Ty “Tyleniphe” grew up playing franchises like World of Warcraft and Diablo. From slaying boars with friends to extensively studying the lore within Diablo 2, many of Ty’s gaming memories revolve around these moments. And now, Ty holds the title of the world’s first blind player to fully complete Diablo 4 independently.
As the accessibility movement grows across the gaming industry, studios are actively incorporating features and design practices that benefit disabled players. Not only do these accessibility tools remove potential barriers, but they also allow individuals like Ty to challenge themselves without belittling their experiences. And with a suite of accessibility options and designs like screen reader support, high quality audio, and audio cues related to gear, blind and low vision players are able to successfully navigate the world of Diablo 4.
Speaking with IGN, Ty discusses the importance of accessibility for blind/low vision players, the ways in which Diablo 4’s settings and gameplay aided his experience, and his proudest achievements when becoming the first blind player to complete the game without sighted assistance.
Why Accessibility Matters
Ty’s visual disability, “optic nerve atrophy, caused by hydrocephalus” affected his eyesight at a young age. And since many games lacked proper accessible features and designs for blind and low vision players, his capability to play relied extensively on support from others. While he appreciated the support from loved ones, he ultimately had to learn how to create his own solutions to the inaccessible obstacles in each title.
“My journey into gaming started when I was six years of age,” he says. “I was in the hospital post-surgery and had woken up and didn’t have vision anymore. My friend brought their Nintendo 64 to the hospital because he really wanted me to play Mario Party and Super Smash Bros. and we somehow made it work. For example, he’d tell me where elements were placed in the game, like ‘You’re on the left side of the platform and Donkey Kong’s over on the right side, so you need to move the joystick to the right,’ Then it was listening for the auditory feedback of the characters as they moved, jumped, and attacked.”
Despite the solutions created by Ty and his friends, games had yet to devote time and resources to developing extensive accessibility menus and inclusive designs. His reasoning for becoming familiar with the lore of Diablo 2 was partly due to immense interest, and partly wanting to spend time with friends. But because the gameplay was too inaccessible for blind and low vision players, Ty was unable to properly navigate or target enemies.
Without accessibility features or design practices like enhanced audio, Ty couldn’t complete basic encounters or leave zones. Even when learning the lore, his friend needed to read passages and excerpts to him. It wasn’t until years later that he noticed a significant shift in the accessibility of these games, thanks to both a better industry understanding of accessibility, and a willingness to actively include disabled voices in the space.
“I think in gaming the ‘man on the moon’ step forward for accessibility was the Last of Us Part 2 a few years ago,” he says. “Then I think we saw another leap forward with God of War Ragnarok and I feel that Diablo 4 has taken it to the next level. Is it perfect? No, but there is a clear and obvious commitment to equity and accessibility with the Diablo team, including not just frequent accessibility fixes, but also inclusion of alt-text on images from key leaders and surfacing of accessibility fixes in patch notes.”
Battling Hell’s Forces
Ty’s achievement of becoming the first blind player to beat Diablo 4 by himself is only possible because of Blizzard’s attention to detail on accessibility. Aside from the options that blind and low vision individuals can activate within accessibility menus, the game is intrinsically designed to benefit both able-bodied and disabled players. While screen reader support is crucial, Diablo 4’s sounds bring the world to life and allow disabled players to successfully navigate each zone. Enemy attacks, loot, and even background noises within specific zones help to accurately conceptualize what’s happening on the screen. For blind and low vision players, these inclusive designs are crucial for dismantling barriers that options cannot.
“An example of implicit mechanics that really stands out in my mind is ‘Lilith’s Lament,’ where a lot of blind players were saying ‘There’s no way that you can get within the protection dome that Vigo is spawning because there is no indication,’” he says. “The indication is when Vigo shouts. If you center his voice within the audio, you’re within the protection dome. His shout is not explicitly an accessibility feature. It’s purely dialogue, but because of the directional nature of the audio, blind people can use the announcement in conjunction with their cognitive map of the arena to stay alive. I know this works because I’ve now gotten about six or seven different blind folks through it independently just walking them through the process.”
