With Open Source used to advance accessibility in learning management systems (see Part 1), then Open Textbooks used to advance the teaching of accessibility in post secondary computer science (see Part 2), a logical next step along these lines might be using Open Source and OER to model accessible gaming.
Late in the project that brought together the open textbooks for teaching accessibility (see Part 1), as we were starting work on the fifth of the MOOC courses, the hosting platform changed its policies. No longer able to host our courses, we ended up going straight to the textbook for the development of the final course in the series (i.e. Understanding Document Accessibility). This left us with a little surplus, that our funder agreed to let us “play” with, so to speak.
People tend to learn better when they experience what they are learning, with the courses and the textbooks both heavily experiential. The Chang School being a leader in Serious Games development aimed at experiential learning, we decided to create a game to introduce web accessibility to those new to the subject. The Accessibility Maze was created to help players experience firsthand, the barriers and the frustrations that people with disabilities often experience in web content.
Players, for instance, learning why text alternatives are required to make visual content accessible, are put in a situation where they are presented with an image that they are not able to see effectively. A text alternative ultimately provides a way to get around that inability. When faced with a room in a level that only functions with a mouse, after becoming keyboard users themselves in order to play the rest of the game, frustration often results, just before they are given a hint to use a mouse. The result is often an “aha” moment, when they realize they just experienced a barrier that many people with disabilities encounter every day. The emotion attached to the experience acts to make the lesson a memorable one they won’t soon forget. The next time they add an image to a document, or encounter an activity that requires using a mouse, it’s very likely they’ll recall their experience with the game.
The Accessibility Maze
The game was created to both teach the basics of web accessibility, and to model accessible game development. The game itself, though challenging, can be played with a current screen reader (JAWS 2020, NVDA, or ChromeVox) using a current browser (Chrome or Firefox). The content of the game is also released under CC-BY-SA, including a sixth, smaller book, that introduces some of the more common accessibility issues, and the solutions to correct them.
Some of the key elements of the game that add accessibility:
- The entire game operates with a keyboard (no mouse required).
- All visual elements are described with text that is readable by screen readers.
- As screen reader users navigate, each action is announced (e.g. “Moved right”, “Bumped into a wall”).
- When entering a level, a hidden description of the level is announced by screen readers to orient the player.
- Where mouse interaction is required, hidden keyboard shortcuts are announced for screen readers that accomplish the same interaction.
- Accessibility features are described at the start of the game.
- The game can be exited, and returned to later to continue where one left off.
The game remains a work in progress, with the intent to continue adding levels that introduce additional accessibility lessons, in the future.
Readers here are encouraged to play the game, and if inclined, offer their feedback or suggestions in the form provided at the end of the game.
Greg Gay is the IT Accessibility Specialist at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, at Ryerson University. He led the projects to develop the OERs and Open Source software described here, and is the primary author of the books and game content. He’s been in the accessibility field since 1995, as a web developer with a formal background in disability and adaptive instruction, and has been developing and teaching online since 2000.