Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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How to Accommodate Special Needs While Attending an Event

Recently a friend mentioned looking forward to an event but worrying that it might be overwhelming. This can happen. It happens more often to people with special needs -- or introverts, who are a huge portion of the populace that is simply ignored in almost all event planning, thus necessitating additional accommodations. Here are some ideas to make your trip safer and happier ...

* Some people are pure or nearly pure introverts. Others have an extroverted side that emerges in limited situations. I am primarily an introvert, but have an extrovert mode in like-minded contexts. I did not discover the latter until my teens and was stunned to find that large crowds of compatible people don't read the same to me at all when compared to other crowds. This may or may not be the case for you, and there is no way to learn which except to try it. Introverts and extroverts have different needs at events, so plan accordingly.

* Some people have just one quirk or condition that needs accommodation. Others have many. The more you have, and the more they impact what you can do, the more important it becomes to plan ahead and ensure that those needs can be met at the site(s) you wish to visit. Do not take other people's word that an event is "accessible." Ask for the specifics of what you need. Often they think only of the most obvious things (ramps for wheelchair users) or what is legally required (handrails in bathrooms). If you need something else they may not have it -- or could have it, but only if you ask in advance. Take responsibility for your own needs, because most of the time other people won't.

* Everyone has a threshold of decompensation beyond which they cannot cope. Some people have a low threshold and often run out of spoons. However, they usually understand what is happening and have some idea how to respond. People with a very high threshold may rarely hit it. Thus they may not recognize the problem or know what to do about it. This is more likely at an event when folks get excited and do way more than usual. As a person with special needs and the badass set of problem-solving skills that tends to build up, you may be the best equipped to realize when someone else is slowly losing their shit. In that case you may want to describe what you're seeing and make gentle suggestions for what might help -- or discreetly slip away and fetch help.


If you feel unprepared, then prepare. This may somewhat reduce the risk of mishaps and will at least make sure you can handle them if they happen. It also reduces anxiety and other stress.

* Carry at least snacks and beverages if you are at all sensitive to type and timing of refreshments.
Usually you cannot count on others to take care of you.

* Consider season and climate when packing. Ideally, choose clothing that layers easily to account for changing weather. A cardigan or very light jacket is ideal because you can tie it around your waist if you get hot.  A Whatever's Clean 13 capsule wardrobe can easily get you through a weekend of variable temperatures or other factors, and cannot clash so it doesn't matter if you are literally dressing in the dark or have no brain left. 

* Think about specific challenges you have and how you typically cope with them. If you have physical and/or mental meltdown triggers, it helps to tell your companions what those are and how to help if you get triggered. You may want to make a self-care plan or trigger plan for yourself and/or an action plan for supporters to use at the event. For complex challenges, you may want to make a whole WRAP workbook and copy your action plan from there. It doesn't have to be fancy; any kind of advance directive will be better than guesswork if something goes wrong.  EmergencyChat is a smartphone app for people who sometimes can't talk but can text.

* Check for site and event accommodations for any special needs. If you tell them your issue(s) they may be able to give you a list of standard accommodations, or you can ask for what you want. Probably you won't know unless you ask because events rarely put these on bulletin boards or verbal announcements, although a few do. More and more events are broadcasting activities -- especially concerts and masquerades -- via the venue's communication network. You may be able to enjoy these in the privacy of your own hotel room!

* Social alert buttons, sticky labels, t-shirts, etc. are super useful at events. I've seen people with buttons that say things like, "Please face me when you speak. I read lips and haven't seen a word you just said." Ideally, include the issue and a simple accommodation. If your pronouns don't obviously match your body, it helps to note those on a nametag. These aren't just for people with issues! My support crew had buttons made for themselves that say "Minion." It's actually helpful for identifying them as assistants, like if they need to bring me something while I'm in the green room.

* Identify refuges. A primary introvert will need them, even if you discover a secondary extrovert mode. A hotel room is good, but some events have a quiet con suite or other sanctuary. Quiet rooms in convention halls are still rare but becoming more popular, so it's worth asking. Large hotels almost always have nooks and crannies that are empty most of the time -- often one of the stairwells. At a filking con, you need to distinguish between the introvert hideout stairwell and the one(s) where the bored musicians hang out to jam. An outdoor event may have tents or a clearing designated as decompression space.

* Check the schedule before the event if possible, at the beginning if necessary.
Mark activities of top priority, plus a few more of moderate interest in case you find yourself energized. Note which things are "always on" or have a wide range of hours and plan when you want to visit them. These are also good when you need to kill a few minutes between hourly activities. Typical long-running items include a hospitality suite, dealer's room, concert room or bardic circle, art show, and food vendors.

