Accessibility is for Everyone

One thing I’ve noticed in video games this past year is the huge improvement they’ve made when it comes to accessibility. Crack open The Last of Us: Part II or Watch Dogs: Legion or Gears 5 and they’ll begin with a series of accessibility options that can be tweaked and improved for you and your body. These options have never been so prominent in so many games before.

I assume there’s a huge movement in the community in order to get games across platforms and genres and systems all to coordinate when it comes to improving this stuff. But the difference is remarkable.

I first noticed these options in The Last of Us and yet instead of just moving on and ignoring the options, I went through them one by one. And I found that they improved my experience of the game, too. For example: I hate having to mash buttons in games for quick time events (like being forced to tap triangle 50 times quickly so you don’t die) and I switched that so now I’d just hold the button instead. My hands are starting to feel the wear and tear of typing consistently for decades and this small improvement, intended for someone else, made my life easier, too.

This reminds me: years ago I sat down with an engineer and tried to convince them why we needed to make our website accessible. I tried to be convincing and political, walking calmly through why this change and that change is the kindest thing to do. But in my head I was thinking “fuck the money and the effort and every other excuse not to do this.”

But he fought back: “there’s no business incentive,” he cowardly squealed. “There’s so few people out there that need these accessibility options. Why should we waste our time?” Once he said this I had an out of body experience where I realized that this single question is the root cause of so many of our problems. It’s the half-baked, galaxy-brain bullshit argument of centrism: it works fine for me, so why should I care?

His argument implies something not just arrogant and self-centered, but something cruel and ultimately frightening. And I think it can be summarized like this: Why should we be kind when we can make money being ignorant?

This is when I started to fume and I heard my high horse galloping towards me—his name is Sebastian—and with this newfound fury and power I decided to utterly destroy this arrogant prick. “Doing this work and not doing this work is the difference between being a good person and being a shitty person,” I ranted (I might have been standing on my desk at this moment with an American flag waving behind me gently in the breeze). “It is the difference between bad work and the work that we can all be proud of.”

Was this the best thing to say to someone to convince them of my argument? No, and it certainly wasn’t my finest moment. But instead, I now just want to point to the excellent options in The Last of Us: Part II because they prove that accessibility work isn’t just for a small community of customers—accessibility is for everyone. And just as expanding civil liberties for one group improves all of our lives collectively, the same can be said for expanding the scope of kindness in our work.

By making our interfaces kind for just one person, we make them kinder for us all.