So let’s talk about accessibility.
Last weekend, I attended a super fun gaming convention called PAX East. In addition to being super fun, PAX is a great opportunity to attend panels on really fascinating topics relating to the world of games and game-related media and culture. This year I attended several panels hosted by an organization called AbleGamers, an advocacy group for greater accessibility in games. These panels really had an impact on me and the way I think about media accessibility, so I’d like to share some of what I learned there.
The first panel I attended was about why you should care about accessibility. Disability touches just about everyone in some way, even if it’s not immediately obvious. One example, casually mentioned by a panelist, is wearing glasses. I had to think on that one for a bit. My first reaction was to scoff–I’ve worn glasses for most of my life, and it seems presumptuous and offensive to suggest that you could categorize something so trivial with the experience of people with more serious disabilities. But then I had to stop and ask myself, is it so trivial? And why?
The fact is, if I didn’t have something to correct my vision, I would be quite seriously disabled. My vision is poor enough that it is impossible for me to read even a large print book without glasses; as someone currently pursuing a dual master’s degree in English, that kind of disability would have an incredible impact on my life. Still, I see it as so trivial I almost don’t acknowledge it at all. Because I have an easy and accessible accommodation, the disability disappears. What this all revealed to me is just how relative the term “disability” is. There is no objective measure of who is “able” and who is “disabled”; those terms only refer to how compatible a person’s physical abilities are with their environment. So if we can all work towards greater accessibility for all kinds of people, it is possible to effectively reduce or even eliminate disability! Amazing, right?
Beyond that, AbleGamers’ founders also repeatedly pointed out that accessible design isn’t just about creating special accommodations for certain people–it’s just plain good design. Media that is accessible on multiple levels in multiple modes, and interactive experiences that can be customized to suit the needs or preferences of the user, don’t just benefit the disabled, they benefit everyone. They make the media experience richer and more engaging for all audiences, regardless of ability level. Striving for greater accessibility–and doing it right from the start, building it in from the ground up–is just plain good design, for everyone.
Now that we’ve established just how important and awesome accessibility is, my next post (with lots more great info from AbleGamers) will address the obvious question: how the heck do we do it?