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Black and white clip art depiction of audio being turned into a transcript.

Black and white clip art depiction of audio being turned into a transcript. On the left, the sound is depicted by a pair of headphones with an audio wave going between the two ears pads. A simple black arrow goes from left to right. On the right, the transcript is represented by a stylized typed document.

 

In order to make these transcripts as accessible as possible, each one is produced in four formats: as an online post for access convenience, in a word document with a low vision friendly font (Veranda), in a pdf with a dyslexia friendly font (OpenDyslexic), and a low contrast blue on black pdf as an access option for people with migraines (Veranda).

 

Writing Alchemy Bonus Cast 7 – Creating Accessible Settings

Note: “*” is used to indicate music and sound effects that were added to the original recording.

[*Happy, bouncy, electronic music plays and then fades out.]

FAY ONYX: Hello and welcome to Writing Alchemy Bonus Cast Number Seven. I’m Fay Onyx and today I’m going to talk about creating accessible settings.

There will be a more detailed update after the discussion, but I wanted to let you all know that my family just finished the worst part of moving, which is something that has been especially difficult for me personally. This move, and all of the things leading up to it, has been slowing down my ability to produce new content for a while. However, because I am participating in International Podcast Month, an event which is happening right now this September, I will be releasing two collaboration episodes this month. The first is a discussion about accessibility in role-playing games and the second is a folklore-inspired adventure with two new heroes. More details about both of these projects is coming up in the updates at the end of this episode.

And now I’m going to quickly mention that you can follow Writing Alchemy on twitter @ Writing underscore Alchemy, hashtag AlchemyCast, and on facebook at facebook dot com slash Writing Alchemy. You can find the show notes, with links, complete music and sound effect credits, and the transcript at Writing Alchemy dot net, where you can also find all of my podcasts, articles, stories, and other content. And if you want to help me keep this podcast going, you can pledge your support on patreon at patreon dot com slash writing alchemy, or make a donation through Ko-fi.

[*Bouncy jazz music fades in and out.]

Today’s discussion was prompted by a question from Kiera on the Mythcreants blog.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Mythcreants, they are both a blog and podcast that discusses storytelling in speculative fiction. One of the things I enjoy the most about their work is that they have a solid understanding of how oppression works. And, not only do they have episodes and articles on social justice topics, they also bring that knowledge into other discussions.

Their work, and especially the Mythcreants podcast, is very entertaining and frequently funny. I don’t like a lot of writing podcasts, but I really love the Mythcreants podcast.

I have been collaborating with the folks at Mythcreants for a while and I’ve been a guest on six of their podcast episodes, including three that came out recently. The first is called “Avoiding the Fridge,” which is about creating tragic events in stories without furthering oppression. The second is about creating healthy magic school learning environments. And the third is about harmful disability tropes. I’ll put links to all three of these in the show notes.

I am also the Mythcreants’ disability consultant. So, when Kiera sent them her question, it was passed along to me and I was the one who got to answer it in the Mythcreants’ Q & A segment.

Here is Kiera’s question:

“I am writing a non-magical fantasy story set in a low-tech world that is primarily composed of city-states with limited regional authority. I am trying to work out what kinds of seemingly realistic accommodations could/would be in place for disabled people. Culturally, I am trying to craft a world whose prejudices are very distinct from Earthly ones: no sexuality, gender-related, disability-related, or “race”-related discrimination exists. I am not trying to be “realistic” in terms of portraying the accommodations that the real past or the real present offers; I am trying to be realistic in a very optimistic, yet low-tech way, when it comes to accommodations. Do you have any advice for me?”

Well, since creating accessible settings is something that I think about a lot, I was excited to put some of my ideas on this down in writing.

I am going to be reading my answer here (with permission from both the Mythcreants and Kiera, of course). And, because I had a lot more thoughts than I had time to write down in my text answer, I’m going to be adding some of these additional thoughts into this discussion.

