First a disclaimer: although I make numerous references to the ADA, I am not a lawyer nor am I an expert in the ADA. In the text below, I mention that most private dungeons probably qualify as private clubs and are therefore not subject to the ADA, but that is the interpretation of a completely layman, and you should not take my word on this subject either as a facility or as someone trying to gain access to a club. Hell, if you’re seeking my advice
in these matters in either case, it’s try to work with the people on the other side of the issue and remember they’re human too. (Which means there’s an equal chance they’re really trying to accommodate you / just be a part of the community or they really are just trying to be fucking assholes.)
Now, on with the post …
Kink events and the ADA: Trying to find some usable play space
I love kink events! Unsurprisingly, I particularly love the dungeons and play areas at these events. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t always set up to be as accessible as they could be to everyone who might wish to use them. I’ve been thinking about some of the events I’ve attended as well as descriptions I’ve heard in reports on other events and how many different ways there are to set up play spaces. I’d like to address some of the common problems from the perspective of someone with a degree of disability and how organizers (or management) can address these problems.
All the different ways … some common themes
Many events are held in locations where the organizers are somewhat limited in their setup options. If your event is being held in a hotel, then your options are going to be much more limited than if it’s at a BDSM friendly campground! (On the other hand, as a whole, a hotel is far more likely to be ADA accessible than your local private dungeon and without any extra cost to the organizers.) Facility access is very important — if you can’t get into the building in the first place, you’re certainly not going to get to the dungeon. Quite a few private dungeons are not accessible to many disabled potential patrons. As far as I can tell from reading the relevant sections of the ADA, most dungeons qualify as “private clubs” and are therefore not subject to the ADA. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to provide access to patrons with disabilities, but they are not legally required to do so. It does reflect well on a club when they do, and they will certainly get positive publicity when they do.
A different issue, and one not subject to ADA regulation, is dungeon setup. Think of the average dungeon setup: dimly lit, loud, and a bit crowded (especially when filled with people having scenes). There are, of course, many variations on this, but this is pretty common and even somewhat expected. Now imagine navigating this setup when you’re blind or in a wheelchair. Or imagine that the lovely person with whom you want to scene has a condition such as tinnitus and is not be able to cope with the seemingly inevitable techno beat from the music system!
How can these problems be addressed without compromising the atmosphere for others?
If you’re an event organizers or part of the crew for a permanent dungeon location, there are some things you can do to help with this situation. If possible, provide play space which tries to eliminate or reduce the above problems. While this could come across as a sort of “segregationist” type of solution, it’s important to note that even people without disabilities may want a quieter¹, less crowded, or better lit play area! If play space is limited, as is the case with many hotel events, try to have at least a bit of space which can have better lighting and/or distance from the sound system. When possible, have at least part of the dungeon space open in the afternoon of an event — this will pretty much guarantee that it’ll meet these three criteria points!
Speaking of space, crowding is an issue for many people and not just those of us who
might have limited mobility. One solution involves marking out the various stations with gaffers tape and creating official walkways. This helps to eliminate the (hopefully) unintentional problem of play spilling out of one station and blocking access to other locations. It’s pretty easy to accidentally take up more space than you intend, what with extra rope, toys, costume changes, etc. This doesn’t mean an absolute line of “You Shall Not Stick Out of The Lines,” but a friendly little “Try to keep play and equipment within designated space” can allow better access and safety for everyone.
Also, organizers, please do understand that we’re not complaining about these things just to hear ourselves whine². We’re just members of the community who wish to participate too. (Especially if we’ve paid to be at an event!) Given some of the weird-ass shit in which some of our community members³ participate and for which we then go out of our way to make space, making an effort to accommodate a few limitations seems pretty damned trivial!
Helping others help us
On the other side of this equation, if you are in need to accommodation, please do speak up! How’s anyone supposed to know they need to have more lighting in the corner if they aren’t made aware of the situation? Try to help them help you — bring up problems with event organizers as early as possible so they may have an opportunity to address the issue. (Bonus points if you can do this months in advance or even better: offer to be a staff member and then you can attend meetings. It’s harder to overlook someone’s needs if they’re at every staff meeting with you!)
Try to be a bit flexible in how your needs can be met. Some locations with sufficient space divide their areas into themed spaces — a main dungeon, a littles area, medical play, etc. Such a location may well have a bit of currently unused space which may work for you. My legally-blind partner and I may not be into medical play, but the areas for such play tend to be very well lit. Playing near such areas often offers us much better lighting than we get in other parts of the dungeon.
It really helps if you come to organizers with a specific need or suggestion. “We need a location with more light” will be much easier for organizers to help with than simply “It’s too dark in here.” The first brings to mind assisting you as an individual while the second suggests a change affecting the entire dungeon. It may also be a bit more useful if you are upfront about why you need this accommodation, even if it seems obvious or personal to you. Organizers are usually more willing to make a change if they are aware it’s not a random whim. Thus the request of “We need a location with more light because I am visually impaired.”
