Recently, there have been notable advances in technology that allow kids with disabilities to engage in more equitable competitions with non-disabled peers. For example, the organization AbleGamers is working hard to promote adaptive video game technology, such as Microsoft’s new adaptive controller for Xbox (which you may recognize from this viral Superbowl commercial).
However, when it comes to more physical competitions, there is still a great deal of segregation based on physical ability. There are countless adaptive sports offerings, but few provide an opportunity for children with and without disabilities to compete in a way that challenges all of them.
Researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, want to change that. Dr. Roland Graf, an associate professor at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, recently led the development of an augmented reality game system that children with a wide range of abilities can enjoy together.
This system, called iGYM, is similar to “a lifesize game of air hockey,” according to an article in Michigan News. Projectors mounted on each side of the room form a court. Each player is monitored by a camera, which is connected to a computer that surrounds them with a “peripersonal circle.” They can use this circle to move a projected ball/puck and attempt to score a goal. The really inclusive part of iGYM is how players can go about moving this circle: they can kick, extend their arms, or press a “kick-button.”
iGYM was inspired by a teenager with cerebral palsy named James Falahee, who also participated in the development of iGYM as lead play-tester. He told Michigan News that, “The game will bring so much fun to so many people and to think that I was a part of it is such a privilege.”
Graf’s team is still working to develop more complex and exciting versions of their game, including features that allow players to temporarily remove their goals so that the competition can’t score on them. Graf also notes that the system could be used for entirely different types of games, such as a life-size Pac-Man game or similar concepts that blend video game technology with traditional sports.
While iGYM is currently just a prototype, the researchers are looking for partners in order to market it. Graf emphasized that they want to make it as affordable and easy-to-use as possible, so that it can be introduced to schools and community centers.
In a video interview with Michigan News, Graf noted that their technology “enables new forms of inclusive play,” and that it could help to build “a more inclusive and socially-integrated society.”
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Nrhoads. (2019, December 12). Inclusive play: U-M art professor leads creation of interactive game for kids with and without disabilities. Retrieved December 23, 2019, from https://news.umich.edu/inclusive-play-u-m-art-professor-leads-creation-of-interactive-game-for-kids-with-and-without-disabilities/.