By Guest Blogger Steven Spohn, Editor-in-Chief, AbleGamers
Video games, love’em or hate’em, are quickly becoming one of today’s most popular forms of entertainment. They are not just for kids anymore, and reach many different segments of our population. From hardcore Call of Duty to casual Angry Birds, there is a game for just about everyone. But what if you can’t play the same games everyone else is playing because of your disability?
That’s where AbleGamers comes in. AbleGamers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization advocating for game accessibility in the digital entertainment space. Really fancy words for: if you want to play video games and you can’t play or have trouble playing, we help you to do so.
Between the amazing amounts of assistive technology available today and the ingenuity of those with disabilities, there’s always a way around any obstacle in life. Gaming is no different. Our mission is to make sure that every video game is as accessible as it can be to the widest possible audience.
I always find it difficult to sum up what we do in just a few words, but perhaps I can give you just a glimpse into what our foundation is doing every day. First, we start out with a large community that helps anyone and everyone by providing suggestions from our own life experiences.
You’d be surprised what kind of things you can repurpose. I know someone who plays games with pencils, another who only plays with his feet, and a very good friend of mine used a telegrapher’s straight key device once used to send Morse code in order to play.
Second, we have the largest database of games reviewed specifically for their accessibility. On a 1 to 10 scale we tear apart video games based on the kind of options they have built in, how easy it would be to play with the various disabilities and what kind of workarounds there might be to play the game whether you only have one hand, no arm movement, colorblind, Deaf, etc.
After all, if you weren’t able to play the game anyway, who cares how fun it might be, right?
We also reach out to and work with developers to help add accessibility options to their games to include as many people with various disabilities as possible. We’ve been able to help the likes of Microsoft, Harmonix, Rockstar, Bioware, Blizzard and many more.
Third, we have what we like to call the Accessibility Arcade, which is simply two to four stations of Xbox and PC games setup with assistive technology. This does two things. One, it allows those that do not have a disability to see what someone with a disability might go through just to be able to play like everyone else. And two, it allows those who do have difficulties to see what is available for assistive technology to help them game and be able to try out expensive equipment before they purchase.
Fourth, we raise awareness for a cause that often has a negative stigma attached. It’s unfortunate that video games were given a bad rap early on in their creation; just like anything in life, video games should be used in moderation. But there is a whole other world of reasons why they are so important to those with disabilities.
If you are someone who is bedbound in a facility, shut-in at home or recuperating in a hospital, video games can be a window into an otherwise inaccessible world. Many, many of our members, including yours truly, have been able to find great joy in virtual worlds where running, jumping and flying are all completely possible. It’s a place where you can make friends, do something together as a family and even find love.
These virtual worlds are far more than games. They are communities with real people on the other side of the screen. Ten years ago it was considered odd to have made a friend online; today, almost everyone has met someone through some kind of online interaction, either at work or play. Our archives are filled with stories of individuals who have had experiences that would not have been possible without such wonderful technology.
Fifth, sixth and beyond, we do so many cool things that I am very happy and very lucky to be a part of every day. We give out codes. We recommend various setups so individuals with assistive technology can use games. We go to conventions and raise awareness about gamers with disabilities. We do consulting. We give presentations and speeches.
I could go on for hours about everything that helps me smile every day. You see those smiles are important because they are the only payment we get for doing what we do.
Yep. We are all volunteers. Our entire organization, from president on down to the newest volunteer, gets paid absolutely zero, zilch, zip, nada. We take 100 percent of every donation we get and throw it right back into doing something else for the community. (To learn more about volunteer opportunities with AbleGamers, visit http://www.ablegamers.com/Volunteer.html.)
And that all leads up to the reason I’m writing this today. When funding allows, we get the greatest joy from taking requests from the community and giving out assistive technology. This month the AbleGamers Foundation opened the Children’s Grant Program, an opportunity for young gamers to apply for a grant to help get them back in the game.
This particular grant application period is open August 1 – 31, but we hold these as often as we can. Sometimes it’s for Veterans (our president, Mark Barlet, is an injured Air Force Veteran). Other times, it’s for adults with disabilities, like me. This time we’re helping our younger fans (ages 15 years and younger).
We know we can’t help everyone but, with the help of our friends, we can bring just a little bit of joy to some very special people in need.
After all, there should be no barriers to fun!
For more Information
Steve Spohn is the Editor-in-Chief of AbleGamers and Outreach Chair for the AbleGamers Foundation. He has been interviewed as an expert in gaming with disabilities and assistive technologies by MSNBC, CNN, PC World, G4 and multiple international journals. Steve has traveled across the country as a speaker at various events including PAX East, Games for Health, Assistive Technology Centers, universities and many developer studios. In his off time, he is a web designer, gamer, writer, and his newest endeavor is learning Japanese. He holds degrees in Visual Communication, Information Technology, Web Design and Writing, with an MFA in Fiction Writing as his next goal. Steve is an active social media user and you can always find him on Twitter, Facebook and on AbleGamers forums.