In Season 5, episode 7, we dive into designing for the widest audience possible with Sina Bahram, a computer scientist and accessibility consultant who is passionate about inclusive design. He shares his personal experience as a blind individual and his dedication to improving accessibility for all. Sina’s work on inclusive design methodology has been honored by many organizations, including being named one of President Obama’s Champions of Change in 2012, as well as being named one of the two inaugural Catalyst award recipients by the Themed Entertainment Association in 2022.
Inclusive design, according to Sina, is about shifting the responsibility of accessibility from individuals to society as a whole. It’s a game-changer that benefits everyone, just like how closed captioning is not only used by deaf people, but by people who have issues processing audio information, those who speak another language, or anyone trying to follow the news in a loud bar.
Sina emphasizes the importance of considering inclusive design early in the design process. This allows accessibility solutions to be integrated in a comprehensive, seamless and efficient manner, rather than retrospectively added late in the design process in an audit-based approach. Sina’s message is clear: inclusive design is essential, and it’s all about embracing diversity, breaking barriers, and creating experiences that bring people together. My hope is that this conversation inspires more designers to consider inclusive access so we can welcome more and more people into the escape room community.
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Topics Discussed in this Episode
- [1:45] David introduces Sina Bahram as a computer scientist and consultant for accessible and inclusive design. Peih-Gee talks about hearing Sina speak at the Immersive Industry Homecoming Summit and being so impressed that she was determined to get him on the podcast.
- [2:53] Sina explains that he’s blind, and talks about his lived experience with a disability and his interest in improving accessibility. He was named one of President Obama’s Champions of Change in 2012, and that’s when he met Corey Timson, project director for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. They developed an inclusive design methodology that they’ve worked on with hundreds of different organizations around the world.
- [4:59] Sina starts by clarifying some terms for us, including “accessibility,” “inclusive design,” and “disability.” Accessibility is accommodations made specifically for users or visitors with disabilities. Disability is the consequence of some level of difference. It could be temporary or permanent: for example, if you break your leg in a skiing accident versus if you don’t have the use of your leg, or you don’t have a leg. Sina defines inclusive design as a way to shift the burden of accessibility from the individual to society.
- [7:16] Sina mentions that accessibility has a lot of positive impact. He mentions curb cuts as an example, saying that they’re primarily used by all sorts of people, including parents with strollers, people with luggage, bicyclists, etc., but that they are critical for disabled folks. Peih-Gee mentions that she always likes to watch television with closed captions because it makes it easier for her to understand the dialogue.
- [8:39] David talks about advocating for and conducting accessibility audits in tech. Sina talks about the audit-based approach and notes that it implies that it’s okay for things “to be born inaccessible… then at the end let’s audit it and try to fix some things.” He says that it will save companies in the long run to start with inclusive design from the beginning.
- [10:50] Sina gives an example of innovation in inclusive design by telling us about the guided tactile descriptions at a photography exhibition at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. He says this was such a breakthrough that it garnered millions in PR revenue.
- [13:43] Peih-Gee talks about enjoying the multi-sensory aspect of immersive experiences. Sina says that multi-sensory isn’t necessarily inclusive, but it can be if it’s designed intentionally. He talks about the importance of having redundancies, such as having a sound effect happening in concurrence with a light flash, or vibrotactile feedback when something animates.
- [16:05] Peih-Gee talks about how, in escape rooms, she often wishes that an audio clue would come with a written component and mentions puzzles with colors that might prove difficult for people with colorblindness.
- [16:37] Sina talks about some other accessibility features that could be incorporated into puzzles, such as putting braille in a hidden place, or making use of sign language gestures.
- [20:02] David talks about a former co-worker who had cochlear implants and helped him learn a lot about accessibility. He asks about how aging factors into accessibility needs.
- [20:59] Sina tells us that 25% of the world’s population has some form of disability, and that over the age of 35, the chances of experiencing a disability are 50%.
- [22:12] Sina talks about how companies like Toyota are creating accessible design solutions for an aging customer base, and mentions that it makes financial sense. David agrees that whether it’s from a purely altruistic motivation, or for more selfish financial reasons, the net effect is the same—that you’ve made something that is more inclusive.
- [23:25] Sina talks about the saliency of inclusive design. He says that because the bar is so low, places that have good inclusive design, that are accessible and welcoming, will have a really positive reception from those communities that need special consideration. He says that there’s still an absence of these places and there’s significant first-mover advantage to businesses who create inclusive experiences.
- [26:04] David talks about how the escape room audience tends to top out at around the 60s, in terms of age, because of things like crawling, climbing, and dim lighting. He says there’s no natural barrier that’s restricting people from playing escape rooms besides design decisions and design norms.
- [25:32] Sina mentions the importance of rejecting the assertion that inclusive design will reduce the fun of an experience. He says we just have to be creative with inventing new mechanics and says it can actually boost creativity.
- [26:04] Sina talks about where escape room and immersive experience designers can begin and focus if they want to produce more inclusive designs. He says a good place to start is not relying on a single modality to convey something. He says just thinking about designing for all people and not just the “nominal human” is a good place to start.
- [27:47] Sina talks about an informal performance metric he uses. He goes through an experience with his design partner who is sighted and can hear. He says that if they are both able to simultaneously experience a moment of delight, wonder, or whatever emotions they are meant to be feeling together, then that means the designers did something right.
- [28:23] Peih-Gee mentions hearing Sina on another podcast talk about the difference between using an elevator and a ramp. Both are accessible, but with an elevator, it might be less inclusive because one person could end up separated from the group.
- [28:46] Sina talks about the concept of “othering,” an act or consequence that makes an individual or group feel distinctly different. He says that sometimes devices that were created with the best intentions can single out an individual with a disability who may not have chosen to stand out in that way.
- [30:00] Peih-Gee talks about the time she played an escape room with a friend who had a very large frame and couldn’t fit through a secret door. That friend ended up having to go out into the hallway and through the last room, spoiling the surprise, so that he could rejoin the group. She says that it was alienating and embarrassing for him, as well as immersion-breaking.
- [30:51] Sina talks about how situations like that can be avoided by making proper inclusive design decisions from the beginning. He says that often, it can be cheaper to design into the original build rather than having to retro-fit something.
- [34:04] Sina talks about his ideal escape room design scenario. He says that ideally, nothing would have a single modality, nothing would depend solely on only sight, or audio, or only being able to touch something. He says that desginers should also try to invite some disabled folks or people with intersectional identities to test the design and give feedback during the prototyping phase. He iterates that it’s a journey and what’s important is to be firm about making progress.
- [36:05] David talks about The Owl Job, an escape room that ran in 2019 and 2020 in Australia, which was designed with intent as a sightless escape room experience. The linked website extensively documents a design process for creating a sightless escape room. Peih-Gee asks if it’s a “dark escape room” where you play in the dark and the puzzles are solved mainly by touch.
- [37:20] David tells us that The Owl Job’s description is the players are taking on the role of burglars breaking into an empty house in the dead of night, and the tagline is “Listen. Feel. Unlock. Steal.” David says he hasn’t seen a game designed around deafness, but could imagine an escape room where everyone has to wear noise-cancelling headphones, for example.
- [38:14] Sina tells us that’s a good approach, but he would also like to see truly inclusive designs launched, where the same escape room could be playable by a deaf person, a blind person, or a wheelchair user.
- [39:45] Sina talks about how, so often, disabled people are relying on designs created by able people. He muses on a class where disabled kids can design an escape room to see what they come up with.
- [40:34] David asks about designing for different people and situations, like dyslexia, deafness, and neuro-divergence. Sina reiterates the need to start from an inclusive design methodology, and then to test the puzzles and concepts from the different points of view.
- I highly recommend checking out this Case study about the universal accessibility design incorporated early on into the design of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that Sina helped consult on. It has images along with explanations of specific features designed for inclusivity and provides excellent examples of inclusive design choices.
