Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Today marks one whole year since I posted a tweet on the DOTS twitter account, something I only took over a few days earlier to help Jack get the word out to the community so he could help more people. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect everything that transpired shortly after...
The TTRPG community is amazing, that's no secret. Members came out in full force, from the average gamer, to writers, publishers, D&D celebrities, and everyone in between. The amount of love, interest, interaction, and everything surrounding this was overwhelming in the best way. The community showed that this type of change and inclusion was not only welcomed, but desired. Looking at the numbers on this one tweet's analytics is just staggering. Nearly 1.5 million people saw this in their feed, almost 30,000 interacted with it in some way, just under 9,500 liked it and over 7,000 thought it was worth sharing with their followers. There's more numbers here that aren't factored in, such as when a person retweets with a comment (since it's considered a new tweet with a shared link instead of a retweet) and what their engagement was like on their own post. Is it a stretch to think we reached 2 million people? Probably not! Think of the potential of lives that can change from this one little message, and how many it may have affected that haven't shared their story with us.
Back in August 2018, I took over running the DOTS RPG Project from Jack and even since then so much has changed. Every day it seems like there's something new in the DOTS world, some new disability to learn about, some new idea to come up with, some new project to work on. Things are growing and changing at an insane rate, every single piece more exciting than the last. The community has continued to be an amazing, beautiful force of good. I've met so many wonderful people through this endeavor, and the number one question I get is "what can I do to help?" Whether it be someone who just has their small group of friends in their hometown, or someone who has the platform to speak to thousands, nearly every individual wants to help in some way. We're all brought together by the desire to bring more players to the table, and that's such a heartwarming thing.
One year after I accidentally set a ball in motion, I'm just getting started with what DOTS is going to help change in the world. Nowadays, there's no reason games that focus primarily on imagination and theater of the mind can't be fully accessible, especially to the blind. With braille and digital options, any visually impaired individual should be able to access a book just as easy as a sighted person. As I've approached publishers over the last year, the most common reply is "we didn't realize" or "we didn't think of it." Some people may be discouraged by that, but I'm not! I take that as an opportunity to educate, and offer assistance. Every publisher I've spoken to has been welcoming and willing to work with DOTS to improve the accessibility of their products. Sometimes people just need an extra little push, or the information given to them in a way they can take action on immediately. A thing to remember for any individuals trying to contact companies for accessibility issues: they are companies first. There are countless behind the scenes meetings about budgets, time, workload, all of that mind numbing stuff that's involved with running a business. If you have the time - gather the information for them, offer ideas and solutions instead of only informing them of problems. Their staff and budget can only go so far, and new products will take priority. Providing detailed feedback or possible solutions can help guide them in the right direction towards being fully accessibility friendly, without them having to take on that task alone. You never know what greatness can come from a simple message!
With many of our projects, there are things we can't talk about yet. Publishers and companies want to wait until everything is in place to make any official announcements, so we're on hold for a lot of it. There are two though, that we can and WILL talk about every chance we get, because the work they are doing with us is amazing and they've spilled the beans already. Neither one of them has sponsored this post, asked for advertising, or anything of the sort. They're simply amazing people doing amazing work, making an effort to change the way accessibility in gaming is handled and presented to the public. We want to make sure we share these stories with you.
D&D Beyond entered the scene in August 2017 and drastically changed the way people engage with 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons content. It provided a fully digital way to access your character sheet as well as all of the current and even some old materials with great search functions and mobile capabilities with download options to access the content offline. D&D Beyond was a welcome change for those who didn't want to carry their books with them to every session, and it's been embraced by many users new and old. For the visually impaired, it was a chance to finally enjoy the content that has been inaccessible to them for many years. Unfortunately, D&D Beyond was found to be not very accessible with a screen reader, so not every blind person could access it. Page titles and navigation was all kinds of wonky, the character builder was a hot mess, links to different content within other content (like monster stats as a pop up on hover) was pretty much impossible to use, and words got extra spacing occasionally, making "Class Features" read as "cl" - "ass features". It was more than disheartening for the visually impaired community who was looking forward to an easier experience. I approached Adam Bradford privately in September 2018 to discuss helping, but we talked about what was happening behind the scenes and they just weren't in the position to do anything about it both from their perspective and Wizards of the Coast permissions. Understanding and respecting the situation, I left him with my contact information and planned to follow up in 6 months. Imagine my surprise when I heard from him January 2019, ready to go! DMs turned to group emails, then conference calls, and we were on our way to developing a plan. I called in my Access Mage Tyler and Technomancer Jon and we got to work tearing apart the site so we could show the DDB team what kinds of problems they were looking at from an accessibility standpoint. Without getting into coding detail, I'll simply say things are being worked on. Adam and his team are aware of the issues, and working towards how to fix them. Just yesterday they found the exact reasoning behind the word separation, and a script they could run to fix it! It will take time, just as everything does. The important thing is the progress is being made, and accessibility is being thought of from the beginning with the new developments they're making to the site. We'll even be beta testing some upcoming features to make sure they're good to go before launch. In case you're curious to hear more, Adam went into a little more detail in his latest Dev update video (apologies, there is no transcription. I'll work on doing one for these few accessibility focused minutes of content and linking it here later). D&D Beyond may only be one site, but it's a site that a majority of the community is familiar with now. For them to set the standard on site accessibility is a huge step forward in making sure everyone can enjoy content!
