Playing Poker With Special Needs Players
Most casinos and poker rooms will try to accommodate poker players with special needs and disabilities although proof of disability is sometimes
required. Proof of disability is usually accomplished by the special needs poker player providing a doctor's note or medical certificate. The proper
action is for the casino to verify the existence of the disability and then make 'reasonable accommodations' for the player. The floor and/or dealer
may or may not make an announcement about the 'reasonable accommodations' but should not comment on the reason why. Proof of disability is usually
not required at home poker games since one or more players will usually be able to vouch for the disabled poker player's physical disability.
It might also be considered somewhat disrespectful to ask a home game player for a doctor's note.
Keep in mind that poker players with special needs see themselves as equals and usually want to fully participate in able-bodied events. Poker is
a game everyone can enjoy, with or without disabilities. Poker is a great equalizer (everyone's money is green!) and most experienced poker players
will gladly take any other player's money, regardless of that player's disability. Blind poker players and players with no arms have placed
high in the WSOP. Blind poker player Hal Lubarsky used a human "reader" to help him place 197th out of 6,358 players in the 2007 WSOP Main
Event, taking home $51,000, and has been prominently featured on the ESPN television broadcast. Hal has also played 6 to 8 simultaneous tables of online
poker with the help of special software that reads the cards and chat messages. Poker player William Rockwell doesn't have use of his arms but played
in the 2005 WSOP with the assistance of his mother.
In general, no-limit games might be easier for a special needs player to participate in than limit games due to the slower
pace, less bets, and more folds typical of a no-limit game. Stud games where many cards are shown face-up around the table are more
difficult, or almost impossible to play for a visually impaired player. For players who can only see cards from a few inches away, a draw type
of poker game with no board cards might be easiest.
Playing Poker With the Blind
It is acceptable for a blind poker player to use a spotter, also known as a seeing-eye card reader. This person
is seated behind the blind player and whispers cards, both hole cards and boards cards, and bets into the blind players ear. The spotter can only
verbalize factual information about the game, and is not allowed to give any other input. The spotter may never coach or give poker advice. Blind poker
players are at a strategic disadvantage at a poker table due to their inability to see other players tells.
Dealers must never announce the board cards unless they are dealing stud although the dealer may rarely call out the board cards at the request
of a player that is momentarily having a tough time seeing the cards. In general, neither the dealer nor the players should ever announce the board cards.
This rule may be loosened under special circumstances, especially in a home game.
Here is an email from one of my readers (Quentin) ...
In our games (which actually don't usually end up being quite as strictly
professionally run as on your site - but that's more the group dynamic rather than vision!) I usually have the most sight (I can see fairly well
but not perfectly), with a couple of players with varying levels of vision worse than mine, and a couple of completely blind players - we've found
we can run fairly smoothly if we make a couple of minor adjustments - notably I got a handful of chip trays so that everyone can keep their chips
well sorted by denomination (we usually only play with two or sometimes three different denominations), and I also put one (poker chip tray) in the
middle of table and bets are placed in that, sorted by denomination (obviously in our game that involves closer handling of others' chips in the center
than would be allowed elsewhere but we know none of us would cheat so that works for us), and (usually) I read out the community cards on the table, and
I'll usually do that after each card dealt but of course being fairly informal I'm happy to do it more often if needed.
Sign Language (ASL) at a Poker Table
Sign language is not permitted at a poker table during a hand due to the "English-only rule". The
English-only rule is in effect at almost all casinos and poker rooms. Some casinos will even go to the extent of bringing a small portable sign
to the table that reads "No signing during a hand". Some casinos will also limit, or not allow, signing at the table at any time, even
between hands. Home game hosts might want to be much more lenient when it comes to signing at a home game. Signing is usually permitted
at a table of all deaf players.
"Official Language. The English-only rule will be enforced in the United States during the play of hands.
English will be used in international play along with the local or native language." TDA rule #2
Poker Equipment For Blind or Low Vision Players
Braille decks of cards have been around for a long time. They are fairly standard paper or plastic cards with the dots punched in the
card itself. Unfortunately, the dots only last a little while before becoming harder and harder to read/feel.
The Braille Bookstore has two decks of Braille playing
cards available, each costing $6.95. The 'Regular'
braille deck of playing cards seems to be bridge size, two-pip, regular index, paper cards. The
'Plastic' Braille cards (for the same $6.95!) seem
to be bridge size, two-pip, large index, plastic cards. The Braille Bookstore
also has several non-Braille large index playing cards. There are two decks of somewhat nice magnum index paper cards for $3.95 and
large size playing cards (3" x 5") for $9.95.
Jumbo or Magnum size playing cards might work well for not only players with low vision but also those with fine motor difficulties, and are
available at most poker suppliers.
Braille labelers, bump dots, touch dots, etc. usually do not work well with playing cards or poker chips because the dots wear away over time. Any sort of
raised dots will also make your poker chips harder to stack and more slippery.
