Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Accessibility in LARP addenda

The first three parts were well received but, I was reminded of a few extra things to consider. So here we are, a few tidy ups.

Addendum for Venues

In part Part 2 I talked about considerations for venue. I have one to add:
  • The ideal venue is near public transport and roads but this isn't always available. Travelling whilst disabled is difficult so consider arranging for a scheduled pick-up or shuttle service from a mainline train-station.
Timekeeping!

This is prompted by a reader comment.
Time keeping is pretty important to a lot of chronically ill and disabled people. As mentioned in the plot and food sections, many people have to operate to a certain schedule. This may be taking medication at specific times or intervals, eating at certain times, monitoring their activity levels, or important in managing issues like PTSD or coping with autism.
  • Some people may not be able to wear a watch for health reasons (pain, skin sensitivity etc).
  • You may want to make a point that anachronistic timepieces, including mobile phones, will be overlooked if used discretely.
  • Consider having an IC clock or timekeeping method in the main play area available to all players.
  • If not knowing the time or a distorted passage of time are a part of your setting then talk to players who have indicated illness or disability and work out a suitable OC or IC solution.
  • Consider having things happening at set times to act as markers i.e. lunch will be at 12:30. There will be an NPC arriving at 5PM.

Example
Game X is an altered reality game with shifting timelines. The IC time does not match the OC time. John needs to take medication at set times. The organisers agree that John may use an alarm on his mobile phone (set to aeroplane mode) to notify him. They ask if the alarm can be set to quiet and vibrate to minimise disruption. Other players are instructed to ignore it.

Example
Dina needs to measure her insulin every hour but doesn't have a watch suitable for her innumerate character in this post-apocalyptic setting. The Organisers decide that sounding a gong every hour fits with their setting. The gong can be heard across the site.

Costume and Kit

Personally I like clear costume guides. I think this helps create a setting, especially a fictional or historic world, as well as helping to form character and aid in recognition. Costuming can be limited for everybody by time, money and skill. People with disabilities may face other limitations.

  • Provide setting and costume information as early as you can – people with disabilities may need longer to make or assemble their costume due to physical or cognitive limitations.
  • Make sure your costume briefs aren't to rigid and offer a number of variations of style – some people may have difficulty dressing, or sensory issues that limit what they can wear.
  • The concept of aspirational kit, or kit that is evolving can be helpful as it allows people to start of with a basic layer and then embellish as they are able.
  • If you have rules regarding armour or heavy armour, consider that these may have to be modified to accommodate a persons disability.
  • Understand that IC footwear is not always available to people with specific mobility or medical needs.
  • Remember that mobility aids can't always be changed to fit with a costume.
  • If you can, include mobility aids in any “look and feel” photographs or costume guides.

Jay uses a wheelchair and is playing a combat character. The heavy armour rules state that the full torso must be covered in addition to legs or arms and helmet and the armour should be plate. This is not compatible with sitting in a wheelchair. The Organisers agree that Jay can wear a chest plate instead of full torso covering and that their modified grieves are suitable.

Hayley has to wear special footwear due to a muskularskeletal deformity. She is worried it won't look right with her costume. The Organisers include “practical footwear” in their costume guide and stress that OC practical footwear is always acceptable.

Downtime systems

This part is inspired by LARP blogger Encounter 21 on tumblr, who recently made a post about downtimes. These systems need to be carefully planned anyway, but there are some extra considerations regarding accessibility.

  • If you have a downtime system, keeping it to something that only has to be tackled once between games is best. People may not have the energy or ability to engage with a downtime system continually.
  • Give clear guidelines on how the system works and what can and can't be done.
  • Consider using a form instead of free form text. Players with cognitive of learning disabilities may not be able to engage with a free text system fully.
  • You may need to provide the downtime in various formats so that specialist software can be used.
  • Be prepared to receive a downtime in an alternative format if to meet a players needs.
  • Do not require on going downtime communication between player characters or NPCs. 
    • Do not require players to read lengthy IC documents during downtime. Uptime should not be impacted if a player is unable to keep up with fic, IC documents and descriptions during downtime.

Ffion has CFS/ME and does not have much energy between events (she saves it for events) so she can not devote a lot of time to a downtime system. Many other players are enthusiastically writing fic and IC letters. The Organisers rule that fic and letters written during DT are not to be considered part of the game and are for fun only. Only letters or descriptions submitted as a part of the official DT will have an impact on characters in uptime.

