The digital world can bring benefits for people who have disabilities like new ways to communicate or though mobility assistance. With all new technologies there are new challenges. To help developers and designers create works that all can use there have been efforts to consolidate good practices.
In the world of web development the W3C has been leading the Web Accessibility Initiative. They outline how alt tags should be handled to how to make systems that can work with existing standards for accessibility tools. It’s a very complex task and it’s good to see the effort going into it.
The equivalent project for video games is the website Game Accessibility Guidelines. The FCC recently presented the site the Award for Advancement in Accessibility:
Over 20% of gamers have some form of disability, and interactive entertainment can be an important contributor to quality of life, enabling access to recreation, culture and socialising. But too often gamers with disabilities are denied access to these life changing benefits due to a simple lack of awareness amongst developers. So the guidelines project was formed to address this need, giving developers easy access to the knowledge they need to start opening up their games to wider audiences. It was initiated by designer and accessibility specialist Ian Hamilton, who through his prior work at the BBC has a background in creating games and digital content for children with disabilities, and was also a winner of Transport for London’s recent Accessible App Award.
You might not be able to incorporate all accessibility suggestions into the list (like difficulty settings) but it’s worth looking at the full list of suggestions to see which you can implement.
There are other organizations that look to help developers and charities like Able Gamers who additionally help gamers with disabilities play (as does SpecialEffect). Polygon just published an article on why game accessibility matters and it’s a really good read.
Accessibility features don’t just benefit disabled people. “You are also making a better product in which people can feel more comfortable because it has a better design and [more] options,” he explains. Or as Hamilton says, “Something that’s a showstopping barrier for someone with an impairment is often still an annoyance for everyone else, so even basic things like offering a choice of controls or backing up color with iconography are just good general game design practice.” And in the long run we’ll probably all need to fall back on at least one such feature. “The average age of players is increasing,” Mairena says.
“In 30 years there will be a lot of gamers who still want to play, but they could not play if games are not accessible because they will have mobility, auditive, visual or cognitive problems.”
Some people even go a step further and make games targeted for people with disabilities. Earlier this year there was an Accessibility Game Jam and two years ago a game for blind people was successfully kickstarted.