Dragon Con and Disability

dragon con

As I sit here suffering from con crud and thinking about my weekend at Dragon Con, a few things stand out. I had an amazing, wonderful, better-than-even-Christmas experience, just like every con. I managed to stop by briefly to see my father for his 60th birthday on my way home, and he said it was the happiest he had ever seen me. Keeping in mind he saw me get married less than six months ago…that’s a big statement.

He wasn’t wrong. I was still basking in the post-con glow. I shook hands with my favorite Star Trek actress, I made instant friends with people in line, I had too many “only at Dragon Con” moments to count. I fucking love conventions, and Dragon Con does it like no other. It certainly wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s easy to feel that way looking back at the high points.

I have a hard time winging it, especially when it comes to travel. Dragon Con forces me to go with the flow. And it isn’t so bad! Twice we started a game in the gaming  dungeon  basement, and before we had even assembled the game, others came along to join us and made the games that much better. We made friends with a Floridian cop who tried to help us defend Camelot from evil until the wee hours (unfortunately for him, I was a wildly successful traitor). You can’t plan for that.

By far though, my greatest surprise this year stemmed from hanging out with a disabled con-goer. I first met Victor as a friend of a childhood friend. We happened to live in the same neighborhood. I noticed he was using crutches at the time, but didn’t think anything more of it. The next time I saw him he was hurtling down a hallway at GMX. My husband pointed him out, so I ran over to say hello. He made it most of the way down the long hallway (including stairs!) before I caught up. He was dressed as Iron Man, and still had crutches—his idea of a joke. He had just frantically started speaking to a volunteer when I burst out my enthusiastic greeting and sort of surprised both of them. I started to chat when he told me he was absurdly drunk and had been ejected from his informal crash space with nowhere to sleep and no way to get home. (This is when I learned the term “sexiled.”) I didn’t even think twice before offering him a ride home at the end of the night. We were neighbors, it wasn’t even inconvenient! But for Victor, that act truly cemented our friendship. When he asked to share a room at Dragon Con a few years later, I (again) didn’t even think twice. At the time, I didn’t realize how much Victor’s disability—or rather, people’s lack of consideration for Victor’s mobility—would impact our shared con experience.

To explain fully, Victor has no lower legs. He uses prosthetics and two crutches to get around. I had been with him many times walking at a few different cons, and if anything I saw how many advantages his crutches sometimes have over a wheelchair.

They aren’t always ideal, though. You never notice how many stairs you encounter until they become a problem. It didn’t occur to me how difficult moving around the con could be for Victor. Dragon Con elevators are notorious: they are slow, and when they do stop at your floor they are packed already. They break down. The “go down to go up” method is standard. They suck. I like to use Dragon Con elevators as a bonding opportunity and make instant friends, but that’s just my personality. For Victor, they were often his only means of getting around. Oh sure, the main lobbies have escalators. And because I have seen Victor climb stairs, I never thought about it. But it turns out he had never been on an escalator. And with his method of moving around it would have been very difficult. Combine that with the crush of 70,000 people and it wasn’t even an option to try.

This quickly became an issue. Any time I typically would have used an escalator or stairs, we were stymied. Victor needs a ton of energy and frankly room to maneuver on stairs. In a con environment, I saw how impossible even that became. If we wanted to travel together, we had to take elevators. It. Was. Awful. Dragon Con tries to make a point of saying, “Make room for the disabled!” But I never once saw anyone voluntarily move for him. By the end of the weekend I was yelling, “We have a disabled person, please make space for him!” I even put my arm in an elevator to keep it from moving when no one offered their spot. My Glare of Guilt powers only worked once. I don’t know if he was grateful or embarrassed. He never said anything about it.

Those people in the elevators didn’t see the blisters on his hands. They didn’t see how much effort he uses just to walk a few blocks. He was dripping with sweat just to check in with disability services in the Sheraton. I witnessed it all weekend. And I can’t believe how hard he has it. Day-to-day he gets around easily, but Dragon Con pushed him. He spent so much time in the room, so much time moving from place to place. So much time that he could have spent enjoying his con if other attendees had been just the tiniest bit more considerate. Dragon Con is an awesome community, but I KNOW we can do better.

Victor had a fantastic time despite it all. He got photos with celebrities and enough autographs to break the bank. He asked great questions at panels and really made a connection with some fellow voice actors. But navigating Dragon Con shouldn’t be a herculean task. Traveling with Victor, I got a glimpse of what disabled life is like, and it left me feeling like—as able-bodied con-goers—we don’t do enough to accommodate people who have more difficulty getting around. I know the volunteers for disability services work very hard, and they do a great job. It really would make for a better con experience for everyone if we all were just more considerate of others. The vibe and camaraderie at Dragon Con is half the point for me. No matter where you look, you see a friendly face, or someone who doesn’t think it’s weird to like a cartoon enough get it tattooed on their body. It was truly disheartening to lose some of that friendly feeling this year as I saw people continually refuse to make room for Victor.

Next year, let’s make up for it. We can all do better at making room for everyone.

 

Erica Fey will see you at Dragon Con 2016.

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