On Visual Disabilities

On Visual Disabilities

What are the Types of Disabilities and Limiting Conditions?

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

  • There are three major types of visual disabilities: blindness, low vision, and color blindness. Each has a different effect on the person’s ability to play a game.


  • Blindness is usually defined as “the loss of vision, not correctable with lenses” [1]. People who are totally blind cannot play games that rely on visual cues to prompt a player. They must rely on sounds or special hardware such as force feedback to indicate when they need to act.

Low Vision:

  • Low vision is related to blindness. A person with low vision can detect light, perhaps see some motion, but is very limited as to what they can see.
    A more detailed definition of low vision is “a visual acuity of 20/70 or worse in the better eye using a best-corrected spectacle correction, or visual fields of 20° (twenty degrees) or less.
  • However, a more functional definition is that low vision comprises any vision loss that adversely affects the performance of daily activities.” A related term is “legally blind”. “Legal blindness is defined as visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the better eye with correction, or visual fields of 20° or less in the better eye. “
  • In either of these cases, users could play games provided there was some degree of magnification of the screen. Users could respond to visual and sound cues, but their ability to see a wide area of the game may be restricted by the magnification of the screen.

Color Blindness:

  • Color blindness is an inability to detect certain colors. It ranges from total color blindness, where the person perceives the world as shades of gray, to more common types where a person does not perceive the differences between red and green or yellow and blue correctly.
  • This condition is more common among men than women. Studies have shown that from 5 to 8% of all men and about 0.5% of women have some degree of color blindness.
  • The effects of color blindness have been studied and design guidelines have been created. An example of such guidelines can be seen in an article in the British Telecommunications Engineering Journal in January 1999 entitled “The eye of the beholder – designing for color-blind users”. A pdf version of this article can be found at http://more.btexact.com/people/rigdence/colours/colours.pdf.
  • The effects of color blindness are more pronounced under certain game color schemes. An example from the past was the Firaxis game “Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri”. The primary color scheme was mostly red and green, which caused problems for some players. This was quickly addressed through the release of a patch, which provided alternate art for the game.

Addressing Visual 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.

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.

High visibility graphics.

  • Application: All titles
  • Description: Alternatives to small and/or indistinct fonts. Provide high contrast color schemes or having it available as an option if not default. Highlighting important items and menu selection. Allow Turning off or dimming backgrounds 2D games.
  • Accomplishment: Increases visibility of text and important items for players with low eyesight.
  • Test: Run the title on a standard definition television or a low resolution monitor. Stand back. Can you read and navigate through the menu and game, or is it difficult?  If no, the title is using this feature correctly?

Color-blind friendly design.

  • Application: All titles, Titles providing information to the player via color state
  • Description: Avoid color combinations that are hard or impossible for the color blind to distinguish (e.g. red on grey or green) and/or offer alternative ways to convey meaning than color alone.
  • Accomplishment: Allows those that are color blind to have access to all information being outputted by the title.
  • Test: Does your title display information based on any object based on its color? For example, something good is green and something bad is red?  If no, this feature is being used correctly. If yes, is this the only way this information is conveyed? If no, this feature is being used correctly. If yes, reference a color chart that displays colors as a colorblind person may see them. Do the colors appear to be the same on the color chart? If no, the title is using this feature correctly.

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?

Accessible menus

  • Application: All titles
  • Description: Consider quick start modes, the importance of digital-input navigation and text alternatives such as text-to-speech and symbols. For a game with a complex interface, provide a simplified interface that displays only the most commonly used controls. The full features are still available, but are normally hidden from the user.
  • Accomplishment: Allows players who may have difficulty navigating complex menus do to vision jump into game quickly and with out confusion.
  • Test: If there a way for to get into some form of gameplay in 3 menu selections or less?

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?

Standard Text Presentation

  • Application: Microsoft Windows Titles
  • Description: For games targeted at this operating system, have text that are compatible with the Windows screen readers that are provided by the operating system.
  • Accomplishment: Allow users with low vision use the provided tool to view the text. The text could also be used for other software like special contextual dictionaries for gamers with dyslexia, which help them in understanding the text.
  • Test: Use a screen reader provided by the Microsoft operating systems. Does it correctly read the text in you title?

Self-voicing Capability

  • Application: All titles
  • Description: The ability to provide speech from text being displayed in the gameThere are already a variety of software tools that provide this feature and could be integrated with games. The text-to-speech (TTS) solution should work with standard API’s like Microsoft’s Speech API, SAPI. This way text can be present in different languages and be read correctly by localized speech synthesizers.
  • Accomplishment: Allow low vision and blind users to know that text being displayed in game.
  • Test: Navigate through the game while using a text to speech application. Is it working correctly with your title?

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?

Better in-game tutorials / user feedback / automatic help

  • Description: Guide the player through the title, providing feedback and teach them controls. Provide the player with objective indicators or directional arrow can provide assistance to players who are lost.
  • Accomplishment: This feature would be helpful to almost all gamers. Many people like to jump right in to a game without reading the manual. It would be of particular help for people with learning disabilities who did not have the attention span or reading ability for focus on a long manual.
  • Test: Does the player need to read the manual or look up how to properly play your game?

Ability to set unit color

  • Application: Titles in which there are distinctive groups in games which require unique interactions
  • Description: The ability to control the color of the different units in the such as enemies, teammates, and other important units within a game.
  • Accomplishment: Allows the player to more easily identify important object in game by selecting custom colors to represent different areas of the game.
  • Test: Does the player have the ability to set these colors?

Audio GPS

  • Application: 3D Games, Games for the Blind
  • Description: In a game accessible for blind, a Global Positioning System can be used to get the exact positions of objects in an area as well as the position of the avatar. A voiced menu system can provide an overview of nearby objects.
  • Accomplishment: Allows a blind player to navigate the game world
  • Test: Close your eyes and play your title. Are you able to local all items of important and navigate the world?

Sound Compass

  • Application: 3D world, computer titles
  • Description: A unique 3D sound or spoken feedback and a key on the keyboard represents each direction on an eight directional compass in the game world. When the player presses the key representing that direction, the audio then plays to show where that direction is in relation to the player.
  • Accomplishment: Allows low vision and blind games get their bearings and establish directions.
  • Test: Does the game offer a way for low vision or blind players to establish which direction is north in game?

Direct orientation

  • Application: 3D world, computer titles
  • Description: Use the numeric to orient the avatar in 8 directions. For example. Pressing 2 will allows have the player face South, and pressing 8 will always have the player face North instead of directions such as forward, backwards, left and right.
  • Test: Does the title offer a way to allow the player to orient based on the cardinal directions?

No 3D graphics mode

  • Application: 3D world, computer titles
  • Description: Give the player the ability to turn off 3D rendering.
  • Accomplishment: Blind or low vision gamers may not have the proper 3D graphic hardware to run your title because they do not use it. Also, an option for the 3D engine to use no hardware acceleration is good, to avoid problems with erratic graphic drivers that cause crashes. This will enable blind gamers to not have to worry about updating graphic drivers
  • Test: Try to run you title on a computer with less then the optimal visual graphics card needed to run the title. Is there a way the visuals can be adjusted to allow the title to still run?

Auto aim, or auto centering, the ability to lock on a target and more

  • Application: All titles that allow the player to control where they are looking
  • Description: Assist the player by offering the option for auto aim, or auto centering, the ability to lock on a target.
  • Accomplishment: Allows players with low visibility to quickly find targets and stop from loosing them.