Video: Kevin Bierre
This site features a small interview with Kevin Bierre about game accessibility. Follow the image link above to view the video (with captions).
"Brigadoon" is a real-world experiment in social skills for people with high-functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome. "Brigadoon" is a 16-acre island blessed with lush gardens and rolling green hills in the public virtual world of Second Life, a popular online 3-D environment frequented by tens of thousands of users. The goal of the project is to stimulate people with high-functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome to learn how to socialize and interact better with other people.
Ilbo is a game installation specifically designed and customized for one individual player with learning disabilities. The thought behind the project is that the computer market has limited recreational resources for this target group. The designers are of the opinion that computer activities do not always have to be educational for people with learning disabilities - they also have a right to enjoy periods of recreation. The game installation consists of a chair on a pressure-sensitive board connected to a maze-game seen on a monitor in front of the chair. The player sits on the chair and navigates through a first-person maze by moving his/her weight forward, backward, left and right, and in this way routing is activated. By moving through the maze, the player is able to view cinematic images at certain points. In order to prevent the player from percieving too much stimuli the user interaction was paused after a certain (customizable) time span with entertainment like music from the gamer's favourite Dutch artist or video fragments of a soccer game. These fragments were specifically based on the preference of the individual gamer.
Video: One Switch Game
This video shows Star Trigon (Namco, 2002), a one switch game that is controlled using a single button. Follow the image link above to view the video.
When people think of learning disabilities they often think of someone with dyslexia or someone 'being mentally retarded'. This is usually because there is a whole spectrum of learning disabilities and many are not as well known. In order to get a good understanding of the needs of gamers with a learning disability, it is important to identify the many different types of learning disabilities. The diagnosis of a learning disability does not always come with a specific label - various learning disabilities can be responsible for the same problem. Government figures indicate that the group of people with specific learning disabilities is at least 10% of the population and probably quite significantly more.
What follows here is a summary of specific learning disabilities. It is important to know that learning disabilities come in many degrees of severeness. Some disabilities might result in a lower IQ while others do not. In practice this means that one gamer with a learning disability might have no problem whatsoever with playing mainstream computer games, while another gamer with a learning disability encounters many problems.
Learning disabilities include (but are not limited to): literacy difficulty (Dyslexia), Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) or Dyspraxia, handwriting difficulty (sometimes known as Dysgraphia), specific difficulty with mathematics (sometimes known as Dyscalculia), speech language and communication difficulty (Specific Language Impairment), Central Auditory Processing Disorder(CAPD), Autism or Aspergers syndrome, Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADD or ADHD) and memory difficulties.
Dyslexia is best described as a combination of abilities and difficulties which affect the learning process in one or more of the following: reading, spelling, writing and sometimes numeracy/language. Between 5 and 15 percent of the population can be diagnosed as suffering from various degrees of dyslexia. Dyslexia can be substantially compensated for with proper therapy, training and equipment. However, there are those who cannot read text and only read icons and symbols. Gamers with dyslexia can have trouble learning a game when (most of) its instructional information is text, or playing a game when (most of) its feedback or input is text.
People with dyspraxia have difficulty with movement (such as poor balance, poor fine and gross motor co-ordination or poor sense of direction), as well as specific aspects of learning. Dyspraxia is a difficulty with thinking out, planning and carrying out sensory or motor tasks. Gamers with dyspraxia often encounter problems with games that demand high motor co-ordination skills from a gamer. On the flipside, people with dyspraxia are often advised to play computer games to improve their motor co-ordination.
Dysgraphia is frequently associated with DCD/dyspraxia and sometimes dyslexia and ADHD. The term generally refers to severe handwriting difficulties but sometimes also to the difficulty in drawing. Difficulties may occur for a number of reasons, such as visual problems, poor motor control, poor hand-eye co-ordination, sequential difficulties and problems with letter formation. Games that require writing, such as Brain Age on the Nintendo DS handheld (which features a touchscreen and a stylus), or drawing (such as the popular online game iSketch) can pose problems for people with Dysgraphia.
A person with Dyscalculia experiences problems in handling daily math functions. He or she may be unable to conceptualise numbers, number relationships and outcomes of numerical operations (estimating) where these are related to the language, concepts and procedures of maths. Gamers with dyscalculia may have problems in games that address arithmetic skills. For example, an role playing game might feature an in-game shop where gamers can purchase items that improve the capabilities of their character. The ability to calculate the total cost of different purchases from different shops prior to buying could prove to be a winning strategy in such a game. Another example is a "double out" game in Darts, where gamers must hit a double that makes the score exactly zero to win the game. This requires gamers to constantly calculate the points they have to throw.
