Level Up: Navigating Digital Accessibility

by Campbell Edstrom, Accessible Communications Intern

 

In 2023, an article by Statista estimated that there are 2.7 billion people who play video games around the world. Additionally, 20% of the world population has a disability. Despite these statistics, people who can’t use standard controllers or gaming systems  aren’t always thought of when it comes to video games and gaming consoles.

Video games often require fine motor control and reflexes, which may be difficult for gamers with physical or cognitive disabilities.

Adaptive Controllers

One way to make gaming accessible is to use  an adaptive controller. Fun fact, you can borrow an Xbox adaptive controller from the Oklahoma ABLE Tech Device Loan Program inventory.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is placed on a wooden TV stand. Behind it is a white Xbox.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller

The Xbox Adaptive Controller  was released in 2018; however, the PlayStation alternative wasn’t released until the end of 2023. Now, you can order the PlayStation accessible controller on the The PlayStation Access Controller has configurable buttons and an adjustable joystick. Alternatively, the Xbox Adaptive Controller allows you to connect up to 21 external switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks.

Stock image of the PlayStation Access Controller
The PlayStation Access Controller

Accessibility Tips

According to an article by the University of Washington,  early video games were not accessible, which forced disabled gamers to come up with their own solutions. One of those solutions was to form advocacy groups, including the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Game Accessibility Special Interest Group, which has been requesting the creation of game accessibility guidelines for many years..

Despite a lack of official guidelines for video game accessibility, there are ways to make the user experience better for disabled gamers .

Visual Accessibility

According adaptations for gamers with visual impairments include features like increased screen brightness, high contrast mode, audio cues and adaptive controllers.

Some games use sound cues to pinpoint distance and objectives. According  , there are even some fighting games that are adapted to be accessible to gamers with visual impairments. An example of this is Mortal Kombat, which features sound cues. 

Audio Accessibility

Another way  to make video games audio accessible is including captions. Captions provide text about what is happening on the screen. According to Room8 Studio, using audio captions with a settings menu in games helps make them accessible and inclusive for players who are hearing impaired or may not speak the game's language natively.

The Room8 article also suggests  that another way to make video games accessible to hearing impaired people is to provide visual and haptic cues. This can include things such as flashing lights or making the control vibrate to indicate that something is happening. By including visual and audio cues, people aren’t left out of the gaming experience.

Cognitive Accessibility

One area that needs more attention is accessibility features for those with cognitive disabilities. One way that you can make video games cognitively accessible is the option to disable background animation. This allows gamers to focus on strategizing or game context without distractions.

In a podcast episode by Ubisoft Montreal featuring Cherry Thompson, Thompson mentions that another way to make video games accessible is to include not only different colors but also different icons to distinguish between elements such as enemy and friend characters. This is beneficial for both visual and cognitive accessibility, because it provides multiple systems of feedback.

Overall, gamers should check individual games for their accessibility settings. Check out the resources linked below-- they can be helpful in finding accessible gaming options or learning additional accessibility tips.

For resources on accessible video game options check out these sites:

The AbleGamers Charity Website

Can I Play That? Website

“10 Games with Fantastic Accessibility Features,” by Game Rant

“The Most Accessible Games for the Visually-Impaired,” by Lenstore