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Sony The Courts Games Your Rights Online

Visually Impaired Gamer Sues Sony 550

An anonymous reader writes "A visually impaired gamer has sued Sony because game products allegedly violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. '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.' This suit seems to be a combination of National Federation of the Blind v. Target, which complained of inaccessibility to the visually disabled (which settled for $6 million) and Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc., where the US Supreme Court ruled a disabled golfer was entitled to a golf cart where one was not already allowed as a reasonable accommodation. If the plaintiff wins, Sony will have to make 'reasonable accommodations' which are not an 'undue financial burden.' In my humble opinion, providing access for the disabled is not only the right thing to do but it will generate more profit for Sony."
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Visually Impaired Gamer Sues Sony

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  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @01:31PM (#30015152) Journal
    I doubt it'll provide more profit for Sony. But if Sony lose and are forced to mod their MMORPGs, I think it may mean more profit for gold farmers. Some of the mods are likely to make it easier for bots to navigate and do stuff :).
  • by FrostDust ( 1009075 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @01:33PM (#30015174)

    Most screen readers can parse HTML so that visually impaired users can access web sites, as long as they properly write the web site to standards (not making the whole thing in Flash, for example).

    It'd make sense if game developers got behind publishing a common API for all games, so that a user can just install a single program that'd give the proper clues to disabled gamers for every compatible game.

  • Public Accommodation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @01:40PM (#30015248) Journal

    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."

    This has kept a generation of lawyers employed by arguing over the definition of "public accommodation". The strict interpretation limits it to only physical places, which would rule out games. There have been many court battles over expanding the definition. This particular suit, if I read the various summaries correctly (IANAL), would be one of the more far reaching stretches of the definition and could have a significant impact on how much the ADA covers.

    In short, it could fund an entire new generation of lawyers by expanding the ADA to an almost unlimited scope. Blind or not, I hope this guy goes down in flames.

    For reference: http://www.law.duke.edu/shell/cite.pl?50+Duke+L.+J.+297 [duke.edu]

  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @01:48PM (#30015326)

    http://www.wow.com/2009/07/06/visually-impaired-players-the-unseen-inhabitants-of-azeroth/ [wow.com]

    The biggest problem for me personally is raiding. Picture this, if you will, we're mid-raid (10 is bad, 25 a nightmare) and someone dies. My raid leader pipes up: 'Combat rez on xxx now!' As the Druid, this means me and it's time to panic. Somewhere in the mass of moving targets, dead trash mobs and my valiant guild mates is a corpse. I've got to find and rez that corpse now and I have no idea where to find them. I usually yell for the raid leader to mark said fallen soul but it doesn't always happen. Welcome to my nightmare.

  • Controller Mod? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zathain Sicarius ( 1398033 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @01:49PM (#30015334)
    What if you were to play around with the frets with your right hand and mod the controller out to replace the strum bar with two foot pedals? (A bit of a roundabout solution, but Its better than the other replies you've gotten...) What I'd really like to see is the content of these letters that he's sent to Sony. Theres another article linked inside of this one about a guy who is blind and helps other blind people play commercial games through screen readers, surround sound, and menu guides. He's even gone so far as to send mail to developers and publishers to suggest how they might better help the blind. That could be the key difference between these two. If this guy just sent a bunch of letters about how "OMGZ UR GAME ISH HARD FUR BLIND PEEPS" and then giggled to himself how they didn't respond to him, then he's just being an idiot trying to get some cash out of this. If Sony's been ignoring valid suggestions on how to help and giving him the silent treatment, then he might have a case.
  • Re:Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Asclepius99 ( 1527727 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @02:35PM (#30015736)
    The first part of his suit seems reasonable, he claims that Sony should do what other MMOs have done to make the game more accessible to the visually impaired (seems to be a lot of voice-over stuff). The article seems to say that Blizzard allows third party mods that have voice compasses and stuff, so it seems like Sony could easily throw together a few of those (and it would probably net them a larger selection of players so they really should).

    However, the second part is what seems ridiculous to me. He claims that Sony's online auction site for selling/buying games isn't fit for the visually impaired. So not only is Sony not allowing him full entertainment of the games, they're actually costing him extra money. That's just stupid. Every computer I've seen within the last 5-6 years has come with some sort of zoom feature for the visually disabled. I know my computer (Alienware bought at the end of 2008) has an Ease of Access section in my start menu with a magnifier, narrator, on-screen keyboard, and voice recognition. They're probably not the best out there considering them came with it, but I'm sure it would allow him to use an auction site.
  • by loki.TJ ( 959555 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @02:47PM (#30015848)
    I'm colorblind. I'm was EQII (Sony) player. I can tell you that it's extremely annoying that the only indication that a mob is aggressive is a 1px red (#FF0000) outline on the mob's name.

