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Writing Alchemy Collaboration 1 – Accessibility in RPGs

[Happy, bouncy, electronic music plays.]

Fay Onyx: This is a special collaboration episode that was created for the 2019 International Podcast Month event. This diverse and inclusive event is all about celebration, building community, and sharing our love of podcasting. I highly recommend checking it out.

Rhi: Happy International podcast month. In this episode, we’re going to be talking about accessibility and disability in tabletop RPGs. There are a lot of systemic, society-level barriers that can block disabled people from participating in games. These barriers can range from poor PDF design to lack of space for wheelchairs to ableist content in the games themselves. So today, we’re going to shine some light on these issues and on what the RPG community can do better. My name is Rhi, pronouns are she and her. I am the GM and producer of the Magpies Podcast, a Blades in the Dark actual play. I also run Skill Check, which provides copy editing and digital document accessibility services to the RPG community. I will be acting as moderator for this conversation. And I’m joined by some really fantastic people from the RPG community.

Fay Onyx: My name is Fay Onyx and I use ze and hir pronouns. I have an invisible physical disability, and I’m also neurodivergent. And so I do for a bit of work with disability in my podcast, which is called Writing Alchemy. And currently, it’s focused on a tabletop roleplaying game series that does one shots and short games in a range of different genres that center heroes with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and divergent minds, which are then played by people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and divergent minds.

I also create a lot of resources around disability and accessibility in tabletop roleplaying games and storytelling that are on my website, This includes pages of links to various accessibility resources for tabletop roleplaying games, a series of articles about addressing ableism and tabletop role playing games. And I’m also collecting a list of disability consultants for geeky projects that I’m always looking to add more people to, in the hopes that we can help further the conversation and help make more amazing content that is fully accessible. I am also working on a rules light, high fantasy, whimsical and humorous game system called Magic Goes Awry that is designed to be accessible to a wide range of people.

Rhi: That’s awesome. So much going on! (laughs)

Fay Onyx: I have a lot of projects! (laughs)

Mimsy: Well, hi everybody, I’m Mimsy and I use they/them pronouns. I’m one of the moderators for the largest 5th edition group on Facebook, we’re about 130,000 members strong at the moment, so that takes up a lot of my time. I have multiple disabilities and neurodivergencies, and I’m starting work soon as an American Sign Language Interpreter in a school system. So I deal with other disabled students and people like every day, that’s kind of my job now. So that’s really exciting, providing access that I didn’t always get growing up. I’m also nonbinary. It actually sounds like most of us are at this point.

Rhi: (laughs) I think I think I’m the odd one out.

Mimsy: Oh, you can be our token cis.

Rhi: Yeah. (laughs)

Mimsy: So I don’t have a lot of official projects going on, I guess. But I am working with Jess Dempsey with DOTS RPG project for blind and visually impaired gamers and I work with Misty Vander with ASL for RPG, where we’re finding American Sign Language signs to go with tabletop RPG concepts.

Rhi: That’s awesome.

Mimsy: So, great projects that I’ve been working on behind the scenes for a while. Doing stuff now.

Rhi: Yeah, I’ve done a little bit of work with DOTS. I did some mailing around to game stores in the Chicagoland area. And yeah, they do awesome work.

So to start our conversation off, kind of the first question and topic to discuss, how do each of you define an accessible tabletop RPG experience? What–What does that include?

Fay Onyx: Okay, I have so many thoughts on this, but I don’t want to dominate the discussion or anything. (laughs)

Rhi: Yeah. (laughs)

Fay Onyx: But since no one else is jumping in. So there are three main factors I think about for an accessible experience. The first is the accessibility of the game environment. So that’s everything from the physical accessibility of the space, to the accessibility of the game system and game materials, to the accessibility of the social environment. So there’s a wide range of stuff there.

But then there’s another aspect, which is the content of the game. And whether or not it’s possible to create disabled characters that are able to fully participate in the adventure. And whether there’s ableism in the game system, and how it prevents–or not prevents, presents different like disabilities or like if there’s like, for example, a sanity system, which is presenting like stereotypes around mental illness and neurodivergence. So that’s like the game content.