Playing card magnifiers allow a player with limited vision to insert their hole cards into a reader and those playing cards can then be more
easily viewed using a magnifier. You can see an example of a card magnifier at LowVisionPoker or
The Cube. Chest, around-the-neck, and magnifiers mounted on a flexible gooseneck stand are also available.
A LumiDome can be used to view your hole cards and then also used as a card cover. Players using such devices might request to be seated at the end of a poker table,
rather than in the middle, so that other players cannot view his hole cards.
A set of 100 poker chips of different shape are available
at The Braille Bookstore. Blind players can use differently shaped poker chips for different denominations. Round chips can be used for one denomination
and hexagon shaped chips can be used for another denomination. Rectangle shaped poker plaques can be used for the highest denominated chip in your game.
Poker chips with different shapes will allow blind players to easily differentiate
between the different denominations. You can also 'mark' different denominations of your poker chips with indentations or engravings
of numbers or shapes. Do not put bumps (braille label or dot) on your poker chips because the chips will slide against each other easier, thus making
them harder to stack. The bumps might also wear off over time.
Poker chip racks are usually not allowed to be placed on a poker table during play. Players are expected to stack their chips directly on the poker table
rather than in a rack. This house rule is usually ignored for poker players with limited vision. Stacking chips in one or more racks allows a player with limited
vision to more easily differentiate between different denominations of poker chips.
If you are playing poker with players who have limited vision, ensure that you have very good lighting over your entire poker table. Players with limited vision
might prefer to sit beside the dealer so that they can more easily view the board cards.
Make sure that the surface of your poker table (your poker cloth) is a solid color that contrasts with the board cards. You do not want to use a playing
surface with lots of different colors, such as poker room logos, that might interfere with the viewing of the board cards. At the same time, you do not want
to use an all-white poker table cloth that blends in perfectly with the board cards.
Playing Poker With Color Blindness
Color blindness (color vision deficiency) is the inability or decreased ability to see color or to distinguish between different
colors. This might affect color blind poker players in several ways such as the inability to differentiate between different chip colors. Color blindness
can be alleviated by ensuring that your poker chips are denominated with a dollar value. Using poker chips of different shapes and sizes and with different
styles of edge spots will also help. The HomePokerTourney Create-a-Blind page will assist you in printing a poster to hang
on your wall during the game. These Create-a-Blind posters allow for the denomination to be printed along with the color of the poker chip. This will assist
color blind players in determining the value of your poker chips.
Playing Poker With the Deaf
Surprisingly few deaf players can be found in poker rooms. Poker rooms can make it easier for a deaf poker player by making certain
signs with particular tournament information written on them and having pads of paper and pens readily available at each and every table. Visual clues from
the dealer and other players are appreciated. Deaf players have difficulties knowing when the blinds increase and the amount of some bets or raises.
There are poker tournaments set up specifically for hearing-impaired players. The National
Deaf Poker Tour is active in the USA. Many other countries have similar organizations and tournaments. Some poker tournaments are reserved solely for
the deaf, where participants are required to sign a legal document regarding their loss of hearing. Some tournaments allow hearing people who are fluent in
American Sign Language, including interpreters and friends of the deaf community.
Equipment For Special Needs Players
Many card rooms do not allow electronic devices to be used during play but these house rules should be relaxed for players with
special needs. Electronic communication devices such as text to speech devices or computers, hearing aids, and playing card magnifiers
should be allowed for players with special needs.
Card magnifiers allow a player with limited vision to insert their hole cards into the reader and those cards can then be read through a magnifier. You
can see an example of a card magnifier at LowVisionPoker or
The Cube. For players who have difficulty holding or handling cards, it is acceptable for the dealer
to insert a player's hole cards into a card magnifier.
Card holders are wood or plastic devices that hold and display your playing cards. Card Holders are usually inappropriate for poker because they
make your hole cards too easy to be viewed by the other players at the poker table. Hole cards placed in a card holder can be viewed quite easily, even by
players not making a deliberate attempt to view your cards. For poker, card magnifiers are a much better alternative than card holders.
Seating a Player With Special Needs
Players in wheelchairs/scooters or those who have movement limitations or other special needs should be assigned a reserved, but
still random, seat. You will probably need to reserve seats more often than you might think when you consider that even an elderly player or a player with
a broken arm or leg might want to sit in a certain seat. Seating a special needs player in a large casino is usually much easier than in a cramped basement
Reserve a seat for a player with movement limitations at the end of the table, closest to the door. An end seat will allow a little more room for a
player in a scooter or wheelchair, and will allow a player with a broken leg to stretch out a bit. An end seat will usually allow for a spotter to sit
behind a blind player. A player with partial vision limitations will probably want a reserved seat near the middle of the table. Some players might want
to use a device that magnifies their hole cards and will request to be seated next to a dealer in order to help conceal their cards from the view of
adjacent players. The dealer can then also lightly assist that player with handling poker chips.
