After running across a couple of frankly horrifying stories of people attempting to deal with Disability Services for this year's Con, I thought it was time to reach out to the broader community and see if this is a trend that other people have noticed, or if it's just a few isolated incidents that could be resolved by having the bright light of the community shined on them.
As a bit of background, I live with several invisible illnesses that have progressed over the last decade to the point where I am no longer able to work, need help with household chores, etc. This is the first year I'll be using Disability Services at DragonCon, after years of making-do at Con, skipping large events, and trying to get by on the life adjustments I use to cope at home. And last year I missed almost all of Sunday because of it, so this year I'm forcing myself to suck up my pride and plan to make Disability Services my first stop when I get to DragonCon.
Knowing that I'm going to be using DS for the first time this year, I've kept an eye out for mentions of it online. First I ran across this worrying story
of an attendee whose father has been hospitalized for diabetes being told that Disability Services can't do anything for him, as hospitalization-level diabetes isn't a "real" disability, and they aren't there to make anyone comfortable. Next I happened to meet someone on Tumblr who is chronically ill to the point of needing assistance to be able to manage the con, but has been told
that her assistant's first-time-going-to-a-con girlfriend is on her own as DS can't allow two companions to sit with a woman who needs assistance -- and told again
, this time by the DS director.
Then I worked my way through the Disability Services wiki
and found myself scratching my head at the tone. This is a department whose sole purpose is to provide help and services to those who would otherwise be prevented from going to DragonCon, but there's more in there about all the things that DS can't or won't do to help you. Some sections, like the bits about being your own advocate and the frequent admonisions to arrive early (which, of course, is just so easy for anyone dealing with a disability at DragonCon) are flat out rude, and seem to willfully ignore the social and emotional barriers many people dealing with long-term illness and disability often face on top of the physical barriers (ie, sometimes being forced to discuss your illness/disability with a total stranger is as detremental as being forced to climb that flight of stairs). There's a tone of "stupid you for getting sick and/or injured, now you're stuck with whatever scraps we feel like throwing your way, be thankful you get anything at all" that seems to me to leap out from every page.
I get that Disability Services needs to have rules in place to make sure people aren't abusing accommodations they don't genuinely need. I get that anyone who uses DS needs to be their own advocate -- but trust me when I say that anyone who has gotten to the point of needing Disability Services is more than familiar with the trying, tiring, soul-destroying, never-ending task of being one's own advocate. What I don't understand is the attitude. What I don't understand is saying that a man who has been hospitalized for diabetes doesn't qualify for a teeny tiny sticker that would make an event he paid to attend marginally less painful. What I don't understand is the complete and utter inflexibility to allow even one extra companion, on a case by case basis. What are they going to do when a disabled woman wants to keep both her husband and their child with her in line? What are they going to do when someone they could have helped but turned away passes out in line and seriously complicates an already life-altering illness?
Guys, help me out here? Are these a few isolated incidents that need to be escalated up the chain of command? Or is the attitude and tone I've witnessed again and again any time I run across Disability Services the attitude and tone I should expect to greet me at my first stop at DragonCon? And if that's the case, what can be done to fix it?