Innovation

UNOversal design: Why the classic card game has released a Braille edition

Priscilla Pho /

Braille UNO cards

Braille UNO cards. Source: supplied.

Toy manufacturer Mattel is making its games more accessible, last week releasing a Braille version of UNO in a push to reach new audiences.

Made in association with the US National Federation of the Blind, the new edition of the family card game features braille on both the front and reverse sides of each card to allow low-vision and blind people to play without assistance.

Slightly modified rules have also been translated into braille and released through voice assistants Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

The move reflects a recent trend towards universal product design in games for people with vision disabilities.

In 2017, Mattel released a colour blind version of UNO. In late-April this year, LEGO began piloting its own braille bricks in a bid to improve braille literacy among visually impaired children.

Architectural and industrial design expert Gianni Renda tells SmartCompany he’s “not surprised” companies are taking steps to make their products more accessible.

“You’ve long been able to buy regular playing cards for people with reduced vision,” he says.

“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you don’t want to play a game — it doesn’t mean you don’t want to be included.”

The new UNO edition is also indicative of a shift towards general inclusivity by Mattel. The company — which famously created Barbie — last week also released a line of gender-neutral dolls.

Mattel’s voluntary move towards inclusive design not only opens UNO up to wider markets but also offers manufacturers positive publicity for already well-known products, Renda says.

“What we’re finding now is there’s greater sensitivity from larger firms in terms of ensuring their products reach the widest possible market,” Renda explains.

“Having accessibility and usability as a core of what they do gives them a difference in a pretty crowded marketplace.”

A report from 2015 estimated more than 575,000 Australians have impaired vision, of which 70% are over the age of 65 and more than 66,000 people are considered blind.

A survey of US students revealed Braille literacy is at a low of 7.8%. Studies also show a direct correlation between Braille literacy and employment among the vision-impaired — 70% of blind adults are unemployed, while 65% of those living in poverty with disabilities had different circumstances prior to their diagnosis.

Why should businesses adopt universal design?

Universal design, also known as inclusive design, broadly means designing products to be usable to as many people as possible, taking into account any special needs that can come from age, ability and status.

As in many countries, Australia has a baseline regarding inclusivity under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The act states you cannot refuse to make goods or services available to another person because of their disability — whether those goods and services are provided on a paid basis or otherwise.

But larger corporations are increasingly considering accessible design in the R&D phase on their own, Renda says.

“Certainly, people are becoming aware of corporate social responsibility and even in more niche firms, they want the widest possible population to use their products.

“That’s not to say specialist items won’t exist — of course they will — but in terms of general consumer goods, they want the most number of people to use them.”

Awareness within industries and consumers is also growing.

Games and culture expert Ben Egliston gives the example of video game Spyro Reignited, which last year came under fire when it failed to include any subtitle options.

After four months drawing heavy criticism from the gaming community at large for alienating deaf and hard-of-hearing players, the game released an update with subtitles in easy-to-read formatting.

According to Renda, making a product more usable for those with disabilities tends to make products even more comfortable for those without disabilities too.

He also says such products also have the potential to engage able-bodied users with new skills and lifestyles.

“I’m spitballing, but you might even find that someone with perfect vision might learn how to read their Braille [UNO] cards without lifting them up so they can have a slight advantage in the game,” Renda says.

How to implement universal design

Renda recommends small businesses to first consider who is likely to be exposed to their products and services.

While books and online resources are available, he encourages finding a knowledgeable designer or team to analyse the needs of the identified users.

“Get an expert to execute it the same way you would get a certified taxes or books as opposed to doing it yourself,” he says.

Renda also warns there may be several iterations of mockups and designs before a viable product is ready.

And while he admits a businesses owner might consider it a risk to put their product through this process, he also says the movement towards functionality and inclusivity has already begun.

“There is a big movement for design and health. I think people are moving away from products that just look cool — they want something more functional.

“If we can include people who have disabilities, then why not?”

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Priscilla Pho

Priscilla is a reporter at SmartCompany. You can contact her at [email protected].

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