Ryan Thomason

Having Usher Syndrome and attending the 3rd biggest Comic Con in the US

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend FanX, which is a convention here in Utah that was spawned from the success of the 2013 Salt Lake Comic Con. They just announced that for FanX they had over 100,000 passionate lovers of all kinds of genres and divisions in Geekdom. Hell, I finally got to say I was one of them. With what my press credentials gave me access to at the least. This was also my first real convention experience, yes, I’m that late of a bloomer for a geek. While my Usher Syndrome didn’t prevent me from experiencing everything fully, it did hinder my experience. I’m not going to beat around the bush about it.

Usher Syndrome is a very rare genetic disease that has three different types with varying degrees of both Vision and Hearing loss that leads to varying degrees of deaf and blindness. It’s a complicated disease. I have User Syndrome Type 2, which means I was born with severe hearing loss (I’ve worn hearing aids since 2), and in my teens I started losing my vision. I’m technically legally blind right now. I’m night blind, I haven’t driven a car in some 4 years, my peripheral vision is coning to tunnel vision, I have extremely bad depth perception, etc,. While I don’t currently use a blind cane or guide dog, they are available options for me.

I mention all this because, I want you to take into account that I have all this and still managed to have a good time at the convention. I do have to thank WPR Staffers Jasen, Adrienne and Kyle for helping me get around the convention. If it wasn’t for them lending me a shoulder to put my hand on and help me navigate through crowds I don’t think I would have been able to get through the convention without having a panic attack. Though I was only able to attend the final day, Saturday. I feel that my experience being in a giant space with a few tens of thousands of people that love the nerdy things as I do was inspiring. Was it extremely overwhelming? Yes. Even though I had people helping me, I had to also fix my vision on directly in front of me and every angle I could see. I equate it to you, the reader. As that feeling you get when your heart is pumping a little harder in your chest. Your eyes are constantly flicking back and forth in search of some kind of danger. You senses are telling you to be alert, be on your guard, you are keenly aware that if you slip up, you or someone else will get hurt. That’s my general feeling every second of being on the floor. Did I see some the terrific cosplay? Yes, but it wasn’t until I was stationary against a wall, or sitting down taking it all in.

The first thing I did was attend the Nathan Fillion panel. While I’ve never watched much of Castle, I have seen him in pretty much every else he’s done. He was charming, funny and knew exactly what he was doing running the show all by himself on the stage. Taking questions from his left and right as they came he was swift with his responses and oh so engaging to the audience. He had several topics that got the crowd cheering, from talking about his D&D experience “Never start playing a game you know you can’t win.” to a hilarious story from the Saving Private Ryan set. Where a veteran/drill instructor wanted him to go sit behind a pile of rocks, but Fillion told the man he had to wait where he was for Stephen Spielberg. He talked of the escalating situation until Spielberg showed up and rescued him. Hell, he even pulled out his phone and listed some stuff from his To Do List (in TV/Movies I beleive): One he scratched off the previous nights dinner (Have a meal with the Enterprise bridge crew) Use a dynamite plunger. Light a stick of dynamite with a cigarette/cigar, drop a match in a line of gas. Walk from an explosion without looking back… You could tell he knew what he was doing on stage, and how to work the crowd, how to deflect weird questions, and how to make a request to say something specific for the person asking the question more hilarious than it should have been. I’ll never forget his story of the ripping pants, which you’d need to hear from him because I can’t do it justice.

Deadpool photobomb

My main experience from the floor comes with one booth that stood out above all others. That is the Evermore Park booth that Kyle mentioned in his article. The 44 acre Victorian themed adventure park looks incredible. I was lucky enough to win a trip to the VIP-loft area of the booth (The only booth at the con with a second level) that gave us not only the most terrific 360 degree view of the entire convention floor, but had a guy doing some fun magic tricks as well. Oh and candy, delicious candy. I like candy. Kyle and Chris were able to talk to the park founder in more detail and I’ll leave it up to them to make that article for you. I will say that this park has me very, very interested and I am genuinely looking forward to hearing more and checking it out next summer when they finish their first phase.

I attended as many panels as I could, sitting in on the Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis panel was a touch of joy. Watching two old friends talk about Star Trek, sharing jokes, Marina kissing a wheelchair bound man that started off his question telling her she was his first crush. He voice was noticeably shaky afterwards as he tried to finish his question in a sense of wonder, disbelief and emotions. It hit you in the heart strings. I’ll never forget Marina talking about her love of dark chocolate, and Michael Dorn smoothly saying to her with a longing gaze “Yeah, you love the daaaaark chocolate.” The Universal Monsters panel was very insightful. I’ve always pictured Horror in one view (I’m known for being a wuss about horror movies), but listening to them talk about the film and passion of the old black and white films made me decide that I needed to start giving the old films a chance.

Though I had a blast at FanX, Kyle and I trying to give away Spider-Man 2 RSVP tickets to strangers was a little harder than we thought it might be. So you know, for some reason some people think you’re being a creeper if you ask them if they want free tickets to something. WPR Contributor Carleigh, who also happens to be Kyle’s wife and their kids were running around giving out all of the movie promo swag that we took with us so that we didn’t have to take home any of it. They made a ton of people happy and played a great part in getting the word out for WPR.

I want those of you that have been hesitant about going to something like this, especially if you have a disease like Usher Syndrome, or something that would generally make it harder for you in a massive social situation. Being in a place where there are generally a vast majority of people who are there because they’re passionate people is a good place to be. In my experience you’ll find that a lot of passionate geeks are also compassionate people. Comics especially is all about overcoming the odds, embracing the thing that makes you different and imparting it into the world for good. I try my best to turn my Usher Syndrome into good by writing about it. It is a disease that has a very high suicide rate, very high unemployment rate, and people become extremely isolated from the world being deaf/blind. Generally the most vocal people about Usher Syndrome is parents of young children, not quite old enough to talk in their own way and a small splattering of people in the 20-40 age group that are publicly vocal about the disease. It doesn’t have to be that way, though it’s hard to talk about, I honestly get choked up writing about it. FanX has opened a new door for me, and I’ll walk through it. After I make sure that it’s clear and there aren’t any people on the other side I can’t see.

I’ll get through it though.

I look forward to experiencing Salt Lake Comic Con 2014 in September, a little wiser, always weary of my surroundings, and maybe with a few more of you to give me a shoulder to put my hand on and help me get through the crowds as we try to find more Deadpool cosplay.

Maybe I’ll cosplay myself the next time around, Daredevil sounds appropriate.

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