Nintendo was the first developer to excel at making handheld games. Since the launch of the original Gameboy in 1989, Nintendo has continually upped the ante with handhelds that offer better graphics and capabilities. Their newest handhelds, the 3DS and 3DS XL, boast all the modern amenities one would expect in a handheld, with the addition of the capability to do 3D without the use of glasses. But all the bells and whistles do not turn the 3DS (or its big brother) into an accessible system.
First of all, like most other systems on the market, the Nintendo 3DS line of systems should pose no barrier to players with hearing disabilities, since all the sound internal to the system is merely an add-on, and anything that is communicated via sound is communicated graphically as well, such as new messages or SpotPass alerts.
However, gamers with a sight disability may have trouble reading the small text on the menus and options within the system itself. While it is true that some of the settings and functions within the system have large text, most of the software commonly used, including games that are downloaded directly to the system, have only small icons with small text. However, this barrier could possibly be overcome by purchasing the 3DS XL, which is the same system only with a significantly larger screen. Other than the text size, there are no major problems that a gamer with sight disabilities might run into. Because the 3D functionality is optional, it should not pose much of a barrier to disabled gamers. Even if the screen becomes blurry in the middle of gameplay, this can usually be remedied by switching off the 3D.
Those who will really struggle are gamers with fine motor disabilities. The size of the 3DS means that all the buttons are grouped closely together and are exceedingly small. That means that the effective use of the 3DS will require the use of both hands and either extreme precision or simple practice until the player knows where the buttons are without looking. In addition, the buttons are flat enough that most players with fine motor disabilities will have difficulty keeping their fingers on the buttons. On top of that, the effective use of the small touch screen requires the use of a stylus, which in turn requires a steady hand and high accuracy. But the real disappointment is that even though the 3DS XL is significantly larger, all of the space is devoted to increased screen size, which means that gamers with fine motor issues will encounter most of the same problems on the 3DS XL that they had with the regular 3DS.
There are only three slight improvements on the larger platform. First, the touchscreen is larger, which means it should require less precision to operate effectively. Second, the left and right shoulder buttons are slightly bigger. Finally, the home, select, and start buttons, which on the regular 3DS were three buttons combined into a single surface, are now three distinct buttons on the 3DS XL. Unfortunately, the power button on the 3DS XL is actually less accessible that on the regular 3DS, since it is inset on the larger system, and raised on the smaller one. And even though the 3DS XL features deeper contours in the circle pad and D-pad, this difference is hardly noticeable.
On the whole, the Nintendo 3DS line of systems has several serious accessibility barriers. The only disabilities that would not affect the enjoyment of the system are auditory. Some players with sight disabilities may be able to enjoy most of what the system has to offer, but players who have to contend with fine motor disabilities should probably look elsewhere.