I attended Dragon Con with my husband this past weekend as I have as a volunteer many times before. But this time was diffeent because I was not volunteering and I have a disability. Since I was not spending a huge hunk of time helping out i none track room, i was free to pick what and who I wanted to see andtry to make that happen. I had a lot of fun. And yes, I learned a few lessons.
The first thing I noticed is that there are a LOT of disabled people at Dragon Con. When the volunteers take us into a ballroom for an event, wheelchairs and other wheeled vehicles first, they call it “loading in.” When they finished loading us in for several events in the 2,000-capacity Marriott Atrium ballroom, we more than half filled it before they let the “abled” people in. You just blend in to the most accepting, non-judgemental environment you will ever be in: big, little, tall, short, gay, straight, able, disabled, it’s all the samre in Dragon Con Land.
Many of the same rules apply for all Con-goers: Try to get at least 6 hours of sleep and have at least one real meal a day. Eat healthy snacks and stay hydrayed Shower. But for anyone who needs more than a cane to get around there are a few things you should know.
1. Disability Services is your best friend. As soon as you get your badge. go to then and get your stickers so they know what you need. I had two..”End of row” and “Proxinity,” which meant I could sit at the end of any row and that I could be close enough to see any monitor easily. Since we went in first, it usually meant I got to sit near the dront. I could never say enough good things about the Disability Seervice volunteers (soe of whom have disabilities themselves.)
2. But you still have to wait for big events. There are many different “tracks,” or rooms devoted to particular subjects, at Dragon Con, ranging from Space, Science and various literature tracks to media and gaming tracks and while they do get crowded at times, you are probably safe to get there within the half hour sbefore the panel starts. They all have designated seating for disabilities so i fyou don’t see it ask a staff person.
But DON’T plan two eents in two different hotels back to back. You will never make it. With the crowds travel time between the hotels utilizing the skywalks and not including the Westin and Sheraton, which require longer, is about 20 minutes, based on my eperience . So if you are going from the Hilton to the Hyatt, allow 40 minutesbecause you hae to go through the Marriott. I tried to avoid that for the most part, using the Marriott as my arrival and departure point.
For big events you MUST be there an hour and a half before time. Reember, your friends who stand on their feet are waiting in lines that wrap arounf the buildings for three hours sometimes! So get cozy in your little corral with your fellow disabled people. Read, write, knit, crpchet, take pictures, take in the colorful costumes or get to know your neighbors. If you are in a wheelchair or scooter or have a rolling walker, they wil load you in about 20 or even 30 minutes before the show before yours ends. I added two shows to my streaning list that way: “Reign” and “Legends of Tomorrow.” just because their Q and A’s were so good.
3. Here’s the biggest lesson I learned: DON’T rent a scooter unless you are very practised at driving one, and not just around the grocery store. The one I rented was bigger, heavier and harder to steer than I expected and I was terrified to dive it through the crowd particularly on the Mariott Matquis level, where the bars are. There were kids in that crowd too! And backing out of elevators was so hard. The other people were all amazingly helpful and nice but I was so happy to give up the scooter and go back to my wheeled walker on Saturday.
My advice would be to at least go to the actual store and practice with the scooter you are renting in advance.
Even if you ae an epert scooter handler, there is a big trouble spot you should know. At the Hilton, entrance to/exit from the skywalk, there is a swirchback ranp that is very narrow. My scooter was roo big for it, and others were as well. Soif you can’t use the skywalk,, you have to go down to the lobby and outside to get anywhere. The scooters do not like the outside with the hills and cracked sidewalks much and you hae to deal with traffic.
4. The other trouble spot for anyone with a mobility issue is the foood court at Peachtree Mall. This is usually the most popular and easy place to get food at the convention, but if you cannot handle stairs, you cannot get there from the closest hotel. the Hyatt, through the “habitrail” as we call them. This inside walkway rom the Hyatt to the foof court has two sets of stairs, one wuth 3 steps and one with 5. There used to be a lift at the bigger set, but it is not there any more. For most dusabled people, that means go outside or go to the food court fron the Marriott.
5. Food is not as much of an issue as it once was now that there are hot dog and pizza vendors set up in the hotels but DO bring your own fruits and healthy snacks.
Is it worth it? Absolutely, in my opinion. If you want to go, you should give it a try .I got to see everybody I wanted to see. I personlly found that I really missed beung a volunteer and feeling like part of things, and diabled people canvolunteer, too. But however you go, Dragon Con is an experience like no other so don’t let a disability stop you!