Inclusionary Play Spaces
This post will switch between using person-first and identity-first language, be sure to ask an individual how they prefer to be referred to instead of assuming!
Inclusiveness should be very important to all folks intending to create safe spaces, not just advocates, and this blog advocates that sex positive and kinky spaces be open to individuals of all ethnicities, races, classes, gender identities, gender expressions, sexual and romantic orientations, and abilities.
Sometimes people with abilities different than our own are left out of the conversation and all the fun because we don’t realise our spaces aren’t accessible, and this blog post is going to give some pointers on how to make play spaces accessible to as many folks as possible!
More than Ramps
Sometimes, people think that if a space has a ramp, that’s the end of the accessibility conversation. People who use wheelchairs can get in, so they’ve done their job in making sure people can show up to the fun. This is a common misconception, mainly because the image we associate with disability is the blue wheelchair.
However, even for wheelchair users, a ramp is barely the beginning of making a space accessible -- are the doorways wide enough, if it’s a building with multiple levels, is there an elevator, is there an accessible bathroom in the building, etc. Consider instead the following image:
While this image won’t take the place of the wheelchair symbol anytime soon because it’s not as simple or clear, it definitely reminds people of the rest of the spectrum! There are hands signing, representing the d/Deaf community (why the capital letter?), braille, and a brain to represent the neurodivergent community (this includes the autistic spectrum, as well as people with mental illnesses and/or intellectual disabilities).
Making A Space Accessible
When looking for venues to host your play space or kink party, keep all of these individuals in mind! If your space is open to the public, and not just a group of your close friends, then it should be open to all members of the public!
If there isn’t a ramp to the building, and if you can’t find a building with a ramp, you can always rent one. If you are holding a workshop, place chairs far enough apart that person who needs to use a crutch, a walker, or a wheelchair can easily move around or get in between them. Leave out a chair in one or two rows, so that a wheelchair user can sit in the rows with everyone else and not feel left out or regulated to the back of the room.
Try keep your spaces fragrance-free. This goes a long way for some folks with disabilities, because if there is someone who has chemical sensitivities, they might not feel safe or comfortable in the play space. Even if a scent isn’t strong or obtrusive to you, you never know who it might affect. Don’t burn incense and ask folks to use as little cologne or perfume as possible, if they have to wear any at all. Ask people who smoke to do so in designated areas away from the main area. If you’re hosting an event such as a retreat, where there will be extended time spent overnight, try to make sure sheets in the bedrooms are washed with fragrance and chemical free detergent and fabric softener. Also see if you can have a separate room or area that is fragrance-free (marked with a sign that asks people to keep that space fragrance-free) so that if a person is overwhelmed, they can go to that space to recuperate. This room or area can double as a “tap-out” space for anyone who gets overwhelmed and might need some alone-time, such as people with claustrophobia or social anxiety.
You can view a list of products that are fragrance and chemical free here.
For people who are blind, make sure you are being cognizant of nonverbal language and do your best to communicate in a way that benefits everybody. If you have a powerpoint presentation, use larger font for partially blind people, and read everything out loud for people who are completely blind. For visual demonstrations, explain clearly what each step is (for example, avoid saying, “tie this here, and then wrap it around…” instead be more specific, “wrap the rope around the thigh and the use a square knot to tie it off…”). If you have paper handouts to give to your attendees, make sure you have a way of getting that information to a blind person, or put the information on your website, and make sure your website is accessible so people who use narration can easily understand.
Remember that service animals are considered medical equipment -- you wouldn’t touch someone’s wheelchair or cane without their permission, so please don’t pet or interact with service animals without asking their owner. Even if you think a few pets are harmless, it is very dangerous to distract a service animal from their job. Service animals can help with many types of disabilities, not just blindness! They can be trained for invisible illnesses, such as chronic pain or post traumatic stress disorder, and can even be trained to sense their owner’s drop in blood sugar or an oncoming epileptic seizure. It is not okay to demand a disabled person to list their medical history to you so you can be sure they have a “need” for their animal to be in the play space.
For more information on service animals, click here.
