Access Issues at Chicon 7

There’s an illuminating discussion of access problems at Chicon 7 on Sasha’s Dreams, sparked by a letter from Karen Moore.

I didn’t realize how frustrating it was for fans in mobile wheelchairs (mobis) to navigate the Hyatt. However I did witness that the motion-sensor sliding door at the lobby exit didn’t work because once I opened it for Linda Ross-Mansfield when she couldn’t get through.

Karen Moore compares her Chicon 7 experiences unfavorably to WisCon. It’s not surprising to hear they’re ahead of the Worldcon on such an issue. I wonder: Do Worldcon committees assume that because convention facilities have been brought up to a certain standard to meet legal requirements access is not a problem? If we didn’t know better before, we do now.

Worldcons rent (or broker) mobis for up to several dozen people. That means part of a committee’s implied obligation is to scout their facilities, with their plans for using them in mind, to verify they are accessible (lavatories included). Then they can identify problems to the hotel/convention center to be fixed in advance, or be ready to advise fans about work-arounds.

Bill Parker, co-chair of LoneStarCon 3, told this year’s business meeting he had driven a mobi to test the passages and ramps between the hotel and convention center, some having complained about them at the 1997 San Antonio Worldcon. Once he reads Karen Moore’s letter, I hope he’ll have someone scout the elevators, lavatories, exit doors, etc., too.

Karen Moore’s critique also extended to the hoax program track in Chicon 7’s schedule —

And finally, as much pushback as I know Access has gotten from within the committee over its mission, at least none of WisCon’s concom (that I know of) has ever seriously suggested developing an entire track of programming that doesn’t exist, located in a room that doesn’t exist, and then put the damn thing in the pocket program book, the online program and everywhere else. Evidently, someone in the WorldCon committee finds it immensely amusing to think of a convention member with no cartilage left in his hips struggling painfully down multiple escalators, across the tunnel, up more escalators, then searching through a maze of corridors for a program event, only to find a sign that essentially says “Ha, ha, gotcha, Sucker!” The con chair heard from me on that topic as well, by the way. His response? “Well, I’m sorry you don’t see the humor in it.”

The fake programs were listed in the “Stagg Field” room, which did not exist and so, of course, was not on the hotel map – I’m assuming, therefore, Moore’s scenario is cautionary rather than anything that really happened.

Yet I, too, disliked the hoax program track because so many of the items sounded more plausible than humorous. For example, on Monday this was one of the items shown for Stagg Field:

Deke Slayton was the seventh and final member of the Mercury 7 to fly in space. Come hear stories about his legendary flight aboard the Delta 7, which set records for endurance and distance traveled, and made Slayton a household name and a hero of the astronaut era.

If you know enough about the Mercury program you might recall Slayton was replaced on the Delta 7 mission due to a heart murmur. Or for that matter, know Slayton died in 1993, so he obviously wasn’t going to be present. (A great many listed as Stagg Field participants were equally life challenged.) If you know enough trivia, you’d also recognize another panelist on the item, Minnifield, as a fictional character from Northern Exposure. Or by Monday you may have deduced from other items that everything in Stagg Field was a put-on.

I don’t necessarily say they shouldn’t have done it, but every successful fannish hoax depends on a volatile social chemistry in which some fans have the pleasure of discerning the fraud, as well as witnessing the frustration of others who have not, and are even more annoyed once it’s explained to them. Did anyone wander aimlessly around the Hyatt looking for the Stagg Field room? I doubt it. However, the story demonstrates that, in the age of the internet, the calculated insensitivity of hoax humor can easily turn into bad publicity. Be warned.

Update 09/06/2012: See comments reporting not only that the story happened but that the fake “Stagg Field” room was shown on the con’s pocket program map as if it existed. And how that changes my own criticism of the hoax track.

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29 thoughts on “Access Issues at Chicon 7

  1. actually, moore’s story did happen to someone–it’s not a cautionary tale at all–and the dismissive tone that this article takes toward it speaks volumes.

  2. I wrote an entire post pointing to Moore’s leIter emphasizing its value to Worldcon runners. That was not dismissive.

    Since someone genuinely had the experience of looking for Stagg Field, Chicon and other committees need to factor that against any alleged benefit of listing hoax panels. And yet when I needed to find real programs in rooms that actually existed I did not wander the corridors, I used the map in the pocket program or posted on the hotel wall. Or asked the staff. Did anything prevent the person from using these resources? There must be more to the story then.