So, here is my answer, with extra comments:

“A lot of the time when people think about accessibility, they think about adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs and prosthetics. While adaptive equipment matters, it is important to keep in mind that the structure of the society plays a big role in shaping people’s accessibility needs. For example, cities with lots of stairs, but few ramps or elevators, create a need for wheelchairs that can climb stairs. In contrast, there isn’t a need for wheelchairs that can climb stairs in a city where all of the buildings have ramps and elevators. This is why it is helpful to start with broader aspects of social structure, such as the architecture and social norms, when designing an accessible society.”

And really, whether a setting is low tech or high tech, accessible or inaccessible, examining the role that society plays in shaping accessibility needs is huge part of figuring out what the experience of disability is going to be like in a specific setting. It is also a huge part of figuring out what accessibility will be like.

This core idea comes from the social model of disability, which is all about identifying the ways that society contributes to the experience of disability by creating accessibility barriers and/or failing to provide space for different people’s needs.

I also want to add that, unless you are intentionally exploring ableism in your setting, please err on the side of accessibility. There is just so much ableism already present in stories; there’s a lot of need for spaces that aren’t ableist.

“For architecture, I recommend researching accessible architecture. There are many aspects of accessible architecture that can be achieved at lower technology levels. For example, using ramps instead of stairs, and using curves instead of sharp corners. On the smaller scale, things like using round tables and diverse seating options are also very achievable. Keep in mind that different people have different accessibility needs, so it helps to avoid uniformity, and instead provide multiple options.”

Another key phrase you can search for is “universal design.”

And, for those looking for a detailed example, I recommend checking out the DeafSpace design movement and how it is being implemented at Gallaudet University. (As always, I have links in the show notes.)

“Also, it is worth thinking about how ancient technology could be used by a society that cared more about accessibility. For example, while electric elevators are a relatively recent invention, humans have been using crane technology since ancient times. A society that wanted to could adapt this crane technology into something like an elevator.”

The BBC documentary, Secrets of the Castle, shows people using a large, medieval crane on a construction site. It is basically a giant hamster wheel that two people control by walking forwards or backwards in unison. It’s pretty awesome! I recommend checking it out.

“The social structure of a society also has a big impact on accessibility. It is important to avoid situations where there is only one way to participate in something. Instead, create social situations where either the behavior of the group adjusts to meet individual needs, or where there is a range of ways for people to participate. For example, having quiet spaces at large community celebrations provides space for those people who are overwhelmed by crowds. Another important behavior is open communication where people set expectations and ask about accessibility needs while events are still being planned.”

So, for example, some conventions now have specifically designated quiet rooms. Personally, I can’t express how awesome it is to have a space to decompress from the overstimulation that happens at cons. I would love so much for this to be a more common practice for large events and public spaces.

Also, I wanted to point out that, because different people have different accessibility needs, there is no one-size-fits-all method for being accessible. There certainly are some best practices that people can follow, like making sure spaces are fully wheelchair accessible, and it is important to make those practices standard whenever possible. However, an important part of being accessible is making space for people’s individual needs.

And sometimes people have conflicting accessibility needs. For example, when scheduling Unfamiliar Heroes games for this podcast I’ve run into issues where some people function better in the morning and others need to spend their mornings doing self-care that allows them to become more functional in the evenings.

This is why communication and involving disabled participants in the planning process is so important. And the earlier that communication starts, the more positive the process of creating accommodations has the potential to be.

For example, it is easier to plan an event at a place and time that is accessible to all participants (especially if it’s a smaller group), than it is to change the place or time of an already scheduled event. In addition, as a disabled person, I can say that in my experience it feels so much better to have your needs be one the many criteria that goes into planning something, than it is to have your needs cause people to make changes to something they’ve already been worked on.

“When it comes to adaptive equipment, things like wheelchairs and prosthetics have been around in some form for a long time. A little research into this history should provide a reasonable starting point for deciding what form these items will take in your setting. Keep in mind that a society that cares more about accessibility will put more effort into developing adaptive equipment, so it makes sense to error on the side of optimism and make sure that the accessibility needs of the characters are being met.”

In order to do this, it is important to start by figuring out the basics of the societal framework that characters exist in. Once that is in place, then it is possible to figure out the accessibility needs of individual characters and go from there to the devices and accommodations they use to live their lives.

