Xbox celebrates Global Accessibility Awareness Day with speech-to-text Party Chat features and much more

Xbox Global Accessibility Day Wallpaper
Xbox Global Accessibility Day Wallpaper (Image credit: Xbox)

What you need to know

  • Accessibility is extremely important in video games, as it allows more gamers to participate in what they love.
  • Xbox has made accessibility a priority for them over the last few years, and this trend continues on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.
  • In celebration of today, Xbox has released a ton of information on new accessibility features, resources, and ways to contribute to accessibility from Xbox.
  • This include a new Xbox Accessibility Insider League inside the Xbox Insider Program, and much-requested features like speech-to-text for Party Chat.

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and that means Xbox is taking this opportunity to provide an update on their efforts to make video games more accessible for everyone. Xbox is celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day with a huge number of new accessibility features for existing games and the Xbox platform, new resources for gamers and updates to Microsoft's Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, and new ways for players to contribute to accessibility on Xbox both through active participation and donations. There's a lot to unpack here (which is awesome to see!), so let's get started.

Not too long ago, I discussed how Microsoft has become a leader in game accessibility through its investments, and today's announcements only solidify that stance.

It's always awesome to see accessibility stand in the foreground for gamers, and Xbox and Microsoft have gone all out with their announcements and updates today. Many of the best Xbox games make accessibility a priority, and making gaming inclusive for as many people as possible becomes increasingly important every single day.

New accessibility features and game updates

First off, Microsoft is sharing a ton of new accessibility features that are not only coming to the Xbox platform as a whole but also specific games through the hard work of the developer.

  • Xbox Party Chat speech-to-text and text-to-speech. An exciting feature that Microsoft is working on bringing to Xbox soon is Party Chat transcription and synthesis. This is a highly-requested feature that means players can transcribe the spoken speech in Xbox Party Chat to on-screen text, or use the synthesis of text to speech to convert written messages to spoken. Able to be used independently or in tangent, these two features make Xbox Party Chat considerably more accessible to Xbox players who may be hard of hearing or have difficulty speaking.
  • Gears 5. New accessibility features are heading to Gears 5 this month, including:
    • Navigation Ping – Escape Mode. This new accessibility feature allows players to navigate Escape Mode using audio cues, which can be customized to either assist players with simply finding the exit with a series of helpful audio cues, or even to navigate full cover, walls, and corners with a more complex set of unique audio cues.
    • Assistive Features in Higher Difficulties. The next accessibility feature is actually two-in-one. Players will be able to toggle off all sources of screen shake up to Advanced difficulty, and toggle Target Lock to auto-aim at enemies up to Advanced difficulty.
  • Minecraft. Minecraft is the biggest game in the world, making it doubly important that Mojang Studios delivers on accessibility features. Here are new and upcoming accessibility features coming to Minecraft.
    • Achievements screen. The new Achievements screen for Minecraft scales across all platforms, devices, and inputs in Minecraft: Bedrock Edition, and has been carefully designed to keep font sizes, contrast, narration, and more in mind.
    • Granular audio control. Audio controllers in Minecraft have been split up to allow players considerably more control when customizing their audio. Audio from multiple sources can now be finetuned.
    • Updated ore patterns. In the upcoming Caves and Cliffs Update, Mojang Studios is updating all the ore textures and patterns in Minecraft, including the new copper, to be distinctive in patterns as well as colors, instead of just color. This change makes ores more visible for players with low vision or any form of color blindness.
  • State of Decay 2. The team at Undead Labs has been working on new accessibility features after being consulted by accessibility experts and members of the Gaming & Disability Community. Undead Labs has shared some of the new accessibility features in State of Decay 2 alongside Xbox.
    • Green Zone difficulty. Introduced in the game last year, the Green Zone difficulty was intended for players who still enjoyed the game but wanted to play it at a lower difficulty. This laid the groundwork for the next accessibility feature.
    • Granular difficulty controls. State of Decay 2 recently introduced entirely granular difficulty controls, which allow players to fully customize their State of Decay 2 experience to their needs and situation.
    • Control changes. State of Decay 2 has made several changes to its controls over time to make them less motor intensive, like making finishers a single button press.

New accessibility resources and programs

It's not enough just to make its own games more accessible. Xbox is also a leader in providing in-depth resources to game developers to help them make their games more accessible and inclusive, while providing ways for members of the Gaming & Disability Community to contribute to making accessibility better in gaming. Today offers a number of new ways and updates to push this venture even further.

  • Xbox Accessibility Insider League. A portion of the refreshed Xbox Insider Hub for the Xbox Insider Program, the newly formed Xbox Accessibility Insider League allows self-identifying Gaming & Disability Community members to provide accessibility feedback directly to Xbox and game developers. The program is also open to developers sharing their content with the Gaming & Disability Community to collect feedback.
  • Accessible Gaming for All Xbox Support page. Xbox is introducing a refreshed landing page for accessibility support, making it easier for gamers to find resources and have their questions answered. Xbox will constantly add new content to this page over time as they collect feedback.
  • Gaming and Disability Player Experience Guide. Xbox has developed a new resource for developers that helps outline common accessibility barriers experienced by players across a wide range of disabilities, even situational ones. The guide is built on the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines and is meant to be used with them, and helps developers get started with making their game accessible as well as preparing them for collecting feedback from the Gaming & Disability Community.
  • Xbox Accessibility Guidelines 2.1. Xbox is updating their wonderful Xbox Accessibility Guidelines with further improvements to subtitles and captions, screen narration, game input, game difficulty options, and UI navigation in-game examples.
  • Monthly MSFTEnable videos. Microsoft is committed to releasing monthly videos on their MSFTEnable YouTube channel covering a wide range of accessibility topics.
  • Global Accessibility Awareness game collection. Xbox has released a new game collection on the Microsoft Store including 15 games that have won awards for their accessibility. Games include titles like Outer Worlds, Grounded, and more.

New ways to celebrate accessibility

Finally, Xbox is turning to you to help celebrate accessibility in gaming. On top of donating accessible gaming peripherals to AbleGamers and Warfighter Engaged, Microsoft Rewards is letting players donate their points to Special Olympics. You can also celebrate accessibility in gaming by rocking the latest Xbox wallpaper.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.