Gaming with Disability: Celebrating Accessibility and Highlighting Ongoing Challenges

The world of gaming has come a long way in terms of accessibility for players with disabilities, but there is still much progress to be made.

With an estimated 400 million gamers worldwide living with disabilities, it is imperative that the gaming industry continues to innovate and invest in making their hardware and software more inclusive.

The Xbox 360 controller presented numerous barriers for the author, including its shape, size, and button layout, which prevented them from accessing key features of games like Call of Duty: World at War.

 

One of the biggest challenges facing disabled gamers is the lack of accessibility in game design and physical hardware.

Many disabled gamers experience frustration and exclusion when they encounter games that are not designed with their unique needs in mind.

However, despite these challenges, disabled gamers have been able to find innovative ways to enjoy their favorite games, and in many cases, have helped drive innovation in the industry.

Personal Stories Highlight the Necessity of Accessibility

In an article published by Access Designed, a publication dedicated to accessibility in gaming, the author shares their personal experience with accessibility as a disabled gamer.

The author, who lives with spinal muscular atrophy type II, recounts how they were able to play games across a variety of consoles as a child, until the release of the Xbox 360.

The Xbox 360 controller presented numerous barriers for the author, including its shape, size, and button layout, which prevented them from accessing key features of games like Call of Duty: World at War.

Despite these barriers, the author was able to find a unique solution: their brother modified the controller with a popsicle stick, allowing them to use the triggers more easily.

This small modification provided a lifeline when extensive menus and accessible design practices were still in their infancy.

The author’s experience highlights the importance of accessible game design and hardware, and the ongoing challenges that disabled gamers face. While progress has been made,

it is essential that the gaming industry continues to innovate and invest in accessibility to ensure that all players can enjoy their favorite games.

Companies Investing in Accessibility

Xbox, in particular, has been making strides in improving accessibility for disabled gamers.

The company has been taking steps to make its hardware and software more accessible, including creating an adaptive controller and designing accessibility guidelines outlining accommodations to make gaming more accessible.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller, released in 2018, was developed with input from the gaming community, including the Able Gamers Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works on accessibility designs with companies like Microsoft.

The controller features large programmable buttons and is compatible with a variety of accessories designed to meet the needs of players with a range of disabilities.

In addition to the adaptive controller, Xbox has also been designing accessibility guidelines to make gaming more inclusive.

These guidelines include ways to customize colors and adjust contrast, which make game menus more usable for people with vision loss, and the ability to remap buttons on controllers so people with limited mobility can reassign functions to buttons that are easier to reach.

Challenges Remain

Despite these advances, there are still significant challenges facing disabled gamers.

One of the biggest challenges is the lack of information available to gamers about the accessibility of games.

As mentioned in the Access Designed article, the industry is bad about getting accessibility information out there when a game is launched, so people can make educated decisions on buying the video game.

This lack of information can be particularly frustrating for disabled gamers who rely on accessibility features to enjoy their favorite games.

Without clear information about the accessibility of games, disabled gamers can feel excluded and miss out on gaming experiences they would otherwise enjoy.

Representation in Gaming

Another ongoing challenge for disabled gamers is representation in gaming.

Characters with disabilities are often portrayed as villains or portrayed as needing to be “fixed” in some way.

This portrayal perpetuates negative stereotypes and reinforces the notion that people with disabilities are broken and in need of “fixing.”

Lack of Representation for Mental Health Issues

Diversity in Gaming, an organization that analyzes inclusivity in games, found that physical disabilities, such as amputees, burn victims, and wheelchair-bound characters, are more common than nuanced issues like anxiety and depression.

This lack of representation for people with mental health issues is a concerning trend in the gaming industry.

Mental health is an issue that affects many people, and including it in games can help break down the stigma around it.

Moving Away from Harmful Portrayals

While the gaming industry has made significant strides in recent years towards making games more accessible for people with disabilities, there is still a long way to go.

It is essential to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy the same gaming experiences as everyone else, without any limitations.

One way to achieve this is to make sure that accessibility features are clearly labeled and advertised in games.

Xbox’s Efforts

Xbox has started to tag accessibility features in its games in its online store, and other companies should follow suit.

In May 2022, Xbox released mental health guidelines for its games.

These guidelines aim to make players aware of in-game content that might trigger mental health issues like anxiety, depression, OCD, eating disorders, or PTSD.

For example, in the survival game Grounded, players can choose to play in “Arachnophobia Mode,” which takes the legs off spiders and makes them less scary for players who are afraid of spiders.

While these guidelines are a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to ensure that people with mental health issues are adequately represented in video games.

 

The Need for More Diverse Representation

Representation of people with disabilities in video games is another issue that needs to be addressed.

Characters with disabilities are often portrayed as villains or in need of fixing or repair. This perpetuates the idea that people with disabilities are broken and need to be “fixed.”

It is crucial to move away from this outdated and harmful portrayal of disability in video games and instead portray people with disabilities as strong and capable individuals.

In addition to physical disabilities, people with mental health issues should also be represented in video games.

Video games can help break down the stigma around mental health and raise awareness of the issues that people with mental health issues face.

Including characters with mental health issues in games can also help people with these issues feel less isolated and more understood.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the gaming industry has made significant progress in making video games more accessible to people with disabilities, but there is still work to be done.

Accessibility features need to be more clearly labeled and advertised, and representation of people with disabilities in video games needs to be more accurate and diverse.

The gaming industry has the potential to make a positive impact on people with disabilities and mental health issues, and it is important that it continues to do so.

Craig Miller

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