Gaming with a disability: accommodations in progress

Jacob Waring – Contributor

The disabled community often gets the short end of the stick, and videogame developers typically make accessibility to disabled gamers an afterthought.  

Since the eight-bit early days, video games have considerably reached new heights, except in one area — accessibility. 

As a Deaf individual, I have experienced this since I started playing video games a child. I grew during a period where many games didn’t have captions or dialog options for the deaf to understand what was occurring with the plot.  

Games today do have subtitles for dialog, but usually lack indications of footsteps or other signifying noises, and directional audio. In addition, visually-disabled gamers must contend with not being able to fully experience the graphic beauty of their games, and gamers with mobility issues cannot utilize traditional controllers. 

It is not all doom and gloom for disabled gamers — certain companies are aiming for a more accessible gaming experience for all. Take Epic Games’ Fortnite, arguably the most popular Battle Royal game out today. Being good at Fortnite requires the ability to hear, and while I may have some residual hearing, it is not enough to use the game in its intended form. The game relies on one’s ability to pinpoint opposing players footsteps, gunfire and pulsing sounds of nearby chests that hold valuable combat items. It just is not a deaf friendly game.
That is, until you go to the settings, and click the option to allow visual sound effects. It has given me the advantage to finally be on an even playing field against others. A circular indicator appears with symbols indicating footsteps, gunfire and treasure. Additionally, the developers have disabled all audio to prevent hearing players from utilizing the option to have an even higher advantage. 

There is also a setting to adjust colors for those who are colorblind. Such an accommodation is crucial, because the game’s visuals are very colorful. 

An industry study conducted by Spil Games reports that 1.2 billion people play video games globally. Of those players, one in five have a disability that leaves them mentally, physically, or developmentally impaired, according to a survey conducted by PopCap in 2008. Gamers who are affected by these perceived impairments routinely take the “dis” out of “disability” to cultivate their own unique abilities. This becomes especially self-evident when we “disabled” people play video games.
I recall years ago, a teen who was born 4 months early, rendering him completely blind. He utilized his own muscle memory, utilized sound cues, and got the timing close enough to play just as good, if not better than those who could see. One of his favorite games at the time was Mortal Kombat Deception, a fighting game. 

It is always good when games like Fortnite puts forth effort to be as inclusive as possible for all gamers. There are even support organizations, namely, AbleGamers a charity that creates technology to help gamers with physical disabilities that make using a remote impossible. One example is The Eye Tracker 4C which is a spectacular piece of tech that utilizes one’s own eyes to track targets.
Bottom line is that the gaming industry is slowly but surely catching up, and Epic Games is leading the way. We are still behind, however, in this unexplored gaming frontier, and the industry as a whole is still lagging. Games like Fortnite give me hope of a more inclusive gaming future for everyone.

Photo Credit: Jacob Waring


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