful writers of the other, as well as problems and solutions we’ve encountered in our own work. Attending “Writing Others I: Theory” is recommended.

5:00 PM F Agency and Gender. Eileen Gunn, Maria Dahvana Headley (leader), Rose Lemberg, Maureen F. McHugh, Paul Park. When we talk about women’s agency in literature we’re often talking about violence: fighting off a would-be rapist or choosing to risk her life in battle, for instance. Men’s agency is frequently demonstrated in a wider variety of ways. The notion of agency itself varies from one culture to another. How do cultural perspectives on gender and cultural concepts of agency inform characters’ choices and the results of those choices? How are decisions related to cultural assumptions of gender (whom to sleep with, what to wear) portrayed differently from decisions unrelated to cultural gender?

7:00 PM ME Sociolinguistics and SF/F. John Chu, Rose Lemberg (leader), Alex Dally MacFarlane, Anil Menon, Sabrina Vourvoulias. Sociolinguistics studies the ways in which language intersects with society. It looks at issues such as interactions of language with power, prestige, gender, hegemony, and literacy, bilingualism and multilingualism, translation, language birth, and language death to name but a few. We will look specifically at the kinds of tensions that are created in societies where people speak different languages or dialects depending on social and racial/ethnic status. We will also discuss genre books in which those topics have been explored, and consider sociolinguistics tools and concepts that may be useful to writers.

Saturday July 13

12:00 PM G Friendship Is Magic. E.C. Ambrose, Rose Lemberg, Kathryn Morrow (leader), JoSelle Vanderhooft, Sabrina Vourvoulias. Heroes have friends and companions, while villains only have minions. Stern protagonists can be softened by romantic attachments that draw them back into the community, but the plot also requires that they be special, isolated by some terrible burden of privilege or unshareable secret. Loner stories are episodic (the gunslinger rides off to the next town, the gumshoe slouches off to the next case) while going from solitude to connection is perhaps the most common character development. This panel will examine how cultural narratives and values around heroism, personal development, sex and gender, class, family, and community affect the ways we write and read about being alone and being connected.

3:00 PM NH Mythic Poetry Group Reading. Mike Allen, Leah Bobet, C.S.E. Cooney, Gemma Files, Gwynne Garfinkle, Andrea Hairston, Samantha Henderson, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Rose Lemberg, Shira Lipkin, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Dominik Parisien, Caitlyn Paxson, Julia Rios, Romie Stott, Sonya Taaffe, JoSelle Vanderhooft. Over the past decade, speculative poetry has increasingly turned toward the mythic in subject matter, with venues such as Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, Stone Telling, Cabinet des Fées, Jabberwocky, and the now-defunct Journal of the Mythic Arts showcasing a new generation of poets who’ve redefined what this type of writing can do. This reading will feature new and classic works from speculative poetry’s trend-setters.

6:00 PM F Readercon Blog Club: “The Uses and Value of Realism in Speculative Fiction”. Elizabeth Bear (leader), John Crowley, Rose Lemberg, Scott Lynch. In response to the Readercon 23 panel “Why Is Realistic Fiction Useful?”, Chris Gerwel wrote a blog post exploring the aesthetic uses of realism in spec fic and other literature. He says, “To be effective, fiction must communicate or reveal something true…. That truth is not necessarily factual (such-and-such happened), but is rather more nebulous and insightful (such-and-such could have happened).” Gerwel goes on to argue that “realistic” descriptions of fantastic things can be a way to help the audience to deal with these concepts, giving them better access to the underlying metaphors of a dragon or a spaceship. He closes by saying, “I believe that quotidian speculative fiction has its place in the genre. And that is precisely because it speaks to different truths than most speculative fiction: it speaks to the little heroisms of daily life, and to the practical challenges that arise from our human and social natures” an idea that echoes discussions of early science fiction stories written by women, and offers an alternative to the conflation of “realistic” and “gritty.” We’ll discuss the place of the quotidian in speculative fiction and other aspects of Gerwel’s complex and intriguing essay, which resides at http://elflands2ndcousin.com/2012/07/17/the-uses-and-value-of-realism-in-speculative-fiction/.

Sunday July 14

9:00 AM VT Reading: Rose Lemberg. Rose Lemberg. Rose Lemberg reads excerpt from the secondary-world fantasy novel Bridgers, as well as a few poems set in the same universe.

10:00 AM RI Gender and Power in Literature and Life. E.C. Ambrose, Cathy Butler, Eileen Gunn, Rose Lemberg, Daniel José Older (leader), Sabrina Vourvoulias. This workshop, led by Daniel José Older, is a critical look at different ways that gender and power shape our realities and experiences of the world. With examples from the writing process and fantastical literature in particular, we will deconstruct dynamics of power and privilege on the gender spectrum.

Interfictions, and Emerald Spires preview

My unclassifiable piece “Bone Shadows” is up at the new Interfictions Online under Poetry. Many thanks to Sofia Samatar for giving this thing a home!

Also, Bogi Takács has posted the lineup and cover for the first Emerald Spires anthology, which includes a reprint of my trans* poem “Plucked from the Horo.” I am so excited about this project!

And … short story sale!

My short magic realist story “Teffeu: A Book from the Library at Taarona” will appear in Strange Horizons. HURRAY! This story is about multilingualism, language study, and language loss. Strange Horizons sent me a rewrite request on it, but I found it difficult to return to the story, until finally, after my Strange Horizons interview, something shifted and I was able to finish the rewrite. Many thanks to Bogi Takács for eir support during the rewrite process, and to the Strange Horizons fiction team for their hard work!

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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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