Vision impairment and blindness, games, and accessibility

edited October 2011 in Story Games
So a lot of you probably remember my friend Karla, the young woman we ran the AMAZINGLY SUCCESSFUL "Sight for sore eyes" fundraising bundle for. The money has allowed her to do and see things she never would have gotten to do and see otherwise, but of course, money is not a cure. Recently, she posted a heartbreaking note on Facebook about how she realized she can no longer see the stars at night, and how she didn't even realize that she'd lost the ability until she was actively looking for them.

After the shock subsided, I got to thinking about vision impairment and games— there are plenty of traditional boardgames that have been modified into braille versions, and a few art games made to show sighted people what it's like to be blind. But the more I thought about it, the more perfect tabletop RPGs seemed to be for the vision impaired; it's easy to get dice with raised or recessed numbers or pips, and you don't miss a second of the action by not being able to see what's going on.

Which made me wonder: how many of you have gamed with (or are) blind or vision-impaired gamers? How are character sheets handled? Is there anything we as publishers can do to make our PDFs more accessible? I imagine braille transcription and printing is pretty pricey.

Comments

  • Posted By: ElizabethWhich made me wonder: how many of you have gamed with (or are) blind or vision-impaired gamers?
    Would you count in dyslexia? If so, then that's what I deal with. I also routinely game with a synesthetic, but that's hard to predict for, because that's a board term for sensory cross-wiring.

    But I assume you just mean blindness, and I don't in tabletop. I did used to MUSH with some blind players, and I knew the admins, and I knew they build some blind-friendly options because the ANSI GUI elements were playing hell on their readers.

    - Ryan
  • Posted By: ElizabethIs there anything we as publishers can do to make our PDFs more accessible?
    I don't know if it's something that the readers struggle with, but have you ever had a PDF you wanted to copy some text from, but because the page was in a two-column format, you ended up copying both columns mixed together?
    Copy & pasted from Dresden Files RPG vol 1, page 10 The Nevernever—the world of fae and
    ghosts—is just on the other side of a veil from
    For most people, Chicago is Chicago, America is normal life; courts of vampires divide the night
    America, and Earth is Earth—but there’s more among them; the White Council of wizards
    to the world than that. tries to protect the innocent and stop the misuse
    c
    Beneath the “normal” surface of the world of magic.
    are things and people which most humans don’t All of this is going on, right under our noses.
    know about, don’t want to know about, and However, this is also a world where a single
    will do their best to forget about if they ever person, in the right place, at the right time, can
    come anywhere near them. That dead body do the right thing and save the people he cares
    d
    This is just one example, but I wonder if the reader is saying:
    "The Nevernever—the world of fae and ghosts—is just on the other side of a veil from For most people, Chicago is Chicago, America is normal life; courts of vampires divide the night America, and Earth is Earth—but there’s more among them; the White Council of wizards to the world than that..."

    Though, that could be reader-specific, or it's an artifact of InDesign that can't be helped if you're making a book multi-column, which is easier on the (functioning) eye for large books.

    I'll bet Fiasco does a far better job here, because of its form factor. But then the play itself is very visual with the way the note cards work, so maybe in practice it isn't. But now I'm speaking hypotheticals, which tells me that I'm done.

    - Ryan
  • Great question. I would recommend games played with braille playing cards, dominos or tokens. Marvel Universe RPG would be a good fit here, as would Mortal Coil, since it's all about moving tokens around.
  • Jason Morningstar plays (played?) with some blind folks. Dice can be rolled and you can feel the number or better yet have a friend call it out.

    Readers for the blind were pretty solid back in like 1993-1994, far before USB and PDFs. As long as the PDF isn't cluttered it should read the text fine. I haven't confirmed on the one vs two column thing ala Ryan's post above, but readers should recognize this straight up.

    Not sure about how indexing would help/hurt readers: Does it make it more accessible, or does it really not do anything because of the manipulation involved to get to the index?

    The good thing is that most companies are exploring the selling of PDFs. It wasn't too many years ago that only the self-publishers were doing PDFs/electronic copies, which to blind/visually impaired folks not providing an electronic alternative is pretty much giving them the finger...

    -Andy
  • My closest experience has been larping with a good friend who is severely color blind.