    Guess what. I use this ideology called "adapt and overcome". I'm glad that people/companies don't pander to my "disability". Do I wish games/websites/stores/life would give me the option of using a neon blue 1px outline on aggressive mobs (both in games and at the local mall)? Sure I do, but they don't, so I figure out tricks to overcome it.

    Don't believe I'm colorblind. Google "colorblind developer". You'll see my site, it's number 1 on google for that term.

    I hope this lawsuit fails. Games and their developers shouldn't be forced to develop games that everyone can play. Businesses/offices that are essential for living (DMV, grocery stores, hospitals) should have to accomidate handicapped people, but not games. I was in a wheelchair for the last semester of college and learned how amazingly difficult it is to get around in a wheelchair first hand. I will never look at a building the same way.

    If a company doesn't consult with disabled people when developing their game/website, then those disabled people should use their money's talking power and go elsewhere. If 10% of the US players of EQII (the percentage of colorblind males in the US) quit playing EQII because of the aggro mob issue, Sony would probably take note.
  • Larger Fonts (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stagg ( 1606187 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:16PM (#30016092)
    As someone with 20/20 vision I would still kill for an option to crank up font size in every single game made for consoles in the last three years. I have a 32" CRT screen, which is by no means small and THEORETICALLY supported for most games... but the fonts are absolutely unreadable without sitting so close that your breath is practically fogging the screen. It isn't like the fonts are huge on high res screens either. It's easy to see how someone with compromised vision could have difficulties. You don't have to be stone blind to be visually impaired, it isn't like they need brail screens. But allowing the user to crank up the font size would be an all around positive move, IMHO.
  • by Aliotroph ( 1297659 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:17PM (#30016102)

    There are also games for the totally blind. Shades of Doom [gmagames.com] is an example. The idea there is interesting and could potentionally be expanded into something much more complex.

    This situation depends on his degree of visual impairment. My good eye can manage a visual acuity of 20/200-20/400 on tests and I can play a lot of games with it just fine. I can see a lot of MMOs being playable with visual impairments if there are appropriate visual (or audio) cues for some events and accommodations to make the text more readable. He might be into that type of game because it doesn't require a lot of twitch action like an FPS or arcade game usually will. Sadly, the article didn't say anything about what kind of vision he has.

    The remark about Sony profiting might be true, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Some of the changes you can make to software to help people with severe visual impairments will help a lot of other customers like your software better. I see a lot of geeks with 20/20 vision squinting at screens, getting lost in menus, complaining about colour contrasts, etc. There is a middle ground that might not make this guy totally happy, but would make life easier for a lot of users.

    As a blind person (yes, legally I count as such), I do find his action offensive though. He's going about this all the wrong way. He should get in with some software people and make a positive difference, even if it's only in small ways.

  • Re:Great (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cwix ( 1671282 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:31PM (#30016216)
    You right.. never thought to look, but playstation.com fails miserably at xhtml According to http://valiadator.w3c.org/ [w3c.org] the http://www.us.playstation.com/ [playstation.com] site throws up 159 errors and 88 warnings. It looks like none of the images have alt tags... and they did some real bad coding.
  • by Lemming Mark ( 849014 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @04:05PM (#30016402) Homepage

    Seriously guys, it's easy to go "Tut tut, blind people can't possibly play games, what an unreasonable fellow". But the article says *visually impaired*, which does not necessarily mean total blindness. There are phases in between where you can see the computer screen but it'd be nice if the game didn't have to make it really hard to follow what's happening. Are there really as many people here as the posts would indicate who can't see this distinction?

    Also: are you the same crowd of people who bitch at Microsoft for releasing OSes that are too bloated to run on your hardware without an upgrade. You *can* at least upgrade your hardware!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 07, 2009 @04:19PM (#30016480)

    It's a video game.

    I just wanted to reinforce this. It's a video game--as in, a game categorized by its markedly different visual interaction. It seems to be counter to the nature of the thing to accommodate those that can't experience one of its most important, defining characteristics.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples.gmail@com> on Saturday November 07, 2009 @05:19PM (#30016848) Homepage Journal

    The ADA only applies to "commercial speech", where the intent is to sell. [...] Games aren't usually "commercial speech".

    Do advertisements in video games count as "commercial speech"? What about Sony's "official auction site where gamers can sell their in-game items for real money" that the article mentions?

  • Re:Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday November 07, 2009 @05:39PM (#30016982) Journal

    Exactly a judge should be able to look at the WHY reasonable accommodations are required, and work accordingly. Let us just not forget there was a REASON why the ADA was passed, and it wasn't for asshats like this. When my late sister had to go to court over someone stealing her identity the local courthouse, which was built in the 20s, naturally didn't work with her wheelchair, but since there is the ADA they couldn't just tell her to "figure it out" (Which in the 70s they would have done).

