Creativity not Captivity: Themes for an Accessible Escape Room

So what will the theme be? This is the first question our team works on when we start a new accessible escape room. The term “escape room” often causes people to think of being locked up in a small place or placed in a straight jacket. Some escape rooms do this but we do not.

At its core, an escape room is about having fun while solving puzzles to achieve a goal. That goal does not need to be getting out. Often in commercial escape rooms, the fun themes such as candy factories or treasure hunts target kids. The puzzles in these are often easier. This approach misses a whole market of people who love solving puzzles but do not enjoy the stress and anxiety of being locked up or restrained.

Two women having fun with a puzle in the background

Our themes appeal to adults and take anxiety into account. No locked rooms or doors. No traps or restraints. Just a lot of fun working together to solve a puzzle. For people with high anxiety or cognitive disabilities we even offer an option to play at the end of the day without a time limit. The theme and no time limits are part of providing an accessible escape room.

“As soon as I found out I wasn’t going to be locked in, my whole body relaxed.” That’s what one participant said recently. We want all our participants to know, you won’t have to escape anything to play. And we hope you’ll have a great time!

What’s been happening with the Accessible Escape Room?

A few years ago, over lunch, Matt Ater and Rachael Bradley Montgomery joked about creating an accessible escape room. Why? Because Matt, who is blind, had attended his daughter’s birthday party at an escape room and wasn’t able to participate – at all! Fast forward a year and we were still talking about it. We realized how few individuals with disabilities were able to enjoy this fun activity and so decided to go ahead and build one. We met with Escape Room Loco in Leesburg, VA to learn more. Then along with a team of volunteers from Accessible Community, MITRE, and Vispero we built our first escape room. It had an espionage theme and while it wasn’t perfect everyone could participate in at least one puzzle, usually more. A team of all blind individuals who helped pilot test it had the best score of everyone!

With great excitement, we arranged to roll it out at CSUN 2020. Word got around and we had invitations to attend a number of other conferences and events over the year. And then, COVID. While we still held the escape room at CSUN, few people were able to attend. Then everything else was canceled.

Two smiling kids with I solved the Accessible Escape Room stickers
Solved it!

While socially distancing in our homes, we turned our physical escape room into a virtual escape room with some help from our families. We enjoyed hosting teams in a different format but it is not quite as much fun as getting meet others and share the joy of a new experience with them.

But as COVID is (hopefully) wrapping up, we are rolling out a new casino themed escape room at CSUN 2022. We hope to attend other disability and accessibility related conferences this year and share the fun of this puzzle-solving experience. You can watch schedule page for new opportunities to play. We will maintain a leader board for the year of the fastest teams. We may even bring our first escape room out of storage for people who didn’t get to try that one.

What started as a joking conversation between friends has turned into a joy for many. We all need a bit of that these days.