On Auditory Disabilities

On Auditory Disabilities

What are the Types of Disabilities and Limiting Conditions?

There are a variety of different auditory conditions that could limit a person attempting to play a game. The primary categories encountered in gaming are limitations in audio are listed below.


There are two major auditory issues: deafness and being hard of hearing. Both of these conditions affect the way users play games.


  • Deafness is an inability to understand speech or recognize environmental sounds. There are a variety of causes for deafness, including genetics, disease, or accident. Certain drugs are also known to cause deafness. Deaf people generally communicate using sign language, of which there are several dialects.An estimated 20 million people in the United States have hearing problems (including being entirely deaf or hard of hearing). This represents 8.6% of the total population. Some hearing can be restored using hearing aids, but that is often very limited. Access to interpreting services, closed captioning on television, instant messaging, and text messaging on cell phones has broadened the entertainment and communication options for the deaf. Like many people, the deaf are comfortable using computers and enjoy playing computer games. Sites such as DeafGamers.com review games from a deaf point of view.

Hard of hearing:

  • Unlike other disabilities, hearing loss is categorized as a continuous spectrum of loss.
  • Mild hearing loss -On average, the quietest sounds that people can hear with their better ear are between 25 and 40 dB. People who suffer from mild hearing loss have some difficulties keeping up with conversations, especially in noisy surroundings.
  • Moderate hearing loss – On average, the quietest sounds heard by people with their better ear are between 40 and 70 dB. People who suffer from moderate hearing loss have difficulty keeping up with conversations when not using a hearing aid.
  • Severe hearing loss – On average, the quietest sounds heard by people with their better ear are between 70 and 95 dB. People who suffer from severe hearing loss will benefit from powerful hearing aids, but often they rely heavily on lip-reading even when they are using hearing aids. Some also use sign language.
  • Profound hearing loss – On average, the most quiet sounds heard by people with their better ear are from 95 dB or more. People who suffer from profound hearing loss are very hard of hearing and rely mostly on lip-reading, and/or sign language.

Adapted from: European Group on genetics of hearing impairment. Martini A (Ed.), European Commission Directorate, Biomedical and Health Research Programme (HEAR) Infoletter 2, November 1996, 8.

Addressing Hearing Disabilities in Games

How can we provide accessibility in games?

Having seen the potential audience for accessible games and the reasons for providing accessibility, now we must look at how this can best be accomplished.

Hard of hearing gamers may be able to recognize some sounds but may need to turn the volume of their speakers way up for auditory cues to be useful. Depending on the degree of loss, hard of hearing gamers could use many of the same accessibility methods that would be provided for deaf gamers.

Possible Approaches – Listed in no particular order

There are a variety of possible approaches developers can take when providing accessibility. The list given below is just a starting point. These recommendations can either apply to PC games, console games, or both.

Offer sound alternatives.

  • Application: All titles in which audio is being used to give information about gameplay
  • Description: Using sound alternatives such as subtitles, closed captions, controller vibration and visual queues to provide or reinforce information to the player that may be lost when audio cannot be heard.
  • Accomplishment: Allowing deaf gamers or gamers with other hearing disabilities to fully engage the title.
  • Test: Play the title on mute. Is there any information that is being missed that would have been received if audio were on?

Provide separate volume controls for music, sound effects and dialogue where applicable.

  • Application: All titles with music, sound effect or dialogue
  • Description: Allow the player to adjust the different areas of audio individually, such as being able to turn down music volume while turning up dialogue volume
  • Accomplishment: Being able to tailor volume levels can aid comprehension and comfort levels.
  • Test: If this option offered, or are you only able to adjust audio on a global scale?

Provide broad difficulty level and/or speed adjustment where applicable.

  • Application: All titles
  • Description: Allow the players to choose from a very broad range of difficulties and speed, while understanding that for some players there is no such thing as too easy or too slow.
  • Accomplishment: People can benefit from slower and easier versions by adjusting the game to tailor to their abilities and do not restrict a player’s game choices because a title is too difficult of frustrating for them.
  • Test: Does your game allow for these setting to be changed? If yes, can the title be adjusted to a mode where it is very hard to fail or loose?

Practice, training, free-roaming and/or tutorial modes if applicable.

  • Application: All Titles
  • Description: Offer a mode where the player is able to engage the game with out failing, or in a way that provides information on how to play the title to the player.
  • Accomplishment: This helps with comprehension, controller adjustments, skill development, and also simply offer a fun way in for those struggling with the standard game.
  • Test: Does your title this feature? Is the player free to experiment and learn at his or her own pace?

List accessibility features, options and game requirements.

  • Application: All titles
  • Description: Make efforts to ensure that this information is free and easy to obtain and understand. This information may This information may be posted on a studio’s website or game packaging. Consider submitting for review to Game Accessibility review sites.
  • Accomplishment: Allows players to know if they will able to enjoy a title before they purchase the title or begin playing.
  • Test: Is there a way to view your titles accessibility features, options and game requirements with our launching the title?

Alternative sound files setup

  • Application: Computer titles
  • Description: Provision of alternate sound files could assist those who are deaf or hard of hearing. For example, providing sound files that use bass vibration from the subwoofer to give important feedback to deaf gamers.
  • Accomplishment: Allows deaf gamers to get important information from sound queues with out the additional of visual elements
  • Test: Can you feel the vibrations from the speakers for important audio queues?

Sign Language Recognition

  • Application: Games that utilize a webcam, or other camera technology such as the Kinect
  • Description: Allowing the player to communicate via sign language recognition
  • Accomplishment: Deaf players who may struggle with voice recognition software would be able to communicate via alternative means
  • Test: Does the title offer a alternative to voice recognition?

Keyboard navigation of all controls, with visual and spoken feedback

  • Application: Computer titles (PC or Mac)
  • Description: Allow all commands to be entered via the keyboard. As each is entered, provide both a visual and auditory message to indicate what has been done.
  • Accomplishment: This feature would assist players with mobility, vision, and auditory disabilities navigate through the game and its menus.
  • Test: Does your game allow the player to enter commands or navigate via a keyboard? When commands are entered, is there both a visual and auditory indication as to what command has been used?