It's in the Game

Posted by The Arc of North Carolina

Written by: Bryan Dooley

People who follow me on social media know I spend a lot of free time reading books on my Kindle. But that was not always the case. I used to spend spare time playing video games. I thought about that when I heard about what Microsoft is trying to do with its new accessible X-box controller.

Later this year, Microsoft plans to release a controller designed specifically for gamers with disabilities. What’s different about this new controller is that it has a few primary buttons and contains ports where the player can plug in any number of assistive devices designed to help play the game. Without knowing it, I was doing the same thing as other gamers, by buying specialized controllers, which enabled me to play better. For example, there are games which require buttons to be pressed rapidly. They make controllers which automatically do that for you if you hit the right button. I hope this new controller is even easier to customize.

The idea for an accessible gaming device came from a designer who had been surfing the internet and found a gamer who had disabilities. They entered a competition within the company called the Hackathon. This controller is the first product to make it all the way to shipping. I think one reason it is such a good product is they consulted people with disabilities through the entire project and even designed an accessible box for the controller.

I learned a lot of early life lessons playing games such self-efficacy, perseverance, teamwork, and the importance of family bonding. One of my earliest memories when playing video games involve me playing games with the assistance of the adults in my life. I used to be bossy. Eventually, I frustrated all the adults, and they wouldn’t play with me anymore. But one day I decided to pick up the control myself. After a lot of practice, I was able to play upside down and backward-looking towards the television. I learned that if I set my mind to a task, I could accomplish it.

I used to play sports games with my Direct Service Professional (DSP) after homework to bond with him. He never let me win. In fact, he used to crush me like a hundred to zero. Mom used to try to convince Warren to let me win a couple, but he never did. He said that when I beat him, it would mean more. Warren’s a sage man. He was correct. I eventually got better and was able to compete with him, and finally won a couple of games. That was an essential experience because I had to lose a lot before I could win.

You might see the parallels between that and having to live life with a disability. Even if you know how to live with your disability, you will find yourself in challenging situations. You will have to adapt before you can persevere.

I’m so glad that companies are starting to realize that people with disabilities are an untapped market. Google and Apple have both released products with many accessible features. I’m glad to see that Microsoft and X-box are joining the party. It’s important for companies to recognize the spending power of people with disabilities.

There are indeed enough people with disabilities in the United States to justify products being designed with us in mind. According to the last U.S. census done in 2010, nearly one in five people have a disability.  I don’t want to keep heaping praise on one company, but I think we can all learn from Microsoft’s approach to this product.

A friend of mine asked me if I would get back into gaming because of this focus on the accessibility of the gaming experience. The answer is maybe. The trend is very encouraging. All the research I did for this blog got me very excited. We’ll see. Happy gaming.

That’s how I roll.