And then the third thing is kind of, I kind of think of as like, is oppression being dealt with consciously. Because people aren’t just one thing, people have intersecting identities and experiences. And it’s important to make things accessible to folks around disability, but also all of the other identities that they have. So making sure that there’s not, you know, sexist patterns, like kidnapped princesses, or whatever, or other forms of oppression, that aren’t being consciously dealt with, but are just in the game, and making it so people can’t fully participate. So that’s not to say that you can’t deliberately deal with a sexist world or a homophobic world, but it like to deal with it consciously rather than just recreating homophobia in a game or sexism in a game. Just because, you know…

Rhi: “It’s realistic.” (laughs) In this world, where we have dragons, and magic and whatnot, yeah, yeah, that’s, I think, a really, really good kind of overview of a lot of the elements that go into this.

Mimsy: Well, if I can piggyback off of what was just said, first of all, I agree with everything that ze said. That is–That was very succinct and well put. My general rule for like, like a simple like, yes, no checklist was this accessible for me is generally if the environment and content purposefully made people or inadvertendly made people feel marginalized through experiencing it. I think especially the inadvertent aspect is really important because a lot of times, people can do things that are inaccessible, or even ableist without ever knowing.

Fay Onyx: Mm-hm.

Mimsy: Especially because there’s such a wide spectrum of needs and perspectives that come into gaming. Like how Facebook knows me from the moderator status. On Twitter, I’m known for two things in the tabletop community, I made a primer on how to play trans and non-binary characters after we got the Blessings of Correllon. And I’m known for the fact that Matt Mercer and I had a discussion on ableism in Critical Role when there was a signed interpretation of the theme song in ASL that was not exactly up to snuff.

Fay Onyx: Ooooh.

Rhi: Oof.

Mimsy: No offense to the signer in the question, we’ve had a great discussion, they learned from it. But they did not realize that it was a problem for hearing signers who had never taken a class to perform music publicly in a hearing audience and to get praise for it, while deaf signers are told that they’re not welcome. So we were able to start this great discussion on making communities that are aware of and check their own ableism, even when it’s something that like, you genuinely mean well. And then that doesn’t like–I know that we can try to include things like racism, or transphobia, or trans analogies in our games. And then we are proud of ourselves. We discussed a great topic, look at us go. And then you bring it to, like the people in the community. And they’re like, Oh, no. Please fix that.

Rhi: Yeah. (laughs)

Mimsy: I think the best example of an accessible game for me, in fact, actually never had to do with disability. I went to a women and nonbinary game day with Paige Leitman, one of the admins for the fifth edition group and a wonderful woman. And just having an environment that was actively looking for marginalized people inherently made it a more accessible place, because I felt safe to say, hey, I need you to face me if you’re talking to me, I can’t see your lips. Or I’m so sorry, can we not say that word? Because I think one of the biggest barriers to accessibility in open gaming spaces like Adventurers League and cons is that a lot of us are afraid to ask for access because there’s such a precedent of being denied.

Fay Onyx: Yeah.

Mimsy: So I think definitely making that environment that is welcome is a great first step. And then obviously, a system that’s accessible’s ideal.

Rhi: Yeah.

Mimsy: It’s not as relevant for me, because with hearing, like, the ideal that I would want would be a signed Player’s Handbook. And that’s just never going to happen, much as I would like for it to. But even when that’s not possible, and moving on to the content, and how we’re handling those topics, like as Fay was discussing, like, are we having this like ableism in our face? And it’s just something we have to struggle with in our escape? Or is it even being handled well, or like, I know, in the 5th edition group today, I had to ban people for using ableist slurs, and they were like, I don’t see why this word is a problem. And then like, that’s okay, you don’t have to understand. But you have to understand that it hurts other people.

Fay Onyx: Mmm. Mm-hm.

Mimsy: So getting those diverse perspectives in is really important in the content aspect too. Like, I know, that’s why I was added to the fifth edition group, as the moderator team, they were like, wow, we don’t know what to do for trans things. We don’t have as many disabled perspectives as we need. We need that perspective. And they recruited me for that specifically. We need content creators to also be going, wow, I have a character who’s mentally ill. And I don’t know if that’s offensive, because I’m not. Or even if I am, you know, there’s quite a few mental illnesses and neurodivergencies out there. Other feedback, so accessibility is going from the ground up to the content and system, all the way up to the environment that it’s playing in, and making sure that all of those are respectful and inclusive and openly welcoming and not just not oppressive.

Rhi: Yeah, that’s really great that that group, like was aware of enough that they had, you know, kind of these gaps in knowledge and experience and deliberately reached out to be like, Hey, we need people who can speak to this lived experience, and help us make sure that this space is going to be better.

