Making Tau Station an Accessible Game

Apple's 'universal access' symbol, an eye, ear and hand symbol, representing different types of disabilities. A banner below titled "Access Granted".

The inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, famously said:

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

We share Sir Berners-Lee’s vision. As we design Tau Station, we’re making sure we meet level AA of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and are developing the game to be playable across a wide range of devices and browsers. We have some passionate developers on the team to help us reach our goal, and one shares their thoughts below.

The web has a huge quality problem when it comes to universal accessibility. Entire sections of the web are unusable if you’re not using the latest and greatest hardware and software with a high-speed Internet connection. Visually impaired and using a screen reader? Color-blind? Can’t use a mouse? Have fun with that.
Some of my good friends are blind. It’s a struggle for them to browse the web. Others are dyslexic. They need carefully chosen fonts and typefaces to be able to read. One of my friends is deaf; videos without captions are rarely useful to her.

We have no reason or excuse to exclude players based on their hardware, software or ability. Why build something for the web if it does not share those same values that made that web such a transformative and empowering force in the world? Yes, it’s more work to care about the diverse aspects of creating accessible websites. But we should care.

What does that mean for players?

You log into Tau Station, bring up the 3D interactive star chart and plot a course to De Ruyter station to pick up some power converters. As you hop in your freighter’s cockpit a message badge appears on your dashboard from one of your syndicate members, Mia, asking if you plan to head to Nouveau Limoges today.

In real life, Mia lost her sight in her 20s to a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, and uses a screen reader to play. Her screen reader’s synthetic voice notifies her that she has one unread message. She navigates to her inbox, reads your reply, and heads to the port to catch a public shuttle to meet you.

Over in another part of the galaxy, Piu is piloting the freighter Tithonus on the long-distance route between Barnard’s Star and Wolf 359. It’s a quiet job, and he’s in it for the long haul. He plays Tau Station in a text browser while working as a network administrator. The page refreshes automatically every minute to keep him updated.

Piu’s regular route has not gone unnoticed. Pirate ship 7 Provinces, piloted by Hung, approaches on an intercept course. Hung suffers from arthritis which makes typing painful and he uses a tool called Dragon NaturallySpeaking to voice-operate his computer. He tells his browser to click the fire button as he swoops in to attack.

These are just a few examples illustrating why inclusive design is a Good Thing. The core elements that make Tau Station fun to play are available regardless of browser, ability, network speed, or screen size.

Making websites accessible does not require strange voodoo that only works when we’re all browsing the web sky-clad under a blood moon. It mostly consists of building to web standards, considering the diversity of your players, applying guidelines and best practices, and making sure that you have a diverse testing panel.

The web would improve immensely if all of us built websites that embraced progressive, inclusive, accessible design from the start. This does not mean that it can’t be beautiful. These are not opposing forces. This is about diversity and quality. Tau Station will be a beautiful, thrilling adventure, and it will be built for everybody.

“If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”

Gene Roddenberry, The Star Trek Philosophy