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February 20, 2005

We have worked on several assistive technology projects now (one even has its own own collectible pin), and the category is growing. That's a good thing. Every where we turn lately, we run into a company that is innovating in the field of accessibility.

Even so, more companies need to pay attention to this space. This weekend, we set up a computer for a young man with autism. We installed all of his favorite computer games, including the one he received for Christmas — Polar Express. The game was visually excellent, with 3D characters, video cut scenes, and high production values. However, it was basically unplayable due to the interface.

For example, it forced the player to use two hands on the keyboard instead of the mouse. And every time some action was required, the game would pop up a dialog with important instructions (written in a hard to read script font) and ask the player to Press Enter to Continue. Instructions like you need to press the shift key to wind up the jack-in-the-box. What they didn't tell you — only the left shift key would work!

The Polar Express game is bad by just about any standard. But it does highlight the need for more thought on accessibility from publishers and hardware vendors. Take a few minutes to think about your current project and how you can make it more accessible. Check out the HP Accessibility and Microsoft Accessibility websites for ideas. If you're a software developer, check out Sara Ford's accessibility blog.

For an example of great games for young children that are fun for people with disabilities such as autism, see the Putt-Putt and Freddie Fish games from Humongous Entertainment. We enjoy playing them, too!

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