Please enter the 5th word on page 23, using a screen reader

On a scale of one to ten, how much of a pain is it to look up a specific word in documentation using a screen reader (i.e. when prompted to look up a specific word on a specific page)? I’m guessing something like a billion.

I’m thinking about including a fake “copy protection” bit in my WIP in which the “copy protection” is essentially oblique hinting for a puzzle. But I’m guessing this isn’t really workable on a screen reader, and I’m kinda at a loss to think of other, similar “period correct” copy protection schemes that are screen reader friendly.


You could deliberately keep the numbers small, say under 10. So a little bit of counting wouldn’t be too bad. Also better for non screen readers too!

You’d request the word and the line. So you might have;

Enter the 5th word on line 4 of page 9.


As someone that uses screen readers from time to time, I would suggest very simple scheme. Some like word four on the first line of the first page. (").

A “page” in a screen reader may not coincide with the same page on a computer screen. For example JAWS vs ZoomText vs Open Source screen readers.

Consider keeping the “copy protection word” early on the first page of your manual and make it easy to count. You can download a “trial” version of ZoomText for Windows. It is good indefinitely but limited to 30 minutes per session. You can also try the included screen readers for Windows and Mac computers. Linux has open source screen readers available.

The old word on a page copy protection scheme was not really meant as a puzzle, just to ensure that the player had a legitimate copy of the software.

Maybe have an alternative method of looking up the hint word. ie. Look up hint word…


One other thing to note is that document format can definitely make a difference. For instance, navigating word by word is fairly straightforward in DOCX or TXT files, but let’s just say that PDF’s and screenreaders tend to have a bit of a rocky relationship even when the former has been optomized for accessibility.


Are you going to have an “Are you using a screenreader?” question at the start? And is there no additional significance to the particular word?

If so, I think I’d be inclined to just tell people who answer yes up front: “There is a point in the game where it will prompt you to enter a particular word from a particular page in the documentation. Don’t bother looking it up: really, any word will do.” (And make that true for those who answered yes, of course!)


I agree with @Zed.

Screen readers can go incredibly fast as well. While players who use them can understand the audio coming from them, they might not be able to count them fast enough, especially if the screen reader verbalizes certain punctuation marks.

And having to slow down a screen reader to a speed where counting is possible would be an absolute slog to get through.

(DISCLAIMER: I am sighted, but I have a special interest in accessibility in videogames for people who have various types of sight and hearing disabilities, and have seen a lot of videos of people using different kinds of screen readers at a high-experience level. Those readers go fast sometimes!)


Yeah, maybe I should just spend some time trying to use a screen reader myself; I don’t think I’ve got much intuition about the user experience using one.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for the suggestions/advice.

In the case in question, my intent is to present the game and associated documentation/feelies as if it’s a game made circa the mid '80s. And either in the documentation (what Infocom called the “browsie”) or in a separate feelie there will be a “book” that’s ostensibly an occult grimoire or some such, which appears to be mostly full of indecipherably gibberish.

The game itself will, at a specific point, prompt the player to get word whatever from page whatever of the Codex Placeholderflex (or whatever it ends up being named), which will come across as a retro-ish “copy protection” thing, but is actually there to direct player attention to a specific part of the document (and the fact that it’s different than the surrounding text), which is hinting for a larger, non-telegraphed puzzle.

And my problem is that basically none of what I’ve just described is really directly translatable, as near as I can tell, into something that would work in a screen reader. So I’m kinda flailing around trying to think up a solution.

Maybe a purely auditory standalone minigame “feelie” (touch/click various parts of the screen to get auditory feedback using an “virtual ouija board” or something like that)?


Yes, all of that sounds so inherently visual that accessibility here would possibly best be served by a modest degree of adaptation. For instance (again, assuming you have a screenreader question up front), perhaps where a non-screenreader-user would get the question, the screenreader user could get something like:

"The application asks you to type in the 5th word on p. 119 of the Codex so you look it up and type it in.

That’s funny, the rest of the page (has conventional appearance) but this bit (has this different appearance). It says…"


Maybe instead of asking for a specific number word from a page, ask for something with context, like “What is the kind of the bird Tom saw?”
Answer: Chicken.


A different kind of “copy protection” could theoretically work (I’m not particularly in love with looking up words in the documentation) but I’m not sure about getting the puzzle to work with other gimmicks:

The “trick” is that it isn’t copy protection at all, the “occult grimoire” isn’t page after page of gibberish words in a weird script, it’s a schematic map of the area the player is in, and the “word” corresponds to the place on the map were the player currently is: it’s an elaborate “you are here”.

That’s clearly very much tied to the presentation, but I was thinking that I could make something similar work for screen readers by making the word represent not a 2-d point on a map but rather linear distance from the starting point…how “deep” the player has gotten into the area.

But now that I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking I like the idea of coding up a standalone auditory “feelie” idea I described earlier.


Regarding JBG’s question in post 1 about type word X on page Y, I would rate that experience a 9 in terms of frustration. I have only experienced that type of copy-protection in some versions of Level 9 games. When encountered in L9 games, I cannot solve that puzzle because the PDF manual is not very accessible with my screen reader. Put another way: extremely frustrating.

@jbg: I would suggest creating your feelie in two different formats for accessibility purposes if your plan is to use PDF. Example: the feelie could be available in text format or PDF document.

Also, I like the audio mini-game idea previously suggested. Just be aware that someone with no vision would not be able to use the mouse to click word X on the screen. A work-around for that could be, for example: “Type the fifth word you are about to hear”. To me, that would be similar to a game version of audio captcha. Or perhaps tab through a list of spoken words…

If you use Windows and want to gain experience to understand how parts of your game are experienced by the screen reader user, I would suggest downloading/trying the free NVDA screen reader. I typically listen to games using the speech function built into Frotz and Glulxe, but the screen reader is useful if I need to use “scroll back”.


Yeah, what I was imagining was a virtual Ouija board or something like that, with the idea that the in-game character operating it is turning off the lights, closing their eyes, and then trying to contact the spirit realm or whatever. And the player is therefore given no visual cues regardless of whether or not they’re using a screen reader, and so all you can do is tap the screen/click around more or less randomly. And in most places you’d hear some strange noises (rushing wind, or running water…) and in a few a whispery voice says a single intelligible word. The goal is to continue until you hear the word engraved in the base of the Artifact of (Mostly) Unspeakable Evil in room you’re in (in-game).

This might also rate high on the tediousness scale, particularly if you have to do it more than once, but at least it’s equivalently tedious independent of any accessibility concerns.