How has accessibility been at your events this year?

With the thread about LGBTQ+ inclusion/safety and Championships, I had my own flashback to last year’s championships and their abysmal inclusion of those with disabilities. Particularly those with mobility issues. I saw there would be ADA seating available this year for one person and guest - but that was the only mention of ANYTHING disability related. Nothing about teams seating together or other needs. I am hoping teams with special needs get to put that in the Registration.

What about other events? I was happy to see that Bedford was able to reserve seating for team members at the FIM Jackson event. And the pits were very close to the field. Clearance and walkways were a bit tight for wheelchair access. But the field, pits, and lunch were on the same level, and the handicapped parking were guarded to make sure access was preserved for those who needed it.

FIM Lansing was pretty well set up, spacious pit area from my POV as a volunteer

Absolutely no closed captions which continues to disappoint.

How were your events? Any great innovations in access?

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We had a problem with accessibility at the St. Louis regional at the Chaifetz Arena. One of our mentors wanted to bring his mother-in-law who uses a wheelchair but the only wheelchair accessible entrance was at the top of a tall hill and off limits. This was a significant problem especially since in the reveal video, one of the drivers was in a wheelchair. At Chaifetz, this driver would have not been able to participate because of the small aisles, stairs, and lack of planning. We ended up having to sign her up as a volunteer and she had a blast.
However, there was one part of the venue that pleasantly surprised me. Tucked to the side was a quiet room intended for helping prevent sensory overload. Despite being a little cluttered and not exactly calming, this was a great place to catch a few breaths and process privately.
Overall, have seen a great increase in awareness of mental health and support for the LGBTQ+ community but some improvements (mobility awareness and reminders about Neurodiverse needs) could be made.

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I think it’s worth keeping mind that there are things that events can do to help increase accessibility, and there are things that are really up to the venue and out of the event planners hands (aside from finding a different venue, which may be difficult for a number of reasons).

I know at Great Northern in week 2 we made accommodations for a student in a wheel chair. Knowing ahead of time, we located their pit to be more accessible (on a corner near the field instead of in the middle of the aisle) and prepped the ramp that comes with the field in the event they would be on the drive team (I seem to recall someone needing to replace the wheels on it). Fortunately for that event, everything is in one big room - pits, field, practice field, sponsor booths, and a large lunch area. Obviously stands are stands (and accessible from field-side, only separated by a curtain), but there’s plenty of room to walk/stand around the field if needed. Really the only thing that isn’t in that one room are concessions, which are up a level behind the stands (from what I understand… I’ve never actually gone up there myself). I never had a reason to interact with that student, but I certainly hope he felt that the venue was accessible, and that the volunteers were approachable should he have needed anything!

Every event I’ve been to this year has had a quiet room available. I hope people have found it useful!

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I’ve only been to one event so far this year: FiT Belton.

I’m still recovering from a nasty illness that left me struggling a bit. For this venue, they made a point to make more space between the field and score table so I’d have room for a wheelchair if I needed it. My walker was allowed by the field throughout the event. There was a stool immediately next to my station so I could sit and let the heart rate relax a bit. There were also chairs moved to useful areas around the score table so I could use those between matches.

Beyond that, I had received several offers to drive me the hour or so to the event and check-ins to make sure the accommodations they had in place were sufficient for me to feel like I’d be able to work through the event.

It’s not a team experience report. But, it was nice as a volunteer experience.

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Thank you so much on behalf of that student and others!

One of my FTC teams has a student with a powerchair and vent and my own son (FTC) has mobility issues that requires frequent rest and limited stairs for him to make it through the day. We have an email we send to the EC several times before an event (as soon as we know we are attending, a week and a day before) so we can ensure that accommodations can and will be made. And the FIRST Volunteers from the EC on down have been AMAZING at making sure everything is awesome and accessible for all my students (pit location, spectator area, medical area.). Both will be in FRC next year, and I don’t expect for them to have anything but a great time at events.

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My own experience is that accessibility for spectators is not great. We had a parent with a broken leg at champs that missed a day just because the only stands available were just utterly painful. My youngest son (who has been to more FRC events then most seniors) really struggles especially at venues with stairs. FiM Saline last year was great for those spectators as the track was on entry level and you could set up a chair for someone in a cast. But it was murder on anyone who wanted to go to the pits (long crowded hallway, a gazillion stairs).

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It seems like people who need accommodations have to email ahead of time… They definitely are accomodating people but I would love to see preemptively set up accomodations

The addition of quiet rooms has been fantastic, when implemented well. I’m talking about actual quiet rooms, located in quiet locations with activities. Not random rooms located off busy hallways where teams are allowed to yell, eat lunch, and are void of calming activities.