- [41:58] David gives some pushback and says that seems overwhelming for a designer who has limited experience but still wants to design inclusively. Sina tells us to start with thinking about what we’re asking of the players. He notes that normally, things are designed around vision, but maybe if you design something so that it requires touch, what happens next? Maybe you need to make the area around a painting accessible, which helps a wheelchair user. He says that puzzles placed at a height for wheelchair users could also create delight for a child or someone shorter. He notes the importance of relaxing constraints.
- [44:52] David asks about designing for neurodiversity. Sina tells us some things to be aware of, such as repetitive signals and changes in temperature. He says to be aware of surprises such as sudden loud sounds. He says, ideally, there would be a “sensory mode” where you could “flip a switch” and subdue some of the sensory specific occurrences in an escape room. He says to also consider things like fabrics with a potentially irritating feel. Lastly, he says to test with neurodiverse people and get their feedback.
- [47:20] Peih-Gee says it sounds like Sina mainly has a one-size-fits-all design school of thought, and she asks about perhaps having different modes for different needs, like adjustable lighting or providing extra flashlights. Sina says ideally you go as far as you can with inclusive design, then you can try post-facto accommodations. He also recommends adjusting the lighting in a room as opposed to providing flashlights, which can be othering.
- [49:05] David asks about accepting that not everything can be made universally inclusive. Sina counters by saying that we don’t need to rely on a single modality to convey an emotion like horror, and that experiences can be created with aspects that work for a wider audience.
- [50:30] David and Sina have a discussion about the difficulties of crafting inclusive experiences. David thinks it might feel intimidating to someone to try to cover every single affordance needed. Sina counters with pointing out that escape rooms are generally very low on the accessibility scale, and that there’s a long way to go.
- [51:58] David says he wants to make sure that designers aren’t intimidated and shy away from trying. Sina says that just trying can make a big difference. He says that even if you just increase font size, and make sure that all the visual effects have a sound component, you’ve already come a long way.
- [53:11] Sina gives some other examples of small changes escape rooms could make, for instance, considering reachability. He says to try going through your design while sitting in a wheeled office chair to get a sense of what it would feel like for a wheelchair user.
- [54:14] He says that when testing your designs, perhaps try removing a sense, think about what it might mean for your design, and noodle around with creative solutions.
- [55:59] Sina says he’s really excited to be consulting more on themed entertainment and location-based entertainment. He says that excluding people from fun is one of the ways to normalize the exclusion of people from all things. He says that when you don’t see disabled people going to theme parks or escape rooms, it cements the myth that it’s an audience we don’t need to care about. He says that theme parks and games bring people together and normalize inclusion.
- [56:29] Sina tells us that since Twitter started turning off third party access, many disabled people have been excluded from being able to participate on Twitter, himself included. He says you can find him at his website, www.pac.bz.
- [59:09] Sina tells a story about a time he played an escape room. He says he felt all around and noticed that the books didn’t feel like real books. He was excited to discover that the books were actually switches, and said that his sighted friends were fooled by the books.
Read the complete episode transcript here.
[00:00:00] David: This episode is brought to you by Morty, Resova, Recon and Patreon supporters like you supporting our sponsors supports our work. This year, we are hosting Recon, the Reality Escape Convention virtually so that we can bring our entire global community together. Our team has decided to alternate one year in person, one year virtual, and this year.
[00:00:34] David: We are doing it online. We have one game this year. We’ve commissioned it from Mark Larson, who created Escape from Escape Island for recon two years ago, and that game was a delight. He is once again back and blending a little bit of escape room insider design, along with some silly and playful game elements.
[00:00:59] David: It’s gonna be a [00:01:00] blast. Recon has a variety of ticket types to meet your needs, and the basic ticket is free. No tricks. We want our global community. At Recon and we hope to see each and every one of you there. August 19th and 20th, 2023. You can learn email@example.com. Details in the show notes.
[00:01:25] David: Tickets are on sale now. Welcome to the Reality Escape Pod. Your lifeline when you need a getaway from the real world. I’m David Spira, alongside my co-host PG Law. Together we’re exploring immersive gaming from all angles and will be joined by guests who really know their stuff. Today’s guest is researcher, computer scientist, and entrepreneur, Sina Baram.
[00:01:51] David: As president and founder of Prime Access Consulting, Sina has devoted his academic and professional work towards advocating for and [00:02:00] practicing not just accessible design, but inclusive design. Welcome, Sina. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:08] PG: I heard you speak at the Homecoming Immersive Summit in Las Vegas last year, and unfortunately David was not able to watch, but all I could think of was I need to introduce.
[00:02:19] PG: David to you. I liked that not only you explained a lot about accessibility and inclusive design, but you gave a lot of really practical tips for how to include it in design that I thought was really useful and I think it’ll be really, really useful for a lot of our listeners.
[00:02:36] Sina: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being there.
[00:02:38] Sina: Really glad to be talking about
[00:02:39] David: this stuff and I’m glad that we can finally meet, cuz I was subjected to the plague while you were, uh, given your talk and had to curl up into a ball in a hotel room. Been there. Yeah. Yeah. Sina, how did you become interested in inclusive design?
[00:02:59] Sina: Well, I’m [00:03:00] blind. And so definitely a lot of lived experience in terms of the world being deeply inaccessible or you know, exclusionary to many groups.
[00:03:10] Sina: And for me, the lived experience was being blind. Going through, for example, computer science as undergrad and graduate school, I had to encounter a lot of things just not working. Right. Papers from a journal, from a conference, software development environment, simulation software, you know, all these kinds of things.
[00:03:28] Sina: Notes from class, right? And so, That led me being a computer scientist to ask the questions of why that may be the case. And it turns out a lot of things are honestly not that hard to make accessible, which really honestly makes things more frustrating when they’re not. But also, you know, hey, put your code where your mouth is kind of mentality, right?
[00:03:48] Sina: And so I spent a long time trying not to be the blind guy in accessibility, and then I ended up eventually doing that, but really wanted to do a lot more than just accessibility, wanted to broaden that [00:04:00] lens of consideration to not only, first of all, digital things, but really all things physical, digital, et cetera.
[00:04:08] Sina: And then for all people, not just somebody who’s blind or somebody who’s deaf, but really the entire spectrum of human difference. So that’s how I decided on that path. And then how I actually formally got into inclusive design was in 2012. I was at the White House because I was really privileged to be named one of President Obama’s White House champions of Change.
[00:04:28] Sina: And while I was there, I was invited to this workshop where we were looking at museum exhibitions and making those inclusive and accessible. And that’s where I really just fell in love with this concept and then had the opportunity very short after to put it in practice with an incredible human being.
[00:04:44] Sina: Corey Timson, who was the project director for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and that’s where he and I developed this inclusive design methodology that we’ve now worked on, uh, with hundreds of different organizations around the world.
[00:04:58] PG: That’s awesome. Now I’ve [00:05:00] heard you use the terms accessibility and inclusive design.
[00:05:05] PG: What is the difference between those two terms?
[00:05:08] Sina: That’s a great question. I’m gonna throw a few more terms in because I think it would be good for us to do like a few definitions and I promise it’s like the only definitions we’ll do, but they could be useful and
[00:05:17] David: helpful. It makes sense. We have a lot of people who don’t know this world.
[00:05:21] David: Right. Yeah,
[00:05:21] Sina: exactly. And even people in this world conflate these terms all the time, right? So I think it’s helpful to just, what do we mean when we say these words For me? Accessibility are those things that are done specifically for users or visitors with disabilities, right? And this is important because that’s a specific definition that references another definition, which is what is disability?
[00:05:45] Sina: Right? So disability is the consequence of some level of difference. It could be visual, like myself, I’m blind. It could be olfactory or emotional or physical, cognitive. It could be a combination of these things. It could be temporary or permanent. Like you break your leg [00:06:00] in a skiing accident versus you don’t have the use of your leg, or you don’t have a leg.
