Xbox’s Accessibility Showcase is such an important initiative

Hosted by Canada's Steve Saylor, the second-annual event is an enlightening look at the importance of accessibility

Xbox Accessibility Showcase 2022 -- Steve Saylor and Microsoft's Solomon Romney

The second-annual Xbox Accessibility Showcase was held on Thursday, October 13th, spotlighting the gaming giant’s various efforts to make games more inclusive.

During the showcase, which was hosted by Canadian accessibility consultant and content creator Steve Saylor, Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke about the importance of “making gaming accessible to the over 400 million players with disabilities.” It’s something that a lot of people don’t think about, but it’s nonetheless essential.

After speaking to Steve last year, I’ve come to be more empathetic about the many barriers that disabled communities face in gaming, be it illegible text for the visually impaired, full captions for the deaf or hard of hearing or complex button inputs for those with motor limitations. Many of us take for granted that we can just pick up a controller or keyboard and enjoy a game, and it’s heartbreaking to think of all the reasons why others are less fortunate.

Therefore, I love seeing the industry-leading work that Microsoft does with accessibility, and nowhere is that more apparent than in this showcase.

For context, here’s some of what was revealed at this year’s event:

An image of one of the accessibility features in the game Pentiment, which allows you to choose the type of font.

One of the accessibility features in Pentiment allows you to choose the type of font. (Image credit: Xbox)

This is all wonderful. While the gaming industry has slowly been adopting accessibility, there are still many areas of improvement. For example, in a 2022 Game Developers Conference survey, only 39 percent of respondents said they had implemented accessibility measures into their games. One respondent even “there is still a lot of pushback in implementing accessibility features.” Microsoft doing its part to try to educate more developers about accessibility and make it easier for them to enable it in their games can go a long way — both through the above initiatives and hosting events like Toronto’s #a11yTO conference.

Likewise, more transparency about Xbox and PC games with accessibility features helps disabled players significantly. As Steve told me, accessibility is often an afterthought to companies, and players often don’t find out what assistive features, if any, are included in a game. This means they often have to take a chance on a game in hopes that they can play it, and sometimes, that can result in a waste of time and money when they come across unforeseen barriers.

And to be clear, it’s not just Microsoft doing this. PlayStation has been making big strides with accessibility through the likes of The Last of Us and God of War: Ragnarök, while Ubisoft and Square Enix have done similarly strong work in this area. Hopefully, seeing what Microsoft and these other companies are doing helps inform both the industry and consumers about the significance of accessibility.

With that in mind, I recommend watching the showcase if you have the chance. Plus, with the gaming industry usually being so secretive, it’s cool to follow Steve as he visits the company’s Inclusive Tech Lab and shows you the innovative work that’s being done there. It’s also absolutely worth checking out Steve’s other work — he’s really knowledgeable and likable, so you can learn a lot while being entertained.

Additionally, our interviews with Eidos Montreal and Naughty Dog are remarkably insightful; the developers I spoke to helped teach me a lot about accessibility. In particular, they smartly brought up a few examples of how accessibility features like adjustable subtitles and button remapping can help even those who don’t have disabilities.

Finally, other helpful resources include Can I Play That?, Ubisoft accessibility lead Aderyn Thompson, the AbleGamers charity and the DAGER System.

Image credit: Xbox

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