But it Wasn’t Designed for You: How Ignoring Accessibility Becomes the Excuse for Perpetuating Inaccessibility

I am sick of seeing people responding to evidence of inaccessibility with “but it wasn’t designed for you”. This argument has been used to both try and shut down calls to make inaccessible things more accessible (which is what I’ll be focusing on) and to limit access to accessible things that have been deemed unnecessary to nondisabled people (see my piece of accessibility to fresh food here for an example of that).

So the much anticipated augmented reality game Pokemon Go was released in several countries last week (though not Canada yet). It is already wildly popular and has had a noticeable impact on Nintendo stock prices.

The game–which is based on one originally released for Gameboy and which also had a television series and card game–allows smartphone users to find and catch pokemon in the real world.

Since it’s release it has been criticized for being inaccessible to many people with disabilities. The game requires that players actually be able to get around public spaces to find the pokemon and visit pokestops (which provide players with necessary items for the game) and train at gyms.

For people with limited mobility or who have difficulty leaving their homes. The game is entirely inaccessible because movement is completely tied to an individual’s GPS location.

I am going to spend less time talking about the accessibility issues of Pokemon Go itself because others are already doing that better than I could. I am instead going to use the game and people’s reactions to having its inaccessibility highlighted as a timely way of addressing how people’s  reactions to inaccessibility being called out end up justifying and perpetuating that inaccessibility.

When a new product is called out for being inaccessible or when disabled people advocate that a company make an inaccessible product more accessible, two related arguments inevitably come up.

  1. This game wasn’t made with you in mind.
  2. You are not the target demographic.

On the face of it these arguments seem identical but there are some key differences. In the first case, the exclusion may just be an oversight but it is one that will be justified as an understandable lapse.

The demographic argument works best when a product is made with a specific demographic market in mind.

The problem is that with the first argument it is far to acceptable to brush off inaccessibility as “oh well, I guess this one thing just isn’t for you” despite the fact that it is very far from being “just one thing” and is in fact representative of a widespread problem. It is far to common and easy to ignore whether a product or service is inaccessible.

In order to head off reactionary comments, I am not arguing or suggesting that everything can or should be made accessible for two reasons.

  1. Accessibility is not and never will be a one size fits all phenomenon.
  2. There are just some things that people with certain disabilities shouldn’t do for reasons of safety. For example, I have a weak arm and should for my own safety and the safety of others never operate a chainsaw. So I’m not going to go after chainsaw manufacturers to their products because I shouldn’t.

So please don’t send me a rant about how [insert random unrelated product or service] is either essential but still inaccessible or which regardless of redesign cannot be made safely accessible.

When disabled people point out accessibility issues it is usually because a.) they think with some tweaking the thing itself could be made accessible or b.) they are expressing a consumer desire to have someone redesign an inaccessible thing to be accessible. It is not a wholesale attack on all things.

So continuing on I am now going to address the “they just didn’t have you in mind” argument. There are way to many things that just happen to be inaccessible because the creators either didn’t consider disabled people or determined that accommodating the would be to time consuming. Far to many of these products (Pokemon Go included) could be made accessible or have accessibility mods added on if the creators cared to put the effort in.

The fact that far to many don’t is where this argument of “oh they just didn’t make it for you” really falls apart. Almost nothing that is available to the general public is made with disabled people in mind. We are far to frequently relegated to the realm of “niche target market” catered to primarily by medical companies or adaptive technology companies.

This leaves us out of far to many mainstream pass times. This is where it stops being an oversight and becomes a problem where out exclusion and reliance on only specialized targeted products and indicative of systemic and socially acceptable exclusion.

As a target demographic we are also treated differently, with products geared towards us specifically only made available in specialty stores.

In terms of a more mainstream understanding of target demographic, we are still separate because generally target demographics are based on goals and an understanding of who will be interested in a product. Not actually mandating who can use it.

People use products not expressly geared toward them all the time without consequences. The problem comes not from who a product is targeted at but at who is expressly excluded from using it.*

But back to Pokemon Go. Where does it fit into all this? The game itself  has a very broad demographic target. It is as much as any single product can be geared to everyone.** This is what makes the complete lack of consideration of disability so frustrating because it is a case of “this is actually for everyone except you”.

The sheer scale of the game’s popularity only emphasizes this fact.

