The Five Accessibility Successes of 2023 So Far
May 18 marked the 12th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day to celebrate and raise awareness for accessibility across varying industries. Not only does it help to highlight new innovations, it also continuously reinforces the notion that disabled people need assistive tech to thrive. For games, studios regularly refine and create new options and design practices seeking to eliminate 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’s quickly becoming apparent that disabled players no longer need to hope for accessibility to be included in a game, but rather can comfortably join in the excitement of new titles. But beyond adding features, many of 2023’s announcements and releases demonstrate the necessity to explore new types of accessibility and even open entire systems to a significant group of disabled players. To celebrate GAAD, let’s explore some of my favorite accessibility highlights from the past five months.
In January, during PlayStation’s CES conference, the studio revealed Project Leonardo, an adaptive controller designed for physically disabled individuals. With approximately eight customizable buttons, a control stick with three different shapes and sizes, and even four 3.5mm AUX ports, PlayStation finally addressed its lack of accessible hardware.
This is my most anticipated release, and arguably, my favorite announcement from this year. Despite the software accessibility that PlayStation studios like Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, and Insomniac Games regularly incorporate into their titles, I’ve never been able to play a PS5 game. And several years after the release of the PS4, I lost the ability to hold standard controllers, meaning that I haven’t been able to experience PlayStation’s accessibility efforts, even in games like The Last of Us Part II. The Access Controller is what I’ve been wanting, and quite frankly needing from a studio that actively shut physically disabled players like me out for years. While it’s still too early to know information like cost, and even button and stick sensitivity, its announcement is indicative of PlayStation’s continuous growth in accessibility.
Motive Studio’s remake of the original Dead Space includes common accessibility options like customizable controls, subtitles, and colorblind settings. Yet, the extensive content warnings and censors are why I’m choosing to highlight this game. Content warnings in games aren’t new – Arachnophobia Modes in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Grounded, warnings of self-harm and suicide in Doki Doki Literature Club, and even Chicory: A Colorful Tale lets players skip scenes that deal with depression. But Dead Space seamlessly integrates mental health accessibility while still maintaining the core themes of isolation and fear.
Traumatic images and themes can be censored, like suicide, or even specific phrases that deal with self-harm in text logs. Yet, Isaac Clarke still must survive within the abandoned halls of the USG Ishimura. What makes Dead Space stand out amongst incredibly accessible games is the fact that it chooses to incorporate and highlight mental health accessibility in a way that doesn’t diminish the fear that players feel. Horror, like all genres, can be accessible for those with varying mental health disabilities, and Dead Space demonstrates how horror can be both entertaining and accessible.
Xbox recently announced a new set of accessibility features for its flagship racing series. Blind Driving Assists offer numerous audio cues and steering assists that seek to remove barriers for blind/low vision players when racing. Whether turning, driving on straightaways, or even when changing speeds, each action is conveyed through aural messages.
Forza’s accessibility efforts are in line with the greater accessibility movement. However, blind/low vision players still cannot fully enjoy most titles in this industry. What makes Blind Driving Assists one of my favorite reveals of this year is that it opens a new genre to a group of disabled players. Despite my disability, I still have my preferred franchises. I can usually purchase a new game and complete it without assistance. Blind/low vision accessibility still seems like it’s in its infancy despite the continuous rise and acceptance of accessibility in this industry. While we still don’t know how effective Blind Driving Assists will be for disabled players, Turn 10 Studios’ attempts to eliminate unintentional barriers is worthy of mention.
The Last of Us Part I Remake
On March 28, PlayStation released The Last of Us Part I on the PC. Not only was it the first in the series to become available to PC players, but it also featured extensive accessibility settings. When discussing accessibility, we often ask questions pertaining to software. How are studios implementing accessible options and designs? What settings are necessary for players with physical disabilities? A key aspect that is often overlooked in these conversations are talks about hardware. For the first time since the original release in 2013, I was able to play The Last of Us.
Yes, the port was filled with numerous bugs, even those affecting accessibility. In my playthrough, I constantly encountered key binding issues that absolutely increased my physical exhaustion. And yes, I frequently witnessed visual bugs that were regularly shared on social media sites. Even though it’s a shame my first experience with The Last of Us series was marred with baffling glitches, I was finally able to experience an iconic game for myself.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day shouldn’t be a singular day just to highlight new announcements. We should celebrate by examining the industry’s successes throughout the year. It should also be a day to remind the greater gaming industry that disabled people exist. Disabled writers and reporters, content creators, and developers are active participants alongside disabled consumers. It’s one thing to be able to play games, but to be able to unapologetically be ourselves in an industry that is still unsure of how to properly treat disabled people is proof that more work is required. If anything, this GAAD demonstrates that accessibility is a continuous journey, one that gets even more exciting with each passing year.
Grant Stoner is a disabled journalist covering accessibility and the disabled perspective in video games. When not writing, he is usually screaming about Pokémon or his cat, Goomba on Twitter.
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