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Information has sprung up that reveals a vast array of new accessibility features for the Xbox One that will make the console more accessible to disabled gamers, including blind and visually impaired gamers. While not specifically addressed or detailed in depth, the accessibility menu, called the ‘Ease of Access’ menu is present in the upcoming major Xbox One update that a few people have access to via their preview program. The update is commonly being referred to as “the new Xbox One experience.” The team at Xbox had a packed summer sharing what’s coming to Xbox One at E3 2015 and gamescom 2015 but no one has specifically addressed these accessibility features in depth, as of yet. Still, the accessibility features are on the way. Larry Hryb’s latest XB1 preview video shows a new ‘ease of access’ settings area, which includes a screenreader and a high contrast mode.

The settings menu, shown in a screenshot detailing the current options, has three options at the time of this writing. They are, Narrator, which will be a screen reader functionality that will work within the UI, closed captions, and high contrast. Techraptor has reached out to Larry Hryb, or Major Nelson, Phil Spencer, and the Xbox PR team for clarification and comments regarding both, the exact release of this major update and to seek more information about how these new accessibility features will work.

At the time of this writing nobody has responded to our inquiries. When the update is mentioned on blogs and various other online places the closest aproximation to the release date is “this fall.” Random people in numerous places online speculate that the reason Microsoft are adding these features is because they have to. The FCC, however, have granted a waver to video game software and the Communications and Video Accessibility Act. On September 16, 2015, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) approved a limited extension of a waiver from the FCC’s advanced communications accessibility rules to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

The waiver, which is for video game software, had been set to expire on October 8, 2015. It will now expire 15 months later, on January 1, 2017. this isn’t the first time they have requested a waver, however. In 2012, ESA requested an eight-year waiver from the advanced communications accessibility rules for three classes of products and services: (1) video game consoles, (2) video game distribution platforms, and (3) video game software. In response, CGB granted ESA’s request for a waiver for each of these three classes, but only until October 8, 2015. the new waiver granted on September 16th is in response to ESA’s most recent petition to extend the waiver for only 15 months and for only video game software. Microsoft, however, appear to be committed to making the Xbox One more accessible to disabled gamers. Ian Hamilton, an accessibility specialist who helps studios avoid excluding gamers with disabilities commented on this development via email:

It’s a shame that it had to take legislation to get the console manufacturers to do anything about accessibility. For many years consoles have been in a bad place. They have lagged way behind other similar hardware such as PCs and smartphones, both of which have a large amount of accessibility features built in as standard. So it is really fantastic to see this starting to turn around, to see the manufacturers starting to take accessibility seriously. I’m hoping that now that the subject has been properly considered, the companies will be able to continue to develop further than the basic CVAA compliance, and instead focus on producing as good an experience as possible for people with all kinds of impairments. And either way, I hope that the benefit of this is not just in making consoles more accessibile, but also awareness raising.. more and more game developers as a result becoming aware that accessibility is a thing, and what’s involved with it.

Robert Kingett

Robert Kingett is a blind journalist in Chicago who is the author of Off the Grid, living blindly without the Internet. He has been gaming ever since he picked up his first Atari back in 1990. he actively makes a living writing for various blogs and websites with the occasional guest post. He is also an advocate, encouraging education about video game accessibility on mainstream gaming publications