We started Accessible Gaming Quarterly to help improve the RPG community as a whole. In this segment, we’ll answer questions that came straight from AGQ fans who want to make a difference, too.
Is there any way to make standard gaming notation (e.g., #d# or card suits typed as symbols) more accessible to players/GMs/fans who use screen readers?
Great question. Part of this answer has to do with how the screen reader is configured to read symbols, but part of it also has to do with the way the text and symbols are formatted to begin with. As a designer or writer you can’t control the former, but there’s a lot you can do to help improve accessibility on your end.
(Tip for screen reader users: try changing your verbosity settings to read some or most punctuation. This will help it read aloud hyphens or dashes, rather than skip over them.)
For standard dice notation, such as XdY, I don’t recall ever encountering a problem. The screen readers I have used typically encounter 1d6, 2d10, and 4dF in basically the same way a sighted reader might interpret those notations. They sometimes struggle when adding or, more often, subtracting a number from a dX roll.
For example, 1d10-1 might not always be read as “1 dee 10 minus 1.” In fact, the reader I am currently using to write this (NVDA with Windows 10) reads it as “1 dee 10 dash 1.” As a screen reader user, I mentally interpret “dash” to mean “minus.” This isn’t a problem for me, and there isn’t much a designer can do to guess how the screen reader is going to interpret this notation because it’s different for every reader and every synthetic voice.
In short: XdY +/- Z is probably pretty safe to use as normal.
What about other notations though, such as card suits or Fudge / Fate dice?
Use Unicode characters for card suits, rather than images. Unicode characters are the text symbols you get when you use Word’s “Insert Symbols” feature, for example, or what you get out of the Windows Character Map utility. They look like this:
♠, ♥, ♦, ♣
Different screen readers interpret these differently, but the user should be able to parse what they are hearing. For example, when I read the above line with NVDA I hear “Spade suit, Heart suit, black Diamond, black Club.” When I read the same line using Windows Narrator, I hear “black Spade, black Heart, black Diamond, black Club.”
I have both these readers configured to use Microsoft Zira as the voice, so it seems to be the individual screen reader that is altering the way these are read. In both scenarios I understand what I’m reading, but I prefer the consistency of Windows Narrator in this case.
As a designer, it’s not your job to guess how the screen reader might be configured. Using these Unicode characters will, at a minimum, ensure the user can read them in the first place. If these were all just images, my reader wouldn’t be able to interpret them at all.
Finally, for Fudge / Fate Dice, use +, -, and 0 (where 0 represents a blank die). Conveniently, if you use the Fate Dice font by Evil Hat, that is how the symbols are already mapped. Again, you shouldn’t use images to replace these characters. You can get the Fate Font at https://www.faterpg.com/licensing/
If you are using something non-standard, the rule of thumb is to do your best to not just use an image. If you simply must use images to represent something, make sure it has been properly tagged with Alt Text (the text you see when you hover your mouse over certain graphics).
When you aren’t certain how something will be read aloud, try it yourself. There is a free screen reader built into every major operating system nowadays: Windows Narrator, VoiceOver (Mac and iOS), and TalkBack (Android) to name a few. Try enabling the screen reader on the device you are using and getting it to read your text. If you can make sense of it, you’re probably safe.
Tanya Floaker of Edinburgh Indie Gamers asks:
What are common barriers to accessibility found at game clubs? What can existing clubs do to improve?
I love that you’re asking this, because it means you’re aware that there may be issues and that you want to act to address them.
The biggest barrier to accessibility, in my opinion, is lack of clear communication and understanding. Many times, people assume they know what a disabled person needs in order to get around or accomplish a task, and in their good intention will step in to help whether it’s welcome or not. When someone with a disability shows up to your game club, there are two things you must do (in this order):
- Ask if it’s okay to ask. Some people aren’t comfortable discussing their disability or they manage just fine on their own without getting others involved. Ask a person if it’s okay to ask them about their disability, and ask if it’s okay to offer help.
- Let them know it’s a safe place to ask. Verbalize this when you greet them by literally saying something like “Let us know if you need anything.” Back that up by being willing to help when someone asks. More importantly, show them it’s safe by not dominating their actions; if you think someone needs help, ask them and don’t just assume before lending a hand.
The more you communicate openly and respectfully, the more comfortable a person will feel when they are around you or your club. This goes for everyone whether they have a disability or not, but it’s especially true for people who are used to being marginalized or minimized.
I’d wager that’s not the answer you were expecting, but it’s the best I have to offer. Everything else truly depends on the club and the individuals involved.
(As an aside though, there’s also an issue of bathroom access. Make sure the bathrooms are accessible at the facility you’re in, and make sure people with mobility issues have an unobstructed path to them Most people don’t want to have to ask the group for help getting to the bathroom when they need to go.)
Patrick Farrell asks:
Is there a game mechanic that’s widely used but also greatly limits accessibility?
Yes, there are a surprising number of them.
The first that comes to mind are complicated dice pools. For anyone unfamiliar, a “dice pool” is a mechanic where you grab multiple dice to roll at once. Let’s say you take a die from one skill, add in two dice for your attribute, and a fourth for the type of action you’re taking.
When all the dice are of the same type, this can be a little cumbersome. When you add dice of varying types into the same pool, it can be overwhelming from a mathematical and a visual perspective. It’s a lot harder to parse numbers on multiple die types at once than it is on just one type. Sure, it’s fun to build a huge pool and roll a fist full of dice, but it comes with drawbacks.
Another mechanic that may not be quite as common nowadays, but still rears its ugly head at times, is heavy math. Addition and subtraction come easier than multiplication for most people. Division is the worst and can really slow things down. Even non-disabled gamers can have a difficult time dividing at the table. It’s one thing to use a bit of complex math during character creation, but I would never suggest using it during play.
This may go without saying, but dependence on miniatures is another one. I love minis and have quite the collection myself, but as a blind person I also find that it is difficult to play with them at the gaming table.
I appreciate the strategy minis add to a game and still love using them, but I have yet to find a way to make them truly accessible to use. I find myself completely reliant on others to describe what is happening on the map and to help me move my character. It’s like I’m using “theater of the mind” while everyone else is using a battle map. Games that don’t rely on minis put everyone on the same playing field.
Travis Peterson came up with a great way to use Microsoft Excel for battle maps—see Accessible Gaming Quarterly Issue 4 (April 2021) for more details. His method doesn’t use actual minis, but a blind person can use this method to make more tactical decisions.
To put a positive spin on this question, there are some things a designer can do to make their game accessible to a wide variety of players. I wrote a three-part series on the Accessible Games blog entitled “Why Fudge is a Great Accessible RPG” (link). It details some of the best mechanics of the Fudge System (which are shared by the various Fate systems as well). In short: the game uses simple math, simple language, and simple dice mechanics without sacrificing flexibility. Your game doesn’t have to use Fudge Dice or the Trait Ladder to be accessible, but it may be helpful to take some design cues from this system.
After putting the word out to Kickstarter backers that I needed questions to answer for this segment, I received a lot of great responses. Now I’d like to open it up to you, dear reader. What burning questions do you have about accessibility, disability, or inclusion as they relate to tabletop games?