Call for panel volunteers - disability and the fandom at Anthrocon 2018
Will you be attending Anthrocon 2018? Do you consider yourself to have a disability? Does your disability affect how you engage with the fandom? Would you be willing to talk about this in a panel setting at the con? Do you like raccoons? Then I’d love to hear from you!
(Ok, the liking raccoons thing isn’t mandatory. But it is encouraged.)
As someone with a severe, lifelong visual impairment, disability affects most aspects of my daily life. Moreover, it directly affects my relationship with the furry fandom, often in unexpected ways, and I imagine those with other disabilities have similar stories to tell. To try and help share them, I’m coordinating a panel for Anthrocon this year to talk about some of these issues, partly because I think it’d just be interesting, but also to help raise awareness of what I feel is an often overlooked topic in our community.
I’m therefore looking for volunteers who’d like to speak about their experiences of disability and furry. I should stress that this is intended to be a fandom-centric discussion, rather than of the broader challenges us disabled folks face in everyday life, as I think it provides a more unique (and interesting!) perspective. However, I appreciate there will be considerable overlap, so nothing is really ‘off-limits’. As an introduction, you may want to flick through my post about fursuiting while visually impaired, which also touches on some of the more ‘fundamental’ aspects of how visual impairment affects my furry experience.
To try and give a clearer picture of what I have in mind, I’ve outlined a few questions that have come up when I’ve discussed this idea with friends. If you have further questions, do please feel free to ask on Twitter, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org! You may also be able to catch me at an upcoming con (more details below).
What does disability have to do with furry?
More than you might think! While the term ‘disability’ is extremely broad (more on that below), for many of us it’s an inescapable aspect of our lives. That said, this panel is intended to focus specifically on disability and the fandom, as there are many unique challenges (and benefits) in this particular context. From my own perspective, these include, but are by no means limited to:
- Why I’m a furry! (TV characters that are hard to distinguish visually: boring humans. TV characters that are easy to distinguish visually: cartoon animals.)
- The benefits (and drawbacks) of online culture! (Awesome! I don’t have to rely on recognizing faces, or socialize in unfamiliar, poorly lit environments! Oh no! Computer screens really tire my eye out but are my primary mode of communication with furries!)
- Fursuiting! (I can’t see anything, but now everyone else knows I can’t see anything, too!)
What’s more, I’m sure furries with other disabilities face some similar, but many different, challenges. By bringing these issues to a more public setting, my hope is we can learn how, as a fandom, we can be more aware (and accommodating) of disability in our community, while also learning some interesting stuff!
What do you mean by ‘disability’? Am I ‘disabled enough’ to take part?
The term disability is both vague and contentious, and it’s also something that many of us (myself included) resist, especially as a form of self-identification. Nevertheless, I appreciate some guidance on this may be useful. Different countries and agencies have varying definitions, but one I quite like for its simplicity comes from the UK’s Equality Act:
'’You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.’’
Alternatively, if you had a disability in childhood then you may have been categorized as such in your schooling (e.g., as someone with special educational needs), while as an adult you may have talked to your employer about disability accommodations (although many of us avoid this for the sake of job security).
In any case, for the purposes of this panel I’m not particularly bothered about how some external organization defines disability. What I’m looking for are folks who feel they have interesting insights about how their (self-identified) disability affects their relationship with the fandom. If you’re unsure whether you fit under this umbrella, please feel free to get in touch and I’d be happy to discuss, although ultimately this is something only each of us can decide for ourselves!
What would I have to do?
I currently have two broad plans for the panel, the specifics of which we’ll hammer out once the panelists are finalized. One possibility is for us each to spend a little time talking about the ways in which our disability affects our lives in the context of the fandom. Another is to take questions or comments submitted in advance online (as well as from the audience) as the starting-point for a panel discussion. Some combination of the two is also possible!
My goal at the moment is to find volunteers, and then work out the specifics. While I have a lifetime’s experience of disability, I can only offer one perspective on one disability, and I don’t want to presume a panel structure that works well for me would work well for those with disabilities that present different challenges. However, as it will be a panel session at a convention, you will need to be prepared to speak in public (and potentially about some fairly delicate topics). If you’re not used to public speaking I’m happy to offer advice: as an academic I regularly present to students, scientists, and the public, so know a few tricks!
I don’t want to take part in a panel - is there any other way to contribute?
I know not everyone is comfortable with the idea of being in a panel (and many of you won’t even be at Anthrocon), so I’m working on other ways to participate. These will be finalized once we have a set of panelists put together, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to discuss comments contributed by those unable (or unwilling) to directly take part. Anonymity will of course be a top priority for those who desire it.
I’m interested! How can I contact you?
The best first point of contact would be by email - email@example.com - this will help me keep track of things most easily. If you’d like to catch me at a con I’ll be attending Anthro New England (in Boston) in February, Furnal Equinox (in Toronto) in March, and Biggest Little Fur Con (in Reno) in May. Con time tends to be busy, but ‘real world’ conversations can be easier! Nearer Anthrocon I’ll probably put out a call for questions/comments from the community for us to discuss, so if you’re interested in contributing that way watch this space (or, more usefully, my Twitter).
I don’t consider myself do have a disability but would like to help! What can I do?
The easiest thing is to help spread the message! I’m not even sure there’ll be enough people at Anthrocon who want to take part, so this whole thing may be doomed to failure from the start :)
That said, please be considerate of others when it comes to what is a potentially very sensitive topic. Approaching someone you don’t know particularly well saying ‘Hey! You’re disabled! This guy wants to do a panel on disability at AC, you should volunteer!’ could put them in a very uncomfortable position. Many of us who self-identify as disabled do not like it to be viewed as an identifying feature (while the opposite opinion is also common!). In the context of this panel, your best bet is to ask yourself whether you know someone well enough to be sure what their reaction to being approached would be, and act accordingly.
More generally, asking questions and listening to what disabled folks say will often be appreciated. A recurring challenge in my life is that others presume they know what someone with my disability wants (or needs), often without asking. Similarly, you may be surprised by how much someone’s disability affects them, as those of us who are able to often work hard to disguise it. While you may be met with a stony-seeming ‘I’d rather not talk about it’, expressing an interest - and respecting any response - can go a long way!