May 18 marked the 12th annual world accessibility awareness day (GAAD) is a day to celebrate and raise awareness of accessibility across industries. Not only does this help highlight new innovations, but it continues to reinforce the notion that people with disabilities need assistive technology to thrive. When it comes to games, studios regularly make improvements, creating new options and design techniques to remove as many barriers 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 is rapidly becoming clear that players with disabilities no longer need to expect accessibility to be included in games, but rather are comfortable participating in the excitement of new titles. But beyond feature additions, many of the 2023 announcements and releases demonstrate the need to explore new types of accessibility and even open up the entire system to a sizeable group of players with disabilities. To celebrate GAAD, let’s take a look at some of my favorite accessibility highlights from the past five months.
The studio revealed it during PlayStation’s CES conference in January. Project Leonardo, an adaptive controller designed for the physically challenged. With about eight customizable buttons, three different shaped and sized control sticks, and even four of his 3.5mm AUX ports, the PlayStation has finally solved the lack of accessible hardware.
This is my most anticipated release and definitely my favorite announcement of the year. I haven’t played any of his PS5 games, even though PlayStation studios like Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, and Insomniac Games regularly incorporate software accessibility into their titles. And a few years after the PS4 launched, I could no longer hold a standard controller, which meant that even games like The Last of Us Part II weren’t able to experience PlayStation’s commitment to accessibility. I couldn’t do it anymore. The Access Controller is what I wanted and, frankly, needed from a studio that has been actively keeping out disabled players like me for years. While it’s still too early to know information such as pricing and button/stick sensitivity, the announcement shows the continued growth of PlayStation’s accessibility.
Motive Studio’s remake of the original Dead Space includes customizable controls, subtitles, and common accessibility options such as colorblind settings. Still, I decided to highlight this game because of the extensive content warnings and censorship. In-game content warnings are nothing new. Arachnophobia modes in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Grounded, self-harm and suicide warnings in Doki Doki Literature Club, and even Chicory: A Colorful Tale feature scenes where players deal with depression. You can skip it. But Dead Space seamlessly integrates accessibility into mental health while maintaining its core themes of isolation and fear.
Like suicide, traumatic images and themes, or even certain phrases dealing with self-harm in text logs, can be censored. Yet Isaac Clarke still has to survive inside the abandoned halls of USG Ishimura. What makes Dead Space stand out among incredibly accessible games is the fact that it incorporates and emphasizes mental health accessibility in a way that doesn’t reduce the fear felt by the player. Horror, like other genres, is accessible to people with various mental disabilities, and Dead Space shows how entertaining and accessible horror can be.
Xbox recently announced a new set of accessibility features for its flagship racing series. Blind Driving Assist provides numerous audio cues and steering assists aimed at removing barriers for visually impaired and low vision players during the race. Whether you turn, go straight, or change speed, each action is conveyed with an audible message.
Forza’s commitment to accessibility aligns with the larger accessibility movement. However, visually impaired and low-vision players still can’t fully enjoy most titles in this industry. The reason “Blind Driving Assists” is one of my favorites to come out of him this year is that he opens up a new genre for a group of players with disabilities. Despite my disability, I still have a favorite franchise. I can usually buy new games and clear them without help. Despite the continued popularity and acceptance of accessibility in this industry, blind/low vision accessibility seems to be still in its infancy. It remains to be seen how effective blind driver assistance will be for players with disabilities, but Turn 10 Studios’ attempt to eliminate unintended barriers is worth noting.
The Last of Us Part I Remake
On March 28th, PlayStation released The Last of Us Part I for PC. For the first time in the series, he was not only available to PC players, but also had extensive accessibility settings. When discussing accessibility, we often ask questions about software. How does the studio implement accessible options and design? What settings are required for players with disabilities? An important aspect of these conversations that is often overlooked is the hardware. . For the first time since the original release in 2013, I got to play The Last of Us.
Yes, the port had a number of bugs, including some that impacted accessibility. Key binding issues were constant during playthroughs and increased physical fatigue. And yes, I have frequently witnessed visual bugs shared regularly on social media sites. It’s a shame my first experience with The Last of Us series was ruined by a mysterious glitch, but I finally got to experience this iconic game for myself.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day should not be a special day just to highlight new announcements. We should validate and celebrate industry successes throughout the year. It should also be a day to remind the larger gaming industry of the existence of people with disabilities. Writers and reporters with disabilities, content creators and developers are actively participating with consumers with disabilities. Being able to play games is another thing, but being able to be unapologetic in an industry that hasn’t yet figured out how to properly treat people with disabilities is evidence that more needs to be done. Rather, this GAAD shows that accessibility is an ongoing journey that gets more exciting with each passing year.
Grant Stoner is a disability journalist covering accessibility and disability perspectives in video games. When he’s not writing, he’s yelling about Pokémon and his cat Goomba. twitter.