Podcast 28: How to design for people with varying abilities and disabilities?

Welcome to a question of gamification. My name is An Coppens. I’m the show host of this show and the chief game changer at Gamification Nation. Today we are bringing to you the question, how can I design for people with disabilities? And first thing I was going to say, this is part of the series of inclusion by design. So I promise to share my thoughts, my philosophy, but also the things we do to actively include people and watch out for people in our designs so that they are the most successful as possible. Oh, I also explained in one of the previous podcasts that I see all of the different leaders of inclusion that we should look at. So gender, age, culture and ability as a spectrum. So the spectrum of disabilities and abilities is vast and wide to some disabilities are visible, some disabilities are not, mental health is often considered, under disabilities and you can’t see it.

Colorblindness is, you know, can be very disabling. And again, it’s not visible to us, but the person experiencing it experiences it a lot. Some chronic diseases cause pain. But may not make the person look different on the outside. So from a design perspective that brings with it a whole range of different challenges and, and different interesting points. The first point for people with varying level of abilities, and I’m calling people with abilities because even if you can’t see, you can’t touch, you have not all the limbs available to you or in use or in working order, you still have abilities. They may be limited, they may be the same. So a person in a wheelchair could just be as mentally able as the next person. We’re just not physically able to do the sport. So, you know, you have to see it from a spectrum perspective.

And I think even with the analogy with autism and is being quite relevant, which you know, the autistic girl Gretta Turnberg being in the news so much. I find it fascinating how many people are slating her for standing up for something she believes in. Whilst if this was a grown white man, would we have the same impact and the same, I suppose, nastiness towards him. And maybe, you know, this day and age you probably would judging by our current day politicians, but Hey, that’s a completely different story and a completely different mindset of all I was wanted to, to bring without analogy is that autism has been recognized as a spectrum. So there’s so many degrees and various variations of it manifesting. People have grades of being normally able to do everything and very different in the way that they do and process different things.

So the first thing for inclusion for differences of abilities is accessibility and acceptance. Now, accessibility and acceptance. If you think about it, try navigating the world as a blind person. Try navigating the world as a person in a wheelchair to understand what I mean with that. I did an experiment at an event not too long ago where I used monopoly paper money. And asked, you know, can you pick that up with a hand? And of course that was not a problem for the person. Now pick it up with, you know, your hand in your sleeves so that your fingers have knots, the same touch. The person managed to do it but it required a different skills. And then I asked them to pick it up without hands and that then became a lot more challenging. Some people reach for their feet, some people took it with their teeth.

So you know, it’s, you know, it poses a whole different range of things. And the first thing we often see when we’re designing systems for inclusion is that access is the first point. Even from a building perspective where most organizations fail is that person with the wheelchair or the person that is blind, the person with all sorts of physical ailments is just not able to make it through the door. So they fail at point of access. In video software that can be the same and abilities here could range from the physical variety to actually cognitively can they actually easily play and understand how to play. So access is one thing. Acceptance that there are people with differences of abilities is another. I mean, especially when you have family members with a different abilities that look a little bit different, you often see people stare.

You often see people look away as if they should be invisible or it shouldn’t be out. And the reality is they’re, just as special and as good as everybody else. So from my perspective, it’s making it visible, making them enjoy it. I, you know, worked with, with different schools of children, with differences of abilities and in the end of the day, everyone from a child with full abilities in, you know, physical, mental, relational, you name it, compared to anyone with limitations, in the end of the day, we all want to be seen. We all want to be heard and we all want to be loved and creating a sense of belonging and giving them the ability to play and feel part of the game is essential. Of course, they will have different outcomes. They may have different special skills. You know, my niece is a master in memory games and I think she learns that way too to navigate her her society.

She’s 21 but she hasn’t got the same mental ability. She’s probably stuck somewhere around 10 but play memory game and she’ll beat you hands down and she, she loves her game play. So, you know, these are the kinds of things that, that we need to be mindful of as designers. So what should you take into account? So first of all, inclusion is about giving them access, giving them ways to play. Way back, I read a book by Tim cook and it was about second life. Second life was a virtual world for those of you who have never heard of it. And he actually took an example of a care home where every once a week or twice a week, a group of disabled people would be allowed to play a character in second life. Some people are the arms, some people were leg and together they performed as a real normal person.

And the experiences that people had was a sense of freedom, a sense of being part of the world as if they were a normal person. So allowing your character to show up as they are. If they choose to show up with all of their special superpowers and you know, the, maybe this special disadvantages that they have. Fair enough, let them but also allow them to maybe as a group play one character to make it inclusive. Maybe, you know, once the person says on entry, I have X, a limitation that’s there is compensation built into your system so they can enjoy and play at the same level. So I always see designing for inclusion is around understanding and accepting that there are people with different perspectives, different abilities and with limitations. At the very minimum, having sound and sound narrative is like a design that should help quite a number of people.

So if you can’t see, if you can’t read, if your cognitive ability is limited in what you can understand, speech instructions, letter types that can be enhanced to be made bigger. So visually people can see it better contrasts of colors so that people with vision limitations can actually engage and play all the way down to controllers. Now, controllers by very nature have often been designed to fit certain size per people a certain size, hands and, you know, motor skills that are completely in tuned adapting them and allowing the adaptation to, to be possible to, if not playing by hands, play by feet, play by eye movement. These are the kinds of things that then makes the design considerations much more specialists that may be down. Oh, the very narrow lane. When I speak about inclusion, when designing for inclusion, what we’re trying to make sure that as many people as possible can play without needing modification to your systems.

