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  • Advocating For Accessibility In Video Games

    [04.22.21]
    - Morgan Baker
  • Have you ever been in a design meeting, and someone suggests a change or addition, only for another person to reply, "That would change the whole game!" or "That's not really part of the vision or concept"?

    Well, maybe you have, maybe you haven't. But as an Accessibility Specialist, this happens surprisingly a lot, and I'm sure many other passionate #A11y game developers feel similarly. Would adding more difficulty modes change the game? Would allowing players to adjust the HUD complicate the design? Why should developers add subtitles, anyway?

    Last of Us Part II, subtitles pointing in the direction to a speaker.
    The Last of Us Part II (2020)

    Sometimes, it's hard to understand what would or wouldn't change the core aspect of the game, especially in the midst of production, when many departments and teams must stay on the same page. Sure, we can say that accessibility is the right thing to do. And though many empathize, this reason alone may not be enough for stakeholders.

    Recently, I've had #A11y advocates ask me how to handle these situations. Here is a helpful paradigm to assist you as you navigate these tough conversations with your stakeholders. It's the language I use when consulting large parent companies, all the way to small indie game studios. Please know that there is no singular approach, but I find this paradigm helpful in certain situations. And I hope sharing this information helps you as you advocate for games accessibility.

    Quick Overview

    1. Define "Fundamental Alteration"
    2. Show how "Fundamental Alteration" is primarily used outside of games
    3. Apply "Fundamental Alteration" to four instances in games
    4. Conclude thoughts

    Microsoft's XAC, an accessible controller.
    Microsoft XAC (2018)

    What is a fundamental alteration and how is it used outside of games?

    A "Fundamental Alteration" is a change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered.

    Let's take higher education, which is exemplary in the practice of accessibility. In postsecondary contexts, an accessibility-related accommodation is not a fundamental alteration, so long as the modification does not alter the fundamental nature of the course. For example, someone with a motor and/or cognitive disability may need more time to complete an exam. Is time a fundamental component of the class? For most, it is not. Students aren't being tested on their ability to solve a math problem under a time restriction, but rather their ability to solve the math problem in itself. Time is not a fundamental component. So typically, this request is reasonable, as the accommodation creates equal access without altering the nature of the overall assessment.

    Man in brown sweater sitting on chair and taking an exam.
    Student studying for exams.

    On the flip side, if the modification significantly changes the required objectives or content of the curriculum, we would say that it may no longer be reasonable. Let's say we have a medical student who is taking a timed assessment on how to perform surgery. In this instance, time is considered a fundamental component, as students must prove they have the ability to perform tasks in a time frame (i.e. time is a fundamental component to surgery). A more complex example would be a deaf student requesting a sign language interpreter in a Spanish class. Generally, there are different, and more reasonable, accommodations that we could provide instead, such as a course curriculum substitution (i.e. take a culture/history course to gain the same/similar fundamental components).

    All these examples are backed by US Case Laws, so if you are a nerd like me and want to learn more about that, check out the Disability Compliance for Higher Education newsletter.

    Animal Crossing, a girl being very happy next to a frog.
    Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020)

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