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Monday, 23 November 2015

COMICS, HERO'S AND VILLAIN'S AND NO AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT

Its been a very busy weekend for The Amputee diaries, I along with DC Photography (my husband) and my daughter, we hit Film and Comic Con Newcastle this weekend.

Again we where lucky enough to be able to attend one of Showmasters celebration of all things film and geek. Lots of fun was had and we both entered the spirit of the occasion by Cos-playing for the two days. For anyone that is not aware what happens or what a Film and Comic Convention is all about or what Cos-playing is read on.


Cos-Playing put simply is when you dress up as your favorite character from a film, TV show, comic or game and these conventions are all about celebrating all things geeky and that is wonderful about these things we are passionate about. Now don't get me wrong some people take this very seriously indeed. Hours, days sometimes even months go in to making very detailed props and costumes that are screen accurate (not to mention money). Others do their interpretation of the character they have chosen to be, there is no right or wrong in this world where everyone is accepted and everyone is equal. Complete strangers are willing to pose for photos with you or on their own, where you get asked to pose for other people, where people are interested in how long it took you to make your head piece or instantly recognize who you are dressed as, family's can attend to have fun, little ones can dress up and pose with their favorite characters from film and comics, stuff that ordinary shops don't sell can be bought and for a fee you can get a photograph or autograph from a famous celebrity out of your favorite film or TV show, or your favorite author or artist from the comic world.

These events are great for meeting and making new friends, having a day out with the little ones or just collecting memorabilia and autographs. What ever your thing you will find it here. There is no judgement, there is gender bend costumes, home made costumes and professional Cos Players rubbing shoulders with non cos Players and stars of the big and little screen.  However it was sad to see that not many disabled people or wheelchair users at these events. There is help there, just well hidden which is where I come in. This weekend I only saw one other person in a wheelchair Cos Playing.

There is a darker side to the Conventions and believe it or not, regardless of how accepting they are bullying can sometimes still be an issue. Speaking to a lot of Cos Players over the weekend, most get involved for the same reasons I
do, its freeing. A couple of hours not worrying about your disability, life, anxiety, depression, stress,
being accepted for who you are with like minded people.A lot talked about how they where bullied at school for various reasons and attending the conventions, Cos Playing has helped with that. Its helped them to see that there is nothing wrong with them it was the people who bullied them that had the problem. This is why it is so sad to see it happening between Cos Players, especially in an environment where you should feel safe.  Its sad to say that some of the  Cos Players (mainly at the bigger cons), do suffer from bullying, why? because their costumes aren't screen accurate, because they are showing  too much flesh or because some one thinks they are the wrong shape or size to play a certain character, this can put some people off from Cos Playing for the first time as they may already be anxious or stop some one from doing it again, words hurt, but this will be something I will cover in a different blog when doing another review for a  convention.

So if this event is so great to be why haven't I heard of it? I hear you scream (or you should be screaming). These kinds of things do not seem to be advertised main stream so unless you know some one who attends them or you are into the Marvel world, DC fanatic or Star wars Fan you may have missed the opportunity to attend one till now. My first convention was back in March 2015 at Newcastle at a Showmasters event. I was hooked. I had heard of the conventions the most famous one being the San Diego one in the US (if anyone would like to donate a ticket or press pass for that one it would be appreciated) but had never thought to go to one, why? because I was disabled and in a wheelchair.

I am always aware that not all places are accessible and like most people who have a disability I panic and therefore try to plan in advance for every eventuality even down to the smallest detail. Will there be an accessible entrance? where is it? will there be lifts? can I get round the stalls?  where are the toilets? will they be big enough to get in with my wheelchair? what happens if I want a photo with the celeb? the list is endless. Now I think I know what you might be thinking here - But aren't all venues accessible now due to the disability act? No funny enough they are not. This could be due to the age of the building, it being listed or just bad design etc. I once went to book a hotel in London who claimed to be accessible but had steps up to the front entrance, their answer was some one could come out and carry me up the steps ????? You also have to think about the people who organize these events. Disabled accessible might mean the doors are wide and there is a wide disabled toilet and  lift. They don't think about other things like, getting up to the front entrance, is the toilet wide enough to get a wheelchair in and another person if a carer is needed? how easy is it to get to the lift? are the aisles wide enough, getting around equipment and most importantly (to me anyway), do the staff know how to deal with this? Now a lot of disabled people don't mind asking for help or even accepting help but there are some who don't want to ask some one else for help or accept it  when help is offered or who want to be as independent as possible when out and about and this is what event organizers need to be aware of as well as their staff and volunteers.




