Disability History Month and Tech Talk 4: Accessibility Options Developers Could Use to Make Technology and Gaming Accessible for Everyone

What’s up TR Fans and welcome back for Blog 4 of my Disability History Month coverage here on Technology Reviews! So as I explained in my last vlog, podcast and on Twitter this week, my upload times are going to be changing slightly so I can get as much coverage out as I want to between now and the 22nd of December, which is when this year’s History Month ends.

Accessible and adaptive technologies have come a long way from where they were in the early 2000s, and it’s no longer just a few people who talk about accessibility. Despite the recent launch of Cyberpunk 2077 causing uproar with them not including enough accessibility options and including flashing lights – something I have raised my concerns about over Twitter – most games, and various bits of technology, now consider accessibility from the get go, and in this blog, I’m going to give my thoughts on what accessibility options I think developers could include to make technology and gaming accessible for everyone.

Accessibility With Technology

1: Including Some Accessibility Options in the Initial Set Up of a Device

Screenshot of Accessibility in System Preferences on 2015 MacBook Pro, MacOS Big Sur, Version 11.0.1

I’ve been using a MacBook Pro for the last 5 years, but for 4 of those years, I could only access part of it.

Bringing you into what my laptop’s accessibility settings are set to, I’ll try to explain it on here beside this picture, but you’ll see what I mean when the video gets uploaded. My keyboard is set to Sticky Keys – which means I can get round my mac, only having to hit one button at the one time, even when using keyboard shortcuts. My trackpad is then set to working with a click, but last year I was able to change my right click so that instead of having to press two fingers on my trackpad, I would only have to tap the bottom right corner. The sad thing is, though, that for almost 4 years, I had to ask for help as I didn’t know it was there.

If I hadn’t have been looking around trackpad settings that day, it’s entirely possible I’d still be asking for help doing right clicks, and while I had help the day I got my Mac to put sticky keys on, some disabled people would like to work everything out for themselves, and some of us aren’t too tech-savvy. This is why it would be nice to have some accessibility options offered to us during the initial set up, so that even if it’s only the keyboard and trackpad/mouse settings, there’s at least an option for them to work as soon as your computer is ready to use.

2: Alignment Options as a Setting for Websites and Apps

If there’s something that gets more annoying year in and year out at the minute, it’s the ongoing growth in screen resolution, making it harder for physically disabled people to reach stuff on their devices.

This is something I was talking about at the beginning of this week. Whether you’re on a website, or scrolling through an app – especially media ones – depending on the device you’re on, it can become straining when you have to reach up. I can’t use anything other than my head, so I use a stylus to get round my phone and iPad, and as bad as things can get, I don’t find it as difficult to reach now that I use a big stylus for most stuff, though it’s still hard on my iPad, because it’s a bigger screen. I also suffer from a pain in my neck which goes into one of my shoulders, which feels worse the more I have to stretch.

So this is why I think it would be good to have alignment options as a setting for websites and apps. If there were alignment options in settings, it would let us choose whether we wanted content displayed at the top of the screen, at the side of a screen or at the bottom, depending on what’s easier. But I would also like to be able to select one option for something, i.e. the search bar, and another for something else, i.e, content options.

3: Remapping Touch Bars

While the other two points on this list apply to all computers, this one is Advice for future MacBooks, but here it is anyway.

Apple’s touch bar was first added to MacBooks in 2016, but there have been various reports from disabled people on Twitter saying it’s inaccessible. The control strip is located above the keyboard – placing it in a pretty inaccessible place anyway – but it’s meant to work in a similar ways as you see your phone and iPad ones.

Mine doesn’t have the feature as I think I have the generation before, but as I made clear above, I’m not sure how well I could use it anyway. What would make it better would be if new generations of MacBooks would allow you to remap the touch bar to below the trackpad or just under your keyboard, as that would make the positioning more accessible.

Accessibility With Gaming

1: Photo Sensitive Mode and Toggle Options Included in Accessibility By Default

Colour blindness, blindness and other settings are included in I think pretty much every video game now, and if not every, it’s definitely a lot. There have also been a lot of games that have an option for you to turn flashing images off, so why was a game – especially given where accessibility is now – allowed to be released, yet it could cause seizures?

I don’t have Epilepsy myself, but I know and have known people who have. Gaming is meant to be opening up to the idea of more and more gamers being able to play, so if there’s one thing CD PROJECT RED can do to keep people who play their games safe, it’s adding a no flashing lights mode.

However, thinking of my own disability as well – as someone who struggles with controls more as I can only use everything on the front of a controller but not at the back – I think it would also be good for Toggle options to be added. As we look into the future of gaming, I think especially shooter games should have Photo Sensitive and Toggle Options by default in their accessibility options, and the fact it took this to happen is an outrage.

2: Including More Accessibility Settings for VR Headsets

Virtual Reality – often shortened to VR – makes you the character in a video game, by requiring you to wear a headset (the one I have is for my phone and by Intempo) and putting you into the game – not the same as Augmented Reality – which is an interactive experience combining a real-world environment with what you see digitally, and letting you put digital objects into it, or play with a part of a digital object.

Most of the Virtual Reality games you get are controlled by you using a controller, but there are also ones you can get when you operate them by looking, as well as ones which you operate by making sounds.

However, disabled people have long had a complicated relationship with VR games, similar to how we felt about the Nintendo Wii in the past, and how we feel about the Nintendo Switch. While the ideal situation would be for you to see part of the real world while you have the headset on or for there to be an adaptive controller, we have to understand that something like that would take years of planning and would also cost money. So thinking of an option that should be cheap, I think a setting should be added which gives you the choice between whether you control your games by using a controller, or if you control it by looking.

I find AR games, however, easier to operate, but what would make me feel safer would be if there was a safety mode in settings which could tell me if a car is approaching.

3: Automatic Breaking for Racing Games

And finally, we have automatic breaking for racing games.

Earlier this year I was loaned gaming equipment from the UK charity, Special Effect, among which was a device called a Latchbox, which is actually made by One Switch. I wrote a blog about what I thought about it around the same time, which, if you haven’t seen yet you can view ar Experiments with Adaptive Gaming: How Much Easier Do Latchboxes Make it to Play Racing Games (Xbox).

As I said in that blog, I don’t think the problem is as much the latchbox as it is racing games in general. What I think developers of racing games should do is introduce an accessibility option which allows you to automatically break when you turn accelerate off, because it was too difficult for me turn accelerate off and then to press break.

But anyway guys, what do you think? Do you agree with my picks, or are there any other accessibility settings you think should be added? Overall, I think accessibility with technology and gaming is in a better place now than it was a couple of years ago, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, such as letting you remap directions on joysticks and discussing what could happen to make jumping easier.


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