SFWA Accessibility Guidelines: What They Are and Why They Matter

Picture of a robot in the SFWA suite, illustration to accompany blog post by speculative fiction writer Cat Rambo.

One thing that did surprise me was the lack of provision for robots, such as this one, enslaved in the SFWA suite at the Nebulas and forced to serve its human captors with cocktails. Should I become SFWA Vice President this year, I pledge that no robot will be left behind.

The SFWA Board recently passed an Accessibility Guidelines Checklist, which will be used at all SFWA-sponsored events. That includes things like the Nebulas, the NY Meet and Greet, etc. Along with passing them, the board passed a provision that every time they get used at such an event, someone sits down afterward and checks to make sure they worked well and don’t need to be adjusted.

One reason I think this is great is that I’ve seen a lot of conventions lately — among the largest around — that have dropped the ball as far as accessibility goes. I’ve seen con participants treated shabbily and shamefully, even to the point where participants from other, more mundane conventions and gatherings end up stepping up to help up the F&SF fans. It’s great to see SFWA leading by example by using such a set of guidelines as well as making it available to conventions who might find it a useful resource.

So here’s what the checklist involves:

  1. There must be an accessibility liaison who is a member of the committee or event staff and who understands accessibility issues, resources, and solutions.
  2. There must be wheelchair accessible cabs and lift-equipped shuttle vans available between airport and hotel. If the hotel has shuttle service, it must include lift-equipped vans or arrange for such a service.
  3. The hotel must have a convenient drop-off and pick-up point, with an accessible route to the entrance no more than 200 feet away.
  4. The hotel must be within two blocks of a bus stop or train, as well as reachable by car.
  5. The hotel entrance must be wheel-chair accessible and have accessible parking spaces nearby. Non-accessible entrances should have signs pointing to an accessible one.
  6. Hotel public spaces (restaurants and bars) must be wheel-chair accessible. At least one should be serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the event.
  7. Hotel must provide wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms.
  8. There must be wheelchair-accessible restaurants within a couple of blocks that people can get to.
  9. Lots of minor stuff like clearly identified accessible exits, Braille or raised characters in the elevators, audible and visual alarm signals, evacuation plan that includes people with disabilities, at least one TTY-equipped public telephone, and water fountains that are wheelchair-accessible or have a cup dispenser.
  10. The event functions must be in the host hotel or someplace easy to get to and within two blocks. You should be able to get to them in an elevator and restrooms should be wheelchair accessible.
  11. Stages and raised platforms for banquets, presentations, and panels must be wheelchair-accessible with lifts or ramps.
  12. Banquet, presentation, and panel seating must leave space for wheelchairs and scooters, and provide seating near the stage for visually and hearing-impaired attendees.
  13. Video content must be closed captioned, assistive listening devices should be available, lighting should be adequate, and an ASL interpreter should be available.
  14. If there are hearing-impaired panelists, the moderator and panel must meet beforehand to make sure they know best how to accommodate the panelist.
  15. If someone needs a caretaker/assistant, the caretaker’s registration is comped.
  16. Service animals are permitted in all hotel and convention spaces.
  17. Wherever food is served, it must be labeled for common triggers like dairy, shellfish, nuts, eggs, etc, and alternate selections will be provided.

A lot of this is common sense, but it’s great to have a checklist that a new convention can go through item by item.

Why does this matter? Because this is the sort of thing that SFWA should be doing (among LOTS of other stuff, like adapting to the new world of self-publishing and writing for electronic media, yes, yes). It leads by example, creating a set of standard for its own events, and offering them up to the community for their own use. It’s a move that encourages diversity by making sure disabled writers know that they’re a valued part of the membership and also makes sure that they can get to and enjoy SFWA events.

So yay SFWA! More of this, please. 🙂

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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