Game Accessibility Day Comes Into Its Own

The AbleGamers Foundation LogoNow in its third year, Game Accessibility Day has become a can’t-miss event for those attending the Games for Health conference. Scheduled for Tuesday May 25, 2010, the day will feature over a dozen presentations, an audience participation activity and an event called the Hacker Hardware Challenge. 

On Wednesday May 26, the Accessibility Arcade interactive exhibit will showcase adaptive hardware and accessible software designed for gamers with disabilities. This year, the Accessibility Arcade will feature hardware from Broadened Horizons, Evil Controllers and The Peregrine Gaming Glove among others, as well as software from VTree LLC. Read More…

Recently, Evil Controllers—a company created by Adam Coe and best known for its line of rapid-fire Xbox 360 controllers—announced a partnership with The AbleGamers Foundation to bring a line of accessible controllers to market.

“Adam is gamer to the core and he has worked with other competitive gamers with disabilities in the past, so he got it from the start,” said Mark Barlet, President of The AbleGamers Foundation, in an interview with Game Forward.

“I think that the console market is just unfriendly to the disabled gamer, so that is where we started. I told him I wanted to see a one-handed controller that had flexibility built in. A few weeks later he sent a prototype Xbox controller over to us,” added Barlet about the collaboration.

“This thing was great, he had added a bunch of reprogrammable buttons along the back and kept the form factor exactly what we expected. It was so cool and easy to use.”

An Accessible Controller Prototype from Evil Controllers and The AbleGamers Foundation

One of the biggest hurdles to true accessibility for disabled games is often the prohibitive cost of adaptive or specialized hardware. Gamers with disabilities often live on fixed incomes and must deal with significant medical expenses.

“There are some great controllers out there, but some are in the $1500 price point. Who can afford that? So I hope this partnership does two things; first, I want more of my friends to be able to enjoy gaming and products like these make that happen. Second, I want to put more makers in market so that the prices become affordable so anyone who wants to play can afford to play,” said Barlet.

Adam Coe will be on hand at Game Accessibility Day to participate in the Hacker Hardware Challenge, along with Benjamin J. Heckendorn (BenHeck) and Suzanne Robitaille of Abledbody. Though specific details remain top-secret, Barlet is optimistic about the outcome of this event.

“I am not expecting a finished product, but we are going to give the team the tools they need to go beyond the drawing board. Keep an eye out because we are planning on doing a webcast of the outcome of the hardware event on USTREAM.”

The Biggest Year Yet

Though Game Accessibility Day is only three years old, it has grown significantly as awareness of the subject has become more mainstream within the video game industry. Organizers certainly had no trouble when it came to finding speakers. “We had more people that wanted to speak than we had time!” Barlet points out.

“We had never had an issue filling the time in the past, but this year we had the privilege of really looking at the day holistically, and crafting an experience that we hope our attendees will not forget.” Mark Barlet also feels that there is a larger, more receptive audience in the field of game accessibility than in years past. “The work of sites like yours (Game Forward) and ours (AbleGamers) has really shined a light on this area and people are interested,” he explains.

Another new addition organizers are exited about is an audience participation activity. “We are going to break the audience into teams and have them start formulating the solutions we need to forward game accessibility. Think about it, so many smart people in the same room with the same goal in mind!” exclaimed Barlet.

Image from the 2009 Accessibility Arcade

Though significant progress has been made in the battle toward universal accessibility features such as closed captioning and customizable control schemes, there is still much room for improvement. However, Mark Barlet thinks that video game developers are finally getting the message.

Game Forward, AbleGamers and other sites have shown the developers that there is a community out there. We have shown that “Gamers who are Disabled” are not just a hypothetical college essay question. Now that we have shown there is a market out there, we need to give them the tools and information they need to address our needs (I say our, because I am one of those disabled gamers).”

In addition to Game Accessibility Day and the Accessibility Arcade, The AbleGamers Foundation  also hosts an annual Rock Band party during the Games for Health conference.

“This year is going to be our best,” states Barlet. “I just hope that people can make it, the economy is not great. I urge your readers to check out the schedule on the Game Accessibility Day website and come.”

Those interested in attending Game Accessibility Day at the 2010 Games for Health Conference can do so by registering here. You can save 10 percent of the registration cost by entering the code ABLE10.

- Images courtesy of The AbleGamers Foundation.