Kieron Gillen, in a quote that I will use several times this weekend, described Nine Worlds Geekfest as a petri dish for the future of conventions. It bends over backwards to accommodate the needs and desires of attendees. It intends to be the safest of spaces while still encouraging provocative discussion. How? Well, here are some examples of the guidelines in that spirit, from this weekend's show in Hammersmith, London. Some will work better than others. But for those policies that do work, expect this kind of thing to show up at a convention near you in the next few years, as geek appeal continues to expand and inspire others.
These are just a few examples from their stated policies. Beginning with their still-innovative Communication System
We will be using a system to indicate communication preferences. We will once again be using coloured acetate overlays. These will put a vivid coloured stripe over the bottom third of your con badge, so will be highly visible, and in the same place for everyone. They will also be easy to change during the course of the event. The acetates will go over and around your con badge. The acetates will have a simple shape cut out of them, for anyone who has difficulty identifying colours.
A blue stripe over your badge with a star shape will indicate that you are actively seeking communication. This may be used because you have no communication difficulties, and love meeting new people, or you have difficulty initiating conversations, but would like people to initiate conversations with you. No distinction will be drawn between these, and the communication preference system will not be restricted to those with communication difficulties.
A yellow stripe over your badge with a triangle shape will indicate that you only want to talk to people you already know, or if you initiate communication.
A red tint stripe over your badge with a circle shape indicates that you don't want any communication right now, except in an emergency.
At previous shows, the badges also have space for people to add available stickers with their gender pronoun preference, he/him, her/she, they/them, ze/hir, with people encouraged to normalise the practice as standard. How about dealing with people's personal perception abilities?
We will be welcoming a BSL interpreter, for those who would benefit from this. The interpreter's time would be scheduled in advance, based on the preferences of those who indicate they need the service, in as fair a way as possible, and including breaks for the signer.
We will remind people presenting, moderating, or on panels to use the microphones provided, to try to refrain from covering their mouth or facing away from the audience, and to be aware that excessive noise may make it difficult for people to hear or concentrate. We will also remind anyone presenting that if the microphones or speakers aren't working correctly, this constitutes an access issue and needs addressing immediately. Priority access seats will be available at the front of all spaces, to aid lip reading, seeing the signer etc. We will request any Powerpoint presentations be made available, where this may increase accessibility.
The main event hall has an inbuilt induction infrared system, with 6 infrared radiators to pick up the sound waves using the hotel's hearing receivers. There are 17 receivers available at any one time, including both Stethosets and Telecoils. In addition to this, the hotel has 1 table mounted portable infrared system with a range of up to 400sq/m, ideal for use in any of our meeting rooms and suites. A static microphone is provided, which plugs directly into the system, ideal for picking up proceedings that occur around the infrared radiator.
For delegates with hearing impairments the hotel can provide the following receivers:
x8 Inductive neck loops – This receiver provides a personal induction loop system to assist hearing aid wearers with the "T" telecoil function and is worn around the neck.
x2 Stethosets – This receiver can be used by non-hearing aid wearers and is worn on the ears.
If you require any of these, please let us know well in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org so we can book equipment and plan a schedule for the portable system.
Sight impaired attendees
We can provide the Nine Worlds programme in alternative formats, such as large print or audio file, where this is requested in advance. The programme will also be available as a pdf, and as an customisable app for offline use. We will ask presenters to provide an electronic and/or paper copy of presentations where possible.
There will be priority seating at the front of every space we are using.
We will place signage on mirrors and glass walls/dividers, to aid those with depth perception or sensory processing issues.
Menus will be published online, and large print versions will be available.
We understand that large events can present challenges for our neurodiverse attendees. In addition to the facilities outlined elsewhere in this document, we will provide an outdoor non-smoking socialising space. This will be the patio area outside Cognac, as this is for sole use of Nine Worlds attendees.
We have provided detailed information, including sensory information on the hotel, (pictures, lighting levels, odours, floor surfaces, stairwells, lifts etc.)