Joseph has a learning disability and struggles with reading and writing. The Organisers make the Dowtime system a series of questions that only have to be answered yes or no in a tick box format. They also make an audio recording of each question. 

Crew

Throughout these articles I have talked about players and organisers. There is another group to consider: your crew. Don't forget your crew. Crew members can also have disabilities which may need some accommodations. All of the points covered can and should apply to crew.
  • Keep in mind when assigning roles or jobs that people's needs and abilities may differ. 
  • Make documentation accessible and clear. 
  • Make sure your crew eat and rest properly (crew management is a whole topic unto itself).
  • Above all be honest about what you need and expect from your crew members. If you really need a crew member who can make repeated charges in to battle say that upfront so that people can make their own assessment as to whether they can put their name forward. 
  • Most crew teams have spaces for all sorts of skills and abilities, 
    • Be upfront and clear about what you need so that you get the best person for the job, and that people aren't left out or worse, actually hurt, by poor accessibility.
Example 
Nim would like to crew at Event X but is concerned because their Muscular Dystrophy means they aren't combat safe or able to walk far. They discuss this with the organisers who assure them that they will have a non-com NPC role and that they some of the encounters can be kept close to the crew hut to minimise walking. 


Now some general commentary.

In this series I tried to cover as many types of disability as I could whilst keeping it general. Everybody experiences their disability differently, which is why it is important to pay attention to booking forms and encourage conversation between players and organisers to establish what you as an organiser can do to help. However, there are a few areas I was a bit short on.

Firstly, I am not overly experienced with either the deaf community or the blind community. I provided a few thoughts and examples but I feel I could have done better. They are questions I have pondered previously and I am still trying to figure out the best way to make LARP more accessible for people with sight or hearing impairments. I know there isn't a one size fits all solution, but knowing what options and what small adaptations would make games more accessible would be great. If I find out I'll pass the information on to you.
  • If you are a LARPer, or somebody who is interested in LARPing, and have a sight or hearing impairment and would like to talk to me so we can figure this out, I would love to hear from you.
Secondly, I only briefly mentioned mental health issues. I am fully of the belief that mental health issues can be a disability however, I do think that their needs are different than physical disabilities (ven with all their variation). That doesn't mean that I don't think that accessibility should be denied to those with mental health problems; it's just not an issue I am ready to tackle yet. I would like to talk about mental health in LARP, how we can make things more accessible, things the player can do and things the organisers can do. That's going to take more research and more conversations though. But don't worry, those of you with mental health disabilities, I haven't forgotten about you, I jsut want to get it right.
  • If you are a LARPer or somebody who is interested in LARP, and have a mental health disability and would like to talk to me so we can figure this out, I would love to hear from you.

So, for now. I think that's it with this mini series of Accessibility in LARP. At least, until I do follow on parts. Remember, it's not about making the game easier for disabled players and crew, it is about making it no more difficult than for everybody else.

In case you missed them, part one starts at the very beginning of organising your game, part two dealt with venue logistics and part three was all about your plot and rules.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Guide to LARP accessibility - Part 3

This guide is lengthy and is split into a few parts. Part three looks at plot and rules - the things that really make the game. 
Part one starts at the very beginning of organising your game and part two dealt with venue logistics. 

The plot

Whilst a lot of accessibility is down to the venue itself, how you run the game is equally important. Considering your players' needs and integrating that into your plot and mechanics makes everything far more seamless and means that those with additional needs can enjoy the game equally with their fellow players.

  • Consider multiple methods of solving a puzzle or dealing with an encounter or that there is variation in how encounters are solved. A game that relies solely on combat or physical prowess to get through excludes physically limited players and a game that relies on only cryptic logic puzzles excludes those with cognitive or learning disabilities.*
  • Think about your pacing carefully. Having opportunities to rest in between action is important, though you don't want too-long periods of inaction.
  • People with physical disabilities may wish to play combat characters. Work with them to see how they fit into the setting and how you can bring combat to them by considering plot (pitched battles are different to snipers and traps), setting and terrain.
  • In an ongoing campaign, vary the times that regular events occur so that they are available to more players – players with disabilities often have to stick to an OC schedule even during games.
  • Are there ways of giving advance notice of action and events to players with disabilities so they can prepare or time their medication – this could be an OC message from a ref or the delivery of a vision or omen.
  • Think about where events happen, can you bring the plot to the players in some instances?
  • If you have players with vision impairment, cognitive disabilities or learning difficulties, find out what methods of communication work best for them and include them in your plot.
    • This may mean putting messages in writing or clear type, having a ref or NPC verbally deliver a message to a player and so on.
  • Props and plot items should be safe to handle anyway but think about items that can be carried one handed if you have a player who walks with a cane, items which are light weight if they have muscle weakness and so on.
  • Don't put anything plot critical in areas that can not be accessed by all players. All players should have the opportunity to reach plot (that's players, not characters, characters may differ).
  • Have back-up plan and alternative plots in case a player is unavailable or unable to do certain actions at a particular time due to their disability.