    So the judge simply thought about it for a few minutes, and had court on the steps during lunch break. It only took them a couple of minutes to get her testimony and get everything resolved in her favor. It didn't cost anyone anything but a little extra time and allowed my sister to have her day in court despite her handicap.

    And THAT is why we have the ADA, not so some asshole can play golf or blind guys can play video games. It was so the handicapped couldn't be discriminated against when it came to the important stuff like access to government services. It really burns me up when some douche takes what was a perfectly reasonable request...make it so the handicapped can have access to basic services, and tries to turn it into his/her own personal lotto. Just another proof that scum sucking lawyers and greedy douches are running this country into the ground IMHO.

  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:03PM (#30017854)

    Please excuse my total ignorance but how do you navigate around Slashdot as a blind person?

    I can understand that text on the screen can be "read" to you by a program that turn text to speech, but how are things like the position of a, say, "Reply to This" button conveyed to you so that you know it's there on screen in the first place where a sighted person would just click with the mouse pointer?

  • by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @11:59PM (#30019056)

    Of course, he did say "we are so special" when describing the parades and I'm guessing that's probably what ticked you off.

    Well, yeah, that's something that shows his prejudices - because that's not really what the parades are about. Sure, it is about "gay pride" but being proud of who you are is a bit different to saying "I'm special."

    Either this applies to all parades, or it doesn't. Take ethnic parades - they are usually seen as a celebration of culture. But I guess they could be taken as "we're so special" events, but that's not usually how they're seen.

    So, ultimately is he saying that in an equal society, nobody should be celebrating their culture?

  • by robson ( 60067 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @01:28PM (#30023214)
    After reading TFA:

    *It seems mostly focused on MMOs, but doesn't name any specific games.

    *"Visually impaired" is not a euphemism for "blind" here - he literally means "people who can see, but not well". So much of the backlash is misguided ("Blind people are suing to play video games? LOLWUT? Next they'll want to drive???!!!?")

    *His list of things that would make a difference are reasonable - high-contrast display modes, audio navigation cues, audio descriptions of items, and the like.

    *HOWEVER... he then proceeds to state that Sony's causing him to LOSE MONEY because he could be selling his in-game items for real-world cash. Ugh.

    So this thing isn't entirely over-the-top, but it definitely falls apart when he argues monetary loss.
  • by Bobartig ( 61456 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @01:48PM (#30023424) Homepage

    He's complaining about the features of a game, which are a good, or good/service combination, using legislation that specifically targets location based attractions. If he's going after Sony because of its SonyStyle stores, then any possible equitable remedy would also apply to every store that has a game kiosk, or anything interactive at all, like the easy listening CD machine at Bed Bath and Beyond.

    Personally, I really, really hope that this case is dismissed. First, for inapplicability of the statute, but more importantly so that game developers are not saddled with the additional economic burden of adding disability compliance to all games. The mechanics of a video game are not like walking up a ramp, including a braille menu, or using the bathroom. They are varied, and hinge fundamentally on a wide variety of combinations of audio and visual stimuli that cannot generally be summed in a way to make them equally accessible given some sensory impairment. There is no single, predictable means of meeting such a requirement, adding more uncontrollable variable cost to game development, leading to less ambitious titles, less experimentation among developers, less development time and resources for the core functionality of the game. Having been a software developer, a game developer, and now a legal scholar, this just seems bad, bad, bad.

  • If you're blind (Score:2, Interesting)

    by uninformedLuddite ( 1334899 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @05:47AM (#30043608)
    then quite frankly that's YOUR problem. It shouldn't become the problem of a company that develops something specifically for a medium that REQUIRES you to be able to see. You don't like common sense yet? wait till it pushes the price of your game up and the quality of the build down. Some people will think I am being too harsh here but these sorts of things are being taken to ridiculous extremes. Maybe we need a version of pong that uses sound to indicate bat and ball positioning? That's just stupid. Can deaf people sue the makers of MP3 players because they can't appreciate the music? Maybe we could create an MP3 player that converts the bass to a rhythmic tap on the forehead. I am all for installing ramps for people in wheelchairs and signs in braille but let's have some sensible limits. Should fat people who go shopping in their electric scooters get special preferences? or should they just put down that piece of chocolate fscking cake and get a sense of perspective. All these minority special interest groups are going to end up screwing everything up for the majority sooner or later. I personally can't wait to get my copy of Guitar Hero Nose! What makes this post even sicker is the fact that somewhere I have probably committed a hate crime - the world is going fscking crazy.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!