An Open Letter to Jennifer Hale, Momocon, and the Cast of Overwatch

Dear Jennifer Hale, Momocon, and the Cast of Overwatch,

First of all, thank you for all that you do for fans and gamers. Ms. Hale has given life to many of gaming's most beloved characters, and I have watched Momocon grow from a small, college-run convention to one of the greatest conventions in the southern United States. This letter is not a call to cancel Jennifer Hale, Momocon, or any other actors. I am simply writing to point out a harmful misconception on the part of Ms. Hale that has hurt me and likely other members of the disabled gamer community.

The misunderstanding in question occurred in a YouTube panel run by Momocon, which was presented online rather than in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic (and by the way, THANK YOU for making the effort to put these panels online! I have had to miss a few past Momocon events due to my disability and chronic illness, and it was wonderful to be able to hear actors from one of my favorite games speak on my computer screen). Below is a screenshot of the YouTube video so readers can search for the video and see it for themselves:

Screenshot showing Jennifer Hale speaking in an online Momocon panel

The video's title on YouTube is: "MomoConline: The World Needs Heroes: Overwatch Voice Actors Panel" and Ms. Hale brought up her misconception about disability at the 1:28:28 timestamp. At this point in the video, the cast have had a running joke about a well-known actor, and Ms. Hale brings up that she is disappointed in said actor because she saw him walk "perfectly well" to a car that was parked in a disabled parking spot. This statement reflects a misconception that many, if not most, abled people have about disabled people: that if we don't LOOK disabled (to the abled eye) we must not actually BE disabled. The disabled community has had to fight this misconception tooth and nail for a very long time, and we're tired. It's bad enough when some stranger in the parking lot at Kroger makes a disparaging comment about us as we walk to our cars (usually in so much pain that we have no energy, or "spoons," to retort), but when a celebrity uses her public platform to make similar statements to a viewership in the hundreds or thousands, disabled people can be seriously harmed. What's more: none of the other actors in the panel spoke up in defense of disabled people. Some of them even gasped as if they had heard some juicy gossip.

To set the record straight, here is a brief summary of the steps disabled people must go through to obtain a placard that allows us to park in disability parking spots (I am focusing on the specific rules in Georgia, as that is where I live and where Momocon takes place): first, we must obtain a MV-9D Disabled Person's Parking Affidavit. This must be filled out and signed by our primary care physician or other licensed doctor who is treating us, which can be surprisingly hard to accomplish considering many doctors are overworked and have little time to fill out forms for patients. The form specifies the types of disabilities that qualify, as seen in the screenshot below:

Screenshot of parking placard requirements, from form MV-9D

As you can see on the form, several of the eligibility requirements could include people who APPEAR to walk "perfectly well" for fewer than 200 feet. For instance, many celebrities of an older generation smoked regularly and may now have lung disease, which is one of the potential qualifiers for a placard.

Finally, I wish to tell a story about something that happened to me less than a year ago. I have multiple chronic pain conditions which make it difficult for me to walk, (as well as medications which make me dizzy and cause a fall hazard) especially without an assistive device. I usually use a rollator, or sometimes a wheelchair, when I leave the house, but on this day I was only out of my car for a few minutes so I left my device in the car. I had stopped at Walgreens to pick up my medicated shampoo, which I can only obtain there (usually I get groceries and essentials brought to my car at Kroger), and when my service dog and I went back to the car a lady raced out of the store to follow us. She knocked on my window and gave me what she thought was a stern but necessary talking to about how I was selfishly taking that disability spot away from people who needed it (the parking lot was almost entirely empty at this point and there were about five other disability parking spots to choose from). Her assumption was that because she had seen me walking and because I wasn't driving a van (my wheelchair fits in the trunk of my compact car), I must not need that disability parking spot. This is an unfortunately common occurrence for disabled people, even for people who are considered "visibly disabled." Abled people, for reasons I cannot comprehend, love to police peoples' disability. 

In conclusion, Ms. Hale: please educate yourself about disability issues. Please practice not making assumptions about people based on your personal experiences alone. If possible, the disabled gamer community would LOVE it if you would take the time to educate yourself and THEN speak out about misconceptions against disabled people -- become a champion for disabled rights! I know you have it in you to make the right decisions and to help your fans in the disabled gamer community. And thank you again to Ms. Hale, Momocon, and the rest of the Overwatch voice cast who put forth this welcoming and inclusive online panel! This is certainly a step in the right direction towards including disabled fans.

Sincerely,
Kirsten Rodning

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