Dibs on Blue: Bringing American Sign Language to the Game Table

Stephanie Jessup has been posting ASL tutorials on Youtube for ten months now via Dibs On Blue. She’s also provided ASL interpretation for Watch it Played, and she’ll have a presence at Origins 2020 to bring attention to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing gamers in our community.

Her mission, stated on her first collaboration with Watch it Played, is simple “My goal is to reach the deaf community in as many ways as possible, to encourage them to join in on the fun by having equal access to gaming tutorials.” 

What was the catalyst for Dibs on Blue?

I taught high school American Sign Language for several years and before that I was a community and educational interpreter in the schools for a few years.  While I was teaching, my students always begged to play games.  So other ASL teachers and I were always trying to figure out how to inject games into the curriculum.  We all gradually were getting more and more into board gaming just as a regular hobby, so our brains started firing on all cylinders trying to figure out how we could play certain board games in the classroom.  So I set out to create a YouTube channel not only for ASL teachers as a potential resource, but for the entire ASL and Deaf community to enjoy.  I want the channel to be as accessible as possible, so I also voice everything in English, but my main priority and focus is the Deaf community.  My husband came up with the name Dibs On Blue for the channel because we always want to be blue in games!

How long have you been playing board games?

For about six years.  My husband started getting more and more interested in them and I happily joined in on the fun!  Now we’re all in.

What changes could the industry adopt to make games more accessible for deaf/HOH gamers?

We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much room for improvement.  My hope is people will start taking accessibility more into account.  Some board games are pretty tough for a deaf person to play.  For instance, ones in which you have to close your eyes, since they have to see sign language in order to communicate.  But aside from some board game mechanics, deaf people have struggled with attending conventions.  They can’t have the same experience a hearing person can, and that’s unfortunate and unacceptable.  At conventions, people are free to jump in at tables and learn newly released games, but without an interpreter provided, it’s nearly impossible for a deaf person do to that.  I’m excited to have a presence at Origins 2020 this year for the first time doing board game demos and playthroughs in ASL, because it means Origins will be more deaf friendly!  I hope other conventions follow suit and better accommodate the Deaf community.

Are there a few games that you think do a good job of getting it right?

No, I think there are tons of games getting it right!  Deaf people are able to play most games.  It’s really only games with certain mechanics that prove difficult.  But I don’t think we’ll ever hit 100% accessible game play for every type of person.  The game Nyctophobia is a great example.  That game was designed specifically with blind people in mind.  And while that game tipped the scale in a blind person’s favor because you can’t see during game play, it’s just not a great fit for the Deaf community.  But that’s ok!  I love that we’re thinking about other groups of people.  It’s just nice to spread more awareness that different kinds of people are out there who need different things.  And if something within a game can be altered to make it more accessible without changing the core and feel of the game, like differently shaped game pieces for color blind people rather than similarly shaped cubes of different colors, then let’s do it!

What are your favorite games?  

For whatever reason, I’m obsessed with anything medieval or Viking themed.  I love the show Vikings too!  I love Raiders of the North Sea and Champions of Midgard.  Worker placement games seem to be my thing, but I love all kinds of games.  Honestly, Gloomhaven is probably my favorite of all time.  I love developing a character and seeing that progression of a narrative play out.  But I also love light and colorful games like Kodama, Azul, and Quacks of Quedlinburg.  I appreciate great artwork!

How can content creators improve the accessibility of their content?

I would love to see more languages represented, particularly sign languages from other countries.  Even if videos are just interpreted!  When I contacted Rodney Smith from Watch It Played to see if he’d be up for me interpreting some of his videos in ASL, and he responded positively to the idea, I was so happy!  He really helped push open a door for accessibility awareness when we started collaborating and uploading videos.  I would also love to see better captions on videos rather than relying on automated captions created by the content platform.  Videos directly in the target language would be ideal, rather than relying on captions or translations, but anything is better than nothing!

Do you have a resources you’d recommend for content creators or game publishers trying to make their content/game materials more accessible?

As far as resources go, since accessibility can mean so many things I thought of a couple different things.  Elizabeth Hargrave (Wingspan) has an amazing list of female board game designers on her website.  It’s a great resource for anyone wanting to support women in the industry.  For interpreting information, rid.org is a great place to go.  There’s even a database of interpreters people can use to hire one!  The designer of Nyctophobia, Catherine Stippell, would be a great resource for designing games for the blind.  I would also love to establish myself as a great resource for people to come to if they have any questions about the Deaf community, accessible games/content for deaf/HoH people, and how ASL can be used in board gaming!

What changes would you like to see in the industry over the next five years?

Breaking down language barriers, more awareness, more interpreters, more content in target languages, more thought put into the overall creative process.  Accessibility is a broad term and it encompasses so many types of people.  The more people who can raise awareness of different groups of people and accommodations we can make for those groups so they can enjoy board gaming the same way everyone else can, the better.  I love when people ask me questions about sign language because it gives me the opportunity to educate and highlight a culture they may not have otherwise known anything about.  Board games are constantly changing, reinventing and creating new ways to play games.  We can parallel that change and directly influence any shifts in the industry by opening our minds and changing our own perspectives.  There is more than enough room for more people at the table.  We just have to ensure we’re creating the atmospheres that get them there.