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Posts Tagged ‘assistive technology’

The AbleGamers Charity

January 22nd, 2014 by Steve | No Comments | Filed in Accessibility News

The AbleGamers Foundation logoAs regular readers may recall, I interviewed Steve Spohn from AbleGamers back in 2010:
AbleGamers Interview
AbleGamers Interview wrap-up

I just read that the AbleGamers Foundation raised $100,000 in donations in 2013, a high for them. That’s outstanding news.

From their accessible-minded game and hardware reviews to providing outreach and overall awareness on the subject of game accessibility, AbleGamers champions those with disabilities who want to get the most out of their passion for video and computer games. They’ve done so much already and have even loftier goals for 2014.

Please consider a donation to the AbleGamers Foundation this year and hopefully they’ll be able to far, far surpass their previous record in 2014!

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Accessible Video Game Controller

August 29th, 2011 by Steve | No Comments | Filed in Accessibility News, Video Games

It’s been awhile since I’ve combed the Internet for video game accessibility information, so tonight I’ve been doing just that.

We’ve talked about the challenges many disabled people face when playing video games. I’ve mostly looked at it from the perspective of actual games.

Hardware is another issue. Think about how far controllers have come along in the past decades. Looking at just the systems I’ve owned — the Atari 2600 had one button and a joystick; the Nintendo Entertainment system had four buttons and a directional pad; the Sega Genesis, 5 buttons and a pad. Then came the PlayStations and Xboxes, which threw in trigger buttons, bumpers, more buttons, more thumbsticks…you get the picture.

Imagine the challenges people with physical disabilities face with such complex controllers.

I was just visiting the wonderful AbleGamers website (a site I talked about at length last year in a series of posts including an interview with Steve Spohn), and read some interesting news on the topic of accessible video game controllers.

The Adroit Switchblade with one of its included thumbsticksEvil Controllers and the AbleGamers Foundation jointly unveiled the Adroit Switchblade, a remarkable assistive technology device that allows massive amounts of customization for Xbox gaming or, with an additional plugin, the Playstation or PC. It comes with a pair of thumbsticks, plus you can use its 19 ports to set up a slew of switches to perform whatever actions you need.

Being new to the subject, I was still a little bit unsure of how this all worked. Joystiq posted a video of AbleGamers’ Marc Bartlet explaining the Switchblade. It’s a little hard to hear the audio at times, but it’s worth a viewing.

It’s always great when there are accessibility strides in the world of video games. Hopefully the Switchblade makes it easier for more disabled people to enjoy the world of gaming.

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Real Accessibility Testing

June 1st, 2010 by Steve | 2 Comments | Filed in Accessibility Thoughts

I posted awhile back about some great accessibility tools out there, such as the Firefox Accessibility Extension and WebAIM’s WAVE. (Wow, that was a year ago??)

Using automated tools are a tremendous help in figuring out problematic code or color contrasts that just don’t feel like they are sufficient. However, your testing shouldn’t end there!

Similarly, don’t assume that a non-disabled person testing their site or application with assistive technologies is good enough. I’ve been asked by well-intentioned fellow non-disabled web designers, “Well, how can we get our hands on a screen reader to do testing?”

The best way to ensure your experience is as accessible as possible is to reach out to actual disabled users for testing.

This hit home for me when I watched Scott Mayer (Multiple Facets of Accessible Design – Scott Mayer presentation) demonstrate how blind users navigate both good and bad experiences via a screen reader.

For one, the speed at which the automated voice spoke was surprisingly rapid — and he even slowed it down for our benefit! Two, a sighted user trying their hand at a screen reader just isn’t the same as someone who is completely dependent on one and uses it day in and out.

Sure, a web surfer with hearing can plug their ears and watch a video, but afterwards, they can simply unplug them and go about their lives. A deaf user doesn’t have that luxury. You may think a pretend session gives you a glimpse into their world, but it doesn’t really.

Having access to disabled testers may be challenging depending on the resources in your area. There are some alternatives on the web, such as forums like the Accessify Forum, where you can post a site and ask for feedback.

The bottom line is that, whenever possible, you should use multiple avenues of testing for accessibility, the best being actual disabled users who could be part of your audience.

