Posted on March 22, 2019 by staff

Are video games accessible for people with disabilities?


Console manufacturers must do more to make video gaming accessible to people with disabilities, according to a key figure behind the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

Jessie Haugh is head of research and development at charity AbleGamers, which makes custom gaming setups for people with disabilities.

It uses a combination of technologies such as mouth controllers, eye gaze and customised controllers to develop unique ways for people to enjoy games and assist in their rehabilitation.

AbleGamers worked closely with Microsoft on its Xbox Adaptive Controller which gives users a variety of ways to input commands for characters in Xbox and PC games.

“We work with some console manufacturers that are paving the way for more inclusivity, such as Xbox with the release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller,” Haugh told BusinessCloud.

“We’re proud of the growth in our industry to push inclusivity as a global standard. However, there is definitely more that needs to be done.”

The base Xbox unit is priced at £74.99 in the UK. “Custom gaming set-ups vary  in price, but in general it is more expensive,” said Haugh. “There have been controllers to hit the market recently that are of the similar price to standard controllers, but overall custom gaming setups are much more expensive.

“It absolutely does need to change. The custom gaming setups we provide should not be as expensive as they are; we often find controllers to be inflated.

“When you do a Google search and see controllers for $1500… well, let’s just say those kind of vendors have told me they charge as much as they can get away with under insurance policies because they want to get rich, and they don’t say anything about helping the people who need it the most.

“With the expansion of our lab, we are able to combat this and provide more adaptive controllers at no to low cost, however we do not currently have the resources to produce controllers at a rate that matches the market need.

“In general, there are vendors out there that are not in this for the right reasons. However, there are good vendors like Evil Controllers, BlueTip Gaming, and others that are in this because they want to be. They make very little profit, in fact sometimes they lose money doing these controllers for us, especially when we have to keep making revisions.”

AbleGamers, based in the United States, was founded by US Air Force veteran Mark Barlet who was injured on duty.

Barlet has worked for top-secret departments including the Department of Defense and Homeland Security since leaving the Air Force in 1996 and has trained, assessed, managed and supported hundreds of people with disabilities.

In 2004 he founded AbleGamers after multiple sclerosis attacked his best friend, Stephanie Walker, nearly taking away her ability to interact and connect through video games. He has even been invited to the White House.

Haugh was a finalist in the UK’s 2019 FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards in the ‘international inspiration’ category.

She says that the next generation of gaming, augmented and virtual reality, is highly inaccessible to people with disabilities.

“AR and VR is actually very inaccessible to many players currently,” she said. “I often like to compare AR and VR to the Oregon Trail: with any new and emerging technology, there are unknowns that we need to figure out.

“So, while AR and VR are not very accessible in its current state, we are continually looking to new methods to ensure that players with disabilities are not left out.

“I would not like to see an end to buttons, as they are still very pertinent to many players. Rather, I’d like to see the continuance of buttons, and for them to be utilized in a more innovative and intuitive manner so that more players can enjoy the benefits of AR and VR.

“Overall, I’d love to see buttons be multi-faceted, in that the player can manipulate button control that best fits their need, rather than the ‘one size fits all’ approach.”