Did you know that the very top lens in a standard US traffic signal is red? And that the lowest of the three lenses is green? The only man that I’ve ever truly known to be colorblind passed that little observation along to me. It was how he obeyed the traffic laws. STOP when the top lens is lit up, GO when the bottom lens is lit. Frankly, I’d never paid attention to which one was on top.

Then I began to wonder, What else have I overlooked? And what else do people do to keep track of their world? That’s when I learned about dual coding. Wanna know what it is?

Dual coding is the use of at least two information channels at the same time, just as with a traffic signal. The color of the lens and the position of the lens each give a clue to the current meaning of the signal. So, how does this apply to games?

Ask yourself these questions:

Where can I use both text and color itself to denote the color of an object?

Good places to consider are game board squares and playing cards. Blue squares that bear the word BLUE, and red cards that have the word RED written on them in big bold letters. This is the same sort of thinking that makes Montessori materials so valuable. So, …

What about text and texture?

Use sandpaper for the word ROUGH and felt for the word SMOOTH.

Or text and size?

Use “BIG” for the word big, and “SMALL” for the word small.

Or text and position?

Use“HIGH” for the word high, and “LOW” for the word low.

Or numeric text and 1-to-1 correspondence?

Use a picture of 4 fish on a number 4 card, and a picture of 3 elephants on card number 3.

Or, in a more abstract way, what about using tactile/dactyl feedback (fingertip sensation) by itself (without text) as a means of imparting information? That is, two sets of information.

Use lightweight, cool, smooth glass for one type of pawn and heavy, blocky iron for another. And there I go being geeky again. Tsk, tsk, tsk …

But really, what has any of this to do with accessibility or inclusion?

By taking a few minutes to analyze your game, you may find that you’ve just helped a young person or even someone older who doesn’t read so well. Or maybe they read just fine but you’ve made their game a little more enjoyable. And this holds true for the man who is colorblind, the person who doesn’t know their numbers in English yet, and for the woman who is just now picking up the mechanics in your glass and metal pawn game.

People enjoy playing games – and they play them longer – when they don’t have to work so hard at understanding or remembering the rules. And when they feel every bit as capable as kids that are older, and just as good as peers that are neither colorblind nor foreign speaking nor slow to grasp a point. They feel included and welcome. And, after playing your newly adjusted game, the one with lots of dual coding, they’ll likely report your game as being accessible – easy to understand, intuitive, and inviting.

And they might just ask if you have any more just like it.