An instructional board game of strategy and chance designed to increase competence and confidence for people in the process of adapting to life in a wheelchair.

by Roxanna Springer and Janice Thiel

Roxanna and her Wheaten Terriers are enthusiastic about the future with a Master's degree in Education Technology from San Diego State University.

Janice is a full-time graduate student at San Diego State University in hot, not trivial, pursuit of her Master's degree in Educational Technology.

Educational Objectives

The learner will acquire basic strategies necessary in the process of adapting to life in a wheelchair. Also, the learner will become familiar with universal symbols of accessibility and learn to look for them. The basic strategies practiced by the player/learner during the game are to: The learner will acquire the confidence necessary to the process of adapting to life in a wheelchair. Also, the learner will become familiar with the challenge of "paying attention to details" in order to "get around" in the "normal" world. Confidence will be increased as the player/learner practices the opportunities presented by the game to:

Learners and Context

The target learners are people recently faced with the need to adapt to life in a wheelchair. Occupational therapy department personnel will use the game to introduce the concept of adaptation to their patients. The therapists will decide the appropriate use of the game, depending on the individual circumstances (e.g., age, personality, learning style) of the learner. Players/learners include the family members, friends, and co-workers as well as the patients and the therapist.


Utilizing a game to achieve the stated educational objectives is appropriate. The fun and informality of a board game is well-suited to alleviating the seriousness of the situation. Competitiveness stimulates interest and motivation, as well as focusing the attention of the learners on the achievement potentials rather than on the problems due to their disabilities. The realistic format of the game board, the familiar rules, and the comfortable seating arrangement promotes comradery among players/learners. All these characteristics serve to enhance the desired therapeutic effect.


The game has several components incorporating Keller's model of motivation. At the start, the humorous playing pieces attract attention. Beyond this immediate novelty, the learner's interest is maintained by Task Cards that add human interest through the use of graphics, color, stylized type, and real-life events. Attention is sustained through unpredictable events caused by the roll of the die and Chance Cards. The scenario format enables the learner to connect concepts to reality. This establishes relevance of the concepts for future use, making it more likely that the game will be played repeatedly and build the learner's knowledge base. The achievement level and "Good News!" cards designed into the game provide frequent feelings of satisfaction to the player/learner.


Csikszentmihalyi's flow model guided us in the design of the game as we worked out a balance between the challenges presented with the achievements allowed. The skills practiced in the game intellectual -- strategizing, recognizing symbols, coping. The format of a board game provides socialization, especially desirable at the onset of adapting to a disability when learners can feel most isolated. This format also provides the competitive challenge which, in turn, develops complexity, thus "strengthening the nerves, and sharpening the skills." The goals are clearly stated in the task cards, and all can be accomplished -- there are no failures, only delays. Feedback is immediate as the player/learner accomplishes the assigned tasks and turns those cards over. This promotes concentration during the game. Because real life is only simulated in the board game, the tasks are "effortless" and players/learners experience the sense of exercising control over their actions. The sense of self as "disabled" disappears while the sense of self as "abled" emerges. And again the board game format is appropriate because it "compresses time" -- all the day's tasks are accomplished within twenty minutes! However, because the game only simulates real life, its autotelic value is limited -- the enjoyment of confidence and achievement felt by the players/learners must transfer to the real world. The occupational, vocational, and physical therapists will coordinate their respective achievement goals to determine the optimal window for this transfer. It is at this point that fixed goals as named by the Task Cards can translate into distal goals for the individual learner.

Intrinsic Motivation

Utilizing a game format provides independence from the self-perception of confidence and control and makes social background ineffective. This is critical to introducing the process of adaptation when the new reality of a disability hits the learner very hard with an effective demeaning of all prior confidence, control, and social background. Also, the gaming experience provides better retention of the learning achieved by the players so they will be better equipped to adapt. The board game contains the elements of challenge, fantasy, and curiosity which Malone requires in his Functional Game Taxonomy. The fourth element of control is realized as the players/learners strategize for and accomplish their assigned tasks. Intrapersonal elements of competition, cooperation, and recognition emerge from the game's content and from the direction of the therapist who encourages these elements from the players/learners. These are social skills necessary in the process of adapting, not only to relieve the isolation feeling but to promote the team attitude wherein players assist each other, especially in the real world. The ease and variety provided by the simulation of a town provides the players/learners a release from their physical and social self-images as they "live out" a day in the village running their errands and dealing with chance according to the options offered by the game. The learning experience is endogenously motivated by being active, self-directed, exploratory, and inductive. Strategizing tasks engages a "cognitive curiosity" in the learners, requiring them to bring better form to their current knowledge structures about getting around in the real world. The game promotes intrinsic motivation by familiarizing the players/learners with the concept of adapting, strategizing, and coping and giving them opportunities for feeling competent. It will be very useful in immediately and quickly countering the sense of "can't" and preventing that sense from taking hold.

Design Process


We began the design process of this board game with a central theme and open minds. We kept the creative nature of this brainstorming mode sustained as long as possible. Thus, we felt we would not limit ourselves by cutting off ideas before they were completely focused and/or evaluated.

From the start, we wanted to make this game as realistic as possible so we decided the game board would be a town and that the players would navigate through it. Players would be required to stop at certain destinations in order to run errands. We decided that the object of the game would be for players to successfully accomplish a number of assigned tasks. This, of course, would occur while encountering typical obstacles faced by people in wheelchairs.

