Comic Con International Hall H - Discrimination against Handicap people who walk

Being handicapped is difficult.  Some handicaps are obvious such as missing a limb, wheelchair bound, or using a service animal.  But there are less obvious handicaps: difficulty breathing, continuous pain, sudden onset pain and neurological problems to name a few.  Having a handicap makes life for that person just a little harder than for others.  And everyone with a handicap has their personal story to tell of why they are how they are, and what pain they manage in their lives.  This does not mean that handicap people do not deserve to live a normal life. It just means we need a little assistance.

Most places and events help the handicap, and for the most part the massive event that is Comic-Con International does too.  However, one area of Comic-Con this year failed at being fair to all handicap… Hall H. Hall H holds 6,500 people, the largest panel room at Comic-Con, and has the highest profile panels where (usually) the most talked about happenings occur. From movie reveals, to panels based around some of the most popular TV shows, to seeing celebrities in person, to once-in-a-lifetime blow-your-mind burn-in-your-memory-forever events… Hall H is one of the biggest lures of Comic-Con.  Now for a panel room this big, one would think it would be easy for people to make it in there for the event they want to see.  But that’s far from the truth.  It has become a fact of Comic-Con that you must endure the overnight line if you want the best chance of a good seat in Hall H.  Which means sleeping outside.  And it’s nothing like camping.  Even if your panel in Hall H is not the first one of the following day, you need to do the overnight line so you can get into Hall H and plant yourself in a good seat until the time of the panel you really want to see.

The normal line for the people attending Hall H is on the grass with tents over it.  The people sleeping there normally have a plenty of space to stretch out till about 5am when the Comic-Con staff wakes them up in order to move people in line closer together.  Then they file the lines into a skinny area where everyone is almost standing on top of the person in front of them.  It’s hours of being very uncomfortable with no guarantee you will get into Hall H.  It’s hard on anyone, let alone a person who has a handicap.  So there is a handicap line for Hall H.  It used to be that the handicap line was let into Hall H before the regular attendees.  This was not completely fair towards the non-handicap attendees because the handicap people could take up the good seats before the people in the normal line.  So complaints were made and Comic-Con decided to change things up.  They would let in a handful of handicap then some people in the normal line, and so on.  Apparently, this was still not good enough and they changed it again.  So now the changes for some handicap people trying to get into Hall H is outright discrimination.

My handicap is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).  I have shared my story many times here on Cowabunga Corner.  I have openly talked about it to groups and events, trying to help bring awareness to this disabling syndrome.  RSD is an injury where I feel intense pain just by people touching my right arm.  I’ve had a surgery to help with pain control, but this surgery cannot fully nor permanently take away my pain.  It only helps block the pain.  Unfortunately, the more I use my right arm, the more pain I will feel.  So on the first day of a convention, I will be okay for the most part.  Day two, a little worse.  And so on.  I don’t like pain but I refuse to give up living my life because of pain.  Even though I know something will hurt me, I will still do it if that’s what I really want to do and I would have done if I didn’t have pain.  Which brings me back to Hall H.

The first few years I wanted to be fair to all the others in line, so I stayed in the normal Hall H line.  But each year I got hurt so terribly by the crowd that I could not truly enjoy the panels.  One year, I was in the front row in Hall H, but I was in so much pain that a security guard kept having to come and check on me just to make sure I was okay.  I couldn’t enjoy the panels since my eyes were closed most of the time from the non-stop shooting pain.  After that year I knew I had to switch to the handicap line.  But this did not mean in any way that I wanted to be unfair to those in the normal line.  The only way to be fair is to stay the night, the same as the normal line.  The Hall H handicap line is on cement next to the Comic-Con convention building with a few planters around.  There’s no cover, no tent, no benches or anything.  There is no real comfort at all.  Yet, it worked out in previous years because I had an air mattress.  Sadly, air mattresses were banned last year.  So even though it meant sleeping on cement, I knew this was my only chance to get a good seat in Hall H since I could not handle the tight quarters of the normal line.  But this year I found out how wrong Comic-Con was being with the handicap line.

