Video games may get a touch friendlier to chatty players with disabilities, as new(ish) US accessibility laws governing communication features now apply to the medium. The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) only covers aspects of games like text and voice chat and their UIs, not requiring any changes to how they play, and only if developers won’t need to spend an amount of time or effort to comply. It’s not clear yet quite how much will change, but some good may come of this. While games have become more aware of accessibility issues in recent years, they still could do so much more.
The CVAA actually dates back to October 2010 but video games managed to evade it for several years due to temporary waivers sought by the Electronic Software Association, the North American industry body. The last of those waivers expired on December 31st so, as Gamasutra noted, here we are. The USA already has numerous accessibility laws but they dated back to ye olden times before computers became the way we communicate. Along came the CVAA to get the digital realm in shape, covering everything from closed captioning on television broadcasts to accessible in-game chat.
The changes means that developers should, where appropriate and as much as is possible “with reasonable effort and expense”, ensure text and voice chat are accessible without hearing, without vision, with colour perception problems, with limited physical dexterity, with cognitive or intellectual disabilities, and so on.
I’d imagine the most scrutiny will be applied to platform holders like Microsoft, Sony, and Steam rather than individual developers, though games from big publishers are high-profile items of interest too. And while the CVAA only applies to the USA, games which want to be sold there (i.e. most that would be of interest to us) will be subject to it and likely include compliant accessibility features elsewhere too.
Apparently existent games are exempted from this, but games which start or finish development from now, or even receive major updates, should bear this in mind too. Or someone might sic the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on you.
Increased accessibility is always welcome. The games industry seems more aware of accessibility issues and ways to resolve them, but options for colourblindness, closed captioning, and so on are still often afterthoughts that get patched in or expanded after launch.
The International Game Developers Association explain the effects of the CVAA in more detail. They also point out that Karen Petlz Strauss of the FCC talked at length about it during this presentation at last year’s Gaming Accessibility Conference: