Global Accessibility Awareness Day is today, and to celebrate the occasion, Microsoft’s Xbox team has shared a blog post going over the many ways it’s working to make gaming experiences more accessible to all kinds of players. There are a handful of announcements coming from this post, for the community as a whole as well as specific features in games like Gears 5 and Minecraft.
First off, the company is launching the Xbox Accessibility Insiders League, a new way for users with special accessibility needs to provide feedback on how experiences can be better tailored for specific needs. Developers can also share accessibility-related announcements with the community. You can learn more about how to join the program here. Microsoft has announced a new and refreshed support page for accessibility too, which you can visit here.
Microsoft has also once again updated the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines (XAGs) to provide additional examples for certain things, such as subtitles, captions, screen narration, input, and more. To go along with, there’s a new Gaming and Disability Player Experience Guide, which goes over the many kinds of barriers players can experience when playing games, helping developers understand how to tailor experiences for them.
Moving on to more direct updates for consumers, Microsoft re-iterated that it’s working on accessibility features for Xbox Party Chat, specifically text-to-speech (TTS) and speech-to-text (STT) capabilities to make communication easier. As announced last week, this is now in testing with Xbox Insiders and will be available to everyone "soon".
Gears 5 is getting a couple of notable upgrades. First, there’s Navigation Ping in Escape Mode, which will help visually impaired players navigate the complex environments in this game mode using sound cues to guide them along the correct path. There are also specific audio cues to let players know when they need to interact with an object or get to cover. Secondly, there are new assistive features available in higher difficulty settings: Disable Camera Shake and Target Lock. These features are usually available in lower difficulty settings, but can now be enabled in difficulties up to Advanced in both Horde and Escape modes.
As for Minecraft, the updates include a new Achievement screen that’s designed around accessibility and takes into account things like contrast and font sizes. The team has also added more granular audio controls so players can turn down specific sounds in the game to focus on others. Finally, the patterns for the different types of ores are being updated to have different designs for the first time. Until now, each ore was only distinguished by the color of the "specks" on the block, but now, each type of ore will have a different pattern for the specs, so colorblind players can more easily identify them.