Disability and Accessibility on the Swinging and Kink Scenes

Disability and Accessibility on the Swinging and Kink Scenes

Read about the author Alice Hunter

As anyone who has temporarily had a mobility-limiting injury knows, the extra 20 metres to an entrance between disabled and non-disabled parking really makes a difference. How much more so then, when your mobility limitations are long-term?

Whereas businesses are generally legally required to make provision for staff and visitors for accessibility, non-discrimination and inclusion of those who have seen and unseen disabilities, the swing and kink scenes are largely free of restriction in this way. Small semi-informal events, membership clubs and big, paid events often overlook or actively discriminate against those who, for one reason or another, could be classified as having a disability.

The most obvious issue is with stairs. Having had lunch some time ago with a gentleman in a wheelchair, he confided that the swinging and kink events are largely inaccessible, the possible exception in London being LAM, which has a lift to all 4 floors. He then proceeded to explain the advantage was that he could use disabled toilets and take someone in with him for a quickie, but I declined this generous offer.

Even seemingly single-level events (of which there are few) are often peppered with single steps, non-accessible bar heights and lack of disabled facilities. Even for those who can manage stairs with difficulty, the high-heels dress code for women can present whole new issues for those with painful or unstable gaits.

Are events actively discriminating against those with disabilities? Or in the hard-to-find venue battle, are events simply doing their best to go ahead with those who can attend and putting in the provision they are able?

The swing scene is largely (perhaps to move away from tawdry representation in the past) marketing itself as exclusive, and for those of a certain aesthetic, age, and style. The kink scene, however, prides itself on being a place for everyone, and indeed many people with disabilities can be seen on the kink scene.

The recently closed (and controversially-named) ‘PsychoWard’ event was hailed as a celebration of the aesthetic of medical intervention and disability, for those with a passion for it. It certainly divided public opinion.

Those with unseen disabilities can struggle equally to access and enjoy events when their needs haven’t been accounted for. What are some of the issues people face? How can events do better? How can we help support our friends and partners to access and enjoy events better?

Sometimes the issues are mental or emotional, with high pressure situations…

Depression can just sap any willpower or energy to go anywhere or do anything. Someone to pick you up or go with you to the event (both in a general sense but physically go with them beforehand) would be good, same for anxiety too. [James, 20’s]

I have anxiety and depression but I don’t think organisers can do anything to help with that. Maybe just making sure advertising doesn’t portray a particular body type as that can make me anxious to go to a party. [Miss N, 20’s]

Sometimes the issues are unseen but physical…

I actually have tinnitus so loud music is uncomfortable for me and I always have to use earplugs which is why I always wear my hair down. It’s an invisible disability but if there are no quieter places at a kink club then I won’t go. I need to be able to escape the really loud rooms like at Torture Garden or Antichrist. [Miss A, 40’s]

Sometimes the issues are ‘neurodiverse’. Those with dyslexia, ADHD, or on the Autism spectrum may also have issues that affect their access to and enjoyment of swing and kink events, if their needs aren’t accounted for.

Where to begin? I have ADHD which is possibly the reason why I can never finish in public. Keep looking around me at other people and can’t seem to focus long enough. I have anxiety when it comes to sex as I am completely fine talking and socialising with people but then when it comes to the sex I still get anxious small chest pains right before the sex starts! (After a few moments once the sex gets comfortable it goes away and I can enjoy it). I have a bit of an imposter syndrome as I never feel I’m good enough… and that relates to both my professional life and my sex life… But frankly it’s not something that I want to advertise publicly. People want to be with the confident winning guy! So, I play the part (as much as I can) and pretend to be confident in public all the while thinking in the back of my head “They’re going to figure you out eventually!”. You know… I’ve just realised that maybe that’s why I’m attracted to other ‘broken’ (excuse the expression) people! As they are the only ones I feel can relate to me and I am most comfortable around them. [Mr F 30’s]

Making staff aware of conditions but not pointing people out can be done, like how to recognise the difference between an oddball with issues or a creepy guy targeting people. They aren’t mutually exclusive but there is also a lot of separation. I have a card from the police that I get out to let people know I’m the way I am if the situation is out of control and I don’t understand why but that’s very rare these days. Nothing really needs to change at the parties but I think staff would benefit from being aware of people’s differences. [Mr. C, 30’s]

I would love to be able to say that it’s as simple as making an event aware of your needs in advance so the hosts can accommodate you, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. A beautiful friend of mine with an unseen condition recently advised an event host (and this is a large, commercial event) of an unseen condition that may occasionally require her to have medical intervention in the unlikely event that she was to collapse. She was told not to come.

So how can we bring the swing and kink scene up to speed with the legislation that the rest of the country is bound by (lacking in many ways though it still is)?

Here are some suggestions:

  • When hosting your event, however big or small, ask people to message you with any conditions or needs they have so you can make provision. They will usually be able to tell you exactly what they need.
  • Have a variety of spaces and activities. Consider what you plan from the aspect of others. With such a huge variety of human beings potentially there, you may feel you can’t account for everything. But you can make an effort to give people options.
  • If you are hosting an event, try to avoid large chunks of text for rules and guidance. Use photos, speech or video to vary it. People will remember it better whether they have issues accessing text or not.
  • Use ‘alt text’ on photos and video if you are uploading any images to a website (should this be the way you host your parties). Screen readers will translate it for those with visual impairment.
  • Talk to the people you know about which events they like and why. Don’t be afraid to discuss what makes events inaccessible for people. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away for them.
  • When you are planning to attend an event as a group, support your friends and choose events that everyone can enjoy.
  • If an event seems really inaccessible, write to the organisers and say you’ve noticed it. They may come back with excuses, but if they hear it over and over they are going to be pressed to make a change.
  • Actively use venues and clubs that make a good effort to be inclusive, and don’t attend those that you or your friends find inaccessible. After all, money talks. Stand together on this and we will slowly see things start to change.