Definitely seems like in the last couple of years that the kind of RPG community has started being more and more, you know, the broad RPG community of you know, players, and, you know, the big companies and indie developers, and all of that, have really started being more aware of the fact that these are major considerations that they need to keep in mind when working on these designs and things.

Fay Onyx: One of the things that I’ve noticed is, in terms of making things accessible, there’s kind of a cultural shift in how we do things. And you know, just little things like, when you’re starting a game, like one of the first things you do is you check in and see what people’s needs are, and what people are going to need to access space in terms of players. But also like–Do you think maybe, like, cultural norms are starting to change in terms of like there’ve been previous norms, that people are starting to realize are barriers and starting to shift to different norms? So for example, if things are being color coded, like, you know, people who are colorblind are not going to be able to access that. And you know, just like norms about even like how books are physically presented. Are folks kind of noticing like, a shift in that? In terms of like, once these big companies start to put in the effort and money, it kind of almost sets like a different cultural tone, where people start to get in the habit of doing things differently in a more accessible way.

Mimsy: Something I’ve noticed in the fifth edition group that I haven’t been able to see face to face because I don’t go to like Adventures League and open tables very often because they’re for one not accessible. And also, a lot of cis testosterone, I get enough testosterone from the pharmacy, I don’t need more in my life.

Rhi: (laughs)

Mimsy: But one thing I’ve noticed from being able to talk to other gamers and seeing literally 100,000 gamers interact with all the time is–that’s not the actual number. Don’t quote me on that.

Rhi: (laughs)

Fay Onyx: (laughs)

Mimsy: Anyway, there’s been a shift towards not necessarily just with accessibility, but there’s just been a shift towards one more representation in 5E. We’re getting more people of color and more women in art, and they’re less sexualized and less stereotyped. And that’s great.

Rhi: Yeah.

Fay Onyx: Yeah.

Mimsy: And we have same-sex couples and nonbinary characters, and trans characters and trans player characters being supported by the developers. So we’re having a shift in the stores of the people you’re interacting with, because people who are racist and sexist and homophobic and transphobic aren’t playing the games with the trans character and the strong women and the strong people of color, which is great, I don’t want them in my games. So we’re seeing this in general, a friendlier store environment, which inherently makes a better environment for people who have other needs, or I guess the standard needs of access in respecting communication that we’re not given. But it’s easier to ask for those when you have like, inherently friendly and welcoming environments, which is what I was talking about earlier, with Paige’s game day.

Rhi: Yeah, I had I started playing D&D, mostly in college with a group of friends there, and then we all like hit our 30s. And suddenly, nobody had time. And we’ve just recently started getting back together. After–we probably haven’t played together, like five or six years, and we’re playing Fifth Edition. And the way that I approach running a game now, just because of kind of what I’ve absorbed from the community about, you know, having a session zero session, you know, safety tools conversation, finding out like, what people need in terms of, you know, how long do we want sessions to go? Like, how, how long can people stay focused on things? And that’s a total, total shift from when we started playing where it was just like, all right, we’re playing D&D, and we’re all just going to assume that everybody is on the same page about how that’s gonna work.

Mimsy: I was thinking about it after because my brain can’t process things in coherent chunks. When we were talking about how the friendly environment like itself makes an environment where you feel safer asking for accommodations, we also have to keep in mind that there is–there are some disabilities and there are neurodivergencies and conditions and situations, because I don’t want to label everything that disability when the community itself does not, that we just don’t have accessibility for and we can’t. For example, as I said, we’re not going to get a signed interpretation of a player’s Handbook, much as I want that with my greedy little heart, I would love it, but we’re not going to get it. And we have to keep in mind that deaf people, statistically, on average, by the time they’re adults have a third grade reading level if their primary language is English, or if they’re familiar with just American Sign Language rather than English, because they’re not using a language that has a written form.

So sometimes, when I look at the players Handbook, I get confused because I’ve had so many concussions, I don’t actually know the number for it anymore. So I’ve had a lot of TBI. And it’s really hard for me to string those together. And the same thing can be true because I’m autistic. And I know many other autistic players who were like, all right, autistic friends who get this particular chunk, rephrase it translated into our brain. The fact that we have a friendlier gaming environment now means that I’m okay going up to someone else and going, I don’t understand any of that, please let me know. Whereas in gaming environments where I’m not comfortable, I will either not play or play wrong, or be playing okay, but not know that and I’ll just be so anxious the whole time that I’m not really playing, I’m just having a panic attack in front of dice.