  3. Not a Worldcon story, but while at the 1995 ABA, held in the LA Convention Center, Hilde’s electric mobility scooter stopped working about halfway thru the event. We thought surely something as big as the Convention Center would have wheelchairs available. Nope; they had, I think, three, but those were held in reserve for emergencies (which they didn’t think Hilde’s situation was). Took most of a day to find a medical equipment place in LA that was not only open on a holiday weekend but willing to deliver a rental wheelchair.

    (That ABA was spectacularly memorable in how many unexpected problems had to be overcome: Lost hotel reservations, our bank decided for no discernible reason to put a “hold” on our credit card, Hilde’s scooter breaking down, and to top it all, the last meal I had in LA gave me food poisoning and by the time we got back to Phoenix I was puking from both ends and nearly ended up in the hospital.)

  4. Just to show the hight of cluelessness in regard to this issue, there’s a men’s lavatory in the basement section below the library at Forest Park Community College (a.k.a. St. Louis Community College – Forest Park) which has a wide handicapped toilet stall, with handrails, in which the stall door opens inward.

  5. mike, have you ever had the experience of having something left off a map? i know exactly where i would have looked for stagg field–i wouldn’t have assumed that there was an entire line of hoax programming–i would have assumed that there was an error on the map. “there must be more to the story” is blaming the victim. i’m not the person this happened to, but i’m not surprised that it happened.

  6. I didn’t wander the corridors (much), but I did wonder, “Is Stagg Field the same as Field? Or maybe Soldiers Field?” (Given that there were also both Columbia and Columbus rooms, is this so unlikely?) The result was that by the time I realized the item in question was fake (when I finally asked someone), it was too late to go to another item instead. I was not the only person at the Gripe Session who complained about this, but all we got was an explanation of how this was a Chicago tradition. Sorry, what may be okay for a convention of a few hundred, most of whom are in on the joke, is *not* appropriate for a convention of 5000, most of whom have been lost in the convention center multiple times already. (Not to mention at least one person complaining said that their friend from Chicago knew nothing about this tradition either.)

    What was even more annoying, though, was the apparently standard response from the convention committee members, which seemed to be (as one person indicated), “Oh, that was humor and you should have gotten it.”

    I’ll add that it was really annoying to hear a lot of complaints (and some praise) at the Gripe Session and see the Con Chair taking no notes whatsoever on them. Even if his memory rivals that of Funes the Memorious he should at least *appear* to be taking notes! And then he left early because of a meeting, and although someone else stayed (and did take notes), it is really impolite to tell the people at a gripe session that, sorry, I can’t listen to you because I have to go somewhere else.

  7. @”elsiekate”: first “dismissive tone” and then “blaming the victim”. You know, it would be helpful if you took a course in remedial reading.

  8. @elsiekate: I take your point — con publications could be mistaken.

    Let’s break this down into two conversations.

    If the person was in front of me telling about having a bad experience I’d say I was sorry that happened to them, agree they had a reason to be upset — because that is in the nature of hoaxes– and say that I’d tell somebody on the committee this happened in hopes they’d do something to alleviate the problem (maybe announce the existence of the hoax track.)

    My second conversation is with conrunners, analyzing this transaction. Worldcons, because they are complex and attract a lot of people (on a scale compared to Loscon or WisCon) should avoid doing anything that creates noise which keeps people from receiving the signal — the real program, in this case. I actually did have part of this conversation with someone on the committee on Monday, though he was more of the opinion that hoaxes are traditional fannish fun and panels with dead people on them were enough of a clue.

    There are, after all, fake Worldcon bids — though nobody minds those because you still get a bid party if you go to the room. With fake programs all you get isyour time wasted. So there’s a spectrum of consequences. In analyzing the transaction it is fair to consider whether a fan should reasonably be expected to mitigate those conequences using their smarts and readily available information. As you’re helping me rethink what “reasonable” means in this case.

  9. Regarding dead people on panels, if ConFrancisco could have Mark Twain on panels, anything is possible. 🙂

    But more to the point, yes, Deke Slayton is dead, but frankly, I don’t maintain a list in my head of which astronauts have died and which haven’t. Some I know, but to expect I will know all of them is asking a bit much. And I have never watched NORTHERN EXPOSURE, so that panelist “clue” was not very helpful either.

    I think your analogy of noise blocking signal is a valuable one.

