On Sunday night the Australian National Science Fiction convention held the annual Ditmar Award ceremony. In almost every way, the committee put on a fine awards ceremony during a really good convention.
However, the venue staging was awful, in terms of its accessibility. High, and only accessible by temporary stairs, the stage was off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, anyone in an electric scooter and anyone with a significant mobility impairment. This included one recipient in a mobility scooter who – ironically – won an award celebrating how much she’d given to the local community through her participation over decades.
This should not be acceptable to us as a community in the twenty-first century.
People with a disability should have the same opportunities to participate on-stage as everyone else. I’ve seen it several times in the last few years, so it’s not a problem confined to Western Australia. Far from it. These sort of things are primarily controlled by the venue, not the convention committee, and can’t be fixed unless addressed a long way out. That’s why we need to talk about it as a community now.
We wouldn’t for a second tolerate a sign saying: “No red-heads or women allowed on stage” and we shouldn’t tolerate staging that says exactly same thing to people with a disability.
Ultimately, it’s sensible on many levels. Proper access for people with a disability is also better access for older members of our community who also face mobility challenges too.
I raised the issue with Damien Warman and Dave Cake after the ceremony, both of whom are on a sub-committee that helps run the awards process. They understood my concerns and gave a commitment to undertake steps to help address the issue. But ultimately they can’t fix it. They can’t force a convention committee to do it, and they shouldn’t have to. We should insist upon it as a community.
If it means staging the awards differently – we should do that.
If it means committees asking someone with a disability to walk the space with them before setup – we should do that.
If it means tougher negotiations with hotels – we should do that.
If it means everyone pays $5 extra on their membership to allow for improved staging – we should do that.
These things are important to us as a community, and we should fix them.