So off I went to my third comic con that Showmasters have organised. The one in March I found very confusing, was un aware of what help was available and don't even mention trying to get around the stalls to look ! The second one was up in Glasgow which I thought the venue was excellent, downside however was the lack of information from staff and the lack of staff to be honest.
The venue in Newcastle is the Metro Arena  very good and very accessible, The parking is £5 per day for the full day unless you have blue badges then it is free. However the disabled parking spaces are limited. Access into the venue is good and there are plenty of staff on hand to open doors and help you in. Every thing for the convention is on the level and showmasters got everything right this time. There was enough space to get around the food stands, accessing the prop shoots was easy enough, with enough room to maneuver around the area. Although I didn't have any photos with stars taken this time and it will always be like a conveyor belt, access and staff helpfulness though was excellent. Whilst David was having a photo shoot with Colin Baker they took me down  to wait at the other side for him collecting his picture with out any fuss or awkwardness.
This year they had added changing rooms for male and female cos players which where situated upstairs but where accessible to everyone via a lift if needed. The registration desk was accessible and the staff helpful and informative. I learnt that they have an email address to contact should you need extra help ( I will put it at the end of the blog), carers can go free with no restrictions on buying photo ops or autographs or taking part in any talks, Some evidence my be required such as DLA letter, Carers letter or a photo copy of you blue badge. You will also be given a slip of paper which you  can then show to the pit bosses, who wear red. This will get you help and access to  all photo shoots as quickly as possible, enter any autograph queue without needing a virtual ticket. This was a brilliant idea, shame no one informed us of this at Glasgow. Also found out that should you have a child or adult with ASD or ADHD that needs a quiet place to calm down then they will be able to sort that out as well.
There are disabled toilets on either side on the ground floor that are accessible with the use of a radar key. There are staff on hand that have the key. On one side the person was next to the disabled toilet but on the other side there was no one around and my daughter had to walk to the bottom of the corridor to the nearest person in a yellow coat to ask who had the key. Luckily it was her but had it been some one else that could have been a huge problem, especially for some one on their own or who could not be left unattended or who had any kinds of control issues. My advice bring your own key as I believe radar keys are all the same but check. The other downside was where to get the key from was not made obvious.
Nothing was said at the front desk and there where no notices on the door of the toilet
or wall. The person I spoke to showsec?? Refused to answer any questions on disability training etc as they had been told not to give any interviews, very strange.

The lay out of the room was much better this time, The big blue boards that they had at the end of each aisle had gone and for some reason the aisles looked more spaced out. That could have been down to this event being quieter then the one at Glasgow and in March at Newcastle, but the difference was amazing ! easy to get around, get to the traders and plenty of staff on hand to help out. Bravo Showmasters you might have cracked this  venue. However I would be very interested to see how they work at other venues like  London, Brighton or Manchester. I mean do they follow the same training and format for all staff? if so at the registration in Glasgow why wasn't I told about the extra help? How come in March nothing was signposted for disabled use? These are things that still need to be worked on in my opinion.

I also would love to go to other organizers events to compare who they deal with disability issues etc so watch this space as we will try to get answers there as well. Having looked at MCM, Hero Conventions and Rogue Events there is not a lot of information, Showmasters have the email address to contact if there is an accessibility or health concern. Rogue have a contact email to register a carer to go for free or they charge a large fee to have a pa available to you should you be on your own, However unlike show masters the carer is not allowed to purchase photo ops or autographs unless they have bought a full price ticket, bit harsh if you ask me. MCM and Hero convention there is no mention of disabled access, families or carers and under contact there is a general inquiry email address. Of course there is also comparing it to how the USA deal with their comic cons and disability issues, carers or families with special needs, so again something I would love to  take a look at.

To be honest I think these conventions and businesses should take things like this more seriously. At the end of the day who knows how much business you could be missing out on? Employers should be thinking about this as well because as we are well aware the government are determined to cut benefits and are deeming all and sundry fit for work, if so is your company disabled friendly? are your staff trained on how to talk to some one about mental health or how to approach offering help to some one in a wheelchair? I don't think they are. Every where I go it is disturbing to see just how many businesseswrite off the disabled customer /user. Think about it .

You can see more images from the Film and Comic Con Newcastle by going to thepsychtwins.bravesites.com or http://dcphotographysunderland.photofolio.org/

For more information on Showmasters go to http://www.showmastersevents.com/

To contact Showmasters for extra help conatact Samatha at extrahelp@showmastersevents.com

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