  10. I was in Soldier Field for many hours of Chicon as a member of gopher staff. Stagg Field is indeed on the convention provided map. I know this as I just checked it, and as it was represented as directly next to Gopher HQ in Soldier Field I was continually handling queries from people looking for the Caligula panel and excited about getting to hear Deke Slayton talk. I was constantly apologizing for what concom thought was funny.

    A concom should never make the membership into their victims. It isn’t appropriate to make them into a target of fun. Ordinary membership or membership that will suffer a greater cost to their fruitless travel. It was not cool, and that’s my position.

  11. I was actually considering going to the Caligula panel, since I’m currently listening to a podcast series on the history of Rome; I’m glad I didn’t try.

    Regarding actual access issues, I will note that someone asked about the two rooms accessible only via stairs. Apparently ramps could not be put in, because they would block the adjoining rooms’ doors, and all rooms were needed for programming. (One could of course argue that had they gotten a convention center without those two rooms, they would have managed somehow….) I think it was agreed that they should have been prominently marked on the grid, etc., as having stairs (and how many).

  12. @Jason: You’re totally right — I just checked the pocket program map — picture my hair standing on end like in a comic, with exclamation points sparking off it. What a dumb stunt! On the Hyatt website where the con map has Stagg Field is nothing. What was that space? A pillar?

    @elsiekate: I apologize for responding as if the map might have been helpful!

  13. While this is the first time I’ve heard of a convention posting an entire track of hoax panels, I’ve been to a number of cons that have included one or two such panels. Sometimes the rooms don’t exist. Sometimes the panelists are dead or don’t exist/are characters from books or movies. Sometimes both. And in pretty much every case, I’ve heard of someone having gotten upset because they didn’t “get the joke” and went looking for the program item. I’ve always thought it a bad idea. It’s not a “hoax”, it’s a “practical joke”.

    What I have done a few times at different L.A.-area conventions is schedule a hoax panel that *does* exist and actually takes place. The panel includes a couple of “real” people that the audience might recognize or have heard of and a couple of ringers — people playing a part. All of the panelists are in on it and the discussion starts out straight forward but, over the course of the hour, goes more and more into bizarre or outlandish areas.

    One of the most successful was at a Loscon. A panel about an “upcoming” television miniseries based on “Childhood’s End”. Michael Cassutt, known as both a novelist and TV writer, was on the panel. Someone else as well — I can’t remember who at this moment — that the audience would have known. The rest of the panel were improv actors with a fondness for science fiction but who weren’t regular convention attendees. They were playing characters like a network executive, the director, and one was playing the project’s producer, Gianni DeLaurentiis (“the nephew of Dino DeLaurentiis”). Mike Cassutt was on the panel as a writer who would be writing one of the installments of the miniseries.

    The panel started out fine but as the discussion went it long, it included information about how they’d gotten an agreement from the publisher of the novel to take it out of print so they could market an adaptation of the miniseries. And changes that would be made to the story — such as how the aliens look and giving the miniseries a happy ending.

    Over the course of the panel, the audience was becoming more and more disgruntled and more and more vocal. (One member of the audience rushed to the dealers room to tell dealers to stock up on copies of the Clarke novel.)

    Mike Cassutt, at the head table, played his part perfectly, looking more and more uncomfortable at these revelations. Finally, about 45 minutes into the panel’s hour, he said he’d never been told about these planned changes and if this was to be the case, he wasn’t interested in working on this project. He got up and walked out of the ballroom to thunderous applause. As Mike left, “Gianni” stood up and yelled, in the Italian accent he’d been sporting throughout the panel, “You’ll-a never work in this-a town again!”

    At which point, the moderator of the panel quieted the crowd down and announced to the audience that they had been watching Loscon’s hoax panel. You could hear the sigh of relief sweep across the room. Mike came back in and up to the headtable as the moderator introduced the panelists in their real identities. All of panelists received applause as they were introduced.

    While it’s possible someone was upset about this hoax, no one came to the Gripe Session or otherwise put forward a complaint to the committee. Many told us they enjoyed being hoaxed.

    This is, of course, a lot more work than just coming up with a program title and description. But it’s definitely worth it. And far less likely to piss people off.

  14. If I were to guess (and that is all I can do) I would bet the space occupied by ‘Stagg Field’ is mechanical space related to the nearby elevators.

    Ironically, I am writing this message from the former site of Stagg Field proper.

  15. If I were at the convention, I might have been interested in attending some of the hoax panels, even knowing that they were hoaxes. I’d be expecting the kind of improv theatre piece that Craig Miller describes putting on at Loscon, and I’d expect to be greatly entertained thereby, even though I’d be in on the joke. So I’d be a bit annoyed at learning that no actual hoax panel had been scheduled, and more than a bit annoyed if I’d had to trudge over to the supposed side of the hoax room in order to find that out.

