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Making Pen Shows Accessible

Posted in Pen Shows

When I shared my 2022 DC Pen Show Part 2 post, I received some comments about accessibility that made me start thinking. The pen shows I’ve been to range from just passable for physical disability accessibility to barely accessible for non-disabled persons. As such, I’m dedicating a post to some thoughts on pen show accessibility.

Please be aware, I’m by not even close to an expert here. I’m 100% certain there are accessibility issues I don’t know about and accommodations I’ve never thought of. I would just like to help get a discussion going in the pen world. For the most part, the pen community is inclusive and welcoming, and it’s a shame our shows don’t reflect that.

Aisle width

Let’s start with the most obvious. While the buyer aisles at shows may be sufficiently wide when the room is empty, they aren’t sufficient for the four rows of people once the show gets going:

  • Stopped on the left
  • Stopped on the right
  • Walking up the aisle
  • Walking down the aisle

This is even more of an issue if you have someone with a large bag. A stroller, wheelchair, walker, or any other mobility device is out of the question. A person with one of them simply would not be able to make it around a show.

The vendor aisles aren’t great, either. One could argue that a vendor with a disability can have an end or wall table. But it is still uncomfortable, even for non-disabled people, to traverse those narrow inner aisles.

Possible Solutions

The only solution to the space issue is to reduce the table-to-floor-space ratio. Whether that means finding a larger venue or having less vendors is up to the various show organizers.

Granted, the downside to this means less revenue. I have no idea what kind of profit margin there is with a pen show, so I don’t know if this is actually feasible, but it’s something to consider.

Sensory Issues

Shows also aren’t accessible for people with sensory issues. Prime shopping times can get particularly crowded, elevating noise levels and requiring people to squeeze past each other.

Possible Solutions

One possible solution is to have a well-publicized “quiet room.” I’m assuming that most venues will have a conference room that can be earmarked. Some kind of attendant may be necessary to ensure that the room is not misused — e.g. friends meeting, or parents with cranky children — to ensure a quiet space for people to decompress.


I applause the Baltimore Pen Show for having a seating area this year. I hope that continues in future years. But, it’s the only show I’ve been to with such an option.

The DC Pen Show had two seats at many doors this year in the upstairs room, but that’s it. It was rare to find an open seat, especially during the busier times on Friday and Saturday. Even for non-disabled people, extra seating is helpful for when your feet get tired or your bag(s) of holding get(s) too heavy.

Possible Solutions

If there was more space in the room, it wouldn’t be too hard to scatter extra chairs around. There has to be a way to introduce some (or additional) seating at shows that isn’t completely away from the show floor itself.

For example, at the DC show, perhaps there could be a small table or two in the exterior dead-end aisles. A refuge like that could also offer a semi-quiet area for people to decompress.

Additional Ideas

At this point, we get to items most of us would never think of. One of the comments I received mentioned 4th Street Fantasy and their dedication to accessibility, so I looked them up. They do have an impressive accessibility policy, and they point to the SFWA accessibility checklist. After looking through both, I feel there are several things that should be implemented at pen shows.

Reserved Seating

At seminars and events included with a ticket purchase, the front row could be reserved for people with auditory and/or visual disabilities, and the aisle seats — or an empty row — could be reserved for people with mobility issues and/or devices.

When registering for paid workshops, there could be a checkbox for accessibility accommodations to signal the workshop coordinator to reach out.

Visual Accommodations

I realize that for a — relatively — small event like a pen show, it may not be cost effective to have large print versions of everything available. However, anything that gets printed starts out digital, so it shouldn’t be an issue to make a download available of show material — schedules, seminar/workshop locations, etc. This way, visitors can view the information larger on their phones or have the content read to them via screen reader.

Accessibility Hints

It would be useful for shows to provide information on venue accessibility. For example:

  • There is an XXXX foot/yard walk from the parking garage to the show entrance.
  • There is a drop-off point at the front door with an XX foot distance from the show entrance.

It seems as though many pen shows are at the same venue every year, so they’d only need to develop the page once.

Accessibility Coordinator

Especially in an initial push to make a show more accessible, a coordinator who is an expert on accessibility would be valuable. That person could also serve as a point of contact for visitors to make suggestions or requests.

Final Thoughts

Of course, there are many more accommodations that could be made, but these seem to me — a non-disabled person — some good ones to focus on. They are some easier accommodations to start with to help shift thinking to accessibility.

Thanks for reading to the end, I hope this post got you thinking. For those with experience with accessibility issues, what have I missed? Do you think these are good items to start with? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

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  1. Mark B
    Mark B

    Although I am no disabled I noticed the same thing as i struggled up and down the aisles. I get that increasing aisle size limits the number of vendors/limits revenue/increases costs to participants. However, what if shows had “accessibility only hours” For example from 8am – 10am the exihibit hall was closed to everyone except those with accessiblity issues and their immediate escorts. Seems like the best of both worlds to me. Who’s going to be the first show to demonstrate true ADA support?

    September 4, 2022
    • While on the surface that seems like a good idea, I can see A LOT of pushback on accessibility hours due to diminished choice options. So many shows have a “feeding frenzy” at the opening as people try to get a specific pen. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good alternative to widening the aisles.

      September 4, 2022
  2. this is a great post and it’s nice to see someone who doesn’t necessarily identify as disabled (? forgive my assumption!) thinking about accessibility! shows like this are an absolute nightmare for all the reasons you explained and then some. i’d love to have organizers think creatively and seriously about making the shows more accessible!

    August 26, 2022
    • No worries. 😊 I don’t identify as disabled, although my husband has mobility issues. I would love to see shows become more accessible, especially given that one of the touted benefits of fountain pens is the ease of use/less hand fatigue.

      August 26, 2022
  3. Andrea Kirkby
    Andrea Kirkby

    I’m really glad you posted on accessibility issues at pen shows. The lack of seating is something that really hurts those with hidden disabilities such as arthritis, fatigue issues, and so on.

    One of the other things I’d suggest is to nominate someone at the show to look after accessibility, and be responsible for helping anyone who has a problem with access, whether that’s clearing a dropoff at the back door or finding out where the disabled toilets are.

    August 26, 2022

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