Digital Education Strategies (DES)

Raising Accessibility Awareness Through Experiencing Barriers

A leader in serious game development, The Chang School decided to create a game to introduce web accessibility to those new to the subject.

In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) mandates accessibility for all organizations with an online presence. As outlined in the Act’s Accessibility Standard for Information and Communications, organizations must abide by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Despite the legislation, there remains a sizable gap in accessibility training for students in technical program areas such as computer science and engineering. Students who create websites, develop software, and produce video games often graduate from their programs with minimal understanding of accessibility requirements.

Without adequate training, it can be problematic to later expect these students to be responsive to accessibility standards in their professional lives. When an individual has not experienced barriers firsthand or received requisite training, these accommodations can be easily overlooked.

The Chang School created a serious game to help individuals who develop online content become better acquainted with accessibility standards. Research suggests that knowledge retention improves when individuals experience what they are learning. More than 2,500 people played Accessibility Maze in its first month, experiencing firsthand the challenges that people with disabilities encounter when web content is not created accessible.

“This was really interesting. I enjoyed the experience and the subtle (and then fully explained) way the lessons were incorporated. I thought the art was cute. It was just the right level of frustrating at times and doable, so I learned without giving up. A good game and a good lesson.”

Player Testimonial

The game is designed to present players with situations that incite specific emotions (e.g. frustration, excitement, an “aha” moment). The assumption is that players will then experience trigger recall of this emotion when they encounter similar challenges in their professional lives. For instance, when players find themselves in a level that only functions through the use of a mouse, they find themselves frustrated as a result of becoming adjusted to using a keyboard to play previous levels. Although players are subsequently offered a hint to use a mouse, the resulting “aha” moment helps them realize they just experienced a barrier. The emotion attached to the experience makes the lesson one that players won’t soon forget. 

The Accessibility Maze
Screenshot of Accessibility Maze Game
Making Games Accessible

The game was created with a dual purpose: to teach the basics of web accessibility and to model accessible game development. Examples of elements of the game that add accessibility features include:

  • Players operate the game with a keyboard (no mouse is required).
  • The keyboard focus always moves to the right place in the maze after each level, once dialogue boxes have been closed and puzzles completed.
  • Visual elements are described with text that’s readable by screen readers.
  • As screen reader users navigate the game, each action is announced (e.g. “moved right”, “bumped into a wall”).
  • Upon entering a level, a hidden description is announced by screen readers to orient players. 
  • 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.
  • Players can exit and return to the spot in the game where they left off at any time.

Although challenging, the game may be played with a screen reader (JAWS 2020, NVDA, or ChromeVox), which people who are blind use to access electronic content.

“Just wow! As a blind person, I am very impressed and hopeful. Thank you for this!”

Player Testimonial

Growing in popularity, serious games such as Accessibility Maze offer students and professionals alike the opportunity to experience barriers to accessibility firsthand. Through acquiring a new perspective, players can develop invaluable practical skills that may not have been the focus of their training. Upon completion of the game, players also have access to a short eBook that introduces some more common web accessibility issues and offers solutions on how to address them.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, online and game-based learning is more valuable than ever. Serious games like Accessibility Maze can help professionals acquire experience and knowledge without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

For more about digital accessibility, visit The Chang School’s Digital Accessibility Teaching and Learning Resources and register in one of our digital accessibility courses.

About The Author

Greg Gay is the IT Accessibility Specialist at The Chang School, and he teaches the IT accessibility courses in the school’s computer science and engineering program area. He has been an active member of the accessibility community since 1995, as a web developer, author, and educator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *