Accessibility Options Expanding For Video Games
ORLANDO, Fla. — Aaron Cendan’s new video game controller features a subtle but significant design change.
Instead of a joystick, four buttons on the left control the direction a player moves on the screen.
Competitive gamers have embraced the change because of the milliseconds it can potentially save, which could mean the difference between a win and a loss in the high-stakes world of e-sports.
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Cendan created the controller initially for a friend whose wrist injury had limited his ability to compete.
“The nice thing is accessibility is really starting to emerge as something big game companies are getting into,” said the 23-year-old student at the University of Central Florida’s video game development school, the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.
The video game industry has been offering new equipment for people with disabilities in recent years, with Cendan’s controller just one example of new hardware options.
Others include controllers that can be operated with one hand, through head movements and with feet.
Game makers, too, are adding features to make their products more accessible to those with disabilities.
In the latest version of Electronic Arts’ blockbuster Madden football franchise, for instance, audio cues and vibration patterns on controllers have been included for the first time to help people who are blind play the game.
The game’s color palette also is adjustable for those who are color blind.
“It has just been a growing awareness over time,” said Karen Stevens of EA Sports, a division of Electronic Arts in Maitland. “People have realized that disabilities are very common.”
In-game options in Madden also change the size of on-field graphics, audibly read out menu items and send pulses to controllers during gameplay.
Stevens, who is deaf, initially started at Electronic Arts as a programmer but soon became the company’s lead executive on accessibility issues.
“Everybody should be included,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be left out and I know how bad it feels to be left out. Every chance I have to make something more inclusive, I try.”
As the industry expands accessibility, it creates newfound confidence for those with different disabilities, said Ilene Wilkins, CEO of UCP of Central Florida, an advocacy group that started focused on cerebral palsy-related conditions but has since expanded to include various disabilities.
The group provides education, counseling and therapy to about 3,500 students at its Central Florida location.
“It’s everything from going to school and being able to talk about Fortnite to being able to play and have common ground to talk about with their peers,” she said. “People want to belong and feel like they are part of something. For kids, especially, a feeling of being a part of a bigger community and belonging is important for mental health.”
When Cendan created his first controller for his friend last January, he posted his finished product on the online community Reddit, showing off the work and seeking feedback.
He had built a small following as the organizer of competitive gaming competitions at the University of Central Florida.
The Reddit post, however, not only offered feedback but also new uses for the custom-built controllers.
He has since launched Stickless Custom Controllers, which has sold 85 controllers so far, with customers being split near evenly between those with disabilities like carpal tunnel and competitive gamers seeking an edge. His controllers cost on average cost $250.
Cendan, who builds the controllers to spec on a drill press in his garage, said the move toward more-accessible products has been as much a smart business move for the industry as it has been a matter of inclusion.
“People are starting to realize how large a market the accessibility market is,” he said. “If you are excluding any part of a market, you’ll face backlash.”
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