Accessibility is imperative to any designed product – from furniture to educational games. Any accessible product uses good design to enable a large range of users to use the product based on their needs (such as cognitive, visual, hearing and motor skill). We take the same approach with the media we develop here in the Department of Innovative Media, Research & Extension.
Worldwide, researchers, developers and accessibility advocates have been moving the field of game accessibility forward: fostering discussions, and providing guidelines and recommendations to design more accessible products. However, accessibility can still be a complex and intimidating topic to design teams. Especially when designing interactive products such as educational games and virtual labs, interactive educational media may cause some users informational and interactional barriers.
Designers in NMSU's Learning Games Lab teams maintain ongoing efforts to improve accessibility in our educational products. As part of this effort, the team conducted research and created a visual and practical framework to support accessibility discussions and identify interaction barriers.
Research points to four main categories of disabilities – visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive (Gilbert, 2019; Aguado-delgado et al., 2018; Yuan; Folmer; Harris, 2011; Bierre et al., 2004) These can facilitate discussion, provide an overview picture of disabilities, and allow the identification of possible barriers for players. Design teams can use these categories as a starting point to understand barriers players face in a given game interaction due to their needs. The interaction between players and the game happens in a cycle, which is repeated until the game ends (Yuan; Folmer; Harris, 2011):
Receive stimuli from the game (visual, auditory, tactile)
Determine responses (players' cognitive decisions)
Provide input (players' action through the game's physical and virtual interface)
Based on the established types of disability and this interactive cycle, the research proposes a framework to identify barriers in the game, following three questions:
1. Can the player receive information?
This question can help the design team to reflect on how the game information (navigation, instruction, interactive communication, content) is communicated, considering the way that players can receive it. Several game elements will influence players’ ability to receive the information, and the main determinant is the communication channel used (visual, auditory, tactile). For instance, if the game uses a solely visual channel to convey information, such as giving information to players only through graphics, players with some visual impairment (e.g., blind, low vision) may be unable to capture the stimuli, preventing them from determining appropriate action. If instructions are given verbally, or if the audible ticking of a timer is the only way to know a time deadline is approaching, users with hearing needs may not get all of the information they need.
2. Can the player understand what to do?
This question may be most useful in helping the design team reflect on the cognitive tasks that the game demands from players. Game actions and tasks need to be designed in such a way that players will have the capacity to understand what is happening and think of a strategy to execute tasks. Several informational game elements and factors will determine if players can or cannot understand the information, such as layout, color, graphics, visual/auditory/tactile messages, whether the game is time-based, and information complexity. As in other areas of ability, all players fall somewhere on a spectrum of cognitive function. For example, if the game demands time-based responses for determined action, some players may be overwhelmed by the time pressure and unable to process the appropriate step, unable to perform the activity and determine appropriate responses. Similarly, visual cues can exacerbate cognitive challenges: players who depend on a screen reader receive information in linear patterns, with the layout determining the order in which onscreen text is read to them. If special graphics are used to convey meaning, such as a special glow around something that needs to be selected by a player, designers should find alternative ways to communicate intent.
3. Can the player use the interface?
This question can help the design team to reflect on the actions players need to take to interact with the system. The player interacts with the game system through the virtual and physical interface. The interface needs to be able to capture player inputs. If the interface demands a specific combination of motor action for the input, some players with motor disabilities will be unable to perform that action. This is often a problem in time-based games, where some users need more time to click or move a mouse, and are then penalized for missing a deadline. If users are unable to see hints or indications for action, they may not be able to provide input either.
The proposed framework has the potential to help game design teams think through games and accessibility in educational games. Design teams may use this framework to review their old games and inform the development of new games.
The research can be read in full at this link: https://www.infodesign.org.br/infodesign/article/view/931/534
Cezarotto, M., Chamberlin, B. A. (2021). Towards Accessibility in Educational Games: A Framework for The Design Team. InfoDesign, 18 (3), 102-113. doi: https://doi.org/10.51358/id.v18i2.931
Aguado-Delgado, J., Gutiérrez-Martínez, J. M., Hilera, J. R., de-Marcos, L., & Otón, S. (2018). Accessibility in video games: a systematic review. Universal Access in the Information Society, 1-25. doi:10.1007/s10209-018-0628-2
Bierre, K., Hinn, M., Martin, T., McIntosh, M., Snider, T., Stone, K., & Westin, T. (2004). Accessibility in games: Motivations and approaches. White paper, International Game Developers Association (IGDA).
Gilbert, R. M. (2019). Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind. United States: Apress. doi:10.1007/978-1-4842-5016-7
Yuan, B., Folmer, E., & Harris, F. C. (2011). Game accessibility: a survey. Universal Access in the Information Society, 10(1), 81-100. doi: 10.1007/s10209-010-0189-
To learn more about our products and design process contact:
Barbara Chamberlin, PhD
Interim Department Head
Extension Educational Media Specialist
Written by: Matheus Cezarotto Ph.D, Post Doctoral Researcher