Accessibility Issue at World Fantasy Con

Fantasy writer and Tor blogger Mari Ness uses a wheelchair, which cons often fail to accommodate when they invite her to participate in panels set on a dais or stage. Ness made these criticisms of World Fantasy Con 2015, taking place this weekend in Saratoga:

Quite a few voices were raised in support.

Every event must comply with the requirements of the ADA. However, due to the way WFC 2015 handled its anti-harassment policy a certain amount of internet tinder awaited a spark, and ignited in this pair of tweets by Mary Robinette Kowal:

Kowal went on to make more general comments about the issue in a blog post,  “Thoughts on accessibility at conventions”.

Flash backwards to NerdCon: Stories. This convention was amazing. Truly. I will go again, and again. One of the things that I noticed, right away, was that they had a sign language interpreter. In hindsight, again, I’m realizing that there’s a reason that I saw more than one group of fans conversing in ASL. Not because there are more in Minneapolis, but because this is what fandom looks like when it is accessible.

Most of the conventions I go to are fan run. They start as a big party and then grow. So, it’s understandable why a first year con might not think about being ADA compliant. But after the first year… there’s no reason why a panelist should have to address a room from the floor, while the other panelists are elevated on a platform. Simple things like, don’t registration in a space that’s not accessible by wheelchair users. Have websites that are accessible for the blind.

Mari Ness, who often shares insights and her experiences with wheelchair accessibility while traveling and at conventions, said last year’s World Fantasy Con in DC scored much better:

Apart from two minor issues with my hotel room, both promptly addressed by Hyatt, I did not have any disability issues at this con.

(I did have issues outside the con while attempting to navigate Alexandria and DC, but that’s on those two cities, not World Fantasy Con. I also did get sick more than once anyway, but…well, I think that’s more or less my status quo now.)

As long time readers know, this is not something typical of World Fantasy, which for the last several years have featured Disability Fail after Disability Fail after Disability Fail. So it’s a major relief to find that yes, this convention can get it right, and I want to thank the 2014 World Fantasy Committee for getting it right this time.

In contrast, she had a stressful adventure just trying to board a train while in London for the 2014 Worldcon

We had five minutes to reach coach C (way way way way way down) on the other platform, and no access people in sight.

I offered to take the next train. I had underestimated the helpfulness of other Brits; the other wheelchair user was in an electric, so he offered to take my suitcase (it’s wheeled) and we rushed. I never ever want to push my manual that quickly, that distance, again. At the station end of the platform we explained the situation and were allowed through Secret Inaccessible doors and then sped down that way. At that point I started having breathing problems. My suitcase went on ahead of me; a porter saw me and started running with me down the platform. The ramp was set up and the train left while we were still getting ourselves into place.

That took awhile because I was still having breathing issues and palpitations. After that, I got my head down and pretty much stayed there until Swindon, which is to say if you are looking for a lovely description of a train ride from London to Bath you need to look elsewhere.

Also, she made this observation about Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon —

1. Once again, apparently the only way to reach the Hugo stage? Stairs. No ramp.

2. On a much happier note, SASQUAN did provide a sign language interpreter throughout the ceremony, something I hope future Hugo Award ceremonies will continue to do. My understanding is that a sign language interpreter was also at the business meetings, so yay.

55 thoughts on “Accessibility Issue at World Fantasy Con

  1. Pingback: World Fantasy Recap - Anxiety Ink

  2. Pingback: The Accessibility Problem » Bookworm Blues

  3. @lauredhel

    That’s a great resource! I was hoping someone would link to one. I’m going to do some thinking about what I could add to it, and I’ll certainly share it in relevant conversations.

  4. I clicked on the link in lauredhel’s post and found a link there to Wiscon’s disability access page. I haven’t read it all yet,, but it looks great, at least the parts covering things relating to areas of my experience. Wiscon has put a great deal of thought and effort into this. I suspect that things would be better if cons tried to adopt as many of these policies as possible.

    Thanks for your initial link, lauredhel.

