I hope you all know by now that language and its effects are an issue near and dear to my heart. Language can be hostile or welcoming, centering or othering. This is particularly on my mind as I look at various "accessibility" policies for conventions in the SF/F world.
I am creating List of such conventions for the Geek Feminism Wiki
. (This was inspired by their List of cons with anti-harassment policies
First, why is it helpful to have such policies online?
Because information is good access. The more information you can provide to people, even if it's to say that there are barriers to access, the better people can plan for their trip.
Secondly, if people have to ask to receive information, that in itself is a barrier. As many of us with anxiety, fatigue, or other disabilities know, it can be difficult to make that phone call or send that email. A lot of us are used to dealing with people on the other end of the line who aren't our allies and might make our lives more difficult when we ask for information.
As and someone working access, do you really want to give out the information again and again? Why not just do it once, and then point people at your webpage or printed materials?
I know there are some conventions that have had good access but don't have their policies online. Open Source Bridge
, I'm looking at you. :)
Other conventions have their policies online (good!) but then make all kinds of mistakes with language. They send signals that they really don't want PWDs to attend at all, that they think people are faking disabilities in order to get good seats or other services (no one does this! seriously), and otherwise hostile language.
Several of these pages use the term "special needs". I don't think very many people on this planet have special needs. Most people have the same needs, it's just that some of us need accommodation in order to enjoy the same events at conventions, like getting to the programming rooms in a timely manner, being able to move through the hotel, being able to understand what is going on, being able to visit with friends, etc. I realize special needs is an introduced PC term for disabled people, but I am just not sure that it fits or is accurate. It makes it sound like disabled people want "more" (like champagne) when what we really want is the same stuff as everyone else (water in a glass we can hold).
Whenever you want to say or write "special needs", I suggest you substitute "accommodations" instead.
Let's Break down some of the specific policies and why they are problematic:DragonCon"We will have the Con schedule in large print available (to be read at our table or we can email a copy to you to print or download to your screen reading device)
If you have low vision, you better have a device for reading the program. Otherwise, you have to sit at the registration table to read the program! It's apparently too hard for them to print off a few more copies for low-vision attendees. (Remember, this is a for-profit con.) I really don't know why you would want people clustered around your reg desk that way.
We offer 5 stickers for badges, based on needs:
Wheelchair seating: for our wheeled folk, of course.
Chair in Line/End of Row: for non-wheeled folks with mobility impairments.
Proximity/ 50 ft. to Screen: for visual/lip reading access.
Sightlines: for access to the interpreter, safe space for working animals, and certain other unique situations.
Medical: This sticker is merely a place to put emergency information if you have a medical condition that the EMT needs to know about before they put you in the ambulance. It does not entitle you to any other services.
A person has to out themselves in order to get any of these services. It's right there on one's badge: everyone you interact with at the convention then knows you are a disabled person. It also positions whoever gives the sticker as an authority. I know a lot of people with mild hearing loss who don't consider themselves disabled, but who might benefit from line-of-sight seating. Such people wouldn't want to get a sticker even if they might use an otherwise reserved chair.
One important thing to remember: we will do our best to make sure events are accessible to you, but that does not mean we guarantee you a front row seat, or head-of-the-line privileges. If you are going to a very popular event, you must get there extra early to get a good seat, just like everyone else. The accessible seating will not be in the front row.
I guess if you move slowly, are delayed by crowded elevators, etc., you are screwed. Several other websites said this. Maybe these conventions should put a cap on their membership? (Oh wait, DragonCon is for profit.)Phoenix Comic Con
This is the worst one.
You get a special badge! Lucky you.
But the badge doesn't get you:
· Early access to panels and special events
· Guaranteed access into special events, photo ops, autographs, or panels.
· The ability to skip lines
So fuck you I guess! Especially if you are someone who can't stand for a long time!Service Animals are always welcome at the Phoenix Convention Center. Animals are sometimes questioned if the need is not apparent, so we suggest attendees carry documentation with them for their companion.
Does anyone know if this is actually illegal? It sounds illegal to me. [eta: it is, see comments] Then again, it's Arizona... I don't think "welcome" means what they think it means, also, to be pedantic, you won't get very far questioning an animal!
Some of the other policies are much better, including for ReaderCon, FogCon, and Arisia (and WisCon, but no need to toot my own horn--plus, I always want to improve.) Some suggested bits of activism for those involved with conventions, or even those who aren't but who can do emailing:
*Encourage Conferences and Conventions to develop Access policies and list them online. Professional and Academic conferences, trade shows, etc can be included here.
*Encourage those with bad policies to improve them.
Comments and suggestions welcome.