This is part one of my Nine Worlds Geekfest write up, since my experience of any con or event will be be a two-fold thing: accessibility, and general enjoyment. Naturally, these two can heavily coincide, but since Nine Worlds was pretty amazing, with nothing of the former impacting the latter, I’m going to dedicate one whole post to the accessibility of it, since it deserves the notice. Seriously: the accessibility team and the work they did was out of this world. Big, enthusiastic “thumbs up” to the accessibility peeps. They nailed it.
So I’ve never been to a geek convention like Nine Worlds before. Sure, I’ve vaguely attended anime cons but honestly, they’re not even comparable. (The UK doesn’t really do great anime cons.)
I would have attended this year even if I’d not been aware of the communication system they have in place. But it certainly helped put my anxious mind at ease, knowing that I would, in theory, be able to go around with my big red badge of NOPE and remain off the radar for any well-meaning conversational types looking for a chat or even just a casual passing word.
If I’d only had the anxiety by itself to deal with then I’d have done far more than I did. As it happens, chronic illness doesn’t just go away because you’re trying to have a good time and step out of your comfort zone for once, so there were times I missed stuff because I wasn’t well enough.
Even before arriving at Nine Worlds, it felt different. I don’t have a lot of experience with things like this, but I could just tell that it was open and accessible and that I’d feel safe there being “different” (in my case, disabled, not NT and also queer). Even if you just take into account the fact that I’m horribly introvert and have massive social anxiety to deal with, Nine Worlds presents such a safe space, by means of their communication system. Not only is the system of coloured badge overlays very simple, but it is also advertised: people can’t miss the fact that this exists. Yes, there was a single time where someone talked to me and I wasn’t happy about it, but, on the whole, the badge system is amazing and it made me feel safe.
It’s also worth adding that you can have pronouns added to a badge, to help with any awkward/upsetting situations that might arise. I had a standard badge without pronouns, but I assume that pronouns are simply written on the blank badge the same way names are (meaning you can have a different name on your badge to any other details you might have needed to give).
Nine Worlds works as hard as it can to be an accessible con, for both visible and invisible disabilities, as well as anything from deafness to sensory overload issues. It really shouldn’t be the case that I’m (in a good way!) singling out a convention or event to say “yes, they care about accessibility and safety”, but the Nine Worlds team really does give a damn. With closed sessions for both PoC and queer peeps, you really get the impression that they know what’s up with the world and with the geek community. They get that there’s work to be done, and they’re willing to do it. Hell, that in itself is enough to make me want to go again, even without the fact that it was also a really, really great convention.
As I said, I’ve not been to one before, so I can’t judge others (outside of the horror stories I see on social media), but there’s something that seems just so inclusive about Nine Worlds. From the accessible seating set aside at various intervals in panel rooms (that’s right – these spaces aren’t just at the front of the room, but spread out amidst the regular seating, too., just as the spaces reserved for wheelchairs are) to a quiet room and the teeny reminder on their accessible seating signs that not all disabilities are visible, Nine Worlds are seriously on point with getting this stuff right.
There was one lift that could have been too small for some wheelchairs, so they advertised this and set up special arrangements to help those whose chairs were too big get around. It’s difficult to think of just what else they could have done!
It’s hard to stress just how much of a difference that red badge made to me. Whilst it didn’t entirely solve my social anxiety issues (which are fairly complex and multi-layered, and I’ll likely cover them in another post soon), it helped immeasurably. Part of my anxiety is related to being seen and so obviously there’s nothing that anything short of a cloak of invisibility could do to help with that–but! That didn’t mean that the knowledge that nobody would talk to me didn’t help. No chance of chit-chat in the lifts; freedom to browse the Expo with nobody trying to hawk anything or start a conversation; no worry about people I know thinking “hey! That’s Leo!” and coming to say hello if I wasn’t ready. All these fears were immediately eliminated.
I can imagine for other people who struggle with social anxiety or peopling, that the idea of being able to wear a badge that keeps you “off limits” is just ridiculously reassuring. Imagine being able to toddle from your hotel room, down into the lift, wearing your big red badge of NOPE, knowing that you might be ferried down through hotel with nary a word spoken to your person, both as you make your way to the panel you’re attending, as well as during, after and for the rest of the convention, if you so wish. Anyone with a red badge is perfectly welcome to initiate conversations with anyone they feel comfortable, but there is absolutely no obligation and neither will there be the fear of being rude if you’re not able to talk or socialise. The badge does all that for you. It’s genius, really.
I’d say it’s worth expecting someone to accidentally speak to you whilst wearing the badge, but it’s difficult to say whether it will happen or not, since the circumstances were so very specific with me, and, though I’m still trying to decide if the person in question recognised me from social media or not, it wasn’t a conversation as much as a passing remark. It wasn’t great, but it didn’t do any harm overall (likely because the person may have realised and shuffled off after the fact, or, because it was intended as a passing remark in any case). Anyone who wants to put their faith in this badge system, can indeed do so. It worked and it felt safe. There’s not a lot more you can ask for, really.