Some topics for future web articles come out of nowhere. They come out of the blue - quite spontaneously. So also the hanger for this article. When I was researching new board game titles on the Internet, the question occurred to me, what it would be like if I were suddenly prevented from practicing my hobby due to a visual impairment, perhaps even having to do without many board games completely. An initial research showed me that handicapped-accessible board and card games also exist for people who were born with a visual impairment or whose handicap has developed over the course of life. It quickly became clear: the range of board game titles for blind people is manageable. The following article is dedicated to the topic of board games for blind people and should also be understood as a call to encourage and promote inclusion among board players.

Board games: an ambiguous term

An initial research showed me that handicapped-accessible board and card games also exist for people who were born with a visual impairment or whose handicap has developed in the course of life. It quickly became clear: the range of board game titles for blind people is manageable. We live in a world where sight is our most important sense. This becomes all the more clear when one looks at everyday situations and realizes what influence the ability to see has on these situations. The best-known example is likely to be the aids at traffic lights: As a sighted person, we like to listen to the beeping “start signal” that gives us the sign to cross the street. We use such aids for convenience, for example so that we don't have to look up from the smartphone screen while we wait for the next green phase.

For people with a visual impairment, however, acoustic and tactile aids are essential for survival. If one compares the relevance of these technical aids with the availability of games for blind people, it becomes clear that there are parallels that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Basically, it all boils down to one central keyword: inclusion. Participation in life, participation in society, participation in entertainment. Different forms of play have been part of social coexistence since the beginning of time. So that people with a visual impairment also have to take part is not only consistent, but a matter of course. In the end, as always, it is a task for society as a whole to enable everyone to play - regardless of their handicap.

Approaching the topic of board games for blind people

Because it is difficult as a sighted person to put oneself in the shoes of a person to whom our most important sense is not available, impressions from people who deal intensively with the topic in their everyday life were important to me. While looking for an expert opinion, I became aware of BEBSK eV. The Federal Association of Parents of Blind and Visually Impaired Children takes care of the concerns of those affected on a voluntary basis and offers support and information on everyday topics that children with a visual impairment and their parents can come into contact with. 

Topic special: board games for blind people

And because board game time also means family time, these private impressions helped me a lot when designing the content of this article. At this point I would like to thank Mr. von Melle, his colleagues and the members of the BEBSK eV for the commitment, whose information made this contribution possible in the first place.

Expandable game offers

One of the first options for board games that I found during my research was card games - of course in Braille, the official and globally valid tactile script for people with a visual impairment. At first glance, the Braille playing cards do not differ from a standard card set. The differences only become clear when you touch the individual sheets; then you can feel the fine elevations that make the card values ​​tangible for the non-sighted, whereby the entire process of the card game can be represented mentally. For people with a visual impairment, learning Braille is an important step towards a self-determined life. The fact that the “language learning process” is an enormous achievement does not really need to be mentioned at this point. Children in particular benefit from playful learning episodes, such as the entertaining round of card games, which convey some of the Braille elements in a tactile and pragmatic way, although not in an audio-visual way. So if non-sighted people take advantage of learning to play games, the question remains why the range of games is so manageable.

So what is important when developing board games for the blind and the visually impaired?

Independent play is elementary

The specific problematic for people with a visual impairment in the implementation of a board game can be clearly illustrated if one describes the special auxiliary mechanisms that are necessary to make a parlor game understandable and tangible for blind people.

I originally assumed that the help of a “buddy” would be a sensible measure to enable blind people to play board games. On closer inspection, however, this does not seem to be a satisfactory solution, because it robs people with a visual impairment part of their independence and self-determination when they are dependent on the named buddy. This is also confirmed by Jörg van Melle, the 1st chairman of the BEBSK eV, with his statement that “a game can be played completely ALONE by a blind child / fellow player - without the help of sighted people”. Logically, there is more to a well-made board game for the blind than just tactile figures.

Even the set of rules must therefore “already be available in Braille”, van Melle continues. The first chairman then drew my attention to an aspect that is also very important for blind people: the acquisition costs. It is of little use if special board games are available, but the costs are beyond the financial framework, especially since people with a disability are usually already financially burdened. Due to the sometimes high hurdles, not all games are adaptable. Jörg van Melle cited a “blind backgammon suitcase” as well as an adapted version of the classic board game Scrabble, which he himself owns. He bought the games in the USA - in this country games with such a processing quality are almost impossible to get and are very expensive. In any case, extensions to the range are barely noticeable, in some cases even retrograde. According to van Melle's remarks, there was a monopoly for blind people, which is no longer available.   

Essential elements of board games for blind people

If you look at the range of special board games for blind people, you will notice that the classics in particular are among the popular titles. Regardless of whether it's chess, backgammon or Kniffel: board game classics are not only well received, but can also be easily adapted due to their comparatively simple game mechanisms. In chess for the blind, the black fields are slightly raised, the black pieces have an easily touchable button - that's all you need to make one of the oldest board games accessible to blind people.

On the other hand, it becomes more difficult with board games with more complex game boards, numerous differently designed figures or game tokens. The complexity of the rules and the constantly changing game structure are also difficulties that need to be analyzed. If you realize that the game board and all its materials are only available as a mental representation for a person with a visual impairment, it quickly becomes clear that board games cannot easily be adapted for those who cannot see.  

The manufacturer Velen Spiele from Neuwied shows that board game concepts can be adapted to the needs of people with visual impairments or blind players. The manufacturer of integration games has been working with the renowned Ravensburger publisher for around 20 years and has achieved great results in the adaptation of well-known board game titles for adults and children. So it doesn't always have to be Chess or Don't get angry when blind people want to spend time together playing board games. Velen has board games such as Witch dance, Saga Country, Phase 10 - The board game or The absent-minded Pharaoh. All of them are not brand new titles, but at least a good selection in the otherwise rather conservative board game world for players with a visual impairment. Children in particular are happy about adapted game titles such as Grab Hubi, rabbit and Hedgehog or the mole Company. Snaps hubi is one of the two titles that Jörg van Melle's children also like to spend their time with - the entertaining alternative is the board game Who was it?, award-winning children's game of the year 2008 and thus a real top-class among the board games for blind people. For parents in particular, the feeling of having the opportunity to play board games with their children should be reassuring - despite the handicap. And in an interview, Jörg van Melle casually reveals that parents also get creative themselves when it comes to adapting board games. For me, these independent adaptations are remarkable signs that illustrate the need for professionally produced board games for people with disabilities. 

Jörg van Melle is not the only one who sees the promotion of cooperation between game publishers and special manufacturers as an opportunity to bring board games as a cultural asset to people with visual impairments. In the end, it just takes a lot of role models within the publishing landscape to promote inclusion in the field of board players as well.