[00:06:04] Sina: So this is disability, but what’s really critical? Is how we as people, as a society, as humans treat and think about disability, and that then comes into this whole medical model, right, where you put the burden on the individual, you view them as being disabled, and therefore it’s their fault for not being able to open the door to a building, or it’s their fault for not being able to read the ink on a sheet of paper from their doctor’s office.
[00:06:32] Sina: Another way of thinking about that is the social or environmental model of disability. Whereby we understand that it’s our environments that are disabling. And so what can we do to shift that burden not onto the individual, but away from the individual and onto society where it actually belongs. So that we have door openers, we have that material from your doctor’s office available in an electronic form.
[00:06:57] Sina: We have various things that are available in [00:07:00] braille, et cetera, et cetera. And finally, that kind of gets us to inclusive design, because inclusive design is the way that we achieve that. So accessibility, right? Those things specific for disabled folks is a byproduct of inclusive design, but it’s not the only result.
[00:07:16] Sina: It’s not the only positive impact that comes out of it. Thinking about this stuff like curb cuts are the common example. They’re not primarily used by persons with disabilities. They’re primarily by the numbers used by parents with strollers, people with luggage at the airport, grocery carts, skateboarders, bicyclists, pedestrians, et cetera.
[00:07:34] Sina: But these just are critical for one audience. Disabled folks in this particular case, and they’re augmentative or helpful for absolutely everybody, and that’s the ethos behind inclusive design. Uh, that
[00:07:46] PG: makes a lot of sense, especially as a person who turns on closed captioning for everything. Okay. That I watch because I have trouble understanding sometimes spoken language.
[00:07:58] PG: And so, uh, that makes sense. I get [00:08:00] it. Because I get deeply frustrated with a lot of the captions for some of the shows I watch on Netflix or like I watch a lot of Korean dramas and mm-hmm. They’re slow, they get stuck. So I can relate on that level and I appreciate that it is available for me to use as well.
[00:08:15] Sina: Exactly. It’s not just for somebody who can’t hear, it’s for somebody who might need it to understand something or transcribing for notes for a research class, or you’re in loud bar, you wanna follow the news crawl, you know, it can be useful and immersive and wonderful for everybody. And it shifts this conversation away from doing things for quote those people, end quote.
[00:08:36] Sina: Right. And it’s really designing for everybody, including ourselves.
[00:08:39] David: You’ve touched on so many different things that I think we’re gonna be unpacking really throughout the entire episode, but I have a lot less experience in this than you so much less. But I have spent a decent portion of my career advocating for and selling and then conducting accessibility audits for, and improving accessibility in [00:09:00] tech.
[00:09:00] David: I used the word accessibility because, to be honest with you, the term inclusive design was new to me upon researching. Mm-hmm. You and your work. My experience has been that accessibility is often viewed by business leaders as this restrictive pair of handcuffs. Mm-hmm. But I’ve never seen it that way. I have seen it as an opportunity to innovate and to expand an audience.
[00:09:27] David: Can you give us some examples of what innovation in inclusive design looks like? I can,
[00:09:34] Sina: but first I wanna touch on your point about accessibility, because so often the methodology that is used for accessibility, forget inclusive design, let’s just talk about like website accessibility or mobile app accessibility.
[00:09:46] Sina: Just doing the right things, following the standards. It’s this audit-based approach, right? And you’ve already failed the moment you do that, because what it acknowledges, what it tacitly accepts is that it’s okay for things to be [00:10:00] born inaccessible. It’s okay for things to mature and be designed inaccessibly, and then at the end, let’s audit it and try to fix some things.
[00:10:07] Sina: Oh, we found 270 things. Let’s value engineered that down to 27. Who’s this really gonna affect anyway? And then you get all these marginal arguments, it’s a cost center, et cetera, et cetera, right? Alternatively, If you just designed it inclusively in the first place, it would’ve been fractions of pennies on the dollar.
[00:10:24] Sina: And you don’t go through the expensive audit process, and you don’t then have to have a conversation about remediation and relative prioritization of different user groups and have the conversation of who are we gonna exclude today? Mm-hmm. As opposed to simply having things be born inclusive, 100%.
[00:10:42] Sina: That’s just like a, this thing that happens so often and then perpetuates this myth about it being expensive and restrictive, like the handcuffs that you mentioned. Now, innovation that comes out of inclusive design. I mean, we have many examples of this. You know, one of my favorite stories is a photography exhibition that we produced at [00:11:00] Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Corey was deeply insistent that we’re not gonna have a photography exhibition.
[00:11:06] Sina: And by the way, all the photographers for that exhibition were blind or low vision, and we’re not gonna do this and just have like visual descriptions of their photos. That’s ridiculous. Those are cable stakes where we’re concerned. So we’re gonna do some. Inclusive, not just accessible. So what we did was we took the category winners of this competition that was run and made those tactile, right?
[00:11:27] Sina: So you can feel the photos, you can hear the description of the photos, you can even have a guided tactile description, which is like a visual description, but also knows you’re touching something. So it can say, follow that rough area up to her sleeve. Now let’s explore her shoulder. And as you can feel in this painting, da da, da da.
[00:11:45] Sina: You know, that’s a guided tactile description. Oh, and so we did all this, and in one of the category winners was this woman, she’s wearing a hijab. It’s a very monochromatic pop of the contrast of her skin with the black of her [00:12:00] outfit, right? It’s a very striking photo, and it’s why it won. It’s just an incredible photo.
[00:12:05] Sina: And, and this is in the inclusion and diversity category as well. And so we’re like, okay, we gotta make this tactile. So we reached out to the subject and got her permission. People are gonna be putting hands on your likeness. Are you cool with that? Absolutely. She said, a hundred percent. I, I love what you guys are doing.
[00:12:20] Sina: Anything for accessibility, count me in. That was wonderful. So then we get to work, we do that. And what happens is, because of the scale these are produced at, it’s basically one-to-one scale. So as you’re touching it, you end up holding hands with her, which is an incredibly intimate gesture. Especially, I mean, this was about five, six years ago.
[00:12:40] Sina: Political climate, as you can imagine, was what it was. And especially for marginalized groups of people to be able to hold hands with the subject in the diversity inclusion category. That was a big deal and that was such a big deal that received 8 million of earned PR revenue. Even though the budget for press for that [00:13:00] exhibition was exactly $0.
[00:13:02] Sina: And so all of a sudden it really just shows you like we weren’t trying to be innovative, we weren’t trying to be fancy, we weren’t trying to do any of those things. We were just trying to make something inclusive. But by doing so, we had to solve hard problems. And then by doing that, you get these lovely, uh, side effects of things like virality of things, like immersion of things, like connecting with people.
[00:13:24] Sina: And the takeaway is that it provides saliency. If you can provide meaning to somebody, then you’ve succeeded. And if they’re not able to see the thing that is providing that meaning, but they’re able to feel it or hear it or smell it or experience it in some other way, then you know you’ve done a good thing.
[00:13:42] Sina: And people really responded well
[00:13:43] PG: to that. That makes a lot of sense because, I mean, part of what I love about immersive experiences overall is that they simulate. All of my senses, right? When I walk into a room, I don’t wanna just see the rainforest. I want to mm-hmm. Feel the warmth and hear it, you know, [00:14:00] smell the soil.
[00:14:00] PG: And I feel like inclusive design, it will inform a lot of what we do in an immersive experience as well. Exactly.
[00:14:08] Sina: And there’s one point there that’s important to make, which is that multisensory is not inclusive. Oftentimes to be inclusive, you are multisensory. The other way is not true. Right? Multi-sensory by its very nature.
