accessibility at conventions

Stories from the Convention: All Access to Oz Comic-Con

Conventions Entertainment GeekMom

Every week there is a convention happening somewhere in the world. From comic books to gaming, there is a convention out there for you. Each of those conventions has its own spirit and style but most of all, each convention has its own stories.

From Dragon Con to New York Comic-on. From PAX to Smash! Whether it’s your first convention or your every-year event, everyone has their Stories from the Convention.

accessibility at conventions

Accessibility at Conventions: Oz Comic-Con

Moment of upfront honesty: I am an able-bodied person with no disabilities. I do not need extra assistance or support when attending events. I am not a carer for a person with disabilities, nor am I a companion or support person for someone with disabilities. This means I can empathize with people of all levels of abilities but, honestly, I am yet to truly understand the journey they have been travelling. However, I am willing to learn and change and grow. And fortunately, so are many of our favorite geek conventions.

In September 2019, I attended Oz Comic-Con (Sydney) on a media pass. Loved the cosplay, spent a solid day in Artists Alley with the amazing artwork, and enjoyed the ever-increasing number of panels on offer.

At one of the panels, I noticed an Auslan interpreter. At first, I thought, Awesome. Glad to see geeky conventions are accessible for everyone.

Then I realized: It was the first time I had noticed an Auslan Interpreter at a geeky convention. Was this a new thing or was I so privileged I simply had not noticed before?

Auslan is the primary language of the deaf community in Australia. While it is used in all official events and communication, it is not readily known throughout Australia by those who are ouside the deaf community. It also differs slightly from state to state, mostly between “North” and “South.” Recently, there has been a surge in demand for sign language interpreter services–possibly relating to an increase in social awareness for accessibility.

During the panel, I took a quick photo of the interpreter in action (permission was granted afterwards for me to use this photo on social media and in this article). I waited until after the panel had finished before I approached the interpreter and the family he was sitting with.

accessibility at conventions
Photo by EG Mum (with permission)

“Excuse me, I noticed your sign language services during the panel. Do you mind if I ask, is the service provided by Oz Comic-Con?”

Turns out, the Auslan services were provided by two people who shared the role during each session. The interpreters were not provided by Oz Comic-Con but were hired by the mother for the day to provide assistance to her two young sons.

For the last three years, this GeekMom had been trying to find a way to make special events more accessible for her kids. From movies to conventions, they wanted to celebrate their geek passion just like everyone else. However, their hearing disability had limited their access to the full experience.

In Australia, we have a government-funded program called the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The concept is to provide many Australians who have a permanent and significant disability with funding for support and services. This can be through a variety of ways: installing a ramp at the front door for wheelchair access; purchasing a specific computer monitor set-up for vision-impaired students; training for support service dogs; and many more. In this case, my new favorite GeekMom had been fighting for an allowance for Auslan Interpreters to assist with cultural events and provide support during social activities.

The NDIS is met with mixed opinions in Australia. In fact, it is pretty hard to gain assistance for a large majority of those who apply. However, this is a good news story. It’s a good news story because this GeekMom saw how important it was to her sons to support their geek passions. Reading comics books, creating their own artwork, expressing their joy in this geek culture–these are all things to keep them grounded in a world that may not always feel accessible to them. Mom knew this. Mom fought for this.

And Mom won.

Kudos to NDIS for recognizing the importance of events like Oz Comic-Con and the need to support accessibility for all, including the provision of Auslan interpreters.

Kudos to Oz Comic-Con for supporting the Auslan Interpreters as recognized “companions,” providing them free attendance with the family and support throughout the convention. I would love to see this taken further and have Auslan Interpreters available at ALL conventions throughout Australia. I strongly believe this should be a goal for all convention operators to work towards.

Kudos to the Auslan Interpreters who were not only professional in their services but were also genuinely supportive and involved in the kids’ interests. Geek interests can be quite diverse and heavily subjective. If you are not already passionate about a particular topic, I imagine it would be a very steep learning curve to capture everything while interpreting it through Auslan.

However, with all of this kudos being thrown around, the BIGGEST and GREATEST credit should be given to THE MOM. Her determination to support her kids in everything they do is exactly what any GeekMom would do. She had a few more hoops to jump through but she is like every single one of us. She loves her kids. She loves their geeky interests.

And this was The Story from my Oz Comic-Con 2019.

Just a Quick Side Note

I have since looked into accessibility at other conventions around the world. There are some conventions with great services and there are others that lack the support to provide for all patrons.

If you or someone you know needs access to additional services at any geeky convention, please contact the organizers directly and check what they can offer. For example, at San Diego Comic-Con, interpreters are always assigned to the major panels. You also have the opportunity to request an interpreter for any other specific program or panel via a sign-up sheet at the Deaf Services Desk.

At Emerald City Comic-Con, ASL Interpretation can be requested for any performance; however, the organizers do ask you contact them three weeks before the event to allow for sufficient processing times. Dragon Con also provides Sign Language interpreters on request.

London’s MCM Comic-Con (coming up this weekend) provides a ‘Carer Pass’ for your support person; however, no details on sign language interpreters or other accessibility services. As with any convention, it is always worth contacting the organizers and asking them directly.

If you would like to learn more about upcoming conventions around the world, check out GeekDad Joey and his Convention Connection updates. You can also read more “Stories from the Convention” like GeekMom Ruth’s Cults that Make Dragon Con, or my D&D at OzCC from 2017.

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