So having clues in the system that are visible, but having clues that are linked to narrative, having clues to the system that basically guide you based on limitations and based on having full powers and maybe having different journeys through a tool designed from the outside to be able to include playing in black and white mode, which for people with color blindness is what happens every day. But some of our designs actually don’t work very well for that. When we make presentations, our slides visibly pleasing. I mean, we had looked at our social media for example, and some of the things we were pushing out are design tips where we do very busy backgrounds and you know, from a design perspective all nice and dandy, but from a person with a visionary problems, major challenge. So we’re aiming to change that.

Sometimes my team gets it right. Sometimes we still need to instruct them a bit more. So bear with us while we, while we’re all learning I would say, the way around making sure that your design is as inclusive as it can be is also to engage testers from these target groups. So engage testers of different abilities, tests or is up play testers that are typically not included in, in play. And we designed mainly for the workforce. So the most common kind of things are around Metoric, around a hearing, around vision. And part of that is because even the workplace is not set to be inclusive a lot of the time. Creating a sense of belonging is basically allowing people to be part of your game, part of your play without singling them out as a special, I mean I’m a celiac so I have to eat gluten free.

It’s not crazy thing, but it always makes me stand out when I have to look for the special menu. Having it on the menu included a listed as what’s gluten free and what’s not gluten free stops me from having to single myself out. Hey, I’m a troublesome person and you know, often for waiting staff thats just as awkward for them as it is for me. So having these things readily available on the same menu as everything else is more inclusive. Then for example, having the special menu, now, I can totally live with a special menu too. Cause that means some thought has gone into it. So, you know, but in some places they force you then to order from the manager. And not any general waiter or waitress. I had some incidents in hotels where, you know, a waitress would have told, Oh no, but the celiac societies, or this was good.

And I would’ve said, well, you know, this was an instance where the bread basket, so the gluten free bread was open on the same bread calendar with regular bread. Now for those of you who don’t understand what a celiac is, it’s people that get very ill when day ingest gluten, that’s wheat, oats, barley. And by pushing the bread mixed in with other bread and other bread being passed over to gluten free bread to put it into the toaster and even giving the same toaster for people, which a gluten allergy or gluten or celiac diseases is a major problem. So if regular crumbs go into the celiac crumbs or the celiac bread, it would mean that I’m physically sick and basically we’ll revise my whole breakfast dinner or whatever it was I was eating. Now the same wish, if preparation was done in the same area and it was cross-contaminated.

So seeing small things can actually make a massive big difference. Just keeping it separate in a separate area, away from the regular bread covered so that the crumbs from one to the other don’t fall in it even better, keep it pre-packaged so they don’t actually can get in there even if somebody by mistake drops regular bread in with it. So you know, there is, there is many things that can be done but they’re subtle there meaning that you need to be as a designer, mindful and aware I’m always reading up on these things. I follow blogs from people with different abilities. I follow Twitter accounts on inclusion and it’s some, there’s some fantastic research that comes out where, you know, you’re looking at levels of inclusion levels of things you can do. Design manuals are often available that give you assistance on how to do it better, how to make it better.

Now, I’m not claiming I know everything, but I will say that we look at the audience that we’re designing for and we try to design for the majority, the majority, we try and make as wide as possible so that kids with a variety of levels of ability can play. And the same for adults in our workplace. Gamification, the most common things are vision issues where some people are blind, some people have different levels of vision. Colorblindness is quite prevalent physical ability where maybe one arm or not having full motoric skills or limitations around with motorics or essential. So making sure that there is minimum adaptation rate or minimal adaptation required for those people to also engage with games. And gamification is quite critical. And just take a cross platform games as an example. In cross-platform games, depending what the core first platform is that the game was designed for, that’s where you probably have the biggest advantage in play.

So if you play Fortnite on an iPad, you will probably be warped by people playing on a console or a PC because of the level of control that they have over their character being so much more advanced than much more easy to control. So the way to get it right and the way to, to do better as an industry is to engage and ask groups of pilot testers of varying levels of ability with various limitations to come and play in common tests. And if you have designers who come from the perspective where they have limitations themselves, they will be the first to point out, Hey, have you thought of this? Hey, have you spotted that? Because they no they live it, they know about it every single day of their real life. So inclusion by design is an ongoing challenge. And you know, it’s an ongoing learning curve.

I’m always discovering new things that I didn’t get right. And it is a case of trialing and error, but also seeking feedback and seeking responses from those that you are trying to be inclusive for. So I hope this helps you and I hope that you’re enjoying the series of inclusion by design. Yes. Do send me on your questions. If they’re relating to inclusion, if they’re relating to anything to do with games or gamification, we’d love to address them. We work mainly on gamification for the workplace. So if that’s an area of your interest, do reach out. We can answer any question in that space as well. So if you like us and you like what we’re talking about, please do give us a star rating on this system that you’re listening to and share it forward. Thank you very much for listening.


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