I am signing on to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Convention Accessibility Pledge. I’m doing it in this blog post because I think it’s important as many people as possible are aware of this issue.
I’m not going to pull out of convention appearances that I’ve already committed to. (And as it happens, ConFusion and Vericon have both assured me they’re taking accessibility issues seriously, so kudos to them.) But going forward, I will only attend cons that meet the (let’s be honest, pretty minimal) criteria outlined in MRK’s post:
The convention has an accessibility statement posted on the website and in the written programs offering specifics about the convention’s disability access.
The convention has at least one trained accessibility staff member with easy to find contact information. (There are numerous local and national organizations that will help with training.)
The convention is willing and able to make accommodations for its members as it tries to be as accessible as possible. (We recommend that the convention uses the Accessibility Checklist for SFWA Spaces as a beginning guideline. Other resources include Fans for Accessible Cons, A Guide for Accessible Conferences, and the ADA rules for places of public accommodation, which apply to US conventions.)
This shouldn’t be an issue, in the US. Hotels and convention centers are already required by law to provide accommodations like ramps and lifts. It doesn’t take that much extra effort to assume you’ll have folks with mobility issues attending your con, and to say so to the hotel when you’re talking about how things will be set up.
I’ve heard complaints that this is just too expensive–well, you’re already shelling out for the facility itself. That is, in fact, a kind of accommodation. Why not just have your con out in a park? That would be uncomfortable and inconvenient for a lot of congoers, right? Especially in bad weather. But imagine if a convention insisted that paying for an indoor facility was just too expensive and would drive up the cost of membership? Imagine the indignation.
But having a con inside a dry, heated and/or cooled building with sufficient space for people to move around and stairs between floors is in fact an accommodation. We just don’t think of it as one, since we’re used to seeing that particular attention to our needs and comfort as normal and understandable and worth going to some effort to ensure. And yes, stairs are an accommodation. What, you can’t climb up that rope ladder to the next floor?
Claims that arranging in advance to have some ramps or lifts on standby is just too much trouble or expense are, frankly, claims that the needs and comfort of members who need them just don’t matter to you.
And let’s consider the question of the $800 charge for a ramp at World Fantasy. That was a quote for a last-minute request for a ramp–likely if WFC had told the facility in advance that they’d need one, it would have been much less, or possibly even not an extra charge at all. But let’s consider hiring one ramp for WFC, at $800, and how much that would affect the cost of membership. Now, WFC has a membership cap, right? It’s 850, according to this. So if requesting a single ramp in advance of the con costs $800, to be added to the cost of memberships, that comes out to less than one dollar a person. Let’s say they only get half that (I’m given to understand they routinely sell out and have a waiting list, but perhaps that’s not the case). Two dollars a person. And I’m not even counting supporting memberships.
Now of course, since this charge was coming after memberships had already been paid it was dauntingly large. Which doesn’t make me more sympathetic–it would have been easy enough to say, up front, during the planning stage, “And of course we’ll need some kind of access to the dais or stages in case there are wheelchair users or folks with other mobility issues. How do we make that work?”
I do understand feeling defensive when you’re caught out in a mistake. Okay, feel defensive. Complain to your spouse and/or close friends in private, have some ice cream or a hot bath and some tea. And then go to whoever it is you’re working with at the facility for the next event and let them know that you’ll need to accommodate members with mobility issues, and what are the options and how will you make that work? Have SFWA’s Accessibility Checklist in hand.
The fabulous Lee Martindale had a hand in that checklist. Lee has been fierce in her advocacy for accessibility at cons–and elsewhere. Walking around a con with her is an eye-opener, I’ll tell you. There are so many things you don’t notice if you’re not currently in need of mobility assistance. I was pretty appalled, though not terribly surprised, honestly.
And Lee makes a good point:
But for her part, Martindale says she won’t be signing the pledge, because she’s learned in 40 years as a human rights activist that “change is not brought about by using only one approach.” And in addition to public protests and boycotts, another valuable approach is “those directly affected by the exclusion communicating with those perpetuating it, explaining and demonstrating why the exclusion is a problem and what to do about it.”
“If I’m not there, as a scheduled guest, a rolling reminder of why accessibility is important and capable of explaining what I need to do the job I was brought in to do, it all becomes purely academic and easily dismissed,” says Martindale. “It’s hard to dismiss someone sitting right in front of you.”
Not everyone is as fierce as Lee–she’s a pretty impressive lady–but for those who are willing and able to get right in there, that needs to happen, too.