I have hope! I just finished playing a demo unit of Nintendo’s newest console, and I am very pleased to report that unlike its predecessor the Nintendo Wii—which closed off the Nintendo brand for vast segments of the physically disabled—the Wii U seems to have redressed the balance. Nintendo has created a system that seems to be even more accessible than its competitors.
For starters, from what I saw of the system’s interface, it seems to be relatively barrier free. Assuming that the color schemes and use of sound are similar to what I saw on the demo unit, both players with hearing disabilities and players with sight disabilities should not have a problem accessing the software that comes built into the Wii U. This is because all of the sounds within the system’s main menus seem to be there for decoration only. And because of the Wii brand’s signature art style, all of the software text, whether it be menus or game descriptions, had high contrast. Players with sight disabilities will also be happy to know that the second screen in the Wii U GamePad is large enough to be readable for most gamers with visual impairments. It also features large buttons with distinct emblems making them readable for any disabled gamers that might be looking at the Wii U.
But where this system really shines is in its accessibility for players with fine motor disabilities. The manager at my local GameStop told me that the Wii U will have an accessory that allows the GamePad to sit upright, at a slant, making it easier for disabled players who need to use the GamePad on a tray or table. In addition to this feature, the buttons on the Wii U GamePad are large and spaced far enough apart for players with fine motor disabilities to use without having to worry about tapping the wrong button on accident. And, yes, while the GamePad is larger and somewhat heavier to accommodate the second screen, the fact that it can so easily be played on a flat surface makes the extra size no barrier to players with impediments in their hands and fingers.
However, the most striking feature that should draw any player to the Wii U, no matter what their disability, is the system’s impressive second screen functionality. The 6.2 inch touch screen is just as easy to use as a smart phone or a tablet, and gamers have the additional option to use a stylus if they find that an easier way to exercise touch control. Another thing the second screen does well is to open up different options. An example of this can be found in the Rayman: Legends demo I played. The Rayman franchise can be difficult for disabled players, given the precise timing needed to progress through platforming levels. But in Rayman: Legends, when using the Wii U GamePad, players can play as Murfy, whose main responsibilities are collecting lums and removing obstacles in front of Rayman and the other characters. This means that the pacing and timing requirements for whoever is playing Murfy are very different than for players using the standard Wii controllers. If this kind of game play variety is going to be a standard part of most Wii U titles, then this system is shaping up to be a true model of hardware accessibility.