I miss going to dungeons and play parties! I can’t wait for the world to finally be able to safely reopen. That said, I don’t want things to go back to normal.
Normal (read: in the before times) meant spaces were open for play for many kinky folks, but not for all of us. Accessibility to folks with various chronic conditions and disabilities was limited or impossible. This leaves a bunch of the kink community without access to play spaces or munches.
Luckily, there are a lot of kink leaders asking the question “how do we make our spaces more accessible to people?” while we are still in lockdown. I have spent a lot of time researching, reading, and listening to my chronically ill and disabled peers and have some simple tips for anyone looking to make their space more accessible. This post has been broken into two parts: Physical accessibility and Emotional/Social accessibility because these are both needed and have very different solutions.
Increasing Physical Accessibility
Make sure your space meets ADA requirements.
The American’s with Disabilities Act established basic requirements for making physical spaces accessible to people. It includes things such as doorway width, bathroom designs, and ramp specifications. You can find the information here: https://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm
These specifications mean that people using mobility aids, people with hearing and sight limitations can access your space. Buildings designed after 2000 should already meet these specifications. Older buildings may need to be altered a bit.
A word on ramps: Ramps make all spaces more accessible both for folks using wheelchairs and for people who have other mobility aids. It is also helpful for people wearing very uncomfortable high heels (looking at many of you kinky folks!). It may not always be economically feasible to put in a permanent ramp for your space. Luckily, temporary ramps can also be purchased for as little as $50 through Amazon. Depending on your space, a $50 to $250 investment should make it accessible.
Please, do not tell people your space is accessible if you have people who will lift a chair into the space. This is not safe for several reasons and is not the definition of accessibility.
Many kinky play spaces embrace low lighting, red lights, and blue lights for ambiance reasons. I love this as much as the next person. However, there are many people who have some difficulty seeing in low lighting. You do not have to light your space with 100 watt bulbs as the solution.
In areas where guests may need to read information (office spaces for orientations, at the front desk for payment and to sign waivers) make sure you have at least a desk lamp to light up paperwork and currency. People need to see what they are signing and what they are paying you.
Kep a couple of pairs of reading glasses (cheaters) to help people read smaller writing. These can be purchased at most drug stores, Targets, and even grocery stores for $10 to $15. Having a couple of pair to hand folks is a classy move and makes things more accessible.
Very few play spaces or munches have strobe lighting. However, if your space offers this type of lighting, make sure to list it on your website so that people who are sensitive to such lighting can decide if the space is right for them.
3. Have your Dungeon Monitors, Munch Leaders, and Front Desk Staff learn a few ASL signs.
Deaf and hard of hearing folks are kinky like everyone else. Having basic ASL training for DMs, munch leaders, and front desk staff will make your space much more accessible. Having your front desk staff, munch leaders and DMs able to sign things like, “welcome,” “My name is…,” “the cost for the party tonight is…,” and “thank you/your welcome” is very useful. Rather than having to scramble for a piece of paper to communicate with someone who signs, being able to conduct repetitive transactions will make your space more accessible.
There are a lot of folks out here who are sensitive to various chemical scents. While all play spaces and munch spaces must be cleaned and disinfected for health reasons, limit the use of chemically enhanced scented products. For example, you have a choice between using bleach and scented bleaches. An unscented bleach is a better option to make your space more widely accessible.
I understand that many munch spaces are borrowed from public restaurants and coffee shops and you do not have control over the scents and products used by these businesses. However, asking what products are used and visiting the space to see how scented it is will help you gauge accessibility.
Hotel chains are notorious for pumping in chemical scents into their spaces. When booking an event at a hotel, ask if they do this and what product they use. If you chose to use a space that artificially scents its rooms, disclose this to people and know that the space will not be fully accessible.
If your space hosts a cigar night be aware that it can take several days to air it out enough for people with sensitivities to cigar and cigarette smoke to tolerate your space. It will be up to the space managers and owners to decide if they want to allow smoking on enclosed patios and in areas where it might come into play spaces. Please disclose when your space allows cigar nights so that people can decide if the space will be accessible for them.
If you are offering presentations in a space where a microphone would be helpful (most spaces seating over 15 folks will be helped with a microphone), please make sure all speakers use the mic. There are a lot of presenters out here who like to speak loudly, ask the crowd, “Can everybody hear me,” and eschew microphone use. This is not helpful.
First, you should not require your guests to disclose if they have a hearing issue before addressing accessibility. If there is a microphone, make clear to all speakers they are expected to use it for accessibility reasons.
6. ASL Interpreters
Sign language interpreters can make presentations much more accessible. You also have to pay for this service.
If you are hosting/organizing a convention, having an ASL interpreter or several (depending on the number of sessions, attendance) makes your convention much more accessible. Because there is a cost associated with this service, it is acceptable to ask participants to indicate if they need an ASL interpreter and which sessions they will be attending to best distribute this resource.
Not all chairs fit all people. The white plastic and metal folding chairs popularly used at many venues (and often the cheapest to rent) have a weight limit of about 300 pounds. That limit is for “evenly distributed weight.” These chairs don’t always work for bigger bodied or disabled folks. For example, someone weight 225 pounds but having a mobility disorder which necessitates putting significantly more weight on one side of their body than the other may not be able to use a 300 pound limit folding chair.
Make sure you have at least some chairs designed with a 500 pound weight limit and with wider seats so that all your guests can be comfortable at your event. There is nothing that feels as bad as entering a conference or munch space, seeing the smaller chairs and knowing that you will have to spend the entire time trying not to break a chair while you try to listen to a speaker.
8. Honestly Disclose Accessibility Information
People with various accessibility needs will often check your website, message a munch leader, or call a space before coming. Be honest about the level of accessibility you offer. Saying, “yes, we are accessible” but only meaning you offer a ramp and ADA requirement bathrooms is not fully accessible. Be specific. State if you are ADA accessible, if you offer ramps, if your space is scented or offers cigar nights prior to the even the person is coming too, if it offers ASL interpretation or microphones. People with chronic illnesses and disabilities understand you may not be 100 percent accessible. We need to know if you are accessible for us with our specific needs.
9. Solicit Feedback
As people for honest feedback about the accessibility of the space. Avoid the need to defend your actions with, “We try to make it accessible. Just be patient.” Be open to hearing what your community needs from your space.
Different munches and spaces attract different groups of people. You may find that you have a large population which is hard or hearing, or has vision difficulties, or needs less strobe lighting. If you ask for feedback and process it, you can adapt your space to make it accessible to the people in your community who what to contribute to your space.