Keep your game accessible

A Building Browsergames reader by the name of BlindAngel recently got in touch with me to talk a little bit about accessibility in browsergames – namely, the fact that it’s something a lot of browsergame developers tend not to think about when they are developing their games.

In the interest of transparency, I should clarify something here; BlindAngel is blind. So she, more than anyone else I know, is well qualified to talk about accessibility in browsergames; it’s a topic that applies directly to her.

One of the first groups she mentioned to me with accessibility concerns was people with vision loss; for people with less-than-perfect vision can have problems with text sizes on websites. Take a look at any website you run – how big is the text? Would you be able to read it from a meter away?

Another group that can have problems with games is those that are color blind, or have trouble distinguishing colors – sometimes simple combinations like black text on a white background can look blurry, and be difficult for them to read.

The biggest accessibility challenge for people who are blind is that, in BlindAngel’s words, “people forget that we have to use an automated program to access anything on the computer”. She mentions that captcha’s are a big problem for screen readers(and you shouldn’t be using them anyway, because they don’t work). In her case, she has actually ended up not playing games that she was interested in that used captchas.

Another problem that blind people face when playing games is with images in general; BlindAngel gives the example of a game she plays with cyphers in it:

Some games and site rely on the person being able to see to be able to play sections of their game, for example In one game I play there are missions to do and they include cyphers, this is where a word is comprised of individual letters that are 1 letter per graphic and then scrambled. As I am unable to see, this is completely skipped by my screenreader…

Another issue she has is that alt tags on images are not always used correctly; the description needs to be “clear and concise”:

…there is nothing worse than a description that tells you it’s a person – are they doing something? is it male or female, adult or child, dressed or not…

Javascript is also not very well-suited to screen readers; BlindAngel mentioned that she has encountered dropdown menus that contain links – and as soon as she scrolls down the list so that her screen reader reads them, they redirect her to the page that they are linked to, instead of allowing her to read them.

Using accesskeys for some of the links on your page is a simple but effective accessibility tweak; for someone relying on a screen reader, they are not going to be able to instantly look at all the links on the page – instead having to read through them one by one. By consistently making it so that the ‘h’ key goes to home, and the ‘p’ key goes to the user’s profile, they no longer have to read through all the links on the page when all they want to do is go to their profile page.

These are some of the bigger accessibility problems encountered by people with disabilities who want to play browsergames; but as developers, we can fix them. It’s easy enough to add more descriptive alt text to your images, and basic accesskeys to the important links in your game. You want players for your game, right? There are thousands of disabled people out there; and making even just a few of these accessibility changes will propel your game to the forefront of their ‘to-play’ lists.

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Luke is the primary editor of Building Browsergames, and has written a large portion of the articles that you read here. He generally has no idea what to say when asked to write about himself in the third person.

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Monday, February 2nd, 2009 accessibility
  • In addition to the comment about it being hard to find blind testers, another problem I ran into quite early when trying to stay blind friendly, is that JAWS (or whatever screen reader program) didn't handle javascript very well, and of course ajax is completely out of the question, so it makes it harder to stay cutting edge.

  • JohnMunsch

    This is something we should talk about regularly. The game I'm working on now scales well with the built in scaling in Firefox for people with low vision and it won't have any critical graphics or a captcha either. But that doesn't mean I'm off the hook.

    My problem, and this probably affects a lot of other developers as well, is that I don't have anybody I know well who is: a) blind b) interested in computers c) interested in PBBGs. What I need is a list of testers who have special requirements and who would take the time to try new games and give feedback. Anybody like that would be at the top of my invite list when it comes beta time.

  • Morgain

    I am a blind gamer and I would be more than interested in beta testing; accessible browser-based games are very important to me.

  • I just want to point out here that Firefox's built in fulltext zoom *is* pretty nice, and a lot of browsers are moving towards supporting it - but I'm afraid that not all browsers support it just yet(which means you probably shouldn't rely on it).

  • Very intresting! But what I would like to know is: what ARE good colour combinations and text sizes?

  • It looks like Tom has already found a few sites that will help you figure
    that out - I'd recommend starting there.

  • Tom

    Thanks. This is a timely article as I've been thinking through these kinds of issues for my own browser-based game lately. However, the link to BlindAngel's site seems to be misdirected or broken. If you can update us on that, I'd love to read more of her thoughts.

    A couple of links I've come across in my research:
    Web Accessibility: http://www.webaim.org/
    Good info on designing accessible web sites, which of course applies to browser-based games as well. Some good insights into how screen reader users navigate sites.

    Color Blind Web Page Filter: http://colorfilter.wickline...
    This one is cool as you can see what your site looks like to users with various forms of color blindness, another accessibility issue that's easy to forget to compensate for.

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Building Browsergames is a blog about browsergames(also known as PBBG's). It's geared towards the beginner to intermediate developer who has an interest in building their own browsergame.

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