These days, inclusiveness and diversity have become favorite themes of many conventions & pop culture as a whole. From a focus on minorities, to movements against sexual harassment, to talking about inclusion itself, pop culture really does progress alongside society.
That being the case, you would think that (by now) convention organizers wouldn’t have to be reminded about basic empathy, forethought, and consideration for various groups of people. Unfortunately, it would seem that you’d be wrong.
Ms. Franklin, a queer, black, and disabled comic book creator, was invited to speak on a panel about diversity in graphic novels. Upon arriving, however, she discovered that neither the convention staff, nor the panel moderator (Heidi MacDonald of The Beat) had given her needs any consideration.
Being a wheelchair user, Ms. Franklin required a ramp to the speaking dais, as she has to use mobility aides (a walker, wheelchair, or motorized scooter) to get around. Unfortunately, the panel had been set up on a raised stage, with stairs which Ms. Franklin could not use.
Why a convention would invite a panelist with known mobility issues, and then provide such a set-up, is beyond comprehension.
Ms. Heidi MacDonald, the moderator of the panel, even had prior knowledge of Ms. Franklin’s needs. However, it seems that Ms. MacDonald never once considered addressing the accessibility issue until Ms. Franklin arrived.
What’s worse, according to Ms. Franklin, is that the moderator’s behavior toward her was…less than appropriate, to say the least. Per the guest’s tweets about the incident, instead of being supportive, the Editor-In-Chief of The Beat reportedly cut off Ms. Franklin’s conversation more than once, and proceeded to “tell [the guest] how [she] should feel”.
Following this unfortunate interaction, Tee Franklin quit the panel (and rightly so), and went to the Image Comics booth so that she could meet fans there and sign their items.
What makes Ms. Franklin’s experience all the more disappointing, however, is the company in charge of running BookCon: ReedPOP.
As the primary force behind conventions like NYCC, Emerald City Comic Con, and even Star Wars Celebration, ReedPOP is a multinational organizer running more than 500 events in 40+ countries worldwide. Therefore, there is absolutely no excuse for this kind of lack of consideration for one of their guests.
With as well known as Tee Franklin is in comic book and graphic novel circles, BookCon should have been set up for accessibility from the start. There was no reason that she was not given complete support, and no excuse for the treatment she received.
Additionally, this was not an amateur panel run by novices. The Diversity in Graphic Novels panel is organized by Diamond Comic Distributors, and (as mentioned earlier) moderated by the Editor-In-Chief of The Beat comics blog.
Upon arriving and seeing the set-up of the dais, knowing full well of their guest’s needs, they should have voiced these concerns and begun rearranging. Instead, Ms. MacDonald apparently decided to wait until Ms. Franklin’s arrival and then be far less than supportive.
According to Tee Franklin, there was some positive response to her complaints, in the form of Image Comics (from whose booth she was signing). A staff member brought up the problems, and the Vice President of ReedPOP personally visited Ms. Franklin at the booth to apologize and inquire as to how they could do better.
Still, there is something hollow about the convention organizer asking “How can we do better?”.
How a major event organizer can be accessible to attendees with disabilities and guests should not even be a question in this day and age. We’re living in the 21st century, where basic inclusiveness and empathy should be a regular part of designing and running a convention.
How can you do better, ReedPOP? That should have been a question you asked yourselves ages ago, and had already implemented the answer into your policies and procedures.
Ms. Franklin had some strong words for the lack of support that people in the disability community receive from other professionals when incidents like this occur:
For what should be such a progressive industry, that supposedly champions diversity, there seem to be an awful lot of people who bury their heads in the sand when it comes to supporting others. These people may talk a good game, but when something happens that doesn’t directly involve their needs, they go silent.
ReedPOP, Ms. MacDonald of The Beat, and the professionals who couldn’t be bothered to say anything should all be ashamed of themselves and their behavior.
Ms. Franklin, we here at PCU are with you, and we will do everything in our power to continue to be a voice for the disability community and every other marginalized group.