Xbox Mark ‘Global Accessibility Awareness Day’ Through New Features

Gaming for some can be difficult should they have certain accessibility requirements. While it will probably be an ever on-going struggle to make each and every game accessible to everyone, some developers and publishers are undertaking initiatives to improve the gaming experience.

Microsoft’s Xbox team have been known to implement some unique programs, such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller which was designed to become a “unified hub for devices that helps make gaming more accessible”. Marking Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021, Xbox Accessibility Director Anita Mortaloni has shared some insight into how their team will make the Xbox consoles more accessible going forward.

According to Mortaloni, the team have been focusing on the needs of their community in three areas:

Fostering a welcoming community through listening and support channels

We want to create a welcoming community where everyone can participate, feel included and play as they are. This includes providing the opportunity to give us feedback, have access to support and listen to a fellow community member.

They plan to meet this objective through the following projects:

Announcing the Xbox Accessibility Insiders League (XAIL)

The Xbox Accessibility Insider League (XAIL) is a new program that gives you a simple, streamlined way to provide accessibility feedback directly to Xbox engineering or game development teams. Anyone who self-identifies as a person with disability can join. The refreshed Xbox Insider Hub has been redesigned with accessibility in mind, offering a central tool to find experiences and way to provide critical feedback that developers need.

XAIL is also now open to content developers, offering an easy way to share your content with the XAIL community through the Xbox Insider Program. Contact your account team for more details.

Updated Xbox Customer Support Page for Accessibility

We heard you and are proud to deliver a refreshed accessibility support landing page at Accessible Gaming for All | Xbox Support. The revised site is restructured, making it easier for players to customize their gaming experience to meet their needs and find additional avenues for support including the disability answer desk.  New content will continue to be added to the site based off your feedback.

Xbox Plays – Accessibility in Gaming Talk!

In celebration of GAAD, join the Xbox Plays team as they invite Tara Voelker and blind gamer extraordinaire Steve Saylor onto the Xbox Twitch channel to talk about accessibility in gaming. You won’t want to miss it – tune in at 11am PT, Thursday May 20 on!

Promoting Accessibility By Design

We believe that designing for the billions of people on this planet starts with designing for just one and extending to many, and that accessibility should be considered from the very start of product design.  We are committed to providing resources and support to make it easy to build accessibility into gaming.

They plan to meet this objective through the following projects:

Announcing the new Gaming and Disability Player Experience Guide

The Xbox Gaming Accessibility team has created a Gaming and Disability Player Experience Guide that outlines common game accessibility barriers experienced by players across a wide spectrum of disabilities, including situational disabilities. This guide, built on the framework and intended to be used in conjunction with the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAGs), provides a holistic understanding of the barriers that players with certain types of disabilities may experience across game mechanics, display, content, and other aspects. It can also be used as an introductory resource in preparation for collaboration with members of the gaming and disability community for feedback on their specific games.

Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAGs) 2.1 Update

The Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAGs) update in February 2021 had an overwhelmingly positive response and sourced invaluable feedback from the developer and Gaming and Disability communities.  The Xbox Gaming Accessibility team has since incorporated this feedback and launched the 2.1 update which includes additional in-game examples for guidance around subtitles and captions, screen narration, game input, game difficulty options, and UI navigation.

Monthly MSFTEnable Videos

The MSFTEnable YouTube Channel houses Microsoft accessibility videos, in addition to content from Ability Summit, Learning Webinars and Gaming Accessibility.  The MSFTEnable Gaming Accessibility YouTube content is released about monthly on sharing best practices that cover topics like Haptic Feedback, Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, Visual Contrast in Games, and more.

Undead Labs: Inclusive Design

With a continued focus on players, Undead Labs is sharing the results of their Inclusive Design sprint on the blog, including a developer diary by Media Lab, and a list of accessibility improvements the studio has made since that sprint

Enabling more gamers to play with expanded accessibility features

Play is a fundamental human need. Not for some, but for all. We strive to make life more fun for billions of people around the world by creating gaming experiences that everyone can enjoy. We will continue to add accessibility features to all of our evolving products, services and games. 

They plan to meet this objective through the following projects:

Coming soon: Party Chat Speech Transcription and Synthesis

Xbox Party Chat is used by tens of millions of gamers for voice and text chat and will soon support transcribing speech into text and synthesis of speech from text.  Speech-to-Text will enable gamers to have all their words spoken by the people in the Party converted into text that will be displayed as an overlay on top of their gameplay session.  Text-to-Speech will allow gamers to type text into Xbox Party Chat and have that read by a synthetic voice to the rest of the people in the Party (with a choice of several voices per language).  We are testing these features with Xbox Insiders but they will be available for all players soon.

Either one of these features (or both working together) can be used to help gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and/or cannot or choose not to speak, to participate in Xbox Party Chat without any extra action from others in the party. These options can also help to detect microphone problems or distinguish game audio from people in the party. Both Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech functionality can be enabled in Settings under Ease of Access -> Game and Chat Transcription. When in a Party, you can also access this under Options > Configure Ease of Access Settings. 

How Gears 5 is Becoming More Accessible

Gears 5 is announcing two new accessibility features this month: Navigating Ping – Escape Mode and Assistive Features in Higher Difficulty settings.

Navigation Ping – Escape Mode
Navigation Ping helps low, or no vision players navigate the complex environments in Escape Mode. Audio cues in the game world highlight the path towards the exit and unique audio cues are used if the player needs to interact with something or use cover.

There are two settings that support different levels of assistance: Next Doorway and Full Path. Next Doorway highlights the exit of the current room, and Full Path uses more frequent pings to help players navigate around walls and pieces of cover. Play testers with vision disabilities were key to honing this gameplay and creating an audio-focused experience.    

Assistive Features in Higher Difficulty

Disable Camera Shake and Target Lock were implemented in the game for all player-types in player versus environment modes in Gears 5 to make it more accessible.  In acknowledging that the mechanics and action of the game should make it challenging, not the controls, the team partnered with the Gaming and Disability community to make the two features available:  

Disable Camera Shake
Players that have difficulty playing during quick camera movement can now turn off all sources of camera shake in difficulties up to Advanced in Horde and Escape.

Target Lock
Players who are new to shooters or need a little help with targeting enemies can now use Target Lock in difficulties up to Advanced. Turning target lock on will auto-aim your reticle while aiming down sights but and will be enabled up to Advanced difficulty in Horde and Escape

How Minecraft is Becoming More Accessible

Minecraft is announcing three new accessibility features this month: Achievement Screen, more granular audio control and updated ore patterns.

Achievements Screen
The new Achievements Screen in Minecraft Bedrock is built on the new Gameface technology and Core UI Design System with accessibility in mind from the start, taking into consideration contrast, font sizes, narration, and easy navigation no matter what input type, platform, or screen size.

More Granular Audio Control
The developers recently split up the audio controllers in Minecraft Bedrock to give players more granularity when it comes to customizing their in-game audio experience. This provides flexibility to players who may find discomfort in certain sounds or may want to lower certain sounds to better focus on something else.

Updated Ore Patterns
With the upcoming Caves & Cliffs update for Minecraft, the team introduced several new blocks including the addition of copper ore. This is the first ore to be introduced to the Overworld in a very long time, and the team wanted to make it unique. In doing so, the team reviewed all the existing ores to realize the only difference was in the colour of the “ore specks” on the block itself.  There was no difference in the patterns. 

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