TriadCity Message of the Day
2014-01-29

We're undertaking a very major effort to make TriadCity as welcoming as possible to players who are blind or visually impaired. There's a ton remaining to be done, but a lot's already accomplished. Here's a work-in-progress snapshot so you'll know what's going on and what the new commands are for.

  • The SmartMonsters web site has been enhanced with HTML5 and WEI-ARIA landmark roles. This allows newer screen readers and other assistive technologies to better understand the geography of the pages, enabling users to skip right to the stuff they want. We're not completely done, there's still some legacy pre-HTML5 markup to remove. We expect to clean this up very soon.

  • A new "Blind-Friendly" setting in your account allows images throughout the web site to be replaced with text equivalents. Try it and see: the SmartMonsters dragon logo, banner ad, and sponsor ads will all be replaced. The site as a whole is already pretty image-sparse, so we expect to finish making this universal pretty quickly.

  • A new "Blind Mode" setting in the TC clients toggles off popup dialog boxes, replacing them with text written to the Game Channel. For example, the familiar "Welcome Poobah, you're player #6" popup after login will be replaced with an ordinary Game Channel message. In many cases this is a simple change, but in others there's considerable work to do to replace complex GUI widgets with command-line equivalents. Think of the merchant list dialog which doubles as a shopping cart. That'll have to be mirrored with a text list plus some simple selection mechanism, perhaps "buy item four". Something like that.

  • An early iteration of text-to-speech translation is available now in the Java applet client. On the Mac it sounds great but lacks controls for speed and pitch. On Windows it has those controls but sounds like duck farts. The Mac requires no additional software; Windows requires the free eSpeak reader which is bundled with NVDA, the most popular free screen reader. You can use the TTS command or a new option from the Preferences menu to toggle text-to-speech and change its settings.

  • The HTML5 client will implement WEI-ARIA Live Regions, allowing users' preferred screen readers to read the scrolling windows without modification. There's some remaining work for us to do to get this sorted; we'll announce it happily when it's complete.

  • A new command called BlindFriendly displays information about the current Zone which might be pertinent to screen reader users. Most Zones are perfectly reader-friendly, but a few are troublesome. For example, the Circus Maximus displays chariot races as ASCII-art animations, very likely to overwhelm readers. BlindFriendly gives users of text to speech a heads up.

  • Lastly a similarly named "Blind-Friendly" account setting for TriadCity toggles on BlindMode and TTS simultaneously before you login to TriadCity. The advantage is that it bypasses the traditional login dialog, allowing users to type their login credentials directly into the command field, and prompting them via voice to do so. You can try this out today if you like.

To state the obvious: boatloads of work to complete. We'll be super glad though to welcome the blind and visually impaired community, who really have pretty slim pickings in the universe of virtual worlds and online games. More to follow.

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