Why is Accessibility Important?

Why is Accessibility Important?
There are a variety of reasons to improve the accessibility of games. Some are related to the user’s quality of life, while others are more important to the publishers and developers of games.

User Satisfaction

  • Gamers play games for entertainment, not to experience a sense of frustration. Unfortunately, once a player gets shot for the tenth time because they can’t hear the footsteps of someone coming up behind them, they are not likely to be entertained. It’s more likely that they are angry or confused.

Listed below are some common problems disabled gamers may encounter in current games:

Problem Reason
Inability for follow a storyline
  • No subtext available, story is advanced by cut scenes. (Auditory)
  • Story is very complex and difficult to follow. (Cognitive)
Unable to complete a puzzle or task
  • Vital clues given in cut scenes with no text or visual queues available. (Auditory)
  • All clues are given as text. (Visual)
  • Requires precise timing with controller. (Mobility)
  • Requires the ability to position a cursor accurately (Mobility)
  • The puzzle is too hard or complex, and can not be adjusted with difficulty modes or speed adjustments(cognitive, mobility)
Unable to determine how game is played
  • Lack of a tutorial mode
  • Poor documentation
  • Documentation written at too high a level for intended audience
  • Lack of hints in game
  • Lack of Informative UI
Inability to use adaptive hardware
  • Game only supports limited set of devices
  • Game does not allow for adjustment of controls
Player’s character gets killed/injured repeatedly in game.
  • Not recognizing audio clues (Auditory)
  • No indication of dangerous situation
  • Inability to respond quickly with controller (Mobility)
  • Unable to alter game speed. (Mobility, cognitive)
  • Unable to adjust difficulty levels (mobility, cognititve)

As the partial list above shows, there are some issues that disabled gamers share with the rest of the gaming population, but there are others that are specific to certain disabilities.

  • This is a quality of life issue, since we are not providing equal access to a portion of our population. In some cases, this could be a legal issue, particularly in places where full accessibility to services is required by law. (There is an ongoing discussion as to whether massively multiplayer games are a service and fall under the accessibility requirements.)
  • There is an added benefit for other players: a reduction in frustration levels as issues that are common to both community of game players are addressed to provide accessibility.

Reach the Largest Possible Audience

  • As shown in the statistics above, in most countries 10-20% of the population considers themselves to be disabled to some degree. Some of these people will have an interest in games, but do not play them on a regular basis due to problems they have encountered with usability.
  • By providing more accessible games and by letting potential customers know this fact, we can have a larger potential market.

Handle Regulatory Issues

  • Several countries have regulations regarding the accessibility of products for the disabled. In the United States, Section 508  provides the requirements IT and electronic products must meet if they are used by federal agencies. An article by Ben Sawyer listed in the IGDA GA SIG white paper details how games can use the Section 508 requirements to serve as a guideline for accessibility.
  • In addition to the US regulations, The United Nations has proposed “Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities”. Rule 10 relates to accessibility:

“States will ensure that persons with disabilities are integrated into and can participate in cultural activities on an equal basis.

States should ensure that persons with disabilities have the opportunity to utilize their creative, artistic and intellectual potential, not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of their community, be they in urban or rural areas.  Examples of such activities are dance, music, literature, theatre, plastic arts, painting and sculpture.  Particularly in developing countries, emphasis should be placed on traditional and contemporary art forms, such as puppetry, recitation and story-telling.

States should promote the accessibility to and availability of places for cultural performances and services, such as theatres, museums, cinemas and libraries, to persons with disabilities.

States should initiate the development and use of special technical arrangements to make literature, films and theatre accessible to persons with disabilities.”

  • It would not be surprising to see more stringent regulations becoming law in the future. By planning for accessibility in new games, we can be prepared for these regulations.

Provide the Opportunity to Learn New Skills

  • Games can allow those who are disabled to learn new skills or can provided therapeutic benefits. By practicing movements as part of a game, players with mobility impairments can exercise muscles and joints.
  • For example, there is a fairly common piece of physical therapy equipment used in the US that has a user trying to control the motion of a cursor on a screen by moving back and forth on a platform. Various courses are provided for the player to attempt. The result of this play strengthens the players legs and ankles.
  • Additionally, some therapists have begun using the Wii and several of Wii games as supplemental therapy to traditional occupational therapy to help with Spastic Diplegic Cerebral Palsy and Parkinson’s.

Game Based Learning

  • This is a new and emerging field which imply that for games to be used in public schools, they must be accessible. In Sweden there are several GBL projects, such as Schoolfrags where accessibility for web 3D games is in focus.
  • Serious Games  are “Improving Public Policy and Training Through Game-Based Learning and Simulation”. Ben Sawyer (who arranged the Serious Games summit at GDC 2004) has written an article about Section 508 regarding game accessibility, included in Appendix E.
  • Another innovative use of game based learning has been developed for people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).  This game helps people with AS develop social skills through interaction with game characters.   Additional work has been done on learning that users acquire in multiplayer games.
  • Today information that would have been presented to children in the form of a coloring books or flashcards, such as facts about fire safety, will often be presented in the form of a game.