I agree that not every venue is perfectly accessible for everyone. I was very pleased to see accessibility on the event survey this year as a metric to rate. It appears FIRST is at least somewhat listening.

I agree that those who need accommodations have the best experience emailing ahead of time. I had the most interesting experience at World’s in 2018 (Detroit) when one of our team members, who was in a motorized chair, wanted to watch the matches. There was no seating available, either due to space or it being full. Pit Admin directed us to take the student directly on the field and sit him next to the judging chairs for our matches. Field volunteers ranged from confused as all heck to extremely willing to help. I will admit that flashing a volunteer badge, mentioning ADA, and saying the magic words “so and so at Pit Admin told me this” helped. I’m hoping that things have improved since then.

I’m wondering if maybe events should have an accessibility volunteer since most volunteers don’t get trained on how to do that stuff? Might be nice to have someone in charge of accommodations for the event

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Well, in the theme of champs… holy yikes. The quiet room situation here has been abysmal. Between it being rather small, and there only being one, this was the beginning of the problems. The quiet room is also located extremely far away from most of the venue activities, making the accessibility rather difficult. Finally, the quiet room closed at noon today (Saturday of champs), the loudest and most stimulating day of the event. For individuals that struggle with overstimulation, champs has been pretty rough. I’ll definitely be advocating for some change for next year.

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I liked that was out of the way. It ensured that no residual noise made it’s way in. The back hallway was quiet and everyone back there was pretty respectful of the quiet room even in the hallway. I will admit there could have been more signage and awareness of it though. There was nothing on the map in the CMP app, and I had to search the schedule to find out where it was.

I would suggest having multiple quiet rooms next year, spread across the venue so the teams on the other side of the venue don’t have to walk a mile to get there.

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I think you have some good points here. Yes, advertising and more quiet rooms would definitely be a fantastic addition. A problem I have is getting around and walking long distances due to some mobility issues of mine. Comps can tend to flare these, as such getting around can be hard. Having the quiet room on the direct opposite side of the venue is pretty hard for me, but I understand why it was located where it’s at.

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I understand what you’re saying, I agree, when I needed a break I went outside, or fortunately for me my hotel room was across the street, but I am wondering, did you see any usable spaces on the first floor that would make a worthwhile quiet room? I definitely didn’t. I’m genuinely curious maybe I missed something?

One concern that was raised by others at worlds was during the fire alarm incidents some of the wider doors were locked and students in electric wheelchairs weren’t nessecarily able to get out of the smaller doors that they were ushering people out of.

I wasn’t there at Worlds but Houston Fire Alarm (All Clear) - #43 by percussionette captured what happened.

Edit: unrelated but I thought Macomb and Kettering both did a fantastic job for accessibility with what I saw just as a casual observer and not someone who has a team member with a physical disability. There was a team at both events we were also at that needed accomodations. Staff, teams were all friendly and helpful, they had close parking for easy load and unload. I can’t speak for that team but it seemed like all good things.

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There really wasnt anywhere. Me and one of my teamates stayed upstairs in nice big red chairs all day saturday due to the noise and lights. We went in for ~5 minutes and both of us got very overstimulated. I also noticed no signage about flashing lights which was very disappointing as First likes to say they are very inclusive.

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Hey Alex, I totally agree with you here. I didn’t see any usable spaces on the ground floor either. I think there were some up on 2 in addition to the plethora on 3, but this in itself proves to be a venue issue. I won’t defend this to such a point to say that the GBR is incapable of holding champs because of this, but its something that really needs to be further investigated for next year. You mentioned a good point about going outside which may be viable for some individuals, but those with more extreme stimulatory issues would benefit more from a dedicated safe space away from stimulation. My top concern, above all, is the fact that the quiet room closed at noon Saturday. Realistically this was a poor logistical decision on FIRST’s part that seriously needs to be addressed before champs next year.

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Completely agree on this. There wasn’t nearly enough warning about what to expect during the closing show and Einstein. I saw multiple people leave due to the stimulation it was causing, which could have either been reduced or warned about ahead of time.

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From what I gathered the Strobe lights were still part of the field lights setup this year. This was probably the culprit for a lot of people’s discomfort.

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We host a district event in FIRST Mid-Atlantic and this year we had sensory bags available for people to borrow plus a quiet room featuring a silent live stream of the event.

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Woah! This is an amazing idea. Now I’m wondering, what was included in these sensory bags? Would love to hear more about what they entailed.

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