GDC 2024 Roundtable—From Workplaces to Games | Recap

This is a summary article for the IGDA GA-SIG Roundtable at the 2024 Game Developers Conference. An audio recording of the meeting was used to revisit in detail the topics that were covered and then distill their related conversations into an informational document. All participants and their contributions are presented here anonymously.

We started by sharing with all in attendance that this was the 20th year anniversary of IGDA Game Accessibility SIG roundtables, that the number of attendees has increased from just 1 person to over 100 people, and that SIG membership has increased from around 10 people to well over 2000. We also noted that over the years there has been significant growth in the number of game accessibility topics—in particular, there is an increasing focus on accessibility in professional spaces such as game developer workplaces.

Next we briefly reviewed notes from the roundtable in 2023, which included:

  • Disabled developers should not be required to prove a need for accommodation, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all accommodation. The immediate and effective response is to offer a choice to work from home, or make the necessary ergonomic improvements to the physical environment within the workplace.
  • Have an explicated acceptance by management that some staff will need more time to finish expected tasks. Whenever possible, enable these people by providing tools that are accessible (e.g. screen reader accessible, or visual coding with no need of drag-and-drop, etc.). Also, ensure that meetings and related spaces are accessible.
  • Encourage implementation of accessibility in products by providing existing solutions, such as middleware, software libraries, and plugins, as well as guidelines for hardware and XR.
  • For advocacy, there is a risk of burnout, so it is important to choose the target groups for your efforts carefully in order to make the most impact and effect positive change. Furthermore, it is important to be nice to yourself, to get help when you need it, and note the little wins so you can reflect on them when a current challenge feels too great.
  • At industry events like GDC, there should be increased visibility of disabled developers. Also, building entrances/exits, guides for arriving/leaving, and physical arrangements for the various sessions (e.g. seating, stage, audio) should be implemented in an accessible manner. (A GDC sponsor in attendance suggested to use their voice to help ensure this at future GDCs.)

Then we moved on to new discussion with three prepared questions:

  • How can the Game Accessibility SIG support the inclusion of more developers with varying disabilities in existing game design processes?
  • What accessibility barriers are being encountered when using game industry tools, and how might disabled developers be more greatly enabled when designing and creating games?
  • What inclusion and accessibility issues have developers seen in the social environments at game companies?

There was an explicit request that the SIG push for accessible workplaces in ways where company leadership will become more engaged: “If you don’t intentionally include you intentionally exclude.” It was emphasized to keep an open mind and never make assumptions about the value of diversity. Remove the burden of people in need to self-advocate as initiating this type of conversation can be both challenging and exhausting. Provide an in-house therapist or psychologist so that staff may discuss work-related accessibility matters, and meanwhile have someone who is responsible for supporting staff with these needs and also making the workplace inclusive.

Remote work, flexible work hours, and/or the normalization of workplace accommodations can all prove essential. Flexibility in scheduling and working from home could be prioritized before other accommodations become necessary—this is because the person is likely to already have these accommodations to some extent. One attendee shared that, due to their disabilities, some internship opportunities could not even be considered because of the need to relocate. There are also challenges when recreating the dynamics of in-person meetings online, and thus a need to establish proper dynamics and best practices so everyone may fully participate in a group discussion. Be cognizant that some participants may have greater difficulty speaking up and so additional considerations may be necessary to ensure they have reasonable opportunities to contribute.

Normalization of workplace accommodations must be both accepted and actively promoted by management otherwise staff members with disabilities will fear judgment by coworkers and higher-ups: “afraid of disclosing what we need, will my employer judge me?” Such environments not only unwittingly impede employee productivity, but also inadvertently contribute to employee burnout. In tandem with fostering workplace adaptations, allowing staff to work at their own pace and/or follow nonconventional schedules must also be normalized so that those with such needs do not feel ashamed and worry they risk losing their job. Staff should feel supported by their employer when discussing the accommodations they require and this should be explicated to management through policy documents. It’s worth noting that efforts for workplace accommodations for those with disabilities may sometimes result in one-size-fits-all solutions, and these are never sufficient. Moreover, available accommodations are sometimes provided to staff implicitly or indirectly, requiring a person to find out about them on their own which can serve as a barrier in and of itself. Company policies can also be barriers if they are not written with accessibility in mind—for example, computer policies oftentimes prevent staff from installing software which in turn can prevent important accessibility features and programs from being installed, such as an optical character recognition (OCR) reader for an employee with dyslexia. In such cases, it becomes necessary to wait for a response from the company helpdesk before important accessibility software can be made available, and this can take significant time. One potential workaround would be to allow disabled co-workers to have administrator rights on their own computers to help streamline this process, or for management to communicate to the IT department that accessibility-related requests are to be given a higher priority.