The image displayed above is something that is a challenge to find the words for every time I see it. A few weeks ago, I got an email out of the blue from Shannon Campbell at Astrolago Press asking for feedback on this beautiful piece of work from Conley Presler for Astrolago's upcoming Kickstarter for Witch+Craft, a 5e supplement for crafting. I had fallen in love with the concept of Witch+Craft when I saw it announced and planned on backing immediately, but never did I expect to see a BLIND character represented in the book. It's safe to say I was more than a little emotional when presenting it to my team for feedback.
Last year, I backed Astrolago's first book, Faerie Fire. It was a beautiful mess of 80s style mixed with 90s fads, and I loved every bit of it. I sent a message (through my Kickstarter pledge area, no less) with a little bit of information on what work I was doing with DOTS, and asking if they'd be interested in us working on transcribing their book into braille and allowing it to be donated to members of the DOTS Family. Shannon was interested and worked with me to make it happen! It was not completed immediately on our end as I only had one part time Sage (we could always use more if you're interested in volunteering, more information here) and he was working on Ebonclad. Fast forward a few months and I have more volunteers who got to work, completing the bulk of the book's text. I kept in touch with Shannon regarding how to handle certain formatting issues and image descriptions, leading us to this wonderful surprise email with that beautiful artwork.
The accessibility updates don't stop there! For the Witch+Craft Kickstarter, they posted an update that included an accessibility stretch goal, which covers their staff being able to make the time to tackle not only Witch+Craft but also going back to Faerie Fire and redoing the PDF so that was fully accessible! That stretch goal has since been met (yay!) and I'm thrilled to say we'll be working with them once again as outlined in this update. Their dedication to making this project accessible has been phenomenal, and is something I hope to have all publishers do one day. For now, we're getting the ball rolling by approaching people with new Kickstarters, up and coming projects, things that aren't completed yet so we can work in the good accessible habits from the start. Shannon and their team at Astrolago Press are a shining example of how a few minutes of consideration can change everything.
If not for my "cold call" message through Kickstarter, this may never have happened. A blind, non-binary character using a slate and stylus may never have made it into this book, let alone as the representation for the Writer class. It was something so small for them to do on their part, but it was earth-shattering to us at the DOTS Guild. For the visually impaired and/or non-binary individuals within our ranks, having themselves represented in a book was amazing. Now, that book is going to get into the hands of at least 2,600 backers (at this time) and they will see a blind character as something normal. They might play characters with the disability, mastering their new writer's tools listed in the book - a slate and stylus to make tactile alphabets. The concept of being blind and navigating the world, fantasy or reality, will be a conversation had at many tables for years to come. That may snowball the thoughts into what other games they play, how accessible they are, and what blind people need in order to play the same games as sighted people. The world will change, slowly but surely, at the hands of gamers. Shannon, Conley, and the rest of the team at Astrolago Press helped that become a reality just by including one piece of artwork. There is really no way I can find to express how amazing that is, and how much hope it gives me for the future.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all. I thank you for this last year, for all the love you have shown for DOTS and all the efforts we are doing. I thank you for the warm reception, and interest in making accessibility in gaming a reality. I thank you for caring enough to want to change the world with us. And most importantly, I thank my team behind the scenes, without whom which none of this would be possible.
So what's next? As I've said many times before...we're just getting started! Our Patreon launched in January, which has been a huge help in getting the 501(c)(3) paperwork paid for and processed. I've got a little kickback with that currently as I found some errors in the incorporation paperwork by the company that I hired to do it, so I'm working through that now. The Patreon offers some dice tiers from the lovely folks at Die Hard Dice as well as stories and a multi system friendly campaign story setting based on the development of the DOTS Guild. If you haven't checked it out yet, please do! Here's a preview of one of the Traveling Bard's tales, which sets the backstory for the DOTS Guild campaign. Some great new things are in the works with our Die Hard Dice partnership for the Patreon, and I can't wait to share that with everyone. Hopefully next month!
In addition to the exciting world of paperwork filing, we hope to attend a few conventions this year if the Patreon starts bringing in more funding. PAX East this coming Saturday is a definite, so if you're around just get my attention on social media and we'll meet up! I'm also looking at Origins, GenCon, PAX West, and PAX Unplugged to name a few. If we get even more patrons, we could be looking at attending all of those cons, plus more! We love being out there in the world with our fellow gamers, having conversations and educating people where we can. Change can't happen if people don't know about it, and we need as many voices as we can get to help make things better for everyone! Universal accessibility in gaming is not something that will ever happen overnight, but with all of us working together towards a common goal, we can ensure every gamer has a seat at the table.
-Guild Master Jess