My sister, Miki, wanted to go to Hall H for Thursday's panels.  I personally had no interest in spending the whole day in there, even though there was a Doctor Who panel.  But I got in line with her to keep her company during the night.  The first problem we found was the very LIMITED amount of handicap wristbands they gave out.  They told us if you didn’t get one to still stay in line and they might be able to help later.  So Miki and I stayed in line, only to be rained on in the middle of the night.  Luckily Miki had an umbrella which helped a little while we slept in line.  Others in the line around us were not so lucky.  For those who don’t know, Miki has a broken neck in two different spots from a bad accident at Seal Beach on September 1st, 2013. So she is handicapped as well now.  Fortunately in the morning, Miki received a wristbandd.  Afterwards, I went on my own and enjoyed the rest of the convention, which I will cover in a separate Comic-Con review.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and once again we get into the Hall H overnight handicap line.  This time it’s for the Supernatural panel on Sunday morning.  I was so excited about this panel that I cut out of the convention early that day, skipping out on other events that I had originally planned to attend.  Miki was trapped in Ballroom 20, so it was my job to hold our place in line, which was near the front.  Miki and two other friends joined me later in the evening because you’re allowed to have up to five people join you in line.  Around 11:30pm the Comic-Con people came around and handed out the wristbands while saying we’ll get into Hall H.  I was so excited.

We stayed in line with about five people in front of us. One of the people in front and one person behind us were in wheelchairs.  Both the normal line and the handicap line got pizza from some of the Supernatural actors.  The handicap line even got a visit from one of the producers of the show.  It seemed like it was going to be a decent night.  I was in a good mood and even posted some pictures from the line on Instagram.  We did our part of staying in line, even though we were told we could leave and come back after getting the wristbands.  We stayed on the cement.  We did not cause any trouble.  And there was never an issue where security was needed.  If anything, the thing that caught us off guard was from two older women who acted as if we were faking. This got everyone in line to start sharing why they were in the handicap line, along with horror stories of what they go through in life and some could show the scars to prove it. But the mood was still good in the line.

In the morning they moved us into the indoor lines, which is when the mood changed.  Everyone in wheelchairs who had wristbands, were let in first.  But I figured they would get to the areas where the only wheelchairs could be anyways.  At this point, I was thinking they would let in a small group from the handicap line.  However, only the the handicap with service animals were let into Hall H.  Then I went into shock as I watched over 500 people from the normal line was let into Hall H ahead of of the handicap line.

This is where I have a complaint with Comic-Con.  I need a seat where no one is sitting on my right side.  I also would like a seat where I can see the stage.  These are the reasons I stayed overnight.  Instead, we’re held back to watch the people who are not handicapped go in ahead of us.  I felt panic rise up through me as I realized I would not be able to get an appropriate seat.  I also really got choked up over this because it ended up that there was really no reason to stay overnight.

When we were finally let into Hall H, there were no the aisle seats in one of the handicap sections where I could sit and wouldn’t have a person in contact with my arm.  Miki asked someone about another section of handicap seats that were not taken.  These seats were empty and had a chair where I could sit without being in pain.  A security lady told Miki that those seats were for the people in wheelchairs that would come in later, the people without wristbands.  Miki told them about my arm and the lady reply was that “there’s too many handicap this year so they’re mainly taking care of the wheelchairs because they can’t tell who’s faking and who’s not”.  In other words, they’re punishing the handicap people on purpose because there’s too many of us!  Miki tried talking to another person and a guy showed me a seat, but someone would have been sitting to my right.  Then he pointed to spots on the far right were I wouldn’t be able to see the stage very well.  Lastly, he mentioned spots farther back in the room.  I did not sleep on cement only to get a seat where I would have to watch TVs to see the stage.  So I gave up and went back to the first seats we were able to get.

I was already in pain that day from sleeping on cement but the stress of the situation and panicked feeling inside of me only made my pain worse.  Since Miki knows very well about my condition, she sat on my right side so I would have a person who would know to avoid my right arm. Unfortunately, the seats in Hall H are so narrow that we are pretty much sitting on top of each other.  Anyhow, Miki tried to tried to sit on the edge of her seat to avoid touching my arm, which was hard on her broken neck, and I tried to hold my right arm across my chest to keep it from touching her.  It’s hard enough getting through one panel like this, but the Supernatural panel was the second panel of the day.  So we would have to be in these very uncomfortable positions for longer than I would like. Regardless, I set up my camera set up and worked it left handed.

When the panel that I did all this for started, things only got worse.  The pain in my arm went from just being sharp and throbbing to intense shooting pain, going straight into my back.  My right hand swelled up and things got so intense that it was hard to focus on the Supernatural panel.  I had to fight to keep my eyes open because the pain racing through me was forcing me to close them.  For many sections of the panel I had to keep my eyes closed.  This was much like the time when the security guard in the front row a few years back was worried about me. Except this time the only people who showed any concern was Miki and our friend sitting on my left, Lisa and Kate.  Despite the unrelenting pain, I stayed for the entire panel and even raised up a light over my head when it was time, which I explained in my convention review.  However, once the panel was over I limped out of the room.

