Disabled Gamers Among Us: A Look At Gaming Accessibility

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Twenty percent of the video gaming market is alienated by most AAA titles out there. Twenty percent of the market is unable to play certain games; Not because of money, not because of lack of a console, but because of their accessibility. Twenty percent of gamers out there are disabled in some way.

Disability is anything that could prevent you from being accessible to doing something else. Inability to use a body part is fairly common, whether it’s use of a hand, legs, eyes, but even color blindness and Parkinson’s disease are other fairly common problems. Someone that wears glasses can even be considered disabled. A lot of these make several games out there very difficult for this twenty percent.

Everyone is susceptible to it, even later on in life, as aging can cause problems and disabilities. This is referred to as Temporarily Able Bodied, or TABs, as nearly everyone will eventually have a disability in life. Even minor inconveniences can occur earlier in life. For instance, I suffer from minor “tremors” in my hands that prevent me from playing most First Person Shooter Games on a normal keyboard and mouse. I have to use a controller to sustain my grip, as I have a problem double and triple clicking on a mouse.

I attended a panel on Disability in Gaming at DragonCon (in Atlanta, GA) a few weeks back with a great discussion on this issue. Mark Barlet, President of AbleGamers Foundation, was on the panel to discuss what they have been doing to help disabled gamers from a developer angle. Liz Prasad and Ben Jacobs from Tools For Life (at Georgia Tech) discussed the accommodations of proper tools and devices to help disabled gamers enjoy more games, where Laura Levy of Georgia Tech’s Psychology Department discussed the economics of need for this to be a pushed issue. Also in attendance, Chris Larson (Executive Producer at Hi-Rez Studios) and Daniel Fishman (Game Designer at Hi-Rez Studios) discussed their game SMITE and all of the accessibility features they bring to the table.

Mark (of AbleGamers) spends a lot of his time pairing up with developers of video games, discussing how the developers and publishers can maximize their market share among that percentage, as accessibility starts with software and development. Laura Levy agreed that there has to be a market need and necessity for disabled gamers to enjoy games the same way able-bodied gamers can, but it has to be cost effective. The problem with catering to disability is whether it’s profitable or not. If the developer loses money in the process, they would be less inclined to do it.

On the opposite end of the discussion, Chris and Daniel (of Hi-Rez Studios) discussed their newest game, SMITE. SMITE is a MOBA-style game, similar to League of Legends and DOTA 2, that utilizes deities and gods from all different religions and faiths; So, a match featuring Zeus, Odin, and Ra would be fairly common in this game. SMITE features several functions that would cater to disability and accessibility. Chris explained he is color blind, and this can prove to be disastrous in a game like SMITE. Allies’ tags are colored green, where enemies are colored red, which makes it very difficult to play for someone with this quirk. A special screen overlay is available for their game that caters to color blindness, boosting colors and hues, helping visibility.

Not all of their accessibility tools cater only to disability. Many gamers want the option to re-map their controls or change the heads-up display or mini-map. SMITE allows for these functions, and many games out there are following suit. Customization is key among all gamers, not just those with special needs. Closed Captioning is really for the hard of hearing and language barriers, but many gamers utilize it as subtitles for everyday use. SMITE, among many others, allow for a mini-map to become larger, or move to a different part of the HUD.

Liz and Ben (of Tools For Life) discussed devices and options that can be used to help aid against the problems disabled gamers face. Several manufacturers cater to this market, such as Evil Controllers and the Quad Stick. Sony’s own Playstation 4 now even gives accessibility options, such as remapping buttons. Left-handed mice are available from Razer and Corsair, for those that need it. They discussed other thoughts on virtual reality, such as the Oculus VR and even Google Cardboard. Haptics and feedback can be paired with touch screens and tablets, or even the virtual reality, to immerse both able-bodied and disabled gamers alike.

Mark Barlet, President of AbleGamers

Mark Barlet, President of AbleGamers

Mark’s non-profit company, AbleGamers Foundation, helps find other ways for disability and inconvenience. When asked what impact the AbleGamers has really had, Mark responded, “Before we came along, no one was really putting any real world work into these challenges. It was all academic and rarely made it out of the classroom.” He explained that he helps to make sure the structure and groundwork within games allows for more players with disabilities to enjoy these games just as much as an able-bodied person can. Mark also pointed out there is a 48-page document, written by AbleGamers, readily available for free, called Includification.com, that game developers can use to make their games more accessible (or as he puts it, “a total guide for how to include more people.”). “It is easy to include basic accessibility,” he added. “Just do good game design.”

Those with disability can request a grant to help them obtain tools to make their lives better from AbleGamers’ website, ablegamers.com, or if you are not approved for the grant, they can get you in contact with the manufacturers and vendors that sell the peripherals to help better your life. The AbleGamers Fellowship, on the other hand, is a new cause that awards two $10K scholarships to disabled gamers in need. The resources are there.

Twenty percent of the gaming market can’t play many of new games out there. That twenty percent would really like to, though. Accessibility is a need and necessity in this day and age that developers need to stop avoiding.