I work for a couple cons as a disability access coordinator – that’s the first thing you need to know. I’m not willing to engage in a dialogue about “what are YOU willing to do about it?” Because I’m already there. I’m already digging into these trenches – I just can’t be the only one. This post, in addition to calling out a gatekeeping tactic, is a request for HELP.
Over the weekend, while I was at Metatopia serving my community, Mary Robinette Kawal posted about accessibility. She said something about ADA compliance that really resonated with me, and I want to push a step further. Mary said:
ADA compliance isn’t about not getting sued, folks.
This is about fans.
And the step I want to take further here is this: It’s not just about fans. It’s about the professionals who work in gaming, who tell SFF stories, and who are just as important and valuable to listen to as their able bodied co-workers in these nerd spheres.
Every con I attend needs to get better – but when a panelist who uses a wheelchair is on the ground while the rest of the panelists are up on a stage? That’s not okay. It changes who can be seen, who can be heard, and who can hear the people they’re speaking with.
But let’s even go a little further – by only seeing ADA accessibility as necessary to not get sued, you’re gatekeeping.
You’re saying that the experiences, and the participation of disabled gamers, storytellers and participants in an industry don’t matter.
Creating spaces where I, and many other creators can’t be is an effective way to make sure that we won’t be heard. Our words don’t matter because we can’t even get in the door.
There are privileges within disability, of course, and one experience differs from another, but there’s one disability that I see cut out of the experience almost every single convention – Hearing privilege.
We don’t have interpreters at most conventions, which means that if a Deaf fan attends a con, they can’t experience the words being shared with an audience. I am hearing impaired, but because of my hearing aid, I have the privilege of being able to communicate (most of the time) with my peers and co-workers. That’s not good enough, though. There are (I’m sure) Deaf horror writers out there, whose thoughts I’d love to get to experience. There are wheelchair using game designers who can’t get up to the top of the stage.
These are gatekeeping tactics, and they have to stop. It’s not as though everyone is saying “Ooh, we don’t want those disabled people here” but it’s a little more insidious than that. It’s “We have to be compliant with ADA, but why bother with anything more than that because they won’t be here.” The ‘they’ meaning disabled people. “We have to be compliant so ‘they’ don’t sue us” is equally problematic.
Stop thinking about the ADA as a thing that makes your life harder and start thinking about it as a way to facilitate new voices, new stories, and new bodies being a part of your community.
We’re noticing that we’re not wanted purely because of the way that we interact with a convention structure. Now I ask the question “is the convention I want to attend disability access friendly” and if it’s not, I choose not to attend or participate. I could force my way in, but why bother going somewhere I’m not wanted? Why bother fighting to be in a place where my entry is barred because there are no elevators? Where I am not seen as an equal panelist because my wheelchair can’t go up stairs? I have the privilege of being able to get in and out of my wheelchair, but not everyone does.
We have to do better by disabled fans, yes. But even more? We need to do better by the people with disabilities who work in our industries, we have to make professional events accessible so that we can be equal participants in our career tracks. We have to do better so that someday, a wheelchair using fantasy writer can wheel up to the stage to get the World Fantasy Award.
I want a future where disability access isn’t seen as a chore, where it’s not something we HAVE to do because we’ll get SUED but as a way to bring more thoughts, experiences, and opinions to the table of our creative endeavours.
Let’s make that future happen sooner or later.
If you want to make your con more inclusive, you can reach out to me. I ask for a badge (and sometimes travel compensation) to hep out. But I also know there are probably people IN YOUR COMMUNITY who are willing and wanting to do that work. I can help you find them.
Inclusivity and accessibility starts by acknowledging that there’s a barrier and then tearing the barrier down.
Next week I will talk about resources like ASL interpreters, and some cost stuff, but let’s start here.