Example:
Morgan is partially sighted and worries that ze won't be able to find key items. The organisers tell zer at the start of each “session” (i.e. morning, afternoon and evening) specific areas he can focus his search on for example, in the shrubbery, they also make sure that IC hidden items are marked with a bright ribbon - players know that only people with the “search” skill can find these items.

Example:
Clara's medication has to be taken at the same time every night and she usually falls asleep at 11pm. The Organisers make sure that no Big NPC meetings that affect her character take place after 10pm.

* Not all games are for everybody and that's ok. If you are running a specifically 100% combat event then make this clear in your advertising so that people can make a choice of whether to attend. However, if somebody with a disability does enquire about your 100% combat event, then you should still consider any reasonable accommodations.

Rules and Mechanics

Rules and mechanics are how stuff happens in your game world – it's how we make the unreal, real. They can affect and be affected by people's disabilities. Your rules and mechanics are about how people do things, so you should make sure that they let all people do things.

  • Consider implementing a non-com rule – a rule that means people who can not be involved in combat can avoid it safely OC. These rules should still involve the player IC. Be aware that some players who start off combat safe may have to become non-com later in the game due to health reasons. Know how this should work.
  • Hard skills are popular and common – hard skills are things you can actually do OOC that are used IC. You may need to find a way of balancing this for disabled players so that areas of the game aren't shut off.
  • It is helpful to have printouts of core rules available for players to check mid game, especially for those with cognitive or learning disabilities. Post them on the back of toilet doors or in bunk rooms.
  • Lammies, cards or sheets with explanations of specific skills that players with those skills can carry on them are helpful.
  • Keeping mechanics and rules simple benefits everybody especially players with disabilities.
  • Make it clear to all players that OC mobility aids are not to be moved, hidden or tampered with at any point. You may need to find some way to distinguish between IC costume items and OC mobility aids.
  • Allow some flexibility in rules that require specific actions so as not to exclude people with mobility issues.
  • Think about your Time in and Time Out times. Do they give people a chance to recover and prepare for the event without too much rush?
  • Are your OC Man Down calls sufficiently different to your IC calls for a medic.

Example:
Chris has EDS, he is finding it difficult and painful to bend over patients who are lying down in order to use his medic skill. The organisers make an allowance so that the patient can be seated instead of lying down. This allows Chris the option of sitting next to his patient to apply the medic skill.

Example:
Rima is partially deaf and is worried she will not hear spell vocals properly. The Organisers decide that all spells will be accompanied by throwing a coloured beanbag at the target – the colour relating to a specific effect. Rima is satisfied she will now know when she has been hit by a spell.

In this guide I've tried to cover as many different bases as I can but I am just one person and I can't cover every possible combination of event and disability. This isn't a comprehensive list but should give you an idea of how to handle most situations. I particularly didn't go in to much detail regarding hard of hearing accessibility as it is something I have yet find good solutions to in LARP. I also only skimmed over mental health issues as I feel that mental health accessibility is a topic which would be best suited to its own post.

Additionally, this isn't a list of things that you absolutely must do every time. There are some things it can be handy to just do automatically that can help all players, but there are other things that are more tailored to an individual. Nobody would blame you for not providing a gluten free catering option when none of your players need gluten free. However, you should be prepared and know how to provide those accommodations if necessary.

At the end of the day, making a game accessible opens your game up to more players and helps you players have a more enjoyable event. Having more players and players who are happy with our event is really what we, as event organisers, are aiming for and good accessibility can help us achieve that. 


NB: I'm not an expert and I may miss things out but I've tried to cover as much as I can. I have tried to give examples where I can and I hope I have not misrepresented anybody. We are all different and that means I can't cover every possible accommodation.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Guide to LARP accessibility - Part 2

This guide is lengthy and has been split into a few parts. Part one started at the very beginning of organising your game. Part two takes a look at your venue and sleeping arrangements.



