Presenter: Rachael Bradley
Have you ever participated in an escape room? Perhaps you wanted to participate but could not? Escape rooms are themed, interactive spaces, where teams search for clues and solve puzzles to complete an objective. Themes and missions vary between escape rooms and teams are not always locked in a room. Escape rooms have become increasingly popular over the last few years and are often used for birthday parties and team building events.
So why discuss escape rooms? In our experience, most escape rooms were created without considering the needs of all possible participants, particularly participants with disabilities. Because they were not considered during design, individuals with disabilities often have a frustrating experience when joining friends and family at escape rooms. In some cases, individuals with disabilities find themselves excluded from contributing altogether. One individual who is blind described his escape room experience as “I paid 30 dollars to take an hour nap.” After hearing variations of this from others, we decided to take on the challenge of developing an accessible escape room that everyone can enjoy.
Vispero, Accessible Community, and MITRE with help from AIRA, Escape Room Loco, and Zak Staszkiewicz created an accessible escape room that travels to conferences and other venues. We designed the experience to allow groups of individuals with various strengths, limitations and abilities to engage with the puzzles, the theme and each other. Participants work in groups of 4-6 people to solve a series of puzzles in order to locate a “prize”. Because of the venues the escape room travels to, participants often do not know each other and have an opportunity to meet before starting the escape room so the experience ends up providing networking as well.
While creating and running this event, we learned how to design puzzles that can be used by people with visual, speech, motor, cognitive, and hearing disabilities. This often involves building in redundancy such as audio and visual indicators or braille and text content. It also involves using modified versions of everyday devices such as directional padlocks. We learned more about how to provide a more inclusive event experience. After piloting and receiving feedback, we set aside time for introductions, room orientations for blind participants, and introduced a short inclusion training activity before the escape room begins to ensure a great experience for everyone. We also extended the learning opportunity by providing participants with a handout to connect the puzzles with accessibility requirements and best practices.
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