Commentary: Making Pokémon GO Accessible to Everyone

July 19, 2016

In case you haven’t heard yet, the Pokémon GO app is the latest phenomenon in the gaming world. Created by Niantic, the app requires users to physically travel to gyms and other locations to catch Pokémon characters in order to receive prizes and progress through the game. Players must follow the virtual map which will take them to the various locations. They are also getting exercise and meeting new friends along the way. To date, the augmented reality game is played by millions around the world.

People with disabilities also want to join in the fun, but unfortunately the game is inaccessible to those with many types of disabilities, as this article points out. Users who are blind or visually impaired cannot use the screen-reading software on their smartphone or tablet to navigate through the map and other game elements. For people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices, it might be difficult or even impossible to access some of the game locations. This naturally means that the game excludes this population from directly taking part in the Pokémon GO craze.

I’d like to think that Niantic and all of the developers behind the app did not intentionally exclude people with disabilities. After all, those of us with disabilities make up a only small percentage of the world’s population. It is estimated that only 10 percent of the world’s population has some kind of disability, and maybe that is why many companies fail to think about our needs when designing new products. On the other hand, technology has been a tremendous game changer for people with disabilities. It has made going to work, school and simply having fun more accessible.

Making Pokémon accessible doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. I think it is just a matter of being creative and coming up with simple commonsense solutions. The app could include a special setting for people with disabilities, where certain adjustments could be made. For example, the configuration could allow screen-readers to give verbal directions to someone who is blind to get to the nearest spot where a character is located. Someone with a physical disability could take a virtual walk along the map to accumulate characters and prizes. Better yet, Niantic and other game developers could consult with people with disabilities to get a better sense of what works best for them.

Pokémon GO will be a viral craze for a while, and that is why it is even more important to make it accessible to everyone. In fact, every single company and developer should take into consideration the needs of people with disabilities right from the start. As people with disabilities, we also want to feel included and join in the fun of the latest trends. It is possible to make Pokémon GO and future augmented reality games accessible to everyone, and I strongly encourage all game and app developers to do just that.

Have you or someone you know tried to play Pokémon GO? If you are blind or visually impaired, what has your experience been like? Please share your comments and suggestions on how the app can be made accessible to people with disabilities.

Leave a comment

Back to top