The site/venue itself

This is a tricky one because sites can vary so much depending on game. Many people with disabilities accept that not all areas of a site will be accessible – it's a frustrating truth. There are things you can do to mitigate this and still make a site inclusive, this largely involves talking to your player and thinking about where stuff happens.
  • Make sure as much of your indoor space is step free or has step free access. This is essential for common and dining rooms, sleeping areas, toilets and washrooms but, you should consider all spaces.
  • If there are steps or lips in doorways then provide ramps or alternative access.
  • Building access isn't just for people in wheelchairs – people with mobility problems, balance issues, chronic pain or chronic fatigue all benefit from level access.
  • Do not put plot critical items or sets in rooms that can't be accessed by all your players.
  • Consider the terrain and how rough or steep it is. Can your players navigate it safely? Look for alternative paths for less-able players, or make sure there is provision for changing a set piece or access.
  • Consider where action and events will take place. Can your players reach them or will they miss out on things. Does your big encounter have to take place in the ravine or can it take place nearer to the main hall?
  • Make sure your venue has adequate seating, and if possible a variety of seating types.
  • Consider heating – temperature can affect many people's conditions. Make sure there is heating AND ventilation, that you know where heating controls are and convey to players if the venue is likely to be hot or cold so they can plan their kit accordingly.
  • Look at the lighting. Does it highlight trip hazards properly? Do players with vision impairment need extra lighting? Very bright, coloured or flickering light can also be an issue for people with sensory problems such as migraines, autism, vertigo or epilepsy. Refer to the booking forms and if a player notes one of these issues consult with the player.
  • Consider designating an OOC quiet room for people with disabilities who need a time out or quiet time. Keep this room quiet and free of too much sensory stimulus.
  • Make sure there is an accessible toilet and washroom – large enough for a wheelchair, with handrails and a low sink. If it requires a key make sure to give the key to the player or see if it can be left unlocked for the duration of the event.
Example:
Sasha uses a wheelchair. She is worried she won't be able to access things in the woods over rough terrain. The Organiser shows her the graded access path through the woods that she can use as a short cut and says that all events will take place near to this path. Other players will not have access to this path (unless accompanying her) and she doesn't have to use it if she is confident on the other paths.

Example:
Lee has epilepsy that can be triggered by fluorescent lights. The event organisers find out that their venue uses strip lighting so decide that they will bring their own lamps and use daylight bulbs to create the bright light effect they want in a safe manner.

Sleeping arrangements

If your event is overnight pay attention to sleeping arrangements. A good night's sleep can be the difference between functioning and being immobile to some players. What makes a good night's sleep can vary dramatically.
  • Find out early if your venue has bunk rooms and what size and configuration they are (i.e. how many do they sleep).
  • If the site is camping only, see if you can designate a room for indoor sleeping for those who need it. Another option is to designate an area of field for disabled camping that is close to facilities including power sources.
  • Offer IC and OOC sleeping options, even if your event isn't 24hr. Some people will need to nap during time in and they may prefer OOC to IC for this.
  • Find out what bedding, if any, is provided so that people can plan accordingly.
  • Make sure there are at least some power sockets available in sleeping areas – some people may use a C-Pap or have other medical equipment and will require power.
  • Have back-up options available. Some people's needs may change unexpectedly.
  • Consider reserving bunk rooms near to bathrooms for disabled players. Additionally, bunk rooms near to the main play area might be preferred by some disabled players so they don't have to far to walk.
  • Make sure rooms and beds are navigable by players in a wheelchairs or who use a walking aid.
  • Consider setting up comfortable areas in IC places where players can rest easily without dropping OC.
  • It can be helpful to give details of nearby and inexpensive B&Bs or hotels so that people have another option.
Example:
Rose has Crohn's Disease so the organisers make sure she has a bunkroom near to an accessible bathroom.

Example:
David has a back injury that requires careful rest. He requests that a bottom bunk is reserved for him as he can't manage ladders. The organisers also move the venue sofas into one corner and leave a few blankets lying around with the IC reason that squatters were using the building before the characters arrived. This provides an IC rest area for David and others that need it.

