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inclusiveness: Wiscon does it right

Okay, it's early yet, but so far I think this is the best con I've ever been to.

The thoughtful attention paid to disability issues is incredible, and creates an environment where, even if my particular need is not being acommodated at a particular moment, I know that I can ask for what I need and be treated with respect. That feeling is fucking rare, let me tell you.

The way social events have been set up, especially on this first day, has made the overwhelmingness of a con where I know almost nobody quite navigable, even enjoyable on a purely social level, which I was not expecting at all. The Gathering, with a dozen different areas from crafts to games to a clothing swap, meant that I could join in an activity on my own terms, being as social as I felt comfortable with, with no pressure, in a completely accepting environment. (Then it got really crowded and I had to leave, but, y'know, still awesome! Plus I scored purple pleather pants at the clothing swap!) And then they had a host of dinner mobs aimed at first-time Wisconners - I trailed along after the first one I found, and had lovely conversations with everyone I was seated near.

The first table I saw in the Gathering encapsulated both things above very nicely - it was an "access crafts" table, where you could decorate a sign to hold up at panels that said "use your mic" on one side and "show your lips" on the other, if you couldn't follow what was being said. You could also decorate a long wand to wave in lieu of standing or clapping if that was not feasible for you.

There's a cultural sense I get at most cons that I can't quite put into words (especially if I don't want to piss off those of my friends who do enjoy cons ;) but I don't do well with it, and that sense isn't present here.

I've attended one panel so far, which was inspiring and instructive and I actually managed to focus the whole way through. There are blue-taped chairs in the front row of the panel rooms reserved for hard-of-hearing folk, and floor spaces similarly taped off for those in wheelchairs. I didn't need to use a blue chair for that panel - there was another front-row seat available - but if it had been crowded, that seat would have made the difference for me in being able to follow it.

There are signs by the elevators asking people to use the stairs for short trips if they can; the phrasing and graphics making it clear that this is for the benefit of those people who do not have the option of taking the stairs. There's going to be live captioning of the GOH speech on Sunday. And this barely touches on the way people with disabilities are truly included here; not an afterthought, not an inconvenience, but really and honestly welcomed.

I would come back to Wiscon just for that feeling of inclusion, even if none of the content interested me. Fortunately, it does interest me greatly :)

Another early night tonight, hopefully to banish this damned cold and generate more spoons for tomorrow.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 28th, 2011 02:54 am (UTC)
Can you talk to me about what makes an event more inclusive? I know lots of groups who want to be inclusive but simply don't know how.
May. 28th, 2011 06:14 am (UTC)
I'm sure that [Bad username: jnanacandra"] will have much to say on this, but my general take is that for inclusiveness to work, you have to plan for it early in the stages of event planning. The difference between organizers asking themselves (and asking people with disabilities) "what barriers exist to everyone's participation in our event" at the beginning and throughout the planning and tacking some nominal accessibility accommodations on at the end of planning is palpable. It's also in the attitude. Your event planners and staff having the attitude of "Welcome! How can we help you access our event?" is noticeably different from "We put up wheelchair ramps, what more do you want?" There is a lot to be said for being proactive as a planner--asking in advance what would make an event more welcoming instead of waiting to be asked. People with disabilities always have to ask to be accommodated--and they usually have to ask people who are very surly about it. That is exhausting and disheartening.

Look at the examples she described. A lot of organizers would have stopped with making sure that the facility was wheelchair accessible and that printed copies of the speeches were available after the con and left it at that. Instead, they are making sure that those with mobility issues have access to less crowded elevators. Those with hearing or vision or mobility disabilities have reserved close-in seating. They found a way for those with hearing disabilities have a non-intrusive way to let the speaker know they need to be louder or that they are obscuring their mouths from those who lip read, so they can actually get what is being said without drawing too much attention to themselves or interrupting the speaker. They found a way for people with disabilities to be able to participate in applauding/cheering a good speaker even if their disability normally makes that impossible. They designed their social events to accommodate both extroverts and introverts--and not just a tiny part of the event--the whole thing. All of these things work toward giving people with disabilities a much greater chance of having the full event experience.

