Gen Con is nigh! With just over two weeks to go before the best four days in gaming (as of the time I’m posting this), I’m not going to rehash what so many others have put out there; there are tons of blogs and articles out there with advice regarding large conventions like Gen Con. My advice is different. I am going to rehash what I’ve posted in previous years (they’re my most popular posts!). To most of it, Wheaton’s Law applies. For those of you who are link-averse, Wheaton’s Law is: Don’t be a dick.
However, the topics about which I’m going to speak, are the sorts of things people are not aware they’re being dickish about. They’re usually not being malicious; they just don’t have any personal experience with these sorts of issues, so when they start breaking Wheaton’s Law, they don’t know they’re doing it. My job here is not to castigate, but to educate.
Specifically, I’m talking about dealing with those who have physical challenges at conventions. The disabled, to be blunt. People like my wife. She can walk, but conventions like Gen Con are too big for her. So, she uses a wheelchair to get around. She has a snazzy metallic red electric wheelchair, but in years past, I’ve pushed her in a manual wheelchair. This gives us a unique experience at Gen Con.
Be Aware of People Around You
The average con goer is, shall we say, plus-sized. OK, that’s fine. I’ve been there; I lost nearly 50 pounds about five years ago. At conventions, people often have large backpacks. Sometimes, everything they brought to the convention is in this backpack. People are not always aware that this backpack adds two to three feet to their girth. They spin around quickly. If you’re in a wheelchair or use another type of mobility device or are short in stature, those backpacks are level with your head. More than once my wife has narrowly avoided being clobbered in the head by an unaware con-goer suddenly spinning around because something caught their eye. When I pushed her, I watched for this sort of thing. Now she drives herself, and I worry she’s going to get beat up.
Step to the far sides or into a booth space, if possible, to have conversations with friends or on your phone, or to look at the map, in your backpack, etc.
Moving through large groups of slow moving people is challenging in a wheelchair. Sometimes people back up unexpectedly. Worse, they often stop unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s because the crowd in front of them has stopped. Sometimes it’s because something caught their eye. Sometimes it’s because someone caught their eye, and they’re stopping to chat. If this happens to you, look ahead a bit and see if there’s a spot in a booth where you can divert to stop. Please, please, please don’t just stop in the middle of the aisle to root through your backpack or catch a Pokémon. You’re not in a high school hallway; stopping in the middle of the aisle is hugely disruptive. Also, if you’re pushing your kids in a stroller, please watch where you’re pushing them. My wife almost got t-boned by a stroller a few years ago because the mother had her head turned one way, watching something, and was pushing and walking in a different direction… in a CROWDED hall way (not even the Dealer Hall). She also almost got run into by a guy walking very fast and not watching the direction he was walking. His friend yelled to get his attention, otherwise he would have tripped over my wife’s (in motion) wheelchair. She had no chance to take evasive action because he approached from an angle that was mostly behind her. Situational Awareness is a thing. You don’t have to be a fighter pilot to practice it. Seriously.
Bathe regularly. Use deodorant.
Shower regularly and use deodorant. This has been covered by almost every blog and podcast I’ve seen on the subject. I bring it up because something most people aren’t aware of: Gamer Funk is worse when your head is at waist level to the average con goer. Think about it: you sit on your butt every day during the con, often for four to six hours at a time. Frequently, walking around the city during the Con is like walking on the surface of the sun (i.e. it’s HOT). The chairs don’t breathe. The A/Cs in the convention center will have trouble keeping up with a roomful of gamers when it’s hot and humid outside. Except for a very few, select people, most attendees have the crotch region covered completely by a couple of layers of clothes (basically, I’m talking about everyone who can’t get away with wearing something like a swimsuit or lingerie to Gen Con). Sweat happens. Funky things happen in dark, warm, moist areas. This is not shameful, it’s just a fact of bio-chemistry. Cleanliness saves noses.
Give wheelchairs and other mobility devices a wide berth; don’t step over them.
