Thursday, June 23, 2016

We Need to Talk About Disabilities and Gaming

Talking with John (husband) about disability literacy for the able, how literacy is a weird term, & how to handle being unable to write at a game table.

Virtually every RPG requires the ability to read and write. This is an issue for bringing games to illiterate individuals (who exist!), which is another huge thing that I don't even know how to address. However, something I can address is my own situation.

I have hand tremors that have grown relatively significant and some minor muscle spasms. I can't handwrite really at all anymore. I risk tearing paper or very far stray lines, and it's also really stressful to try to write because it's embarrassing and difficult (and sometimes painful because of the muscle strain to avoid shaking). The issue here is that almost every single game involves writing at least something on a character sheet and I have no real objection to that. I like customizing characters. However, these days I need a second set of hands to do those things.

When I go to a table and have to ask someone to fill out my sheet, it's awkward and embarrassing. Most of the time it is eased because I'll go to tables with friends (this is part of why I seek out friendly, familiar tables). However, I sometimes want to game with new people! I can't always rely on people I know to help me write down my stats and stuff, and I want to emphasize that having friends at a table will always make this easier, but it is not enough.

There is a huge lack of literacy in regards to disability in the world in general, but I'm surprised at how significant it can be in the gaming world. I realize that it's hard to achieve this, as schools don't really address it, workplaces do their best to avoid it, and honestly, disabled individuals can easily be alienated socially too. But it's really not okay.

If I ask for help at a strange table, I get stared at, awkward mumbles, and eventually someone will help but it's very hard to feel comfortable at that point. I've outed myself. I have to give an explanation. It takes time away from the game, I delay the other players, and I know it's an inconvenience, and it also puts me in a weird place socially. Now I'm kind of the invalid, I'm a weight on other players. They treat me differently, and it makes me feel really sad.

The issue, in reality, is not that I can't get help. Most people will (even if begrudgingly) help me. Some are even happy to do it. At friendly tables, it's awesome because my friends are so supportive. At a stranger's table, it's harder. People don't know enough about disabled people to know how to react when a disabled person needs help. They don't know that it's just a simple need, so sometimes they treat me like a child. They don't know how extensive it is, so sometimes they get annoyed.

I'm writing this massive blargh of text to say this: We need to talk about disabilities and gaming. There are some great people talking about it already (Elsa S. Henry and Shoshana Kessock to name a couple, and I think Matt Weber as well, and I know there are more of you out there!!), which is awesome, but more than a few people need to be talking. We need to ask for accommodation at conventions and events. We need to talk to players and GMs about how to help disabled players at their tables. We need to be willing to help, and to not judge people for needing help.

I'm asking now, as a gamer and designer and player and everything else, for your help in teaching others how to be an ally for disabled gamers, in working with businesses and organizations in gaming to make things approachable for disabled gamers, and in making spaces more accessible.

Here's the thing. I'm here to support you in this effort, but in part because I _have_ disabilities, I need more legwork from those who have the energy. Speak to disabled gamers to get their feedback, do research online, and be aware of situations that might put disabled gamers at a disadvantage or keep them from participating. This week, I spoke to John Ward at GAMA about Origins, and we discussed some work they're doing to improve registration next year to make it more accessible. All it took was a polite and well-worded email and a willingness to discuss options, and I think that next year's registration might be a lot easier for me and players like me. It's worth the effort.

I hope you'll join me in this. I know we have a lot of causes and inclusivity movements to keep up with, but if you can take just a little time - even if it just means helping a player out at a con table you share and treating them like a person when you do it - it can really make a difference.

Thank you to my friends who have supported me while I've dealt with my illnesses. You're the best!

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