Finally, try to remember that the event organizers are just people too. They may want to accommodate you, but they may be dealing with space issues and the needs of many other people. If it’s an event at a temporary location they may be dealing with restrictions from the venue. Hopefully, they’ll do what they can to help you out, but if they can’t, it’s very unlikely that they mean it as something against you personally.
Unless of course they’re just jerks — that does happen too!
1 – Quieter in this case meaning less sound from the dungeon music system. While some dungeons do have official ‘quiet’ areas for socialization or more intimate scenes, I’m not advocating encroachment on those spaces. Loud beatings are perfectly welcome but don’t need to compete with the sound system!
2 – OK, most of us aren’t. Hell, we all know that some people really do seem to get off on whining. I swear it should be listed as a fetish for some people in their FetLife account!
3 – My own weird-ass shit included, of course.
“We have to be careful so you don’t get hurt while you’re being flogged!”
One of the inspirations for this blog came from an experience I had with one of my partners late this past Summer.
With the ligament damage in my shoulder, I have both limited range of motion as well as specific positions which I cannot hold for any real length of time without a great deal of pain. You know Da Vinci’s Vitruve Luc Viatour? The straight out position hurts my left shoulder a bit, and I can’t hold it for more than a minute or two. I can’t do the ‘up’ position, as I literally cannot voluntarily raise my left arm the 15° or so. Needless to say, this made certain activities a bit difficult … such as being tied to a tree while standing up. My Goddess and I were doing just that, she tying me to a tree while standing up that is, and being very careful about it so that my position wouldn’t strain my shoulder. It was then that the somewhat absurd nature of this situation came to me: she was being very careful not to make my shoulder hurt while tying me up so she could flog me!
Certain questions inevitably come up when you’re discussing kink, especially with people who are only familiar with the topic from popular media¹. I don’t want to cover them here since general kink isn’t really the topic of this blog, but one question in particular is germane to kink and disability: “if you’re already hurting, why would you want more pain?”² Honestly, that’s a pretty fair question and one which even many of us in the kink community ponder sometimes. Also, like most ‘opinion’ based questions, I can only answer this from my point of view, but mostly kink, even bdsm, isn’t about injury, even if pain is involved in the play. In the situation described above, the flogging was certainly going to hurt, but it’s a different sort of pain. I would certainly be feeling it for a while, but not because I’d pulled a muscle or further damaged a joint. To put it a different way, I don’t get aroused when I stub my toe, even if it’s on a spanking bench in a dungeon!
It’s probably not an intuitive thought, but for many of us pain play can actually help alleviate pain from other conditions! I know quite a few people who suffer from fibromyalgia, yet enjoy impact play. They say that it actually helps them deal with the pain from the fibro. I know that my own play helps me with my issues, both immediately and over a few days afterwards. I think the immediate effect is from good, old-fashioned endorphins and longer term is most likely from the stretching and exercise of the play, just as for any good “workout!” (Only a lot more fun, of course.) Also like you might do for an exercise workout, we’re careful about what we do and how we do it. If we know something is an issue, such as my shoulder, we take precautions to not make it worse.
Putting thoughts into practice
Like most restrictions, these are the kinds of things you should be talking about with your partner(s) before a scene begins or as the conditions of your body changes if you’re in a longer term relationship. If it’s not a constant, then do become aware of the signs so you can plan accordingly before a scene starts. In many ways, this is no different than basic negotiation over any other specific actions in which you might engage, although perhaps a bit more variable. While I write this mostly from the perspective of a bottom, it’s important to note that tops should also be aware of and active in this process. I know that when my shoulder is at its worst, I’d have a difficult time swinging a flogger with any real force or (even worse) accuracy. (I guess it’s a really good thing I’m right handed.) For the record, I know of at least one top who recommends a good warm up stretch before flogging!
While I don’t intend this blog to be an S&M101 lecture, a large part of this activity is knowing your play partner and watching for signs that they’re overdoing it. Speaking from experience, it’s easy for someone who’s blissed out and in subspace to not really notice when they’re putting more strain on that joint than they should. Safewords, and I’m aware that not everyone uses them, are for when you are aware something is an issue. An even better situation is when the top directs the playtime such that it’s never an issue in the first place. (Although realistically, that’s not always possible; we’re all only human.)
I was kinky long before my body decided to supply me with the occasional (or not-so-occasional) non-consensual pain. I’m not going to stop my kinky play anymore than I’m going to stop geocaching or swimming, although I am going to do things differently than I might have done them 15 years ago. I enjoy this enough that I am more than willing to work around my restrictions and I have partners that respect me and my limitations too.
Now if only I could find the right safeword to use on my joints!
1 – Such as a badly-written series of books by an author who admits a complete lack of real knowledge on the subject of kink or BDSM.
2 – This also completely sets aside kink which involves no pain play at all, of course, but if your kink is petticoats, you’re probably not asking / being asked that question!