Hello everyone and Happy Holidays to all of you. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus while we get some health issues sorted here but look for more material coming from us very soon. In the meantime I’m here to talk about something that has been on my mind for a while: disability in the board game industry.
For me, disability and board gaming have gone hand in hand from the beginning. I first learned about hobby board gaming while on mandatory bed rest after knee surgery. This led me meeting up with a wonderful local group of gamers that introduced me to a new hobby that was not hindered by my physical limitations. As with anything there some bumps along the way but I have found that many gamers were happy to help find solutions. I was offered rides to game night when I was unable to drive myself, assisted with moving pieces when I couldn’t, and met many friends that were willing to listen if they couldn’t help in other ways. As I became unable to pursue many of my previous hobbies I replaced them with board gaming and my love for the hobby continued to grow.
When my children were old enough to start gaming I introduced them to board gaming in hopes that they could have a hobby that they could enjoy if they inherited my condition. Their love of board gaming is what inspired us to start Wooden Shoe Games as a family and build it into what it is today. Unfortunately it was because of this that I found one of the first major issues with board gaming and my disability. While talking with a person in the industry they asked about my profile picture (meeple on crutches) and I explained that I had to use them when walking distances due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome causing my joints to dislocate frequently. Their next question changed everything: “how do you attend board game conventions?” The short answer is that I don’t, staying on my feet for hours, navigating the crowds, and walking around a large convention center are not things I can do anymore even with mobility aids. I asked other reviewers, designers, publishers, etc and the answer almost always was the same; if you wanted to get anywhere in the board game industry you needed to be able to attend conventions.
With one simple question everything was thrown into uncertainty. Would we be able to grow as a review team without attending conventions to meet publishers and pick up review copies of games? I had begun designing my own games but wasn’t certain if I could pitch my idea to publishers without meeting them in person at a convention. I learned that the board game hobby thrived in local stores and the homes of players but the board game industry was a whole different story. The industry needs its own face to face contact and that happens at conventions. When I talk to many people one of the questions they ask is “Will I see you at X convention?”. I’m not faulting anyone for it, its just how things are and for the majority of people there is no problem with the way things work.
I have been fortunate to make some amazing friends in board gaming who have been willing to help me overcome some of these obstacles as they arise. With their help we have been able to grow as a review team and I have been able to grow as a board game designer and I am grateful to every single one of them just as I was grateful to my first game group for helping me get into the hobby. There has been lots of talk recently about ensuring board games are more inclusive but we still have a long way to go to ensure both the board gaming hobby and the industry stay accessible to everyone.