We set off for a day in La Jolla, a well-contained community with typical accessibility and destination examples. With Roxanna as guide, we traversed the town and discussed our experiences within the context of game development. Many ideas came and went and reappeared and evolved. By the end of the day we had a list consisting of three categories of game strategies -- tasks, obstacles, and sudden occurrences. We added the sudden occurrences category for two reasons. One, it made the game run more realistically since we all have had unexpected events in our daily plans. And second, it added the interesting twist of chance to the strategy of the game.


Once we had an overall idea of the game structure and components, we then needed to develop these into playing materials and rules. We followed Ellington's advise and worked on both aspects of the game simultaneously. We gathered art supplies (e.g., paper, crayons, index cards, glue scissors) and constructed a pre-prototype game board and cards. This rough product gave us a concrete model to work from and enabled us to make on-the-spot revisions. We could clearly see what was working well and what were problem areas.

The game evolved far enough for the two of us to play together. As we played, Janice drafted game rules. We soon realized that, although the two of us could easily follow the game board pathways, new players would be confused. We then decided to use a color coding system. We used a red line to indicate an inaccessible area (e.g., a curb, stairway, slope too steep). Red was chosen because it is a universal indicator of danger. We used blue to indicate accessible pathways (e.g., ramped entrances, sloping curb cuts to the street, disabled parking spaces). This color was an obvious choice since it is already adopted for this purpose in the real world. We also realized that the board was too large for players to reach across it without standing up. We resized its sides to an average arm length.


By the third version of the game board we were ready to prototype it. We were mainly interested in the game's playability. We asked ourselves several questions that we hoped a person unfamiliar with the game would be able to answer. We wanted to know if the game rules were understandable. We also wanted to know if the player found the game board structure easy to follow. In addition, we acquired information about the cards and their wording. This proved to be the most valuable time we spent. (Author's Note: We did not prototype the game with the target audience; we need the guidance of occupational, vocational, and physical therapists before interacting with patients.)

We delegated the work of making revisions and putting on the final touches between the two of us. Roxanna assembled and touched up the game materials, while Janice worked out the written rules, game description, and HTML formatting. We kept in touch by e-mail and telephone. Even though we worked in separate locations, we still remained a closely working team because of this communication.

Game Components

Game Board

The playing surface represents a typical small town with streets, sidewalks, and buildings. The sidewalk has divisions for moving spaces. Typical business destinations line the sidewalks. Accessibility, or lack thereof, is color-coded. A red line indicates an obstruction preventing wheelchair navigation. A blue line indicates a navigable surface for people in wheelchairs.

Click to enlarge.

Ancillary Materials

Playing the Game


Two to four players can play this game at a time. It requires approximately 20 minutes to play. Each player has four tasks to accomplish. The object of the game is to be the first player to successfully complete the assigned errands and return to the parked playing piece.


  1. Unfold the game board and situate it in the center area of play.

  2. Shuffle the chance cards and place the deck face down in a stack.

  3. Shuffle the task cards and deal four to each player. Each player places her/his four task cards face-up along her/his side of the game board.

  4. Each player rolls the die. The player with the highest number goes first, the player with the second highest number goes second, and so on. If necessary, players roll again to break a tie. This order of play remains throughout the duration of the game.

  5. The player who goes first has first choice of where to start by placing her/his playing piece in any parking space on the game board. Parking spaces are designated by the recognizable blue wheelchair signs. The rest of the players, in turn, do the same. Players should consider the tasks they need to accomplish when deciding where to park their cars.

  6. Once all the players are parked, the first player rolls the die, leaves the car part of the playing piece in the parking space and advances the person part of the playing piece along the spaces of the sidewalk according to the number rolled. A player must access the sidewalk at the nearest accessible space to where s/he parked her/his car. The rest of the players, in turn, do the same.

  7. Once on the sidewalk, the player may proceed in any direction that leads to a desired destination. However, players may not cross a red line which indicates inaccessibility to that area. Instead, they may only cross blue lines even if that means detouring. Streets are not considered a space, therefore the player may proceed directly from curb to curb without stopping.

  8. A player can consider a task accomplished when landing in the space of a business or destination that fulfills the assigned task. A player does not need to roll an exact number to enter a desired building. However, the player must land in the building's space and wait for the next turn to leave and continue on. Once a task is accomplished, the player turns that particular task card face-down.

  9. If a player lands in a chance space, s/he must take the top chance card from the stack. This card is added to the player's face-up task cards. A "Right Now" task must be done immediately before any other. "Oops!" tasks may be done at any time before ending the game.

  10. A player may move her/his car whenever there is another parking space available. However, the player must return to the car before s/he can move the piece. In addition, moving the car costs the player a turn.

  11. Once a player completes all assigned tasks, s/he returns to the parked playing piece. The player who returns first is the winner.

Graphics acknowledgements are extended to Broderbund's Amazing Writing Machine for some of the game materials art and to Candace King's artwork for the game's box and board images of La Jolla, California.

Author's Addendum: This game may easily be redesigned to describe a workplace, residence, farm, vacation location (e.g., ski resort), etc.. The instructional objectives are transferable and are best accomplished in the desirable context of the learner. These redesigns also allow for variations in the fantasy and challenge elements to further motivate players/learners in the adaptation process.

Author's Addendum: A second target audience is necessary to address: legislators, city planners, and building owners/managers who decide whether to make accessibility efforts. The game's structure should be redesigned with greater difficulties for this audience: e.g., more locations without accessibility or with awkward accessibility such as sidedoor ramps. Also, time and energy limitations should be introduced. The sophistication and "normalcy" of this audience's lives allows for greater realism as the trauma aspect is not relevant here. The greater realism, in turn, provides more sensitization for this target audience to the needs of people in wheelchairs.


Last updated by Roxanna Springer and Janice Thiel
on October 21, 1996 while taking EDTEC 670.

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