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Gaming Accessibility in 2024

As of 2023, 26% of Americans contend with some form of disability, and technological advancements have become instrumental in facilitating fuller lives for everyone. We believe that playful experiences improve people’s lives, so naturally, everyone should have the opportunity to experience gaming! As we step into a new year, let’s cover some recent and exciting advancements in accessibility – including hardware, software, and best practices at gaming events – that are making the gaming industry more inclusive than ever.

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New and Notable Accessibility Features and Assistive Technology in Gaming  

In the Mashable article “The biggest assistive technology and accessibility triumphs of 2023 (so far)” author Chase DiBenedetto writes about some of the most groundbreaking strides in accessibility and assistive technology in the past year. When it comes to the gaming industry specifically, DiBenedetto notes April 2023, when Sony unveiled a commitment to enhancing user experience by introducing comprehensive accessibility tags across its gaming portfolio. These tags provide clear information on visual, audio, control, and gameplay features, empowering players to make informed choices tailored to their preferences.

Xbox followed suit in May 2023 by introducing new features on the Xbox App. Among these innovations is the option to reduce on-screen visual elements, ensuring a customizable and comfortable interface for all users. The introduction of an advanced tagging and search feature further assists players in discovering accessible games seamlessly.

Additionally, Grant Stoner’s article for IGN on Global Digital Accessibility Day in May of 2023 spotlights some of the most prominent video game accessibility features of the past year. First, Stoner highlights PlayStation’s new accessibility controller. PlayStation took center stage at the CES conference in January 2023, unveiling Project Leonardo—an adaptive controller tailored for individuals with physical disabilities. Boasting eight customizable buttons, a versatile control stick, and four 3.5mm AUX ports, Project Leonardo addresses a historical lack of accessible hardware.

Stoner also points to two remakes with pivotal features that came out in 2023. Motive Studio’s remake of Dead Space not only embraces common accessibility features but sets itself apart with a thoughtful integration of mental health accessibility. Traumatic images and themes can be selectively censored, underscoring how horror can be both thrilling and inclusive, debunking the notion that accessibility compromises the essence of the genre. Additionally, PlayStation’s release of The Last of Us Part I on PC not only marked a historic move to a new platform but showcased extensive accessibility settings. 

Finally, Stoner notes Xbox’s racing series Forza Motorsport, which introduced Blind Driving Assists in 2023, revolutionizing the gameplay experience for blind and low-vision players. By providing nuanced audio cues and steering assists, the game expands accessibility beyond conventional boundaries set in the past few years.

From accessibility tags to new innovative hardware and software features, 2023 was a big year for accessibility in gaming! 

Resolving Accessibility Challenges at Gaming Events

The gaming industry has seen a surge in awareness and efforts towards accessibility in games, but the same cannot be said for gaming events, asserts Sherry Toh for NME. While 2020 saw a move towards virtual and hybrid events due to the pandemic, 2022 witnessed a return to in-person conferences, with a decline in accessibility standards. Toh reports that events like the Games Developers Conference (GDC) and TwitchCon faced criticism for various accessibility issues, both in-person and online.

Some attribute this regression to a perception that accessibility is merely a trend or a lack of time, resources, and personnel. However, dedicated individuals are actively working to raise accessibility standards across the industry. One such organization is Accessibility Unlocked, a volunteer group bridging the gap between disabled developers, students, resources, and companies seeking to implement accessibility in studios. In regions like New Zealand and Australia, Accessibility Unlocked collaborates with organizations like the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA), and the organizers of Games Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP).

Toh points to the International Game Developers Association‘s (IGDA) Games Accessibility Conference (GAConf) as another example, which embraced a hybrid approach to meeting even before the pandemic. Co-directors Ian Hamilton and Tara Voelker ensured that in-person and online attendees received the same content, emphasizing inclusivity for both groups. They leveraged Discord as a communal space, fostering interactions among attendees.

While misconceptions about the financial cost and labor involved in maintaining accessibility standards persist, Accessibility Unlocked and GAConf operate with volunteer teams and modest budgets, proving that early consideration and planning can make accessibility more affordable.

Notably, Xbox’s commitment to accessibility, demonstrated at events like Gamescom 2022, sets an example for the industry as a whole. Microsoft’s approach includes ADA-compliant booths with ramps, customizable demo stations, trained staff, and more. The success of such initiatives underscores the importance of considering accessibility as a fundamental aspect of event planning, fostering a more inclusive gaming community. Overall, despite the industry’s progress, Toh concludes, there is still a long way to go before accessibility becomes a universally expected standard in both virtual and in-person gaming events.

Looking Ahead: A Unified Commitment to Accessibility

Everyone in the gaming industry must recognize that the journey toward inclusivity is ongoing. The accessibility advancements made in 2023 underscore the transformative impact of technology in creating a more accessible world. By staying informed and embracing these innovations, we collectively contribute to building a future where technology truly serves the needs of all individuals. 

The strides made in 2023 make us excited for what’s to come in 2024, and underscore that accessibility isn’t just a feature—it’s a necessary element shaping the fabric of the gaming industry. Every innovation, every game, and every player contributes to the industry’s collective inclusivity.

More on accessibility in the gaming industry: 

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