Rhi: (sympathetic) Ohhh.

Mimsy: But we’re in an environment where I feel comfortable with literally hundreds of people that I can–I can message them and be like, I don’t understand anything from like the basic rules, please explain. And I don’t feel like they would judge me for that. And also, I should hope that I think that they wouldn’t judge me even without knowing why I need it. Because we just have a welcoming game environment here. And I think that makes it a lot easier, because sometimes we can’t provide accessibility. I don’t know many signers who play the game that I can ask questions to, there are some but not a lot where I can get it in ASL. But even then I do know that I can, even without being able to–the system can’t give me that access I need. But I know that I can trust its community, at least my curated perspective of the community I interact with, to get as close to access as we can.

Rhi: Yeah, yeah, that’s really good.

Fay Onyx: I think that’s a really good point. Because I think one of the things as like a game designer, I’m super aware of, is the fact that it’s not possible to make one game that meets everyone’s accessibility needs. So for example, a rules-light game system is something I’ve used with a lot of folks who have various cognitive disabilities, which can make things like less rules, less math, more accessible. But I definitely have friends who really like more rules-heavy systems, because their brains really kind of need very clear explicit outcomes for everything. And so I think it’s also important to keep in mind that there is like, there is no like, way to make one game system fully accessible to all people. In terms of how everyone’s brains work.

Rhi: Yeah, yeah, there’s no one size fits all for accessibility. That’s my–a lot of my accessibility work is in higher ed. And that’s a conversation that we have a lot, particularly kind of with the–sort of springboarding off of your example there of rules, light first rules heavy of the like competing accommodations. What do you when somebody’s accommodate, like, you know, someone has a, you know, an accommodation that directly conflicts with somebody else’s? Well, you know, what do you do in that situation?

So that kind of jumps into the dimension of game design. One of the other questions that I have is, if you could give one piece of advice to RPG designers about accessibility, what what would that piece of advice be?

Fay Onyx: I guess my biggest piece of advice for RPG designers, if you can afford it, hire a consultant. And don’t just depend on folks in your group who have disabilities to do the job of a consultant. Hire someone whose specific area of expertise is making game materials and game content accessible.

And that’s kind of like the biggest thing, but because like not everyone can afford to do that. I do have a piece of advice that goes for, I guess, any game designer, which is to keep in mind that disability is really diverse, and that different people experienced disability in different ways. So one of the biggest things that I notice people tripping over, is in game design, especially the in-game content, is the idea that people can experience disability as a limitation. So I have a chronic back condition, which is like this, it prevents me from doing certain things like lifting heavy objects, or standing for long periods of time, there’s a lot of things my back condition limits me from.

But there’s another way to experience disability, which is to experience it as a difference that’s neither better nor worse. And my anxiety is actually something I experience this way, because it’s part of how my brain works, which is basically my brain is thinking through lots of things all at once, which can get really overwhelming and cause me to be anxious. But it’s also extremely powerful and useful in terms of analyzing things, noticing nuance, it’s–at organizing, planning, it’s really powerful. So I don’t experience my anxiety as just something that limits my life. It’s also my greatest strength.

So I think the thing that I’ve noticed is game designers will latch on to one or the other experience of disability and present disability in the game as that way. But the problem with that is, is when someone has a certain experience of their disability, that’s a very–for many people, very intense personal experience. And if they come across disability in a game system that’s presenting disability as only the other way of experiencing disability, it can be really painful and invalidating. And so one of the bigger challenges in representing disability within game content is to make room for both experiences.

Rhi: Yeah, that’s, that’s a really, really good point.

Mimsy: Well, before ze talked, my–the little blurb in my head, because I try to have like, a header for all of my thought rambles, was, you know, talk to people get those perspectives, but I think that ze made a really great point that it needs to be those diverse perspectives on that disability, or aspect of a character. Because disabled people are not a monolith. And even inside of communities, we are not a monolith. There are deaf individuals who are oral or who use American Sign Language or who use manually coded English, which is technically hands-up signing, but not at all like sign language. It’s very–well, not like American Sign Language–it’s very English. It’s grammar based, it’s not understandable for ASL-only users. There’s deaf people who have–we call them capital-D Deaf, they are proud of their identity that we don’t view it as a disability. We view it as this great cultural identity and community that we’re a part of. And then there’s obviously deaf people who consider that a disability, especially if they lost hearing later in life. Just the fact that I said last hearing, whereas in the community, we say deaf gain. Hearing loss, deaf gain, it’s two sides of the coin.

