• Nickie H-W

ACCESSIBILITY FOR STUDIOS - Inclusive companies

COMPANIES NEED TO LOOK AT THEIR CULTURE TO BE MORE ACCESSIBLE

A group of diverse people gather around a table of notes and paper. The woman in centre is writing with a black pen while the guy next to her lets her do all the work.

This week in our series we are looking at how companies can be more inclusive for disabled and neurodiverse people. As you will expect, working with disabled people means different viewpoints are able to pick out problems in accessibility sooner and help shape solutions.


If you missed last week's entry click here to read!


Studio Life and Culture


One of the ways that the industry can be more accessible to disabled people is through the studios and the culture that they encourage. Studio culture is a standard foundation to work from and an adaptable studio culture can encourage more disabled people to work for them. As previously mentioned, one in five working adults are disabled, this has translated as a high number of employees throughout the gaming industry as neurodiverse with conditions such as autism and ADHD, as seen in the Ukie Diversity Census 2022. This is good progress is a diverse workplace culture, but as studios we should be pushing more to encourage a wider range of people to work in the video games industry - rather than resting on our laurels and accepting that we have filled a diversity quota. The census found only 4% identified as disabled which is really low for the average population of disabilities in the UK.


One of the many ways we can encourage a more diverse workplace is to use a thoughtful and accepting language base, as to not exclude people. With the wide range of ages throughout the industry, there will be instances where language barriers will be not considered such as different countries and also sign language. You should check Can I Play That's workshop blog on the subject.


This also feeds into the idea of having a more accessible working space, especially when considering people with physical disabilities. How one studio works, may not be accessible to a wide range of people. Is there space within desks, break out areas or sensory areas? The equipment used in a studio may also not be accessible to a more diverse staff base, this can include items like desks and chairs, headphones, monitors and even keyboards. Having a more diverse range of employees will allow a studio to see where the issues lie. Within the UK, there is the Access to Work incentive for companies which allows a grant given to the studio by the government to allow for the purchase of accessible tools to allow for a more diverse work environment.


When looking at team building exercises or staff events, how accessible are these to your wider employee base? Traditionally, a Friday night drink down the pub would have been the most accessible way to socialise with co-workers but in more recent times, many people no longer see the pub as an acceptable form of a social life or do not drink alcohol. Coffee shops could be seen as a good alternative, but again - how are these accessible to disabled people who may have wheelchairs? Many of these types of places are small with tight corners and so, much thought has to be given when brainstorming these kinds of events to make them accessible to a diverse range of employees. Empathy can go a long way in these kinds of situations, leading to a much more diverse and creative way to accept disabled employees in your studio and to become a key part of your studio.

Two women at a coffee house sat at a table. They are signing to each other.

Talent - how can I encourage disabled designers and creators to join my studio?


Encouraging disabled talent to work at a particular studio may seem like approaching a climb to Mount Everest, but this section will explain how a studio can create those opportunities for disabled employees.


Making your studio accessible to a diverse amount of people will not only improve the studio culture and morale but also the reputation of a studio. Thanks to previously-mentioned government initiatives here in the UK such as Access to Work, these initiatives will enable the ability to purchase specialist equipment for employees that may need it - and being open and honest from the first day will allow a studio to build a good rapport with its employees.


Grants like these can also be used for additional help in the workplace, such as work coaches for employees with ADHD and for also possible training costs to increase the accessibility of video game studios. These sorts of programmes are available throughout different countries and it is advised that as a studio, to do research into the different funding opportunities that could be available to help a studio to become more accessible. Due to the recent pandemic, flexible working has become more commonplace within the industry - with many choosing to work from home. This opens a door for many studios as it creates possibilities for a disabled person instead of barriers within a workplace.


Reaching out to disabled talent can often be a bit of a minefield, especially if a studio is ‘fishing in the same pond’ constantly. Disabled and neurodiverse people may often be in a niche community environment, such as Twitter and often a job posting on social media can lead to a more diverse group of people applying for a posting. Another good tip would be to reach out to disability charities, where they often have job posting sections for employers to target a more diverse worker base. These charities will often work with studios to help them find the talent that they are looking for, encouraging a more wider net to be cast and enabling your employee search to be more fruitful.


Offer alternative interview processes and recruitment practices. A easy way is to join the Guaranteed Interview scheme, where you always interview disabled people if they meet the minimum requirements of the role. The candidate are the ones who ask and it creates confidence that you are a company that has an accepting culture for disabilities.


At the end of the day, no matter the skills and expertise of those in the gaming industry - they are still people. A celebration of skills and abilities should be a studio focus and not that these people are disabled - inspiration porn is something that the general populace needs to move away from as it leads to segregation and a ‘them vs us’ mentality in the industry. Disabled and neurodiverse employees should be seen and treated the same as any other employee - therefore, by celebrating their wins and their skills - you seem as a person and not as a statistic.


Accessibility in Games


Accessibility within a studio should be seen as a jumping off point, as when it boils down to it - disabled employees working at a games studios will more than likely also be gamers and so, be very interested in the work that a studio creates. As a studio it is possible that the conversation around accessibility comes too late in the creation process. It is is far easier as a designer and a creator to enable these accessibility options early on in the creation of the game than it is to slap a patch on a game later on. Reinforcing your staff with disabled and neurodiverse people will no doubt bring the accessibility conversation as it is often personal to themselves.


Inclusive design within a studio is fast becoming ‘a new normal’ as we have seen many games in the last couple of years launch with features such as high contrast mode and an increasing use of subtitles.

A screenshot of the Last of Us 2 showing the high contrast mode accessibility feature. Character is crouched down behind friend with an enemy coloured red in background.
The Last of Us 2 High Contrast Mode

By baking-in accessibility to the creation process of a game, a studio is not only considering the disabled and neurodiverse player base but also the QA testers within a studio that may need to test the game. This is important as it shows thought going into the creation process around not only those external gamers playing but also the people that are working on the game itself. Of course, by also including accessibility into a game - it therefore increases the player base and the amount of copies sold of a game, creating a more diverse fan base and a better spread of gamers.


- Nickie


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