Convention accessibility. For those of us who straddle the line between the disability and geek/nerd communities, this is a hot-button issue which we have to consider when making plans for the annual convention season. The accessibility of the conventions themselves, as well as the venues which host them is a big factor that we all have to look at when deciding which conventions we can physically attend, and what we will be able to do and see while we’re there.
Therefore, when changes are made to the accessibility of conventions or venues, the disability community sits up and takes notice. I’m writing today to tell you all, dear readers, about one such change.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, December 19, 2017, I spoke with Rachel DiGrazia, the former accessibility manager for Awesome Con, regarding a piece of information that was passed on to me by an associate of mine. She and I talked for a short while about this shake-up, and she was gracious enough to tell me a bit about how things happened from her point of view.
PCU: I was just informed that AwesomeCon has done away with its accessibility oversight team (or something to that effect). I was wondering if you had any information on this.
RD: There has been restructuring of the organisation [SIC] and my position – Accessibility Manager – was eliminated. As was the entire dedicated accessibility team.
Ops will be handling all accessibility needs, as is the case with most cons. However, AwesomeCon always stood out from the rest of the pack because they dedicated attention to accessibility needs.
The thing is, Left Field Media has taken over running AwesomeCon. And they have their model. It seems they aren’t especially keen on all the things that made AwesomeCon special.
PCU: Do you have any idea what they may be changing?
RD: They’re trying to make the organizational structure match all of their cons, but all cons are different.
I want to be clear. I still have a lot of love for the con. I just don’t agree with the decision to fold accessibility into Ops. I think that having a dedicated team whose sole focus was accessibility is important. And I have the same opinion for Reed Pop. Reed Pop is TERRIBLE at accessibility accommodations.
PCU: Are you still involved with the organization of Awesome Con at all?
RD: I tendered my resignation with Awesome Con today (12/19/2017). My sole reason for joining the organization was to help with accessibility accommodations. They were glad to make space for me elsewhere, but that was not my interest. I want to be clear… They still intend to address accessibility needs. But there is no dedicated point of contact. And I fear without one dedicated person to attend to those needs, something might slip through the cracks.
It was at this point that Ms. DiGrazia declined to say more, but we thank her for her time.
Following my conversation with Rachel DiGrazia, I elected to reach out to Awesome Con’s co-founder, Ben Penrod. Mr. Penrod has been with AwesomeCon since 2012 (when it was first being planned), and currently serves as its Chief Operating Officer.
PCU: Could you tell us a bit about the change that was made regarding the dedicated accessibility team?
BP: Our full time ops team will be handling accessibility at Awesome Con moving forward.
PCU: Why was the restructure done?
BP: Our team is a bit larger than it was in previous years and we run multiple shows every year so it just made sense to have the same people implementing the same policies at all of our shows whenever possible.
PCU: What sort of visible changes could con-goers with disabilities (like myself) see in coming years?
BP: This is more of an administrative change, I don’t expect there to be any major policy changes, it’s just organized a bit differently behind the scenes. We still take accessibility very seriously and this is something I am personally committed to making sure we do to the best of our abilities. Our team is very experienced at this, we’ve added some new people since last year but they all have a background in shows similar to Awesome Con (PAX, NYCC, etc) and I’m very confident in them.
PCU: Thank you, Ben. I just have a couple more questions. Is AwesomeCon looking to improve upon any existing accessibility policies, or will the team be maintaining a status quo?
BP: Right now I don’t have a lot of specifics to share with you. It’s still early in the process for planning, we haven’t even met with the building yet about crowd flow plans or any of that.
PCU: Do you have anything you’d like to say directly to con-goers with disabilities about this change?
BP: I think our accessibility policies will mostly stay the same but we are working to improve areas that had issues last year. Like I said, this is more of an administrative change, we don’t typically announce that sort of thing publicly, and I doubt that attendees will notice the difference in any significant way.
PCU: Thank you again for taking the time to converse with me, and for your willingness to be so transparent. As a con-goer with a disability, I look forward to seeing how these changes might help the community at large.
How does this change affect your views on AwesomeCon, dear readers? Leave us a comment down below, and let us know your thoughts. Also, stay tuned for more AwesomeCon news and updates as we get closer to the 2018 convention season!
*AUTHOR’S NOTE:* As of this writing, no physical changes have been made to the accessibility of the Washington Convention Center, nor are any planned. The changes mentioned above are strictly administrative and personnel changes within the AwesomeCon staff.