Daisy Brookes – Ekko Cosplay
Last month I was at London Film and Comic Con (LFCC), which is held at London’s Olympia. I’ve been going to the yearly summer LFCC for a number of years now and thought it was finally time I sit down and write about it, and sadly, how terrible an event it is for disabled people.
Firstly I just want to talk about my disabilities and what affects me so you can relate to why I struggled so much with so many parts of the con this year.
I’ve had Lupus for the last ten years which has left me with pretty awful chronic fatigue and joint pain, and all the treatments I’ve had for it made me develop Avascular Nercrosis, Crohns and a bundle of other things. A good 80% of the time I use a crutch to walk and I have a stoma. Two weeks before this particular con I also underwent major surgery to have a new stoma made that involved having my whole large intestine removed, so as you can imagine, I really wasn’t in my best state.
LFCC was actually my first con back in 2014. I look back at my health condition then and I can’t help but almost consider myself normal and healthy! The worst of it for me was minor pain in my leg that left me with a slight limp. Since 2014 the event has moved from Earl’s Court to Olympia, and I have to admit I have very few positive things to say about the newer venue.
But before I talk about the convention venue itself, let’s talk about the security and volunteers at the event and how they’re seemingly not trained at all to handle or help disabled guests. I’m not going to sit here and say “everyone who worked for LFCC was terrible” because it simply isn’t true. Sadly, however, a bad impression lasts much longer than a good one.
Many of the volunteers wanted to help but seemed completely unable to, be that because they weren’t told how or prepared by the event in anyway. Many didn’t know where the disabled toilets were and couldn’t tell you the best way to get somewhere avoiding the worst traffic of people. The real shocker of the staff however was the hired in security. I’m sure some of you have seen other stories pop up on how awful they were but I experienced my own issues with them too.
Not only did they openly sneer at me when I asked to leave the venue out of one of the many exits, they proceeded to try and question the validity of my disabilities. They had absolutely no respect or empathy at all and made me feel humiliated and uncomfortable. All I wanted was an easy way to get outside and get some air and instead I ended up shuffling off awkwardly feeling upset and dehumanised. This is sadly a very common occurrence with convention security, and they tend not to make these small adaptions to help disabled guests, instead choosing to hurl rude words and nasty jokes.
Another issue I came across was how they directed the flow of people throughout the con. Cons are known for the stop and start shuffling of people along the aisles, it’s just part of the deal. But some events are better at ushering people along or keeping the aisles accessible and clear. LFCC doesn’t do that. Every area is so crammed full of stuff and people it’s hard to move about anywhere without bumping in to people or getting bumped in to. It’s in no way ideal and can result in more pain than is worth it. I don’t really know how LFCC could fix this issue, but I think the layout of some stalls, especially the autograph area, needs to be looked at to make it better for all guests attending.
Next up we have toilets. I can’t believe how few toilets there were in the Olympia, and I’m just taking about regular toilets, not even broaching the lack of disabled toilets. I have a stoma and I gotta say, it’s actually kind of a nightmare to empty a pouch in a regular toilet stall. It’s practically impossible to change the pouch in public toilets so god forbid you have a leakage and need to change your pouch because there are maybe four disabled toilets in the whole venue and they are all miles away from each other on different floors, which you can’t get to easily at all.
Finally, the biggest problem of them all, the convention layout, stairs and (lack) of elevators. Like I briefly mentioned above, the disabled toilets were all very spread out and difficult to get to. This is because the con is across two separate halls and three (!!!!) floors.
On the ground floor there is only one (that’s right, one) elevator. It’s at the far back of the second hall and is only big enough to fit one wheelchair. It’s also ridiculously slow. Funnily enough this elevator was opposite The Cosplay Journal on the Orang Utan Comics stand and when I went over to see the stall you could see that there was more or less a never ending queue waiting for the lift. I overheard some people say they’d been waiting half an hour to get up to the second floor. This also massively blocked the aisle and was, ironically, next to one of the only disabled toilets on this whole level. Whilst there are nearly eight different sets of stairs up, you can understand my anger at there only being one elevator.
The lift horror show doesn’t stop there though. If you want to get up to the third floor and peruse around YALC (Young Adult Literary Convention), you need to walk all the way over to the far end of the first hall on the second floor, making your way through the horrific chaos that is the autograph zone and get in to another set of elevators that will take you up to YALC. These lifts do go down to the ground floor but you can’t access any part of LFCC from them. All a huge pain in the ass.
So once you’ve trekked across all the halls, spent half your time waiting for elevators and finally decided to call it a day you’d think you’d just be able to leave out of the many signposted exits? Wrong! Even with an access and extra help band, and explaining to the down right rude security guards, you will be ushered all the way back out the far corner of the second hall. I might add this exit is nowhere near the car park either so they’ll make you walk all the way around the building again to get there. So if you’re like me and can’t walk far without serious pain or stay on your feet all that long, this is just agony waiting to happen.
With LFCC being my first con, I’ve always had quite a soft spot for it. Usually its artist alley is well stocked and they seem to have a real array of wonderful stalls. As a cosplayer it isn’t the best event for cosplay as the location is average and getting in and out of the event is dire but it’s not the worst. But as a disabled guests it just doesn’t hit the mark anymore. I keep hoping each year that by the next they will have learnt or will be better and I keep being let down by them. It is all well and good supplying guests with extra help and access bands, but if your staff aren’t trained and your venue is barely accessible then your event just simply isn’t disabled attendee friendly.
Look out for more from Daisy in The Access Review in the future!