Testing VR Accessibility with players with disabilities

How to ensure your VR game is inclusive

Accessibility testing for VR games is essential to ensure that players with disabilities are able to fully enjoy and participate in a game. 

There are multiple reasons to do accessibility testing for your VR game: 

  1. Making your game fun and accessible to play for people with disabilities will expand your audience and can significantly increase your ROI:
    “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States. One in four U.S. adults suffer from a disability, and globally, we’re talking about 1 billion people — but far more when you account for the many individuals who can’t or won’t go to the doctor or aren’t diagnosed at all. You’ve probably experienced this, too. Temporary disabilities — like having your arm in a cast for a couple of months or recovering from a serious operation — will affect your ability to use certain products if they haven’t been made with you in mind.” (TechCrunch)

Making your VR game accessible significantly increases your user base, and not only among people with permanent disabilities but overall — a large percentage of players actually use accessibility features, some because of temporary disability, others just because using it gives additional comfort (e.g., larger text or an option to play seated). Great evidence for that is data. The Vision Assistance Mode in Cosmonious High, a game created by Owlchemy Labs, was accessed over 1.5 million times in just one month and on Quest 2 alone!

If your game is accessible for everyone, it benefits everyone. Happy players usually tell their peers how much they love the game and word of mouth brings new players.

It’s sometimes hard to think of all the possible scenarios when conducting a user research but testing with people with disabilities, not standard features, and special needs will help to uncover the problems that were hidden before.

The VR industry is growing and VR can help solve a lot of problems specifically for people with disabilities — what is not accessible for them in real life can be accessible in VR. This can increase your potential audience and make more VR users happy.

  1. Having accessible VR game can significantly improve your brand perception because doing positive things for others is always acknowledged and appreciated. And doing something good for people with disabilities can give a company a positive reputation boost showing that you truly care about your users.

  2. Lawsuits against inaccessible products are rising. Legal fees can be enormous for both parties and if a plaintiff wins, which happens even to the biggest companies like HTC, the settlement can hit not only financially but can also damage its reputation if the lawsuit is reported in industry publications. It may cause production delays if all resources are suddenly reorganized to solve the accessibility problems, or may result in unplanned recruiting costs if new talent must be hired to solve the accessibility issues.

Timely and regular accessibility check can help avoid these problems. Making your VR game playable by anyone including people with disabilities and not standard needs will keep your users happy and expand your player base, and will keep the company in good standing.

Accessibility features should be unique to your VR game and will depend on the type of experience — it would be different for a workout game, an educational game to play music, a multiplayer shooter with other players, or a single-player puzzle game. Below are some general considerations and tips for conducting accessibility testing for VR games but remember that testing accessibility should be specific to your VR game.

Visual accessibility

Consider how the game can be played by people with visual impairments. Just adding audio cues or alternate visual cues may not be enough to help players navigate the game because low-vision and blindness are a spectrum, as well as some people may have several vision disabilities and the level of each impairment may vary. High contrast mode, adjustable brightness, and contrast settings may not work the same for certain players. Other examples can be adjustable text size, text-to-speech, screen-reader functionality, all of it in a spatial 360-degree interface.

Physical accessibility

Consider how the game can be played by people with physical disabilities or not standard features. Having sessions with people who don't have "standard" hands can help in learning about hand-tracking accessibility for your VR game. Testing with someone with not standard proportions, e.g., a person with dwarfism, or with a player in a wheelchair can help adjust the settings for the in-game avatar, arm swing, and other features. 

And testing with players with limited mobility, arthritis, prosthetic limbs, one active arm (imagine someone broke their arm and has it temporarily disabled), or other types of limitations will show if they can use the VR controllers or if alternate input methods are preferred. It can be voice commands, head movements, or a set of other options specific to your game.

Precise click targets and certain locomotion methods may be difficult for some VR users while others may not be able to sense the haptic feedback. Adjusting the control sensitivity for easier aiming, having the option to select the preferred locomotion method, and being able to adjust UI, time to complete tasks, or difficulty can significantly enhance the experience of a big population of people with permanent or temporary disabilities or not standard needs.

Audio accessibility

Consider how the game can be played by people with hearing disabilities or deaf. Is there a way to adjust the volume or balance of different sound elements? Are there subtitles or closed captions for important dialogue and sound effects and how accessible they are to the actual target audience? 

Some VR games rely on spatial audio cues and dialogues to guide users - in this case, having captions can help to make it inclusive for people who are deaf or have hearing impairments.
Communications using voice may be inaccessible for some players due to hearing impairments.

Interface navigation sounds can be hard to hear or distinguish from other game sounds.

Cognitive accessibility

Consider how the game can be played by people with cognitive disabilities or neurodivergent players. Players may have a harder time focusing their attention. Are there clear and consistent instructions and prompts? Is there a way to simplify or adjust the gameplay difficulty, provide extra guidance, and clear suggestions to fix errors for players who may struggle with complex tasks, or who learn and perceive information in a different way? Spatial awareness, balance, and coordination between hands and eyes may be affected as well in this type of audience.

Another important fact to know is that moving objects, certain animations, and the number of flashes per second may cause seizures in some people with epilepsy, and in some cases, it may cause migraines.

Usability testing

Conduct usability testing with a diverse group of players, including those with disabilities, to identify any accessibility barriers and areas for improvement.

By incorporating these considerations into your testing process, you can ensure that your VR game is accessible to a wider audience and provides an enjoyable and inclusive gaming experience for all players. Testing VR accessibility is an essential part of creating an inclusive and fun VR player experience.

It is impossible to assume that the game will be played and perceived as intended unless you ask your users. Not including players with disabilities means missing feedback from a large percentage of the population. 27% of adults in the US alone have some type of disability. It is 15% of the world’s population or one billion people. They could be the potential players of your VR game.

Read the VR accessibility Case Study to learn how playtesting with people with low vision and blindness helped Owlchemy Labs discover and confirm VR accessibility features for Cosmonious High. Testing VR accessibility can be hard but we are here to help. Contact us to share your problems with testing the accessibility of your VR game, discuss Plans, Processes, and Deliverables, and create a custom accessibility testing solution for your VR game.