Monday, January 24, 2022

In Person Cons and Acessbility

I want to draw attention to this post by Mari Ness, who had hoped to attend Discon Iii in DC here last month and talk a little about my experience planning a workshop for the RWA convention.
As Ness's post points out a lot, lot, lot of conventions are held in hotels that are old. Partly that's space, partly that's price, some things happen in the various planning stages that are out of folks control. Discon in particular was originally intended to be held at two hotels, and then one of the hotels went bankrupt in the pandemic, so there are lots of things that happened that the various planners could not have planned for ahead of time. 
But one key point in this, is that communication of the issues is key.
The RWA convention, at the time I was planning my workshop was a large behemoth. So as I invited speakers, I was asked to have them fill out a form that asked, among other things, what accommodations they needed, and then that was passed on to me. 
I then communicated the info I had been given about the layout of the space to all my speakers.
And then I arrived early to make sure it really was set up the way I had been told. Now my workshop was first of the day, which gave me some time to alert folks if things needed to be changed.
But here's what I couldn't plan for. One of the escalators that made moving between the lobby and the meeting rooms easy was broken. Only one, but one that meant if you needed assistance now you had to use the elevator. The elevators in that hotel were not sufficient for an entire convention of people all trying to hit the same three meeting levels at the same time.
We were super lucky, only one panelist was late. (I had not warned the speakers but I am a big believer in starting on time and letting people join the stage when they get there.) And that panelist, as it turned out had sprained her ankle earlier that week and so had had to wait for an elevator. 
So I say this not to pat myself on the back. But here's an obvious thing I could have done. I could have checked in one more time with everyone to see if any of their accessibility needs had changed.
As someone who wore a knee brace for the San Antonio convention, I know accessibility changes. 
But back to Ness's post. Yes, in person cons need to do a better job of thinking about accessibility at the hotel booking stage. But also, cons need to be clear about what the space looks like, and what challenges it presents, because you cannot ask people to pay for an experience they can't actually enjoy. Or fully enjoy.
And I think people want to put a happy spin on it, but really, saying hey, this is the space we have, let us know if there were things we can do to make it better is great. 
Saying oh, it's all compliant, there will be no problems, is not.