And we definitely only get representation for one of those in the 5th edition group. Like once a week, I have to delete a post that’s like, “what limitations would being deaf give me?” I’m not sure but this group is not the one to find out. A couple days ago, someone was like, What limitations would PTSD give me and, like, great, we’re not talking about that either. We’re not doing that!

Rhi: Oh, no. (laughing)

Mimsy: But we get a lot of view of disability as limits. People don’t understand that it can be for one neutral, or a source of pride and contentment and belonging, that the community that comes from disability can be stronger than the burdens that the other–that outsiders place on disabled people because it’s not–if you use the social view of disability, it’s not the fact that I can’t hear, it’s the fact that people can’t sign.

Fay Onyx: Mm-hm.

Mimsy: Like, you hear the phrase “hearing impaired” a lot. And the deaf community considers that like a slur, basically. I come back often with signing impaired. “Are you hearing impaired?” and I was like, “Oh, are you signing impaired? Okay, thanks for letting me know.” It’s invasive. And it’s something that we hear all the time, because people don’t understand the other aspects of disability. Also, we don’t have–we almost never see the intersection, intersectionality of disability we don’t see deafblind people represented, without it becoming like inspiration porn, we don’t see people of color who are disabled.

And we also just don’t see the word disabled without being told we can’t use it. “Person first language, it’s people with disabilities.” “Oh, I know that you’re deaf. But the correct term is hearing impaired.”

Fay Onyx: (laughs) Hooo.

Mimsy: We just–we don’t get authentic genuine disabled voices without abled people telling us we’re wrong. Ever, pretty much. So I think that it’s very important to get those diverse perspectives when you’re building your game, or making your module or whatever. And then also, it’s really important to believe them.

Rhi: (laughs)

Fay Onyx: Yeahhhhh.

Mimsy: Yeah, I’ve seen consultants who are paid and never listened to.

Fay Onyx: (sympathetic hum)

Mimsy: “Oh, thank you for sharing your perspective. I’ve decided it’s wrong.”

Rhi:Yeah, it’s like, “I’m just gonna keep going in the direction I was originally going. And thanks for your time.”

Mimsy: And I think sometimes people don’t want to have to redo their work. But I think mostly people don’t want to admit that fundamentally, they thought of another being as lesser. And they don’t want to acknowledge that because they don’t mean to, they don’t think about it. They go, “Oh, he’s in a wheelchair.” “Oh, they took an autistic person to prom.” “Oh, my God, this baby got a cochlear implant? And can you hear his mother for the first time?” Well, I want to see that baby signing mother for the first time, I want to see those autistic people standing up for themselves and having that autonomy. I want to see that person–that wheelchair user, I almost used person-first language and I am deeply ashamed.

Rhi: (laughs)

Mimsy: I want to see that wheelchair user having accessible sidewalks. And I want all of those to be represented for themselves. That we get that autonomy and self-representation that we’re not getting. And we’re just–we’re never going to get it unless people are getting those consultants and taking feedback from the community. We’re not going to get it if we have hearing people playing deaf actors and people who can walk as wheelchair users and sighted people as blind characters. We don’t get those.

Fay Onyx: Mm-hm.

Mimsy: So it’s really this whole media and cultural shift. It’s not just our games, it’s also thinking critically about other media we consume and how that reflects what you see in your games. Oh, my blind person is a stereotype. What blind people am I seeing? What blind people am I interacting with? And are they in fact, sighted people characters? And I’m not interacting with disabled people. And what can I do to fix that?

Rhi: Yeah, it’s the–the idea of like, we’re just in this very ableist culture. And yeah, like the thing about, you know, hearing impaired or visually impaired, I write a ton of material and guides on accessibility at my job. And there was a point like, two or three years ago, where I learned that those terms are like, at best not preferred. And I think, you know, it sounds like more accurately, like offensive. And I was just like, oh, okay, well, time to sit here and do some Control-F and just get that all out of here. Yeah, it’s there’s, there’s just so much to unlearn. That just gets baked in by society. So yes, uh, any–any aspiring game designers or current game designers listening? Check out Fay’s list of consultants and reach out to those fine people.

