Sunday, 24 April 2016

Mental Health Accessibility in LARP - part 1

A few months ago I wrote a Guide to Accessibility in LARP. In the series I covered all aspects of a LARP game from booking to venue to rules giving a number of suggestions for ways we, as LARP organisers can better accommodate players with disabilities. There was a mixture of things that can be implemented as standard - for example basic items on a booking form - and other ideas which can be considered if applicable to your game or which may be necessary to help particular players.
What I didn’t really cover though, was accessibility for players with mental health disabilities. Mental health illnesses (including but not limited to Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder) can have an impact on a person’s experience of a game and may, at times limit them from playing a game. Whilst we are generally becoming better at identifying accessibility needs for physical disabilities, we don’t do it so well for Mental Health Disability. In part this is because they are almost always invisible disabilities. They are also somewhat more nebulous in nature and it can be difficult for a person to describe the particular issue a person is facing with regard to access. Identifying accessibility issues is still possible and, with a little thought, we should be able to provide some accommodations. 

Once again, this guide will be broken down in to parts so we can look at each aspect of a LARP game.

I’m going to start by reiterating what I said in the Guide to Accessibility:
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.
This should extend to mental health issues that can have an impact on a person’s game.

A player should take responsibility for their own health and well being however, as an event organiser, we also have a responsibility toward our players that we are not making things unduly difficult.

In general terms:

  • Include disability in your equality statement. Let people know that ableist language and prejudice will not be tolerated.
  • Extend disability to include mental health disability as well as physical disability.
  • 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 can have panic attacks 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 player with an impairment a head start doesn't work if all players have the same head start.

Begin at the beginning

The first step in any LARP is telling your players about the game and getting them to book. It is important to consider accessibility at this stage, as people with access needs will want to know early on if this is a LARP they can play.

  • Make the style and genre of your game as clear as possible: will it be a one day game or a weekend? Horror, action or mystery?
  • Have a clear tolerance policy available early on.
    • Include a statement on how you will handle mental health in the game - both thematically and players needs.
    • Make it clear what your process is for dealing with infractions of the tolerance policy and/or complaints.
  • Make sure information is provided clearly and with summaries where possible.
  • Provide contact information so that potential players can contact you with queries.
  • You may want to include a “content warning” stating that you may include or exclude certain sensitive issues.
    • This may overlap with your tolerance policy in areas like sexism and racism.
  • State how triggers will be handled i.e. avoided completely; on a case by case basis; through clear signposts etc

Becky has generalised anxiety disorder and can not play traumatic horror games without exacerbating it. She sees a game announced that may be fun but it isn’t clear if it will have a lot of horror elements. She is able to email the organiser and get clarification, which they then add to the game description, that it is a horror event. Becky decides to pass on this game and is glad she didn’t put herself in a bad situation.

Charlie is concerned that mental health will be portrayed with bad stereotypes during the game and that they might be made fun of. They are relieved to see that this is addressed specifically in the tolerance policy and that mockery of mental illness will not be permitted.

Signing Up

Once your player is interested, they have to send in a booking form to secure their place. Keep in mind advice from above to make the booking form clear and accessible. You can use your booking form to help determine further accommodations.

  • It’s not necessary to ask for a player’s gender but if you do, make it optional and include non-binary options.
    • Consider having an optional space to put preferred pronouns.*
  • When asking for relevant medical information, be clear that this can include any mental health issues or provide a separate question.
    • This must be kept confidential or on a “need to know” basis
  • You may wish to ask people to state triggers or phobias.
    • If you do ask for triggers and phobias consider asking for further information i.e. “must avoid” or “I will need warning”.
    • Think carefully about how you will handle triggers in game and give players the option to email/talk to you in advance.
  • You may consider asking if there is a person or persons the player would particularly like to be grouped with or play alongside. Conversely you may want to ask if there is anybody they wish to limit contact with.
    • This may be most beneficial in games with pre-generated characters, or strong crew generated plot.
    • Asking if there are individuals that they want to avoid could be controversial. Have a good idea how how you would deal with this. Even without the option on a booking form a player may contact you privately.

Jay has PTSD associated with burns. They list this as a trigger. The event organisers ask if they could provide clarification and Jay explains that people phy-repping burn scars is ok but they would have difficulty with it occurring in play. The organisers say that they won’t be including any “fire damage” skills. Jay is satisfied with this.

Lucy needs help recovering from dissociative episodes and has a trusted friend who is playing. The organisers suggest several ways that Lucy and her friend can play together and will consider this when writing plot.

Food And Catering

Food and eating can cause stress for some people and you should bare in mind that some people may have or be recovering from eating disorders. This section mainly includes general good practice as opposed to specific ideas for accommodating mental illness.

  • Try and give approximate meal times in advance so that people can plan accordingly.
    • People taking medication may need to know when to schedule doses around eating.
  • Do not joke about or shame people about what or how they eat. Make sure this is relayed to catering staff or whoever is serving so that people aren’t pressured into extra portions.
  • Some players may need a private OOC space to eat in, to avoid anxiety or triggers relating to eating in front of people. 

    addendum (29th April): If you are providing hot drinks make sure there are decafinated options (herbal tea, rooibos, decaf etc) as caffeine can interact with some mental health conditions.

Rowan needs to take his medication half an hour before eating and asks if there is a schedule and if he can be noted if there will be any delays. The organisers provide a basic itinerary of meal times and liaise with the caterers.

David has OCD relating to how food is arranged on a plate and is concerned that this will cause difficulty or that they will be mocked. The organisers are able to reassure zir that crew and players will be required to be respectful, they also talk to the caterers and ask that David’s needs are known and will be managed properly - a special plate will be put aside for zir at each meal sitting.

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.

Now head on over to Part Two - the logistics! Part Three is for plot and rules

*To clarify, this is not to suggest that a nonbinary gender is a mental health issue itself. However, some people experience anxiety or dysphoria surrounding misgendering, and correct pronouns can help.

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