As a continuation of my discussion of accessibility and gaming during Indiana Disability Awareness Month, I want to discuss game conventions and accessibility. For Gen Con 2016 and 2017, my wife and I discussed our personal experiences attending Gen Con from an accessibility perspective. After a five years of attending Gen Con with my wife in her wheelchair, and hosting quite a few of our own community game nights, I have some specific areas to recommend for making games conventions more accessible to a wider audience. Some of these thoughts could also be simplified for community game days as well. Admittedly, it likely is impossible to fulfill all of these. But the more you can provide, the more accessible your event will be.
- Location Accessibility – First, let’s discuss location, as it has the biggest impact on the experience. Do not rely on the legal requirements to confirm if a building is accessible. Older buildings, especially, can be grandfathered in and not required to be accessible. There is also a difference between legally accessible and accessible friendly. If at all possible, walk through the building yourself, checking that doors are wide enough for wheelchairs. Do they have handicap buttons and door openers, do they have ramps into doors that are higher than ground level, do they have elevators or lifts to get to other floors?
- Handicap-Accessible Restroom – Along with the location’s accessibility, do they have handicap-accessible restrooms? And don’t just accept the sign on the door of the restroom. Take the time to walk in and see if the restroom really is accessible. Are the bathroom stalls wide enough for a wheelchair to enter and turn around? Make sure the accessible restrooms are working. Sadly, we have visited many locations where the handicap-accessible restroom stall is out of order and has been for a while we find out. We have also found many that aren’t even wide enough for the wheelchair to enter and the door close. So, make sure you visit the restrooms and don’t just trust the sign on the door.
- Family Restrooms – A bonus beyond a handicap-accessible restrooms are designated Family Restrooms that are Accessible. Family Restrooms are wonderful for families with kids, but even more cherished by handicapped individuals with caregivers who assist them. It is so much easier when I, as my wife’s husband and caregiver, can enter a Family Restroom with my wife. Some days she is fine on her own but others she needs my assistance. It can make others uncomfortable when I have to enter a women’s restroom or I bring her into a men’s restroom to utilize the handicap stall. The Family Restrooms allows us to be in the room together and not make others uncomfortable.
- Registration Process – Web registration systems are the norm and work for the majority. But, some people have difficulties utilizing web registration systems or need additional assistance with their registration. Offering a phone number as an alternative for accessibility registrations can be a huge boost to making your event more friendly to those with accessibility needs. Having the option to talk with a person and work out the details over the phone can really simplify the process for those who need extra care, patience, and assistance.
- Accessibility Desk/Office – Once you are at the game convention, it is nice having an office or desk that you can go to for questions and extra assistance. A desk that is at a height friendly to a wheelchair without those tight lanes to navigate, shorter lines so those with a walker or cane don’t have to stand in line for long, and staffed with people patient and caring, willing to listen and understand. Some people may have speech, vision, hearing, or mental challenges and need extra care from the staff. Gen Con has the Special Services desk which has been such a blessing to my wife and me and many others we have spoken to. The staff at the Special Services desk are very patient and go out of their way to be of assistance.
- Signage – Signage is great for everyone. It helps with marketing and directions. But, be careful of colors and font sizes on your signs. People with vision challenges and/or color blindness can really struggle with some of the signs. For non-marketing signs that are devoted to directions or information that everyone needs, use large fonts and contrasting primary colors or black and white. Have signs that are easily readable at a distance.
- Aisle Widths – Wheelchairs and walkers need more width to maneuver than an individual walking. At minimum you want 36″ aisles, but even wider is needed for turning at corners. Making the aisles wider also allows strollers to maneuver more easily and offers more room for those who carry bags.
- Stiff Floors (Not Deep Carpets) – As much as deep and soft carpets feel great for your tired feet, they are very difficult for wheelchairs and walkers to roll over. Stiff, flat carpets are better for rolling over for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, and carts.
- Quiet Space – Game convention crowds can be overwhelming emotionally and mentally. Having a Quiet Room at your game convention that is kept quiet at all times with lights dimmed can really help individuals take a break to recharge between their events.
- Food – Something my wife reminded me of: think of the food available for meals and snacks. Many people now have various food allergies. So, have a variety of foods available, and if possible, avoid peanut-based, as those allergies can be serious and are among the most common.
Some specific suggestions for Exhibitor Booths and Gaming Tables.
- Table Heights – If possible, utilize tables that are wheelchair friendly in height. Standing height tables are inaccessible to those in a wheelchair and difficult for those with walkers or canes to use for too long. Have at least one or more tables that are sitting height.
- Space around Tables/Chairs – When possible, keep a 36″ path around your tables and chairs to allow wheelchairs and walkers to move around your area.
- Signage – As stated for the main area, be careful of colors and font sizes on your signs.
- Be flexible – Exhibitor Booths and Game Table areas are always cramped. So, be willing to move some items around to allow access to someone in a wheelchair or using a walker. Be willing to bring a demo of a game or product example down to the height of a wheelchair for viewing.
For those of you who have accessibility challenges or are caregivers, what other items would you suggest for making game conventions more accessible to you?