Accessibility! Was it a Thing?: WonderCon 2019 Con Diary

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My last time at WonderCon was an accessibility nightmare. With inadequate parking, rude staff, and lack of seating, I thought I would never return to its large halls, but alas I decided 2019 would be a good year to see if WonderCon had improved on its inaccessibility, and to score some good comics, zines, and met up with some friends.

In 2017 the Anaheim Convention Center was under construction, so the limited parking that was available was reserved for exhibitors and what was left was given to the first five people who arrived. Making it so many people were redirected to park at the Honda Center, which is about 3.5 miles away. So WonderCon rented charter buses to shuttle people back to the Convention, But the horrific problem was the shuttles were ill-equipped to take disabled people in wheelchairs, or other bulky mobility devices. So they were left stranded at the Honda Center with no means to get to the Con they paid for, many of them forced just to go home.

Being a disabled person who is an ambulatory wheelchair user, I was leery of the prospect of being stranded in a hot arena parking lot, so I opted to bring my cane just in case there were parking issues (I would later come to regret that choice). I drove to the convention on the first day of WonderCon 2019, Friday, approaching the convention center I saw the construction was finally completed and made my way to the main parking structure in the back of the building. I was greeted by a grouchy man and some barriers; he told me to drive around the corner for disabled parking. I was soon transported into some strange video game quest. I would reach the next destination only to be met by another quest. “Follow that car, around the corner, and you’ll see a person in a yellow vest they will know where you should park.” Three parking attendants and a police officer later I had found the line to get into the “correct” parking structure (the one they can charge you for). After paying $16 (This is outrageous!!!!), I was in!

I had brought my mom to the convention with me to help me get around, and because she had never been to a con before. So the first thing on the agenda was to get her a carers pass. A carer’s pass is something disabled attendees can get for the people who are assisting them that weekend at no charge. Their pass matches yours, so if you have a 2-day pass, they have one and so on. Finding the disabled services booth was far more straightforward this time. The staff seemed knowledgeable and helpful which is a massive change from my previous experience. When we arrived the people working the table were very friendly and helped us right away, it was a painless experience, and they had a comfy seating/rest area, so that was super amazing.

We got my mom’s pass and headed immediately to the exhibition hall. I was excited to show her the heart of WonderCon. The floor was laid out pretty well, with wide, accommodating aisles and adequate room within booths that had that option. When I step on any exhibition hall floor I immediately look for seating, whether it be benches or just random chairs tucked off to the side. There were chairs in the cafe areas, and a large sitting area for the tabletop gaming area (you can’t sit there, even if it’s empty, if you don’t plan to game), but I often found myself trekking back to the disabled services booth to find a comfortable seat. It would be great if they had more areas like that but inside the hall, or in the long hallways on the upper levels where the panels are held.

After catching up with friends, buying some much-needed zines, and a ton of sit-downs, my mom and I decided to save our energy for Saturday and went to get some food. Like most of the conventions I have been to, there are limited selections when it comes to dining. There were a few food trucks, and some cafes sprinkled around the Anaheim Convention Center. But all of those choices were a bit pricey for me, especially after spending $16 on parking (I will never get over it! Why so damn much???). WonderCon is centrally located near every fast food eatery imaginable, and if you’re feeling adventurous Downtown Disney is next door, and they have tons of sit-down restaurants to choose from.

We chose Carls Jr. and then high-tailed it home. Quick tip, if you are driving to WonderCon definitely leave early to beat traffic. I live 45 minutes from Anaheim, but it took me two and a half hours to get home on Friday.

Day 2

Saturday was the busiest day out of the entire convention. Finding parking was a nightmare. My mom had to drop me off and had to park at the Angels Stadium which is about 3.8 miles away according to Google. WonderCon did improve on their busing situation and partnered with Disneyland, using their shuttles which are city buses, with ramps and hydraulics and accessible seating to accommodate all attendees, the wait for the shuttles was nonexistent, and the Angels Stadium staff and Disney cast members were all nice and accommodating. My mom said after waiting for over an hour to reach the baseball stadium and dealing with rude police officers and convention staff, it was refreshing to see smiling faces at the end of that long journey.

Saturday was the beginning of the end for us; I had gravely miscalculated my ability to use a cane the entire weekend. After a recent trip to C2E2, my poor body began to give in before the day really kicked into full gear. But I had found the Press Room which had delicious teas, snacks, and WiFi. I found myself in between walking around and taking pictures of all the excellent cosplay  and back in the press room chugging tea and water trying to pep up. Out of all the days at WonderCon Saturday had to be the least accessible, with the crowded hall, parking, and long lines for panels. But it was indeed a beautiful day for cosplay, and the panel schedule was packed with great panels! Like the 80th Anniversary Batman Panel, She-Ra and so many others.

WonderCon 2019 was a massive improvement over my experience in 2017. The staff at the Anaheim Convention Center was more knowledgeable, and their partnership with Disney made transportation and parking accessible to all attendees. Also, the inclusion of the rest stop at the disability services booth was indeed the highlight for me personally. I do wish they would put more rest stops around the convention center. But overall WonderCon 2019 was an enjoyable improvement from the previous years, and I will bring my wheelchair next year with confidence.

Jazmine Joyner

Jazmine Joyner

Jazmine Joyner is a freelance writer in Southern California. She has written for Wear Your Voice Magazine, /Film, Okayplayer, and many other sites. In her free time, she likes to write Sci-fi short stories, play video games, and read. You can follow her on Twitter @Jazmine_Joyner .