Last year I did a general review for YALC which included looking at the best things about YALC 2018, some problematic panels, and then a whole rant about the awful accessibility. I returned this year for YALC 2019 and although I am pleased to report that there have definitely been some improvements, there are still access issues for disabled attendees and some downright awful behavior towards disabled attendees from able-bodied ones.
Rather than doing one huge post for YALC 2019, I decided to split them up into my 2019 haul and this accessibility post to allow for more space for each thing. Accessibility is quite often an individualized experience, although some things are common across different disabled people, so I would encourage you to check out other attendees posts. So far, I’ve only seen a great one from Jenn but if you know of any others please free to point me in their direction so I can include them here as well!
YALC 2018 Recap
For those of you who didn’t see my YALC event review last year, you can read it here. For those of you who want a TL:DR summary then here’s a little recap about my experience of YALC’s accessibility in 2018.
- Lack of communication around ‘Extra Help Needed’ wristbands and having to prove your need one by showing them medical letters/diagnosis letters
- Horrendous queuing system which caused huge confusion for disabled people and staff
- Disabled people’s wristbands not being respected by staff members and being told they “couldn’t jump the queue” so had to queue for hours or not meet authors
- ARCs were given away via ARC drops resulting in attendees running through the convention and/or asking attendees to queue for a limited amount of ARCs but not providing an alternative queuing system for disabled people
- Sunday sales were majoratively held at 10am before many disabled people could get to the convention or jam-packed with able-bodied attendees grabbing huge stacks of books.
- Almost no seating provided meaning that disabled people had to try to sit on the floor
- No access to water on the YALC floor, or water which is very reluctantly given at the cafe
Thankfully, some things at YALC have definitely changed for the better and, as a result, I could actually enjoy myself for the majority of the weekend. Last year, there were multiple times when I had break downs and panic attacks because the access at YALC was so, so awful. There were multiple times when I almost left and didn’t return because it was making me so upset. This year was a very different experience (for me) and I felt comfortable most of the time.
Here are some of the thing’s that really made a difference for me:
Raffle tickets for ARCs
One of the biggest differences for me this year was the change made to how ARCs were given out. This year most publishers were giving away ARCs via a raffle ticket system. You took a raffle ticket which already had the name of the raffle on the back of it (so much less confusion!) and either returned at the allocated time to see if you had won or most stalls uploaded a copy of the winning numbers to Twitter to avoid people having to wait around at stalls or traipse back to the stall for no reason.
This system seemed to work much, much better as it meant that there weren’t literally hoards of people desperately running around the convention trying to grab a copy of an ARC, although this did still happen in a few cases which I will talk about below. I managed to get 2 ARCs via the raffle ticket system and it worked out a lot fairer for disabled people as we weren’t expected to somehow be able to run to ARC drops or queue in huge queues.
Extra Help Wristbands
This year I thankfully knew about the extra help wristbands, though this is because I knew from experience last year so can’t comment on whether the information was made more widely known for other disabled people. I also didn’t have to provide ‘evidence’ of my disabilities and could register for my band before YALC, so on arrival, all I had to do was pick it up at the registration desk. However, again, I’m not sure if this was the case for all or if most people still had to provide evidence?
I only had to use my extra help wristband on two occasions, neither of which were a wholly positive experience (see below), but I was able to get help for queues in these two instances. On the whole, I wasn’t really interested in many of the signings this year though so my experience of the queuing system was very limited.
More Awareness from particular Publishers/Authors about Access
As I mentioned, most of the publishers at YALC this year were running the raffles for ARCs which, I believe, was an adaption made for disabled attendees, and most publisher’s seemed happy with this system. I wanted to give a special shout out to Stripes Publishing who really went out of their way to help me after they saw a tweet about a bad access experience I had earlier in the day. They invited me over to the stall, listened to my experience, apologized for my experience, and made me feel a whole lot better. The person I spoke to actually turned around my entire day ❤
I also had two debut authors reach out to me via Twitter in response to my tweet as well, offering reassurance and letting me know about the raffle’s that their books were in and which stall to speak to about getting an ARC of their book which was so lovely of them. There was also an indie author, Laura Power, who had a special, sparkly dragon on their table with a note letting people know that if they did not wish to interact with the author then they could pat the dragon. The author would then know not to speak to the person unless otherwise stated and the attendee had to option to leave their money with the dragon as well. Such adaptations are SO easy for stall vendors to put in place and can make all the difference for attendees.
