First, please read these two posts from my wife where she shares her views and experiences of Gen Con from the perspective of her Multiple Sclerosis and accessibility. These posts will set the context of what I am going to discuss.
Welcome back. I hope the reading of her posts gives you perhaps a new perspective of Gen Con and of accessibility at public events. I am writing this late Friday night as I reflect on my experiences at Gen Con so far as a caregiver.
Gen Con is an event that I first attended five years ago and have come to enjoy immensely. As a gamer, it is so fun to be among others as passionate about the hobby as I am. And with the growth of my freelancing, Gen Con has become the best time to build relationships with publishers, develop new contacts, and to discuss upcoming projects. At first, I experienced most of Gen Con by myself, with my family coming down just for the day on Sunday. I really wanted to share these significant event each year with my family rather than vacationing and working alone. Last year, my daughters came for the entire week of Gen Con, working the Modiphius booth with me. Angie came Friday evening and enjoyed the weekend of Gen Con with us. Being in a non-accessible hotel room was difficult for Angie to move around. We were also so far away from the convention center and away from the Indy skywalks, that the travel was tiring and not really possible for her to get adequate rest each day with a nap. We could not easily travel back and forth to drop off items, stay inside away from the August heat, nor easily move about the downtown area. We enjoyed Gen Con last year, but it had very frustrating elements so we weren’t sure if we could do it again.
With my continued work with Modiphius and increased freelancing funds, we decided to invest in a downtown hotel that was both accessible and had access to the skywalks to the convention center. We hoped this could resolve some of the issues we had later year with the hotel and our experience. As Angie’s caregiver, this hotel choice was of significant impact to Angie and I enjoying an extended stay at Gen Con. With an accessible room, Angie was able to easily move around the hotel room by herself with her walker. Sadly, we did have one incident where she got twisted around and was unable to make it back to the bed so she sat down on the floor. Luckily, the hotel being close to the convention center allowed the girls and I to return relatively quickly to our hotel room and assist Angie in getting back up and moving. Except for that incident, the hotel room at the SpringHill Suites was a wonderful investment. The room was very accessible to Angie’s walker and wheelchair, the bathroom and shower accommodated the wheelchair, and the hotel was easy to navigate with even the breakfast area being accessible to her wheelchair. Then the location was immensely important. As her caregiver, it fulfilled so many needs. First, we could easily return to the hotel room safely and quickly after lunch so Angie could rest for the afternoon. The girls and I could then quickly return to the convention center to work our shift in the booth. Second, while the girls and I were away from the room, I knew if something were to occur, like the incident where she had to sit on the floor, then we were close enough to get back quickly to assist her. I was much more relaxed knowing Angie was in a comfortable environment and that I was near enough I could return to assist her as her caregiver when needed.
As for our time at the convention itself, I found my caregiving duties very doable. First, Chris Birch, owner of Modiphius, was very accommodating to my scheduling needs as a caregiver. He let me have mornings off which are when Angie has her most energy. Then, during afternoons when Angie was napping and resting in the hotel room, the girls and I would work our shift in the booth. After the Gen Con exhibit hall closed at six pm, we would return to the hotel to clean up and then go out to dinner as a family. This nearby accessible hotel and accommodating booth work schedule allowed me to experience Gen Con half the day with my family and the other half as the freelancer in the game industry without worry for Angie as her caregiver.
Gen Con’s management and the accessibility of the Indiana Convention Center also played key elements in the success of this trip for me as a caregiver. Gen Con made reserving a handicap accessible hotel very simple and offer the Special Services Desk for easy access to customer support that was wheelchair accessible. The Indiana Convention Center skyways, handicap powered doors, elevators, wide halls, and numerous bathrooms made navigating from behind the wheelchair very easy. My once complaint is there is only a single Family Bathroom in the convention center. It is well placed near the main halls, but when it is busy or we were in another part of the building Angie had to go to a bathroom with one of our daughters with her. In the future, if our daughters are not attending with us then we would have to always travel back to the Family bathroom. Some more family bathrooms where I can go in with Angie to assist would be a huge improvement. Navigating around Gen Con was much more pleasant that we expected. Even with the huge crowds, people did a much better job than we expected of moving out of our way so we could move around the crowded halls and isles of the convention. Never once, as the person behind the wheelchair, did I feel Angie was in danger of being ran into or that I was bumping into people. As long as I was patient, people very politely would make space for us. Exhibit Hall booth staff were very accommodating, making room for Angie’s wheelchair to sit at demo tables and even moving items out of the way so we could get into booths. Every booth we wanted to enter had wide enough space that the wheelchair could navigate which was quite the surprise.
Area restaurants were challenging at times. The sidewalks and skyways in the downtown Indy area were very easy to move around, not so all the restaurants. Some of them may have a ramp, but it is in a frustrating location with seats and tables too close together. Often, no seating is near the ramps or entrance, so people have to be asked to stand up or move their chairs so we could get by to get to our table.
Food trucks are fun at Gen Con, but not wheelchair friendly because of the height of their service windows and the heat of being outside on all the pavement. This year we didn’t even try eating at them but stuck to nearby restaurants.
Gen Con is called “The Best Four Days in Gaming,” which it really can be when I can share it with my entire family. By taking the time to learn handicap accessible options in downtown Indy and at Gen Con we were able to have a great time as a family and I was able to not be stressed or overburdened as a caregiver. They key elements that made this trip successful as a caregiver were finding an accessible housing option on the skyways of downtown, determining restaurants we could access easy enough, developing a schedule that fits Angie’s energy levels, and working with the very accomodating Gen Con leadership.