Accessibility is an elusive subject when it comes to universal design. When I talk about accessibility am I talking about how easy it is for an audience to access the content on different devices, how wide of a market the content can reach or literally how accessible it is?
The word gets thrown around a lot in the design industries, but when AbleGamers—a non-profit dedicated to getting people with disabilities access to video games—talks about accessibility we mean, “How much of the disability community can access your game?”
Includification—a practical set of game accessibility guidelines—was born out of the need to teach good universal game design. The final product ended up being 48 pages, fully illustrated with examples and guides on how to design video games individuals of varying abilities would be able to access.
The guidelines demonstrate best practices in game design in a three-tiered system of good, better and best. The AbleGamers Foundation established these guidelines to show developers how important accessibility can be and how many people are affected by the choices made early in the development cycle.
By including things like remappable keys, subtitles and colorblind options, we enable a large percentage of the disability community to participate in the game. But these very basic accessibility features are also universal.
In other words, everyone wants the convenience factor of accessibility options. Such features not only help gamers with disabilities, but improve the quality of the experience for both able-bodied and disabled gamers alike.
The gold standard of universal design is to allow features that appeal to the broadest audience possible. In this case, who doesn’t want the ability to change buttons in a game to the ones most convenient to them? Who doesn’t want the ability to read character dialogue when they can’t turn the sound on in fear of waking the sleeping baby at 3 o’clock in the morning? And who doesn’t want the ability to change the colors on the screen to whatever is the most aesthetically pleasing and easiest to see?
The answer is simple: everyone wants the ability to customize their game to maximize fun and minimize frustration.
Over 33.5 million people with disabilities in the United States consider themselves gamers. With over 1 billion people living with some sort of disability worldwide, it’s important to realize the importance of accessibility.
Those numbers are only going to grow as the baby boomers grow older in North America and the world’s population of digital entertainment consumers continues to age. We expect the number of disabled gamers to reach 100 million in just a few years.
It’s important to think of good game design as the golden standard by which we should all aspire to achieve. Just as subtitles have become standard on every television set and most webpages must adhere to 508 compliance, we should fight for the right of our disabled friends and family to be able to enjoy Angry Birds and Words with Friends.
And that’s the true meaning of accessibility: options that are necessary for some to participate at all while making the content more convenient for others, yet improving the experience for everyone.
Steve Spohn is the Editor-In-Chief of AbleGamers and Outreach Chair for the AbleGamers Foundation. He has been interviewed as an expert in gaming with disabilities and assistive technologies by MSNBC, CNN, PC World, G4 and multiple international journals. Steve, who has spinal muscular atrophy, is a 32-year-old Pittsburgh native. He has traveled widely to speak at various events, including PAX East, Abilities Expos, universities and many developer studios. He is also a Web designer, gamer and writer.