Accessibility Foundations

When working with children that have disabilities, you will be dealing with a much larger range of possible considerations to make than if you are working with children that do not require specific accommodations.

If you are a caseworker or parent of a child with these needs, you may already be familiar with the various accommodations that need to be in place. If you are not familiar with the child playing, however, you will need to do a bit of preparation in advance. 

When gaming with children with disabilities, more often than not, your ability (at least at the onset) to get a game going off the cuff is less likely. At first, I’d advise you take time to communicate with parents or guardians of the child to determine characteristics that may impact the child’s ability to enjoy the game. 

Pre-Session Communication

Here are a list of leading questions that can help you determine a baseline for your accommodations.

At What Grade Level Is The Child Performing?

This will give you a great baseline for expectation on the media you can provide to the student. Knowing the grade level a child performs at creates greater understanding in those who are not receiving the accommodations, regardless of the age presented by the child. Even a basic understanding of the educational milestones per grade may help you to devise sessions that take that grade level into consideration.

Kindergarten Grade Level 

Often may have very little ability in literacy and mathematics, but will respond well to storytelling aspects and role play.

1st Grade Level

May have simplified reading capabilities and recognition as well as have very simplified mathematical skills.  

2nd Grade Level

May have the ability to read, do simplified mathematics, and start the process of simplified puzzle solving with guidance, such as pattern and shape recognition. 

3rd Grade Level

Reading levels at this point may be more advanced, and the ability to understand more complex terminology (such as the word “terminology”) could be inferred. Simplified math could be manageable. Puzzle solving and self-initialized discovery may be easier.

4th Grade Level

Most age appropriate story elements and mathematics are understood, with some subtlety in tones and concepts going unnoticed. Puzzles on the whole are manageable with minor assistance on more difficult/new challenges.  

5th Grade Level and beyond 

Barring specific accommodation needs, most cognitive requirements of typical roleplaying games are accessible. Content may still need to be monitored for age appropriate content exposure.

Are There Any Communication Concerns Or Preferences You Should Be Aware Of?

The ability to communicate storylines, questions, and proffer decisions is integral to Tabletop RPGs.  Knowing the best means of delivering that content is critical. Knowing the child’s preferences towards things like direct communication, repeated questions, personal space, and speech volume are critical to a successful game.

Are There Any Triggers Or Actions That May Create Unease?

Certain aspects of an adventure can create unease for a player. Additionally, certain actions (fighting, threats even when mild, unrecognized sarcasm or jokes) or even gaming tools (the sound of dice through a tower, knowing not to drop a book to the ground, etc) may be triggers for unease. The reactions to these triggers can take a child out of the gaming experience or make the experience itself less desirable. Knowing the comfort level of a child in advance will also help in creating a game and adventure components that are tailored to the child.

What Shows, Books, And/Or Games Does The Child Currently Enjoy?

This should give you an idea of target elements to include or not include within your adventures. It also gives you a baseline to the level of discretion advisable for the child’s tolerance. If the child enjoys certain girl explorers and their primate pals, it may not be advisable to play out scenarios from Macbeth. Instead, create linear paths with randomly interspersed appropriate puzzles or dilemmas, followed by encouragement.

What Environmental Specifics Are Needed To Accommodate The Child?

Accessibility may require consideration of relocating your intended gaming space or creating an atmosphere more conducive to the needs of the child. Additionally within this is consideration for time Understanding how long a child prefers to play the game or how many breaks may be needed will help you to craft a campaign that ensures enjoyment and comfort needs are being met.

What Are The CAPE Path Preferences?

Combat, Alternative, Puzzle and Exploration are the major components of written adventures, but there may be instances where avoidance or inclusion of a specific component may be preferred. If the child, for instance, excels at or enjoys puzzles, then building puzzling situations within other components and ensuring the path includes puzzles may be part of your CAPE path. Likewise, when it comes to the inclusion of Combat or 

Alternative, you may not be aware of the child’s tolerance for “aggressive” play. Take the time to describe the basic concepts of the CAPE components and confirm which components are preferred.

Is There A Need For Assistive Technology That Needs To Be Provided For? 

At times, medical equipment or technology that provides for communication and other needs are integral to the child’s accommodations. Knowing of these devices in advance will help you accommodate for them. For example:

  • Does the child make use of a tablet? 
  • Will you need to provide a wireless connection for that tablet? 
  • Does that impact your intended gaming location?
  • These are questions that preplanning can hammer out early.
If Medication Is Being Taken, How Might These Medications Be Impacting The Child?

Certain aspects of a child’s condition may warrant the use of medication. While medication may reduce symptomatic responses for the child’s specific condition, it may in turn create its own host of symptoms. Going into a situation with the assumption of a child’s behavior due to knowledge of preconceived conditions without first knowing if those conditions may be impacted by an existing medication may leave you unprepared. Letting parents know that communication about a child’s recent behavior–even when detail is not provided–can help ensure that the gaming experience for the child is more pleasurable and rewarding.

Is There Anything You Should Know Of In Advance About The Child’s Preferences Or Conditions You Should Be Aware Of, And If So, To What Degree Do These Considerations Affect The Child?

This is a general catch-all question. It is important to ensure that all variables, with regard to support, are being considered. That is why the pre-session communication is critical. Here it would primarily be knowledge from the guardian about the needs displayed by the child which might not be considered by a GM. This question is more about knowing the child then knowing the impact of the child’s disability. Especially since those more abstract considerations aren’t defined by the standard classification models and are difficult to communicate. Knowing whether someone is a dog person or a cat person might not be an indicator found on a care plan, and would not be as easily communicated to the GM due to a condition. Learning more about the child themselves helps to create a richer experience.

Ongoing Communication

It is important that discussion does not end with pre-session communication. Ongoing verification may be necessary to ensure that needs are being properly met and that ongoing enrichment can occur. It is preferable to pre-schedule these meetings so that you have time to prepare, with information about progress, concerns, and requests for guidance.

Likewise, many aspects of creating greater accessibility requires not just an initial outline of effort also but a continued commitment toward engagement.

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