If sensory processing issues or excess noise affect you, you are welcome to wear headphones to help with this. White noise, ambient noise and other noises are available for personal use free at mynoise.net. There will be a small stock of disposable ear plugs provided in the quiet room; please feel free to take a pair if this would help you.
We are aware that some people may struggle to identify people visually, due to face blindness and other difficulties. Our Access Coordinator will tweet what she is wearing, to help you find her, should you need to. If you ask any volunteer, they can get in contact with the Access Coordinator for you.
Bathroom policy can be an extremely sensitive and worrying aspect for some. This is what Nine Worlds say.
The venue has accessible toilets. We recognise that these may be of assistance to people beyond wheelchair users, and encourage people to use these if it best meets their needs.
There are accessible toilets on all of the floors of the venue we will be using, and these will be unlocked for the duration of the event. These are a single gender neutral toilet on most floors, with an accessible toilet inside the ladies and gentlemen's' toilets on the first floor. Gender neutral toilets will be located on the mezzanine floor.
The accessible toilets have grab rails, sanitary bins suitable for larger pads, alarms, easy turn taps and full length mirrors, as well as red pullcords in case of emergency. Most of the accessible toilets are large enough to allow manoeuvring and for someone to assist transferring if required. None of the toilets meet Changing Places standards. There are no sharps bins in any of the toilets.
The non-accessible toilets on the first floor have frosted glass doors. While these cannot be seen through, we realise that they may make some people uncomfortable and they may wish to consider this when choosing which facilities to use.
There is an accessible baby changing table located in the accessible toilet on the mezzanine floor, and an inaccessible height changing table in the ladies' toilets on the first floor.
We understand that people who are neurodiverse, have sensory processing difficulties, or multiple chemical sensitivities, may find it difficult to use toilets due to the use of perfumes etc. in the spaces. We will put up notices asking people to be aware of this and not to spray substances such as perfume or hairspray in the toilets that are solely for Nine Worlds use, including the accessible toilets.
Our inclusive speech policy is broader, and focuses on not accidentally alienating people from marginalised identity groups. This includes things like:
Not gendering the audience either when you're welcoming people (don't say "hello ladies and gentlemen") or identifying an audience member to respond to the panel (don't pick out "the lady in the red shirt"). You can't tell someone's gender accurately by looking at them, and not everyone identifies as male or female, so it is best to keep things gender neutral. A gender neutral welcome could be "hello everybody" and a good way to call upon audience members to speak is to pick an item of clothing, and the part of the room they're sitting in, e,g. "The person in the Harley Quinn hoodie in the third row" or "You at the back, with the green and purple hair" are good examples of how to do this.
Please don't comment on people's cosplays (even as a compliment) while you're behind a mic, even if it's intended positively. It can make people feel very awkward. If you like their cosplay, let them know later in the bar, not while you have control of a microphone in a room full of people.
Avoiding sweeping generalisations about identity groups – especially ones you are not a part of.
Don't reference other speakers' attractiveness (even as a compliment) – it is almost certain that your fellow panellist was chosen based on their knowledge of a topic, not for being beautiful. Commenting on their beauty undermines their position of expertise. This is often done to women in panel settings.
If you accidentally get one of these things wrong (and we do understand that this happens), don't make it about how difficult you find it to use inclusive language. Apologise once and move on.
Like society in general, racism permeates geek culture and geek spaces, making them less welcoming and safe for non-white people. At Nine Worlds we want to prioritise the voices of people who are often spoken over or erased in geek spaces, and make Nine Worlds as accessible as we can to people from all racial backgrounds. Problems non-white attendees of geek events talk about include:
white people critiquing their cosplay costumes without being asked
being expected to be an authority on non-white characters in various shows or comics
being talked down to or assumed to be less knowledgeable about topics being discussed.
This sort of behaviour will absolutely not be tolerated.
You can find all this and more on their website. And at the show starting tomorrow… see you there!