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Accessibilty/Attitudes

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This page on accessibility was originally written for Science Fiction conventions and is based heavily on WisCon's accessibility practices.

Main page: Accessibility

Access is first and foremost an attitude: understanding that there is no standard member configuration. Creating an accessible con doesn't mean addressing special needs. Members vary in our cognitive, emotional, and physical skills; we differ in age and experience. Creating a con that works for our infinite diversity means all of us can relax and contribute.

Some concom members may balk at whether there's "really a need" for access. There are already fans with disabilities attending your cons, but they're generally putting in extra effort, expense and energy to get there. There are many fans with disabilities who don't think of themselves "that way," since "disabled" is such a strongly stigmatized identity. For some services, attempting to canvass your existing membership won't be accurate, for example wheelchair users and people who need visual language (captioning or sign interpreters) won't show up until the access is there.

Designing universal access into your cons improves the con experience for everyone.

Members are the true experts on what they need. It follows that the more information we provide in advance, the better equipped members are to judge whether a con will work for them. WisCon is honest about the access we can't provide, even if this requires "being negative" about our event. Honesty saves members from the infuriating experience of paying membership, travel, and hotel fees only to encounter barriers on arrival. In our experience, acknowledging these obstructions provides a chance for the concom to realize that some barriers are readily removable.

Concom members responsible for access should prepare to consider the possible barriers in every program area, as well as how the concom can redesign areas with the barriers removed. Implementing access does require both attention to detail and an overview of all the areas.

Access is not only about wheelchairs -- in fact, providing basic wheelchair access in modern US and Canadian hotels is relatively straightforward.


WisCon's statement on Helpful Attitudes:

Offer help -- don't assume it's needed. Most of us are taught to "help the handicapped," but not "does this person want or need help?" If you think someone needs assistance, just ask. If they say yes, don't make assumptions; instead listen to the details of what the person with disabilities wants. If they say "no thanks" don't be offended. What might look overly complicated or inefficient can be what that disabled person finds works best.

Speak up! You don't need to have a disability to advocate for access. If you see barriers, feel free to suggest how to clear them -- whether this means talking respectfully to other members, alerting Safety or contacting the Access Team or another Concom member.

Don't assume people with disabilities want or need fixing. Members with disabilities are here for the same reasons non-disabled members are: SF, feminism, politics, chocolate. Talking about an interesting new book, a movie with problematic depictions of women, or a new podcasting tool you discovered, are much better conversation starters than "my nephew cured his fibromyalgia with a yak-milk diet" or "Don't they have a wonderful new medicine for that?" or "Why take drugs when you just need a positive mental attitude and yoga?"

Privacy People are often curious about the details of a visible disability. A member's medical history and details of how their body functions is private. Please do not ask how someone became disabled or assume their experience is the same as another person with a similar disability. The Access Team have chosen to be information resources about disabilities--ask us.

Beneficial behaviors

Panels/Presentations:

  • Keep your lips visible for those who speechread.
  • Use a microphone if one is available (even if you have vocal training)
  • If using Powerpoint or other presentation software, review techniques for making accessible presentations
  • Use high color contrast for text in presentations or handouts. Low contrast may be difficult or impossible for colorblind or low vision users to read.
  • Caption any video/audio content.
  • Describe any images/charts you are using, for the benefit of blind or low vision members (general descriptions are fine; describe any relevant details).
  • If you are using paper handouts, electronic versions help people who want enlarged text or who use screen reading software.
  • Animations or other video content (particularly with rapid flashing/strobing) may be migraine/seizure triggers for some. Let people know if you will be using them (for example, the vid party has historically warned for this)

Elevators - convenience vs. necessity. If you can use the stairways to move between program floors, please do! If you can only travel down, that still makes an important difference. Some of us absolutely depend on the elevators just to access the con. The reason might not be visible (arthritic knees or limited breathing); or might be obvious (wheelchair or canes) -- but the need is still there.

Maintain clear paths. Clogged doorways and hallways make navigation time-consuming for all, and impossible for some of us. Tuck your belongings in front of your feet or under your seat. Remind members gathered in doorways or hallways of the need to share the limited space so all of us can move freely.

Respect Blue Zones: The blue aisles in program rooms permit members to enter and leave freely: please don't sit or stand there. The blue squares in program rooms mark wheelchair parking. The blue striped chairs up front are for people who need to be close to hear or see. The blue stripes on the sixth floor create lanes to permit free movement even during parties. Please don't stand in the striped zones.

Share the air: Smoke and scents travel quickly, and air won't move if you ask it to. Washing your hands after smoking makes a difference. We ask that you limit your use of scented products if you can do so without negatively affecting your health. For those of us with asthma, migraine, and chemical sensitivities, fewer fragrances, vapors, and particulates make the con a place we can attend. Some of us smoke, and some of us don't. Please use designated smoking areas.

Spread the word. Universal Design simplifies life by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.

Service Animal Etiquette: Although interacting with animals is tempting, please don't pet, distract, or take photos of service animals at WisCon. Those of us who rely on service animals need our animals to be able to concentrate on doing their jobs well. We would also like to talk to you about science fiction, fantasy, politics, or other topics, rather than our service animal.

WisCon's DisAbility Access Statement in Full

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