Think about how vegetarians are treated. Not too long ago, event planners either didn't bother with a vegetarian option or did it as a sloppy afterthought (a crappy frozen veggie lasagna or spaghetti marinara.) Now including a tasty vegetarian option is event planning 101. The veggie dishes are on par with the meat dishes in terms of flavor, quality & presentation. Most cons are still in the crappy frozen veggie lasagna stage of accommodation.
May. 28th, 2011 06:26 am (UTC)
So not to discount the awesome comment here which said many awesome things, but I was kinda confused by this:

They designed their social events to accommodate both extroverts and introverts

Introversion is a disability now? I'm disabled? I just... don't feel like that. And I don't mean that in a "being disabled is bad and I don't want to be that" way. I mean, I totally see my introversion as an asset. Maybe not in all settings, ok, I do pretty crappy at "professional networking" events, but socially I feel like being an introvert means I am happy to sit in a corner and watch extroverts talk :) I realize my experience of introversion is not everyone's and I suppose there might be people who feel like it is a disability to them? I'm just not sure how.
May. 28th, 2011 03:47 pm (UTC)
I did not mean to say that introversion is a disability. It is, however, something that is rarely taken into consideration when planning an event because most event planners are extroverts. Your introversion is one type. Another very common type is an introvert who can participate in an event the way that extroverts do for a while and then needs some alone time to recharge.

Not every event can be set up the way that Wiscon has done with the social event described above, but it is an excellent accommodation. Having the social organized around "bite-sized" activities, many of which involve sitting, accommodates introverts (as well as accommodating, say, people with chronic pain issues or other energy-sapping conditions that leave you with a minimum of spoons.) Contrast that with a professional networking event that is mostly standing/walking around talking to people. A lot of people who sit in the corner at these events feel excluded. Even if they don't feel excluded, there's a good chance people will come by and make a (well-meaning) comment about why they aren't participating. At the social that jnanacandra described, someone who wanted to sit and chill for a bit could go to one of the arts & crafts tables and then move to a game table in order to interact with a small number of people when they were ready.

A cocktail party at the end of the first conference day is an extrovert's idea of relaxation, but many extroverts don't realize how many people see this kind of activity as sheer hell.
May. 29th, 2011 03:29 am (UTC)
Tzaddi said most of what I would have, but I'll add this -

Most people come at disability from the medical model, which basically says "there is a part of you that is broken and can't be fixed, so that makes you disabled." I take the approach of the social model, which looks at the things society does to make life easier for some people at the expense of others whose brains or bodies work differently.

From the medical model, no, introversion is not a disability. From the social model, it could be. It would be up to the individual and how much they are distressed by those social conventions whether they would identify as disabled.

Tzaddi's point about the energy drain of many disabilities is also a very good one. Knowing that there will always be a quiet corner for me to retreat to where nobody will look at me funny or bother me when my energy runs out makes the difference as to whether I actually go to an event.
May. 30th, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC)
Social model vs. Medical model is exactly what I was thinking of, but I couldn't figure out how to express it. US society definitely privileges extroversion and others introversion.
Jun. 3rd, 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
Dropping in here to say, please take a look at WisCon's accessibility web page and the detailed information laid out there:


Some things to pay attention to in particular are inclusive language, noting barriers to access, and an email address that is regularly checked.

May. 29th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
That's great - so glad to hear!
May. 31st, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
I am thrilled that it was good for you. We've had the benefit of a lot of great disability activists involved in the con and yelling at people, and I feel like Wiscon has made huge strides in the last five years.
Jun. 3rd, 2011 02:15 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for this post, on behalf of the WisCon Access Team. This is exactly what we are aiming for and what we like to hear!

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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