10 September 2013
There’s been an ongoing discussion about the disability panel at Lonestarcon and the lack of a handicap ramp for that panel. Rose Lemberg’s post is here, and Mari Ness’s is here.
Short form: panelist in wheelchair shows up to speak on disability in SF panel, finds no ramp (which she’d been warned about in advance, at least), but there is a dais. Panel takes place on tables in front of dais. However, on other panels, she’s put next to the dais with a microphone while other panelists are on dais.
Discussion went on from that point, and I suggested magical trebuchets.
Rose pointed out we’d still have to request them.
Let’s wind back to before all that, though, back to ten years ago when I was a newer SMOF working as programming 2nd for the local large regional convention. The following two years, I was head of programming, a role that I’ve reprised since (but, for reasons other than convention politics, will not do again).
Back then, we were at the DoubleTree San Jose, which had eight large ballrooms and eight smaller ballrooms. Four of the large ones were used for art show/dealer’s rooms, which meant that four were available for programming. The largest rooms we kept two of the rooms together (at least) at all times, and a pair of the smaller rooms were more commonly used together. Further, two of the smaller rooms were used for gaming. So now we’re down to one large-plus room, two large rooms, four small rooms and one medium-sized one — or eight in total.
How many handicap ramps do you think there were?
One for the large ballrooms, one for the small.
Meaning that, if you needed to schedule something with a panelist who needed a ramp, out of eight rooms, you could schedule that panel in two of them. And because the room with the tech was one of the smaller ballrooms, that meant that you couldn’t have both tech and a ramp without sacrificing either panels needing tech or panels needing mobility-impaired panelists — if you scheduled any panels that needed both.
In the smallest room, we typically had at least one room without a dais at all, which made the ramp unnecessary, but made it harder to see from the back. Which led to different complaints.
Knowing what I know now, I’d have done some things differently back then, but I can’t change the past. Let’s just say that some of the complaints I’ve heard sound familiar. Like having the panelist in a wheelchair not on the dais when other people are (in a SRO group reading for the Chicks in Chainmail series). Because Lee Martindale is a far better person than I am, she is still speaking to me.
I’m not trying to excuse what happened at Lonestarcon (or any other con, including the ones I’ve been involved in). I’m just trying to point out that there are some rather horrible choices conrunners have to make because accessibility is not the default but rather a special case. Even at convention centers.
Another aspect of ramps: they take up space and may mean you can seat fewer people in the room. One of the complaints I heard about Lonestarcon was standing room only panels (which can be a great problem to have unless you’re a mobility impaired attendee entering the room late).
So, adding more ramps can make that problem worse.
Then there’s the problem of getting the wheelchairs up the ramps, which is not always as automatic as one might think, what with physics not helping and all.
I just remember that the Klingons helped.