Open Your Eyes (And Ears, Etc.) For The Accessibility Jam

By Graham Smith on May 6th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

We’d normally cover jams when they’re done and there’s a bunch of games you can play, but raising awareness early seems fair when raising awareness is the point. The Accessibility Jam wants to give “developers knowledge and experience of how to make mainstream video games accessible to gamers with disabilities, to provide good examples of what’s possible, and move accessibility towards being widely accepted good practice in the game design process.” The jam begins in a little over 5 days and you should take part or pay attention.

We complain about and advocate for more robust options in videogames all the time, so we can take advantage of the power of our PCs. Complaining about and advocating for more robust options which would allow a broader number of people to play videogames seems far more important. The Accessibility Jam site does a good job of explaining the thinking behind the event, and dispelling some of the likely skepticism.

Isn’t catering for people with disabilities too difficult and expensive for a jam?

A great deal can be achieved through simple design choices, based on two key principles:

  • Communicating information in multiple ways such as icons, colour, or text as well as speech.
  • Offering players some flexibility in how they play such as difficulty settings or remappable controls.

Many game developers don’t know where to start, but we aim to remedy that situation. For the week leading up to the start of the jam, please take the time to look through the resources, you might be surprised at how much can be done simply and easily.

The jam also offers some guidelines as to the theme of submitted games, suggesting that developers “think about barriers that gamers with impairments might face in your concept, which of those barriers are not actually required by your core mechanic and how to go about reducing or removing them using the two key principles: conveying information in more than one way, allowing flexibility in play style.”

The jam is designed to coincide with the broader Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 15th, which aims to start a conversation about accessibility for all digital tools, be they websites, software or mobile devices. And unlike most jams which take place over a week or a weekend, the Accessibility Jam will run for three weeks until June 1st. We’ll cover it again when there are games to play, but you should get involved if you can.

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35 Comments »

Top comments

  1. ianhamilton_ says:

    There’s another global accessibility awareness day game jam happening too, a local on-site one based at Ukie’s offices in London:

    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a11yjam-a-game-jam-to-explore-accessibility-for-disabled-gamers-tickets-11467047247

  1. SpinalJack says:

    Sounds like fun except their website doesn’t load on my macbook for some reason.

  2. Solidstate89 says:

    But, will there be Jam and/or Jelly?

  3. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I’ve never taken part in a game jam before, but always wanted too, accessibility in games is one of my passions so it’s important enough to me to take time out of my schedule to take part in it, no doubt I’ll fail abysmally but hopefully I’ll make *something* accessible and learn something in the process.

  4. Ramshackle Thoughts says:

    Good stuff. More of this kind of thing!

  5. slerbal says:

    Excellent! I’ll see if I can do something for it, improved accessibility is a good thing. Even if I fail (writing schedule is insane at the moment!) I’ll follow closely :)

    • 0x0961h says:

      That’s why we wanted this jam to run for three weeks, so people who have a hard schedule and full-time day job will have enough time to read through accessibility guidelines and try them out. That’s not have to be a hardcore 80h+ game, it can be small and interesting. What’s really matter: inclusive game-design decisions to include more people in fun and happiness. :)

  6. Evil Pancakes says:

    Being a person with a vision impairment, this is relevant to my interests. Nothing annoys me more than games where the menu/text font size is so small I can’t read it unless I reduce the resolution to something like 1024×768.

    Also, I’ve wondered how well an Oculus Rift would work when you are practically blind in one eye.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Someone said (can’t remember who/where) that the head tracking makes it worth it even if your binocular vision isn’t great. In any case, stereoscopic distance perception is only one part of human vision, and is pretty much useless beyond around 100m (ish?).

    • TimorousBeastie says:

      On top of this stereoscopic vision increases simulation sickness. The Oculus guidelines heavily recommend providing options to disable it, so a fair percentage of people won’t be getting the 3d effect anyways (there’s also some major performance reasons to want to use only a single camera for lower spec pcs).

  7. Gap Gen says:

    This is a good idea. I probably won’t enter as I just did Ludum Dare, but I wish everyone luck!

    • 0x0961h says:

      You can analyze your Ludum Dare entry for a11y (or “accessibility”) issues and make it more a11y-friendly. Practice makes perfect! That’s the point of the jam: you don’t have to make a “special” game for people with disabilities, it’s more about making a game that will be playble not only for “ordinary” gamers, but also for gamers with health issues. :)

  8. lucilapbroadhurst says:

    Start working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do……. JOBS333.C­O­M

  9. nemryn says:

    Communicating information in multiple ways such as icons, colour, or text as well as speech.

    Although if you’re communicating information via color, that has accessibility issues as well…

  10. ianhamilton_ says:

    There’s another global accessibility awareness day game jam happening too, a local on-site one based at Ukie’s offices in London:

    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a11yjam-a-game-jam-to-explore-accessibility-for-disabled-gamers-tickets-11467047247

  11. NathanMates says:

    This is a great initiative. What would be good to hear from them is how to make this work with competitive multiplayer and deliberately difficult (e.g. Dark Souls) games. For example, good Starcraft players have 200+ actions per minute. Competitive Street Fighter games demand users be able to pull off a sequence of moves in similar speeds, with 1/30 (or tighter) second timing. How do you balance the demands of the hardcore players that want player input abilities to be a differentiating factor vs accessibility?