So, I would ask that any person who reacts dismissively to calls for more accessibility (whether it is in Pokemon Go or anything else) to ask themselves

Why is this request making me so uncomfortable?

I would then ask you to express solidarity, to show companies that you actually are comfortable sharing space (and pokemon) with disabled people. Tell companies that disabled people deserve accessible products and don’t deserve to be forgotten or an afterthought.



*I am aware and do not wish to minimize the fact that there are certain industries which don’t expressly forbid people from outside their target demographics do create cultures within those industries which are very unwelcoming and often abusive to people who are seen as outsiders.

**It is also important to note that disabled people are not the only group criticizing the game’s inclusivity (see here for another example).

12 thoughts on “But it Wasn’t Designed for You: How Ignoring Accessibility Becomes the Excuse for Perpetuating Inaccessibility

  1. It bothered me a lot that Pokemon Go was being hailed as a tool to help people with issues like agoraphobia and PTSD leave the house and socialize, but it failed to provide accessibility to those who aren’t mobile or can’t be mobile for long periods of time. It’s so frustrating when complaints on that are dismissed as “it just wasn’t made for you” when it’s already being lauded for improving the mental health of those suffering from such.


    1. I’m also a bit skeptical about the anxiety and agoraphobia angle. It’s such early days that lauding it for benefiting people with psychiatric disabilities seems premature. The YAY Pokemon GO is fixing depression narrative seems really over simplistic. I’m also a bit unclear on how wandering around staring at your phone while not actually having to interact with people helps with anxiety.

      Let me know if I’m missing something because this genuinely interests me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not really advocating mental health benefits here, but just to explain the bit about “wandering around staring at your phone while not actually having to interact people” – it’s true you don’t HAVE to interact with people, but the fact is that the way you play it makes it pretty obvious that you ARE playing the game (holding your phone and swiping in a certain way is a giveaway). And there are literally so many people out wandering around exploring this shared digital environment that it really lowers the bar for interacting with others. For example, it might be really awkward to pass someone in the street and say “hi,” but if you guys are both standing there three feet away from each other trying to catch the same Pokemon, it’s honestly more awkward NOT to talk. People can share locations of Pokemon and there is also an interactive element in the gyms, where you can fight or displace other high-ranking people. My son and husband have been playing it together and so far it’s been a fabulous way for them to go out and explore the community, whereas usually both of them would much rather sit on the couch and play a video game! Our neighborhood is usually pretty insular; nobody really gets out and talks to each other. So this is the first time we’ve actually seen/interacted with a lot of people who literally live just down the street.


  2. When I read “You’re not the target demographic,” I think how that would go over with other groups. There would be a very valid hue and cry if that was used as an excuse with any other, but the disabled community is just supposed to take that as business as usual?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Definitely keep pushing for them to make this game more accessible. My husband is a cell phone game developer, so I have a window into how these things get made. I can’t speak for Nintendo directly, but honestly this release is CRAPPY. The servers are going down constantly and the game barely functions as-is. This is actually really typical, although Pokemon Go is a particularly bad instance. However, with this kind of game the goal is basically to keep it rolling. It’s very malleable, not at all like a “final release” game that you’d get on a CD for a Playstation or whatever. They should be gathering data as people play the game and will continue to tweak and improve things. So odds are if people keep asking for more accessible functionality, and the design team is a good one, it will happen.


  4. Have you read Tanya Titchkosy’s “A Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning”? It touches upon this so much, and while its language can sometimes get really academic it’s super relevant especially chapter 4: ‘Where’: To Pee or Not to Pee.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If you have agoraphobia or PTSD or social anxiety, going out to play this game will not fix it. You will be too busy having panic attacks or flashbacks to focus on catching any pokemon. Trust me on this.


      1. That article actually kind of bugs me because it reinforces the idea that if you have depression, agoraphobia, PTSD etc, all you have to do is “go outside more” or “go talk to people” “get a hobby”. Definitely not that simple! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. The game definitely helped me!
    I understand the frustrations of the game forcing one to get out and walk – as someone often stuck at home – I get that. I also get the feeling, though, that if leveraging the desire to get heaps of people out into the sunlight, catching pokemon, and changing the game so that it doesn’t do that…maybe they just decided one had more cumulative utility? We already have so many games we can play sitting at home.


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