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AbleGamers Interview wrap-up

February 24th, 2010 by Steve | No Comments | Filed in Accessibility Interview

I’m continuing the interview with Steve Spohn, Associate Editor of AbleGamers.com, an outstanding resource for video and computer game devotees who have disabilities.

Steve Grobschmidt (SG): I imagine some game types or genres are easier to be made accessible than others. And there are many different kinds of disabilities: visual, hearing, physical, cognitive, etc. How do developers balance making great, cutting edge games that still are playable for as many disabled gamers as possible?

Steve Spohn (SS): In a word, options. Options are extremely undervalued right now by the video game industry. In fact, most of the people who are unwilling or resentful of our work think that we want to change games in some way, and that is absolutely false.

AbleGamers wants developers to add options that can lend accessibility to video games for those that need a particular accommodation. No one wants to see video games “dumbed down” or made easier in any way. The ultimate goal is to add as many options that add value to a video game without taking anything else away. Items like remappable keys, subtitles, color blind options, mouse speed adjustments, and assistive device support, are all items that could add additional value to a title but for those who do not need any of those options, the game would not be hurt in anyway. In fact, if done correctly, those who do not need the accessibility may not even realize it’s there.

SG: How do you go about testing games? I see from your About Us section that there are staff members with disabilities of their own, including yourself. Do you just test games yourselves, or do you also reach out to other sources for testing?

SS: Our writers test every game personally. We have an in-house game review document that every video game must be put through. In addition, we have a rather large community that will keep us honest. If you read the review section, not everyone agrees with our assessments. This is because disabilities are widely varied, and everyone’s idea of how much accessibility is needed to be able to play a game changes.

We review games based on the ability to play them with standard equipment such as a keyboard and mouse. We then use the comments section to provide information on third-party assistive technology enabling some disabled gamers to play this or that. If there is a way to play a game, our members will find it.

SG: What kind of reception do you get from the gaming industry? Do you feel your presence and advocacy is being heard?

SS: Right now, I would say lukewarm. There are some companies, as I mentioned before, that are very receptive to our needs and requests. However, there are some that want nothing to do with accessibility because they believe adding accessibility increases production time and expenditures beyond what they must be. AbleGamers has definitely been making an impact in the accessibility movement; there are definitely large and small signs that we are becoming more important daily.

The most flattering was a twitter sent out by one developer to another developer saying “make sure to look out for AbleGamers at the conference. Accessible gaming is a good way to help advance your career.” At the point where you are beginning to be seen as a career advancer, you know you’re making a difference.

We have also been featured in most every online gaming magazine, Xbox 360 magazine, MSNBC, Apple.com, and many more.

SG: Looking at your crystal ball, is the gaming industry heading in the right direction? Are video and computer games getting more accessible?

SS: Accessibility is increasing in most ways but it is a constant battle. As new gaming systems like Natal, Wii, Tablet gaming, and others continue to become more mobile, games inherently become less accessible. Systems that require physical body movement are not ideal for those with physical impairments and mobile gaming such as iPhones and tablets are difficult for those with limited movement.

When the most advanced system only required two buttons and a directional pad, I could personally play any console game. As could one-handed gamers, most with physical impairments, and even those with very limited movement range.

Now, controllers have six or more buttons, shoulder buttons, and two directional pads. So, the games have advanced but the accessibility falls. The more complicated the controller becomes, the less accessible it is. Computer games are very similar in that every game could be controlled by a mouse 10 years ago and now, some do not use a mouse at all.

On the flipside, you now have things like hacked controllers, mods, assistive technology, and other customizable devices that can aid a disabled gamer with playing certain games. Most of these accessible devices are created by individuals who make these controllers one by one. We hope that someday gaming companies who produce these controllers.

It is my sincere hope that as accessible technology becomes more prevalent and developers learn how many potential customers are out there, video games will become more accessible. There are some wonderful technologies on the horizon. Things like nanos inserted into the body, eye trackers are becoming more accurate and less expensive, voice controlled gaming is becoming faster and more accurate, and many more advancements.

Thanks again to Steve for taking the time to talk about video and computer game accessibility — what’s working, what are the challenges, and where things should be headed.

