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Avoid barriers to make gaming accessible

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In a talk today titled Accessibility: Lessons Learned from Designing for Gamers with Disabilities, designer and consultant Ian Hamilton took on the myth that making a game accessible to people with a wide range of abilities is difficult, time consuming and expensive. "The biggest barrier is a lack of awareness," he said.

Hamilton explained that disability occurs when a medical condition interacts with a barrier that keeps a person from going about their day. "If we're aware of these barriers we can avoid them or remove them," he said. Using examples from his own research — including an example wherein working with a very simple game helped a young boy with profound cognitive and physical impairments reach out and learn to communicate — Hamilton made a strong case for the "human benefit" of making games more accessible.

He also made the business case for doing so. Developers who have made their game friendly to people with hearing and vision impairments, for example, have seen sales spikes when doing so. Two examples of this phenomena were Solara and MUDRammer, the developers of each reported increased sales when they did the work to make their respective games more accessible.

Hamilton also had practical tips for developers looking to increase accessibility in their games. "There are two broad design principles," he said. The first was communicating information in multiple ways — for example, by having a symbol as well as a color in a puzzle game that requires matching, or offering subtitles for the hearing-impaired. The second is flexibility — allowing players to customize some parts of their experience in order to best suit their own abilities. "The tools are at your disposal," he said. "If you think about them, you can make a really big difference"

"You don’t need to do loads of work," said Hamilton. "Just keep [accessibility] in your mind at the start."