Fay Onyx: (laughs) Absolutely. Can I add something? I know you’re gonna have way too much material.

Rhi: Yeah, yeah!

Fay Onyx: But I think the biggest thing that–’cause we’re talking a lot about the sort of pushback, the sort of not taking advice from folks. And I think the most, the most, when I get into online discussions that don’t go well, (chuckles), about game design and disability. Um, the biggest thing that I run into is the sort of idea of disability isn’t–the only way to portray disability realistically is as a limitation. Or it’s not realistic to portray disability, certain ways, or whatever. And this sort of idea of what’s realistic.

And I think the biggest problem is that we have able-bodied, neurotypical people being trained by society to think that they actually know what is realistic about disability. I mean, this is a common thing with ableism, where people will do stuff like jump in to try to “help” a disabled person without asking them what they actually need, and get in their way, and be condescending. Like, there’s a lot of things like this that happen where it’s like, able-bodied folks are trained to think they know what disability is like. They are trained to think that if they blindfold themselves and walk around for a while, that actually gives them a sense of what it’s like to be blind and it’s not true.

Rhi: Yeah.

Fay Onyx: So there’s a lot of training that society does that makes folks think they actually know what’s realistic about disabilities. But it’s not true. And the only way to find out what’s actually realistic is to talk to folks with disabilities.

Rhi: Yeah, I had to talk some people out of doing one of those kind of like, I think it was a was more of a digital accessibility thing of like, oh, like, turn off your monitor and use a screen reader. And it’s like, no, using a screen reader takes a lot of training and time. And if you just try to go into it with no experience, like, you’re going to think that it’s impossible for someone who’s blind to use a computer because you don’t know how to use this technology.

Fay Onyx: Right.

Rhi: Because you’ve just been introduced to it. And I was like, that’s, well-intentioned. Yeah, but so wrong. Let’s try something else.

Mimsy: That definitely reminds me of when people like when I say, Oh, are you signing impaired? And they’re like, “Well, no, my way–my way is right.” And I’m like, why? They like, they look at hearing and they’re like, “well, they can’t do what I can do. So it’s wrong.” And because of that, then you can explore like, what is what is this range of hearing? What are this diverse group of people with hearing and you just can’t understand it, if your only understanding of deaf people is, if you wear ear buds, like noise cancelling headphones, for one day and walk around town, isn’t it awful? And it is because we have a society of inspiration porn, we don’t get disabled people being authentic, we get disabled people who are cured, or they’re a tragedy–

Rhi: Over–overcoming the disability or in spite of their disability.

Mimsy: “They’re a hero, even though they’re deaf.” “They’re a hero, even though they’re in a wheelchair” Or, “they were a hero, and now they’re in a wheelchair,” or “they were a god, and now they’re mentally ill.” Now everyone’s sad. Like, we just get this narrative of disability and neurodivergency as this failure for a person. And that makes it so that we’re unable to see what other people need.

And also even if we’re disabled, we can also be inaccessible. Like there was one time, I don’t remember what I was saying. But Tyler was like, “Oh, Mimsy, I thought you were about to sightedsplain”, like, mansplaining for vision.

Rhi: (laughs)

Mimsy: And I was like, oh, my goodness, for one. I don’t think I was and I, the people involved didn’t think so either, but two, I could have! And a lot people–I mean, you hear it all the time. I can’t be transphobic, I’m gay. Okay, cool. I’m trans. But also trans people can be transphobic, deaf people can be ableist and audist, which is ableism specifically against deaf people. And deaf people can definitely be ablelist against blind people and wheelchair users and groups that they don’t actually have that much in common with except for the disability umbrella. But like to think that they can.

We don’t get to have those authentic, diverse stories. And we definitely don’t get to see it as a positive, or even just an aspect of character. You know, sometimes my hearing is not the most important thing about me. And that would be really cool. If it could just be another part, um it always has to be, “This is Mimsy, our moderator who’s hard of hearing and that’s relevant because you all are being ablelist.” Or, “oh my god, Mimsy’s on a podcast, even though they can’t listen to podcasts.” And we don’t really get the perspective of what disabled people can and can’t do and how that’s not a hard line. That’s a line. That changes from person to person and then can change day to day for that person.

