Tuesday, November 12, 2013

An Open Letter to the Staff of the Long Island Doctor Who Convention

To Ken Depp and the Long Island Doctor Who Staff,
During the weekend of November 8th - 10th, 2013, I was thrilled to attend the Long Island Doctor Who convention at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center Ronkonkoma.  As an avid Whovian, I was eager to go to my first convention and meet like-minded people.
I was not prepared to find that the convention was inaccessible to me.

I was born with cerebral palsy, a disability which impedes my mobility and causes chronic fatigue and pain.  I also have an anxiety disorder which, in addition to generalized anxiety, manifests itself with panic attacks.

My friend Meg (who also has cerebral palsy) and I took the Long Island Railroad to the Ronkonkoma station early Saturday morning.  We planned to meet up with our friend Oscar there and take advantage of the courtesy shuttle to the convention site.  But when we arrived, we discovered that Oscar had been sitting in the cold, watching as the shuttle pulled up and pulled away multiple times.  Oscar uses a power wheelchair and the shuttle, despite statements to the contrary on the convention website and in the convention program booklet, was not wheelchair accessible - a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The shuttle van had three small steps and no ramp or lift.  Upon hearing of the situation, the shuttle driver spoke to his supervisor, who suggested that Oscar take a medical transport to the convention for $85.  This suggestion is ludicrous and insulting.  Besides the fact that segregated transportation is inherently unequal, a perfectly healthy wheelchair user should not have to utilize a medical transport which could be better served transporting people who are actually in need of medical assistance in order to get to an event.  In addition, it is blatant discrimination to have a disabled person pay $85 (which, incidentally, costs ten dollars more than a three-day pass to the convention) for transportation when able-bodied people receive transportation free.

Because Meg and I are capable of climbing steps with assistance and our walkers folded enough to fit in the van’s trunk, we were granted access to the shuttle and the rest of the convention.  Oscar was not.  Faced with no other option for getting to the convention, he was forced to turn back and head home, wasting the money he had spent on a convention ticket.

We arrived at the convention to find the “Disability Services” desk mysteriously unmanned.  The people at the general information desk seemed puzzled that the shuttle had not been accessible and said there must have been a miscommunication.  They assured us that something would be done.  To my knowledge, nothing was done and no formal apology was issued.  The “Disability Services” desk remained unmanned throughout the entire time we were at the convention.

The convention venue itself was physically inaccessible.  There were many heavy doors separating hallways from each other that were difficult for someone with limited strength to open, let alone navigate a mobility aid through.  The rooms where the panels and events were held were crowded with chairs, leaving only narrow space for people to walk.  Meg and I constantly were pushing through, trying to make space for our walkers.  There were no spaces in the panel rooms for someone using a wheelchair to sit, if they could even fit into the room in the first place.  I began to feel like my walker and I were a nuisance, a bulky apparatus clogging up the hallways and small rooms.

On Sunday afternoon, Meg and I spent some time in the Vendor’s Room on the lower level.  While attempting to get back to the elevator, we were caught in a crush of people moving from Panel A to Panel B, as well as people streaming in and out of the Vendor’s Room.  The artist tables set up in the hallway drastically narrowed the already limited space, once again making it difficult for Meg and I to navigate with our walkers.  Surrounded by people, I began to panic.  I was gasping for air and extremely dizzy.  We made our way back up to the lobby, where Meg explained to the woman at the information desk that her friend was having a panic attack and asked if there was a quiet room away from people where I could calm down.  The woman seemed confused and said that no, there was not.  We ended up sitting in an empty hallway until I felt like I could breathe again.

Many conferences have a designated “Quiet Room”, where people who are feeling overwhelmed can go to relax and calm down.  Given the amount of rooms at the Clarion Hotel, it would not have been difficult at all to orchestrate a quiet room from the beginning or at the very least have your staff find and open up a room when they were told that it was needed.  None of these things were done.

When I go to an event, I expect to feel valued, as a paying attendee.  I did not feel that I, as a person with multiple disabilities, was respected or valued at your convention.  I know that Long Island Doctor Who 2 has already been scheduled at the same venue.  I fear that the same inaccessibility will result.  Because of these concerns and my negative experiences at Long Island Doctor Who, you will not be receiving my money next year.  I refuse to support and attend a convention that held my needs in such low regard.

The Doctor says that he’s never met anyone who wasn’t important.  But your convention and apathy towards accessibility made me feel like my fellow disabled Whovians and I were not important enough to be worth considering.  I am saddened and disgusted that a convention representing such a diverse fandom failed to include people with disabilities.

I would be happy to discuss accessibility further with you and help to ensure that Long Island Doctor Who 2 is more inclusive.  You can reach me at caraliebowitz@gmail.com.  I sincerely hope that accessibility will now become a priority.

Cara Liebowitz

With input from:

Meghan Mertens
Oscar Ortega


Anonymous said...

That's a terrible experience and great letter.

Have you heard anything back?

I'm linking this letter in the access-fandom Dreamwidth community, where we scheme for universal access to cons, writing, vids, etc.

Unknown said...

Dear God! The situation you describe is horrible. I would expect more from Doctor Who fans. Was it a fan run convention? Were they completely ignorant of the American with Disability laws?

I sincerely hope that you received a response to your letter and that your friend Oscar received a refund and an apology for the unexcusable failures of the convention organizers.

Ianto Jones said...

Just wondering if anything came of your letter?