How Accessible Was VidCon 2017?

VidCon US 2017 is over and it’s been a sad two days as I’ve come back to Toronto for some rest. 

[Image Description: Ally Taylor, Rikki Poynter, Tommy Edison, Annie Elainey, and Molly Burke sitting at a VidCon panel. Photo courtesy of Liat Kaver from Google.]

[Image Description: Ally Taylor, Rikki Poynter, Tommy Edison, Annie Elainey, and Molly Burke sitting at a VidCon panel. Photo courtesy of Liat Kaver from Google.]

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be a featured creator at VidCon for three years in a row. This year, I was on the Disabilities On YouTube and Accessibility On YouTube panels. I was also a “disability advisor”, which I was hired to be along with Ally Taylor by one of the VidCon staff last year after the proper CART system and ASL interpreters failed to show up to the Disabilities panel last year. This year, I wanted to see how much VidCon has improved.

To be honest, VidCon didn’t make much use of us. We received one main e-mail and then it turned into small conversations here and there. But there was no real utilization. This is something that I definitely feel could be improved upon. 

Now, I can only really talk about things I have experience with. I’m deaf and I deal with a lot of chronic pain. Those are things I have more experience with when it comes to accessibility. If you wanted to know more about wheelchair access or service dog stuff, you’d be better off asking Annie or Molly.

Let’s talk food first.

Last year, a friend had an allergic reaction to soy milk in the middle of viewing a panel. This was due to containers not being labeled properly in lounges. Instead of labels being placed onto the container directly, there were cards placed on the table which could easily have been moved around. This affects people with other allergies such as lactose intolerance and also those who are vegan. Mostly important, it could potentially kill someone, like my friend almost experienced. I brought this up with VidCon and I was told there would be changes. As I walked around the lounges, I saw that some in the featured creator hotel were properly labeled.  However, one of the green rooms I had been to before my panels were not labeled properly. As someone who consumes plant based milk, I found this frustrating.

Which brings me to talking about options for all featured creators of different diets in the featured creator cafe. The food menu on our packet was very different from reality. As a vegan who had brought this up months before the convention happened, I expected there to be choices that weren’t just a piece of lettuce and tomato. So on day one, I walked in expecting a good ol’ build-your-own stir-fry. What I saw was the opposite. It was completely different food and to boot, lacking in vegan options. I brought this up to VidCon and it was changed and more options were added. Although, the menu was still different from the original menu on the packet. 

Now, this isn’t all VidCon’s fault. I was told that they were working very hard to make sure everything was presented the way it should and that options were there. It was an issue of the distributors.

Now let’s move on to the stuff you’re probably really here for: the deaf accessibility. Before my first year at VidCon, I don’t think there were any options for CART or ASL interpretation. During my first year, we had CART and an ASL interpreter at my captions workshop. If we had any interpreters during my first year, I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think there was. Last year, CART and ASL interpreters were provided for the disability panels (except for the first one that I was on - remember that a proper CART system and interpreters failed to show) and interpreters were available on the main stages. Up to 15 other interpreters were also on call.

This year, VidCon amped it up a little more. This time, for both featured creators (well, me - I was the only deaf featured creator, I’m pretty sure) and regular attendees. Not only were up to 15 interpreters available as on call again, but VidCon released an interpreter request form to everyone. This opened up a huge door. Instead of only being able to understand what was going on at disability panels, attendees could go to whatever panel they wanted and find an interpreter that they asked for. 

There is one issue that needs to be discussed - the lack of captioning at VidCon movie nights. I don’t know how often these were, but I do know that there was a screening for Power Rangers. A pal of mine told me that when she went to view the movie, there were no captions available. This is something that I wish would have occurred so that everybody, hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing, etc. could enjoy. When staff were confronted by this person, using interpreters were suggested. Interpreters don’t really interpret movies. That’s what captions are for.

All in all, things have definitely improved since 2015. Ally and I will be having a conversation with VidCon staff about these issues and improvements in the near future. Here’s to hoping for an even more accessible 2018!