Hi everyone, LauraKBuzz here, and happy Disability Pride Month.

This month’s videos on the channel might be a little bit different to usual, as I plan to tackle some topics that are less focused on specific video games and more generally discussing disability and the disabled gaming community.

As someone who’s been publishing videos about accessibility in video games on the internet every week for over three years now, one attitude that I constantly see posted in social media replies and comment sections is the idea that asking for improved accessibility support for disabled gamers is in some way “wasting resources” that could be better used in other ways.

The argument usually goes a little bit like this…

“I get that some people can’t play games because they’re disabled, but tough luck. Not every game’s made for everyone, and resources spent making features for a tiny number of disabled people takes away from the rest of the game, and regular gamers. Why should everyone else have to play a worse game because some of the budget went on disabled people stuff”

Sometimes it’s worded to be a bit less transparently ableist than that, but the sentiment is always the same. Disabled people are, according to the comment, a tiny niche, and so our needs are unimportant, and accommodating us is worsening games for “everyone else”.

Now, there’s obviously some issues with this argument that we can get out the way up front. Resources that are dedicated to accessibility are not directly correlated to resources that would otherwise have gone into other aspects of a game’s development. The fact that a game offers large subtitles with speaker tags and an opaque background doesn’t mean that the lead writer on the game had less money to write the game’s ending. If they’d cut high contrast mode support from a game, it doesn’t mean they could have “tightened up the graphics on level 3”. This is not how game development budgets work, and money spent accommodating disabled gamers isn’t money taken directly out of other departments pockets.

We will get back to this argument later, but the short version debunk is that accessibility support brings additional players in, which is accounted for in how accessibility is budgeted.

While that is an important part of the argument to debunk, it’s not what I want to focus on talking about today. No, I want to talk about the fact that, contrary to popular Gamer ™ belief, disabilities are not that uncommon. Disabled gamers represent a decently large chunk of the potential game buying public, and the older you get the more likely it becomes that you will be disabled, and will need accessibility to keep gaming.

So, let’s start off with some numerical facts about disability globally, and within the UK where I live.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 1.3 billion people globally live with a significant disability. This is 16% of the global population, or aproximately 1 in 6 people around the world.

The UK’s Department of Work and Pensions estimates a slightly higher figure, stating that 19% of working age adults in the UK live with a disability, when using the UK Equality Act’s definition of a disability, meaning they have a long-standing illness, disability or other impairment which causes difficulty with day-to-day activities. They estimate that 22% of the overall UK population has a disability, and that in pension age adults that number rises to over 45%, with almost half of all people in that age bracket being disabled.

Now, obviously, those numbers by themselves aren’t a complete picture of disability in the UK, or globally. Disability as a blanket term covers a lot of different conditions, and those conditions differ wildly in how much they impact a person’s ability to play video games, but the fact is those numbers indicate that between 1 in 5 and 1 in 6 people globally have disabilities that in some way significantly impact their life, and as a result they’re likely to have an impact on aspects of their ability to play video games. That is not a small number, and should already show that making video games more accessible isn’t catering to a small insignificant niche, but a sizable portion of the global population.

I’m going to say this a few times in this video, but I shouldn’t have to point at numbers to show that disabled gamers deserve accessibility accommodations, our needs should be considered no matter how many or how few of us there are, but if you need to see us as a sizable population to consider us worth catering to, that’s the baseline data. Hopefully it makes it easier for you to either empathise with us, or at least see that we are a big enough group of the population to not simply ignore.

I previously published an episode of Access-Ability tackling the topic of Gaming while Aging, and as part of that video I discussed the fact that, as we age, generally people develop various kinds of disabilities as a natural part of ageing. From eyesight and hearing deterioration, to declining reaction speeds and motor control, generally people become more likely to be disabled over time. This lines up with the figures that I discussed previously – while 19% of working age adults in the UK are disabled, that percentage basically doubles by the time that you’re ready to collect a pension. That isn’t a sudden increase that takes place decades later, but a slow and steady increase. Your likelihood of being disabled, and needing accessibility support, steadily rises over time. If you want to keep gaming as you age, you need to be a champion today for accessibility in gaming. If you can’t care about it for yourself today as someone not yet disabled, care about your future self, and their potential needs.

