i3 | December 02, 2020

Gaming Your Way to New Connections

Steve Ewell

Not purely a recreational pastime, gaming is also an opportunity to create social connections, develop skills and help people rehabilitate. It is also a big business. CTA estimates that 192 million U.S. consumers, or 70% of Americans ages 13-64, are gamers and estimates hardware revenue of $4.6 billion in 2020 (up 11% over 2019) and consumer spending on gaming software to be $40 billion (up 10%).

The CTA Foundation believes in the power of technology to improve lives and in particular, we focus on older adults and people with disabilities. One of the shining examples of an organization accomplishing this work is AbleGamers. For over 15 years, AbleGamers has worked with consumers “so everyone can game.”

The power of gaming to create a connection and combat social isolation has been driven home during the pandemic with pieces on NPR and with actor Ryan Reynolds on social media. AbleGamers also has received incredible support this year from Sony Playstation, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and Hasbro.

I caught up with AbleGamers Executive Director and Founder, Mark Barlet who shared some of their recent work.

What sparked the creation of AbleGamers?

I have a disability, but my disability didn’t affect the way I played games. I started AbleGamers when I saw multiple sclerosis take away the ability to game from my best friend. Games, especially online games, are about fun, but they are also about the community that is built around them. We used the video game as a shared experience, but while we played, we shared, our families would stay connected, and we could talk later about the fun we had that week. In short, games help you be social, and we all understand that a little more in 2020.

Can you talk about the Accessible Player Experience Practitioner Course and the Developers Promoting Accessibility & Diversity (DPAD) Initiative?

One of the pillars of AbleGamers is professional development. In order for our mission to come to life, we support the player with disabilities, but we also support the content creators who make games. I can build a custom controller to support a player with a physical disability, but I cannot bolt on closed captioning to support a player with an auditory disability, I need the game makers to do that. We have developed a certification for game creators to become the accessibility experts we need inside the studios.

Our certification plan is not free, it is one of the ways we fund all the great work that we do. My user researcher, Greg Haynes, approached me with the DPAD idea. In short, we give scholarships to developers that are under-represented in the game space to provide the skills to help them land great jobs making games. They make more accessible games, because they have the knowledge, but they also bring their life story to the studio. We do our part to invest in a future that we want to see. Our hope is a large company will see the great things that the DPAD Initiative is doing, and fund some of those seats, but for now, we are taking care of it.

How can companies participate in AbleGamers initiatives?

Our industry work is hosted on our accessible games website. You can learn about our design patterns that help you frame and develop for accessibility. You can learn about how to include people with disabilities in your user-research team, and learn how to sign up to take our certification course. Accessible. Games has all that information.

The CTA Foundation is pleased to support AbleGamers, and push the boundaries of how technology enables us to all live, work and play independently.

The CTA Foundation will be telling the stories of how technology is helping people live, work and play independently during CES 2021.

Follow us on Twitter @CTAFoundation, Facebook and LinkedIn. Visit CTAFoundation.tech. Thank you for your support!

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