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Visually impaired gamer sues Sony Online

Refusal to implement or facilitate changes to make online games more accessible violates Americans with Disabilities Act, suit claims.


It's not uncommon for blind gamers to feel invisible in addition to visually impaired. For instance, when gamer Brandon Cole wrote THQ a letter suggesting changes to make its Smackdown series of WWE wrestling games more accessible to the blind, he received a form letter back thanking him for his appreciation of the game's graphics.

It doesn't help the visually impaired that some of EverQuest II's characters are actually invisible.
It doesn't help the visually impaired that some of EverQuest II's characters are actually invisible.

But now, one visually impaired gamer has gone beyond simply requesting accessibility features and is demanding them by way of a lawsuit. Last month, disabled gamer Alexander Stern filed suit against Sony, Sony Online Entertainment, and Sony Computer Entertainment America in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The suit alleges that Sony is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to implement features to make its games accessible to visually impaired gamers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that, "No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation."

According to the suit, Sony ignored repeated requests through postal mail and e-mail to come up with reasonable modifications to its games to make them more accessible. The suit, which doesn't mention SOE games by name but appears to focus on massively multiplayer online titles, requests the addition of visual cues to point gamers to their destinations for gamers with "disability impaired visual processing."

The suit also specifies the ways in which other companies have made their games accessible. For instance, Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft allows the use of third-party mods in its game, which has led to the creation of several programs to include accessibility aids in the game. The suit also mentions Pin Interactive's action adventure PC game Terraformers, saying high-contrast 3D graphics modes, an audio compass, and voice-over detailing items collected in the game all serve to make the game more accessible.

Beyond the denial of entertainment, the suit also contends that Sony's actions have caused visually impaired gamers a financial loss. Because Sony runs an official auction site where gamers can sell their in-game items for real money, the suit says Stern's inability to participate in that marketplace is costing him money.

"Sony has constructed the products in a way that is inaccessible to plaintiff; maintains the products in this inaccessible form; and has failed to take any action whatsoever to correct these barriers even after being repeatedly notified of the discrimination that such barriers cause," according to the suit.

Representatives with Sony and Sony Online Entertainment said they don't comment on pending litigation.

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