Often, those of us using wheelchairs, canes, and walkers move a little more slowly than others in the Dealer Hall. Sorry, it’s just difficult to drive or push a large mechanical object through a crowd. Sometimes, we have to stop for a moment to wait for an opening to cross an aisle. I know you’re in a hurry. I know there’s a demo you think you’re late for, or a game in another room. But FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY: DO NOT STEP OVER THE LEGS OF THE PERSON IN THE WHEELCHAIR. This happens to my wife at least once a year. Someone will get the bright idea that they can cut a corner if they just step over my wife’s legs. That is 100% NOT OKAY. For one, these people usually misjudge how much space they need and end up kicking my wife’s feet or the wheelchair. She’s not paralyzed, OK? She has feeling in the lower half of her body. In fact, because she has a degenerative spine condition, she feels these jolts acutely. IN HER BACK.
Pain is a funny thing (and I mean funny like a heart attack). In my wife’s case (and I know many people experience this same thing), it’s like gas prices. It’ll spike very quickly, and then take FOREVER to come back down. If you kick her wheels (however accidentally) or kick her legs because you felt stepping over her was quicker than going around, or accidentally knee the back of the chair because you’re standing too close in line, all of those jolts go right into her back. The extremities are ALL connected to the spine in some way. That jolt of pain doesn’t just go away. It takes HOURS. Often, it takes her lying down for hours before it gets back down to a manageable level and it’s not something that can be alleviated by popping a couple of ibuprofen. Chronic pain does not work that way.
More than once, she has missed out on a half-day or a whole day of a con because of this pain. When you are the cause because you carelessly stepped over her wheelchair and kicked her legs, causing a flare up of pain in her back, you have taken a day at Gen Con away from her. Is that worth saving five seconds to you?
Don’t tie up wheelchair accessible ADA bathroom stalls unless you have a Bona Fide Potty Emergency.
A comedian once proclaimed the virtues of the wheelchair accessible ADA rest room stall, saying it was “the Cadillac” [of the stalls]. While it is true these stalls are often very roomy, there is a reason for that. Here’s a hint: the reason is NOT SO YOU CAN USE IT TO CHANGE INTO OR OUT OF YOUR COSTUME. I respect cos-players. What they do is AMAZING. But if you’re tying up the accessible stall chatting on the phone, changing clothes, having a quiet moment, you may be preventing people who need to use it for its intended purposes from using the facilities they require. From what I hear, because I don’t have first-hand experience with the ladies restrooms, for every ten to twenty standard stalls, there are one or two wheelchair accessible ADA stalls and one or two “family” stalls (if you’re lucky). The family stalls are slightly smaller than the wheelchair accessible stalls, but larger than a standard stall so that a parent can stand and assist their toddler. Handicapped attendees don’t expect the wheelchair accessible ADA stalls to only be used by people with disabilities. With some 60,000+ attendees anticipated, it is understood that sometimes there will be a line for the facilities. People expect to have to wait their turn. The main point is to use a non-ADA accessible stall if one is available and to be aware that people using wheelchairs and other mobility assistance devices often cannot choose one of the smaller stalls.
Look, I get sometimes you need a quiet moment (Gen Con has, in fact, special rooms for quiet moments; use them, not the restrooms), or have to change clothes, but that stall is that big so that wheelchairs or people with walkers can get into it, and the commode is raised higher than in the non-accessible stalls. My wife told me of an experience a couple of years ago where she was in a line three wheelchairs deep waiting for the wheelchair accessible ADA stall while two young ladies were changing clothes and giggling and were pretty much oblivious to the fact that they were not the center of the universe. Apparently, of the twenty or so other stalls, only two others were occupied at the time, so it’s not like these young ladies had no choice (and couldn’t wait). One woman had to get out of her wheelchair, crawl along the floor, and into a non-wheelchair accessible stall because she could not wait any longer. My wife confronted them and politely made them aware they were holding up the line and they cried and accused her of being rude.
Another anecdote my wife shared with me involved another con-goer who apologized for using the wheelchair accessible stall when she saw my wife waiting in her wheelchair. The woman explained she had had a hip replacement and couldn’t sit on the lower commodes. The lesson here is that not everyone has a visible disability. Many people with hip replacements risk dislocating the joint if they bend beyond 90°, which includes sitting on a commode shorter than 19″ high.