NB: I'm not an expert and I may miss things out but I've tried to cover as much as I can. I have tried to give examples where I can and I hope I have not misrepresented anybody. We are all different and that means I can't cover every possible accommodation.
Part 3 covering the plot and game rules can be found here!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Guide to LARP accessibility - Part 1

This guide is lengthy and will be split into a few parts. Part one starts at the very beginning of organising your game.

Most LARPs are run by people in their spare time. They aren't professional LARP companies or even professional event organisers. Hopefully they are doing their best to make a game that people can attend and enjoy.

My personal view is that not every game suits every player. There are so many different genres and play styles there are going to be some that don't suit you. As a game organiser it's ok to recognise this and not try and make a game of all things to suit all people. However, you should make sure that you aren't exclude people based on things they can't change such as disability, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Having a good equality policy in place is important and should go some way to making your event accessible to people due to race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Being accessible to people with disabilities (including temporary disabilities, chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities) can take a little more than a policy statement.

I also know, as an event organiser and as somebody with a disability, that sometimes budget, venue availability and other factors may limit what accommodations I can make. This doesn't mean I can't try. Even if the ideal solution isn't available to me, we can still aim for ideal and make what accommodations we can given our circumstances.

In general terms:
  • Include disability in your equality statement. Let people know that ableist language and prejudice will not be tolerated.
  • Recognise that the perfect set piece in your imagination may not be possible if it isn't accessible to your players.
  • Remember that accessibility is about more than wheelchair ramps and can vary person to person.
  • Keep things confidential or on a need to know basis. Your crew may need to know that a player is unstable on their feet but they don't need to know why. Limit private health information to key organisers, the first aiders and (where necessary) caterers.
  • Ask your players questions and listen to their answers. They know best what will help them enjoy the event and what accommodations they need. Encourage them to contact you, ask them questions and work with players to make an event accessible.
  • Accommodations are not about making the game easier for disabled players. It's about making it no more difficult than for other players.
    Some accommodations can be open to all players – scheduled meal times for example. However, giving a mobility impaired player a head start doesn't work if all players have the same head start.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

LARPing whilst chronic

Please excuse the inevitable typos, I am also blogging whilst chronic and only two days post event so not at my best

Some advice based on my experiences.

I have moderate to severe CFS/ME (with Lyme disease complications) this means I’m not well enough to work but I am usually not bed bound either. If I rest enough I can look “normal”. My experiences may differ from yours but general advice can still be helpful.

Prepare for the event as far ahead as you can and do little bits of prep at a time. This goes double if you are making costume. Don’t leave it for a rush at the last minute as this will use up valuable spoons. Get your travel bag/box out early and throw in pieces of kit as you find them - this avoids the last minute “WHERE IS THE THING I SAW THE THING TWO WEEKS AGO WHERE IS IT NOW” panic.
Try and clear the day before the event to be a rest day as much as possible, only give yourself low energy tasks to do. If you are in work and can manage your workload to be light that do do it, or consider using annual leave/flexi/TOIL to take off that extra day or half day if you can. Store up every spoon you can.
Likewise make sure you have the day after the event off or cleared. Don’t plan on doing anything the day after an event. Reintroduce activity very carefully and slowly and give yourself permission to rest. I find writing “rest and recover” on my to do list helpful as it feels like I am actively engaging in recovery instead of just being lazy.
Your recovery may take longer than others and that’s ok. A small to medium (<100 2-3="" 5="" 6="" accordingly.="" activity="" adjust="" advice="" all="" am="" and="" are="" at="" been="" booking="" can="" close="" event="" events="" fest="" follow="" for="" from.="" from="" have="" i="" if="" include="" least="" many="" me="" normal="" not="" or="" p="" people="" physically="" prepped="" recover="" remember="" return="" sensible="" take="" that="" this="" to="" together.="" tough="" weekend="" weeks="" well="" will="">Take naps at the event. It doesn’t make you boring, it doesn’t make you less of a LARPer. It keeps you safe and stops you getting seriously ill. If you take naps, it means that you are more capable of good roleplay when you are up and about.
I prefer IC sleeping arrangements when available or creating or finding an IC sleeping spot. Sleeping IC means I feel that I am still part of the game if I take a nap or lie down for a bit. I can still keep one ear on what’s going on (as I usually only dose not fall flat asleep) so can make decisions to get up and join in if I want. It also means I can lie down and rest and people can still interact with me if they want.
I find this especially useful at larger games as going OC to nap can mean walking a fair distance which is extra tiring and can make getting IC again trickier. I also find that IC arrangements are easier to collapse in to in full kit which is easier than having to remove kit to try and get into an OC tent or bed. YMMV - I know other people who prefer OC sleeping far away from the action as they are less likely to be disturbed and will get a deeper sleep, especially at night. Figure out what benefits you require and what keeps you happiest mentally whilst still giving you the rest you need.

