"Leveling Up" Accessibility Efforts in the Gaming Industry

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 edition of Inside Equal Access. 

Haifa Alsaab
By: Haifa Alsaab





While most people have reliable access to their daily needs, people with disabilities still face challenges that hinder access. To improve access to jobs, education, healthcare, community participation, and entertainment, accessibility has become an essential part of many industries. The gaming industry is one of the areas that has made many remarkable advancements in accessibility for gamers with disabilities. 

The issue of accessibility for people with disabilities continues to be a focus for developers and gaming companies in the gaming industry. Developers’ focus on removing barriers that gamers with disabilities face helps in providing a joyful and seamless experience. Playing video games can boost players’ mental well-being, learning and cognitive skills.  

Gaming also reduces social isolation by creating inclusive spaces where players can bond with others. It is not surprising that the gaming industry has witnessed more growth in improved accessibility than almost every other industry. These advancements include different areas such as hardware, software, and advocacy actions. 

accessible video game controllers

Gaming hardware is made more accessible by gaming manufacturers through hardware customizations and assistive technology such as video game controllers. Players with disabilities face many difficulties when dealing with a standard game controller such as difficulty holding it for a long time or pressing small bundles of buttons. Some leading gaming companies are working seriously with accessibility experts and communities such as Ablegamers to reduce those barriers.  

While there is still work to be done to make video games accessible for people with disabilities, there have been significant advancements in gaming hardware, software, and accessibility advocacy.

PlayStation, for instance, introduced their highly customizable accessibility controller kit Project Leonardo for PlayStation 5. This controller will help players with limited motor control to play more easily, more comfortably and for a longer period of time. Project Leonardo for PS5 is “a canvas for gamers to craft their own play experience” as it includes “a robust kit of swappable components, including a variety of analog stick caps and buttons in different shapes and sizes”. Another amazing accessibility feature of Project Leonardo is that users can use it collaboratively with other devices and accessibility accessories.  

Accessibility features in gaming software are increasing for many games. These features include text legibility, captions, high contrast mode, controller remapping, and screen reader. For example, the 2022 release of God of War Ragnarok developers made many enhancements to the older 2018 engine to make it more accessible. Accessibility features like full controller remapping, text narration, extensive subtitle options, high contrast mode, and over 60 settings were revealed to make the gamers customize their experience to meet their individual needs. 

These advancements in accessibility in the gaming industry are a manifestation of the incredible efforts made by various accessibility experts and organizations like AbleGamers, SpecialEffect and Can I Play That. Video games are seen by those communities as an opportunity to engage, build lifelong friendships, and just have fun together. Making games accessible fosters inclusive communities and reduces the isolation that people with disabilities might face. So, it is significantly important to improve the quality of life for this group of people.  

Video game companies such as Microsoft and Sony take accessibility seriously and they are working closely with advocacy groups for greater gaming accessibility. For example, the Xbox Ambassador Program is one of the supportive gaming communities under Microsoft. This is a community of Xbox users that support and help other gamers with and without disabilities. Xbox has recently announced the new, free Xbox Ambassador Accessibility Explorer Path, that aims to teach Xbox Ambassadors all about accessibility, including game accessibility features and accessibility best practices.  

While there is still work to be done to make video games accessible for people with disabilities, there have been significant advancements in this area. This includes advancements in gaming hardware, software, players’ supportive communities, advocacy groups, and gaming guidelines and best practices. Accessibility in the gaming industry is constantly increasing to enable play in order to foster inclusive communities and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.