Gaming With People Who Have Disabilities

Introduction

Summer convention season is upon us, and that means thousands of gamers worldwide will be sitting down to play games with people outside of their own gaming groups. The likelihood that you will encounter a gamer with a disability during your convention games is higher than ever, so it’s important to understand how to interact with people who may do things a little different.

You may recall reading that at Gamestorm 15 (earlier this year) I encountered at least one other blind person at the convention, and it’s just a small local con. Several years ago, I sat down to play D&D with two other blind people at the same time. If you’re heading to a convention with thousands of gamers, chances are good you’ll encounter this too.

So what can you do to be conscientious of gamers with disabilities? Do they need assistance or do they just want to be treated like everyone else? I’ll give you the inside scoop (from my perspective, at least).

First, an Important Distinction

Before we begin, I’d like to make an important distinction. People who have disabilities are not disabled people. I’m the first person to get annoyed at all of the political correct terms we now have come to be familiar with these days, but I see this not as being PC but as being conscientious. Some people prefer the PC term “differently abled” (which I, frankly, find ridiculous). It’s hard to know how people feel on an individual level without asking, which brings me to my next point.

It can be a little uncomfortable to broach this subject with someone who may have a disability, and please note that not everyone feels the same as I do about it.  If you have questions for a person about their disability or if you think they’d benefit from assistance, ask them if it’s okay to ask them. You’ll get along much better if you’re simply polite and respect their boundaries.

General Tips

Now that we’ve gotten the hard part out of the way, here are a few tips for being a more conscientious gamer.

1. Be Aware

This one is especially for volunteers, but also applies to anyone attending a con. Be aware of your surroundings, and especially be aware of the people who approach you.

At Gamestorm earlier this year, I was interacting with people at the information desk. I was trying to get directions to the room where I would be running Psi-punk, so I asked the people at the registration desk if they could provide directions on how to get to the room or at least show me to someone who can. The exchange was a little uncomfortable.

“Do you see the people sitting at the information desk over there?” one person asked, and pointed to some place across the large room we were in.

“Um, no. I can’t see that far.” I replied.

“Oh, uhh… well, if you turn around and walk straight to the other side of the room, you’ll reach the information desk,” they replied.

Much better. That’s an instruction I can follow.

The communication breakdown occurred because, I feel, the attendee just wasn’t being aware of her surroundings. I carry a red-tipped cane with me, which is the recognized symbol for blindness (at least it is here in the States). If I’m using a blind cane, chances are pretty good I can’t see across the room. Had she bothered to consider that to begin with, chances are the exchange may have gone a little differently.

Not every disability can be spotted just by looking at a person, but there are a few that can. Blind canes, seeing eye dogs, wheelchairs, and crutches are sure giveaways that someone may require additional consideration when interacting with them. That isn’t to say you need to go out of your way to offer assistance, but if you’re approached by someone who is asking for help then try to do the polite thing and not make them spell everything out for you.

Also, hold a door for someone or leave them ample room to get around you when you’re standing in the hall. Keep your head up and your attention in front of you when you’re walking through the convention center and try to avoid running into a blind person who may not be able to dodge you. I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve simply walked right into me because they were walking and texting at the same time.

2. Be Patient

This one is for everybody. There are a lot of different disabilities, and as I mentioned before they’re not all readily apparent. The chances of you sitting down to play a game with someone who has a noticeable physical disability are fairly high, but the chances of sitting down with someone who has a mental disability of some sort are even higher. Mental disabilities aren’t easily noticed and many people prefer not to bring them up, so to others it can seem like they’re just slow-pokes or indecisive game players.

A little patience goes a long way. Even if you don’t know someone has a disability, be patient with the people you meet. You may never know whether the person who’s taking a long time to read something in a game has a disability or just isn’t very swift, but it’s okay to not know.

If someone does request assistance though, make yourself available. Ask what kind of help they need and try to provide it if you can. The key, though, is to be patient and ask what they need, rather than to simply take control of the situation yourself.

I love playing board games, but as a blind player I often need assistance with key aspects of gameplay. That doesn’t mean I need someone to take my turn for me though. Certain aspects of the game are easy enough to manage on my own, so I’ll ask someone to help me with any individual aspect that is causing me trouble.

Not everyone is completely comfortable with asking. If you see someone who is obviously struggling (remember tip #1?) , politely ask if there’s anything you can do to help. If they say no, respect that and continue to be patient. If they say yes, remember to ask what they need help with.

Conclusion

Wait, only two tips?

Did you think it would be any more difficult than that?

At the end of the day, gamers who have disabilities are still just gamers. We attend conventions because we love to play games and interact with others of our kind. We sometimes go about things differently, but we’re all there just to have fun.

By being aware of your surroundings and being patient with people, you can easily interact with them regardless of their ability level. I don’t have tips on how to interact with people who have any specific disability, because everyone is different and is comfortable with varying levels of assistance. That’s why it’s best to ask politely if you think you can help, or to be patient if you can’t.

If you have any advice for other people, or if you have any questions, please feel free to comment below. Please also share this with anyone you know who may be going to a convention this summer, since spreading awareness is the best way to ensure that everyone has a good time.

About Jacob Wood

Jacob founded Accessible Games because he wants to spread the joy of gaming to everyone, including people with disabilities. He is visually impaired and knows what it's like to need to adapt, and he brings two decades of gaming experience to the table.
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