Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Game Design with Disability in Mind 5: Intellectual Disability

This is the fifth, and for now final, post in Deborah Southwell’s series on Game Design with Disability in Mind and it covers intellectual disabilities. Previous posts have also covered hearing impairment, colour vision deficiency, and visual impairment and what we can do to make our games more inclusive.

Game Design with Intellectual Disability in Mind

People with disabilities have an established right to be included and to participate in the community. They are more likely to be lonely and socially isolated and to have low social support and low social connectedness. People with intellectual disability are still relatively excluded. They have smaller and less diverse social networks, may face difficulties making friends, and are often unhappy with the friendships they do have. De-institutionalisation (AKA Care in the Community) hasn’t led to real inclusion in the community.

What you can do to include people with intellectual disabilities

Advice from the previous articles int he series also applies, but here are some things that you need to do to include people with an intellectual disability:

  • Always focus your communications with the person with a disability, not their support worker/carer.
  • Make sufficient lead-in time, where possible, to meet with the family/carers/support workers and to ensure appropriate support is in place:
    • meet and get to know the person i.e. you become a familiar person to them
    • find out their goals e.g., to come and observe, to be part of the group, to have a role in the game.
    • learn about the person’s likes and dislikes, and their daily activities.
    • clarify roles and responsibilities of support staff/carers who attend the game with the person
  • Familiar support staff /carers:
    • usually allowed to come along for free, usually play a strong role in helping the person to participate.
    • consider a dedicated Control to support both the person and their support staff/carer to fit into their first few game experiences (not to take over from the support person/carer)


CDDH Fact Sheet Working with People with Intellectual Disabilities in Healthcare Settings

Working with Special Olympic Athletes

Your Guide to Communicating with People with a Learning Disability – A PDF to download is available on this page.

One Comment
  1. Peter Merritt

    I will work up a more comprehensive set of comments which this fascinating post deserves when my life permits, but for now may I submit some immediate reactions?

    1. If we – as designers – are to design for our audience, does this not require a major change in how games (certainly megagames) are produced? By this I mean that games of any sort currently tend to start in the mind/fevered prejudices/foibles of the main developer, who then spends ages/not enough time developing systems to produce an acceptable model, finally crafting briefings and then at the last casting actual people to make the model/roles come alive. To address these issues with disabilies in mind, does this not require that – following an initial advertisement – *recruitment* must come first if only to establish the ‘consumer parameters’? I mean, this is an amateur hobby run on a shoestring, so why produce all counters and briefings (say) in braille if there are no sight-impaired people coming?

    2. There is an argument that large chunks of the game design & development process is as much ‘art’ (emotional, feel) as ‘science’ (probability curves). As art, can we really add constraints on the artist as to how they ‘feel’ about a subject/performance? It is only right and proper that concert venues etc fully cater for the disabled of any form. But I’ve not heard of many such constraints on the actual performer – too loud, colours not acceptable, flashing lights etc etc. You may as well try to ban the use of the colour yellow – “Sorry, Gogh old chap; very pretty but Sunflowers are out. How about some nice Pansies…?”.

    3. Following that, the intellectual levels are a key part of *any* decent game. I am not alone in CLWG as having supported the NationalArmy Museum’s summer events for children. This involved radical root & branch rethinks of designs for various subjects to make said slice of military history accessible to the 8-15 year-olds who attended (both sexes). But at the other end of the scale, whilst I would not have any interest in a set of WW2 anti-tank rules which used log tables as part of a true ballistic curve to try and resolve impact/penetration, I believe that the designer can choose to do so – it’s not a commercial or public ‘event’ which must be accessible to all and sundry, irrespective of criteria. Mind you, I’m sure that we’ve all seen lots of games where what developers *think* is crystal clear falls apart on contact with the players. This is as much down to the lack of a decent editor as anything else, plus of course so many, many ‘tabletop generals’ are what Nietzsche would call crap……..

    In the end CLWG is about learning by doing, so perhaps Deborah might be able to present her take on a familiar subject or existing set of rules (even – gasp – Featherstone) as to how such adaptions might be made in each instance? I for one would like to see such in action.

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