Tell people you are ill and what you will be doing and why. It doesn’t have to be everybody but a few people you trust especially if you are in their IC group or will be playing close to them. Letting them know means that they will respect your decision not to go running around outside after plot. It can also mean that they know when IC medics need to be called and when you just need to be left alone to sit quietly for a bit. Things I tell them include:
  • I may look dazed and confused, or bit sat looking very tired or in pain. If it is IC i will give you the IC description and act accordingly, if it is the CFS/ME i’ll refer to “the old wound” and I just need to be left to rest.
  • I will happily take on your important sitting in one spot tasks.
  • I may need to take a nap or lie down - I’ll let you know so you don’t think I’ve been kidnapped IC and so you know where to find me.
  • I have meds on me, this is what they look like. I appreciate being asked if I have medicated if I am looking particularly out of it.
Talk to the refs/organisers and let them know your limitations. They can probably make some things a little more accessible to you for example - maybe they have plot that is key to your character and want to send an NPC to you. Instead of setting up the meeting half mile walk into the woods, they may instruct the NPC to go to you directly, or make the meeting happen just outside. Refs are generally lovely people who want to facilitate you enjoying the game.

Make sure you eat properly. Everybody should do this, but hunger and low blood sugar can really screw up people with CFS/ME. If you can talk to the caterers and ask when meal times will be. Ask if there is any snack food available for between meal times. Carry your own snacks with you. protein and carbs are good. My choice is generally nuts, dried fruit, roast spiced chick peas and so on. Other people really like jerky or biltong. We are suing up a lot of energy during a game, even if we aren’t running around. LARPs tend to keep us in a state of readiness or cycling through fight or flight responses. Snacking is important.
Similarly stay hydrated. Water, juice, hot drinks are all good - try and keep on top of them throughout the day. This is a good time to make use of those people you talked to about being ill. Ask if they could get you a drink so you don’t use up too much energy on basic self care and can reserve that energy for hitting monsters.
Take your meds. I can’t emphasise this strongly enough. Make sure you have your meds with you at all times and take them. Don’t be all stoic. You will likely have a lot of adrenaline and other hormones active during a game and that can mask pain responses, but as soon as that adrenaline wears off you’ll feel it. Take your meds. During games I try and take my painkillers (nefopam co-codamol and ibuprofen) regulary at their low dose and then if I still hurt I can take up to the higher dose. It really helps. Make sure to take any other meds (i.e. gabapentin or pregabalin) with you to the event, know where they are and don’t forget to take them. Wearing a watch can be helpful to check times, and whilst an alarm may not be strictly IC it can help you a lot and most people are understanding.

Stay warm. A lot of the events I go to are in the autumn and at scout camps with dubious heating. If it’s cold you use energy to stay warm - precious energy that could be going in to running from monsters. Cold also causes muscle contractions and shivering which can cause a lot of pain. Make sure your costume has a few layers that you can add or remove to regulate your body temp. Thermal under layers are great for staying warm without covering up pretty kit. I am a massive fan of stick on heat pads like Cura-heat and remembering to apply them to tight back muscles saves me as they soothe the muscles and keep me warm. Consider little chemical handwarmers and hot water bottles. Make sure your bed has sufficient blankets and covers and you have something cosy to sleep in. Don’t sleep in the socks you’ve been wearing, switch to a fresh pair or bed socks for night time.

It’s OK to have to change plans mid game. OK it kind of sucks at the time, but it is OK, I promise. Those people you told, tell them. They understand and don’t mind. You aren’t screwing any one over if you have to stop what you where doing. At Falling Down, I am a scavenger, that means going out in to the woods to look for resources. I did it twice and it hurt me a lot, I was getting more and more fatigued. I had to call it off and confine my activities to indoors. We worked it out as a group, prioritised what resources we needed and made it work anyway. I was given more things to do inside so I wasn’t bored. If I had been stubborn and gone out anyway, I would have broken even harder than I did and not been able to have some of the amazing roleplay moments I had, including some which improved game for other people. Traipsing through the woods for a scrap of metal isn’t worth loosing out on good game.