And I just want to close by saying that, given how little positive depiction of disability there currently is, I think it is particularly important to depict disabled characters that are able to fully and actively participate in the important events of their stories and to model what it looks like when a character’s accessibility needs are met.

So that’s my thoughts on accessible settings. I hope that you enjoyed it!

Now it’s time for the updates:

As I mentioned, my family just finished the worst part of moving, but there is a lot left to do, a lot, and it is taking up a lot of my capacity. Moving is something that is very difficult for me. It takes huge toll on my physical and mental resources. I don’t normally struggle with depression, but moving makes it hard for me to do the self-care that keeps my moods more stable, so I’m dealing with both anxiety and depression right now.

It’s been rough, but we are all hanging in there and doing our best to support each other through this.

Because of the limitations created by my disability, moving has been much more of a sustained effort than it might be for an ablebodied, neurotypical person. Consequently, it has been consuming most of my physical and mental capacity for the past months, and before that, the house hunting and purchasing process was already taking up a lot of time. However, now that we are into our new home, the lack of specific deadlines does mean that I am already starting to ease back into doing art and podcasting.

I know that I’ve been saying this for a while, but I can’t wait to get back to a more regular podcasting schedule and finishing this move is kind of the last big final obstacle to that. So I really do feel like that possibility is on horizon. However, for the moment I do need to focus on compassion, patience, and self-care as my whole family gets through this process.

I can’t thank you all enough for your understanding and compassion with all of the life changes I am going through.

And, because of the two collaborations I’m doing for International Podcast Month, a month long celebration that is happening right now, I have two new episodes to share with you this month. I am so excited about that!

The first is a forty five minute discussion is called “Accessibility in RPGs” and it is already up on the International Podcast month feed. This episode will be released in the Writing Alchemy feed on Thursday, September 12th.

Here is the teaser for it: “In this episode, Fay, Mimsy, and Rhi dive deep into how the RPG community can become a more accessible and welcoming space for disabled players, GMs, and designers. Learn about some of the excellent work that Fay and Mimsy are already doing in this space, and leave with plenty of ideas on how to play, run, and make games that are better for all players.”

The second collaboration is a folklore-inspired adventure called “Pandora Files: The Case of the Missing Hope.” This episode will go up on the International Podcast Month feed on Saturday, September 14th. One week later, on Saturday, September 21st, it will go up on the Writing Alchemy feed.

This is a one shot role-playing game that will be posted as a single two-hour episode that is a complete, self-contained story. It is set in the Kingdom of Tome, a setting that is a creative mash-up of different stories and genres, including fairy tales and mythology.

Here is the teaser for the game: “Several storybook characters have gone missing from the kingdom of Tome. Making things worse, a Storyteller has just disappeared. Frecka and Salvinia, Agents of Pandora, were assigned to the search for Loren Hope. Will the two agents be able to crack a case that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men have failed to piece together?”

This was an awesome game and I can’t wait to share it with all of you!

And, thanks to the amazing Larcie, plus all of the participants in this game, we have completed the transcript so that it can be posted with the episode. So, regardless of where you listen to it on the International Podcast Month feed or the Writing Alchemy feed, transcripts!

And all this is happening as part of International Podcast Month, which is an annual podcast event that takes place in September. This is its second year and it’s growing quickly.

International Podcast Month is a celebration of podcasting and community where a bunch of different podcasts come together to release mini episodes, crossover episodes, creator conversations, and blog articles. Throughout the month of September, something new is released every single day, often multiple things.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am on the IPM organizational team. One of the things I am most excited about is our team’s commitment to accessibility. This includes making participants more aware of types of oppression that happen in the podcast community, including things like common ableist language and certain ableist tropes, as well as other forms of oppression.

In addition, many of the episodes this year have transcripts, which can all be found on the transcripts page of the International Podcast Month website.

I encourage all of you to check out the International Podcast Month feed, where you can also find last year’s episodes. Just search for International Podcast Month in your favorite podcast app, or follow the link in the show notes.

And thank you for listening! I look forward to talking with you again soon.

[*Bouncy jazz music fades in and then comes to an end.]

 

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