When the PlayStation Vita was announced, it looked to be another colossal step toward game inaccessibility. Happily, however, after many hours hands-on with this system, it is clear that first impressions aren’t always accurate.
To begin with, those with sight impairments will be happy to know that compared to other handhelds on the market, the PlayStation Vita seems to have better contrast in most areas. For starters, the screen is much larger than other handheld systems of this generation, which in turn means that all text within the operating system is more legible than the same type of text on competing handhelds. Also, because of the Vita’s enhanced graphics capability, it is easier to make text and icons that stand out crisply against the background color of your choice. This ability to choose the color of the Vita’s theme gives players with sight disabilities an option for increasing the contrast within the hardware’s operating system. The text on the buttons, although small, should feature enough contrast to be relatively easy to read for most gamers. And the fact that the Vita’s buttons are laid out very similarly to the PS3 buttons means that players with experience using Sony’s console should have no problem figuring out how to use the Vita even if they do have a sight impairment.
When it comes to players with hearing disabilities, the Vita is as accessible as any other handheld on the market, since it only uses sounds as an enhancement to communicate things that are also communicated visually. For example, the system dings whenever a trophy is unlocked, but there is also a speech bubble that pops up that communicates the same information. System updates also feature a bell chime when they finish, but a special bubble also appears at the corner of the screen, making it clear that the download is complete, regardless of the sound.
In fact, the only area where there is any slight barrier for this system is in the area of fine motor accessibility. The Vita is not as ergonomically laid out as other systems, which means that when trying to play the game while holding it in one’s hands, the system feels a little bit clumsy and hard to manage. Sometimes it can be hard to manipulate since the buttons are so close together, and a good deal of thumb dexterity is required when holding the game and playing. However all of these problems can be remedied either by playing on a table or with the system attached to a Sony charging dock. When playing on the table, the Vita is just as accessible as any other handheld system. And even though the back touch panel can be hard to manipulate, it is not used in the Vita operating system, and so far is not relied on heavily in most games. Even better news is the fact that if the Vita is lying flat, the touchpad does not register any input that may interfere with the gameplay. However, the joysticks that are in the Vita suffer from the same problem that the buttons do: they are too close to the edge of the system, which means that players may have to have the use of their thumbs if they want to hold this system and play it at the same time. Again, this can be remedied by placing the system on a lap tray or table, and the layout of the sticks only slightly affects the general accessibility.
On the whole, the Vita is a reasonably accessible system. But it should be examined in an in-store demo, or by some other hands-on method before purchase to see if it’s accessible for you.