Reprinted from https://www.verizon.com/about/blog/video-game-accessibility.
By definition, accessibility means “the degree to which something is reachable.” For people living with disabilities, accessibility doesn’t just mean how reachable something is — oftentimes, the level of accessibility can define their ability to interact with and participate in certain activities or events, including entertainment.
According to the CDC, 61 million Americans are living with disabilities, which makes accessibility in entertainment a huge priority for a large group of people. Increases in awareness of accessibility issues in gaming have inspired innovations in video game creation and assistive technology, to allow individuals to customize their game experience to their needs.
Benefits of gaming for people with disabilities
Video games have evolved significantly since their debut in 1958. This evolution has changed the way people interact with gaming — and the way that gaming interacts with people. Now, people with disabilities are discovering the self-care benefits of video games, which can be both mental and physical.
Cognitive and developmental benefits
You may have heard differing opinions on the mental benefits, or detriments, that video games cause. According to Dr. Romeo Vitelli (Psychology Today), media often casts video games in a negative light, however, “Video games have changed in recent years to become more complex, realistic, and social in nature.” Vitelli says researchers are shifting away from the narrative that video games inspire violent or problematic behavior, and are studying the real, long-lasting cognitive benefits of gaming.
According to Dr. Vitelli, these benefits may include:
- Improved problem-solving
- Enhanced spatial awareness
- Greater neural processing and efficiency
- Enhanced attention functioning
- Improved creativity
- Increased flow, relaxation, and social connectivity
Researchers from Electronic Entertainment Design and Research and the University of California San Diego point out that gaming can also have several therapeutic benefits for those with different needs and in different situations. These benefits may include:
- Distraction from pain
- Relief from boredom due to immobility
- Reduction of anxiety and hyperactivity
- Improvement of mood and reduction of sadness
Many of these benefits are similar to those that come from hobbies like sports. Some individuals with disabilities may not be able to participate in various types of sports, so eSports are an option that may help them to feel included, and reap the social, mental and physical benefits of gaming.
With rising trends in remote and online learning, video games have not just been used as therapeutic tools, but as educational tools. According to EdSource, games in the classroom have helped students of all ages connect to their lessons in tangible ways. Games have been designed to teach all kinds of lessons, for all levels of education, including but not limited to:
- Reading and comprehension
Sandbox games, or video games with open worlds such as Minecraft, are also being adapted as educational tools. Because video games are adaptable, they can be tailored to students with different needs or abilities.
Developing good social skills is an important part of both personal and professional development. “Social and prosocial activities are an intrinsic part of the gaming experience with gamers rapidly learning social skills that could generalize to social relationships in the real world,” says Dr. Vitelli.
He cites a study by Isabela Granic, PhD, of Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands. Granic’s research found that over 70% of gamers play with friends. Granic also found that playing simple games such as Angry Birds can improve players’ moods. Gaming, especially online gaming and streaming, may help provide a sense of community and give people with different needs an opportunity to socialize, and even earn supplemental income.
Due to verbal, processing, or social impairments, face-to-face socialization can be difficult or daunting for some people with disabilities. This is where games with chat rooms and chat applications designed to work in-game, like Discord, can create opportunities for socialization for people with impairments. Socializing through online gaming is also an accessible option for people who may spend a significant amount of time in the hospital or on bed rest due to their disability. This can decrease feelings of loneliness and improve their mood, which can even assist healing and recovery.
Video games as sensory play
Sensory play is any activity that stimulates any of the five senses. Research shows that sensory play builds neural pathways, which can enhance complex learning ability and attention span. Sensory play is important for young children, children with disabilities, and even seniors to hone their cognitive skills. There have been video games designed to stimulate the senses, which can be a beneficial aspect of sensory play. Some sensory video games include:
- Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved
- Fruit Ninja Kinect
- Just Dance
- Sesame Street: Ready, Set, Grover!
- Candy Crush
Many of these games are available on mobile devices and consoles, so they are accessible where you need them. Some sensory games, like Just Dance, are even multiplayer, which allows the whole family to join in for quality playtime.
Adaptive and assistive technology for gamers
Accessibility in gaming goes beyond game design and into gaming accessories. Hardware, software and other assistive technology can make gaming more accessible for people with disabilities. Assistive technology not only improves the accessibility of gaming, but it gives people with disabilities the freedom to customize their gaming experience without having to wait for the developers. This can open up a wider variety of games for people with impairments.
Adaptive controllers and wearables
Adaptive controllers and wearables, such as headsets, can help gamers with disabilities control and communicate better while gaming. You can get a variety of controllers that suit your specific needs — for example, Logitech offers the Logitech G® Adaptive Gaming Kit, featuring plug-and-play control buttons and game boards in various sizes that can suit different needs.
Gaming wearables, such as headsets and VR rigs, are an evolving and exciting part of modern gaming. Accessibility in gaming wearables can be as simple as wireless headsets, which can allow people who use wheelchairs or mobility aids freedom of movement, without losing audio connection to their consoles. Conversely, it can be as advanced as adaptive gear such as the Jouse+, which is a mounted controller set operated entirely by the head to cater to gamers with limited or no movement.
Studio and developer player accessibility guidelines
Developers and video game studios may also offer some accessibility guidelines to provide tips for individuals with disabilities looking to adapt their system or game. These guidelines may include how to turn on accessibility features, such as text-to-speech, or how to report an accessibility problem. Some of the studios that currently have accessibility guides posted include the following:
There is a variety of adaptive technology that has been or can be installed on an array of gaming devices and consoles, often at little or no cost. These software updates can include, but aren’t limited to the following:
- Visual assistance;
- Larger subtitles
- Technology for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Color-blind friendly menu options
- Scalable haptic feedback
You can find how to turn on these options in the options menu of your game, or the accessibility guidelines mentioned above. An accessibility resource center may also be able to help connect you with these software solutions, as well as help you troubleshoot any issues or answer questions you may have.
The future of accessible gaming
Accessibility is becoming a bigger focus in the gaming industry, with big games such as Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II, offering over 60 accessibility options pre-built into the game’s options. For a long time, gamers were having to make accessibility modifications for their games. However, with updates to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), the landscape of accessibility compliance in-game production is beginning to change that for the better. Accessibility in games is even surpassing studios, with the International Game Developers Association focusing on U.S. legislation centered on accessibility in all advanced communication software, such as gaming consoles.