[00:14:21] Sina: If you just do that, it’s not inclusive. What makes it inclusive is if you do multi-sensory intentionally, which is to say that your sensory outputs, your modalities, if you will. Audio, visual, vibrotactile, haptic, smell, all these different things. They need to be in coordinate with one another. They need to be redundant with one another so that you’re not relying on somebody having one sense in order to get that information.
[00:14:50] Sina: When the lights flash, you also have a sound effect. When the animation occurs, you also have vibrotactile feedback, and if you do it that way, not [00:15:00] only do you nail it on the immersion front, not only do you nail it on the innovative interface and people just considering it easy to use, but you’ve also nailed it in terms of inclusivity.
[00:15:12] David: And on top of that, what you’re describing right now to me as someone who can see and hear just fine, what you’ve just described sounds to me like a much better experience than if you were to have taken any chunk of that out.
[00:15:28] Sina: And that’s the point. That’s where everybody gets to. Like, when we’re on these client calls, you know, they, they’re always very like, grateful and thankful.
[00:15:34] Sina: You know, we didn’t know about that and that’s really helpful, et cetera. But we gotta tell you guys what we’re actually interested in, fascinated by throughout this whole process is that 90% of what PAC Pack is the name of the company, what PAC recommended on this project. It made it better for everybody, not just what we thought we were doing, which is making the stuff accessible.
[00:15:55] Sina: That’s where people start when they reach out to us. But where we want to get them is, yeah, that’s great. We’re [00:16:00] really happy. You wanna make your stuff accessible, wouldn’t it be cool if you actually made it inclusive And accessibility comes along. I
[00:16:06] PG: feel this way a lot in escape rooms because there’ll be things when part of the puzzle is an audio experience.
[00:16:13] PG: And again, I have trouble processing audio dialogue sometimes. So I always wish that it came with a written component
[00:16:21] Sina: as well. Yes, absolutely. And there’s no reason why you can’t. Yeah. Or
[00:16:25] PG: other times there’s puzzles that involve colors and this is an issue. Mm-hmm. Sometimes for people that are colorblind and you know, it’s have… maybe it’ll be a pattern and a color.
[00:16:35] PG: And that also helps for cluing as well. Right.
[00:16:38] Sina: Absolutely. And because it’s a pattern that can then be translated to a tactile representation as well. And you can also do little tricks like you can do Easter eggs, so put some braille underneath the table. Most people don’t feel underneath the table and it’s okay.
[00:16:53] Sina: It’s a, it’s an escape room. You can do specific things for certain audiences, right? We’re breaking a few rules on purpose, but for the purpose of [00:17:00] delight, put a braille decoder ring or something so that somebody who doesn’t speak braille has to go figure it out. Because it’s surely the case that everybody who doesn’t know print has to deal with all of that.
[00:17:10] Sina: So it’s interesting to play with that and invert some of those expectations. Or, you know, an idea I floated at that meetup that you were talking about actually at that homecoming was making the gesture, like the sign language gesture for pen or for handwriting, which kind of looks like a shape that you could turn into a pen holder.
[00:17:28] Sina: And that way you’re giving somebody a clue, oh, if I lift the pen, maybe it unlocks the secret door in the desk. So you could do stuff like that. Like a key in a lock is another one. So there’s things you could do and play with that celebrate these different ways of navigating the world, while also still being like fun and cool and immersive.
[00:17:56] David: We’re taking a moment to thank our sponsor Morty. Morty is a [00:18:00] free app for discovering, planning, tracking, and reviewing your escape rooms and other immersive social outings. And Morty is now available for all to use on its brand new web experience in addition to its fantastic iPhone app. I believe in Morty so much that I have a stake in it.
[00:18:22] David: As an advisor,
[00:18:24] PG: one of my favorite parts of Morty are the reviews and ratings on there. I honestly trust these reviews more than most sites, and they just give me so much great information. And help me decide which room I wanna
[00:18:39] David: play. I’ve been using it the same way, and it is a couple of different factors.
[00:18:43] David: One is just the community of escape room people who are honestly using this system, which is what differentiates it from Yelp and TripAdvisor and Google Reviews, which are just the whole world. And people who don’t know what they’re looking at. Morty [00:19:00] users know what they’re looking at. But then on top of that, Morty has layered on a number of different intelligence factors into how it displays those reviews.
[00:19:11] David: It’s not just doing an average like it’s in middle school. It is factoring in a number of different user behaviors, the rater’s experience level, how recently they’ve played that game. There are a whole bunch of things that are going on behind the scenes that are helping to make sure that those reviews are as useful as they can be.
[00:19:33] David: And on top of that, they also prioritize reviews from your friends. So when you go to read those text reviews, you’ll see them from people that you know and probably trust. You can learn firstname.lastname@example.org/repod. That’s R E P O D. Sign up and get a special badge for our listeners. Link and details.
[00:19:59] David: are in the show [00:20:00] notes.
[00:20:04] David: My journey into accessibility began with a former coworker named Catherine McNally, who was deaf and one of the earliest recipients of cochlear implants. For those who aren’t familiar, these are incredible devices that help deaf people here. I started learning from her and my big realization throughout working with her and being on this journey of learning how to design increasingly more accessible ways that society treats accessibility and inclusion as this thing for other people.
[00:20:39] David: But over time and over a long enough time horizon, If we’re all lucky enough to live long enough, we will need this. We will need these features. We will need things designed more inclusively. How does aging factor into this process? At what rate do people need this
[00:20:59] Sina: stuff? [00:21:00] Yeah, it’s different, right? 25% of the world’s population has some form of disability, so that is currently 2 billion people and counting, so that’s 2 billion folks right there.
[00:21:11] Sina: Over the age of 35, your chances of experiencing a disability are one out of two. They’re 50%. Not all 8 billion people, sadly, are gonna live past 35. But you know, you do the relative math and you pick up another billion, and so all of a sudden this is vast in terms of the impact. But the other thing is that it’s about understanding the continuum of ability that we as humans go through, right?
[00:21:41] Sina: You could be 14 years old and just do whatever you want. You can scrape your knee, it’ll be fine the next hour, all this sort of stuff, right? You could be 64 and stairs are a little bit more difficult, right? But then also you could be 14 years old and have some sort of fatigue, for example, where stairs are really difficult, but [00:22:00] only in the afternoon, not in the morning.
[00:22:02] Sina: And so it’s like, it’s important to understand, we all experience this continuum. We just kind of get on and off that ride. A multiple, multiple times per day, and B, in very different ways throughout our life. And so it’s definitely important that the older we get, the higher the incidence of various forms of disability, which by the way is why folks like Toyota care about things like universal and inclusive design.
[00:22:26] Sina: Respectfully. They’re not in it to do the right thing. It’s a fiduciary duty to their shareholders that they can sell more cars to more people for longer if they make them easier to get in and out of. If they make the display able to enlarge the print, if they make the vibro-tactile feedback in case you didn’t see the little blinker or whatever.
[00:22:46] Sina: All these little things they do, that’s their motivation, right? The numbers don’t
[00:22:50] David: lie. What you’re talking about is exactly the case that I like to make for this approach, is that there’s a selfishness to it. Yeah. Whether it’s [00:23:00] the realization that you or your loved ones will need this at some point, or just the fact that you can make more money by expanding the audience who can interact with your product.
[00:23:13] David: You know, whether you’re coming at it from those angles or pure altruism, the net effect is still the same. You’ve still made something that is more inclusive.
[00:23:23] Sina: Absolutely. And more relevant to people. Mm-hmm. Right. So going back to that idea of saliency. Corey talks about saliency a lot, and if it’s meaningful, then people will have a reason to come back.
[00:23:34] Sina: People will have a reason to talk about it. People will have a reason to tell other people about it and celebrate it because it made an impact. And look, the bar is low. I mean, persons with disabilities are excluded from so many things. And so it’s also just tactically true and strategically true that if you are one of the places that is inclusive, that is accessible, that is welcoming, you are going to [00:24:00] have a really positive reception from those communities.
