Entertainment

This Blind Gamer Is Fighting for Accessibility in Video Games

Steve Saylor hopes to create a better gaming experience for the millions of gamers with a disability.
May 25, 2020, 2:58pm
Steve Saylor Provided 4
Steve Saylor runs a YouTube channel called Blind Gamer. Provided image. 

Steve Saylor's YouTube channel is devoted to reviews, reactions, and first impressions of video games. Saylor has an infectious, over-the-top, energy while hitting on many familiar Youtube tropes. He's prone to hyperbole, funny faces, and the occasional silly voice. Popular clips see him web slinging as Spiderman or digging at the ground in Minecraft. But the biggest thing that differentiates Saylor's videos from other gaming channels, is that he’s a blind gamer.

"When I started I thought being blind was just my niche differentiating myself from other gaming channels," said Saylor. “At first my channel was just about how I sucked at video games. That was the comedy of it....but in 2017 I was invited to a conference by Ubisoft. I was on a panel with other people talking about their experiences. And I came to this realization. It wasn’t that I sucked at games, it was that games sucked for me.”

With his Blind Gamer channel Saylor gives viewers an entertaining and educational look into the world of visual impairment. The host uses video games as a jumping off point for asking bigger questions about the way society talks about disability and ableism as a whole. For instance: Why has easy mode been called a consolation prize in the gaming community? Who gets to participate in the gaming community at all? What are the steps mainstream game developers can take to make their work more accessible?

Basic settings like captioning, font size, and audio description can be extremely helpful for visually impaired gamers while playing, but are often overlooked by developers. For Saylor those settings can mean the difference between an enjoyable experience and a frustrating one. For example: In a recent accessibility review of Gears Tactics he praised the developers for adding a colour blind mode and a "let the game read to me" feature. Comparatively the bare bones accessibility features of Doom Eternal lead to disappointment. He hopes that being vocal about his experiences online will help creators be more conscious of all the types of people interacting with their work.

"Growing up when people were making consoles and games no one was thinking about disability because it wasn’t at the forefront. I’m not knocking any developers for that. They probably didn’t know anyone or have a disability themselves. But when we see the growing community of disabled people online who want to be able to play the same games their friends are playing, it can have an influence. The louder our voices become the more people start paying attention."

Saylor’s channel also helps disprove many common myths about blindness. For instance: just because a person is legally blind, it doesn’t mean they can’t see at all.

Saylor was born with a condition called nystagmus. It causes involuntary eye movement and makes it hard for his eyes to focus. Because glasses help with the condition and Saylor is able to live life independently, a question that he's frequently asked...how blind is he really? It's a difficult question to answer considering that Saylor has no other point of reference for his vision. It's just the way it has always been.

In attempt to help people understand how he sees things Saylor creates a video titled What I See When I'm Playing Video Games. The seven minute clip uses Fortnite to approximate his level of vision compared to a person with perfect 20/20 sight. It's a generous invitation into Saylor's everyday experience and a valuable tool for people wanting to have a better understanding of visual impairment as a whole.

"People have been really complimentary about that video. I didn’t expect the response that it got. I just wanted a way to answer a question that I get asked all the time," said Saylor. "The hope is that it can help people have a way in."

While Saylor keeps a day job to pay the bills, his passion and creative energy is devoted towards video games and his channel. The videos give him an outlet to share his opinions and highlight issues that can often go unnoticed while impacting a large percentage of the population. According to AbleGamers Foundation there are 33 million disabled gamers in America alone. By advocating for better access through fun and engaging content, he hopes to create a better experience for all of them.

Follow Graham Isador on Twitter.