If you use a mobility aid like a stick, use it in game. If you can get a suitable IC looking one all the better. You don’t need a reason for your character to have one if you don’t want, but coming up with a reason can be fun. Most people don’t ask though. If you use a wheelchair or scooter, use that too. Talk tot he organisers about accessibility and what you require or what your limitations are. Again you can make it part of the character if you want or you can ignore it. Other players will follow your lead.

I think that’s everything. I hope it helps people with CFS/ME find LARP easier.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

What about homeless people? Why don’t they get the open door policy?

You’ve seen the pictures right - in the UK and in the US people holding signs saying “I’d welcome a Syrian refugee” or “Refugees welcome at my house”. Very noble. And then of course you get people saying “What about the homeless people we already have? Why aren’t you opening your homes to them huh? HUH?”

Well let me break it down for you.
First, and this is very important, we can care about more than one issue at once. It isn’t caring about refugees OR homeless people. Amazingly, the vast majority of people have the capacity to care about both groups of people.

Secondly, the conversation we are having is about Syrian refugees. You want to have a conversation about homeless people then great, we should do that. We really should. But this conversation we are having right now, is about refugees from Syria and elsewhere. We are having this conversation right now for some good reasons. The movement of Syrian refugees has reached a critical level (in terms of numbers the UK and US media can’t ignore) and there have recently been a number of planes and boats arriving with the first large groups of officially recognised Syrian refugees. This was further brought in tot he spotlight by scaremongering following the attacks in Paris and how that might be related to a Syrian refugee or somebody posing as one. This conversation is about refugees, so the statements are about refugees.

The dialogue has been set up as thus:
Right Wing Media and Politicians: We don’t want these refugees. We can’t house these refugees. Do you want some foreigner living with you?!
Other People: Actually I care about these people and yes I would be willing to live side by side with them.

Right Wing Media and Politicians: Yeah but where are they going to sleep? There’s no space!
Other People: Looks them dead in the eye I will open my home up if necessary.
The rhetoric is all about “are refugees welcome Y/N” and people rising to that and being confident to make a direct statement to those who answer N and to challenge the people who keep trying to paint the public as uncaring and heartless.
The rhetoric is not a general “would you let random people into your house?” that’s a different conversation. Nor is it “do you care about homeless people?” that is also a different conversation.

Now lets look at the practicalities and to those people who are taking action - the actual appeals for housing and shelter and the people who are actually opening up their homes to refugees. You may so “well why now, why are they doing it for refugees and not homeless people?”
One reason is, as above, they haven’t been asked before. This is the first time that such things have been asked of them. The problem of homeless people is every present, a background noise to our existence. It isn’t treated as an urgent issue, it’s just something that is there, that we know about, that isn’t going anywhere. The problem of where do refugees sleep is an urgent question and one which is being asked loudly RIGHT NOW and people are responding.
The other reasons are more complex and they are to do with how charities are run and funded, and the legislation surrounding housing.
A lot of refugee aid charities are small grassroots group who have been set up in recent years. They have little by way of funding and resources but they are doing their best to help refugees and foreign nationals in their local community. They are the ones saying “these people need a bed for the night, can you help?” they don’t have hostels of their own. The issue is one of very short term housing, to fill in those gaps between passing from a detention centre and going into a hostel or longer term housing. There will be a bed available on Friday, but they have just been released from holding today, can you offer a bed for a night or two?
You are taking in somebody via a charity as a guest in to your home for a night or two. You won’t be paid, you may get some language or care support but really you are on your own. You register with the charity, pass their checks and then are on standby to receive somebody as and when.
Homeless charities by comparison, at least in the UK operate differently. They are often larger well established groups which work with local government and receive support and help from the council. UK councils usually have a mandate regarding how they handle homelessness in their municipality with established guidelines over how individuals are processed and treated. There is an emphasis on getting people into homes rather than hostels but these are often longer term solutions, not a night or two here and there. People who can open up their homes are doing so as a live in landlord, and must be registered as such, taking on the necessary legal stuff and contracts.
Theoretically you could just walk up to a homeless person rough sleeping and say “come home with me” but if you want to do it in any sort of regulated way or via a charity or placement scheme it is a more arduous task and requires real commitment from you.
To top it all off, because of how the media and government have chosen to frame the “problem” of homeless people over the past few decades (and I have that damned Phill Collins song in my head now) homeless people have been quite successfully othered. They are people with mental health problems, alcohol and drug issues, ner-do-wells, and people from troubled backgrounds. Rather than make us more empathetic those descriptions make it harder for a lot of people to be sympathetic - it is difficult for you to see yourself in their situation.
Refugees however, at least in recent months have been given a slightly better time of it. The social liberal media and social media has (thankfully) been reminding us that they are people just like us. People who lived normal lives, had jobs, had hobbies, friends and families until war and famine changed all that. It is easier to sympathise with them when we see them as like us and can imagine ourselves in their place.
It is far easier, therefore, for people to offer their homes to people they feel a kinship to than those they have repeatedly been told are trouble. To put it in cold hard marketing terms, it’s an easier sell.
Want to put your money home where you mouth is?
Look for charities like
Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network
in your local area and talk to them about what you can offer.

