As a “disabled” person myself, I have found it disheartening that so many rope and kink events are not accessible to differently bodied people. Covid disabled me, which has been quite a journey in of itself. Pre-covid, I hadn’t fully appreciated how important this issue is. I have tried my utmost to make my events accessible, pre my disability status, drawing on my extensive experience with working with differently bodied people. But not everyone has the same personal knowledge and professional experience as me, so I can understand the oversight. An oversight that highlights the privilege of being able bodied.
Just as the wider community struggles to get to grips with this issue, some people discriminatory in their practice, we sadly see the same in rope, kink and other recreational spaces. This is not ok. It is not ok that there are humans not able to live full lives. It is not ok to keep differently able people as an afterthought, following the money and focusing on delivering a service to the privileged Eurocentric, straight, English speaking able bodied folks. We are better than that. Our community is filled with marginalised people of all persuasions, so making adjustments will reflect our openness and desire to provide safer spaces for all. (Though having an equally robust policy and procedures around predatory behaviour needs to be in place also.)
I even take issue with the language we use. Being labelled “disabled” may give me access to certain social and legal services and support, but the word feels dis-empowering. And the word “disability” is best replaced with the word “condition” for the same less patronising reasons, in my opinion.
Equally, given that many conditions are hidden, meaning you couldn’t tell there is a need from the person just by looking at them, not having measures in place places the burden on the differently bodied person to ask for the support they need. This might be sight loss, hearing impairments, learning or development needs, language barriers, socialisation challenges, mental health challenges, autonomic system problems, or people living with chronic pain.
There are steps we can take to address these barriers. Based on my personal experience and knowledge, I’d recommend the following:
- Make it explicit in marketing that your event is accessible. Say how it is so, and that you are willing to listen to attendees needs. Explicitly mention if there are any existing barriers to avoid disappointment of differently bodied people turning up on the day and not being able to participate. For example, if there are stairs but no lift, or how far away any parking is.
- Explicitly ask within any attendee communication if they have any access needs for you to consider. Do this before they attend and on arrival. This will reassure them that you are following words with action. And be honest if there is a need you cannot meet. For example, is someone hard of hearing and needs to be placed close to a speaker teaching a class? How can you address anxiety around attending your event? Be welcoming and remember their needs are a human right and your responsibility to meet as much as is reasonably possible.
- Seek advice from other accessible event holders on how they overcome barriers, because there will be needs that you will not know how to address.
- Wheelchair access – This is what most people first think of when they think of accessibility. Can a person in a wheelchair access the venue? Can they reach all parts of the event? What can you do to support people so they can attend and enjoy all parts of the event?
- Disabled parking – See if/what is available and communicate this to attendees before the event.
- Disabled toilets – These tend to exist in law in most public places, but some private venues may not.
- Wheelchair/walking frame ramps – Even one step can stop a person from going into a space, so notice steps!
- A quiet area – This is so important for people with sensory issues or people with mental health needs that holding a space to decompress and/or rest without noise or disturbance is really important. A sofa, pillows and blanket are a good idea. Or ask people in the event communications to bring any personal health care or aftercare items they know they will need.
- Minimise sensory overwhelm – Noise and light within the main event also. Blaring music might be fun, but if it makes it more difficult for people to talk and/or harms people with sensory overstimulation, we should consider just how loud we need to go. Similarly, do you need flashing lights (that can trigger epilepsy or other problems) or bright lights? Are there any reflective surfaces that might increase sensory overwhelm also?
- Access to water and food – We all need hydration. Consider having tea, coffee, and/or squash for people with difficulty absorbing water. Are food/snacks provided covering different Allergies?
- Ask for feedback after the event. You can create online forms, set them as anonymous so you don’t harvest their emails (communicate you’re doing that). I prefer to keep the questions open and only have a few: Which event did you attend? What did you like about the event? Is there anything we could do differently? This is how you will learn to make your event better, so listen to whatever you have been kindly and bravely told.
In UK law, discrimination by any organisation on the basis of ability is a crime (https://www.gov.uk/discrimination-your-rights). Although recreational events have less responsibility, I’d strongly recommend that you need to take steps to make your event accessible and communicate any barriers you have, so take this seriously. As human beings, we want all to enjoy our events as much as possible, too.
What can you do to make your event better today? It isn’t always easy, knowing what you can do and how, but I hope my pointers help you. I strongly recommend that you try to take whatever steps you can in running events.
Do you have any other ideas? Please comment below!
Featured image: self tie freestyle chest harness by Dea Nexa