    Complicated larp rules have a bad habit of trying to use colored flags to indicate special effects, like having a magic aura up that may hurt someone if they attack you. If you have a complicated system of 4 different colors with different meanings, my buddy can't tell the difference. Plus, they start getting dumb and hard for sighted people to remember anyway. So having a severly color blind member makes for a good reason to dissuade system designers from making complicated color-based systems.

    And if you're doing like 2 colors, you can add stripes to the second color cue to make it easier for color blind folks to differentiate them. Having my friend around helps remind me to consider things like that.

    I play in a sci fi larp called Starship Valkyrie and I was recently working on a revised version of the main ship display, which is a big whiteboard that tracks the ship's status. Not only am I going to make the lettering much larger and clearer than the old version, but I've designed a damage track that combines both color changes and section breaks to indicate the damage groupings (0-3 is Sound, 4-6 is Hurt, 7-9 is Critical, and 10+ is Crippled). The breaks make it easier for folks like my color blind friend to see where those groupings are. Plus, they look good in the design.

    Actually, now that I think more about it, I think I played with a legally blind but about 10% sighted guy at conventions a few times. If I remember correctly, he liked playing in larps more than tabletop games - I don't think he liked needing to have someone else read his dice for him. He'd have a GM sit with him for a few minutes and read his character brief to him. It's been a long time since I've seen him.

    I think nowdays, if you're somewhat tech saavy, you could have electronic copies of character sheets ready to go on a smartphone or laptop. Then if you had a vision impaired player wanting to play your game, you could email them the info and they could listen to it on their smartphone reader program while the other players are reading their own stuff. That would be pretty awesome, and not very hard to accomidate for.

    You could easily have a set of games available at a con that were designated as visually impaired friendly. The amount of work beyond regular prep would be pretty negligable.

    And, of course, many low prep games are pretty visually impaired friendly to start with. Based on my second hand knowledge of it, Fiasco sounds like it would be super easy for a person with minimal or no sight to play. It only uses 6 sided dice, which are the easiest to read. And there's no stat sheet to worry about.
  • edited October 2011
    http://theblindgm.wordpress.com/

    Also, seriously, PDF is a format which is only "friendly" towards printing, or reading on a screen whose size matches the expectations of the maker. For all uses but printing, we should embrace less fancy formats which are more hack-able and usable… like, I dunno, plain old html.
  • edited October 2011
    Thanks for the link, Rafu, that's a cool site, I hope he (?) continues. I agree, PDF is a stopgap. It's a pretty shit format for reference materials, and accessibility is a big challenge too. What PDF has going for it is market share and control of a reader's printer. To me, the latter is a downside, not an upside. I'd rather have Dresden Files in a .rtf file that I can copy/paste/put in a font/pagination layout that I want when I distribute it, or a html file that I can link to particular sections/customize the index of/etc.

    Of course the vast majority of the market wants purty pictures, glossy pages and shit fiction, so there's that too.
  • edited October 2011
    PDFs can be no big deal or the Devil's cauldron of madness, depending. Simply tagging them is a good start. Screen readers basically parse them like Web pages, so use semantic markup, don't encode images as pages, and so on. Here are some WebAIM resources. If you want to talk about alternate formats let me know.

    The blind and visually impaired gamers I know play with a laptop open and have their character sheets (for D&D, L5R, Ars Magica etc) set up as spreadsheets. Dice are handled variously, usually electronically. Minis, when they come out, aren't a huge deal since they are tactile and a friend can always describe visual relationships. If you want to chat with a blind gamer let me know and I will hook you up. At the table it is less than no big deal.

    My sources tell me anecdotally that roleplaying games are hugely popular at state schools for the deaf and blind. I know a deaf couple who have a long-term Mage game they've been playing with each other for years. They always have their books and dice with them.
  • edited October 2011
    RPG audiobooks? Not being facaetious, I actually think that would be pretty great (and not only for visually-impaired gamers). It wouldn't solve the actual tabletop issues, and would need to be combined with other resources, but for learning a system it could be great to listen to the designer (or better yet, Roy Dotrice of the Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks!) reading the book aloud. Like using a screen-reader, except so much cooler.
  • My wife has low vision, which is one of the reasons I like Primetime Adventures - playings cards for the visually impaired are relatively easy to find. Simple character sheets are also a big bonus -- 32 or 64 point font means only a dozen words or so on a page. I've never been a fan of minis, so not using them is no problem, but I do regret not being able to hand out player reference sheets. Vivid descriptions and the occasional recap are key. she can take notes on her iPad, but prefers to focus on the speakers, not her notes.
  • I wrote some thoughts on using double-coding to make games more accessible for the color-blind. Also on the dangers of over-coding and under-coding.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: FelanRPG audiobooks? Not being facaetious,
    It would work about as well as textbook audiobooks, given how the information is instructional & procedural. Watch how people react when someone reads from the rulebook during a game, even when reading confidently. :/

