Accessibility Updates for FIRST® Robotics Competition
2022 DEC 15 | Written by Fiona Hanlon, FIRST® Robotics Competition Team Experience Specialist
As we get closer and closer to the 2023 FIRST ® Robotics Competition Season, we wanted to share some updates with respect to accessibility that we have been working on. We also want to take a moment to thank Team 1023, Bedford Express, for working with us to share ideas on ways we can improve the experience for all participants.
For years, we have shipped a ramp that was able to be used for Drive Team members with limited mobility. It is specifically designed to allow an individual in a wheelchair to access the Driver Station. We recognize that while this ramp was available, we did not do the best job of making this known to our teams. This season, language has been added to the Game Manual about this ramp, and you may even notice it being used in the Game Animation. Please note that these ramps will be available at most events, and we recommend connecting with your local Program Delivery Partner to confirm it will be available.
Additionally, here are a few other accessibility updates and reminders:
New this season, pre-recorded videos played at events will have closed captions.
As noted in the Game Manual, if a team needs a text-based version of the game manual to be used with assistive devices, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Quiet Rooms are strongly suggested to be available at all FIRST Robotics Competition Events. A Quiet Room provides students, mentors, and volunteers a place during the competition to get away from the common competition stressors of noise and motion. This place can lead to increased happiness and decreased levels of stress. Please connect with your local Program Delivery Partner for information specific to an event.
A guide was created to help Program Delivery Partners improve accessibility at their events.
We recognize that the seating around the fields at FIRST ® Championship was not fully inclusive to teams who have members with limited mobility. To help remedy this, we are working on solutions to ensure the team can sit together.
Finally, we recognize that there is still more that can be done to create accessible environments. If you have suggestions on what we can do to improve the accessibility of FIRST Robotics Competition, please reach out to email@example.com.
I very much like the direction FIRST is trending with this message (including thanking the teams who worked with them and increasing publicity over resources that already exist) - but there’s a whole lot of “contact your local program delivery partner” in that message. Hopefully standardization and direct support from HQ on this front will continue to increase in future seasons.
This is all good progress. I’m glad that HQ is working to address accessibility at events. There are two things, though, that were left out which I think are important. We need to limit the use of flashing lights (like at Championship last year) and put a limit on volume at events. Both of these things have been explored here before and I think both are relatively low effort for the benefit they provide.
Personal experience: my wife was in a knee brace last year for a regional. We survived, but it very suddenly brought into focus just how hard it could be to participate fully when you didn’t have two completely functional legs. Just barely makes me start to imagine what it’s like if that’s your whole life experience.
Re: PDP’s - I’m willing to bet there’s some caution needed in how things are communicated in blog posts, versus how exactly it gets rolled out to PDP’s. I’d suspect… hope at least… that the conversation goes like “Hey, XYZ is very important. As you select venues and plan the event, make sure XYZ gets done. If you’ve got a reason it can’t be done, reach out to us and we’ll try to help. Don’t not have the event because you can’t do XYZ, but know we’ll be asking about it next year and looking for your plan to improve.” Packing all that in a blog post is hard to get right.
Here’s to yet another “woo hoo I’m even more excited about this season!” FRC blog!
I’m curious why FIRST doesn’t want to post this for everyone? When helping out teams remotely it’d be very nice to have a text only version to copy from instead of having to fix the formatting after copying from the PDF.
Can anyone who uses a screen reader (or works on this kind of accessibility stuff) confirm if the HTML version of the manual is easy to navigate at all? I wonder if this could be an acceptable stopgap while waiting on a response for the text manual.
Started reading this sentence expecting it to be about the strobe lights and people with epilepsy. All the stuff mentioned in this blog is good. Hopefully that will also be taken care of, just not publicized.
I tested both the HTML version and the PDF manual with a screen reader. They are not perfect, but from what I can tell they are both are fairly accessible.
The PDF manual is tagged correctly and is usable with a screen reader.
The HTML version seems to be a direct export from Word, so there are some weird artifacts and it’s not an ideal experience, but with a screen reader it’s as usable as the PDF.
I assume when they say “text-based version” of the game manual they are referring to the source Word document?
From what I have heard from active screen reader users, they prefer: HTML > Word > PDF
Beyond screen readers, HTML is usually much more accessible and user customizable. For example, zooming is a better experience, text is reflowed with no horizontal scrolling, and there are no awkward page breaks. Also, if the CSS is done correctly the text can be resized to the user’s desired size and/or the font family can be changed completely.
I think FIRST should put more effort into an HTML/web version of the game manual, because it both greatly improves the experience for users of assistive technology and can make the manual much more usable for everyone else.
