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Assistive Technology Conference Highlights Part One: “The State of Play: The Intersection of Video Games and People with Disabilities”

by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern

The California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Assistive Technology Conference, the largest meeting of its kind in the world, serves as a forum for experts in the field to share latest developments and insights to improve accessibility. In a talk given at the 2023 conference in March, Andy Wu and Mark Barlet from AbleGamers, a nonprofit group, discussed their work in improving accessibility across the video game industry and noted where gaps remain. Here are highlights:

Bartlet discussed the role of games in our world, stating that “Games are important for society, but they’re uniquely important for those with disabilities,” regarding the power of games in facilitating experiences not available in a person’s physical space. Speaking about the outlook for accessibility, he added “My profoundly visually-impaired friends have largely been left out of gaming…(Due to) the rise of spatial audio… we’re seeing game companies really start focusing on these auditory-scapes, and these adaptations are allowing more and more profoundly visually-impaired people to enjoy games.” Progress has been made with the advent of Accessible Player Experiences (APX), which follow specific design patterns to build video games with accessibility in mind from the ground up. Created through research done in part by AbleGamers, these design patterns have been used in many modern games. God of War Ragnarök, an example Barlet cited, has been widely acclaimed for its accessibility features and used APX design in its development. More on APX can be found here. Wu further explained that “We view AbleGamers as a combination of being able to use a game’s settings and the hardware to support a person.” He described their Peer Counseling program, where professionals, all of whom identify as having a disability, build custom controllers and assistive technology to meet an individual’s gaming needs. Barlet explained that “Peer, for us, is a disabled player helping another disabled player.”

You can view the full talk on YouTube, and read more about AbleGamers on their website.