    Though, Paul & I once talked about doing that for Penny, since the information is presented as text someone reads to the group, pausing at times to then play out.

    - Ryan
  • Yeah, I think it would have to be different sorts of instructions...

    Remember those old audio CD choose-your-own-adventure style story/games? "Forward to track 12 to go left"
  • Just recently played a Skype game with a blind GM, it went pretty smooth. The only hick-up was a few PDF tables that cut and pasted as a total hash. I called out the table as it was meant to be read and he transcribed that to braille. If face-to-face gaming is not an option, Skype is pretty effective.
    --
    TAZ
  • Posted By: FelanRPG audiobooks? Not being facaetious, I actually think that would be pretty great (and not only for visually-impaired gamers). It wouldn't solve the actual tabletop issues, and would need to be combined with other resources, but for learning a system it could be great to listen to the designer (or better yet, Roy Dotrice of the Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks!) reading the book aloud. Like using a screen-reader, except so much cooler.
    The handbook I'm working on for Bhaloidam is a comic book and we're seriously considering renting some studio time to record all the dialog so we can put together an animatic video of the comic book.

    And, since our character sheets are game boards with tokens, we did a lot of work (by using iconography and high-contrast color pairings) to make sure color blind Spinners can still interpret the information successfully.

    Also, the character state is represented by physical tokens, which should enable blind Spinners to easily track and updates their character state. For now the tokens are punch-board, but when we've got the extra funds, we're going to have 3d molded tokens with distinct raised patterns on them, which will also help. And I'd love to manufacturer embossed Lifewheels so the entire surface of the board can be read with the fingertips, but that's a little ways away at this point.
  • Skip to 4:15 in the video above. Multiple columns may not be an issue depending how your file is setup BUT your screen reader may read the 2nd column before the 1st! There are steps you can employ to avoid this.
  • Issues with text parsing go both ways - screen readers (and versions of screen readers) behave differently, just like Web browsers handle markup differently. Pick your battles; you can't necessarily make your stuff render beautifully in IE 4 and/or Window-Eyes 1.0. If complete compatibility is an objective, make sure you have more direct versions available, like a text file. Because they are so ubiquitous, vanilla .doc files usually read quite well in screen readers. Degrade gracefully.
  • @CorvusE: Being that it's on Kickstarter, Bhaloidam is not yet printed/published yet, right?

    Could you not put a simple, maybe 2-letter braille code on each token to differentiate them? Is that at all feasible?
  • Posted By: UserClone@CorvusE: Being that it's on Kickstarter, Bhaloidam is not yet printed/published yet, right?

    Could you not put a simple, maybe 2-letter braille code on each token to differentiate them? Is that at all feasible?
    You know, it might be. Once we have funding, I'll check with Panda GM and see how dimpling one side of the punchboards would effect cost. Otherwise, I could probably add small extra cuts so that each token-type is uniquely notched along the edges.
  • Maybe 20% of blind and visually impaired people in the US read Braille. How many different tokens are there? Differentiate by shape, size, texture, material.
  • I didn't know that statistic, Jason. And that tells me that notches might be a better approach.

    There are two sizes of token with 4 small token-types and 6 large token-types. And they're all hexes, which is part of the overall design so I'm reluctant to change that. Texture and material variance isn't possible at this point as they're all made from punchboard.

    But it would be easy enough to make unique cuts on the sides, which should be more than enough to differentiate the tokens by touch.
  • edited October 2011
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarMaybe 20% of blind and visually impaired people in the US read Braille. How many different tokens are there? Differentiate by shape, size, texture, material.
    That's it? Wow. I had assumed the percentage to be much higher.

