Access Panel Blog
It’s Okay To Be You
By Richard Early
I was very excited when I learned that CoreCon had chosen Freedom Resource as its charity this year and even moreso when I found out CoreCon was dedicated to improving accessibility for the convention and at the Baymont. I can’t thank the leadership enough for taking this step and for making this a priority. I am leading a panel on this aspect of the con on Friday, June 9th at noon. I encourage you to attend, and here is a story about why this is such an important aspect of the convention.
Several years ago, I was at a local convention and I was approached by a man I didn’t really know. He sought me out specifically to thank me. He said I had helped change his life.
While this was heartwarming, I really wasn’t sure what I had done. He said he had attended a Paradox comics monthly tabletop night and we were promoting the convention. He signed up for a drawing to win tickets for the con, and he won them. He told me he was not planning to go because he was shy and afraid. Yet something called to him about the convention.
I wish I knew his name and I wish I could tell you more about him. Maybe he will read this and reach out. I know that he has struggled with some personal issue of mental and physical health. The idea of attending an event with so many people was scary and he almost stayed home. But something moved him to take a chance and go. The reason he thanked me was because that convention changed his life. The community and acceptance and sense of belonging he found by becoming a part of it had a meaningful impact.
When I met him, he was so happy and at peace and looked so comfortable, like he belonged. Like he got it.
This was profound for me and in no way because of the credit he was giving me. It was profound for me because I had spent years and years attending the same convention circuit and had still felt separate from it, afraid, despite the friends I had and the warmth around me.
As many of you know, I am severely visually impaired. Going to a hotel full of strangers was a daunting challenge even after so many years of running my own business. I was out of my element and didn’t even have the benefit of the program guide everyone else did. I didn’t know where things were, who was around me, or how to navigate all that. And most of all, I didn’t know where or how to ask for help. Basically, I felt alone and isolated even in the crowd and even after years of running my own business. During those years, no convention was focused on helping someone like me enjoy the events in the same way everyone else could.
But what is important to understand also is that no matter what is or isn’t offered, the first barrier to sharing that experience is yourself. The first thing that holds you back from access to the world and all the wonderful things in it is always you.
But this man who shook my hand and said I changed his life had broken through that and found a community he yearned for. A community that accepted him for who he was. So I just want him to know that while I appreciate his thanks, he has my admiration for doing something that took me so many years to do. He took a chance. He challenged himself. He broke through that barrier. I hope I meet him again so I can thank him for being such a great example for me and the others in his life.
As I close this blog, I am thinking about the fact that you don’t in any way need to be disabled to feel this apprehension, anxiety, and fear about attending something new. In fact, I think one of the most common and shared things about being part of the nerd world is that we are all people struggling to find our identity. We have these great refuges where we can dress up, celebrate what we love, and find friends and family. But to get there we have to overcome our phobias. Whether sighted or blind, anxious or calm, depressed or happy, disabled or healthy, wheelchair bound or not, the first step is break down that barrier in our own heads and go somewhere where it is okay to be us. That’s CoreCon and they are reaching out to us.
I’ve adopted several new beliefs and attitudes recently and one of them is a quote from the Mother of Dragons herself. She says, “If I turn back, I’m lost.” So we move forward into the future and we build on what we’ve started to become stronger and healthier and see what happens next. I hope anyone who has doubt about joining us at CoreCon can overcome that and come see what it’s all about and find the same community I have and this stranger who came to thank me did. It can be your first step to a better life and the folks who run it are there to help you cross that barrier.
Note from CoreCon:
Thanks, Rich. We are glad people can find a family at our convention. Although there are still many hurdles, we are doing what we can to make CoreCon a safe and friendly space with wheelchair accessible stages, a quiet room, gender neutral bathrooms, no bullying tolerance, and food and allergy information in all fansuites. If you or a friend have concerns or needs not being met, please email firstname.lastname@example.org