With tabletop games building popularity over the last few years, millions have become enthusiastic players. Some groups, however, haven’t been able to join in the fun as easily. The blind aren’t necessarily people you might think would have an interest in tabletop games, but people like Richard and Emily Gibbs are working to change that perception.
Richard and Emily operate 64 Ounce Games together, a company that produces accessibility kits for board games. The kits consist mostly of transparent overlays for all the game elements (like boards, cards, etc.) that have Braille writing printed onto them. It seems deceptively simple once you hear of it, but the company is essentially filling a void that helps thousands enjoy the same games as everyone else.
In Emily’s own words: “When we first started looking into it, we thought ‘Someone must be doing this, it’s such a no-brainer!’ [But] this was something that just simply didn’t exist.” Richard added that some of the most popular traditional games like Monopoly have had Braille editions in the past, but if you wanted something with more strategic depth you were often out of luck.
The idea came about when Richard was beginning to plan a Kickstarter for a board game idea he had been developing, which was supposed to have a Braille version. When they realized that there was such a need for more tabletop game accessibility, though, Richard and Emily shifted their focus to producing these accessibility kits. Both husband and wife teach during the day, and tend to 64 Ounce Games’s growth as a labor of love.
They are a well-suited team for the job. Emily has long been invested in the blind community- her best friend in middle school was blind and they would pass each other Braille notes. While working at a blind camp in her early 20s, Emily learned that literacy among the blind is significantly lower than among the sighted, and improving blind literacy has been her passion since.
For Richard, he has always been in love with tabletop gaming. “It was always the way my family communicated; it’s a big part of the way I interact with other people- just playing board games.” When he first started going out with Emily, he would always bring over Settlers of Catan to play with her, and one of his first gifts to her was her own copy, complete with all the expansions. When the two of them got married, they picked up the deluxe edition of the game, which they only take out on special occasions. “We call it our ‘fine china’,” Emily laughed.
With such strong motivation behind it, it only makes sense that 64 Ounce Games is making an impact. Once such place you see its influence is in Berkeley, where Laura Eberly and Lucy Greco have begun a tabletop gaming group that is accessible to the blind. “If I want to sit down and play games with my friends, it shouldn’t matter if they’re blind or not,” said Laura, “TableTop really inspired me and helped me when I first moved to the Bay Area and didn’t have a lot of friends [so] I wanted to help other people experience that too.” Lucy, blind since birth, added, “I have always been addicted to gaming. I’m extremely competitive!” A chance to meet and interact with people through her favorite hobby was a big deal.
The 64 Ounce Games accessibility kits are used by Laura and Lucy’s group, and they’re very happy with them: “It’s great [to see] such a variety of games translated into Braille,” said Lucy. Richard wants to go even farther, though: “If we can’t make a kit for every game, I at least want to cover every genre of game. There is such a great depth and variety of games out there that we want the blind community to be able to experience.”
He went on to explain, though, that the more complicated a game is, the more difficult it is to make an accessibility kit. It also becomes more difficult to apply the kit to the game. A sighted person and a person who can read Braille must take the time to match each overlay with each component, which can be very time-consuming.
On Laura and Lucy’s side, they said the primary difficulty was getting enough patience from their group to explain the rules to a game they’d never played before, and to take the time to make sure everyone understood. When I said that sounded like any time I had to introduce a game to people who didn’t normally play tabletop games, they replied with a resounding, “Exactly!” They emphasized how blind and sighted people had really come together and had a great time regardless of their varying abilities to see. It was a moment Laura was particularly proud of: “I’m really into breaking down stereotypes about the blind, [and] I think the beginning of this group has been a great success.”
Richard and Emily would love to hear from anyone interested in what they do. The 64 Ounce Games website is http://www.64ouncegames.com, and Richard is @64ozgames on Twitter.
Laura and Lucy both urge anyone interested in board game accessibility, even among other disabilities, to get in touch with them, especially if they have their own gaming groups! Lucy is @accessaces on Twitter.