I am a fan. A lot of us disabled people are fans. We are already socially ostracised, so many of us don’t fear being stared at or judged. At the time of writing this post, I had just spent the weekend at Fan Expo Canada, a venue that I have attended for several years, to get the opportunity to chat with other fans and have fun. And I am frustrated each year with the ableism I see throughout the convention. Part of the issue is that it is run by a huge, faceless corporation that generates massive amounts of funds, so they don’t really worry if a few people can’t access the space.
This year, I was asked each day to hand over my cane to be examined at the prop-check table—two out of the three times I went into the building—because somehow it was inconceivable for them to foresee they might have to encounter an actual disabled person, rather than a character. (I should note here that I did not wear any costuming, so there is no way that this could have been interpreted as part of a cosplay). During one of these encounters, when I explained that I am disabled, I was told: “You people have your own entrance on the other side of the building.” I was also instructed several times by security that I can’t use the elevators because they are for “celebrities and wheelchair people only.” (This was when it was possible to find elevators, because they are often located at the edges, roped off, and impossible to get to through huge crowds of people.) I was even asked to “move faster” by security people, because my top speed was apparently considered too slow for me to get out of the way of their next event.
This is just the official part of the convention. Those sorts of things I can blame on the issues of corporations who don’t want to take the time to train their staff properly, and I can solve these issues by sending in complaints and then, finally, by not giving them my business. However, these are issues that are also entrenched in the fandom itself. Every year that I go to Fan Expo, I am shoved repeatedly. People make comments about how irritating it is to have to walk behind “slow people.” Threats are made at me for being in the way. This year someone actually said, “I wish I could just fucking throw people like you out of my way.” But the same people who shoved past me, elbowed me in the spine — I have a spinal disability, so their aggression will have a long-term impact on my body — will also step carefully around people in costumes, making sure not to jostle them so that they don’t accidentally scratch the paint off of the costumes, or knock against the plastic parts of any wings. I am an artist, so I understand respecting art, but how is it that someone can damage a human body and then stop in place to prevent themselves from harming a costume? There is a problematic nature around the fact that disabled people are viewed as less human than a costume.
As fans, we should be aware of some of the ways that dehumanization happens. The characters in our fandoms might be monsters, aliens, and less-than-human, but none of the actual people in attendance of these cons are disposable. We should be doing better than this. We should be making our spaces accessible; in fact, we should demand that convention organizers ensure our spaces are accessible. Fandom should be a warm, welcoming space. It shouldn’t be a space where people are physically hurt for their desire to show how much they love the same things as other fans.
Derek Newman-Stille is a queer, disabled Canadian PhD student who teaches at Trent University. Derek is the five-time Aurora Award winning creator of the digital humanities project, Speculating Canada, and the creator of the Dis(Abled) Embodiment website. He has published in academic fora like Mosaic, The Canadian Fantastic in Focus, and Misfit Children: An Inquiry into Childhood Belongings, and in public fora such as The Playground of Lost Toys and Accessing the Future. Derek combines art, academia, and activism in his work with disability.