The Steam Deck proves that handhelds are still not designed for disabled gamers

Recently, Valve unveiled the Steam bridge, a system that allows players to access their Steam libraries while on the go. With a design similar to that of a Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck is the development studio’s latest attempt to enter the handheld market. While beneficial for those who travel or those who can’t afford a gaming PC, its announcement highlights the idea that portable devices aren’t always the most accessible for people with disabilities.

Whether it’s the standard Nintendo Switch, Switch Lite, Backbone One Controller, or just a smartphone, mobile and portable devices constitute a wide selection of the gaming market. And even though the regular Switch model includes a host of controllers and accessibility features like fully customizable controls, no handicap is the same. Some accommodations and options that work for one person may not be beneficial for another. Blind or visually impaired gamers, people with arthritis, or even people with disabilities who restrict the use of their hands are unable to properly see screens or grip controllers or systems while playing.

Content Creator Steve “BlindGamerSteve”Saylor finds it difficult to use portable devices properly due to his low vision. With nystagmus, a disability that causes involuntary eye movements, Saylor’s vision with glasses is 20/200 and about 20/1400 without. As a result, he has to sit incredibly close to screens to play properly. Despite the portable capabilities of portable devices, screens are often too small.

“Whenever I have to use an iPhone or a tablet, I have to have the screen fairly close to my face,” says Saylor. “Whenever I use a portable device like a Nintendo Switch, I usually have to hold it very close to my face so that I can see everything that is happening on the screen. I can’t hold it at a more comfortable and ‘normal’ angle because I would miss a lot of information and detail because of the screen size, ”says Saylor.

To help alleviate the small screen size, Saylor will often use accessibility features like zooming or magnification on devices like the Switch. However, if a system does not have this setting, then it must rely on scalable fonts and user interfaces built into individual games, if the games provide these features. Even so, the overall size poses another problem: physical strain.

“Usually, because I have to sit close enough or hold the device close to my face, my neck hurts a bit too, because I have to bend it so much to see the screen,” he says. . “So 2-4 hours is usually what I can do without really any physical pain, because after that it can become a problem.”

In addition to straining his neck, Saylor notes that the uncomfortable positioning can also hurt his eyes. He hopes that future devices will offer larger screens and that more gamers implement accessibility features that allow gamers to customize fonts and on-screen user interface, as well as the ability to transfer games to different screens. like a television or computer monitor. “It would actually benefit my playing time on a console or PC if that option were available in the game itself.”

Samantha blackmon, podcast producer and associate professor at Purdue University, echoes Saylor’s sentiments. People with arthritis or disabilities that affect the muscles or tendons of the hands may find it difficult to play for long periods of time, and the design of the Steam Deck or Switch is no exception. For Blackmon, extended gaming sessions on mobile or portable devices are simply not feasible due to his disability.

“I find that if I play games on these devices for too long (more than 45 to 60 minutes usually), I not only experience pain in my hands and wrists, but it can also cause my muscles to seize up. hands and a contraction of my left thumb. get stuck in the position it’s in to use the analog stick, ”says Blackmon. “I also find that using these devices for consecutive days can cause a tendon on the back of my hand to ‘leak’ and form a small but painful lump on the back of my hand. “

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