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At the office we just got a new colleague who is visually impaired.

I'm in charge of organizing the planning poker sessions and the new colleague must participate as a member of the team. We have these nice sets of poker cards with planning poker numbers on them, but that doesn't help of course for our new colleague.

Until now we fixed this problem by just naming the estimates, letting the new colleague say their estimate right after the rest had put down their card, then the rest flips their card and I name the estimates in a row.

My question(s): Is there any one who has experience with this kind of situation and have a better solution? Is there such a thing as Braille poker cards?

The current solution does work, but I think this can be improved for us all by for example Braille poker cards.

  • 3
    I'm not really sure how this relates to programming. – user76704 May 11 '14 at 21:57
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    For anyone moving towards flagging this as being about a game of poker; Its worth noting that planning poker is part of the scrum phase of agile development – Richard Tingle May 12 '14 at 9:56
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    Have you asked him about it? I've heard stories about blind people with remarkable spatial memories. Just saying, out loud, the value of each card & where it goes might be enough for him to keep track of things. Even if he's not quite at that superhero level of spatial recall, he's probably got some good ideas for adapting the system to something he can work with. – Sean McSomething May 14 '14 at 22:24
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    @Ozz I should know better by now than to think it possible for a question to actually be on topic here, thanks for reminding me... – AakashM May 15 '14 at 12:40
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    @Ozz "it is not about programming or programmers" - Incorrect, it is about a visually impaired programmer. – BenSmith May 16 '14 at 16:29
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You can solve this problem with a free and simple solution.

In our team, if we ever forget our planning poker cards we instead use our hands i.e. We clench our fists and show our estimates all at the same time. We find that this approach works very well as usually our estimates are on average at most eight points and any 13 point estimates are followed by a longer than usual discussion anyway.

I think this method would work great for you and your visually impaired colleague, as he/she would be able to give their estimate at exactly the same time as their team mates. When you all show your hands you then can go around the table and each member can speak out loud the estimate they gave. Yes, it won't be ideal if your team regularly estimates above 13 points, but I think it'll work great if your team usually estimates below this level.

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    we've done that too - its like rock/scissors/paper. 1..2..3.. and everyone sticks a number of fingers up. You will have to convert the log scale to fingers (eg 1 = 1 finger, 3 = 2 fingers, 5 = 3 etc) – gbjbaanb May 12 '14 at 9:23
  • @gbjbaanb Yes I should've mentioned that it's just like the rock, paper, scissors game. As we barely ever go above eight points we don't need to add the complexity of a log scale! – BenSmith May 12 '14 at 9:54
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    We just plain do this anyway, since physical cards don't work as well over videoconference (and also try to stay at 8 or below, although we've come up with one-digit-per-hand to easily go higher if need be) – Izkata May 15 '14 at 0:46
  • What if the visually impared colleague can't see the hands? This is a visual 'first' solution. I prefer a non-visual 'first' solution that will not require an extra 'round' of speaking, for example showing hands and saying number at the same time. – Michael Durrant Nov 3 '14 at 10:28
  • @MichaelDurrant The colleague is visually impaired, his/her primary sense is hearing so they need the extra audible input. A non-visual first option is not viable, as if everyone shouts out their estimate they are likely to influence other members with their estimate. In this situation you have to be pragmatic to aid all parties. – BenSmith Nov 3 '14 at 11:01
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My suggestion is to use paper / cards & sounds.

Have everyone make their estimates with their cards / paper. Then everyone shows their estimate at the same time.

At this point the visual members look around and you even hear folks say, hmm, 5,5, 2, hey bob, what's up with your 2? etc

So expand a little more on that verbal part.

Have everyone make their estimates, show their card / paper and very quickly have everyone (in turn) say their numbers. Do that one-by-one (but quickly) so within 2-3 seconds you hear 5,2,5,4,5,5. The visually impaired person will then know the range of values and also who's voice goes with with ticket which is probably essential (and also helps avoid the need for everyone to sit in the same spot each time).

Similarly if folks change their estimates during discussion make sure they verbalize any changes.

To avoid the all-critical 'influenced by' consider having members write down their initial choices on scraps of paper (or use playing cards). Folks would choose the intended card initially and put the others down. Then, when the 'going around' is done people would hold up their initially selected and only card AND say the points at that moment.

This is pretty close to what you are doing, the main change being to have each member verbalize their choice themselves, rather than you reading them all "for Bob" - which makes the "read for Bob" a distinct process which is not good socially for Bob. It singles him out as being different and having special needs.

Try to make these techniques integral to your flow so that an outsider wouldn't notice differences easily. Avoid any sort of "now lets 'say' our choices' or 'whoops I forgot about Bob'. You can forget but if you do just say the number without discussion and apology and move on immediately.

Braille cards are good but remember that they make "Bob"'s impairment stand out, new/visiting team members have to be coached, Bob can't work on other scrum teams without them learning how the cards will be used. All of which is a lot of focus for Bob which is one of the things you want to avoid for someone with special needs. This is why I think the verbal approach avoid much of that.

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    +1 for considering the emotional impact of a chosen approach on the colleague – Andy Hunt May 12 '14 at 10:35
  • Thanks for rewording my answer. I'd assumed that the Scrum master would verbalise the estimates given by the team by hand, but I've updated my answer to be explicit. – BenSmith May 12 '14 at 11:08
  • ow sensitive. thanks for now rewording your answer based on mine. etc. I wrote this answer based on what exactly what I thought were the key points based on my experience. It's ok to have similar but competing answers. Let the crowd vote on them. moving on... – Michael Durrant May 12 '14 at 12:29
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Why would you change the current practice if it works? Braille cards might work (do they even exist?) but as those who don't know braille will have a hard time reading them you'd need a set that has both braille and printed numbers on it.
Depending on his level of impairment, you might be able to use a planning poker app on a tablet instead. I know such exist for Android, have seen them in use on smartphones, there's no reason why they shouldn't work on a 7" or 10" tablet as well. That would make the "cards" a lot larger for him than they are now, allowing him to hopefully see.
Of course there's the cost of the tablets, everyone in the team would need to have one for him to see everyone's cards (but same with braille cards, having him feel every card to sense what everyone put down would be at least as disruptive as everyone saying his number out loud).

So overall, I don't see a reason for the current practice to be changed. Have everyone say what his number is when casting his card, then the session leader averages those numbers to come up with the estimate.

  • With braille cards I was more thinking of a card with the dots and the number visible so the whole team can read it. I could not find them on the internet, hence the question. I'll look in the app thing, but I think that won't be option. – Mixxiphoid May 9 '14 at 8:09
  • It doesn't solve the problem of your colleague knowing the values everyone else assigned, but they do make braille playing cards. Just use your favorite web search engine for "braille playing cards" and there's tons. Most of the ones I saw were printed like jumbo playing cards (for low-vision players) and have braille in the corner. – Deverill May 9 '14 at 16:40
  • When someone puts down a card, the visually impaired coworker needs to reach over and touch them? I think your current system sounds more effective. – Brian May 9 '14 at 20:16
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The solution seems pretty obvious to me: don't use cards. Or use them, it doesn't matter. Have the one with the impairment say their estimate when prompted, and someone reads the other estimates out loud.

Why does it have to be any more complex than that?

And if that doesn't work, as a team have them talk about solutions that will work. If your team can't figure this out, how can they be expected to figure out complex software issues?

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