Volunteer with local charities which offer homeless support such as St George’s Crypt in Leeds or UK national charity Shelter.
Look at your local Council website for their resources and mandates regarding homelessness and consider registering as a live-in landlord and contacting the Council and local charities so they can put you on a list of people willing and able to take homeless people.
To summarise:
  • This conversation is about refugees so people are talking about refugees and not other groups in need.
  • People are making a statement to politicians and media they disagree with.
  • Refugee Charities have been making requests for bed spaces and people are responding.
  • Due to how they operate Homeless Charities are unable to make the same requests so people can’t respond.
  • It is easier in practical and legal terms to offer shelter to a refugee than a homeless person.
  • People connect more with refugees than with homeless people because of how they are currently described in the media.
  • You can care about more than one thing at once. Caring about refugees does not stop people caring about homelessness.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

"Britain is Open for Business" (part 2)

Continuing on from part 1


Britain is open for business.” this is a phrase that comes up again and again in the media, either as a cliché from journalists or a direct soundbite from an MP. It is usually linked to economic reports that show growth in the UK economy, or a piece of legislation that makes international trade easier (or less regulated) is going ahead. The emphasis is that the UK is a company and that that company is profitable. ...
This is where I start to really stretch the metaphor. I want you to picture an actual physical marketplace: perhaps your town has an indoor market or a weekly produce market. I'll be keeping St George's Market in Belfast in mind throughout this. Now lets start thinking about what makes a good market and how that applies to national economics. Just trust me and go along for the ride.

Safe and secure

A good market is somewhere where stall holders can leave their merchandise overnight and be relatively confident that it will still be there in the morning. During trading they don't expect to experience much in the way of stock loss, or other significant crime. They know that, should something be stolen or they are assaulted or any other crime is committed that market staff and security will help deal with the issue appropriately.
The same goes for people visiting a market. They don't want to be mugged, or pick-pocketed. They don't want to be harassed or assaulted. They don't want to have a stall-holder overcharge them, refuse to give them change or steal their bank details (it's 2015, markets have card readers). Should anything happen we want to be sure that security or the police are involved, that our complaints are listened to with care and diligence and that appropriate measures will be taken. In the case of a stall-holder committing a crime against a customer that may be a criminal charge but it may also include a ban on future trading.
The UK market place has a police force, a criminal justice system and a legislature that includes dozens of regulating bodies, especially when you start taking in to account local authorities. Now I was raised to be fairly pro police and I have to say, by and by that confidence remains. I am aware however, that for certain groups of people and for certain crimes, policing and justice aren't always carried out fairly. Young black men for example are more likely to be stopped and searched than any other group. In fact racism in the UK criminal system is well reported and documented if you want to go and read about it. In more recent years this has extended to Asian men, and people who are not UK nationals. There are also certain crimes which are not treated with the sensitivity or even handedness they should be: rape and sexual assault have some shocking statistics regarding how many cases are taken to trial, how many end in prosecution and the length of prison sentences handed down. Rape is also one of the few crimes were the burden of proof falls so heavily on the shoulders of the victims and there is an uphill struggle to even convince police that a crime has been committed. Policing and justice is clearly not as fair and even as it could be.
Then there are other parts of the legislature: banking regulation, taxation, welfare and social security, wage and employment law, immigration law (relating to the above section on diversity) which are skewed to benefit a very small percentage of the population and to cripple the rest. To shun, marginalise, refuse to help and at times actively hurt large parts of your market in order to benefit a small few. Is that actually leading to a successful market or is that leading to a market which can't be sustained whilst a few stallholders walk away smiling (with the credit card details of their unrepresented customers).