I’ve been debating a lot whether I should attend this year’s YALC (the UK’s Young Adult Literature Convention). I love YA literature, and I would love every second of meeting some of my favourite authors such as Akemi Dawn Bowman, Alice Oseman, and Holly Bourne. There are apparently some really cool ARCs being given out, and there’s always a lot of great cosplay. I now also live super close to London, so travelling won’t be too much of a hassle!
But I made the decision that I was not going to attend. This is basically down to one thing: accessibility. (A note: this is not me throwing shade at YALC, or anything like that. I just wanted to write a post about accessibility/lack thereof for people like me with invisible illnesses. This is not specific to YALC, but conventions in general, such as the London Book Fair. This just happens to be the one that I most wish that I could attend.)
So. What makes it inaccessible to me, a person with fibromyalgia and mental ill health?
While I write this it is 38C, which is 100F. It’s pretty damn hot. And conditions such as fibromyalgia actually causes people to be unable to adapt to changes in temperature. This means that I find it really difficult to cool off.
Of course, conventions can’t control the weather. But scheduling big events such as YALC in the summer does mean that they inadvertently dissuade people such as me from attending. It also doesn’t help that it is taking place at Olympia London, which is pretty notorious for getting real hot, real fast. (I went there a couple years back to attend the London Book Fair, and even in April it was a sweaty nightmare.)
Like I said, I’ve been to Olympia London, so I know what the seating situation is like. (Hint: it’s pretty bad.) Due to the fibro, some days are a bit difficult because of the pain that I’m in. It is made even worse when I’m hot, and when I’m doing anything a bit more strenuous – such as carrying a bag of books that I want to get signed! (And yes, I could leave the books at home, but then I wouldn’t go autograph signings and meet any authors.)
So the fact that there is limited seating is a bit of an issue for me. I like to take regular breaks throughout the day to ensure that I get my energy back a bit, and not being able to do that would almost definitively mean that I’d leave the convention early. (Again, the London Book Fair corroborates this – I did one full day, a third of the next day, and none of the last day. I just didn’t have the energy.)
I tend to find crowds a bit difficult. I’m better than I used to be, but I still find loud, rambunctious crowds really hard to manage. This is sometimes especially when there are people in big cosplay, as I feel like I’m getting in everyone’s way/accidentally photobombing. I think this might be exacerbated by some of the marketing techniques that publishers use at conventions. While sudden ARC drops/announcements of ARCs during the event itself seem fun, it means that there will be sudden crowds of people in small areas. I do not do well with this!!
Problems with accessibility team
There is an accessibility team who provides extra help passes, so that’s a great start. I’ve never heard of one at other events. However, I’ve seen a couple of things on Twitter about other people’s experiences that made me a bit wary of them. I also took a look at their accessibility page on their website, where I saw that in order to get an extra help pass, you need to have a Blue Badge or something similar, or a ‘medical letter from your doctor or consultant explaining your reasons for needing extra assistance’.
Now. I don’t know whether there are any laws about providing disability support, but it seems a bit weird to me that I would need to give these people some of my medical information. (I do not have a Blue Badge or anything like that.) That might just be me, though.
I also don’t actually know if I would go through with requesting an extra help pass. I was diagnosed with fibro pretty recently, and I’m still coming to terms with what it all means. I think there’s also a bit of a shame aspect of it for me because all of my conditions are invisible. I know that not requesting one would be shooting myself in the foot, but I am scared that they wouldn’t think I deserved one, or I was taking the place of someone who really needed the help.
To give credit where it is due, there are a couple of things that YALC have done to help with accessibility. For most autograph lines they have a ‘Virtual Queueing system’.
This means that you do not need to queue for long periods. You (or your carer) collect a numbered ticket at the beginning of the day in the signing area and return any time after that number has been called. As an attendee identified as requiring extra help due to being unable to stand for long periods, once your VQ ticket has been called you will be put towards the front of the queue to reduce your actual queueing time. As a rough guide your actual queuing time should be no more than 10 minutes.
Wheelchairs are also available on loan, which can be booked in advance, and where possible they also mark disabled seating, however all seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
SO. Those are some of the reasons why I’m not going to YALC this year, although I would dearly love to. I’d love to do more research into how to make conventions such as this one more accessible – and if anyone from the publishing industry is reading, come hire me to talk about accessibility at events such as these and in the workplace! 😉
If you also struggle with conventions, let me know if you’ve done anything differently that helped, or if you have any ideas for how to make them better spaces.