We Need To Do Better: Accessibility and BEA/BookCon

9
38

As you may have heard a very unfortunate incident happened at BookCon that I was involved with. At a panel on Diversity in Graphic Novels organized by Diamond Comics, which I was moderating, creator Tee Franklin arrived and found that there was no ramp for her to get to the speaker’s stage. She was understandably upset over this incredibly avoidable situation – but even more so because the exact same thing had happened the day before at a panel at Book Expo, also organized by Diamond Comics.

Although I attempted to compromise by having the rest of the panelists sit in front of the stage – as had been done the day before – and all the other panelists quickly moved down, the evident neglect of having the same thing happen twice (and apparently at other cons) was too much for Franklin, and she made a heartfelt speech and quit the panel, leaving the room to applause.

I’ve privately apologized to Tee, but will do so here as well: I am profoundly sorry that she had to undergo this, and I apologize unreservedly for my part in the debacle. It was not my responsibility to make prior arrangements for the panel, but I take full responsibility for what happened in the panel room.

Accessibility issues are always a hot topic at conventions, and BookCon was no exception. They have a page for fans with special needs  which includes medical stickers for fans who need access to areas for disabled attendees or additional help.

None of that pertains to panels however.

Just to be clear, I did not organize the “Diversity in Graphic Novels” panel. I am asked to moderate many panels that I do not organize, and as a moderator only I may not have contact with the panelists. That’s what happened in this case: Diamond reached out to the panelists and organized it with the event and the publishers whose creators were attending.

In the past I have organized panels with panelists with disabilities, and in each case I reached out to the venue ahead of time to make sure the stage would be accessible and in each case things went smoothly. I have no idea why at BEA/BookCon it was not communicated by the panel organizers at any time that the stages for both panels needed to be accessible to a mobility vehicle. Obviously there was a breakdown in communication.

All that said, it’s really mind boggling that after this happened the first time no one thought to check on the room for Franklin’s other panel, whether it was someone from ReedPOP, BookCon, Image (Franklin’s publisher) or Diamond. It was a systemic breakdown.

I was aware that in the first panel the panelists had sat in front of the stage, but this was mentioned to me in casual conversation and the assumption was that it was a satisfactory solution.

Obviously, that assumption was incorrect.

I know some people are going to see the above as me deflecting. Although it was not my job to make prior arrangements for the panel, I should have put two and two together when I heard about what happened on Friday.

And that’s really the bottom line here. We all failed Tee Franklin and we have failed many other disabled con goers and guests. We need to have accessibility for all creators and fans, and we need to be aware of their needs and not just think its someone else’s job. It’s the symptom of privilege to fail to make room for all voices, and that’s what happened here.

In the future, even if I am just the moderator, I’ll make certain to reach out to all panelists ahead of time to find out if there are accessibility issues and alert the proper authorities to make sure that the proper steps are taken. I assumed that all the necessary steps had been taken for the panel at BookCon, but once again, assumptions can and often are wrong. Before all of this happened, I went to the panel for RUN, the sequel to MARCH by Rep. John Lewis and he spoke about how you have to just do the right thing. Assuming that all panelists are able-bodied and have equal access is NOT the right thing.
I need to do better. The industry and the community need to do better.

________________

There are not a lot of resources on this topic, a sign of how much work needs to be done, but some links:

Mary Robinette Kowal on accessibility at cons.

Convergence Con’s accessibility page, with many guidelines other cons can learn from

Fans for Accessible Conventions, a Facebook page on the topic

9 COMMENTS

  1. Yes a lot needs to be done about accessibility at conventions. Most of them leave it to volunteers who would not know about it at ALL. The Worst is trying to solve the IMPOSSIBLE TASK of trying to get an accessible hotel room at Comic Con International. I’m amazed nobody has sued them over it.

  2. Her response was to cry, like a 2 year old. When did that become acceptable? That is not on you – anyone who acts like that is obviously not your problem.

  3. Or. And I’m just putting it out there, having been to these cons and familiar with the height of the stages couldn’t two people just lift the chair onto the stage and do the same when the panel was over? Sure, there should have been a ramp, but there wasn’t. Just my two cents.

  4. Douglas, this is something that comes up often. “Just” lifting the chair on the stage is not ok. I don’t know what sort of chair Tee uses, but if it’s an electrical one then it’s a) very heavy and b) very, very expensive. If it’s a normal one, then it still shouldn’t be manhandled by some burly people, with the danger of it breaking. Aside from the technical aspect, there’s also the dignity of it. You don’t want the circus of having some people having to lift you on the stage. You want the dignity of being able to take your position without hassle, without assistance, even. Touching or manipulating people’s mobility aids can be seen as invasive too; it’s part of their personal space – if you see an old woman trying to cross a busy street, do you “just” sling her over your shoulder to help her across?

  5. I think dignity was the least of her concerns – don’t you? Screaming and crying isn’t acting with dignity, anyway you cut it. No one is denying they should have ramps, but throwing a temper tantrum isn’t how adults behave.

  6. Oh, hey, it’s bob back. So, you just can’t imagine how frustrating it is being invited for a panel on diversity and finding that you can’t, like the other panelists, roll up to the table. And it is the second time in as many days. And it will have been the culmination of so many little and big frustrating things that come with being disabled. You can’t imagine that at that moment, when she was supposed to take place – like the other panelists – in a panel about diversity, that it was Just Too Much. Well, then you just lack empathy, and you need to take some empathy classes. I’m sure there’s plenty of links around the Internet that can help you become a more considerate human being. Until then, I’ll say -with a hint of irony perhaps- fuck off.

  7. I know you may just be trolling – but I think you need to look past her condition and stop infantalizing her. You seem to look at her and assume she is a child because she needs to use a wheelchair for mobility. She is an adult – treat her as such. Judge her behavior as you would judge any adult’s behavior.

  8. No, Bob.
    You’re making the discussion about her, and not about how the organisation fell short, and how this is a recurring thing. And now you’re trying to make the discussion about me.
    I’m familiar with these Breitbart disruption tactics, and would ask you to leave it out.

Comments are closed.