Gaming accessibility

25 October, 2022

Gaming accessibility

Gaming industry is seeing an increase in accessibility inclusion and disability acceptance. Development studios have been making efforts to make accessibility a part of their designs in recent years. Media outlets and content creators are starting to treat disability-related stories less as niche pieces. Industry events such as conferences have not had much conversation about the disability experience. This was until the Game Accessibility Conference, GA Conf.

The codirectors and founders, Tara Voelker and Ian Hamilton, discussed the events that led to the creation of GA Conf with WIRED. After experiencing many events that were not accessible to disabled attendees, or did not include meaningful talks or panels about accessibility, the codirectors and founders of GA Conf began to design an inclusive event.

Hamilton shares that Tara and me attended the Games for Health Boston conference in 2012. It had a mini-track about game accessibility, run by Ben Sawyer. This was Hamilton's initial seed. I think that was a great example of the potential. The years that followed were quite difficult for accessibility awareness. Whenever accessibility content was presented at major game development events, it was often a basic awareness raising tool on what it was and why.

Hamilton's words are echoed by Voelker. It wasn't until 2015 that event planners and game studios began to seriously consider accessibility and disability inclusion.

Voelker states that accessibility talks at mainstream development events had stagnated and that the events weren't interested in moving it forward. It was always 101-level, partly because advanced talks were rejected or made to be more introductory. It was very frustrating to watch. We could make sure that those talks were given a place by having a conference.

GA Conf was founded in 2017. Since then, it has educated both disabled and mainstream gamers on the intricacies and practice of inclusive game design. The conference has hosted European events, presentations by developers from Sony, EA and Microsoft, and even the FCC. Many talks and panels focus on the connections between disabled people and games. Hamilton recalls a specific incident that led to a collaboration on one of the most critically-acclaimed accessible games.