DisabiLife: Video Game Accessibility – Sight & Sound

Hi there! Jonathan Feldman here, with my new blog segment: DisabiLife!

In my segment, I’ll be talking about ways that disabled individuals are able to live normal lives and sharing my perspectives across many subjects that affect the community. As my first topic, I’ll be discussing video game accessibility.

Now, I consider myself to be an above average gamer. I’ve got good decent reflexes, excellent pattern recognition, and an unwillingness to let a difficult game beat me that is both a gift, and a curse. But some gamers have certain disadvantages when it comes to gaming.

A disabled individual may have any number of handicaps that hinder their gaming experience: Sensory impairments; a limited range of motion; slow reaction capability; and the list goes on. That’s why video game developers have, throughout the years, made efforts to adjust their games to make them more playable by all. Some have even designed games from the ground up with that thought in mind!

When it comes to making video games more accessible, adjustments to sight and sound can make a huge difference. Audiovisual disabilities affect a vast number of people. The most common of these disabilities is likely myopia, otherwise known as nearsightedness. For nearsighted gamers, a major issue while playing is actually reading the information being displayed on screen. Sure, in some cases, you might be able to get a bigger TV or monitor, but that seems a bit excessive – and isn’t always possible. That’s why many games include settings options to change the size that text is displayed in-game. From pause menus, to game dialogue, to help alerts and pop-ups, adjusting the text size can make it possible for many more people to enjoy a game – without having to sit one foot from the screen! Other settings give options for colorblindness, by switching certain colors with patterns to make them more distinguishable.

On the flip side, some gamers are unable to take in a large amount of visual input. Too many things occurring on the screen at once can cause sensory overload. So, some games let you choose how much is shown on screen at a time. Some examples include limiting how far from your character graphics are rendered, preventing certain visual effects from occurring, and choosing which elements of a heads-up-display (HUD) are shown, decreasing the amount visual clutter that can stress yours eyes and brain.

In terms of sound, there are problems and solutions on both sides of the impairment spectrum: Poor/no hearing, as well as hypersensitivity to sound. Several solutions have been found for gamers with limited hearing capability, the most common of which are subtitles/captioning. These options let you choose when subtitles are displayed, how much is displayed, and how they are displayed. Further, another solution to audio impairment is utilization of a tactile response. The majority of console controllers used today feature rumble technology, which causes the controller to vibrate in response to certain actions or events in the game. For example, there might be a slight jolt whenever you land an attack, or a long, intense vibration during an earthquake. Players can use this feedback to better respond to events they may not have otherwise heard.

Then, just like with sight, too much sound can overload the senses, as well. Disabled gamers with oversensitive ears can experience pain from too loud or too many sounds. Fortunately, most games have options to adjust the volume of specific sounds, such as dialog, background music, and sound effects. Some even let you turn off specific sounds entirely. In one game, there is actually an option to bleep out profanity!

I’ll be back again soon with more information about video game accessibility, but I’m going to wrap this up for now.

Keep watching for the continuation on the next installment of DisabiLife!

* Read the next installment now: Video Game Accessibility, Part II – Mobility.

Written By: Jonathan Feldman

This blog post was written by a member of the eVero Outreach team. The Outreach program aims to teach individuals with disabilities marketable job skills, and enable them to find gainful employment. To learn more about eVero Outreach, click here.