Games are a fun pastime no matter your age or ability. Finding a game that resonates with you and is truly enjoyable can at times be challenging, especially if you’re one of the millions currently living with some sort of accessibility issue. This blog will look at various types of gameplay for persons with visually impairments and/or blindness.
Traditional Home-Based Games for the Visually Impaired
Card and board games seem to be the most plentifully available when searching for games that have been adapted for users of all backgrounds and abilities. These games range from Monopoly, Uno, and Scrabble all the way down to your basic set of cards. This section will look at three different games Freeze Up!, low vision Scrabble tiles, and Rummikub for the visually impaired.
Freeze Up!: Two to eight players will have a hilarious time thinking of a name that belongs in the category they have chosen. For instance, if the category is “animals” and the first letter must be “s”, the player can say “snake” or “snail” or any other word beginning with “s”. Each player is given 60 seconds per game to think of names in the categories. The last player to use up his or her time is the winner. No vision is needed, just good recall and a sense of fun. Includes 170 categories, such as “capital cities” to “snack foods” and thousands of questions. Recommended for ages 8 years to mature adults who want to keep their minds nimble.
Low Vision Scrabble Pieces: Tile pieces measure 3/8” high with ½” high bold print letters. There are 100 plastic game pieces included. See Scrabble instructions if you’re unsure or have never played before.
Rummikub Original with Braille: The original version of this classic game includes the 106 tiles and 4 sturdy racks for holding them. The colors stand out boldly against the ivory tiles. See Rummikub Instructions or this YouTube Video on how to play if you’ve never played before.
Team Sports for the Visually Impaired
There are many different team sports that have been retrofitted for those who are visually impaired and/or totally blind. Three of these team sports are Bell Basketball, Goalball, and Beep Baseball.
Bell Basketball, also referred to as Audible or Can Do Basketball, incorporates the use of a regulation size and weight basketball with internal bells that ring whenever it is in motion. A buzzer (Goal Locator) in a pouch can be placed on the basket, and an extra bell to attach to the net so that it rings when the ball goes through it. ILA offers both the Can Do Basketball Kit with Buzzer and the Can Do Basketball with Bell by itself.
Goalball, according to the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA), is the most popular team sport for the blind and visually impaired. The sport originated in 1946 when Austrian Hanz Lorrenzen and German Sett Reindle developed the game as a way to keep blinded WWII veterans physically active. Goalball has since become the premier team sport for blind athletes and is played competitively in 112 countries.
In goalball, two teams of three players each face each other across a court that is nine meters wide and 18 meters long. The object of the game is to roll a basketball size ball with bells inside over the opponent’s goal line. Your opponents listen for the oncoming ball and attempt to block it with their bodies. Once they are able to stop the ball and take control of it, they become the offensive team. You can purchase the Official Goalball from ILA.
Beep Baseball has been around since 1976 according to the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA). They have been dedicated to ensuring folks with low or no vision can participate in America’s favorite pastime. Using a combination of a beeping ball and buzzing bases, they have created a baseball field setup that allows visually impaired athletes to play using their ears rather than eyes. Beep baseball is a challenging, physically demanding and enjoyable competitive sport for athletes who are blind or visually impaired. The teams are co-ed so that everyone can be included, and there are regular championships that bring extra competitive fun into the picture.
Virtual Online and Video Games for the Visually Impaired
Just because a person is unable to see or at least not as well as they once could does not mean they should not be able to enjoy gaming in a more traditional sense of the term. This section will focus on two articles that provide insight on what the gaming world is currently like for the visually impaired as well as what the future may hold.
Gaming Has Many Visually Impaired Fans. Why Not Serve Them Better?: As surprising as it may seem, given the visually intensive nature of most games today, there are visually impaired people all over the world playing games — whether they were designed with them in mind or not. A few years ago, Madden NFL graphics developer Karen Stevens won a “game jam” — or hackathon — at the video game company Electronic Arts.
Her pitch: tweak the code to make it possible to adjust, brightness and contrast controls, opt for bigger menu icons and change the colors — you know, for people who are colorblind. “Turns out one out of 12 men are colorblind, and one out of 200 women,” Stevens says. “There are probably half a million color-blind Madden players, so it really makes an impact.”
She’s quoted as saying, “Just because a game isn’t designed to be accessible, doesn’t mean people can’t play it. Like, when I started my role, people were already playing EA games — blind. They just didn’t have any support, so they would struggle with things, but they would still play.”
Marco Salsiccia of San Francisco is the very kind of gamer likely to benefit from this kind of development. Salsiccia lost his left eye to retinal cancer as a baby, and related complications took his right eye about four years ago. “My vision just went dark one day, in a matter of 30 minutes, and it never came back.”
He plays online in game rooms with blind or otherwise visually impaired players from all over the world. He reels off the games he can play. “Monopoly. Uno. Blackjack. Yahtze. Battleship. Shut the box. Cards against humanity. I’m able to come into a game room, open up a little table. people can join me, or I can invite my friends and we can all play rummy together or any of the games here.
But there are also immersive games that put the audio front and center — like The Nightjar, a sci fi thriller set in outer space.
Salsiccia explains, “The whole experience is narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, so you have his voice in your ears, guiding you through the game, while your character’s trying to escape a space station that’s been overrun by aliens and is being sucked into the event horizon of a black hole.”
If you are interested in listening to or seeing how a person with limited vision can play online games, one gamer in England who goes by the moniker “SightlessKombat” has developed an international reputation playing first-person shooter games. You can watch him on his YouTube channel.
Lost and Hound: Video games for the visually impaired: The International Game Developers Association estimates 10 to 20% of people do not play video games because of a disability. The concept of creating a video game for blind people might seem unusual, but the idea is being embraced by game designers including West Aussie indie game developer Brian Fairbanks.
Brian’s rescue dog adventure game Lost and Hound is fully accessible for visually impaired people. Lost and Hound looks like a regular game, but if you play with headphones, you can complete the levels using audio alone.
Brian says vision impaired players are better at the game than sighted players. “[Sighted people] don’t use sound to inform their decisions, it’s more reactionary … but blind people do all the time so they’re much better at the game,” he says. “When you think about how much information can be transmitted through sound alone, the breadth of what you can do is incredible.”
Brian is also part of a tech startup game studio, Ebon Sky Studios, which is developing a custom game engine software that enables blind people to create their own video games. Vision impaired users will be able to create video games using voice control to select options from a series of audio menus (such as “brick house”) to create a game world. You can also find out information as it becomes available through their Facebook page.