My Convention Experience After Hip Surgery Was An Eye Opener

Shari HarrisonI want to start this post by saying that I love going to Comic Conventions. They are great places to see friends and make new ones.

There is so much to do from shopping, to going to different panels, and to getting autographs from your favorite writer, artist or TV/Movie star. Some lines are longer than others. Even if you are looking for exercise and are counting steps, a Comic Con is the best place to do that for 3 days straight.

My love for Comic Cons was disrupted in a big way for me on the weekend of August 18, 2018 at TerrifiCon at the Mohegan Sun Casino and Hotel in Connecticut.

Let me explain. On July 10, 2018 I had hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and remove some bone spurs. I had to be on crutches for two months, which takes us through TerrifiCon. Bobby, my wonderful husband, rented me a motorized scooter to help me get around the huge hotel and the convention. The scooter was easy to operate. It moved at a good speed and maneuvered around corners amazingly well.

What Went Wrong?

With all the being said, I felt invisible at the Con. People were cutting in front of me, and I was afraid of running them over. I couldn’t wait on line to get an autograph from our favorite writers/artists. I felt I was in the way, and I was afraid of knocking items off their tables if I got too close. People would step in front of me so they could get ahead in the line to get an autograph. They would say that they were sorry, but they still cut in front of me. It was very frustrating and my self-esteem was as low as it could get. Bobby did all he could to make me feel better, but it was everyone else at the Con that left me frustrated and damaged.

The design of the Con was not a problem for the most part. The aisles around the edges of the activity and in Artist Alley were wide enough to accommodate scooter, wheelchairs, and walkers. The design of the aisles in the vendor area was tight, and I avoided going in there for fear of a collision incident. Mostly though, my issues were with the other guests.

As part of preparation for writing this we reached out to Mitch Hallock of Big Fedora Marketing, the promoter of TerrifiCon. In part of his response, he noted, “I made aisles wide to accommodate and anticipate fold in wheelchairs including two of my guests that were wheelchair bound.” While it is true that the aisles of Artists Alley were fairly wide, they were impassable in a scooter during the peak hours of the Con. I was only able to see my favorite creators in the very early hours  or at the end of the day, but to be honest, by the end of the day, I just wanted to get out of the scooter.

My only other issue with the design of this particular Con had to do with food availability. Due to rules of the venue, there were very few food vendors near the hall, and visitors were forced to use the food court or restaurants within the Hotel/Casino. Getting in and out of the Con event space was through a fairly narrow set of doors. When we went to get something to eat at the food court, which was a pretty good distance from the Con floor, there wasn’t enough room for my scooter. I had to park it away from me, and I was nervous someone would take it. The elevators to get to different levels of the casino near the food court were not easy to navigate with the scooter, which lead me to get frustrated and angry and not happy to be there. The casino/hotel was too big for me to just use my crutches. So, I was stuck with using the scooter. These complaints about concessions are not aimed at the Con promoters. They are faults of the Hotel designers; however the show promoters did make the decision to choose this venue and agree to the regulations.

Why Write This?

I like to think that Bobby and I are courteous and helpful to people whether they have a disabilities or mobility issues or not at Conventions or around town.  Being limited in mobility and having to rely on assistance to get around opened my eyes to things that I did not notice before. My experience was so upsetting that it has colored my outlook going forward. Now, I always view Cons through the lens of what facilities are available for the mobility challenged.

This year, my hip pain returned, and as we were gearing up to go to C2E2, Bobby knew that I wouldn’t be able to walk a 3-day Con like we are used to doing. He asked and pretty much begged me to allow him to get me a scooter or wheelchair. I refused, because I did not want to feel the same humiliation and disrespect that I felt the last time that I was in that situation.  That was ultimately the reason that I decided to write this post and share my experience and concerns. Truth be told, if you read PopCultureSquad’s recap article about C2E2, you will see that I probably would have been “OK” in a scooter there instead of Bobby dropping me off at chairs for me to rest from time to time.

My experience with mobility impairment happened to occur at TerrifiCon. It could have been any Con. The purpose of this article is not to slam TerrifiCon as a Comic and Entertainment experience. I am trying to raise consciousness in our community about the needs and concerns of members with disabilities at events that should be bringing us all together. It is as much about the behavior of people as the planning of an event.

Are we ignoring part of our community? I like to think of our Geek Culture as being more accepting and socially aware than the larger society. But are we really?

In the spirit of raising the conversation, I wanted to share that Mohegan Sun reached out to us prior to publishing and wanted to comment on my concerns and issue.  This is their response:

ADA accessibility is of very high importance at Mohegan Sun. We continuously evaluate to ensure the comfort and enjoyment in all of our facilities by all of our guests and will continue to do so. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that may have been experienced.

-Ray Pineault, President & General Manager

My greatest hope is that anyone who reads this will take a moment to be mindful that not everyone moves through the world the exact same way and what we can each do to be better about seeing each other. Isn’t that the goal? To be better?