Sort of like web site accessibility, it’s not about “watering down” the experience. Like Steve said, it’s about options. It’s about putting some extra effort into considering your entire audience.

I go back to a point I made earlier. I love video and computer games. If, tomorrow, I lost my hearing or something happened that limited my motor skills, I’d still love video and computer games. I’d still want to be able to enjoy them as much as possible.

I’m not disabled and I appreciate some accessibility-minded features. For example, because often times I play games at night and don’t want to have the volume jacked up, I turn sub-titles on for just about every game I play.

Dragon Age showed that you can make an all-around outstanding game with plenty of accessibility options. Let’s hope more and more game developers follow suit.

Series Recap:
AbleGamers Interview
AbleGamers Interview wrap-up

More about AbleGamers.com
AbleGamers on Twitter

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Interview with Jennison Asuncion

February 14th, 2010 by Steve | 2 Comments | Filed in Accessibility Interview

Jennison AsuncionOver the next few blog posts, I’m excited to share an interview I recently conducted over email with Jennison Asuncion. Residing in the Toronto, Canada area, Jennison’s understanding of accessibility, as he’ll explain shortly, comes from the well-rounded position of being involved in both the corporate business world as well as academia. In his own words he also has “first-hand knowledge born from being an end-user who happens to be blind.”

Jennison is also a respected, insightful voice in the social media world, on Twitter and LinkedIn in particular.

Steve (SG): Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do in the field of web accessibility?

Jennison (JA): I’m a big jazz and live comedy fan, a shameless networker, and I enjoy cross-country skiing.

In terms of the field of web accessibility, I work in Toronto for one of Canada’s banks. Part of my role involves consulting with developers so that what they are putting out there is as accessible as it can be to either our employees or clients with disabilities.

Somewhat related, by night, I co-direct the Adaptech Research Network, where we have been conducting research into the use and accessibility of information and communication technologies by college and university students with visible and non-visible disabilities for over ten years. This has helped me build perspective on the wide-range of experiences of end-users with a variety of disabilities who interact with technology which I take into my day-job. I really feel lucky to have a foot in both the corporate accessibility and the academic research areas for that reason.

SG: Why did you take an interest in the subject?

JA: Without wanting to overstate the obvious, the Web is such a part of many of our lives, professionally, recreationally, and personally. This is only set to increase, and at a faster pace. Case in point, look at all of the social media tools out there.

The web has also opened up so many opportunities that might not have been possible say four or five years ago for everyone, but especially for people with disabilities. So, doing my part to assure that this landscape can be made as accessible as possible just feels like the right thing to be doing.

SG: In your experience in the field of web accessibility, what sorts of things about people with disabilities using the Internet have surprised you the most?

JA: How resourceful and willing a good number of users with disabilities are in figuring out ways to make a website work for them, even though it’s not necessarily that accessible to begin with. I’m not saying that’s the ideal situation whatsoever, but, for example, as challenging as, say Facebook can be from an accessibility perspective for some, there are folks with disabilities who have found ways to make features and functionality work for them.

The other thing that doesn’t surprise me, as much as it serves as something I need to always remember, is that there is still a whole group of users with disabilities, who are not tech-savvy and connected through things like Twitter, who may be using older versions of adaptive hardware and/or software who are out there. With little to no formal training, many of them come online to check their e-mail, may do a bit of online browsing, and that’s about it. Or they only use a computer at work, not at home. They know nothing about Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA), and/or may not be able to afford to upgrade their systems.

It’s those people that I worry are being left behind. Left behind, insofar as they may one day visit a website that they’ve known and experienced one way for a long time, but all of a sudden, because of a site upgrade, they discover the user experience of the site has drastically changed. Maybe their browser is no longer supported, or their adaptive technology is not providing them with any useful information at all, rendering the site useless to them. If they cannot upgrade their systems for what ever reason, then what?

I’d like to thank Jennison (something I’m sure I’ll be repeating numerous times over the next week!) for taking the time to share his reflections on accessibility.

Next time, we’ll ask Jennison where he feels accessibility stands right now, and where it’s headed in 2010 and beyond.

Series Recap:
Interview with Jennison Asuncion – part one
Interview with Jennison Asuncion – part two
Interview with Jennison Asuncion – part three and wrap-up

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