Lee Huffman

Dear AccessWorld readers,

As AccessWorld has noted the increase in reader interest in gaming, we have responded by increasing the number of gaming-related articles over the past year.

Recently, AFB published a blog post regarding the accessibility of the Pokemon GO app for the Android and iOS operating systems. The game has been incredibly popular, allowing players to capture the titular Pokemon while moving throughout the real world. Our blog post on adding accessibility to the game sparked a vigorous online discussion with gamers, game developers and programmers on the details of how access could be included in the app and the obstacles that could make accessibility challenging. AFB's original blog post was even picked up and discussed on Micah Curtis's YouTube video blog.

In this month's Editor's Page, we would like to further explore this topic, sharing some of the insights we have received from those who have participated in this discussion.

For many apps, adding accessibility consists of simply adding text labels to elements. However, as we have learned, adding access to elements in Pokemon GO is not quite that easy. Pokemon GO uses the Unity engine, a very popular cross-platform engine for developing video games. The Unity engine streamlines game development in various ways making it the go-to engine for game developers.

Unfortunately, Unity does not appear to natively support Apple's VoiceOver protocols for communicating element information. To add accessibility to Pokemon GO, Niantic, the company that created the Unity platform, would apparently need to add VoiceOver compatibility from scratch. This process would not be completely unprecedented; there have been efforts from independent developers to add VoiceOver compatibility to Unity. Adding VoiceOver accessibility to the Pokemon GO app may require more time and resources than it would for an app that uses native controls, but it is possible.

Adding access to on-screen elements would make the majority of Pokemon GO accessible to people with visual impairments. There are two more interactive portions of the app that would be more challenging to make accessible and provide a person with vision loss the same experience as their sighted peers. One of these areas is capturing Pokemon.

When a Pokemon has been discovered, a player must throw a Pokeball at the Pokemon to capture it, but the Pokemon doesn't make this easy. When targeting the Pokemon to capture, the player must both strike it with the Pokeball and be sure to attempt the capture when a ring that appears around the Pokemon is smallest. This process could be made accessible without altering the capture method by providing sounds to indicate direction. Many audio games already use this method to identify the position of objects in a soundscape.

The other active aspect of Pokemon is Gym battles. Gyms are located at various landmarks. Once a player reaches a certain level, he or she can choose a team and begin to attempt to capture gyms for that team. Once a gym has been captured, players can leave their Pokemon to defend it from challengers. When a player challenges a gym, he or she must compete in a Pokemon battle against the Pokemon that occupy the gym.

The battles in Pokemon GO are very interactive. Each Pokemon has two attacks, a standard attack and a special attack. When in combat, a player can tap the screen to make standard attacks against an opponent, and once a displayed gauge has been filled, the player can touch and hold to launch their Pokemon's special attack.

When attacking an opponent, a player attacks the opponent's Pokemon in turn. To keep from taking damage, the player can swipe left or right to dodge attacks from their opponent. These on-screen movements could be made accessible through sounds. Sounds could be included to indicate the state of the special attack gauge, and stereo positioned sounds could be played to indicate the position of an enemy attack. With these adjustments, a player with a visual impairment could use his or her ears to compete in a similar way to that of a sighted peer.

Though making the Pokemon GO app accessible would not be a simple process, it is not impossible. Niantic has an excellent opportunity to make Pokemon GO accessible to people with vision loss and provide a similar experience to that of sighted players. Judging by the response of gamers who are visually impaired to our recent blog post and in other online forums, there is a great deal of support for accessibility, and Niantic can be a leader in this new technology by insuring that all possible players are included. Future iterations of Pokemon Go could even be used in other settings, such as a tool for teaching orientation and mobility skills.

You can support these advances by helping us continue this online conversation, to show Niantic support for accessibility and help outline technology solutions. Thank you to all of our readers who have participated in the dialogue so far. You are helping to raise the profile of accessibility and showing others how to imagine what can be possible.

Taking AccessWorld's theme of accessibility in a different direction, as our regular readers know, AccessWorld has covered home appliance accessibility in years past. It has been brought to my attention several times recently that readers would, once again, like more information on this topic. In direct response to those comments and the interest in the August article by Bill Holton entitled, The Accessible Kitchen: Using the Instant Pot Smart Bluetooth-Enabled Multifunctional Pressure Cooker, later this year and next year, AccessWorld will be looking at home appliance accessibility from the perspectives of people who are blind and people who have low vision.

We will also be taking steps to update all sections of the AccessWorld Home Appliance Accessibility Guide, which is located on the AFB main website under the Living with Vision Loss tab.

We will investigate and cover features such as tactilely discernable controls, audible tones, font size and style of control labeling, color contrast, glare, and the positioning of controls. We hope this will provide additional useful information for our readers, and practical guidance when purchasing home appliances. So, stay tuned.

As I'm sure you have all noticed, the days are now growing noticeably shorter. Students have returned to school, and it's now a logical time to begin thinking about work and careers. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and next month AccessWorld will recognize its observance by taking a closer look at employment resources for people with vision loss as well as by revisiting tried and true job search strategies. Of course, we will also be looking at technology to support and enhance your career and work life.

The AccessWorld team hopes you will read each article in this and every issue to gain as much access information as possible. As technology is always advancing, we encourage you to stay proactive in seeking out new access strategies that may better meet your particular situations at home, at school, and at work.

Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief
American Foundation for the Blind
Aaron Preece
AccessWorld Associate
American Foundation for the Blind

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