Recently, one of our clients at Google reached out to us to book a session of one of our most popular team building activities, a virtual escape room called Escape Alcatraz. But, there was one small twist…several of our participants would be visually impaired!
Now, we’ve hosted thousands of games of Escape Alcatraz and our team is very experienced. We’ve translated our games to new languages to make them accessible to a global audience, helped with the controls for groups of players who didn’t have computer access, and everything in between…but this was easily our greatest challenge to-date.
So, in this article we’re going to share how we adapted our virtual escape room for a visually impaired/legally blind audience and what you can learn from our experience!
Make our browser-based virtual escape room, Escape Alcatraz, accessible to a visually-impaired audience without any degradation to the overall experience.
Our timeline? 2 weeks until game day.
During our brainstorming session, we boiled down the challenge into three key questions:
Visually impaired people interact with the internet using a plethora of incredible technologies. To begin, we did some collective research into screen readers, Braille displays, and speech recognition software to better understand their functionality. Here is what we found about each technology:
Widely used in the visually impaired community and very accessible. Mainly used to dictate text, thus making it the least useful tool for a visual virtual game like Escape Alcatraz.
Not used by the vast majority of the visually impaired community mainly due to cost (braille displays almost always cost thousands of dollars) and the fact that only about 10% of legally blind Americans can actually read braille.
Did You Know? Only about 10% of legally blind Americans can read braille.
After this initial research, we decided that the most effective way to improve accessibility would be to make it understandable to modern screen reading software. So, we downloaded Google Chrome’s Screen Reader and performed an initial assessment of our game as it was. The initial result? A complete failure. Turns out our existing game wasn’t anywhere close to being ready for visually-impaired players, so we had our work cut out for us big time.
In all three stages of our game, we ran into significant problems and, in certain instances, we needed to completely overhaul our puzzles. The most common issues we faced:
To address these issues, we decided to write a detailed description of each of the 3 rooms, all of the clues, and all of the puzzles in Escape Alcatraz using Google Docs. This worked well for us for two main reasons:
Since our clients would not be able to see their cell in front of them, we decided to describe the setting in full detail to our players in order to give them a description of the room and create the atmosphere that sighted players would experience during their session. Instead of just throwing them into their cell and saying “You are now in your cell there are five locks you need to unlock,” we decided to put in a bit more details into the description so that the task would be more apparent.
“You are now in your prison cell. Your partner, Johnny, left you and your team 3 locks that you will need to unlock in this room in order to escape to the next stage! There are 6 clues in this room that Johnny left. . they are The Lying Guards Riddle, The Basketball Puzzle, Johnny’s Diary, Tide Chart, and a mysterious Number Puzzle.”
The next part we tackled was the puzzles themselves. Because our games tend to be very visually focused, we converted all of our puzzles into text format. For example, in our Lying Guards riddle, we used text to first describe the objective, and then present the puzzle to the players. Here’s what it looked like:
"In this puzzle, you and your team will need to accurately identify which of the two guards are liars. Below are 8 statements from 8 different guards. Guards either always lie or always tell the truth. Can you and your team identify which 2 guards are liars? Once you have an answer, tell your warden who you think the liars are! They will let you know if you are on the right track!
Here is what the guards have to say for themselves:
Once we completed the initial conversion of the game into its new format, we ran a test with 3 players to correct any obvious mistakes. The players started by attempting all the puzzles using the screen reader. We specifically asked them to listen for any unclear instructions or potential sound glitches (usually caused by grammatical errors).
After the initial cleanup, we ran a second test with another set of players to clean up any remaining errors. Then, it was time to train our Hosts.
We ran a 60-minute session to introduce our Hosts to the new format of the game, and share how to effectively facilitate the game for this incoming group of visually-impaired players. We are very fortunate that one of our colleagues has 15+ years experience in the cruise industry and has experience working with visually-impaired customers - his experiences were invaluable.
After the training, we were finally ready to receive our first batch of visually-impaired prisoners at Alcatraz...
Ultimately, the session went off without a hitch and both our sighted and visually impaired players had a fantastic time!
Making Escape Alcatraz accessible in such a short time span was definitely a challenge, but it was completely worthwhile.. The process gave us a new perspective on the way we create games, and the value of creating games that are both accessible and inclusive.
Visually impaired people make up only about 6% of the population, so the challenges that they face are often compounded by the fact that many companies don’t see the financial returns of investing to make their products accessible. When we created our company values, “profit” wasn’t at the top of the list…but “diversity” and “inclusiveness” were.
By giving us the opportunity to make our game more accessible, Google empowered us to create a meaningful experience for a wider audience than we ever thought possible. For that, we are grateful.