Running from enemies in all directions through a dense forest, you duck for cover.  Peeking ahead to detect enemy combatants ready to kill, you don’t see any.  Thinking you are safe, you leap up – with your weapon pointed front. Suddenly, you are shot point-blank. From behind.

You were playing a video game.  And you’re deaf.

What you didn’t hear was an alert generated by the game warning that an enemy combatant was approaching — rapidly — from behind. Your avatar is KIA and, by the time that you respawn, your team, who has the advantage of audible alerts, has moved on.  Missing a team member, they are now at a disadvantage until you can catch up with the group. And though your team may understand your dilemma, you feel frustrated that you don’t have access to the same alert that your teammates did.

The availability of non-audio cues in some games to supplement audio-only information is one of the challenges faced by deaf gamers. Some games, such as Sony’s Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us do provide visual indication of threats, such as when an enemy is approaching or the player is in danger of being detected.

Recently, TDI met with representatives of the video game industry to have a positive discussion about this and other accessibility issues and features. The gaming marketplace is pushing innovation like no other business space. TDI was pleased to have the opportunity on September 20, 2016 to meet with representatives from the Entertainment Software Association, Sony Interactive Entertainment, and The Paciello Group. The Paciello Group, led by Mike Paciello, serves as a consultant for the Entertainment Software Association.

The group visited us to discuss industry progress on and challenges with making video game communication features accessible. Federal Communications Commission rules implementing the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 require “advanced communication services” to be accessible if this can be done with reasonable effort or expense. These rules apply only to communications features, rather than game play generally, and the industry is subject to a temporary waiver from the rules’ requirements as it works on various technical solutions. In addition to discussing chat in video games, ESA and Sony showed examples of industry progress on other accessibility-related features beyond what’s required by the CVAA (e.g., settings to improve game play accessibility for individuals with color discernment disabilities).

TDI also invited a Gallaudet University student, Malik Mikhail, a communications major and an avid gamer, to join us.  We discussed the accessibility features Sony has been working on with the PlayStation 4, and provided preliminary feedback serving the disability community including the deaf, hard of hearing and the Deaf/Blind.

Some of the helpful PlayStation 4 features included: the ability to customize the menu display in ways that make it easier for those with low vision, text-to- speech of menu labels and text messages, ability to adjust auto-scroll speed, and improved options for displaying closed captioning of video programming.

During the meeting, Mikhail gave us his insights on playing two of his favorite two games– Madden NFL and FIFA. We viewed a pair of videos sent by another Gallaudet University student, Brett Sonnenstrahl. Sonnenstrahl suggested a belt worn around the waist could be created as a device to vibrate in the area from where an enemy combatant is approaching in the video game.

In addition, we raised with the video game industry the importance of features for improved accessibility, including:

1.     Total access to audible information,

2.     A “chatbox” messaging functionality, possibly with speech-to- text technology, for deaf and hard of hearing players to read other players’ comments, and

3.     Various methods a deaf or hard of hearing player could respond, by text, to those comments by other players.

Gathering feedback from deaf and hard of hearing consumers as a game develops has the potential of influencing the future of gaming, especially virtual reality, of which we as a minority community cannot afford to be left out.

The meeting was a great exchange of information and learning for everyone involved.  We agreed to follow up on opportunities in the future to meet and exchange feedback for additional accessibility improvements. TDI extends great appreciation to the Entertainment Software Association, The Paciello Group, and Sony Interactive Entertainment for “hearing” us out.