Steel City Con Attendees Report an “Accessibility Nightmare”

Hosted at the Monroeville Convention Center, Steel City Con is one of western Pennsylvania’s largest comic cons. Unfortunately, according to many attendees, the last convention was an “accessibility nightmare.” Their website boasts “over 100,000 square feet of convention space” — but at their latest event from April 12-14, none of this square footage was used for seating. Multiple attendees brought up the lack of seating options in the Steel City Con Official Fan Forum on Facebook. For example, Jason K. writes, “I didn’t like that there was basically no seating inside anywhere.”

Even able-bodied patrons, especially those with children, were frustrated that there was nowhere to sit down to rest or eat. With the convention running from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, guests who stayed for the entire duration of the con had to remain on their feet for 10 hours (or longer if they lined up before the doors opened). Some managed to find a bit of floor space to sit, but there were very few spaces that weren’t in the way of traffic. 

Steel City Con’s pre-convention post announcing the panel tent. Full post linked in image.

Arguably, the biggest issue in terms of accessibility was the panel tent. Due to the closure of the DoubleTree Hotel that the convention was also using, all panels were hosted outdoors in a “temperature-controlled, semi-permanent tent.” Although many attendees appreciated the convention doing what they could to make up for lost space and appreciated having all guests in one building, there were still plenty of complaints to be had about the setup, including a loud generator that made it difficult for people seated near it to hear anything, rough winds shaking the tent, and heavy rain causing distractions. Even celebrity guest Hayden Panettiere commented on how cold it was inside the tent and asked for a tissue because the weather made her nose run.

The most problematic thing about the tent, however, was that it was located on top of two rows of handicapped parking spots. Keith D. commented on the Fan Forum that the convention “Definitely need[s] more handicap parking & [to] make sure the people that need them are the ones getting them,” which implies that there were handicapped guests who couldn’t access the handicapped parking. Milissa A. confirmed this by expressing the difficulties the tent’s location caused for her and the person she attended the con with, saying, “[The tent] takes up a good bit of the parking out front of the center. We always came early […] and would get a spot out there even if it wasn’t handicapped and that worked well for us. We both have medical issues and have the handicapped pass but there were no handicapped parking left and no close parking.” 

To help put the accessibility problems into perspective, a disabled attendee explained how the convention’s setup affected their congoing experience:

Overall, the con was very lacking in accessibility. Though they had accessibility services, I doubt that they would have helped much, given the state of the convention space itself. Navigating the con with a mobility aid was difficult, especially with the parking situation. Having to go up and down steep hills with a walker, plus having to lift it up to get over barriers was really annoying. Moving through the con hall was a struggle, especially in the artist alley. And trying to move around outside where the tent was was difficult, and the congestion made me have to stand and wait to be able to move on flat ground. […] Then there’s the issue of a complete lack of seating. There were a few random chairs scattered in aisles (which makes them more difficult to navigate) and even ‘resting’ areas had 0 chairs for people to use.

This is not the first time Steel City Con has presented issues for health and safety. In December 2022, the convention received many complaints regarding overcrowding. The number of attendees packed into the convention center led to several medical incidents, including fainting from overheating and illness caused by being forced to wait outside in cold, wet weather. A wheelchair user even suffered an accident because they physically could not make it through crowds and to the restroom in time. The convention organizers promised to “turn [their] attention to the issues that occurred [that] weekend to develop a plan to avoid this from happening at future shows,” and while the overcrowding problem does seem to have been resolved, the difficulty for individuals with disabilities appears to remain. You can read more about the December 2022 Steel City Con here.

An additional problem that was not a matter of physical accessibility but one which did impact the family-friendliness of the event was the presence of an NSFW vendor in full view of all congoers, including children. Instagram user @starrdustss_, who works as a paraprofessional for children with special needs as well as a substitute teacher at the elementary level, writes:

[There was] that one guy selling literal fictional child porn at his booth […] it just really makes me uncomfortable as both a regular person and someone who works with children, especially children who have gone through sexual abuse / harassment. it just makes me angry that he has it all out in the open in the large vendor hall with no censorship at eye level where children can view it.

They went on to clarify that the uncensored art featured Disney characters including Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan and Wendy, and Ariel from The Little Mermaid. There is no age minimum to attend Steel City Con; in fact, there is a costume contest for children under 12, and admission is free for children 10 and under. 

Steel City Con’s next event is scheduled for August 9-11. While some are looking forward to the outdoor section being less stuffy, others are already concerned about incidents of heatstroke and fainting in the panel tent, since it was not quite as “temperature controlled” as the con suggested it would be. Milissa A. on Facebook reports that “They said they had a heater go out and had to do an emergency call but we were there from 3-4:30 and it was cold. Not unbearable but not comfortable.”  Hopefully, they don’t experience similar trouble with air conditioning as it could pose a serious health risk in the August heat.

Despite these concerns, there is still a lot to enjoy about Steel City Con. They are known for their impressive lineups of celebrity guests; the April show included John Carpenter, Molly Ringwald, Rosie O’Donnell, and Susan Sarandon, to name just a handful. Some cosplayers are excited about the cosplay contest being outside in hopes they can display costumes that were previously too tall for the indoor panel room, though the tent still has a limited entrance height. Some attendees have high hopes for upcoming shows and will be turning out to support the August and December shows. 

Instagram user @fluffybizarrecos, who attended on Saturday, advises:

Save up plenty of money and don’t expect too much from [Steel City Con]. It doesn’t have fan panels or games as you would a[t] Fan Expo, Tekko, or GalaxyCon. It’s more of a fandom-based flea market than a convention. If you’re going just to meet your favorite celebrities and kill a few hours, then it’ll be great for you.

Tickets for the August show are not on sale yet, but will be available for purchase here.

About Mae Vanders

Mae, known on the internet as Maeden, is a cosplayer, writer, editor, photographer, videographer, and whatever else she needs to be. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter as @MaedenArt

View all posts by Mae Vanders

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