Fay Onyx: Yeah. So I read an article that actually had like a study in it about like, if you do the mimicking blindness thing, that people who–sighted people who’ve gone through that are less likely to think that blind people are capable of doing things, they’re less likely less likely to hire them, more likely to think that they’re really incapable, just because that’s not the real experience of blindness. That’s the experience of a sighted person being blindfolded.

Rhi: Yeah, yeah, I think I saw that same article. And I used that when I was having to explain to my coworker why this screen reader experience is a bad idea. I was like, actually, you’re going to do more damage.

So kind of to wrap us up our last question here. What are some basic steps that players and GMs, either at a physical table or, you know, playing online, can take to make the games that they run and play in more accessible?

Fay Onyx: So I have a list of three things, which is step one, proactively communicate. So that means don’t put the burden on folks to say their needs, make space for Hey, what are the needs of everyone in the room, or in the email exchange before anything even happens. Because obviously, you need to get the room accessible.

And the second thing is ask don’t assume so this kind of goes back to the the fact that folks are often trained to assume what people’s accessibility needs are, rather than asking people what their accessibility needs are.

And then the third thing is handle mistakes well, which is basically if a mistake happens, focus on the needs of the person with the disability, rather than getting caught up in feelings and about guilt or what happened and focus on the person’s need–the person’s needs, and move forward with meeting their needs. You know, the sort of a quick, simple apology, but put the focus on meeting the person’s needs and move forward with getting those needs met.

Rhi: Yeah, don’t–don’t fall into the “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m the worst” and making the person who’s been like inconvenienced, or harmed or whatever be like, “no, you’re, it’s okay,” pat, pat, pat. That’s, that’s not helpful for anyone.

Fay Onyx: Yeah. And it just makes the thing bigger and more painful for everyone.

Rhi: Yeah, yeah. Mimsy. what, what are your thoughts on this?

Mimsy: I also have three things this time. And they are basically the same!Great minds think alike.

So for one, that communication is so important, I absolutely agree. And so much of it can be done ahead of time. And it needs to come up in session zero, and it doesn’t need to be on the disabled person. Like, if you’re able to, if you can–if you don’t mind doing theater of the mind, or mats and minis, have both. And then once you have everyone together, either ahead of time or there if it’s at like a store, you can say “okay, what do people prefer?” Like, what do you need? I’m not going to assume that theater of the mind works for all of our players, especially maybe if you can’t hear me say where the character is. But I’m, I don’t want to assume. And also like, people will assume, oh, well, we have a blind person at the table, we’re not going to use minis, they won’t know where they are. Okay, well, maybe they can’t read the Player’s Handbook, but they can see the vague shape of where a mini is. And again, not assuming what those needs are, that communication is so important.

Rhi: Oooh!

Fay Onyx: Oooh!

Mimsy: And it can happen at so many stages, and said have check ins I whenever I dm after every single session, especially that’s continued and not a one shot. I say that, and I forgot to this my last game.

Rhi: (laughs)

Mimsy: But nearly every session, I’ll message all the players individually and be like, what was good, what was bad? Is there anything I need to change? Was everything okay? And if not, I will never lash out at you for telling me. Because my second thing, which kind of goes to the you know, prioritizing the needs of the disabled person, is, it’s really important to be okay being wrong. Because everyone’s going to be wrong at some point. And you can’t make it about you and you can’t make it this big deal. Or you’re going to draw attention to the disabled person. And you’re going to put them in a position where they feel like they have to placate you after you have wronged them. But you just have to be okay being wrong. Once or twice in your life, it’s going to happen, I promise.

Rhi: (laughs)

Fay Onyx: Mmm.

Mimsy: Even if you’re perfect. Because if you set yourself up as I am this golden standard with accessibility, and then a blind person goes, “Hey, are you sightedsplaining,” you need to step back and go, Damn it was I? Or you need to go here, let’s talk about it, so I can figure out if I was because you know, I don’t know how I come across to blind people, I’m not blind. So having those discussions and getting this perspective and being wrong is so important.

And then my third thing was really just having–this was not my original third thing I just have concussion brain. So I’m making up a new third thing!–is having as many options as possible, like being aware of that not everything is going to work from every person or for every person. So having this diverse section of things that people can work with, so they can figure out what works for them. Because I might be fine in a game with someone looking at me, but some of my friends might need sign support. I’ve played D&D games with interpreters. I’ve played with signers who used sign-supported speech, so some combo of speaking and signing at the same time, it’s called simultaneous communication or simcom. Not the best thing for ASL grammar. But the best thing for a mixed group, if you don’t have an interpreter.