When people abuse the wheelchair accessible restroom, handicapped con goers risk wetting their pants. That shouldn’t have to be one’s main concern in a public restroom.
It’s a safe bet that most cosplayers are from out of town and have hotels. Perhaps they see the bathroom, the wheelchair accessible stall in particular, as a more convenient place to work on their costume than going back to their hotel. Well, tough. That stall is for people with disabilities to pee and poop. You don’t get to act put out when one of them calls you on it. Besides, have you SEEN what’s on the floor in a public restroom? I certainly wouldn’t want to get that on my costume.
Watch for Canes
They’re easy to miss; and it’s hard to tell if someone’s cane is part of a costume they’re wearing or an actual mobility-assistance device (it could be both; mobility-impaired people cos-play, too!). Be aware of where your feet are as you’re walking around the crowded dealer hall. It’s not fun to rely on a cane for stability only to have someone kick it out from under you. White Canes or white-tipped canes extended in front of the people using them signify they are low-vision or blind. Do not step in front of them or over them.
Service and Emotional Support Animals
Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals are not the same. There is an important distinction. Service Animals are trained to perform a function or functions to support a disabled person and are protected by Federal ADA law. Emotional Support Animals are not trained in their support to individuals and are not protected Federal ADA law.
Each state has different rules pertaining to Emotional Support Animals, and each convention will also have specific rules. In the case of Gen Con, held in August in Indianapolis, Indiana, per Mike Boozer, Customer Service & Volunteer Manager, Emotional Support animals are not allowed entry.
With regard to Service Animals, you may or may not be aware of this, but when you see a person with a service animal, it is not okay to distract it, offer it food, or engage it in play activity or to allow your children to touch it, unless its handler gives you specific permission to do so.
Service Animals are working to ensure the safety of their humans. Many service animals will wear a vest that identifies them as such, but not all wear them, and it is not a requirement that service dogs wear any sort of identification.
If a Service Animal approaches you, there’s a fair chance its human needs assistance. Scan the area to see if you can determine who needs help and/or follow it, and get the attention of a convention employee/volunteer. You could help save a life.
Be aware of hidden disabilities. Some people (like my wife) don’t use a wheelchair full-time, but because of the size and crowds at Gen Con, they need a chair for the convention, but can otherwise walk. Just because you can’t tell at a glance that someone has special needs doesn’t mean they don’t. Perhaps they have a physiological condition that requires them to more frequent breaks than the average person. Perhaps they have a cardiac or neurological condition that prevents them from moving quickly enough to be safe in crowds. You just don’t know and it’s not up to you to police the convention and ensure that someone who appears to be disabled isn’t faking it. Just assume their need is genuine and get on with your day. If you do this, you will be correct in probably 99 percent or more of situations. Plus, everyone involved will have a better day.
The Special Services Desk
Did you know Gen Con has a Special Services desk that can assist you if you have mobility challenges? They can help you with Will-Call, finding locations, pretty much anything you need. If you need help at Gen Con, don’t hesitate to call on them; it’s literally their job to help you! The Special Services desk is in the Registration Area.
If you’d like more information about accessibility at the Indianapolis Convention Center, they have a webpage dedicated to the topic.
Don’t be a Dick
This last thing actually is castigation because this happens every Gen Con and it’s not a matter of people being unaware; it’s a matter of people being rude jerks. If there’s a person with a wheelchair or other mobility device waiting for an elevator and they were there waiting when you and your group of friends arrived, WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELEVATOR IF YOU ALL WON’T FIT. More than once we have had our elevator poached by a group of rude assholes who rush to get into the elevator before we can. That’s being a dick. That’s being rude. You are bad people and should feel bad. When that happens, we hope the elevator breaks down with you in it. Don’t make me be a bad person for wishing bad things upon you.
Let’s work together to make sure the Best Four Days of Gaming are the best days for ALL attendees!
If you were looking for my gaming blog, DoctorStrangeRoll, where this article used to appear, I now publish this article here since I am appearing in my capacity as an author (Authors’ Avenue Table Q, approximately in the area of booths 950-1050), rather than just a random player of games.