[00:24:04] Sina: And those communities are pretty good at spreading the word. And all of a sudden you’re wondering, hold on a second on, at the Saturday program for people with Alzheimer’s and like we only told five people about it, how in the world did 200 people show up? And it’s because there’s such an absence of these things
[00:24:21] Sina: in the world that folks are hungry and there’s some significant first mover advantage if people who are
[00:24:26] David: interested in that. There is, and by my observation, the escape room audience tops out at sixties, maybe seventies, in terms of age. Mm-hmm. And I think that this is because these games are uncomfortable for older folks and they’re certainly uncomfortable for folks who have disabilities of all sorts.
[00:24:45] David: Yeah. Uh, there’s obvious stuff like climbing and crawling, but lighting and reading. Mm-hmm. Lock manipulation. Mm-hmm. There are a lot of things that get described as, oh, these are for young people. But that stuff is [00:25:00] limiting for the audience. And there is an opportunity here, both near and long term. And that’s a thing that for me, selfishly, I wanna be playing these games.
[00:25:11] David: For as long as I possibly can. Yeah. And I would love to see more people playing them because, and we’re not playing football here. There is no natural barrier that’s keeping people out other than the design decisions that we’re collectively making. And that’s the design norms that we’re
[00:25:29] Sina: accepting. Yes.
[00:25:30] Sina: That is what’s keeping people out, is those design decisions. That’s exactly correct. And also we need to reject this assertion that is made by some folks, especially within the design space that goes, if we make it inclusive, then we’ve reduced the fun or removed the tooling available to us to convey whatever mechanics they want to convey.
[00:25:52] Sina: It’s simply not true. We just have to be creative about it. And to me, it actually opens up way more [00:26:00] options in terms of your design language as opposed to restricting your
[00:26:04] David: design language. So this moves really nicely into the next topic that I wanna discuss with you, which is, by my observation, accessibility and inclusion,
[00:26:15] David: It’s a journey, not a destination. There will always be opportunities to make further improvements, but the most important thing to do is to start somewhere. Where would you recommend Escape Room and immersive game designers begin?
[00:26:32] Sina: I think there’s some obvious things, right? I mean, really just taking a step back and saying, are we relying on a single modality to convey something is gonna get you a heck of a long way?
[00:26:42] Sina: Are we relying on only being able to shine the light on the thing to show you a message in the mirror or whatever? There’s all these mechanics you can think about and play with, but they come from this question. And the question is very simple. What is my design intent? What am I trying to [00:27:00] achieve? And if it’s okay, there’s a hidden message and I need people to discover it, then we need to talk about how do we surface the affordances in order to facilitate that design intent?
[00:27:13] Sina: And if your only answer is invisible link on the wall, then you’re doing something wrong. But if your answer is, oh, we’re totally gonna do the invisible link cuz that’s awesome, but also we’re gonna do these other things, then you’re able to really engender this creative mindset that will take you to all sorts of places.
[00:27:30] Sina: Oh, what if we made the little floor plate vibrate? When you jiggle the lock or whatever, you know, et cetera, et cetera. But like, you just gotta be thinking about what happens if we’re not designing or we don’t have, rather, in our escape room, the quote unquote nominal human, which by the way, fun fact doesn’t exist.
[00:27:48] Sina: We have an informal performance metric, like when we’re going through skate rooms, installations, rides, what have you, and it’s is very simple. Corey is oftentimes with me, we’re traveling to different client sites and you can see, and here, et [00:28:00] cetera, I’m blind, so we’ll go through something. And the metric is as follows, if he and I experience delight or any emotion that we’re supposed to be experiencing, if we experience that at the same time, then something went well, somebody did something right.
[00:28:14] Sina: Because I’m using a different modality. I might be listening to something, feeling something, whatever he might be looking at it, et cetera. But if we are experiencing that emotional response together, something went correct.
[00:28:24] PG: I listened to a podcast that you were on recently, and you had talked about the differences between providing an elevator or a ramp for people, and you were like, I’m paraphrasing you here, but you had said something like, an elevator is accessible, but it doesn’t feel inclusive because you might end up separated from the group.
[00:28:43] PG: Whereas if there’s a ramp, you are all going up that one ramp
[00:28:46] Sina: together. It’s about this term called othering, right? Uhhuh. So I guess one last definition, which is othering is this thing, this act or consequence of making an individual or group of individuals feel distinctly different, right? [00:29:00] So we know the obvious forms of othering, right?
[00:29:02] Sina: Like racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism. That’s stuff that’s the obvious overt othering. But there’s inadvertent othering like, Hey, you’re deaf, no problem. Welcome. We’ve got this assistant listening device, like a neck loop for a T coil induction on your, your hearing aids here, wear this. And you might think like, that’s awesome.
[00:29:21] Sina: That’s really cool that the museum is doing that. And it is. However, what you’ve now done is ask that person, that deaf person, who may not have been carrying that particular identity with them into that space. You know, I travel with a cane. I have friends who use guide dogs. It’s more of an unapparent disability, depending on how it presents.
[00:29:38] Sina: They may not have chosen to carry that identity with them that day, but now they gotta wear this neck loop thing or not have access to the lecture. So it comes from a good place. But it’s still othering. And that’s the thing about elevators. Elevators are accessible. They’ll get you to that second floor, but now you’ve split the party.
[00:29:54] Sina: You’ve segregated people based on ability. You’ve not taken the mainstream path. And all [00:30:00] because architects are in love with stairs.
[00:30:02] PG: I came across this issue once when I played an escape room with a friend who is pretty overweight, right? Mm-hmm. And one of the things that are delightful about escape rooms are secret entrances.
[00:30:14] PG: You open the fridge and surprise it’s a doorway into another room. And I think it’s great. But I did play it once where there was a wardrobe and this was a big wardrobe that had a support thing in the middle, and he could not fit through it. Mm-hmm. And I remember watching this and I felt so terrible.
[00:30:32] PG: Yeah. And it really wasn’t that difficult to make it a little bit larger. You know? He ended up having to go out into the hallway, out and around and join us through the back room. He may have ended up having to go through the last room, which they were like, well, you’ll have to close your eyes so you don’t get spoiled.
[00:30:47] PG: And not only was it super alienating, but it breaks the immersion for him. And you
[00:30:52] Sina: know how much it would’ve cost to avoid that. Exactly $0. Yeah. Because in the design phase, that bar [00:31:00] didn’t exist. Nobody had procured any plastic, any wood, any concrete, any metal. None of that had happened. There was no vinyl being commissioned.
[00:31:07] Sina: All that existed was some file on somebody’s computer. And you could have gone, maybe we make an L structure, maybe we do da, da da. That’s it. Right? It’s just a consideration. And that’s why a lot of times people will sometimes give me and Corey a hard time. They’ll be like, oh, well you say like, it doesn’t cost anything upfront.
[00:31:25] Sina: And it’s, yeah, certain things just honestly don’t. They really don’t. It’s just a different decision. It’s sometimes a different sequencing, that’s for sure true. So different ways of thinking and workflow. That’s ironically, you don’t have to pay more in order to actually open it up to more people that will pay you more.
[00:31:41] Sina: And so that’s why it’s always just silly and bemusing to me when people view this stuff as a cost center.
[00:31:56] David: Resova is your all in one, All inclusive [00:32:00] software for bookings made specifically with escape rooms in mind, incorporating community-driven features. It’s designed to follow the guest journey from selecting times to book waiver management, integrated point of sales system, and follow up emails. Resova is the ultimate online reservation software designed to elevate the guest experience, increased game master efficiency, drive sales, and improve operations.
[00:32:30] David: Pg, what is fantastic about Resova is that they offer something for the owners, something for the guests, and something for the GMs. What does Resova offer? GMs? I
[00:32:44] PG: saw their calendar system and it was beautiful. It was simple. It’s easy to use when you’re a gm. What you care about is increasing your efficiency.