Room for Improvement
Although there have been some positive changes at YALC, there is still a lot of room for improvement. YALC really needs to listen carefully to the experiences of disabled attendees and make more changes in time for YALC 2020 if they actually want disabled people to feel welcome at their events. I know some people who decided not to attend this year based on experiences in the past or from things they had seen online, and I know there are some disabled people who will not be attending next year because of their experiences at YALC 2019.
Accessibility is a requirement and accessibility is important. These things need to change:
Although most stalls got it right (through the raffle system), there were a handful of stalls who decided not to participate in the raffle system. It is my understanding that the raffle system was a necessary thing which all stalls had to adhere to, so I have no idea why these stalls a) decided to ignore these rules, b) continued to ignore these rules despite being able to see the impact it was having on disabled people, and c) why these rules weren’t actually enforced by YALC.
The biggest perpetrators of this were Hashtag Reads who were doing ARC drops for Infinity Sons each morning on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. Each morning, the first 100 people would get an ARC of Infinity Sons so you can only imagine what ended up happening. One person told me that each morning people would sprint out of the list, pushing and shoving people out of their way in their desperation to get there first. Disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs or on crutches would be left behind. On one occasion, this actually led to someone on crutches being knocked to the floor as someone rushed past them for an ARC. I was unable to get there early enough on the first two mornings as my fibromyalgia means I’m in pain in the mornings, so missed out. On the third day, Hashtag Reads changed to a raffle system but I wasn’t lucky enough to win.
There were also huge queues at the Fairyloot stall throughout the YALC weekend for prizes, reveals and competitions as well as at Illumicrate. On one occasion I queued for 15 minutes to enquire about “past Illumicrate boxes” which turned out to be from June/July (not older boxes like I had thought). When I asked if I could know which books were in the boxes to help me make up my mind, I was told “the whole point is that it’s a surprise…” Access issues are not just about disabilities but can also be about financial backgrounds. Some of us just can’t afford to drop £26 on a “surprise” and I had to leave the queue empty-handed, feeling incredibly embarrassed.
Hodderscape also did a competition to win an early copy of Becky Chamber’s new novella along with a cute journal which involved a planet treasure hunt. Find 10 ‘planets’ hidden around YALC and upload them to Twitter for a chance to win. I spent the first 2 days going around the YALC floor in intervals to find a few stickers at a time but some people aren’t able to do. I never heard announcements on Twitter about the winners. 3 days later my friend looked through the thread, only to find that they had REPLIED to one person meaning that it didn’t show up to anyone else. I was gutted that after all of that extra effort on my part, I not only didn’t win but didn’t even find out until days after.
Solution: make sure all stalls adhere to the raffle ticket system and that people have a fair chance to return to collect their ARCs before they “run out” of time. For competitions, consider having a disability-friendly version of the competition!
The ‘chill-out’ zone
When I heard that ‘The Paper and Hearts Society’ was going to be sponsoring this year’s chill-out zone, I imagined a cute area in a quiet section of the venue with chairs available to sit on and which looked calm and welcoming. I think Jenn’s picture says it all really…
The Chill Out zone turned out to be a whole expanse of floor with about 4 chairs (which disappeared over the weekend) and 2-3 blow-up chairs which were very low to the floor (which most disabled people can’t use). The area was also located right behind the panel area so it was always incredibly loud throughout the day. Seating is one of the number 1 complaints raised by disabled attendees and yet, YALC can’t seem to get it right??
Solution: Place the chill-out zone away from queues and panels in a quieter part of the venue. Ensure that there is proper and adequate seating provided, and put signs on the chairs saying that it is disabled priority seating.
