9 Things I Learned About Gaming With Disabilities from the Ablegamers Foundation and My Son

By Jason Helton in Daily Lists, Video Games
Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 6:00 am

6. Accommodation is Not All About Hardware.

It's hard to imagine a time where even that most basic accommodation - subtitles - wasn't something included in a game. Sadly, though, there was a time when subtitles were an additional cost or time expenditure that was expendable. While the ability to read the spoken text is something we've grown to expect, very few companies are going out of the way to include software-based accessibility options like colorblind mode.

Ubisoft became the bane of E3 this year for choosing not to include a female protagonist in the upcoming Assassin's Creed Unity, citing a simple lack of time, and sadly, that lack of time is often the response groups like Ablegamers get when they ask for software accommodations, particularly from larger studios who feel the need to rehash old ideas and come up with a sequel for their top selling titles each year.

7. Helping Those Who Don't Know It.

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When asked about the greatest accomplishment Ablegamers has had, Steve told me he gets the greatest satisfaction from helping those who don't realize it. By spreading the word, reminding companies about the needs of the disabled, they've helped more than just those who have come to them. Their work is seen every time a company includes support for specialized controllers, build in features like colorblind mode, or simply just think of what they can do to reach the disabled audience. They are the charity that, according to Steve, "wants to be put out of business."

8. Anyone Can Help.

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The easiest way someone can get involved is by simply donating money, but there is so much more we can do. In the next few weeks, the Ablegamers "Driving Home Accessibility" campaign will go into full swing, with a 72-hour Minecraft "Mineathon" the last weekend of July, and a 72-hour game-a-thon September 12th through 14th, where people can form their own gaming teams to play and stream, raising money for the charity. So when my wife finishes her last shift of the weekend on September 15th, she'll be wondering why our house is covered in Red Bull cans, empty Doritos bags, why my kids eyeballs are bleeding and when was the last time I showered, because I'm doing my part for charity! Anyone else thinking Team Topless Robot?

9. Connor.

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As someone who feels different and separated from able-bodied people, Connor immediately felt complete acceptance the moment he walked through the doors of the Ablegamers headquarters. Normally subdued around strangers, particularly when the center of attention, he opened up quickly. As he played a game of N+ in front of the staff, they were able to quickly see the difficulties he had with games, particularly ones that require precise control. Fifteen minutes spent on the first level were a testament to his typical frustration, and had we been in the comfort of our own home, he would have quit.

They switched games and controllers, replacing the game with Splosion Man, and the controller with Quasimoto's Axis 2. Five minutes into playing and Connor wasn't quite convinced. When asked if the much larger controller helped, his response was decidedly "meh". He continued playing and before long it seemed he was becoming more comfortable with the controller. Levels were getting completed, and as the difficulty ramped up, so did his skill with the controller.

Feeling a bit accomplished, Connor decided to switch back to N+, a game that I've decided would make a good punishment in my household (in lieu of timeouts, I'll make them complete ten levels of N+). Within two minutes of play, Steve and I heard him exclaim "I did it!" triumphantly. Five minutes later he had advanced two more levels; ten minutes later he had vanquished another five boards. By the time it was time to go, the kid who spent fifteen minutes on the first level had advanced to the twelfth, and had received a sharp boost to his confidence. Of course, having a group of understanding gamers surrounding him supportively helped as much if not more than the controller did.

The event had a profound effect on Connor, to be certain. He came home proud of his accomplishments and excited to be able to play video games, even though it will be some time before he gets his custom controller. More importantly, he came home with a desire to volunteer for Ablegamers; he wants to show young gamers with similar disabilities how to use specialized controllers.

We decided on the Quasimoto Axis 2 controller, which at first glance looks like it would be at home on any arcade machine. Rather than basic on and off switches under large plastic buttons, the Axis 2 is completely analog, with every single button pressure sensitive similar to what you would find on a typical Xbox or Playstation controller. A pair of analog sticks are just out of the bottom, with the L and R series of buttons flanking the stick for easy use in First Person Shooters. It's a controller that, with continued support in the way of adapters, could very well be the controller he uses for the rest of his life.

Steve also suggested a foot-based controller called a Stinkyboard (which is the best video game related name since 1...2...3...Kick It...Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby), which can be programmed with sixteen different commands and can simulate a mouse as well. While Connor wasn't initially receptive to the idea of playing with his feet in addition to his hands, as he gets older and plays more complex games, it might be something that would benefit him. Between the Axis 2 and the Stinkyboard, Connor's new control scheme will cost around $450. It's certainly not cheap, but with his birthday coming up and after seeing the pride he had in his accomplishments in that short period of time, it's a small price to pay.

Twenty-four hours after it started, the "Driving Home Accessibilty" campaign had earned $1,265 towards its long term goal of $200,000. It's clear they have a long road ahead, but these dedicated volunteers seem undaunted, and I expect to see an Ablegamers mobile lab at a gaming convention next year.

A very special thanks to Mark Barlet, Steve Spohn, Craig Kaufman and the rest of the Ablegamers team for having us out and for taking the time to work with my son. You truly are a fantastic group of people doing fantastic work.

Previously By Jason Helton

The 10 Biggest Revelations in America's Zombie Defense Plan (and Their Real-World Implications)

Ten Amazing American Arcades (That You Can Still Visit)

Daylight Scared the Piss Out of Me: Four Reasons Why It Was Worth It, Five Why It Wasn't

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