[00:32:56] PG: You’re already juggling so many different things, [00:33:00] welcoming customers, running games. You don’t wanna have to worry about handling a super complicated system. Their calendar view makes it very clear at a glance what times are booked, which slots are open, whether the team has already paid or not, and how many people it’s booked for.
[00:33:18] PG: They also have the integrated point of sales system, which just makes your job that much easier and that much more efficient.
[00:33:27] David: And with everything being so integrated, your game Masters only have to be trained on one system. To learn more, get a free demo and find out how easy Resova can make your transition to their technology.
[00:33:41] David: Head over to Resova.com/REA and be sure to use our link or drop our name because as a thank you to Repod listeners, Resova is offering up to $100 in Google AdWords when you sign up through our link [00:34:00] details in the show notes.
[00:34:05] PG: Okay. So if somebody is listening to this podcast and thinking, I want to take on this challenge, I want to design Sina’s dream escape room experience, could you give us a sense of what that experience would feel like? Let’s
[00:34:21] Sina: see here. I think that it would be something that has been intentionally and deliberately designed and thought through via an inclusive design methodology.
[00:34:34] Sina: And that means that we’re gonna have an idea or a theme, what, whatever it may be. It, it could be unicorns and dragons and fantasy, whatever, right? And the idea would be that then let’s understand all the different affordances, all the little tactics, all the little mechanics, and let’s ensure. That nothing is singularly modal, is nothing is unimodal, nothing
[00:34:55] Sina: Depends on only being able to see, only being able to hear, only being able to touch something. [00:35:00] That gets you a heck of a long way. Then let’s make sure that we incorporate after we’ve done the basics, this is really important. After we’ve truly handled the basics, then and only then let’s invite some disabled folks along, people with intersectional identities along to test it out and to really give feedback in the prototyping phase, not in the, oh yeah, that’s really great feedback.
[00:35:23] Sina: But all these design decisions were made a year ago phase, and at that point you’re able to have something that may not be perfect, but it sure will give you so many opportunities for learning so that the next time you go to do it, Your baseline has now evolved. It has been elevated, and whether you do all the things in round one or whether it takes you 10 escape rooms to get there, just echoing the previous comment, it’s a journey.
[00:35:51] Sina: The point is be kind to yourself and don’t try to boil the ocean overnight, but also be firm about the fact that we gotta make [00:36:00] progress and we gotta make progress each time and fail forward so that we can iterate and learn from our previous mistakes.
[00:36:06] David: One of the things that we learned about from you was an escape room that ran in 2019 and 2020 in Australia called the Owl Job, which was designed with intent, sightless escape room experience that is fully documented on a website, the owl job.com, which we will share in the show notes.
[00:36:27] David: The documents on this website are thorough. I mean, it is full on design docs that go through the game from so many different angles, as well as a number of key points, like how you build your website, how you handle ticketing, how you handle waivers, so that you’re succeeding not in just making a game that is sightless, but a game that is accessible like in the most literal sense of the term, like they can buy the tickets and get into the game experience.
[00:36:59] David: It’s a really [00:37:00] interesting thing that I strongly encourage everyone to look at. Yeah, that’s
[00:37:06] Sina: really cool.
[00:37:06] PG: Is that a dark escape room, David? Yeah. So like I’ve played a couple escape rooms that you play completely in the dark and you solve puzzles by feeling everything out. Mm-hmm. Is it something like that?
[00:37:19] David: That’s definitely one of the aspects to it. The description here is the players are taking on the role of burglars breaking into an empty house in the dead of night, and the tagline is, listen, feel, unlock steel. That’s the gist of what you’re doing. And full dark escape rooms are a thing that have existed for quite a while.
[00:37:41] David: I think we played our first one back in maybe 20 15, 20 16. The full dark escape rooms are, or can be an accessible experience, at least for Sightless folks. The model exists. I have not yet seen anybody make a game deliberately around deafness, but I [00:38:00] can easily imagine an escape room experience where everyone is wearing noise canceling headphones.
[00:38:05] David: There are different approaches that you can make to explore this. Maybe not universally accessible, but you can explore it in different ways. Yeah. And the other
[00:38:16] Sina: thing is that there’s fun aspects and then like inclusive designs. So what I mean by that is, um, there’s audio games, right? Or even games that are designed predominantly for let’s say a blind audience.
[00:38:29] Sina: Okay. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s awesome. And just like, there’s nothing wrong with an art game that totally relies on vision and you, you’re matching different things and, and so on and so forth. The point is though, like. There comes a time where you’re not designing for a niche audience.
[00:38:45] Sina: That’s not your specific goal. You’re just doing general design, like you’re designing for the public. And in those scenarios, I think that what we should concentrate on is, you know, making things truly inclusive. But there’s a lot to be said about making [00:39:00] the escape room be in the dark or the noise canceling headphones approach.
[00:39:03] Sina: I just don’t want people to think that that’s the only way to make something accessible. It’s a really cool concept to play with and like it forces us to relax certain constraints and tighten up others and have a good time with it. But there’s also a way of doing it such that you have a escape room that is playable by a deaf person, by a deaf blind person, even by a blind person, by a wheelchair user, et cetera, if you’re just intentional about those designs.
[00:39:26] Sina: So it, it’s two different things and both are good, is what I’m trying to get at.
[00:39:29] David: I agree with you. My, my hope was to illustrate that there are different ways to approach this. And for sure. In all honesty, my feeling is making an improvement on any front is a huge improvement in a space where we just generally ignore all of this.
[00:39:44] Sina: Agreed. Yeah. Hard agree. The other thing that I think would be interesting is like to encourage folks, especially like imagine a camp where you have disabled kids to design an escape room, right? Because so often, especially disabled people [00:40:00] are forced to use interfaces, games, social environments, whatever, designed by other people, right?
[00:40:07] Sina: And so even the well-intentioned ones, it’s, oh, we thought this would be helpful, right? So it’s really fun when you break that paradigm and you go, what if you asked a bunch of kids at the school for the blind to design an escape room? What would they come up with? And so that’s just an interesting thought that occurred to me as you were talking.
[00:40:28] David: That sounds like a phenomenal thing to do. I bet that the outcome of that would be really interesting. This touches on kind of the next topic that I have and all of this conversation, I think in some ways can be viewed as reductive because it is. There’s so much, but I would like to look at the various vectors of inclusive design.
[00:40:52] David: There are different things to be designing for different people and situations to be designing for dyslexia, [00:41:00] deafness. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Color Blindness, neuro divergence. I’m curious, what are some of the key design considerations that folks should be paying attention to when factoring in those audiences?
[00:41:13] David: Knowing that, again, there’s gonna be so much more depth here than we can touch
[00:41:17] Sina: on. I would say first start from an inclusive design methodology. Then test, come up with the concept of finding the key for the lock to the door, and then test what if a blind person goes through, or what if you can’t see?
[00:41:32] Sina: What if you don’t have hearing? And do that and ensure that all of those use cases result in being able to acquire the key. What it does is it forces you to conceive and incept things from an inclusive perspective in the beginning and from a multi sensorially redundant perspective from the beginning and then evaluate and put those ideas through the ringer with those different personas, like dyslexia, like blindness, like deafness.
[00:41:59] Sina: [00:42:00] I’ll
[00:42:00] David: push back on you on this. Yeah. Because I think what you’ve just described to me sounds paralyzing. If I’m a designer and I have no canvas to start with, to me, what you just described, I wouldn’t even know how to find the audience to test with. So I’m kind of asking you like, where are the starting points?
[00:42:18] David: If I wanted to make this experience, where do I even begin?