Queue System + lack of communication
The queue system was still a complete mess, although an attempt had been made. Last year, the virtual queue system happened one day but not the next without any communication. This year there was also sometimes a virtual queue system, but also sometimes not? When I tried to ask a member of staff at the info desk what the deal was with the queuing this year I was told “I don’t know. None of us really know how it works. Just turn up…”
When I did “just turn up” to the Alice Oseman signing, the steward said he would take me to the front of the queue. He then took me to the front, told the attendee at the front “is it ok if this person cuts in front of you? They have a wristband.” Thankfully the person let me in front of them but I felt so embarrassed that I felt I couldn’t even speak to them to make a correction. Jenn’s post also expresses how horrible it feels to be singled out like this and we’re lucky if we even get taken to the front of the queue at all. By the time it was my turn to see Alice Oseman, I felt so awful I could barely get my words out and quickly hurried away. I didn’t bother trying to get anything else signed apart from with Temi Oh as I happened to be right where the front of the queue was when they set up despite having brought 3 extra books with me for Akemi Dawn Bowman, Kristen Cicarelli, and Alwyn Hamilton.
In another example of horrific queuing, one stall was doing a lucky dip which had been pre-announced on Twitter. I popped by the stall beforehand to ask if there would be any alternatives offered to disabled people. The person at the stall didn’t know how the wristbands worked so I had to explain and be able to communicate what they could do to help me. We agreed that when the time came, I should come to the front to let them know I was there and I could go first. When I arrived there was a huge gathering of people (no queue). To get to the front my friend had to literally stride up to people and say loudly ‘EXCUSE ME, MY FRIEND IS DISABLED AND NEEDS TO GET TO THE FRONT” so I could get through but then she couldn’t come with me because she later told me that the looks that people were giving her were so aggressive that she was worried that if she stayed with me, someone would kick off at me. I was so anxious and scared at the front of the gathering of people that I was literally trembling. I was allowed to go first but then had to force myself through the people behind me because they wouldn’t let me out again.
Solution: Have a second ‘fast-track’ queue for those with extra help needed wristbands and alternate between the two queues, for example: for every 3 disabled people, 1-2 able-bodied people. Have 2-3 chairs ready for disabled people to sit down if they need it. The ratio of disabled attendees to able-bodied attendees means the disabled queue will go down very quickly. It avoids the risk of stewards refusing to take disabled people to the front of the queue, avoids the embarrassment on the part of disabled people and helps to normalize seeing access needs for able-bodied attendees.
This is my last part (I promise, stick with me!) There was one disabled toilet that I couldn’t even find until I asked at the info desk. Turns out it didn’t have a sign on the door. Multiple times I tried to use the toilet, there was no toilet paper as the cleaners kept forgetting to check it and there was often a queue as it was the only toilet. On one occasion, someone in cosplay was using the toilet to check their cosplay make-up in (with the door open) and had to be asked to leave so that somebody pregnant could use the toilet. There were also a few occasions when stall vendors came over to use the disabled toilet. Obviously, this is difficult because you can’t judge who needs to use the disabled toilet as many of us have invisible disabilities. It did also happen to be right opposite where their stall was, whereas the other toilets were on the other side of the floor (often with horrendous queues).
Solution: Put a sign on the door so people know its a disabled toilet. If you do not need to use a disabled toilet, please do not use them as you are preventing a disabled person from being able to use the toilet and some people can not wait!
I want to reiterate that YALC 2019 was a lot better for me than last year and I was happy to see that steps had been made to make the event more accessible. It’s just very frustrating to pay quite a lot of money to attend a convention that is in it’s sixth year that is still getting things which are fairly basic wrong. I was also shocked at the behavior I saw from other attendees or heard about on Twitter. I’m hoping that YALC continues to listen and grow over the next year, as well as become more transparent in what they’re doing to improve access and I hope that able-bodied attendees listen to these experiences so they can check their behavior at future events.