    At Mythcons, we have traditionally listed a non-existent (i.e. nothing actually takes place) hoax item on our programs, “Sale of College Land” (it’s a reference to C.S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”). It takes place at a ridiculous time in the middle of the night, in a nonexistent location that is not placed on the map, and so far as I know, nobody’s ever complained about it, though some who have not read “That Hideous Strength” have asked for an explanation of the joke.

  16. Come to think of it, there was a panel at Reno last year that I attended under the impression that it was going to be a hoax panel of exactly the kind that Craig described. It was called “The Remake Chronicles”, and I somehow got the impression that it was going to describe imaginary remakes of classic SF movies. Instead it was about real remakes, or, more accurately, mostly new versions from the same source material (which isn’t quite the same thing as a remake of the old movie). I was actually a little disappointed! because the genuine panel we got wasn’t as funny as the hoax one in my head.

  17. “The fake programs were listed in the “Stagg Field” room, which did not exist and so, of course, was not on the hotel map”

    It looks like it was.

    Chicon Website, Hyatt Floorplan:

    Bronze level, towards the back, between Wrigley and Soldier Field, just above where it says “Gopher HQ”.

  18. I only didn’t go to the Caligula panel because it was opposite something I was on. It seemed more interesting than a lot of things.

    There’s a difference between sharing a joke with other people and making other people into a joke. If you’re going to have hoax program you have to signal that much more clearly.

  19. Wow, is that ever a horrible floorplan display format. I’d have had trouble finding the rooms that exist with that thing.

  20. It’s a challenge. That’s why the hotel color coordinates the levels on the maps and signage — every little bit helps. Now I see I was on a program in that vicinity. So I must have walked by Jason’s Gopher HQ too.

  21. I didn’t talk to anyone about access issues with the hoax panels, but I did talk to somebody who was very annoyed at having gotten up to attend one at 9 a.m. (which is a hideous time, in my opinion, even for real panels).

    I was also on a real panel in the Buckingham Room in which we were obliged to leave the door open so a fan in a mobi could listen from outside the room, which was accessible only by mounting a short flight of stairs.

    I also wonder how many fans decided not to attend because they needed a mobi and rental costs were $200 for the weekend. Given the high percentage of aging fans who need these to navigate Worldcons, ought committees consider some subsidy? I’d rather see some of these fans at the con than some of the other things Worldcons spend money on.

  22. The humor of the hoax panels is not, for me or anybody I know, people not getting it and suffering as a result. That’s bad, maybe even bad enough we have to forgo the actual humor.

    The actual humor is the people looking at the panel description and noticing it’s a joke. These had one dead, one fictional, and one real-but-unlikely participant, and the names were listed as initials plus last name, different from the rest. I spotted them immediately and was amused (partly due to good luck; I wouldn’t have noticed the fictional Northern Exposure character for example, but I did notice “R. D. Olivaw”, and I do know Werner von Braun is dead).

  23. The elevators at the Hyatt were quick to close. I got my shoulder hit by one.

    As for clueless aspects of handicap access, in Delaware several business, in complying with required access chose to select the parking for such vehicles on inclines.

  24. The problem with dead panelists is that it could be done as Mark Twain was done in San Francisco (indeed, I think there was at least one where I figured that was what was going on), or it could be someone has a badge name/fannish name of, e.g., R. D. Olivaw.

    What could have been done would have been to list these panels in the schedule, but then in the first or second newsletter have an article headed “Stagg Field Panels Hoax” or some such. (Oh, and a note at the top of each pink sheet. THis is probably even more important than the newsletter article, since presumably people interested in panels read the pink sheets.) Then you get the humor but still avoid making people waste time and energy trying to find them.

  25. I read and noted the hoax panels: the subtleness was not deep and fairly obvious, and the subject was mentioned in publications before the convention. Perhaps in the future someone could print them in a obviously different typeface. Still, my view would have been along the lines of a panel titled “Would the film CALIGULA benefited from a laugh track?”

  26. It might be “fairly obvious” to some people, but I’ve never been good at recognizing jokes and I certainly don’t expect official material to lie to me.

  27. It was mentionerd in the program notes. My wife even mentioned it to me. There was an annoucement made that humor was to be part of the programming notes. An attempt was made to be funny, and now someone wants an apology.

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