Now Sunday is the last day of Comic-Con.  If you know how I do conventions, then you know that the last day is the day I try to go around and say goodbye to all of my friends.  Comic-Con is huge, so trying to do this is always a big task.  I started to make my rounds but as I did the pain was going even beyond my high threshold.  I just couldn’t recover from the pain that I sustained during the panels in Hall H. And now I had to deal with people were bumping into me because I couldn’t keep my normal defensive walk going that protects my right arm.  At one point I was bumped into and went to the floor with all these people feet around me.  The panic that set in made it hard for me to breath.  When I was able to force myself up, I knew at that point I had to quit early.

Normally, I am one of the last people to leave Comic-Con.  I want to make sure I use up every last penny worth of my badge by enjoying it to the last second.  Sadly, this year I had to call quits on Comic-Con with many hours left on the schedule.  But before we left, Miki put in an official complaint report to Comic-Con. 

Now, other handicap lines at Comic-Con let the handicap people in first.  Is this fair?  Yes, because handicap people move slower, are in pain, and have special needs compared to the regular attendees.  Panel room 6A was great with how they handled handicap people.  They let the full line in and would even walk with us to point to seats we can take.  Making sure that not all of the front seats were taken up by the handicap people.  However, the main Comic-Con entrance was weird about handling handicap people. On some days they let us in at 8:45am to let the handicap people get a little bit of a head start to where we needed to go. But there was also days the handicap people went in at 9am, which means the handicap people had to fight the huge rush of regular attendees.

Why do I blame being held back for my pain?  I get this pain from stress and being touched on a normal day.  Sleeping in the conditions that they have for the handicap line does not make it better.  I was packed into a tight line, watching all those people from the other line go right in front of us.  This caused depression for making the choice to stay overnight for a panel that I had no real hope of getting a good seat at and panic as people were moving very close to my arm as they held us in that line, only for the real panic to start when I realized how we were going to have to sit.  This was a stressful moment for me and with everything put together did bring on the extra pain that I was in.  If they let only the people who stayed over night in the ADA line in at the same time as the wheelchairs it would've been less than 20 people. Compared to the thousands in the other line.

This pain caused me to cut out on the convention without saying goodbye to friends.  This pain made it so I was barely alert enough to talk to or pay attention to other people around me and it brought me down for two days, to where once I was out of the convention all I could do was sleep to try and just block the pain out of my mind. 

To be told that we were treated different because they could not tell the fakers from the people who really hurt, has really made me upset with the Hall H crew.  They made it so I feel like I need a wheelchair if I want any respect, but that’s not being respectful to those who really do need a wheelchair.  I wish I could say that this is the last time I’ll go through the mess that is Hall H, though I don’t go there for the convention.  I don’t go there for the crew of the convention.  I go there to support the shows and movies that have helped me through my rough times in life and that is one of the things done during the Hall H event that I went too while in all that pain.  Check out the Supernatural story of the lights to find out how we were able to show our support during this panel.

I do not think handicap people deserve high and mighty treatment, I do not want to cheat or make my way into something early.  I just feel that there needs to be some respect towards the handicap to where we should be treated equal. A great example is at Disneyland for their Space Mountain Ride.  They have a different waiting area for handicap, so they’re not in the long line.  It’s a sitting area.  They let so many groups through from the normal line and come and get one group from the handicap line.  The line moves at  pace as if we were in the big normal line, but we’re sitting on chairs and not forced into a hard crowd.  We’re not cutting or going through faster than anyone else.  We’re getting treatment that helps us for not being in more pain.  That has been my favorite handicap experience ever, because I felt it was fair to everyone.

I am disappointed with the crew of Comic Con International’s Hall H for how handicapped individuals were treated and I felt this had to be shared for anyone who is in pain to realize that there is no such thing as fair treatment for the handicap for this part of the convention.  If you’re going to Hall H and you walk, don’t think for a second that you’re going to be treated equal to those in wheelchairs.  Pain is coming no matter what, so just go to the normal line.  Suffer there as you’ll have a better chance at getting a seat you want, than hoping that there’s compassion in that part of Comic Con.  You will also have a tent top to protect you from the rain and softer ground to sleep on.

People trapped in line with me who watched those 500 plus amount of people go in front of us, walked with canes, had other body braces, were elders, had nerve damage, and more.  You can’t always see handicap problems from a distance but that does not make our pain any less important.

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