The writer behind the graphic novel ‘Bingo Love’ tells Moneyish why convention organizers — and society at large — need to better accommodate people with disabilities
Comic creator Tee Franklin arrived at a BookCon panel in New York City last weekend eager to discuss her work. She wound up leaving the event in tears.
Franklin, a black, queer comic creator from South Jersey, has used mobility aids since a 2014 car accident left her disabled, making her one of about 40 million people living with a disability in the U.S. But when she arrived Saturday at the Diversity in Graphic Novels panel organized by Diamond Comic Distributors, she said, she found fellow panelists already sitting onstage — and no ramp to accommodate her motorized scooter.
Panel moderator Heidi MacDonald from The Beat comics culture blog, whom Franklin says she has known for years, asked panelists to shift to sit in front of the stage — but Franklin, “aggravated and frustrated” that the moderator hadn’t arranged for accommodations before her arrival, gave a speech and exited the room to applause. She filmed a tearful video about the incident and posted it to Twitter, later launching a hashtag, #NoRampNoPanel.
— BINGOLOVECOMIC.NET (@MizTeeFranklin) June 2, 2018
“As soon as (MacDonald) saw that there was no ramp, the chairs and the microphones should’ve instantly (been) moved down on the floor — but instead, I have to go in and say something,” Franklin told Moneyish. “Right outside the panel doors is when I shot that video, and I just broke down crying. Because I just felt so small and humiliated and worthless.”
Franklin says that she received support afterward from Kat Salazar, the director of PR and marketing for Image Comics, and the vice president of BookCon producer ReedPop, who apologized and asked how the company could do better. (BookCon, the two-day Javits Center fan convention that drew a reported 20,000 bookworms this year, does have policies addressing fans with special needs.)
“We truly regret that Ms. Franklin had this experience at our show. Our team is committed to ensuring that all show participants – guests and ticketholders — have a positive experience while attending or participating in any one of our events. In this instance we could’ve done better,” read a ReedPop statement provided to Moneyish by a publicist. “We know some participants may require accommodation to fully participate in our shows and it is our practice to regularly provide for this; however, we can and will be more proactive and work on putting a better process in place. Going forward, we will be reviewing our current processes to make sure that we identify any requirements in advance and ensure that they are met.”
“We all failed Tee Franklin and we have failed many other disabled con goers and guests. We need to have accessibility for all creators and fans, and we need to be aware of their needs and not just think its someone else’s job,” she wrote in her post. “In the future, even if I am just the moderator, I’ll make certain to reach out to all panelists ahead of time to find out if there are accessibility issues and alert the proper authorities to make sure that the proper steps are taken.” (MacDonald added in an email to Moneyish that she was “very sorry about what happened and deeply regret that my actions made Tee feel unvalued.” “As I stated in my post, planning for accessibility issues should be part of putting together every panel/event, and we all need to do it as standard policy,” she said.)
Franklin, a mother of three who started writing comics in 2016, had also dealt with lack of accessibility within the same week at MegaCon in Orlando and BookExpo in New York — although in those cases, she said, moderators hustled to make accommodations in a timely manner. But conventions as a whole “need to do better,” Franklin said — providing ASL interpreters, ramps for panels and automated doors, for example.
“There’s so much that can be done, but we are an afterthought,” she said. “I’m tired of being labeled a troublemaker; I’m tired of being the problem.”
Franklin says she wants people — at conventions and in society at large — to “do better” at accommodating disabled people. Simple gestures can go a long way, she said: If you’re situated by a disabled person at a convention, for example, you might volunteer to grab them food or drink when you’re getting up anyway. Or if you see them drop something, pick it up — an action that would take you mere seconds, but might take Franklin several minutes. “It could make our day,” she said, “because you thought of us and you wanted to help us.”
But it shouldn’t be up to disabled folks “to teach people how to treat us better,” Franklin added. “Learn to do better. Research. Google,” she said. Follow disabled activists on Twitter, she recommended, highlighting the accounts of @VilissaThompson, @CoffeeSpoonie, @RebeccaCokley and @PunnySamosa.
Franklin’s “Bingo Love,” a black queer romance story, raised funds on Kickstarter before it was picked up by Image Comics and released on Valentine’s Day. She expressed gratitude for her fans’ support and told them to look out for new work coming soon. “I do hope that when I go back on tour or go back to comic conventions, that I don’t have to deal with (accessibility issues) anymore,” she added.
She felt heartened by a reassuring post-BookCon tweet from organizers of the American Library Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibition, which she plans to attend in New Orleans later this month. “The folks over at ALA reached out to me and told me that they are on it,” Franklin said. “That made me feel really nice, and it made me feel seen and validated.”
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