But, going back to the figures, let’s break them down a little more. The Department of Work and Pensions states that around half of disabled people in the UK have a mobility disability, and around 20% of disabled people in the UK have a mental health disability. These are not small numbers, they represent pretty large segments of the public whose ability to play video games may be impacted without accessibility support. We’re talking approximately 13 million people with a disability, 6.5 million people with a mobility disability and around 2 million with a mental health disability in the UK alone.

There are 284 million visually impaired people and 39 million blind people globally, according to the World Health Organisation. Features like High Contrast Mode and properly implemented audio descriptions open up a video game to being more playable for that significant portion of the global population. None of these are small numbers.

Nearly 20% of the global population live with hearing loss of more than 20db, and 10% of the global population has a disabling level of hearing loss, again quoting from the World Health Organisation. I should not have to be quoting statistics to make people take accessibility seriously, but sometimes it helps to say these numbers out loud. Properly implemented closed captions are vital for example – for 10% of the population they are likely to make or break whether they can consider playing a particular video game.

And this isn’t even getting into overlapping conditions. Not every disabled person has only one single disability, often they coexist, at which point accessibility support becomes even more important.

There’s also people who wouldn’t consider themselves disabled, but who find themselves benefitting from accessibility settings regardless. Subtitles are a great example of this, with data from Ubisoft showing that around 95% of gamers play with subtitles on when they’re turned on by default in a game, and around 75% of players turn subtitles on when they’re off by default.

We don’t have this same kind of data for many other accessibility options, but the data definitely shows that accessibility settings are found useful by a MUCH higher percentage of gamers than global disability statistics would suggest.

Regardless of who these settings are primarily designed for, examples like subtitles are used incredibly widely.

It’s hard to argue that “most people don’t need development time wasted on accessibility settings” when we have concrete examples of at least one accessibility setting that the vast majority of gamers, disabled or not, use when playing games.

Accessibility is important, numbers aside. Disabled people’s needs shouldn’t be considered insignificant if we’re “rare enough” to disregard, but the idea that accessibility is catering to some impossibly small niche audiences is ridiculous.

To return to something I talked about at the start of this discussion, a lot of Gamer Bros will argue against accessibility on the grounds that money spent making a game more accessible is in some way money taken away from other aspects of game development. One thing this fails to account for is that disabled gamers, if accommodated for, do purchase video games. Accessibility allows people to buy a game they might otherwise not have been able to play. Accessibility opens a game up to more paying players. Money spent on accessibility can be justified, if for no more altruistic reason, because it leads to more people being able to purchase a game.

Disabled gamers shouldn’t need to prove our presence to be worth supporting, accessibility in games should exist because it’s the right thing to do in a decent society. But, if you need to see numbers, the fact that 19% of working age adults in the UK are disabled, and more than 45% of pension age adults are disabled, means that investing in accessibility is just sensible. There’s a lot of us today that need support when playing games, and as time goes on a lot more of us are going to need support if we want to stick with this hobby as we age.

Sure, some disabilities are less common than others within that bracket, and I can understand prioritising accessibility support for more common disabilities first, or for those that most notably impact gaming ability, but at the end of the day, conversations around accessibility need to be broader than that. Percentages of the population that are disabled can be a starting point to spark a realisation that accessibility is important, but cannot be the entirety of how we consider the importance of accessibility. There are people behind those numbers, people who would love to be playing the same video games as everybody else.

If you cannot bring yourself to support disabled gamers as individuals who’d love to engage with a hobby, or because of the statistical chance of your own eventual disability as you age, care about it because of the scale of those figures.

Disabled gamers are not a niche. The number of us supported by proper accessibility support is not something to be ignored.

Thank you so much to this month’s Patreon backers, who help make Access-Ability possible.

You can support the show, and everything I do, at Patreon.com/LauraKBuzz

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