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AbleGamers

AbleGamers

"We initially had the idea to build the website after developers at PAX 2011 stopped asking us WHY accessibility mattered, but how to accomplish it." Steve Spohn, Editor-in-Chief of the AbleGamers website and Director of Community Outreach of The AbleGamers Foundation, explained in a recent interview.

Founded in 2004, AbleGamers Foundation has been actively evangelizing the importance of accessibility in games for almost a decade now. Widely recognized as the largest community for disabled gamers on the Internet, the volunteer-driven, non-profit society is aiming to make every game as accessible as possible to as wide a variety of disabled gamers as they humanly can.

As such, Includification feels very much like the next natural step in their efforts. A 46-page, fully-illustrated how-to guide for developers and publishers roadmapping the exact solutions needed to design an accessible game, Includification is the result of hundreds of hours of work and is a collaborative effort between Spohn, CEO and co-founder Mark Barlet, several professional editors and more.

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AbleGamers

Today, we’re looking at two pieces of technology that help to bridge the gap between the disabled community and those of their fellow gamers, the XIM Edge and Adroit Switchblade.

We live in an amazing age of development in gaming, where worlds come to life at our very fingertips. While some may struggle to reach into our virtual realms, gaming accessories have made it easier for those with certain disadvantages to enjoy the games that we often take for granted. As we’ve seen already this week, developers struggle to meet the needs of every gamer wanting to play their game, but accessories help to bridge this divide by meeting the needs of the individual.

With help from Steven Spohn Editor-in-Chief at AbleGamers, here are the products that you need to know about if you know someone in your life that use a helping hand getting into gaming.

Adroit Switchblade

Adroit Switchblade

As mentioned in previous articles, the Adroit Switchblade comes from the collaboration between AbleGamers Foundation and Evil Controllers, and was first unveiled during the Gamers Doing Good panel at PAX 2011. What looks like a mass of switches for most is surely a lifesaver to others in need of a controller that won’t break the bank.

With a wide variety of programmable ports, the Adroit Switchblade adjusts to the needs of the user, not the other way around. Even small movements can register as button presses or more given the profile changer that allows the user to switch the button configuration with very little effort. Switches that signal for action buttons change to shoulder buttons or for a different configuration with a simple movement. Adaptation is the key component that makes Adroit one of the top controllers in its class.

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AbleGamers

Do video game developers do enough to facilitate the enjoyment of their games by those who are disabled? I asked this question on Twitter earlier this week and the response was an unanimous 'No'.

Darius Kazemi commented, "When I was working in QA on D&D Online back in 2005, I filled a bug about a puzzle that red/green colorblind people couldn't solve. Red/green colorblindness affects 10% of men, which I'm guessing given the typical audience of a D&D game is probably close to 10% of all the players."

Kazemi added somberly. "The real reason is that when you're trying to ship a game, you care about changes that make what you perceive to be the biggest impact. So in the mind of certain (I would say most) devs, it's 'Oh, that's a bug that only happens 10% of the time, so it's low priority.' This is a terrible way of thinking about it. What you need to think is, 'Oh, that's a bug that affects 10% of our players 100% of the time, and it affects them because they have a disability we didn't bother to consider -- rather than a compatibility issue we overlooked.' I want more devs to think the second way.”

"These kinds of problems are what I would call "irreducible": you can't reduce a percentage of your audience to a bug frequency percentage, even though they're both percentages. You have to think about the entire context around what's happening."

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AbleGamers

Urgent. Please respond.

I glance up as an e-mail from AbleGamers' Editor-In-Chief, Steve Spohn, quietly slips atop a growing pile of newsletters, press releases, and social media notifications. Curious, I click on it.

The message is brief but authoritative. Hi, G4 will be running our stories soon. This is Cassandra. She writes for them. She needs your answers today. Please respond ASAP. Thank you.

Whoa. No room for misinterpretation there. Within fifteen minutes of the first e-mail, a cordial apology (Had I even given them a due date? Are they going to think I'm some horrible slave driver now?) for a perceived lack of timeliness makes its way into my inbox. By the end of the day, I have all the answers I need. Were people supposed to be this efficient?

Asides from being a tightly run ship, AbleGamers is the largest community for disabled gamers on the Internet. Founded by Stephanie Walker and Mark Barlet, this nonprofit organization has been responsible for designing peripherals, curating the biggest repository of accessibility-driven video game views on the World Wide Web, and a variety of other nifty things, all in line with their goal of bringing greater accessibility to the digital entertainment space. Most of all, they've been making a difference.

AbleGamers Article: A History of Accomplishing the Impossible

When I asked the crew about their best memories of working with AbleGamers, their co-founder and president Mark Barlet sent me a photograph of a little girl in an orange shirt along with his answer. She looks almost impossibly happy. You could probably use that smile of hers to fuel a small solar power plant. In the picture, her hands are lightly rested on what resembles the controls for a gaming console from the 70s.

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AbleGamers

Able Gamers' Editor-In-Chief, Steve Spohn, has fond memories of the creation of the Adroit Switchblade, a device that, while seemingly better suited for the company of the Atari 2600 than one of today’s slick machines, is widely regarded as one of the most accessible and cost-effective gaming controllers for the disabled in the market today.

"On the very first outing I ever did for the AbleGamers Foundation, there was an event where the participants had to come together to design a controller. I was teamed up with Ben Heck and Adam Coe. And, since I was the disabled gamer, we made a 'controller' that I could use. We only had a few hours to complete the process so it ended up being this bag of rice with some buttons Velcro’d to it.”

“Gaming magazines picked up on the MacGyver-like device and interviewed both Adam and I multiple times. Over the course of those interviews, Adam from Evil Controllers and the AbleGamers staff formed a solid friendship. We then embarked on a new endeavor together: The creation of a controller that people with muscular dystrophy could use to build their own rig for gaming."

"It's very interesting how life works. That event was silly and pretty much meaningless. It was never meant to be anything great, but it snowballed from something that was almost done as a teaching experiment into the catalyst for something that is now used to help people who have not gamed in years.”

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AbleGamers

On the Internet, it's easy to forget that not everyone is of the same gender, ethnicity, opinion, or state of physical health. More often than not, we take it for granted that things like the ability to navigate a controller or to distinguish between shapes on the screen are universal. They aren't. For some, the simple task of holding a mouse can be a heartbreaking impossibility.

President and co-founder Mark Barlet started the AbleGamers Foundation after facing one of these impossibilities. It all started with his best friend Stephanie Walker, her husband, and the love of gaming that they all shared. In 2004, things changed for them with the onset of Stephanie's multiple sclerosis.

"One Friday evening, like almost every Friday evening before, we logged onto Everquest II to have a night of grinding. About ten minutes passed. Stephanie and her husband had yet to log onto the Vent server. I picked up the phone and gave her a call." Barlet recounted, grimly. "Her husband answered and I could hear Stephanie crying in the background. Like any other friend, I started to panic and I asked what was going on. That evening, multiple sclerosis had made using her right hand impossible."

“After that night, we started looking for some other ways for her to game but we couldn't really finding anything useful for her needs. So, we thought that if we were looking for information, others must be as well."

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