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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Conventions: The Simple, Step-by-Step Approach for Handling Disability at Cons

I posted a truncated version of this on Rose Lemberg's post about some of accessibility problems at Worldcon this year.  Apparently one of the Worldcon staff members thought blaming people with disabilities was a better idea than simply saying "yeah, we screwed that up and we're sorry and here's how we're going to fix it."

Well, I've got an idea for how to fix it.  It's called the Simple, Step-by-Step Approach for Handling Disability at Cons for Convention Staff (or Sad Cocos for short).  It goes something like this:

  1. Send emails and notices to all attendees requesting anyone with mobility issues to contact you.
  2. Send those notices again shortly before the convention (a week ahead, perhaps) just in case the first message didn't arrive.
  3. Keep a list of all equipment requirements for various panels and events at the con.  You should know where things need to be and when so you can properly coordinate.
  4. Before the convention starts, go through all of the areas where attendees are allowed to go.  If any areas are not accessible, fix it right away.  Make sure you have enough ramps based on past attendance (I would say three is a bare minimum, but I could be really wrong there)
  5. Tell your registration staff to be mindful of people with mobility issues.  They should check names against panelist rosters when folks come to register to make sure everything is covered.  I wouldn't recommend drawing attention to anything (this is where folks who actually have disabilities should jump in with an opinion -- please!)
  6. If someone comes to the registration desk who is on a panel and has mobility issues, the staff should double check that ramps and what not are pegged to go to X location at Y time.  If you didn't know that this individual needed ramps, you should make a note of it on your schedule and update relevant staff about the change right away.  If for some reason you don't have enough ramps at a given time, consider getting another (if possible) OR finding a way to maintain that individual's dignity without making everyone aware that there's a ramp issue (perhaps move all of the tables to floor level between panels or something).
  7. If someone complains about mobility problems at your con, you should contact them for specifics, apologize, and tell them you will try to fix it next time.  Don't argue about it.  Don't blame them for not getting in touch.  You're in charge of the damned event, so it's up to you to make sure everything is accessible.
That's it.  Seems pretty simple, no?

Note:  it seems as if Worldcon stopped somewhere around step 3.

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  1. The issue is this—those who don't have disabilities will never really grasp the needs of those who do. I see it everywhere, from ramps that are too steep to walk-in showers in bathrooms where the floor is slippery when wet. I had a hotel room with a walk-in shower where the faucet had been turned off so tightly we had to have maintenance come and loosen it, and the tile floor outside was good for skating when your feet were wet.

    What convention planners need to do is make the effort to either have one or more people with disabilities on staff or connect with a local organization of same to consult. They must then be very specific when dealing with the convention venue staff, because it will be a given they are convinced their facility is fully accessible. I've yet to be in one that was.

    I didn't get to any panels so can't speak to the lack of ramps to the dais, but I will say the committee did try hard to address accessibility issues; and I give them points for that. It's just that you wouldn't set up an art show without getting input from artists on layout and lighting and so on, yet how many con coms ensure they have someone with disabilities around to address those issues?

    1. That's a fair point, and one I'll have to add to the list at some time in the future. Thanks!