Review What You Know

About a year ago, I started getting involved with the accessibility community. I found a large and vocal community that pushes for accessible game design.

Accessible game design is a topic I’ve discussed for years, as gaming has always had inaccessible aspects even going back to my youth. It was witnessing my brother Anthony struggle with accessibility and eventually become unable to play games that started me on this path.

In 2004 Anthony was having difficulty using the PlayStation 2 controller because of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The solution was to place a pillow in his lap, which allowed him to have a better grip on the controller.

Anthony - man in white shirt with curly brown hair smiling

This memory of my brother has stayed with me. Anthony loved video games. I remember when this solution no longer worked in 2007 and he was angry that he could no longer play video games. Six months later he passed away.

This story is a perfect illustration of why accessibility in gaming is more than a feature. It’s a door to new worlds and experiences, especially for the Disabled community. All too often we are left behind by an inaccessible society.

In my previous writing, I discussed why accessibility must become more than a trend, as trends quickly fall in popularity. Now I’d like to discuss why it’s important we continue to focus on the experiences of Disabled gamers.

Fellow Accessibility & Inclusion Advocate Vivek had this to say in his blog post  Mental Health: the Game Gris:

It’s one of those games that arrive at the right time of your life like the planets have perfectly aligned. I lost a close friend in December, so Gris was a tangible way to navigate through the emotional barriers inherent in the grieving process.

Vivek Gohil

You can see stories like this across the entire gaming community. Disabled gamers have many of the same experiences as our non Disabled peers. Yet we are represented much less. That is slowly changing though. Last year Microsoft released an ad featuring a Disabled gamer, I wrote about that here.

Microsoft released a new ad yesterday, that features multiple Disabled gamers. This time it focuses exclusively on their experiences. This goes even further than the first ad, as it will be aired during the Super Bowl. Check it out here.

The reason I mentioned the memory of my brother, and paralleled it with the experience of Vivek, was to illustrate how important listening to Disabled people is. And how my observation of my brother will never be enough to explain the inaccessibility of video games because it was something I witnessed and did not experience.

The experiences of individuals affected by inaccessibility will have a much higher impact, than simply knowing someone who faces an accessibility challenge.

We need to go directly to the source, those who live with barriers and inaccessibility, and not write about experiences we do not fully understand.

Representation in Accessibility Reviews

Representation in the media we consume is vital to the future of accessibility. An area that I believe needs major improvement is accessibility reviews. When reviewing video games for accessibility it is important we focus on issues that affect us. I have seen reviews try to make definitive statements about the accessibility of a game without including the voices of people affected by it and every time, they fail to provide accurate information.

I think the publication this piece is published in goes about accessibility reviews in a wonderful way.

“We will not publish all-inclusive accessibility reviews where one person assesses all areas of a game’s accessibility.”

I have mentioned in many tweets that we need to create some sort of journalistic standard when doing accessibility reviews and I believe this is an easy rule to follow.

We need to hold each other accountable and strive to be better. The worst thing we can do is tell a developer “This is accessible for Deaf people” without ever asking a Deaf individual.

Reviews that do this are inherently problematic and go against the core tenants of what we advocate for. We started discussing accessibility because we were tired of our voices not being heard.

Let’s stop speaking over other Disabled people.

Daniel Gilbert is an Accessibility & Inclusion Advocate, and a contributor to Can I Play That? If you want to stay updated follow Daniel on twitter@AccessibleDan

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