And that need will vary depending on the person. So making sure that not only are you listening to what they have, but it’s not just, here’s this one option. Yes, no. It’s here are 10 options. If these don’t work, what can we do that will… Being willing to change, I think that was my original one, be willing to change those plans. And meet those needs is really important. But mostly just talk your people–talk to people, like not even yours. Like if you’re making a system you don’t know who’s going to play. So get as many point of views as you can so that you can work for as many people as you can.

Rhi: I feel like the–the big takeaway from–from this episode is going to be talk to people! Communicate!

Fay Onyx: (laughs)

Rhi: Which I feel like is–it’s very good advice in in so many situations.

Mimsy: It’s going to be really novel advice. But really, the big goal is treat disabled people like people. So, communication is nice.

Rhi: Yeah, that’s–that’s a good place, I think to wrap this up. So kind of as, in closing, if we sort of want to go through who we are and where people can find us online. And then if you have any kind of like short, pithy closing thought.

Fay Onyx: So as a reminder, my name is Fay Onyx, and I’m the most active on Twitter. And you can find me–me at writing underscore alchemy, or hashtag alchemycast. You can also find me on facebook at And my website has, again, a whole list of resources, it has a whole section of resources focusing on disability, tabletop roleplaying games, storytelling. It also has my podcast, my game system, links to my social media, a contact form all of those great things. So that’s

And as far as closing thoughts, basically, I had two. Which is that accessibility isn’t just about making games–the gaming environment itself accessible, it is also about making game content accessible as well. And the other one is that shifting to a more accessible way of doing things, is kind of a far-reaching kind of, almost cultural shift. But it has benefits for everyone. It creates more space for everyone, just as Mimsy was saying, with spaces that are more about being inclusive of marginalized people being safer spaces for bringing up accessibility needs. Creating a space that is welcoming of people with disabilities, and basically just the diversity of humanity, makes a better space for everyone to be included with all of their intersecting identities.

Mimsy: Well, again, I’m Mimsy Dorsey and you can find me on Facebook at Mimsy Dorsey–or, nothing secret there. I have various other social medias sometimes have to change their user names because I am trans, disabled, and queer in south–in the south of the U.S. So for safety reasons, I have to change those a lot. So I won’t give those out because it may lead people in a goose chase. That said, if they messaged me on Facebook, I can hook them up with other forms of my social media if they want them.

I feel like I’ve said most of the like lowkey snarky one-liners that I have to say, that will get me yelled at by my friends who will listen to this later. But I just want to end on I guess, and I’ve said it before, but like disabled and marginalized people are people. If you treat us like people, we will be able to come to understandings of what we need to do, or what is feasible to do to make places accessible as long as people are being respected and listened to everything else should eventually work out.

Rhi: And I’m Rhi. You can find me on Twitter at rhiannon42, my podcast is And my copy editing and document accessibility services are on All of these links will be in the show–show notes.

And yeah, I guess my closing thought I think kind of from you know, representing the ABLED perspective which is so under-appreciated in the world. (laughs)

Mimsy: Oh, very.

Fay Onyx: (laughs)

Rhi: For abled people who might be listening to this and going like, “Oh, god, this is so much and like, I have been doing so many things wrong,” like, it’s okay. Take a breath. You can do better. And just being aware of it is a really good first step. You don’t have to know everything. But you need to know that you need to ask questions. You need to be aware that this is something you need to think about, even if you don’t have all of the answers. Just talk to people, as we have said so many times. If you don’t know what to do, ask. And if you are asking in–in a respectful and open and honest way, people are–are going to be willing to–to kind of help you bridge those gaps and fill in those places where you don’t know things.

Thank you again to Fay and Mimsy for joining me in this conversation. I learned so much and I hope that our listeners have as well. Tabletop RPGs can be an incredibly unifying way of having fun, making friends, and telling stories, but they have to be open to everyone. Check out some of the resources in the show notes and see what you can do to start building and playing more accessible games.

And thanks to International Podcast Month for originally hosting this episode. To check out all the IPM episodes, visit, check out their twitter at podmonth, and tag your thoughts about what you heard with hashtag IPM2019.

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


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