Earlier this month, Microsoft-owned Xbox held what they called an Accessibility Showcase where a slew of new accessibility-centric updates were shared. The event was an in-person party hosted at Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab in Redmond, Washington. Xbox Accessibility Manager Anita Mortaloni detailed the improvements in a post on the organization’s blog, which was published on October 13.
“When we make our experiences, our games and our platforms accessible [to people with disabilities], more people are discovering the power of connection that comes from play, whether it’s bonding with family, seeing themselves reflected in a game, or the joy of helping others discover the fun of game,” Mortaloni wrote in the post. “As we work towards this future of accessibility, today we are happy to share updates that encourage everyone to create, play and connect through gaming. We look forward to partnering with the community and industry in the years to come to bring the power of gaming to more people.
Mortaloni said in the announcement that the team has sought feedback from the Xbox Accessibility Insiders League, or XAIL, on what members want from a more inclusive and accessible gaming experience on Xbox. Three areas were identified: a year-round effort to add more helper software, including customizing text, captions, etc. ; the importance of standardization and easier discovery of mission-critical accessibility options; and an ongoing commitment to actively include members of the disability community in the operating system and game design and development processes.
“We want our gaming community to represent the world as a whole, including over a billion people with disabilities worldwide. This can only happen when we intentionally include accessibility in our team, the products we make and the stories we tell,” Mortaloni told me of Xbox’s overall ethos in a recent interview. “It not only allows us to represent the world as a whole—[we want to] identify and remove barriers to play that will allow everyone to play the games they want, with the people they want, where they want.
There are plenty of ways to experience accessible games on Xbox, Mortaloni said. One way is to check the accessibility tags, of which there are 20, on the Xbox store. These refer to various accessibility settings related to audio/visual, input, and gameplay. Another avenue is to browse the Family Games Database, which Mortaloni says is designed to “help parents and guardians navigate the world of video games and also features detailed accessibility pages for games.” . It’s worth noting that the Grounded game was praised at this year’s Xbox Accessibility Showcase for its so-called arachnophobia mode, in which players can reduce the level of spiders present in gameplay. Additionally, As Dusk Falls was highlighted at the event for its inclusion of various accessibility features. They included text-to-speech settings, on-screen UI tweaks, a companion app, and more.
According to Mortaloni, feedback on the company’s efforts has been well received. Developers and publishers who use Microsoft’s Game Testing Accessibility Service, an opt-in service that puts Xbox and PC titles in front of accessibility experts for “secure and confidential accessibility testing,” have reacted. positively. Additionally, Mortaloni said Xbox Ambassadors have completed more than 111,000 exploration missions since its launch earlier in October.
The Xbox team’s work to amplify accessibility is never done.
“Similar to Xbox, the gaming industry is also moving forward on its accessibility journey, which is exciting to see. We’re seeing more journalists covering accessibility than before, and we continue to see more and more content creators with disabilities coming together to share their stories and push the industry to be more inclusive,” Mortaloni said. “We’re also seeing accessibility being part of more events. Events like the Tokyo Game Show had the language Japanese signs and audio description available on Xbox.
She added: “We know our work is never done. We can and will continue to do more, because we know accessibility is a journey. And we know that a big part of that journey involves including the disability community, getting their feedback on the accessible products and services Xbox offers, and designing with, and not just for, the community. We truly see disability as a strength and welcome feedback on what we can do better and how we can remove barriers to play.”