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[Herald Interview] ‘You can start making changes for gamers with disabilities tomorrow’

AbleGamers Charity founder says Asian game developers have a lot of room to improve accessibility for all

Mark Barlet, founder and executive director of the AbleGamers Charity (Mark Barlet)
Mark Barlet, founder and executive director of the AbleGamers Charity (Mark Barlet)

BUSAN -- Korean game developers should begin creating accessibility for people with disabilities as it can be easily done with some of the existing guidelines, says a longtime activist who has led the US movement for gamers with disabilities.

“You can start making real change tomorrow with the resources out there,” said Mark Barlet, founder and executive director of the AbleGamers Charity, in an interview with The Korea Herald at South Korea’s game exhibition, G-Star, in Busan last week.

Established in 2004, the AbleGamers Charity is a US nonprofit organization working to improve the accessibility of video games to enable people with disabilities to enjoy playing video games. The organization has helped individuals with disabilities through its peer counseling program and worked with game developers to help educate them on the things that people with disabilities need.

“We have something called the accessible player experience or we call it APX for short. It’s a set of design patterns that help developers think in a language that they understand and help them think about how they’re going to include accessibility. Those design patterns are free on our website accessible.games,” he said.

According to Barlet, his organization has worked with over 300 major global game developers such as Blizzard and Xbox that sent their staff for training courses to learn how to use the APX patterns to craft experiences that allow people with disabilities to be able to get into a game.

The activist noted that Asian studios are finding themselves “potentially behind” when it comes to accessibility.

“Looking at where we are, there’s a lot of catching up that probably needs to be done on this side. I don’t think there’s any malice there. I just think that the game accessibility movement has been largely in English and therefore there’s that (language) barrier, which is unfortunate,” he said.

Barlet pointed out that the AbleGamers Charity is currently working to internationalize the patterns in several different languages, including Korean.

“We owe it to people with disabilities since our mission is to enable play in order to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Games are made here in Korea, but I buy them in the United States. I want to make sure that a person with disabilities can play (them),” he said.

The game accessibility movement in Korea has recently gained steam as it was one of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s campaign pledges. The Korea Creative Content Agency and the Korea Association of Game Industry on Thursday held a roundtable to discuss how to expand the accessibility of games for people with disabilities.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of people in South Korea with disabilities was 2.64 million in 2021, accounting for about 5 percent of the entire population.

Barlet also expressed hopeful voices in the country’s game accessibility movement, highlighting that he was invited to deliver a speech on improving game accessibility for people with disabilities.

“I want to recognize that I’m here. The fact that I’m here shows to me that there is definitely movement afoot,” he said.

When asked about where local game makers should start to make practical changes for inclusion, Barlet advised them to be closer to people with disabilities.

“You can include people with disabilities in your user research and start working with players of disabilities to understand their unique perspectives,” he said.



By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)
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