[00:42:21] Sina: Well, let’s unpack that. So your starting place is presumably some kind of theme, right? Put aside audiences. I’ll
[00:42:28] David: stop you for one second. Cause there is a deeper layer of escape rooms that represents a lot of our audience, which is they’re not starting at theme, they’re starting at story, they’re starting with emotional arc.
[00:42:40] David: They’re starting with beautiful. Something larger than theme. Okay,
[00:42:45] Sina: let’s No that, that’s a great caveat. So let’s start there. So what is the story? So for example, is it an art heist? Is it that burglary in the dark concept? And that’s where I would say that as you’re designing, you are [00:43:00] enumerating different things that you would like your players to be able to do.
[00:43:05] Sina: Right now what we predominantly do is think about surfacing that ask whether it’s implicit or explicit of the players in a visual way, right? So the first thing we can do is relax that constraint. For example, every time we see any information. That could be written information, that could be a drawing, that could be a sign.
[00:43:28] Sina: How would you access that if you’re not able to see? Right, so this already gets you a heck of a long way there. It starts forcing you to question the ways you are surfacing things, because once you realize, oh, okay, well if the painting is a skew, but it’s over the desk such that you can’t touch it, then you’re forced to say, all right, are we gonna do a cutout in the desk?
[00:43:52] Sina: Oh, snap. If we do a cutout in the desk, then the wheelchair user can also roll behind the desk. All of a sudden, we just solve two things [00:44:00] by trying to solve that first one by not being able to reach the painting. We’ve got a cutout here, which means we can hide something now underneath the desk. Aha, we just gave something for that nine year old audience.
[00:44:12] Sina: That’s a smaller stature or height. Okay. And then so you see we can progress those kinds of decisions in a cascading way by first just relaxing a single constraint. And I would then say, all right, when you’ve exhausted that particular thread, that’s a pretty fun hour of design. Let’s now relax another constraint.
[00:44:31] Sina: So it could be not being able to hear, or it could be limited mobility, or whatever the case may be. Those are all incredibly invaluable. I don’t want to diminish that. I just don’t wanna design for them first, because then what happens is we do so, I feel anyway, at the exclusion of other possibilities that could come along and really spark some really cool things.
[00:44:53] David: That makes sense. The constraints that you’re talking about relaxing for site impairment or for hearing [00:45:00] impairment, or for dyslexia or for mobility access. These are, I think, reasonably intuitive, the areas that you’re looking at. But if I wanna relax constraints for. Neurodiversity. Mm-hmm. What am I even looking at?
[00:45:18] Sina: Well, for neurodiversity, things you would be looking at are anything that’s a repetitive signal, be it oral, physical temperature, for example, when you go into the second room, is it a lot holder in there? Are there surprises that are either used for some kind of mechanic or something else, but that could either be turned off as part of like a sensory program, like a relaxed sensory program, or warned about upfront.
[00:45:46] Sina: So without spoiling it, can you say there are unexpected loud sounds, right? So you’re giving people the information with which to reason about their comfort level in that space. Now, I would argue that’s bare minimum. What you really [00:46:00] should be able to do is flip a switch in a sensory mode system and go, you know, different scene and you can subdue some of those surprises, right?
[00:46:07] Sina: The other things that you can be thinking about for neurodiverse would be, are there materials or textiles or fabrics that could cause a lot of irritation, right? Not just hypoallergenic, but something that could be incredibly like synthetic feeling and squeaky to the touch. Are there things that are in the environment that may not be considered
[00:46:31] Sina: Super relevant and so therefore maybe didn’t get as much love, but somebody may fixate upon them. Now, if you’re doing that intentionally as a red herring, live your bliss. But if you’re doing it unintentionally, is there a pass you could do to kind of watch for some of that?
[00:46:49] David: Don’t do things intentionally as a red herring.
[00:46:53] Sina: Well, I like to mess with people. So you’re talking to the wrong guy.
[00:46:58] David: I would say, yeah, if red herrings [00:47:00] are your bliss…
[00:47:03] PG: …David is judging you then… David is judging you.
[00:47:06] Sina: That’s right. And then lastly would say, test with Neurodiverse people. Get them in there, get their thoughts, ask them, and really, you know, put it through the ringer with all of those folks so that you can gather that feedback and learn from it.
[00:47:21] Sina: Okay. I
[00:47:21] PG: had a small question because I felt like one part of your philosophy was almost one size fits all inclusive design, school of thought.
[00:47:30] Sina: That’s more universal design.
[00:47:32] PG: Okay. But then I guess maybe if that may be difficult sometimes it’s okay to have different modes, which I know escape rooms can do sometimes, cuz some escape rooms are able to change puzzles so that this is easy mode or this is harder mode.
[00:47:46] PG: Exactly. You know, I’ve been in rooms where we have dim lighting for atmosphere, but if you have trouble seeing in dim lighting, they have the ability to turn the light up or provide extra flashlights. Yes. Things like that. So do you have a particular school [00:48:00] of thought where you think one is better than the other?
[00:48:02] PG: Or is it situational? I
[00:48:04] Sina: don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think that you go as far as you can with an inclusive design methodology and then you rely on, let’s call them post facto accommodations. So in your scenario, The lighting in the room, let’s say you don’t need the flashlights, right. I would argue don’t solve it with a flashlight, solve it with adjusting the lighting in the room and then it’s more inclusive and it’s also less, uh, othering because it’s not the one person with the flashlight.
[00:48:33] Sina: But then also I would argue, and is there an opportunity here to maybe have that mode if you’re gonna do a mode, incorporate that difference of lighting as an intentional feature, as opposed to as a, oh yeah, I guess we can turn up the lights for you so that it, it actually, it pivots not just in terms of functionality or affordance, but it pivots such that the narrative, the story, which as you said earlier was where a [00:49:00] lot of your folks are gonna start, can adapt and incorporate that really cool element
[00:49:05] Sina: Now into it. You
[00:49:06] David: were just touching on a topic, which is not everything can be made universally inclusive. I don’t know how you make a horror experience. Fundamentally and universally inclusive, they’re going to be branches of neuro divergence where that’s just a non-starter.
[00:49:24] Sina: Yeah, but you tailor it to the individual, right?
[00:49:26] Sina: You pick your strata. You say, I’ve got three presets cuz you know, pragmatism. Right? And then I’ve covered a much longer tail than only, let’s say, 70% of people, right? Mm-hmm. Like I’ve covered 95%. But all I’m saying is I reject the notion that for something like horror, which is an emotional response, we need to rely on a single modality, right?
[00:49:48] Sina: Like a lot of my friends that are into horror, they will enjoy with popcorn and glee, bad horror movies with really fake looking blood, et cetera. But then they watch different kinds of horror [00:50:00] movies with like real intent and, and they’re not chatting during them and they’re really taking it in and enjoying it because it’s like a psychological adventure or it’s just really well done and produced and it doesn’t rely on like something popping out at you,
[00:50:11] Sina: You know, like cheaper mechanics. So I think like you can do that and you can then map that in a cross-modal way. So for example, if we wanted to take the cheap mechanic of it’s really dark and then something jumps out at you, that thing can also make a noise. Right? Or if you really want a, a really scary time, I’ll put you in a room with no lights on and just play a rattlesnake sound.
[00:50:31] Sina: Right? I think there’s things you can do, and I’m not claiming 100% coverage because I, I don’t know, that just seems like why bother reaching for that? Right now my claim is that we’re not even at 50%. You know, there’s low hanging fruit
[00:50:46] David: out. Right. But yeah, the point that I’m trying to illustrate is cuz I, I am imagining person listening to this and saying, I can’t make
[00:50:53] David: The experience that I’m producing for absolutely everyone. Mm-hmm. And therefore I have [00:51:00] failed. The point that I wanna make sure is coming across here is that we’re asking a lot, and yet also there’s a level of understanding that I think there are rarely going to be perfect, and that there’s sort of a journey that you’re gonna have to go on to try.
