Gaming Helps People With Hearing Disabilities Feel Included

Gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing are getting some high-tech help. 

The developers of Forza Horizon 5 will add on-screen sign language interpreters who will appear in a picture-in-picture display during the game’s cutscenes. It’s part of a growing movement to improve accessibility for games. According to a recent report, one in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears. 

This represents a vast amount of potential gaming customers lost if games aren’t accessible to this segment of users. Games need to reflect the reality of the world at large.

Maikl Babenko, Brand Manager of Room 8 Studio, Lifewire’s email interview

Forza Horizon 5’s interpreters won’t be available when the game launches on November 9, but the company says it will be coming soon. 

We’re constantly listening to the community to make Forza Horizon 5 an inclusive experience for everyone to enjoy

Mike Brown, Playground Games creative director, blog post

Sign language isn’t the only way game companies are working to make their products more inclusive. There are also adaptive controllers, enhanced subtitles, and non-visual cues (i.e., controller rumbling). 

Microsoft, for example, offers the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is designed for those who have limited mobility. The controller can be configured to fit the needs of gamers who encounter unique difficulties based on their disabilities. It was designed using feedback from the accessibility community.

Another tool is CART translation (Communication Access Real-time Translation) which is helping bridge the gap for audiences who rely on text to enjoy gaming content.

Game designers and publishers should ensure package labeling has explanations of features that allow players with hearing disabilities to see if a game is accessible for them quickly. But many games still lack accommodations, such as audio cues. For games that primarily revolve around sound, this can be hard for a player who cannot hear.

Maikl Babenko, Brand Manager of Room 8 Studio, Lifewire’s email interview

Many of our company’s users add subtitles to videos before sharing them on social media. Twitch gamers are among the company’s biggest demographic. Embedded subtitles make gaming video clips more accessible to [people who are] deaf and hard of hearing. Kapwing supports direct import from a Twitch URL and makes it easy to syndicate content to YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and other publishing channels.

Julia Enthoven, CEO of Kapwing

Game audiences are also getting help with hearing issues. Chinese company Bilibili recently launched the first live-streaming gaming channel for hard-of-hearing users. The company worked with iFlytek, a company known for intelligent voice and AI technology, to install real-time AI recognition subtitles in the barrier-free channel, enabling deaf and hard-of-hearing users to understand the real-time commentary. 

Bilibili also used professional sign language interpreters to provide interpretations during game results announcements and post-game interviews. This is the first time sign language interpreters will interpret an esports game as a live stream. Bilibili has also worked with interpreters to provide video lessons on demonstrating gaming terms in sign language. This month, the barrier-free channel attracted nearly six million viewers during the 2021 League of Legends Championship. 

Game developer Naughty Dog says its recent title, The Last of Us Part II, features more than 60 accessibility settings, with expanded options focused on fine motor and hearing, as well as entirely new features that benefit low-vision and blind players.

Hearing-impaired gamers can even turn to the website Can I Play That for reference guides and accessibility reviews. The site recently reported that a live-action Halo Infinite trailer has launched starring an actor that uses British sign language. The actor doesn’t speak, and the sign language is accompanied by a voiceover, which is accompanied by subtitles. However, there are shots where the camera pans away from the actor with the signs not being shown while the voice continues. 

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Vadim Krayevoy
Head of art division
Vadim Krayevoy