Chicon 7 Apologizes for Access Issues

The Chicon 7 committee has answered concerns about access and complaints about its hoax program panel — “Chicon Acknowledges Concerns of Mobility-Impaired Members”

Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), has acknowledged the concerns expressed by a number of convention members over the arrangements made to support scooter users and others with mobility impairments. Chicon 7 apologizes sincerely for any inconvenience caused and is committed to sharing the lessons learned with its successors.

Chicon 7’s support for mobility-impaired members was in line with that used for preceding Worldcons, although inevitably subject to the constraints of the host facility (the Hyatt Regency Chicago) in terms of hotel layout and internal navigation. Chicon 7’s arrangements were coordinated by a disability services team with experience from many previous conventions and included the usual arrangements for reserved scooter areas in key event and program rooms. Elevator management was supported by hotel staff located at key locations.

Feedback received has made us increasingly aware that these arrangements did not work as well as planned. Some scooter users had extended journey times across the site due to challenges finding elevator space, and members could not always obtain access to the program items they wished to see due to rooms filling quickly with more mobile fans during change-overs. In addition, some confusion has been reported with access to the reserved seating area in main Ballroom for the Hugo Awards.

Separately, we have also received complaints over the imaginary “Stagg Field” program track. This tradition of Chicago conventions was trailed in Progress Report 4, and designed to bring a touch of whimsy and local fandom to the program. However, we recognize that the presentation of the track – seamlessly integrated with the real program information – meant that some people did not realize that this was an artificial creation. Among these were mobility-impaired members who suffered discomfort looking for the Stagg Field room, and to them we particularly apologize.

Chicon 7 deeply regrets the impact that these issues caused for some members. While the events cannot now be undone, we hope that members will accept our apology and our commitment to gather and collate feedback and share it with the upcoming Worldcons in San Antonio (2013) and London (2014).

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.

Vampire Hunting Kits

The latest vampire craze has already inspired a backlash. You can find the early symptoms in the LA Weekly Style Council’s parody of antique vampire-killing kits:

There’s something so quaint and tidy about a kit for eradicating evil. Some of these vampire hunting kits are “authentic.” Some were assembled by artists aiming to capture the antique beauty of the things. Others are straight up hoaxes.

One box was supposedly a vampire-killing kit sold at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, and recently auctioned by Sotheby’s for $12,000. The online comments were skeptical:

Laser printed labels and a cartridge firing revolver in 1851? FAKE!

The .22 cal cartridge boxes look like they are from the 1940’s too…

[Via James Hay.]