How gaming tech helps the disabled

According to a PopCap Games survey, 20% of the casual gaming population has some kind of disability. This is an extremely high figure which is only likely to rise as people who have grown up with gaming grow older. So, what does all this mean?

Well firstly, gaming may be seen by many as ‘mere entertainment’ but for others, especially the disabled, it offers social interaction – via multi-player environments – and a way of relating to the world. Secondly, it can offer education, rehabilitation and other clear health benefits. In fact, the PopCap Games research suggested 94% of disabled players believe gaming “provides physical or mental benefits”.

“[Gaming is] perfectly suited to accessibility,” explains Ian Hamilton, a representative of the Game Accessibility branch of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). “[This is] firstly through the potential compatibility with existing hardware and software that are commonly used by people with disabilities in their everyday lives. And secondly the digital nature of games means that the game itself can be tailored to each individual’s abilities.”

Ultimately the latest technology can help provide the disabled with the kind of control they previously wouldn’t have had. As Anne von Leeuwen of The Accessibility Foundation explains: “People who cannot use a keyboard or mouse might be able to play games using touch screens, motion sensors, maybe even eye-tracking or one of the many alternate controllers that have been designed for people with disabilities. Blind people can now control phones with touch screens and their many options through their voices.”

“New technology is especially important in various games meant for health,” she adds. “Virtual Reality techniques are being used for people who cannot use their body normally. Touch screens can let kids that don't have fine motor controls because of handicaps play games that teach them to write or form words at least.”

As usual though, the problem is money. “A hard fact is that most games cost more than they earn,” says von Leeuwen. This means that providing different versions for different disabilities is certainly not a priority for most developers. And this fact becomes especially true as awareness about accessibility is still very low.

“Even if there are many ways to improve general accessibility that are actually fairly easy to program at low costs, the designers won’t know about them and the research would have to be done first,” adds von Leeuwen. “Generally this research is only done if the purpose group of a game has a disability. For example, a game meant solely for the blind.”

Hamilton seconds this. He explains one of the primary activities of the IGDA has been to raise awareness of game accessibility. “Many developers have simply never considered that someone with a disability might want to be one of their customers, and so many developers labor under misconceptions around cost, difficulty of implementation and size of audience,” he concludes.


Further reading:

‘Computer game therapy’: A treatment for depression


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Steven Vitte

Steven Vitte has written for his local South-Central Ohio newspaper the Chillicothe Gazette and has contributed his writing to various blogs. Vitte currently runs a blog called the Gaming Journalist Gazette and writes articles that discuss topics related to the Video Game Industry.

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