A Level Playing Field?

Official poster of Nintendo Switch 1-2
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Official poster of Nintendo Switch 1-2

© 2017 Nintendo. Nintendo Switch is a trademark of Nintendo.

So much of the online accessibility focus is on ensuring that those with disabilities can access retail, educational and employment sites or use the computer for work in a way that doesn’t put them at a disadvantage. Being able to do your weekly grocery shopping online and have it delivered, take a course, create a presentation for work or apply for a new position should be as easy for someone who is disabled as for someone who isn’t. And while these factors are important, there has been very little focus on being able to have fun.

Every day, we take for granted that we can use social media platforms to keep up with friends and enjoy an irreverent view of current affairs or play Call of Duty on the Xbox if we feel like it. But are all these options readily available for users with disabilities too?

Gaming, for example, is an area that seems to be out of bounds for someone with disabilities – so much relies on speedy reactions to visual data in real time that it is impossible to imagine someone who is blind or partially sighted being able to play, even with audio subtitles.

Okay, so not all games rely on the player being able to spot a sniper on a roof or time their leap onto a moving platform for example. Some games such as World of Warcraft have a more Dungeons and Dragons approach where players have to overcome challenges based on skill levels and tactics but unless you are the sort of person who enjoys that, they won’t appeal. In which case, a whole world of gaming pleasure is lost to someone simply because of their disability.

That’s why Nintendo’s 1-2 Switch is a revelation. The innovative controller delivers a variety of physical signals that tell a blind player what is happening in the game, allowing them to play games that usually rely on visual stimulus. In an article on gaming forum Kotaku, a woman discusses how, by using 1-2 Switch, she is not only able to game with her blind husband but that he always manages to beat her on the ‘quick draw’ gunslinger game and ping pong. “I was amazed at how accessible this is for blind people,” she said.

The Switch relies on force feedback, different sensory vibrations, to mimic realistic movement and while it can only be used on specialist games for the console, they still offer more variety than “An ogre blocks your path, what spell do you want to use?”

The Switch HD Rumble is just one example where gamers are challenging the gaming companies to look again at accessibility issues and there are other similar stories. Disabled gamer Josh Straub is a great example of someone making progress in the area. After the frustration of playing Uncharted 2 to the last level but being unable to complete it “without the help of an able-bodied person”, he set up a website that reviews games from a disabled person’s perspective and a D.A.G.E.R. industry standard rating system (disabled accessibility for gaming entertainment rating). He is now consulted by game designers wanting to include accessibility options – it seems like a huge leap forward. “What developers need to realize is that these games do more than just entertain the disabled,” he comments. “First of all, they provide an escape from the sort of doldrums of being disabled. And second of all, they provide a social space where, instead of being judged by being physical appearance, we are purely judged by the actions that we do and the things that we produce in the game.” And that’s a sentiment that all gamers can agree on, whether they are disabled or not.

Why not sign up for an accessibility review from Amnet Systems? Make sure the one billion people worldwide with disabilities are making the most of your digital assets.