* Put plenty of breaks in your schedule. Extroverts can do events all day long, introverts can't do that safely, and neither can most people with special needs. I usually don't book more than two items in a row without a meal or rest break. You may be tempted to overextend. This is natural but tends to wreck people. You will actually get to more activities if you space them out, rather than cram four together and then spend the rest of the event in bed.

* Always have an exit plan! Identify exits in the room. Position yourself where you can leave discreetly if that is more of a priority than proximity to entertainers. Using self-knowledge of your limitations and symptoms, identify threshold conditions that mean it's time to bail. That might be feeling shaky, faster breathing, a particular type of gnawing hunger, etc. Prepare some lines to excuse yourself politely: "It's been fun, but I need to rest now," "I'm all-peopled-out," "I've had too much sun," and "Need food now" are gaining recognition in fandom.

* Stack your plans. Have a Plan A and at least one alternate. It is much easier to quash anxiety if you have contingency plans for things that could go wrong. The feeling might not go away, but this can make the difference between it overwhelming you or being an annoyance you can function around. Frex, suppose you want to watch a scary movie: Plan A, enjoy the movie. If triggered: Plan B hug a friend, Plan C close your eyes and cover your ears through the ooky bits, Plan D ask a friend to fast-forward past the ooky bits, Plan E leave the room. Most people have at least one thing they really don't want to watch onscreen, so it's not that weird.

* Plan for your downtime. You may find it helpful to bring a puzzle, game, e-reader, or other activities suitable for quiet times or rest breaks. If you feel like you're "missing" the event, then break away from the usual rule not to buy things on the first sweep. Go into the dealer's room and get the first pretty cool thing you find that you could enjoy using at the event, such as a new album you could listen to on a portable player or a book you could read. You have now "done the event" for one round successfully and may retire to your room to rest and enjoy your treat.

* Coping skills make everything easier.
They are how people deal with stress.  Think about your favorites and which will help at the event. If you need supplies, pack them. I found a reversible travel blanket that is near enough to Microfyne that it refreshes my energy faster if I curl up under it than without it. If you're worried about forgetting your coping skills under stress, then print out a list to take with you. If you don't have good ones for traveling, look up a few new techniques to try.

* Crowd energy can be exhausting, so pay attention to shielding. Silk is among the best wearables. Essential oils such as "shield in a bottle" are also good. Holey stones, worry stones, and other pocket pals help for tactile people. At an event, do as much as you can with objects and as little as possible with your personal energy. If you try to shield all by yourself in a large crowd, you will conk out fast.

* Socialization is fun and productive with the right folks, but don't overdo it. This may mean doing one public activity per day at an event, or spending most of the event with just a handful of friends. If you can do more, that's great, just pay attention to your energy levels. Want to be part of the action but not get mobbed? Try volunteering for a short period. If you're just handing out name tags or pouring tea, you get to be around people and do something useful, but nobody will expect you to entertain them. Occasionally there are opportunities to help behind the scenes or do other quiet work, like if a friend freaks out over dropping their pages and you can put those back in order.

* If the main event is boring, overstimulating, or short of resources then it's okay to bail.
You might go out to a park or a restaurant. One time we left a boring con to visit the Chicago zoo -- which was open but nearly empty due to a light snow, and one of our best zoo trips ever. Ideally, look up some alternate venues in the area, of whatever types appeal to you. On most trips, people usually want to eat out at least once anyway. Our summer vacation this year included planning awesome restaurants we wanted to try while my partner was at a magic convention.

* Set some goals. What aspects of personal growth are you currently working on? Pick one to explore at the event. Do try to meet at least one new person and have a conversation. You could make a friend! Alternatively, you might practice just walking through a crowd without obligating yourself to interact with anyone.

* It is preferable to stretch slowly and gently than push yourself too hard and rupture something in a really uncomfortable place. My method is to push as far as it's comfortable, take one more step, hold briefly, then relax back to where it's comfortable.

* After the event, you may experience emotional drop, a sudden loss of energy and low feelings.  This doesn't always happen but is pretty common.  Know how to cope with that.

Anxiety sucks. Disability sucks. Introversion can suck when you want to do things but there are people in the way. Do what you can. Try to identify and celebrate specific small accomplishments. You need to build up in stages, not try to do everything at once. Have as much fun as you can!

What are some things that you or people you know have found helpful for eventing with special needs?
Tags: event, how to, safety

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