Reserving a Seat at a Poker Table
A seat can be easily reserved by placing a piece of paper on the seat or on the table in front of the seat. Just write
"Reserved" and the name of the player on half of a sheet of paper and fold the paper in half to create a little pup-tent to place on the table.
A player in a reserved seat can still be seated at random, just as all other players in the game. Simply choose random seats for every other
player in the tournament and let those players take their seats. The player in the reserved seat has no idea who will be seated at his table (if
you are playing multi-table), and the players who do get seated at his table will be randomly seated around the reserved seat. Use can use this
same procedure if you have to reseat players when you eliminate tables.
As the TD and home owner, I use this exact same process to reserve my own seat at my own home tournaments. As the host and homeowner I need to get up
from the table numerous times throughout the night, so I reserve a convenient seat for myself. All my guests are then seated randomly seated around me at
a couple different poker tables.
As Tournament Director, you probably won't have to use too much authority when assigning reserved seats for players with
special needs - most players will easily accommodate reasonable requests. Keep in mind that the Tournament Director is authorized to make changes
that are in the best interest of the game.
"Floor People. Floor people are to consider the best interest of the game and fairness as top priorities in the
decision-making process. Unusual circumstances can on occasion dictate that decisions in the interest of
fairness take priority over the technical rules. The floorperson's decision is final." TDA Rule #1
"Special Needs. Accommodations for players with special needs will be made when possible." TDA Rule #6
Here are some suggested poker rule modifications to accommodate players with special needs ...
- The TD may reserve seats for players with special needs. Other players will be randomly seated around those reserved seats.
- The TD may exempt a blind player using a spotter or reader from the "One player to a hand" rule. The spotter cannot
coach or give advice.
- The "No cards off the table" rule may be relaxed for special needs players.
- If a poker room does not allow electronic devices to be used at a poker table, the TD may exempt a player from this rule due to that players special
- Dealers should never announce board cards. Dealers will not count the pot in limit and no-limit games. These rules may be relaxed when a special needs
player is playing at the table.
- For players with movement limitations, it is acceptable for the dealer to handle their poker chips and to reveal their hole cards.
Online Poker For Special Needs Players
Playing poker online, as opposed to land-based (brick and mortar) games, makes things much easier for certain players with special
needs. Some people cannot leave their residence and online poker provides a great means of entertainment with very little movement required. Large computer
monitors and magnification software make it much easier for a vision-impaired person to play poker online and persons with movement limitations need only
press a couple computer keys to bet/call/raise/fold.
While most online poker players with limited vision use a screen reader, the games can also be
interfaced with screen magnifiers or with Braille output for those players who prefer these devices. A "screen reader" reads aloud (in a synthetic voice)
what is displayed on a computer screen. All inPlay software works seamlessly with
Jaws For Windows and has even proved helpful in teaching
the blind how to use computers.
Ask For Assistance From Disability Agencies
Disability and other agencies will sometimes assist people needing special adjustment. Some blindness agencies have a selection
of different types of playing cards (pretty much the same as the Braille Bookstore). Some orthoptists will assist people setting up lighting with general
recommendations for around the house as well as for specific rooms used for poker or other games. Suggestions can be as simple as recommending a portable
adjustable lamp or magnifier to take to a poker game at someone else's home or poker room.
Help Make HomePokerTourney More Accessible
I have been informed that sight-impaired visitors to homepokertourney.org do not have major problems reading and navigating this
website using NVDA (one of the popular free screen readers, very similar to Jaws) but I could certainly use all the help
that I can get. Designing a website and web pages for people with special needs is something that I have never considered until now (January 2013) - this
site went online in 2003. Please contact me if you have problems viewing or navigating this site or have suggestions on how
this site might be improved for people with disabilities. I will do the best I can, with my limited knowledge, to improve this site for people with special
needs. Feel free to contact me to help make this site more accessible.
American's with Disabilities Act
Around-the-neck Magnifier Amazon.com
Braille Book Store
Wooden Poker Chips
Braille Playing Cards
Braille Plastic Playing Cards
Large Print Cards
Marinoff Low Vision Playing Cards
E-Z Playing Cards
Jumbo Playing Cards
EZC Playing Cards Amazon.com
Large Print Cards
LowVisionPoker Playing Card Magnifier
Poker Player Newspaper - Article on seating players with special needs
Poker Tutorial in Irish Sign Language
Target - Playing Card Holder
The Bridge Shop - Playing Card Holders
The Cube - Hole Card Viewer Playing Card Magnifier (Dead link February 2016)
Walgreens - Playing Card Holder
Feel free to contact me if you know of a good website that sells equipment that might be used by poker
players with special needs.