Ty explains that it takes “about three or four joystick taps before you exit the dome,” a mechanic that he had to learn through trial and error. But rather than be dismayed by this obstacle, disabled players ultimately want to be challenged. If a boss or encounter is particularly difficult, it should not be because of inaccessible barriers. Even navigation was designed to ensure that blind and low vision players could travel without immense accessibility difficulty. Sounds like the Rogue’s ability Puncture or their ability to scatter knives enable Ty to determine his location based on the echoes of his character’s projectiles. And when exploring larger zones, the map allows individuals to place markers that actively explain when someone enters a new area.
“The pin placement and subzone announcements are key,” he says. “As I’m building my cognitive map of the game’s world, hearing each sub-zone’s name helps me keep track of which areas I’ve been to, and what may be next. When you reach the pin-drop, it says ‘You’ve reached your destination,’ which is another indication. Dropping the pin a second or two in the direction of where you want to go can create an artificial breadcrumb trail.”
Without these features and designs, Ty’s independence would be limited. They not only allow him to successfully complete a campaign, but also allow him to make Diablo 4 an entertaining and rewarding experience throughout all stages.
Rolling credits on any title is a satisfying conclusion after spending hours completing objectives and overcoming challenging obstacles. For Ty, being the first blind player to beat Diablo 4 without assistance is a feat he will always remember. Yet, his varying playthroughs afforded numerous opportunities to take pride in his accomplishments. All of which were possible because of accessibility and his lived experiences as a disabled individual.
“I think the most difficult part – and something I’m most proud of – was the Andariel fight,” he says. “The Andariel fight was tough because there’s an AOE attack that Andariel uses if you stand too far back, and if you stand too close, she whips you with her chains and throws you into the sandstorm and you can’t hear. After I died probably 13 or 14 times, I ended up asking my friend for help, and he very nicely reminded me that I wanted to do this on my own without sighted help. What I ended up doing was I turned down the music – at the time I had it at 100% and I turned it to 0.
“And then for Andariel, the trick is to stay up close. When you’re close, there’s no need for her to push you towards the sandstorm, so she’s not going to affect you as much with the AOE. When she whips her chains at you, because of the way the sound design has been done, you can hear where they are at and where they are coming in from. You are able to avoid them based on timing. Also, when you are close enough to her, the effects of getting blasted around is less impactful. And with the sound low enough, you can also hear the health indicators for when your health bar gets low. At that point you can use a potion.”
Disabled people are natural problem solvers. Living in a world that still isn’t designed to meet their needs requires them to create solutions to specific barriers. While Diablo 4 includes a bevy of options for blind and low vision players, Ty’s answer to this specific challenge necessitated a greater understanding of the game. But beyond a single encounter, Ty’s ingenuity and knowledge of accessible options and Diablo IV’s designs let him complete content that even sighted players struggle with.
“My proudest moment is shared between two events this season,” he says. “First, completing the World Tier 4 capstone – level requirement of 70 – with my Rogue at level 54. The second was captured on stream, completing a Tier 46 nightmare dungeon with, at the time, my level 72 Rogue. A Tier 46 nightmare dungeon has monsters which are level 100. I did not think I would be able to do it yet, but I thought it would be a fun joke for the stream. I did it though and am now determined to see how far we can push. Next on the bucket list, and the only two remaining seasonal objectives, uber Lilith and a Tier 100 nightmare dungeon.” (Note – at the time of publishing, Ty successfully beat uber Lilith).
Ty’s accomplishments are indicative of the gaming industry’s commitment to highlighting and supporting disabled voices. It’s a shift that he has personally witnessed since his days bonding with friends over older Blizzard games. Disabled people want to be included. They want to have the same gameplay conversations as their able-bodied peers. And as developers continue to implement and innovate accessible tools, Ty can celebrate his victories with other blind and low vision individuals.
“What I think is really cool is that we’ve got a Discord with over 60 blind people, and you look through the discussion and we’re not arguing about whether the game is playable or not,” he says. “We’re sitting here arguing about ‘Is Bone Spear better than Blood Lance?’ We’re arguing about ‘Do the malignant hearts grant too much power?’ It’s cool because we’re having those discussions just like everybody else – it’s a notable shift.”
Grant Stoner is a freelance writer at IGN.