A disabled person, who goes by the tumblr name of najalater, wanted to go to discussion panels at the SupaNova Pop Culture Expo in Melbourne, Australia. Her disability is in her hearing; she needs to be able see very clearly so she can lip-read and/or have a translator with her who translates what is going on into Auslan (Australian Sign Language). This means it’s quite difficult for her to get anything out of the panels unless she sits in the front row.
The trouble is that the front row is only available to holders of “VIP Supa-Star” tickets, which cost $680. najalater emailed the Supanova organisers asking if seating in the front row could be arranged for her for the cost of a $30 day pass. The organisers declined to do this.
That led to this post on tumblr by a user called erinkyan – the post was reblogged by najalater herself, confirming the basis of the post. After I saw it on tumblr, I tweeted to the Supanova organisers:
Supanova answered me from their Twitter account the next day:
I responded briefly, thinking they were being a bit callous. But then I received a series of direct messages on Twitter from a person who says they work closely with the Supanova organisers. These messages began badly, stating that:
“Supanova’s words have been twisted by these disabled people”
and continuing on to say:
“I’m afraid these people are actually changing the story to suit their need. It’s gone viral and it’s a lie too.”
These direct messages were not sent by someone with authority to speak on behalf of Supanova; they were NOT sent from the official Supanova account. However the person who sent them claims to have seen the entire email exchange between najalater and Supanova.
I asked how najalater was supposed to have lied. I rechecked the tumblr post that I’d been relying on for information. It says that najalater asked for front row access (normally $680) at the cost of the cheapest ticket ($30). The person confirmed that this is what najalater had asked for.
So I still did not see how najalater had lied, since both sides agree she had asked for the same thing. I asked, and the response was that the original blog post had left out parts of the original email, and that the original email had threatened to report Supanova to a state government disability tribunal.
I then contacted najalater directly and asked if she was willing for me to publish her original email. She immediately replied and said yes. The transcript of the original email she provided me with is here:
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Naja and I am eager to attend Supanova in Melbourne on Sunday 15th. However, as a hard of hearing person, I am concerned about accessibility in the guest panels. In order to understand and enjoy the panels, it would be ideal for me and my interpreter to be seated near the front of the audience (or anywhere with close visual and audio access to the speakers). Unfortunately, I noticed that the only form of ticket available on the main website that gives optimal access to panels is a full weekend pass for $685, which is not really feasible for my interpreter and I, especially when we are only able to attend one day and panel access aspect of the VIP pass we are interested in. Both of us are more than happy to purchase our own day tickets, as we are both fans and are eager to participate in Supanova. However I feel that without guaranteed disability access to panels, attending may not be worthwhile. If close panel access could possibly be available for disability reasons, I would be absolutely delighted by the opportunity to attend and enjoy Supanova.
Supanova have also used their Twitter account to explain to Naja directly why they think their setup is ok:
NB: I would not usually publish private messages. However once I was certain that what I was being told was an unsupportable smear, I thought it more ethical to publish the relevant content, although not the identity of the person concerned.
Supanova have posted a clarification on their Facebook page. The update is far more accomodating than the Twitter account was today. From comments on there it appears that the matter may be resolved soon.
ADDITIONAL: The Facebook clarification states that the official position is the one on the Facebook page, not on the Twitter account, and that “there is an internal discussion proceeding about the way those messages were communicated on Twitter”