AbleGamers: breaking down barriers for people with disabilities

When people outside of the disability community think of “accessibility,” they may picture wheelchair ramps, large bathroom stalls, or designated parking spaces. However, these are just some very basic aspects of accessibility: it really goes far beyond the entrance and use of public places.

Even in virtual worlds, accessibility is important.

Mark Barlet, a veteran who founded the non-profit AbleGamers, recently told USA Today that video games are a “great equalizer.”

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“You don’t know if I’m disabled,” he said. “You just know that I’m an ogre or whatever character or manifestation I am in the game.”

Of course, many gamers do disclose their disabilities. Erin Hawley, who was also interviewed by USA Today, said “I think it’s important to not pretend that I’m not disabled because the more people see it the more people can normalize disabilities” (1).

Regardless of whether they choose to mention their disabilities when competing against strangers, many disabled players agree that accessibility features are critical to their participation in gaming communities. Moreover, the ability to game can make them feel more included in society at large.

In a blog post for AbleGamers, Hawley explained that, “Accessibility brings everyone closer together by tearing down barriers; it also cements disabled people’s inclusion in culture. Thanks to the internet, gaming is a global conversation…AbleGamers is vital – they make the unreachable reachable, both literally and figuratively. When you open up gaming for someone for the first time, especially someone who might feel ostracized by society, you hand them the world” (2).

So what exactly does AbleGamers do?

AbleGamers helps people with disabilities find solutions to make video games more accessible. They make equipment recommendations based on individual assessments. They note that, “…there is no cookie-cutter formula to helping people get back into the game. We take the time to talk to each individual, find out their specific needs and wants, their abilities and challenges, and projected prognosis, to determine the exact equipment needed to make gaming a possibility for everyone, no matter the obstacles in their way.”

The equipment they recommend varies widely based on these assessments. In some cases, it may be something very simple, like placing a rubber band around a button to make it easier to reach. In others, the solution may be much more complex; for example, a mouth controller or eye-tracking software.

Thanks to donor support, these assessments are completely free. They may even be able to provide financial assistance with purchasing the recommended equipment (3).

Xbox Adaptive Controller from Microsoft

AbleGamers, along with a few other organizations aimed at supporting people with disabilities, partnered with Microsoft to create the Xbox Adaptive Controller (which you may recognize from this Super Bowl commercial that went viral).

This controller can be customized to allow gamers to play in a way that’s most feasible to them; for example, it can be mounted onto a wheelchair or placed on the floor and controlled with the user’s feet.

So far, positive feedback has poured in.

In a review video, humorous Youtuber Zach Anner (who has cerebral palsy) says, “Thank you so much, Xbox, for designing all this and making all this possible. I speak for myself and Josh [his good friend who participated in the video] when I say it’s great that we can finally play video games together.”

In the Super Bowl commercial, a child named Grover confidently claims that, “I think I can crush my friends.”

Want to help improve video game accessibility?

Although great strides have been taken towards improving accessibility in gaming, there is much left to accomplish. Consider checking out the AbleGamers website to learn more about how you can help! https://ablegamers.donordrive.com/

Related Reading

Virtual Reality Games as Therapy for Children with Cerebral Palsy

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Sources

  1. Baig, E. C. (2019, May 09). Video games are a ‘great equalizer’ for people with disabilities. Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2019/05/09/passionate-video-gamers-dont-let-their-disabilities-stop-them/3661312002/
  2. The Super Bowl Ad of a Lifetime. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://ablegamers.org/the-super-bowl-ad-that-spoke-for-millions/
  3. About AbleGamers. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://ablegamers.org/about-ablegamers/
  4. Microsoft. (2019, January 31). Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YISTzpLXCY
  5. Microsoft. (2018, September 04). Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ymbv-Z5KRk

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