[00:51:16] Sina: I agree. I don’t think we should let perfect be the enemy of the good, but I also don’t think we should, and I’m not saying that you’re doing this, but it’s so often done in these spaces. Mm-hmm. Allow the lack of reaching things perfectly to be the excuse for not even bothering. Agreed. It’s truly, I’m not exaggerating when I say if we were gonna use a hundred point scale in terms of inclusivity.
[00:51:39] Sina: Escape rooms are somewhere between a two and a 10. I would agree with you. Like, look, let’s have the podcast in 2050 where we can argue about how to get past 96%. I’ll happily concede the last 4% to you, but there’s so much runway from where we are to where we
[00:51:57] David: wanna be. I fully agree with you. [00:52:00] What I am trying to do, and I wanna make it clear, I’m trying to pose the anxious questions that I am reasonably certain our listeners are thinking as they listen to you speak, because I want to make sure that you’re able to fully express what the point is and we can help people get past what feels like a very daunting challenge.
[00:52:22] David: Yeah.
[00:52:23] Sina: Trying goes a really long way for me at least, and this is just, this is my personal thing, is I want folks to then try again and again and again, right? Because they can build off of that success. And so if all you do the first time around is make sure, for example, the print is at a more accessible font size and that all of the visual effects also have a sound effect, and that’s it.
[00:52:48] Sina: You stop right there. That’s all you do. That already is such a substantive improvement that you should take pride in that and joy in that, but just not consider it done and relish [00:53:00] in the fact that it’s incomplete because it means you have something to look forward to on the next project.
[00:53:04] David: I’m with you.
[00:53:05] David: And the examples that you just gave for what it’s worth are, sort of what I was trying to get from you earlier, is whether the starting place
[00:53:12] Sina: is. Yeah, I think it really does come down to mapping. Reachability is another big one. Grab an office chair. Just go through the idea, like in your office chair, like literally just try to do the things and they could be on card stock, like they don’t have to be well built or anything.
[00:53:25] Sina: Mm-hmm. Try to do things and you’re like, oh wait, I can’t reach the door frame above my head where the pencil was hidden, that da da da. You know? Okay, awesome. Discovery made. And so then the question becomes what do we do about that? And is it like we don’t hide things on top of doorframes? Or is it, we make sure there’s an alternative path.
[00:53:45] Sina: So if you can’t access that thing, when you look up there, I don’t know, there’s an arrow pointing to something else that achieves the same thing or, you know, whatever the case may be. Right? Put the pencil on a string and have it in your operational notes that if you have a wheelchair user comes through, then you hang the pencil [00:54:00] on the side of the doorframe and hide it instead of on top of the doorframe and hide it.
[00:54:03] Sina: Or hell, if that works, just do it for everybody that way, right? Like it’s little things like that that you start picking up. But I would say some of it is truly like, I, I don’t want to sound reductive. Remove a sense, and then think about what that means for your idea and be okay with the fact that you don’t have the answer immediately, but play around and noodle with it just like you would noodle with any other hard problem.
[00:54:30] Sina: Like, okay, I’ve got most of this figured out, but I, I don’t have a clean bridge between this phase and this other phase. I really gotta work on that section. This is no different. Makes
[00:54:40] David: sense to me.
[00:54:41] PG: That’s a helpful starting point for sure. Yeah. Sina. So what comes next for you?
[00:54:46] Sina: I mean, a cocktail and dinner I think, but, uh,
[00:54:51] PG: any exciting projects you
[00:54:52] Sina: wanna share?
[00:54:53] Sina: Uh, we’re really privileged to be working on some exciting things. Capital builds of buildings I’m not allowed to talk about, [00:55:00] and rides and things of that nature. You know, really hoping to do more work with escape rooms, with themed entertainment and location based entertainment because, well, a, it’s fun.
[00:55:12] Sina: So just straight up, that’s the selfish reason. But b, because excluding people from fun is one of the ways to normalize the exclusion of people from all things. And so when you go to a theme park and don’t see a bunch of blind people, then it helps cement the myth that, oh, that’s not an audience that we need to care about.
[00:55:39] Sina: So I really feel strongly about this, especially from the context of kids and just normalizing the stuff with kids and socializing these concepts. Because if they grew up in a world where they had blind classmates and they had deaf friends and they had autistic babysitters, all of a sudden you just get to a [00:56:00] much better place, a at least in my opinion.
[00:56:02] Sina: And so theme parks and escape rooms and like puzzles and games and things like this, it brings people together and also lets you like exercise some of that, those different tactics, whether it’s competitive, whether it’s cooperative play, and you can do so while also normalizing inclusion. That to me, a win-win.
[00:56:21] David: Where can people find you on social media?
[00:56:23] Sina: Well, Elon did run Twitter into the ground, and so by turning off third party access, he excluded many disabled people from actually being able to participate in Twitter. Uh, so it used to be Twitter, but I’m not active on there anymore and I really haven’t, uh, made the leap to Macedon.
[00:56:41] Sina: The website is a great way to get ahold of us, www.pac.bz, pac dot bz, but we’re also available through like email and, and, and things of that nature. Sina,
[00:56:52] David: thank you so much for joining us. This has been a lively and wonderful conversation, [00:57:00] and I hope that it sparks many more conversations to come. Thank you so
[00:57:04] Sina: much for having me.
[00:57:07] David: The Reality Escape Pod is produced by Lisa Spira, music by Ryan Elder of RyanEldermusic.com, edited by Steve Ewing of Stand Inside Media and brought to you by roomescapeartist.com, your home for well researched, rational and reasonably humorous escape room and immersive gaming content and events.
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[00:59:10] Sina: I was in an escape room with a friend of mine and being, just given my personality was looking around and making things accessible on my own because it wasn’t, and one of the things that I noticed with the bookshelf is that these books, they didn’t feel like real books.
[00:59:27] Sina: The reason that they weren’t is because you could tug on them and they would actuate a switch, which was interesting because visually they absolutely were able to fool my sighted friend. And so what caught me in, what just caught my interest about stuff like that is that by not designing for a particular sense, I was actually able to sort of hack it and skip a lot of steps in between because I realized that the books were able to be tugged on and then simply tugged on all 10 of them until I found the right one that did the thing that I needed it to do.
[00:59:57] Sina: That’s awesome.[01:00:00]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- The Owl Job: Lessons for Designing a Sightless Escape Room
- Prime Access Consulting: Sina’s company that consults on inclusive design
- Sina Bahram’s blog
- Case study about the universal accessibility design incorporated early on into the design of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
About Sina Bahram
Founder of the inclusive design firm Prime Access Consulting (PAC), Sina Bahram is an accessibility consultant, computer scientist, researcher, speaker, and entrepreneur. In 2012, Sina was recognized as a White House Champion of Change by President Barack Obama for his doctoral research work enabling users with disabilities to succeed in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. Believing that accessibility is sustainable when adopted as a culture, not just a tactic, Sina and the team work with executive management, policy makers, engineering teams, content creators, designers, and other stakeholders within institutions to promulgate accessibility and inclusive design throughout the fabric of an organization.
PAC has helped over 150 organizations to meet and exceed their inclusivity goals, from the creation of accessible websites, mobile apps, mixed reality experiences, and immersive environments to achieving a comprehensive inclusive design methodology across the enterprise. In addition to serving on and chairing various boards, conferences, committees, and working groups across corporate, non-profit, and research entities, Sina collaborates with the United Nations and serves as an invited expert on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) working group where he helps shape the next generation of digital accessibility standards and best practices.
In 2021, Sina was selected to be a Mission: Astro Access ambassador, which aims to make space and space travel accessible to all. Consequently, Sina and his fellow ambassadors tested various accessibility and inclusive design strategies in microgravity aboard a 0G flight. In 2022, Sina was honored as a Thea-award winner being named as one of the two inaugural Catalyst award recipients by the Themed Entertainment Association.
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