At Dragon Con, we believe that an educated consumer is our best customer. Dragon Con, being the complex event that it is, can't always catch every disability related problem before it happens. A con-member's ability to SELF ADVOCATE is important, not just to get your needs met, but to work with us to assure that these needs are met for future events.
To start, we'd like to put a couple of examples in front of you to get you thinking. We'll state at the start that each situation and each answer has actually occurred (in one form or another), but, as they say in the movies, is not meant to represent any specific person or event.
1. You walk into a panel, and see no seats marked for Disability Services (DS). The room is very crowded, you don’t see any end of row seats available. You ask somebody who looks like they work there where you should sit, expecting that they will notice your not glaringly obvious disability and/or sticker, but they tell you to take a seat on the floor. Do you…
- a. take a seat on the floor, which will leave you in serious pain for the rest of the Con, then after the panel tell DS how horribly you were treated.
- b. wave your ‘end of row’ badge/sticker in the rude person’s face and demand that they clear a front row seat for you.
- c. calmly and politely tell the person that you have a disability and require an end of row seat, then after the panel go tell DS about the problem.
2. You have an invisible disability that makes walking difficult. You arrive at Dragon Con to find the line wrapped around the block. You ask the security staff where you should go. He tells you to walk around the block to find the end of the line. You walk all the way around the block, arrive back where you started --not having found the end of the line--, and again ask the security guy what to do. He tells you to walk around the block again. Do you…
a. walk around the block a few more times, then come to DS and tell us how horribly you were treated.
b. Scream and Yell at the Security Staff about how callous ‘you people’ are to people with disabilities
c.rewind back to the first time you talked to the security guy and say, “Where is Disability Services?” or, “I have a disability, and can’t do that, what other option do I have?” thus avoiding the whole walking around the block thing.
Dragon Con Disability Services [DCDS] is here to help you advocate for your needs, so that you can maximize your enjoyment of Dragon Con. Most of the staff at DCDS are fans with disabilities just like you. That being said, our primary focus is to assure that we all have the tools to work together.
Self Advocacy Defined
Not everybody has the same definition of self advocacy. So that we can all start on the same page:
From Wrightslaw: Self-Advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you in your journey, knowing your rights and responsibilities, problem solving, listening and learning, reaching out to others when you need help and friendship, and learning about self-determination. [http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/self.advocacy.htm] (Lots more good information at that link, check it out!)
http://www.educ.kent.edu/cite/CASAP/docs/SADef+tips.pdf offers some good tips for self-advocacy:
Tips for SelfAdvocacy
1. Know and understand your rights and responsibilities
2. Learn all you can about your disability, needs, strengths, and weaknesses
3. Know what accommodations you need as well as why you need them
4. Know how to effectively/assertively communicate your needs and preferences
5. Find out who the key people are and how to contact them if necessary
6. Be willing to ask questions when something is unclear or you need clarification
So, how do we relate that to the convention environment?
Tip One - Identify Your Needs as Early as Possible
In the examples above, notice that the person doesn’t tell the volunteer that they are disabled and require accommodations. You would be amazed at how often that happens. There are many reasons for that. Some don't want to bother or inconvenience others. Others don't want to call attention to themselves. Still others are embarrassed to need assistance at all.
While Dragon Con is pleased to discuss your needs and provide the accommodations that we can, that process doesn't start until you identify your needs. Remember that Dragon Con volunteers are generally nice helpful people, but they won’t know you need help unless you tell them. Going back to our examples, note that in each first choice offered, the person with a disability may actually say, “hey what should I do” but they do not specifically say that they are have a disability, nor what kind of help they need.
Now, you don’t have to go into intimate detail when you request, but you do need to say, "I am a person with a disability and I need [insert the accommodation required here].”
Tip Two - Never Assume
We want to keep this tip as brief as we can. While DCDS is the department responsible for identifying needs, each individual department is responsible for carrying them out. We partner with main programming spaces, Security, and Technical Operations to carry out our concerns with seating, at their request. Each year, department heads are sent disability training information, and we answer numerous questions to assure that access can be provided to each area.
That said, most of the Department Volunteers are not trained or knowledgeable in the Americans with Disabilities Act or other disability law. Many of them have never even considered what life would be like if they had to manage the world with a disability. Each year, DCDS staff run into something that even we have never seen before, and have to adjust what we do to take that into consideration. Things that you may think are obvious are, quite often, not so obvious to people who have never had to deal with your specific disability. Once you've made your request, things should be OK, but never assume they will be. Be prepared for to provide a brief "Why," if needed.
Tip Three - Climb the Chain
If you have a problem with requesting an accommodation from a staffer, we ask that you do two things:
1. Ask the staffer for their name
2. Ask for the Track Director, Area Director, or the "Room Lead" in the area you are in, and be sure to get their name.
While you may need to go through the process again with that next person. It should resolve most issues.
If you still can’t get what you need, now is when you would come to Disability Services and let us know where the problem is, including the name(s) of the person(s) you talked to. We will go to that area, and to that person, and offer some intensive re-training.
Stress and the Disabled Con-member
We understand advocating for your needs can be a stressful experience, but we cannot express enough the need, when self advocating, to remain calm and respectful. One of the things you should never assume is that someone may understand the reason for your anger, confusion, or anxiety. Quite often, the staff are dealing with multiple crises that need to be solved all at once. Keeping calm prevents situations from escalating, and allows you to get the information we may need to retrain and solve your problem.
Negotiating Reasonable Accommodations
Most people come to DCDS and say, "What can you do for me?" DCDS has certain standard accommodations set up that meet the vast majority of issues that have come up over the years. A self advocate will come up to Disability Services and tell US the accommodation(s) they will need. If we look at your cane/other visibly obvious sign of disability and tell you what we can offer, a self advocate might tell us, "that won't work because I need..."
All that said, determining an accommodation is a process of negotiation. Even if you come to us and say, "I need this accommodation," we will ask you some questions to help us determine if any of our standard accommodations will work, or if we have to come up with a new (shiny!) solution for you that will work within our system. 'Working within our system' is important because Dragon Con is so huge, we have to have a way to communicate your accommodation with all the people who will need to know, across 5 hotels and who knows how many individual rooms. Something new and shiny may require us to give you a temporary solution while we work with our powers that be to come up with a more permanent solution-- the birth of a new standard accommodation.
Feedback, Feedback, Feedback
Lastly, a critical part of self-advocacy in the convention environment is Feedback. If you feel the need to communicate with someone about your experience, please do so - whether it be positive or negative. Not only does it show the area Directors and Staff that you care enough to say something, it can provide information on how to improve or maintain disability-related services. Remember, our office is always available to take your feedback. You can come to the DCDS Table in Registration and fill out a form, or you can go to this electronic form. I also check several 'DragonCon with disabilities' related Facebook pages fairly regularly. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep in mind if you want us to reply or let you know what resolution was found, you have to give us accurate contact information.