    • ianhamilton_ says:

      Here’s a pro Streetfighter player who plays only using his face:

      http://tinyurl.com/3zctv9m

      And a League of Legends gamer who plays using a mouthstick, a mouse wedged under his face, and a couple of large buttons under his elbow:

      http://tinyurl.com/kc8ah7o

      But in answer to your (very good) question, it’s not about reaching a set bar of ‘accessibility’, you can’t make a game accessible to everyone, as every game has to have some kind of a barrier for it to even class as a game. So instead of trying to be accessible to everyone, it’s about identifying and avoiding unnecessary barriers.

      For example, Starcraft is about frantic quick thinking and clicking, but that doesn’t mean that it should have horrendously complex controls that visuals should be based on distinguishing colour, or that vital information should be conveyed by audio alone.

      Streetfighter again is about quick thinking and reactions, but that does not mean that certain buttons have to be in certain places (the controls in SF4 are completely remappable, which is great for people with motor impairments who can’t reach certain places on the controller), or that characters should be similar colour to the background, and so on.

      Competitive multiplayer is a bit more tricky, but again the fact that something is competitive multiplayer doesn’t mean that speech or direction you’re being shot from should be presented as audio alone, that team colours should be red and green, that subtitles should be difficult to read against the game background, that menus should be confusing, and so on. All of those things are completely unnecessary barriers, fixing them does not negatively impact gameplay in any way.

      Even things that do have an impact on competitive play can be handled, through matchmaking preferences. So for example choosing to be / not to be matched up with other people who have aim assists enabled. Or, as seen in Halo Reach, a ‘chattiness’ matchmaking preference, teamed up with other people who want / don’t want / don’t care either way about team speak during games. Designed of course for the ability to filter out annoying 14 year olds, but also a godsend for people with hearing or speech impairment.

      So basically, in every game, there’s a huge amount that can be done to avoid unnecessary exclusion. Some exclusion is necessary, but what exactly that takes the form of varies from game to game. Because of the nature of accessibility – removing barriers, not making concessions – you often find that what you do for gamers with disabilities, removing some problem that stops them from playing, is actually making it a better game for everyone, avoiding game design issues that are a bit of an annoyance for everyone.

      And you even get things that are specifically demanded by both disabled gamers and hardcore gamers, and of course disabled hardcore gamers too – such as remappable controls.

    • onodera says:

      We have Olympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics. If you want to play a game, but are unable to play it competetively due to your disabilities, you either play a different version of that game or play it with similarly challenged people.

      • ianhamilton_ says:

        That’s not quite the case..

        The thing to bear in mind is that medical conditions and disability are very different things. A medical condition doesn’t make you diabled until it comes iup against some kind of barrier that prevents you from doing something in your day to day life, and those barriers are usually man made, and quite often there unnecessarily, purely through lack of awareness.

        So often what’s preventing people from being able to play competitively is token design decisions that could quite easily have been done differently, without adversely affecting anyone else, such colourblind friendly team colours, remappable buttons, etc.

        After that, yes, there are matchmaking preferences, as above, for things like aim assists, or chattiness. That’s as far as it goes for ‘different version of the game’, settings within the same game.

        There’s not really such a thing as separate versions of a game for different impairments.

  12. cloudnein says:

    “Communicating information in multiple ways such as icons, colour, or text as well as speech.”

    Being partially colo[u]r-blind, I have to remind folks it’s a disability. Alas, most game designers don’t offer a colorblind mode (I’m looking at you, the designers of the Ticket to Ride iOS game…Would love to play!)

    • ianhamilton_ says:

      That’s a mistake on the jam site itself, it should have read “Communicating information in multiple ways, such as icons as well as colour, or text as well as speech.”

    • ianhamilton_ says:

      Also better again than colourblind modes is just being colourblind friendly by default, such as GTA’s icon based map Vs Burnout Paradise’s coloured circles

    • El_Emmental says:

      iOS Ticket to Ride ?
      I just checked on their website (daysofwonder.com), they say they added a colorblind mode (forcing symbols to always display, even in non-zoomed view). It doesn’t sound perfect (the symbols are tiny and the wagons cards aren’t different enough imo), but it seems it could somehow work.

      EDIT: dammit, just noticed they haven’t added the symbols on the cards (so unless someone tells you which wagons correspond to which colors). I haven’t got an iOS system nor the game so I can’t really help.

      Possible solution would be taking a screen cap, then using a “color detector” (giving you the RGB code), comparing the codes between the cards and the carts, then printing a page with all the carts and their corresponding symbols.

  13. Arglebargle says:

    Some of this is just basic good design principles. Games without remappable controls? I’ve booted some fine games from my computer because of such simple, but incredibly irritating issues. Bad interface that you have to deal with constantly is a major problem.

    • ianhamilton_ says:

      Yes, absolutely. That’s just the thing, what’s a complete showstopping barrier for some people is often still an annoyance for everyone else, so the majority of what you would do for people with disabilities is actually just good game design that benefits everyone.

      • Arglebargle says:

        No kidding. User intereface should not be an afterthought.

        Sometimes something as simple as mouse inverting or screen size scaling has made the difference between an initial full price purchase, and a $5 bargain bin pickup.

    • El_Emmental says:

      Exactly, most of the accessibility issues come non-redundant UI and non-customizable controls.

      Good design implies having sound, animation, color and shape for every UI information, same with controls who need to have keyboard + mouse + gamepad + joystick (Xinput/DirectInput, so custom controllers can work something out).

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