  5. Meredith on November 8, 2015 at 7:08 am said: …@Bill Thomasson
    If you don’t mind clarifying a little, what was the plan for Hugo nominated people with (physical) disabilities, then? I understand all the nominees were seated at the front – was that near the door? Or were any nominees who needed that access going to be seated somewhere else, nearer the door? What about people who can’t manage stairs and also would find it difficult to walk around a circuitous route – since not everyone in that situation is in a wheelchair?

    I didn’t attend the Hugos — I chose to have dinner with my wife instead — but it’s my understanding that not all nominees/acceptofs were seated in the orchestra pit. Some were seated on the aisles. And since the main part of the auditorium has sloping floors rather than stairs, those seats were accessible. And what I think of as the “front row” — the row on the main access path above the orchestra pit — was directly level with the door.
    It may be worth noting that almost all Worldcon attendees with any sort of mobility issue rent a scooter for the duration of the can even if they don’t use one at home. So at Worldcon, people with mobility (as distinct form standing) issues are almost always in scooter.

    Elise Matthesen on November 8, 2015 at 7:42 am said:
    It felt a bit lonely to “attend” the Hugo Awards at Sasquan by going to an entirely different building and sitting in a room where the proceedings were shown on a screen and captions were projected for the conversation.
    I was grumping about this, later, and Seth Breidbart told me that they looked into it, but there was absolutely no place to put a CART projection screen up in the actual auditorium which was used for the Hugo Awards, and that’s why those of us who have difficulty hearing (or who have other auditory processing issues, or for whom English is an nth language and therefore seeing it in print helps a great deal, et cetera) had to “attend” the Hugos from a room in a different building.
    I find it difficult to believe that what Seth said was accurate, really. Because seriously? No room for the captions screen?

    As I remember the discussion, the only place the screen could have been put without interfering with accessibility would have had a poor view of the stage. The overflow room seemed the better choice on the whole. And had I attended the Hugo ceremony, I would myself have chosen the overflow room because I suspected the screen would be more visible there than in the main auditorium, even with special seating. As a visually disabled (legally blind) person, I tend to be focused solely on what works for me. And personally, not being forces into a crowd would be a plus rather than a minus.
    The ideal thing would have been to put the captions on the main screen where everyone could see them. But the tech crew told us that likely wouldn’t work due to equipment incompatibilities.

    Beth Meacham on November 8, 2015 at 7:59 am said: I can understand why the WFC ConComm initially failed to have ramps set up in the function rooms. What I cannot understand is why, 24 hours after Mari was unable to participate in her first panel, they still had not provided a ramp the next day.

    Ramps can’t be simply whistled up. That was one reason Sasquan decided to use wheelchair lifts rather than ramps to provide program participants with dais access: The convention center *had* a couple of wheelchair lifts while ramps would have had to be brought in from Seattle or Couer d’Allene. And while the huge amount of room an ADA-compliant ramp requires wouldn’t have been a problem in that particular room of the Spokane Convention Center, it would be in most panel rooms. I would suggest wheelchair lifts as the preferred solution for most cons, although I can’t speak to how readily the WFC could have obtained one.

    Fred Davis on November 8, 2015 at 8:49 am said: Generally the way to solve that problem is to have a ticky box or note on the panel scheduling form that tells people to contact the con organisers if you need special arrangements.

    I don’t recall who suggested that Sasquan have such a box on the registration form — not just the program participant form — but it proved very helpful. I would strongly suggest that all Worldcons, and perhaps all cons generally, should do the same.

    Robert Reynolds on November 8, 2015 at 2:49 pm said: It would be nice if every concom had a gimp or gimpette on speed-dial, but these problems exist because the people putting together these events all too often don’t even understand that it’s a problem-because it’s not a problem for most people.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t entirely solve the problem. Chicon 7 had someone in a wheelchair check out accessibility and found that everything was accessible except child care and one room we didn’t plan to use until the hotel screwed us. But what it didn’t reveal was that while a single person had no serious problem getting around, the limited elevator space between function space and lobby created a major backup during panel changes. Alas, a whole con with 50 people in scooters is not the same as a single person.

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