Monday, July 23, 2012

Being geeky & disabled

A green, fist-sized d20 used for tabletop role playing games
My fist-sized d20
One benefit of being more visibly disabled is meeting other folks with disabilities.  This felt especially true when I volunteered for a significant chunk of time at a convention.  So CONvergence, a general science fiction and fantasy convention that is held in early July in Minnesota, ended up being this really neat place for me to interact with other geeky crips and the nerds that love us.

While I wasn't so easily pegged as disabled when I worked at the Registration table (my cane was tucked away since I didn't have to get around), I was very visible when I was on badging duty.  For those of you who might not be familiar with the term, all it means is I sat at a designated area and made sure that the people going past my station had visible and authentic con badges.  This is one of my favorite places to volunteer at a con because it means that I get to talk to a bunch of people, see tons of costumes, and contribute to the fantastic organization that runs the con.

Depending on how I was doing with pain, wobbling, and feeling my legs or feet, I was either using my flame cane or my wheelchair.  If I was hobbling it, my cane was usually in my lap (which got some great compliments or amusing comments, like "do the flames help you walk faster?").  The day that I spent most of the time on wheels, I either stayed in my chair (because I wasn't going to transfer to a less comfy chair) or transferred to a big comfy chair with my wheelchair next to me.

It was fun to talk to the other geeky gimpy people that were around.  Some folks had awesome adaptive aids, like red forearm crutches and other folks with flame canes.  One woman had her rollator dressed up as K9 from Doctor Who.  I chatted about all sorts of disability related stuff, from life as a part-time wheeler to Push Girls to WisCon (a feminist sci fi con that uses universal design) to "the best crutch tips ever" with a writer Haddyr Copley-Woods.  We both admired a compact motorized scooter that another patron was using called a Travel Scoot (it weighs less than my manual chair!).

A different person later that day who I'd badged several times commented on how people don't get that wheelchair users want to sit in something different sometimes (as I was sitting in the "badging" chair with my wheelchair next to me).  To have someone else around, even a stranger, that you can talk about how awful wheeling on carpet is, what equipment can make a smoother ride (Frog Legs suspension forks), or just kvetch about DC Comics' reboot of Oracle/Barbara Gordon and how having one less disabled superhero in the comic book world hurts...especially because there seems to be a lot of geeks with disabilities in the world.

I also learned how to navigate a dealer's room on wheels (very carefully yet assertively so I wouldn't get myself trapped...being waist-height to everyone can be rough) and discovered that the prevalence of canes-as-fashion (like in steampunk and neo-Victorian costumes) makes it so people don't realize that you're using an adaptive aid and leaning on that cane (thankfully I didn't fall the couple times this happened).  I was amazed at both the amount of disability awareness and simultaneous unawareness that seemed to be prevalent in geek-space.

In less than a month, I'll be at GenCon in Indianapolis, the biggest gaming con in the U.S. and I'll find out how my experience at a mid-size con of about 6k people translates into a 4 day event that hosts more people than my university has for a student population.  I'll also have another "flying on wheels" post about flying with Delta Airlines, and probably more griping about the TSA.  Maybe I'll have more awesome conversations with gimpy geeks while we roll dice and role play :-)

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