AbleGamers: Combating Social Isolation through Play

December 5, 2022 BY ABBY ALEPA

Video games have the power to change lives. Humans have the power to transform the gaming world into a landscape accessible to all gamers.

That’s what Mark Barlet, Steven Weitz, and Dr. Andy Wu of AbleGamers Charity, believe.

3Play Media was excited to welcome leaders from AbleGamers for a fireside chat about the impact of accessibility in the gaming community in observance of this year’s Giving Tuesday. The AbleGamers Charity is a “nonprofit public charity that aims to improve the overall quality of life for those with disabilities through the power of video games.”

Watch a recording of the fireside chat below, or read on for key takeaways from the webinar, and learn about the difference they’re making for the 46 million gamers in the US living with one or more disability.

Video games can be the perfect gateway to community participation, lifelong friendships, and combating social isolation. During the fireside chat, Mark Barlett, founder and executive director at the Foundation, explained that AbleGamers is anchored by three pillars, which we’ll dive into in this blog.

Peer Counseling and Engineering Research at AbleGamers

Dr. Andy Wu and his team focus on the organization’s first pillar: peer counseling and engineering research. This part of the organization supports players who may have stopped gaming due to acquired physical disabilities back into gaming and the community that surrounds it.

AbleGamers is concerned with any and every member of the disability community, and Dr. Wu’s team is the touchpoint between the organization and individuals living with physical disabilities. Through the peer counseling process, counselors at AbleGamers get to know their clients, understand their goals, physical disabilities, gaming history, and challenges with actions like button mashing and moving a joystick.

Dr. Wu’s team at AbleGamers works with these gamers to develop a solution that works for them. With the Foundation’s financial support, the team can produce solutions that allow individuals to rejoin the gaming community and work towards the goal of combating social isolation. The engineering research team has created 49 custom equipment solutions for people with disabilities.

Below are some solutions engineered by innovators at AbleGamers:

Photo of the AbleGamers No Pull No Lift Controller

The AbleGamers No Lift No Pull Controller

Xbox Adaptive Controller

Xbox Adaptive Controller

To see more of the engineering research teams’ work, visit the AbleGamers website.

User Research and Professional Development at AbleGamers

The second pillar at AbleGamers is user research and professional development. This pillar focuses on digital accessibility, and aims to provide support for all people with disabilities. User researchers stay up-to-date on the latest options for players with disabilities. They also identify existing barriers in various video games.

AbleGamers has developed an accessible player experience (APX) training certification. The 2-day training program gives game designers the knowledge necessary to “bake in” accessibility and raise awareness about accessibility in their studios.

AbleGamers works with developers and game companies to help them evaluate and test accessibility in their games. This life-changing mission allows game designers to see that considering accessibility in game design from day one doesn’t necessitate sacrificing a designer’s vision or a game’s integrity.

Watch the fireside chat to learn about combating social isolation through play 🎧

Fostering Inclusive Communities

The third and final pillar at AbleGamers is fostering inclusive communities. The Foundation works hard to ensure that players have access to the virtual world of gaming, but it doesn’t stop there.

In addition to fostering inclusive communities online, AbleGamers works to create accessible opportunities for players at game conventions and other in-person events, combating social isolation in face-to-face settings as well.

Mark gave this example during the webinar:

We famously had a talk with Steve Spohn, My friend here at AbleGamers, who’s profoundly disabled, who’s in a wheelchair with a ventilator, and we were going to do a panel, and they had the entire panel up on stage.

We said, “no, this isn’t going to work,” and we literally started removing everything off of the stage, and they started going “no, no, no, we’re going to put Steve in front of the stage,” and we were like “no, no, no, we’re not going to do that,” you know. And we tore basically the entire thing to put the panel on the floor.

After that, the next year they had four stages that were specifically designed to make sure they could accommodate a person with disabilities. That way a player with disabilities, or an advocate with disabilities, could have a platform to share their unique experiences to the gaming community as well as participate.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 as a global movement to inspire charity and generosity in communities everywhere. The day takes place each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The goal of Giving Tuesday is to inspire and encourage people to do good for others, whether it’s offering a small act of kindness or helping those in need.

This year, 3Play Media chose AbleGamers as the recipient of a Giving Tuesday donation and partner for this fireside chat. We are proud to support the AbleGamers Foundation and look forward to watching their impact grow as we work towards the common goal of creating an accessible future.

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