For d/Deaf individuals who may be attending your event, make sure you have a reliable interpreter on hand. Don’t just ask your friend who has had two semesters of ASL to attend and interpret. That will just be frustrating and unhelpful. Hire an interpreter, and remind attendees at the event to talk to the individual who is d/Deaf, and not to the interpreter. Look at the person as they respond, even though the interpreter will be the one talking -- it’s rude to look at the interpreter instead of the person who is talking with you. Interpreters cost money since you are asking for a service, so it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to hire an interpreter for every event, especially if you don’t know if a d/Deaf person is going to attend. In this case, on your flier, your poster, your event page, or anywhere you advertise for the event, state clearly that this event is open to people with disabilities, and provide a number for people to call ahead of time to make interpreting arrangements or other arrangements. This way, disabled people can see that they are being thought of, and might call the number you give them in order to ask for what they need.
Keep in mind that accessibility is not something you add once asked for it; this assumes everyone will ask, or will be comfortable with asking. The onus of making a space accessible is on the person creating an event, but no one can foresee every need, so placing a large reminder on posters and event pages that you are willing to work with people with different needs is a good rule of thumb, and you’d be surprised the responses you get once you’ve demonstrated you are open and willing to work with all members of the community.
For more detailed help, see this guide.
Finally, during the actual event, check in with your attendees. Ask them how they’re doing, if everyone is okay, if they need anything. Keep a water table or cooler around and nearby for people who might get dehydrated easily and don’t want to keep interrupting you by asking for something to drink. Some people, depending on their disability, may sometimes experience periods of nonverbal communication where they can’t talk, so keeping pens and paper on hand for written communication can help, and if all else fails, you can use a notes app if you have a smartphone. Making sure you, as the host, are just as accessible as the space you’re holding your event is important. If a person feels like they can approach you with their need, then it is more likely that everyone will be happy, safe, and included.
Playing Should Be Accessible Too!
Now that your space is accessible, the playing should be as well! There are three rules we suggest you go by:
1. Offer help -- don’t assume it’s needed. If you think someone looks like they need help, ask! If they say “yes,” don’t make assumptions, listen to how they want you to help them. If they say “no thanks,” don’t get offended or make excuses for why you thought they needed help. Just say, “Okay, let me know if you do!” and leave it at that. Similarly, don’t infantilize people who are disabled by talking down to them or assuming what they can or can’t do, and especially don’t follow them around trying to help them with everything.
2. Don’t treat people like they’re fragile. Sometimes, without realising it, we desexualise disabled people, and treat them like they’re about to break any second. This can happen by assuming disabled people don’t want to have sex, can’t have sex, or don’t have certain kinds of sex. Never assume! A person with disabilities is just as likely to be as kinky as a person without disabilities, and if an individual asks to participate in a scene, work with them to make it happen. Instead of wincing and saying, “Are you sure?” or “Is it even safe for you?” instead ask how you can work with them to make sure the scene is what they are looking for. People with disabilities know their bodies and their limits best -- much better than you will -- so make sure you listen to what they are asking for, and don’t treat them with kid gloves (unless it’s relevant to the scene or they ask you to)!
3. Sex toys make the world go ‘round. The more sex toys the better! A disabled person may bring their own in order to participate in a scene, but having your own on hand is never a bad idea! Sex swings, furniture, and other toys are created to help people with disabilities have sex in many different ways. There are quite a few toys you can find that help disabled people. For example, many Sliquid lubricant types - though seemingly a small lubricant - can be helpful for folks with sensitivities. Sliquid is not only chemical free, but many of them are also odorless, which makes them ideal for people who need things to be chemical and fragrance-free. JimmyJane’s Hello Touch X can help those with mobility issues. Other things which help those with mobility issues include Sportsheets Vibrating Doggie Style Strap, or Sportsheets Doorjam Sex Swing. For people who experience chronic pain, look into softer sensation toys, such as Neoprene Cuffs, Touch of Fur rabbit fur cuffs, and even Touch of Fur rabbit fur floggers.
Following these simple three rules is an easy way to make sure you are treating disabled people the same as you would treat anyone else! For further reading, For additional reading, check out The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability and Our Bodies, Ourselves. Also check out this Broadly article.
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