    This doesn't help for blind folks, but if you're designing for the color-blind, there are applications that will make your screen look as if it were seen by someone with different types of color-blindness. It can be difficult to find one that does it accurately, so checking with someone who is will help.
    Windows tools: http://www.colblindor.com/2008/12/23/15-tools-color-blindness/
    Mac tools: http://michelf.com/projects/sim-daltonism/ and http://colororacle.cartography.ch/
  • Oh wow, thanks for the relevant statistic, Jason! In light of that, notches are sure the be the right way to go. Matter of fact, you could vary bot the size and pattern of the notches themselves, and the number and pattern of sides which are notched, giving you ample combinations. Really good stuff!
  • Posted By: Colin_Fredericks
    That's it? Wow. I had assumed the percentage to be much higher.
    And about 10% of blind children are being taught Braille, and 80% of the working blind know Braille, it is a pile of sad math.
  • There's a blind guy I know slightly through boffer LARPing in New England. He's got great hearing and can totally peg people with spell packets.

    I'm red-green colorblind myself and sometimes suffer from color-coding in games.

    This is a fascinating topic to me. Those stats on the blind are really infuriating. What, universal literacy for everyone except them?

    Matt
  • It seems like a short RPG could be recorded so that you could listen through all the rules. If each chapter was an audio track then you could flip through them and find what you were looking for somewhat quickly.
  • Posted By: DeliveratorThose stats on the blind are really infuriating.
    The explosion of genuinely helpful technology complicates this issue. If you don't know Braille you can still be literate, you just can't read with your hands.
  • edited October 2011

    This is really, really, informative stuff. Between that video and thoughts about double-coding for the colorblind from Daniel Solis and the creator of Pandemic, I have a whole new respect for game design that goes this extra mile for inclusion. You can bet that any game I am involved in will at least have this stuff suggested to the writer/designer, or will flat-out get done if I am the designer.

    Thanks, John and Daniel!
  • [cite]Posted By: Felan[/cite]RPG audiobooks? Not being facaetious, I actually think that would be pretty great (and not only for visually-impaired gamers). It wouldn't solve the actual tabletop issues, and would need to be combined with other resources, but for learning a system it could be great to listen to the designer (or better yet, Roy Dotrice of the Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks!) reading the book aloud. Like using a screen-reader, except so much cooler.

    Serial Homicide Unit may be relevant to your interests, however defunct the game itself is.
  • edited October 2011

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Posted By: Elizabeth

    Which made me wonder: how many of you have gamed with (or are) blind or vision-impaired gamers?

    I only know of one blind gamer in Montreal and I've never gamed with him, although I've seen him around at conventions.

    How are character sheets handled? Is there anything we as publishers can do to make our PDFs more accessible? I imagine braille transcription and printing is pretty pricey.

    What I've done for my game Muse is publish it in PDF, HTML and ePub. The HTML and ePub versions in particular should be a breeze for any text-to-speech software to render into speech.

    The major drawback for the publisher is that whenever you make a new updated release all of the different formats need to be updated. You can either use one universal format that you transform into the others (this is what I did, changing a plain text Markdown master document into the other 3 formats using Calibre and MS Word), or you can maintain 3 separate copies. Either way it's tricky.

    --Jonathan

  • Thanks for all the info, I checked out some of the stuff that I converted to PDF and was amazed at how bad the screen reader was. Since I don't have the nifty tools, I'll probably keep a text based edition for those that want the no frills version with attention paid to descriptions of images and the like.
    --
    TAZ
  • Posted By: ElizabethI imagine braille transcription and printing is pretty pricey.
    Elizabeth, I forgot to respond to this - Braille printers are expensive, standard-Braille format paper is somewhat expensive, but transcription is easy and fast (character-for-character substitution). So the real key is to find some entity with a Braille printer (like a university disability services office), negotiate, and show up with a stack of paper and a few chocolate bars. You could also query the NFB and see if there are volunteers in your area that will help out.

    Side note - Steve Jackson Games at one time had such a hook-up and would make a Braille version of their products on request. Not sure if this offer is still in effect but it was cool of them.
  • I wanted to check this: whew, the 6dot kickstarter was successful. It's an easy Braille label printer. For Braille readers, this could be a useful tool.
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