Screen reader users and/or visually impaired individuals

Hey all.

Working on a game that uses some secret code in certain areas. Sort of a substitution cipher using symbols to make a way to force the player to decode, over time, what symbol is what in order to find secret messages. These messages aren’t needed to complete the game, but could give a leg up in doing so.

The issue here is screen reader software will choke on these symbols.

So, my friends, I ask for suggestions for what would be fun for those who use screen readers. Should I:

Simply replace the code with English.

Or name the symbols somehow and have said alternate text print when my game’s screen reader compatibility mode is active (already have that working).

The first one makes it too simple. The latter might be interesting, but I don’t know if that would be fun for those who need it. For example, a code of circular shapes might be circular shapes normally, but in screen reader compat mode be “circle, bisected circle, black circle, half circle.”

Ideas? Comments?


(Are the symbols replacing letters, or words?)

Letters. Like a substitution cipher, so maybe a circle half shaded is an A. So, while most messages are short, they could take a while to get through if read one “letter” at a time.

EDIT: They are also Unicode characters, symbols right from the Unicode list of character.

I would try the idea with descriptions, especially if it is working already.

Maybe you could add some tips to the game’s help about how to decypher these messages?

The second option might work. It would help if you kept the descriptions short, maybe even use abbreviations (e.g., full circle = fc). You may also want to only print a few descriptions per line. While (good) screen readers should be able to read word-by-word, some users may not know how to do this. It can be tedious and distracting to listen to a string of five descriptions just to hear the sixth one again because that’s the only one you are interested in.


OK, here is what I’ve implemented so far.

Let’s say this is the secret message:


This is the screen reader compatible text that shows instead if and only if my screen reader mode is turned on (either by answering ‘yes’ to the screen reader prompt, or typing ‘screen reader’ into the parser to toggle it on or off):

Leftmoon, Corner Right, Corner Right, Space, Lower Right Pie, Half Right, Ramp Right, Dark Right Square, Half Left, Lower Left Pie, Space, Rightmoon, Empty Pie, Corner Right, Dark Left Corner, Lower Left Square

Not super sexy, sure, but it A-gets the job done, and B-is at least semi-descriptive of the symbols.

Keep in mind these are short messages, and used sparingly, so this issue is more about adding density to the game world, and less about some crazy hint you need to beat the game hidden in gibberish.

But at the same time, if one takes the time to figure it out, maybe some puzzles will be easier or even bypassed.

So, two possible changes:

I could make the names all numbers instead. 1, 3, 10, 25, 13, 2, 0, 12. This would maybe make it easier from someone with impaired vision to quickly note the message, easier than these strange “names”.

Or I could use colors. Red, Green, Blue, Yellow. Obviously this would lead me to have to do some crazy colors as I’d quickly run out of our usual colors before hitting 26 characters and 10 digits.


I’m not visually impaired, but I have a hunch that numbers would work best.

How would this message look like with numbers?

Right now I have no clue how to figure it out.

Oh, no doubt it’s impossible to figure out out-of-context like this. During the course of the game you’ll find messages in both this “language” and English, where one can deduce what letter is what symbol. Given enough of these hints, you can easily build the symbol alphabet.

So, in essence, the numbers might be best, as it is still a “code” but one represented with digits rather than symbols. This might be the best course of action for a screen reader, as it is easy to note down numbers in a jiffy.

Let me use a real-world example.

The name Luel:

So if you had a name tag on that said your name:
Luel - ◥◷◔◥

One could divine the dark triangles are L, and the two circles are a U and an E. Jot that down, and now you can decode those particular symbols later.

In numbers, this might look like:
Luel - 12, 2, 18, 12

Those numbers are just pulled out of my hat obviously, but the fact remains a screen reader could read those, and a player can use that in the same way I’d use the visual symbols. Later, as one gathers more and more of these, it becomes possible to decode longer messages that have no English text included, like maybe a journal entry or a plaque under a switch that says “danger”.

So, using numbers, the word “danger” could look like this:
4, 1, 14, 7, 5, 18?

I will have fun trying to decode every message in the game.