Accessibility At VidCon: The Good and The Bad

NOTE: I’d like to start this off by saying that this post is from the deaf perspective. I am not talking about wheelchair access, accessibility for blind people, etc. since that is something I do not have personal experience with. I talked with my friends that have different disabilities and they plan to make their own videos about their experiences and suggestions.

From June 23rd-25th, 2016, I attended my second VidCon in a row, both times as a Featured Creator.

Last year, for the 6th Annual VidCon, I was given the opportunity to host the first ever closed captioning workshop, Lights, Camera, Caption! Around 135 people had it scheduled on their VidCon app and around 50 or so people came. This year, I had the opportunity to host the workshop again. Around 200 or so had it scheduled, but around the same number of people last year or less came, which was a bit of a bummer, but the workshop was at 11 a.m. this year as opposed to 2 p.m. last year and time and schedule conflicts more than likely played a factor.

This year, I was on the first ever Disabilities On YouTube panel part one with fellow YouTubers JD Dalton, Tommy Edison, and Ally Taylor as moderator. Part two consisted of Tommy Edison, Sitting Pretty Lolo, Molly Burke, and James Rath.

I’ve only been to two VidCons so I can’t say for sure, but from what I’ve been told, accessibility for those with different abilities (or disabilities, whichever word you prefer to use) was pretty limited.

Until now.

Things had improved accessibility wise for the d/Deaf and hard of hearing this year. It wasn’t perfect and more improvements could be made, but we’ll start with the good stuff first.

Last year, I wanted an ASL interpreter and CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation AKA live captioner) for the audience and myself. An interpreter was hired, but by the time I asked for CART, they said there wasn’t enough time to have one booked. At the end of the day, I didn’t get all the accessibility I wanted, but it was more than what VidCon had before. After my workshop ended, someone tweeted me saying that I was the first workshop to have an ASL interpreter at VidCon ever. This year, my workshop had both CART and two ASL interpreters. After the workshop, the interpreters offered to be my personal interpreters the next day.

Speaking of interpreters, last year, VidCon had zero interpreters at the main stages. This year, there were two interpreters at the Kia mainstage and arena. They also had 15 interpreters on standby in case they were needed.

Now let’s talk about the bad.

I’d like to make a note that this wasn’t VidCon’s fault, but it’s still worth talking about so that we can make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.

For Disabilities On YouTube part one, two CART, one for me and one for the audience, and at least one interpreter were supposed to be at the stage. When we started the panel, I had no CART at my seat. I spent ten minutes of panel time trying to figure out where my accessibility was and the panel was started without me, something that should not have happened. At first, I thought VidCon messed up, but it turns out that the second CART and interpreter failed to show up and didn’t notify anybody. Fortunately, one CART did show up and we unfortunately had to take her away from the audience in order to continue with the panel. It’s a moment that I will not forget and it upsets me every time I think about it. We also had to use two interpreters that were an audience member’s interpreters. Really, we’re not supposed to do that, or we shouldn’t do that, but they were kind enough to help out and I thank them for that.

For part two, the CART who showed up at my workshop was at the panel. We did want an interpreter, and we used the two I had with me, but I’m not sure if the interpreters hired were the personal ones I had with me or not. We ended up using them anyway since I was going to the panel from the start.

So, what could be improved for VidCon 2017 and onward?

In a perfect world, VidCon would have at least one interpreter and CART in every panel room, mainstage, and arena. I don’t know if that would be financially possible as I don’t know the budget for the convention and how much interpreters and CART cost. What could also happen is definitely having interpreters and CART in the mainstage and arena, and allowing attendees to check off whether or not they need certain accommodations on the form. After that’s checked off, then they would type what panels they plan to attend and perhaps work from there. I don’t know if that would make things more complicated, but it’s just an idea that popped up in my head. Obviously, this is something that would require a lot of planning and I plan to talk with fellow VidCon staff (ahem, you did read that right - it does say fellow VidCon staff) about that throughout the year.

I know that perfection will not come in an instant and I don’t expect it to. Perfection is impossible to achieve. I know this. But I do hope that that for VidCon 2017, we can work together and make improvements little by little so we can make VidCon the best it can be for everyone.