The benefits of, and need for, accessibility in gaming

Photo by Florian Olivo via Unsplash
Photo by Florian Olivo via Unsplash

1 million adults in the United States live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, despite the statistics, those who experience a disability and are in the gaming community continue to face a number of unique challenges when it comes to playing their favorite games comfortably.

From the value that accessibility holds and the challenges that are continually faced to the innovations and need for improvement, here’s what you need to know.

The value of accessibility in gaming

For many of those who experience a disability, being a part of the gaming community is no walk in the park, especially when a game isn’t equipped with accessible features. For example, a game without accessible features that involve aspects like quick time events (which require rapid reflexes) can be extremely difficult for those with cognitive disabilities that delay reaction time, or for those whose disabilities involve joint pain. Games without closed captions, or those that rely on audio cues can also be difficult for individuals who may experience deafness or visual impairments as well. The challenges don’t end there though, as another obstacle that many face is accessibility regarding the actual physical controls/handsets, which can be difficult to navigate for those experiencing impairments like limb/coordination limitations. Without accessible options, players have to resort to figuring out how to “make do” with controllers/games designed for able-bodied people — or, worse, being left out of gaming altogether.

Innovations bring options to the table

Thankfully, a number of innovations have come to light in recent years in regards to making gaming more accessible for those with disabilities. AbleGamers, for instance, unveiled an accessible controller back in 2011 (by the name Adroit Switchblade), which led to working with Microsoft years later to create the Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller (also referred to as the XAC). With the XAC becoming a household staple for those who experience disabilities, smart innovations within game design itself have also made significant headway, with one recent notable example being The Last of Us: Part II for PlayStation 4 by Sony and developer Naughty Dog. Victor Branco, Portuguese writer for Game Accessibility Nexus who has degenerative myopia notes that the game has great text to speech capabilities, sound cues, and controller features, too.

Room for improvement in accessible gaming

While accessibility within the gaming community has brought several innovations to the table, there’s still a long way to go in making every aspect of gaming as accessible as possible. For such reasons, companies are aiming to change that, with AbleGamers offering Accessible Player Experiences, an intensive certification course that helps to design an accessible game. Microsoft also offers something similar, with Xbox accessibility guidelines providing guidance and a sort of checklist to ensure the game is accessible. One aspect of game creation that many may leave out when looking to create an accessible game, however, is the e-commerce, or in-app purchase system. In order to achieve this, making features like closed captioning and photo description in addition to accessible print a priority are just a few that can help ensure the game is that much more accessible to others.

Due to the number of challenges that someone who experiences a disability may face when gaming, accessibility is a necessity — though isn’t always present. While technological innovations are working to change that and make accessibility much more mainstream, there’s always room for improvement, particularly when it comes to game design and development.

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