The job application process should also be made accessible by offering support and flexibility when arranging and holding interviews. Furthermore, accessibility needs must be destigmatized by integrating conversations about workplace accommodations into late-stage interviews. On a company level, management should embrace the responsibility to listen to—and thus include—people in the community who are not the majority group, recognize their wealth of unique life experiences, and then leverage these to more effectively compete in the game industry. A comment was made about how it is important to not think about disability or diversity like it’s a checkbox, but rather as a valuable resource available to a company. Your coworkers are not just your coworkers, but also representative of the people who will purchase a game. Also, if your company is small and cannot afford to pay a consultant, think of the incredible value of having someone your team who can make the same contribution!

When company leadership fails to prioritize accessibility, advocacy becomes largely volunteer-based and these responsibilities fall on designers. Advocating for one’s needs in a way that is effective while also maintaining reasonable expectations and healthy boundaries is critical. There are also natural challenges for everyone involved when an advocate is attempting to address an issue affecting others but also one that the advocate is not directly impacted by and thus cannot fully understand. Volunteer work and self-advocacy both take a lot of energy and time which is all the more reason why leadership should recognize the need for accessibility in the workplace and prioritize it accordingly. For a company to begin supporting advocacy efforts, establishing groups/communities focused on particular areas of interest—e.g. UX, game accessibility, workplace accessibility, and so on—will get the ball rolling, set a healthy precedent, and lay necessary groundwork for a sustainable path forward. Also, the more leadership is involved then the greater the likelihood of mutually beneficial results. Next, get the word out by inviting staff across the company to participate as this will promote new workflows and opportunities for collaboration. For instance, a person on the UX team can implement accessibility early on by being in regular contact with someone on the technology team who is also passionate about accessibility. As the accessibility community/group grows, members support each other in finding ways to teach company staff about accessibility—perhaps by using techniques established by the industry, e.g (Microsoft 2021)—with the goal being to normalize both game and workplace accessibility. Also, as a collection of people making the same requests, these needs become harder to ignore and any potential risk is shared instead of falling on only one person. Continue by prioritizing goals that will have the largest possible impact, such as offering fully customizable controls so that all different control schemes are possible which will in turn meet as many player needs as possible. As one participant in the meeting said: “Accessibility for players is also accessibility for developers, and vice-versa.”

Regarding tools, it is a good idea to look at system-level accessibility features and then assess what can be transferred to or implemented directly within a game. Similarly, what software and/or services are available that can be used with commonplace day-to-day tasks—e.g. spell-checking, grammar-checking, and other writing resources. Whenever possible, find tools that are mature and widespread and then make them available to your staff so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Custom tools can make a real change by enabling developers to implement accessibility more easily and swiftly. However, custom tools take time and resources to develop, so there needs to be a strong buy-in and overall commitment from management. Custom tools must also be properly documented so that they may be learned by others and used effectively. If a custom tool is created to make something more accessible but the software itself is inaccessible then it becomes a barrier in front of another barrier.

In conclusion, this year’s roundtable discussion at the 2024 Game Developers Conference continued on from the previous year’s issues of workplace accommodations, accessibility tools, and general advocacy. New topics and perspectives were also explored, such as concrete suggestions for sustainable employee-group approaches, job application support, company policies on accessibility, and methods for educating staff. It was an amazing experience to lead this roundtable and benefit from all the combined knowledge of the attendees that shared their views, experiences, and expertise. We would like to thank everyone who participated and truly hope that this summary article bolsters discussion of these topics until meet again at next year’s GDC.

Thomas Westin with Chad Philip Johnson

MICROSOFT. 2021. Gaming Accessibility Fundamentals Learning Path [Online]. Microsoft. Available: [Accessed 2024-06-08].

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