Speech, language and communication difficulties (also referred to Specific Language Impairments or sometimes Verbal Dyspraxia) are very diverse. There are people with difficulty forming speech sounds or with stammers. Some people have difficulties formulating and understanding sentences. Gamers with these disabilities therefore would encounter problems playing games that make use of speech input (such as voice chat in multiuser first person shooters) or absolutely require it such as Lifeline, a voice-activated adventure game for PlayStation 2. A person with a Specific Language Impairment can also have difficulties in (understanding) social interaction. For example, a gamer could have difficulty understanding social cues like race, gender and hairstyle of a game character, or understanding the gestures that a game character makes after scoring in a computer football-game.
Central Auditory Processing Disorder(CAPD) is an often-misunderstood problem because many of the related problems may also appear in other conditions, for example ADHD. A person with CAPD can have trouble concentrating in noisy environments, remembering auditory information such as spoken directions or difficulty hearing the difference between sounds or words that are similar. Gamers with CAPD may also encounter these problems in games. A gamer can also have problems with higher-level listening tasks ('Auditory Cohesion Problems'), such as drawing inferences from conversations, understanding riddles, or comprehending verbal math problems.
Autism and Asperger syndrome are generally considered to be included in a group of disorders known as the 'autistic spectrum' and involve severe problems with motor, conceptual and communication skills. In spite of the many problems that computer games pose, it is thought that computer games (if used correctly) could be beneficial .
ADD and ADHD are terms used to describe children and adults who have much greater problems than their peers either with attention, concentration, hyperactivity and/or impulsiveness. Gamers with ADD or ADHD may have problems with games that require prolonged concentration for long periods of time or games without immediate feedback.
Someone with memory problems is inable to retain information for a certain period of time. This makes it difficult to initially learn how to play a game. In severe cases a gamer has to learn the game each time he or she plays it. An action game with a complex storyline may therefore pose a problem, as well as an adventure game with a complex map.
There are many games that can be played with people with a learning disability. These can basically be categorized as 1) games not specifically designed to be accessible (mainstream video games) and 2) games specifically designed to be accessible (one switch games and video games that are accessible by original design).
As described above, the majority of mainstream video games are playable by gamers with learning disablities. Especially gamers with mild learning disabilities hardly have any trouble playing games. For example, there are many gamers with a slight degree of dyslexia who have no trouble with computer games whatsoever. This does not mean that all mainstream computer games are completely accessible as many gamers with learning disabilities might have trouble with certain games. for example, gamers with Dyscalculia are likely to experience problems with Nintendo's BrainAge.
One switch games (sometimes also referred to as 'single switch games' or simply 'switch games') are games that have been specifically designed to be controlled with a single input controller. This could be a single button, a mouseclick or (with the right hardware) an eye-blink. Due to the limited controls one switch games are not only very accessible for gamers with limited physical abilities, but often very easy to understand and play for gamers with a learning disability too. Most one switch games have been developed by hobby developers and small dedicated companies.
There are many examples of videogames which have been specifically designed for gamers with (severe) learning disabilities. These are often simple games with limited controls and simple interactivity.
Due to the huge spectrum of learning disabilities (including the varying degrees), it is near to impossible to define a single list of games for áll learning disabilities. However, here are several resources to start gaming that deal with games specifically designed to be accessible for people with learning disabilities.
One Switch is the biggest online archive concerning single switch games. The website not only offers reviews and download links to more than 70 one switch games, but also provides background information about one switch gaming and several tutorials on making switch interfaces for games. SEN Switcher offers various 'cause and effect' activities for absolute beginners. Inclusive Technology has developed various simple and fun games for BBC's CBeebies website. Inclusive Technology also developes several other games for people with a learning disability. Arcess.com provides three fun single switch arcade games. Brillsoft has a number of free games available for download and RJ Cooper also offers two single switch arcade games.
Marblesoft, Novita Tech and StarQuail all sell commercial single switch games. And you can discuss more games for gamers with a learning handicap at the Game Accessibility forum.
The following list of links is recommended by One Switch for gamers with severe learning disabilities. These recommendations concentrate more on simplicity of the game play and controls than anything else. Some people will of course need help in getting set up and playing the game too. They are in very approximate order of difficulty.
Top 10 Recommended games for new gamers: