Importance of Accessible Gaming for People with Disabilities
As part of Mada’s efforts to improve social integration and education, Mada conducted a specialized best practice report on accessible gaming for people with disabilities focusing on ways to increase the availability of localized accessible games.
In recent years, gaming has become increasingly prevalent with the advent of mobile gaming, gamification in the workplace and greater uptake of augmented reality technology by people of all ages. Gaming is no longer limited to a niche segment of teenagers and children, games today can be seen in multiple settings being used by a multitude of different audiences. Accessibility to the gaming space is no longer a luxury, it is a necessary component of creating an inclusive digital ecosystem. Gaming today is part and parcel of what is referred to as digital content, and, as such, is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Accessible gaming also offers a massive return on investments for game developers and designers. The global gamification market is expected to surpass 5.5 billion USD by the end of 2018. Gamification refers to the application of typical elements of game playing such as point scoring, competition with others, or collecting rewards to other areas of activity, typically in education, healthcare, productivity and marketing. With people with functional limitations making up a minimum of 15% of the world’s population, the market for disabled gamers is huge.
When it comes to people with functional limitations, there is an even further added element to gamification – and that is the use of games within a rehabilitation setting. In conjunction with international accessible gaming experts, Mada Assistive Technology Center initiated efforts to raise awareness about how gaming can be made more inclusive for people with different disabilities. Amongst these efforts is providing training for game developers on how to develop accessible digital games based on best practices and international standards. Mada recently released a comprehensive best practices guide around this subject, which has been published on Mada website. The documentation is intended to be used by game developers, decision-makers and frontline workers in different settings where they can effectively use gaming as an appropriate tool for social integration and even education or rehabilitation.
Around 2% of this growing population is unable to play video games at all due to their disabilities, with 9% having to play them at a reduced level. For gamers with disabilities, games offer a chance for escaping the physical and sensory confines of the world in which they live. A football game gives a chance to a person with physical disabilities to take on the best teams in the world whereas an audio game enables a person with visual disabilities to unleash her imagination.
For many gamers with disabilities, they can enjoy games the same way others do – with no modifications – but for others, modifications are necessary. Despite the specific needs that gamers with disabilities may have, they still see themselves as gamers first and people with disabilities second. The belief in “people first” must drive all accessibility policies, whether it is in the gaming sector or not. This effectively means two things – designing accessible games should be guided by the principles of universal design, where the games are designed for use by everyone, regardless of their ability; and that people with disabilities should be involved in the design process.
A central component for accessible gaming for some players is Assistive Technology (AT). Modifications to controls, sensory output and input through software and hardware provide the means to gamers to play in a barrier-free manner. As such, AT services must be equipped to supports gamers should need be.
One of the main obstacles facing the accessibility of gaming is the general absence of legislation in this area. Unlike access to information and media, there is no explicit legislation outlining the need to making games accessible. Even in countries where there are laws that regulate video games, such as South Korea and the United Kingdom, there is no explicit mention of accessibility yet. The result is that initiatives to make games accessible are driven by conscious designers and developers, and not by national initiatives.
Although legislation in accessible gaming barely exists, some standards have been created by designers and developers available as a guide on how to make games accessible.
Furthermore, certain games have been designed in a matter to improve motor, sensory or cognitive skills, and are used in educational and rehabilitative settings. This also needs to be considered when promoting gaming for people with disabilities. Policymakers and frontline workers must be educated about the importance of gaming in improving the quality of lives of people with disabilities. Resources must be available to both education and rehabilitation experts as well as making the needed expertise and funding required accessible to people with disabilities that want to integrate gaming into their lives.
Despite all the compelling reasons to ensure that gaming must be accessible to people with disabilities, gaming companies are not yet persuaded that there is a large market for accessible gaming – in both device controllers and game design. As such, funding and direct intervention by policymakers and service providers is required to stimulate the gaming market and make gaming more accessible to people with disabilities. Mada International Best Practices Guide on Accessible Gaming acts as a basic and introductory resource to policymakers, designers, developers, rehabilitation experts, educators AT specialists and end-users on how to create a more accessible gaming ecosystem in Qatar.