Guest Post! Conventions & Canes — Gen Con Tips & Advice Series

This week I’ll be posting my Gen Con Tips and Advice, but I’m shaking things up from the past two years and I’m leading off with a guest post!

Jacob Wood is the founder of Accessible Games, a small press publisher devoted to making games available to everyone. He’s a writer, designer, layout artist, and accessibility advocate for the gaming industry. You can find him online at, on Twitter at @AccessibleGames, or on Google+ as +JacobWood.

Conventions and Canes

This year, for my first time ever, I’ll be heading to GenCon. It’s the nation’s leading tabletop gaming convention and attracts 50,000+ people. I’ll be attending as an industry professional, a small press game publisher and member of the Independent Game Developers network. I’m thrilled to be going and excited at the opportunity to meet dozens of people I interact with on a regular basis. People I work with, game with, and otherwise enjoy spending time online with.


As excited as I am though, there’s one significant thing that makes me nervous. I’m legally blind, and I’ll be travelling solo. By itself that isn’t scary–I get around just fine in my daily life, from home to work and back again. I travel around my home city with little to no anxiety (most days) and don’t think twice about jumping on a bus or even catching an airplane. What makes me anxious is the large crowds of people who will be, by and large, not paying much attention to anything that isn’t shiny and attention-getting.


From my experience, when people (in general) gather in large crowds they tend to become less aware of their surroundings. I get it–it’s easy to get lost in a sea of people and more difficult still when you’re just trying to find your own way through the horde because you’re late for a game or need to locate a restroom. For those of us trying to get around with a physical impairment though, it can be a panic-inducing nightmare (and I don’t even get panic attacks… or nightmares).


With that in mind, if you’re heading to GenCon (or any other convention or large gathering, for that matter) I’d like to offer some advice on how you might be conscious of others even while you’re understandably focused on yourself.


Stowe the Electronics

It’s hard to believe this has to be said, but it does. If you’re walking, you shouldn’t be texting or checking e-mail. You also shouldn’t be checking your calendar appointments or, for goodness sake, taking pictures of yourself or others.


There’s always time to pull over and check these things later. Seriously. If you’re in so much of a hurry that you simply can’t slow down to read your messages, you should at the very least invest in a good Bluetooth headset and some hands-free messaging software (of which there are tons of free options available for any platform you choose). There’s also no reason to be taking selfies or snapping images of cosplayers if you’re not prepared to stand aside and focus the picture.


This doesn’t apply just to using electronics and walking though. It means don’t stand still in the middle of a hallway to do any of these things either. The bottom line: if you find yourself reaching for your phone or tablet, pull over to the side of the hall and make sure you’re not in anyone’s way. Everyone, not just people with disabilities, will thank you for it.


Be Aware

I wrote about this a couple years ago on my own blog (link: but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it.


We’ve already discussed how it can be difficult to be aware of your surroundings when you’re in a huge crowd, but you can still control how you behave and react when someone approaches you or is in your immediate vicinity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped to ask a random stranger for information or directions and they completely missed the fact that I was carrying a red-tipped cane (which, in the U.S. at least, is the common sign that someone is blind). Using phrases like “it’s right over there” and pointing at something is sort of lost on someone who can’t see what you’re pointing at.


If you do interact with someone who has a noticeable physical impairment, try to be aware of it and what that might mean in terms of the requests they’re making or the questions they’re asking. That doesn’t mean you need to fall all over yourself trying to help, but it does mean tailoring your responses with their needs in mind. If you don’t know what those needs are, you can just ask. It’s not impolite, it’s awesome for you to do that.


Navigating Crowds

Just about everyone has difficulty navigating through large crowds, but people with physical impairments have it even more difficult.When you’re walking through a sea of people, you constantly make split-second decisions about how to turn and where to place your next steps in order to avoid collisions and make progress toward your destination. People with disabilities have to do this too, but it can be a little more tricky.


People in wheelchairs, on crutches, using canes, or pushing strollers are far less maneuverable than others around them. They don’t always have the luxury of avoiding you, so if you spot a less agile person then try to be aware of their needs and make your own efforts to go around them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into (or nearly missed running into) people because  I was headed their way with my cane in front of me and they simply didn’t bother to notice. Oftentimes it’s I, the blind person, who winds up doing the evasive maneuvers and, frankly, I’m not very good at them.


With that being said, just knowing where to go in a new location filled with billions of bodies can be difficult. Occasionally I’ll stop and ask someone for directions. Sometimes those people will offer to show me where I need to go. That’s completely awesome, but as a fair warning you’re very easy to lose in the crowd. Would you be so kind as to let me take your elbow? I promise I bathed today and you won’t catch “gamer funk.”


If you find yourself being the lead for someone who has a physical impairment, it’s okay to ask them if you’re walking too fast or if they need some additional assistance (like an outstretched elbow or a held door). If for some reason you’re just not comfortable with that, I think most people would prefer you be upfront about that so they can find someone else to help before getting too frustrated.



As GenCon grows, the likelihood of you encountering someone with a disability increases. If you see someone who appears like they may be in need, it’s okay to ask them if they’d like any help. If they don’t need it, they’ll tell you they’re okay. Otherwise, it’s a great relief to know someone else was being aware and being willing to lend a and.


I hope everyone has a fun and safe time at GenCon this year. I’m looking forward to it being my first. If you’re going to be there, stop by the IGDN game room and say hello.

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