Accessing The Con

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I’ve been a serious cosplayer for over 10 years and have been to many conventions.  I’ve given panels with my cosplay group as well as attending as a regular guest. Learning the best way to navigate a convention space is challenging enough, but when you add the additional layer of accommodation, it evolves like a Pokemon. Therefore, to make your experience the very best (like no one’s ever was), here's a guide of what I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.

For those who don’t know, I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Type 3, or hEDS. This is a rare connective tissue disorder that results in joint pain, fatigue, and dislocations. As a co-condition, I also have Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. This means my blood doesn’t pump as efficiently as it should and I’m prone to dizziness and sometimes fainting. When I started going to conventions, my condition didn’t affect my life as it does now. I had to relearn what accommodations were available for guests like me.

  • Arrive Early or Stay On-Site: Accessible parking, especially at larger conventions, fills up almost as soon as the lot opens in the morning. Therefore, if you know you will need that spot, plan on getting into the car queue as early as you can. That way, you can be directed to the appropriate location. Alternatively, if you know you need closer parking but not necessarily the extra room, some conventions will set aside regular spots and mark them as ADA (I experienced this recently and it really helped.) 
  • If you know you don’t want to deal with the fuss, or are attending the convention from out of town, try to stay at a hotel that is either connected to the convention center or within a manageable walking distance. Then you can park your car once at the hotel and not move it until it’s time to go home.

  • Buy All of your Tickets in Advance: Not only does this save you from the in-person queue, it also allows you to buy any extras you’re interested in. Many people attend conventions to meet their celebrity favorites, and those experiences can come with a price tag. So, to avoid waiting in two queues, as well as receiving a possible advanced purchase discount, buy online ahead of time.
  • This is a good moment to mention companion tickets. Many conventions offer free admission for a caregiver. There are a few stipulations, some of which may include picking up a ticket at the accessibility desk each day or being required to stay with their patron the entire time. Usually, they will receive equal ticket access to what you have purchased, but do your research and reach out to the convention organizers for specially-ticketed events or other one-off situations

  • Plan Your Day: Conventions schedules usually come out two weeks before the event itself. Once they’re published, look through each day’s offerings and pick what you’d like to do. I like to use a color-coordinated system to rank my interests, i.e. ‘cannot miss’ items in green, ‘could skip if needed’ in yellow, and ‘if plans change this could be an alternate’ in blue. A lot of conventions have apps these days, so you can also build a personalized schedule and set reminders to ping you. 

  • Unless there is something you absolutely cannot miss on a Saturday, avoid it at all costs. Not only will attendance be at its highest, but moving through the space with a mobility aid can be stressful. At my latest convention, I witnessed people with scooters, manual wheelchairs, and powerchairs getting stuck in one spot for over 10 minutes because no one would give them space to move on the dealer’s room floor.  That being said, if you’re going to a smaller convention, this shouldn’t be as big of an issue.

  • Pack Your Con Bag:  If you’ve read any blogs about going to conventions, everyone talks about their con bag. This mystical item is what many attendees pack their necessities into for the convention floor. Don’t feel as if you need to use something huge, either. If you pack it well, any bag will do. Below is an example of what I pack in my bag:

  •  Portable phone charger with cord
        1. Reusable water bottle (my bottle is metal, but if you want to save space, the type that collapse or roll up are excellent choices)
        2. Dietary-safe snacks
        3. Medical Rescue Bag:
          1. Medications
          2. Liquid IV packets
          3. Ginger Candies for Nausea (I personally recommend Gin-Gins)
          4. Stim Toys for my spouse who has ADHD and Autism
          5. Earplugs for both of us (Conventions can be loud places)
          6. Medical Card for emergencies
        4. A reusable shopping bag for my convention purchases
        5. A touch-up kit for cosplay make-up
        6. A hand fan
  • Cosplaying: I want to begin by saying this; Cosplay is for everyone. No matter your body type, race, gender, ability, etc, cosplay is the expression of admiration of your favorite form of art through dressing as and embodying a character. The two most important things to remember are:
        1. Don’t appropriate: If the character you love has a different life experience than your own, please approach your interpretation of that costume from a place of awareness. The last thing you want to do is harm a community you’re trying to pay respect to. 
        2. Cosplay does not equal Consent: When I started cosplay, the convention space was akin to the Wild West. People would take pictures or pounce on you (called a ‘glomp’, which dates me, I know). It was an invasion of personal space and frankly could injure someone.In the past few years, the movement of getting consent has gained a lot of traction. It makes being in-character or showing off your costume a lot more enjoyable. If someone isn’t following this rule, do not be afraid to set the boundry. Your bodily autonomy and privacy are important.
  • Take Breaks: The convention weekend can feel full-throttle, but that doesn’t mean self-care gets tossed out the window. Your body and mind will still need the rest they deserve to keep you at your baseline. So, take breaks. If fully removing yourself from the convention space to a hotel room is not an option, plenty of the buildings that house these events will have quiet areas away from the crowds (usually near the panel rooms). Find yourself a corner and recharge. I find this is an excellent time to hydrate, snack, and stretch out if possible. My husband uses this time to reset his social battery. 

  • Build a Budget Battle Plan: The Dealer’s Room is a haven of pop-culture goods, independent artists, and sometimes unique snacks. You’re going to want to buy everything and I don’t blame you! Here’s a few things I’ve found helpful over the years:
      1. Set a budget: Living with a disability means you’re no stranger to stretching a dollar as far as it will go. So, give yourself an overall budget for the event, as well as a daily spending cap. That way, you can get the things that matter most and still enjoy window-shopping. If you like something and can’t afford it at that moment, grab a business card. Most vendors have online shops.
        1. Also, have some cash on you. Most vendors nowadays have credit card capabilities, but you’ll avoid charging minimums and extra tax if you have a bit of pocket money with you.
      2. Don’t buy on the first pass: It’s tempting, I know, but you may buy something at one booth and see it for a better price at another. Additionally, Sundays are when the deals come out and you may get it cheaper later on. 
      3. Buy Indie!: Artist Alley is a literal treasure trove of handmade goods and unique art you won’t find anywhere else. And, they don’t carry the mark-ups from some of the other resale vendors. I mean, I found handmade crab rangoon earrings in Artist Alley recently and can I just say, no regrets. 

    I hope you found this guide to navigating the convention useful. Whether you’re reading this in preparation for your very first one or are a veteran looking for tips you’ve not heard before, I wish you an amazing experience. There really is nothing like meeting other people out there who are just as passionate about your fandom as you are.