Click for more advantages of using a web-based game manual:
You always know you are viewing the most up-to-date version of the manual.
Easily link to rules or sections instead of scrolling through 100+ pages of the PDF manual to find what you are looking for.
The manual can be divided into multiple web pages instead of one giant page that is extremely difficult to navigate and can be an information overload. (this is already done with the PDF manual in the resource library page). There should still be the option to view the entire manual on a single page.
Interactive elements such as videos, animations, 3d models, etc. can be embedded within the manual to further clarify ideas.
Term definitions can be embedded within the text of the page, instead of only listing them all at the end of the PDF manual in the glossary.
Better mobile usability.
Much easier for users of assistive technology to change how the manual looks and feels.
Those who’ve stayed till the bitter end of an event loading the truck know we’ll that this ramp hurts more people than it helps at nearly every event. While I was hoping this would announce an alternative solution, I’m at least glad to see they’re publicizing this now. It’s definitely some effort to get that thing loaded, unloaded, and deployed, so hopefully we can see it start to help more people.
Well, I have stayed to the bitter end loading the truck, and I have not seen this ramp (though I have previously heard rumors of its existence). So I think it’s another thing dependent on the “Program Delivery Partner”, and districts (or at least the one I’ve volunteered at) either don’t have them or only have one that they would need advance notice for in order to have it included on the truck for an event. Though maybe this renewed push for accessibility will change things.
I have a bad foot, and any long-term standing or walking around brings terrible pain (that can then persist for weeks as everything re-inflames)–so my mobility isn’t technically impaired, but I carry around a stool to sit down as much as I can. It can get rough.
(Fortunately, when I’m sitting in the aisle just outside our pit while my students are working, I’ve not had a negative encounter with a safety person once I’ve explained the situation. I’ve never had an issue bringing my stool in queue.)
In the PNW district we do not currently have ramps to send to the events. At one point one was made out of wood for a particular student and once that season was over it just sat leaned up against the wall of our warehouse for several years. During the pandemic when we put our equipment in storage that was not one of the things that made the “must keep” or “nice to keep” list, so it was cut up and put in the trash.
Regarding regionals when we were still under that system there was not one on the trucks we received. There was not one on the truck from Canada that we accepted during the early days of the lock-downs so that the trucker could go home rather than to NH to drop off his load. Since regional trucks come from first HQ it is something that FIRST would put on a truck before it left.
I’d love to hear about the issues with the ramp FIRST has previously sent to (some?) events and how it hurts those tasked with unloading and loading it on trucks. This year with the email that detailed the items FIRST wanted us to send back we were told that we (I) need to build ramps and send them to every event. So I’d love to hear how it hurts people so that I can possibly eliminate that from the ones that I build, or come up with a completely different design w/o those issues.
They’re extremely heavy, and on a very small set of built in wheels. As a result, you cannot stage it with the road cases on its wheels – you have to lay out down flat and keep picking it up every time it needs to move. It can’t be easily forked, though iirc the truck pack diagram has it as a rider, so it has to get lifted by hand (or very sketchily forked) to shoulder height. It also doesn’t always stay in its folded configuration and can open up unexpectedly. Common injuries include smashing toes, fingers.
I assume it has to be absurdly heavy to withstand the weight of a wheelchair and person, so I suppose the best redesign would involve an easier mechanism to move it and a more secure packing configuration.
Thank you. It sounds like the plans that were provided to me are not identical to the design that you have dealt with, as it does not have wheels and has a drawing date of 9/16/22. It does look forkable and is sized to able to ride on a small road case ie 8/12/19. Not sure if this means that FIRST is replacing their existing ramps with this or are just going to use this design for new ramps. To be honest I’m afraid the design that was provided to me isn’t heavy duty enough as calls for the main structure to be made from 1x1x1/6" aluminum.
I’d post the PDF but for some reason all the drawings are marked Proprietary and Confidential
All FIRST drawings are labeled that way, even the ones they publish on their own site, and even the “evergreen” part of the field. I suspect that they need to label it as such in order to enforce their copyrights and NDAs, and is part of how they enforce that they can publish their rules & drawings but don’t want other people hosting their files. I certainly agree that you shouldn’t post it without their permission, but it might not be that hard to get their permission if asked.
I am so happy to hear all of this! We had a hearing disabled student (FTC) this year and I was dumbfounded to learn they didn’t have subtitles on at least their pre-recorded stuff. I’m so happy to know that are addressing this.
I’ll agree with this too. Super easy and would be super helpful.
How about something like this. I borrowed one from my boss to load the heavy toolbox into the trailer and now I don’t think I can live without it. It’s not heavy to carry. Not outrageously expensive. And should be relatively easy to store away.