The 12th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is a day dedicated to celebrating and raising awareness about accessibility in a variety of industries. This day not only highlights new innovations, but it also continually reinforces the idea that disabled people are dependent on assistive technology in order to thrive. Studios are continually creating and refining new design options and practices to eliminate as many obstacles as possible.
2023 is already off to a strong start, with options and design practices pushing accessibility beyond some of last year’s biggest hits. It’s quickly becoming apparent that disabled players no longer need to hope for accessibility to be included in a game, but rather can comfortably join in the excitement of new titles. But beyond adding features, many of 2023’s announcements and releases demonstrate the necessity to explore new types of accessibility and even open entire systems to a significant group of disabled players. To celebrate GAAD, let’s explore some of my favorite accessibility highlights from the past five months.
In January, during PlayStation’s CES conference, the studio revealed Project LeonardoA controller that is designed to accommodate physically challenged individuals. PlayStation has finally made its hardware accessible. It now offers eight customizable buttons, three control sticks in different sizes and shapes, and four 3.5mm audio ports.
This is the most anticipated game of this year, and it’s arguably my favorite announcement. Despite the software accessibility that PlayStation studios like Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, and Insomniac Games regularly incorporate into their titles, I’ve never been able to play a PS5 game. And several years after the release of the PS4, I lost the ability to hold standard controllers, meaning that I haven’t been able to experience PlayStation’s accessibility efforts, even in games like The Last of Us Part II. The Access Controller is what I’ve been wanting, and quite frankly needing from a studio that actively shut physically disabled players like me out for years. While it’s still too early to know information like cost, and even button and stick sensitivity, its announcement is indicative of PlayStation’s continuous growth in accessibility.
Motive Studio’s remake of the original Dead Space includes common accessibility options like customizable controls, subtitles, and colorblind settings. Yet, the extensive content warnings and censors are why I’m choosing to highlight this game. Content warnings in games aren’t new – Arachnophobia Modes in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Grounded, warnings of self-harm and suicide in Doki Doki Literature Club, and even Chicory: A Colorful Tale lets players skip scenes that deal with depression. Dead Space is a game that seamlessly integrates mental accessibility, while maintaining its core themes of fear and isolation.
In text logs, you can censor images or themes that may be traumatizing, such as suicide. You can also censor specific phrases that discuss self-harm. Isaac Clarke is still forced to survive the abandoned halls at the USG Ishimura. What makes Dead Space stand out amongst incredibly accessible games is the fact that it chooses to incorporate and highlight mental health accessibility in a way that doesn’t diminish the fear that players feel. As with all genres of games, horror is accessible to those with mental disabilities. Dead Space shows how this genre can be both enjoyable and accessible.
Xbox has announced new accessibility features for the flagship racing series. Blind Driving Assists are a set of audio cues, steering aids, and other features that aim to eliminate barriers for players with low vision or blindness when racing. Aural messages are used to convey each action, whether it is turning, driving straightaways or changing speed.
Forza’s accessibility efforts are in line with the greater accessibility movement. Most titles are not accessible to blind/low-vision gamers. Blind Driving Assists is one of my favourite reveals this year because it introduces a whole new genre of games to disabled players. Despite my disabilities, I have my favorite franchises. I can complete most games without help. Blind/low vision accessibility still seems like it’s in its infancy despite the continuous rise and acceptance of accessibility in this industry. While we still don’t know how effective Blind Driving Assists will be for disabled players, Turn 10 Studios’ attempts to eliminate unintentional barriers is worthy of mention.
The Last of Us: Part I Remake
The Last of Us Part I was released on March 28th, 2009 by PlayStation for the PC. This was not only the first of the series to be available on PC, but also had extensive accessibility options. When we discuss accessibility, questions pertaining software are often asked. How do studios implement accessible designs and options? What are the settings necessary for players who have physical disabilities? Talking about hardware is an important aspect of these conversations that is often ignored. The Last of Us was finally playable for the first time in 2013 since its original release.
It’s true that the port is full of bugs. Even those affecting accessibility. Throughout my playthrough of the game, I experienced key binding issues which increased my exhaustion. Visual bugs were also frequently shared on social networking sites. Even though it’s a shame my first experience with The Last of Us series was marred with baffling glitches, I was finally able to experience an iconic game for myself.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day shouldn’t be a singular day just to highlight new announcements. We should celebrate by examining the industry’s successes throughout the year. The day should be used to remind everyone in the gaming industry about disabled people. The disabled writers, reporters, developers, and content creators are all active participants, just like the disabled consumers. It’s one thing to be able to play games, but to be able to unapologetically be ourselves in an industry that is still unsure of how to properly treat disabled people is proof that more work is required. This GAAD proves that accessibility is not a one-time event, but a journey that continues to grow with every passing year.
Grant Stoner is an independent journalist who covers the disability perspective and accessibility in video games. When not writing, he is usually screaming about Pokémon or his cat, Goomba on Twitter.
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