On May 11th, gamers around the world kicked off Accessibility Jam, a three-week game jam all about accessibility. (If you aren’t sure what a game jam is, check out this article first.) The jam’s objective is to increase awareness about accessible game design, and to teach developers just how simple it is to make a big difference in the lives of gamers everywhere. “Over 20% of gamers have some form of impairment that can affect gameplay,” their website explains, “but they are often unnecessarily and unknowingly locked out by developers.” As consumers of media, it’s important that we do what we can do support creators that are inclusive, so that as many people as possible can share in the positive benefits of gaming.
But isn’t it hard work for developers to make a game accessible?
Turns out, it’s actually incredibly simple (and cheap). As long as developers start thinking about accessibility early on in their design process, it might only take them a couple of hours to create an experience that’s accessible. Doing easy things like providing difficulty levels, adding subtitles, or labeling colors with symbols all contribute to an accessible gaming experience.
But aren’t there too many kinds of disabilities? There are thousands of disabling medical conditions, so how does a designer know where to start?
As Ian Hamilton, accessibility specialist and organizer for Accessibility Jam, recently explained, “The thing to bear in mind is that medical conditions and disability are not the same thing. Someone is only actually disabled when their medical condition encounters a barrier that results in some difficultly with a day-to-day task. Those barriers are usually man-made.” Hamilton went into more detail in a powerful talk at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. “Being in a wheelchair isn’t a disability,” he said. “Cerebral palsy is not a disability. Cerebral palsy is a medical condition, and that’s a really important distinction to make.”
It’s true that different people will have different needs when it comes to gaming. However, there are a handful of common impairments that developers can easily look out for. It can be difficult to cater to all of them; however, a game that caters to even one is still a great start.
So how does this issue impact unimpaired gamers (or the parents of unimpaired gamers)?
Even if you don’t think about it every day, you probably know someone who has trouble accessing certain kinds of media. For example, dyslexia and colorblindness are two common conditions that often lead to impairment. Most senior citizens experience some form of motor impairment on a daily basis. If you have buying power, you can support games and game studios that are inclusive. When you find one, tell your friends about it, and then tell the world on Twitter or Facebook. If you find a game that isn’t inclusive, write a letter to the game studio. And promote Accessibility Jam with the hashtag #AccessibilityJam! Accessible games are not and should not be a niche market. Spread the word, and before long, there will be more ways for families to game together than ever before.