Sparkt Bridges

Man Works To Make Video Games Accessible To Everyone

He leads a group that's helping people around the world living with disabilities have fun, and connect with each other.

This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with others. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

Video games are a way to experience a world where you can do things you couldn't otherwise: fly, shoot lasers, slay dragons. For some, that list might include simple acts that many take for granted, like the ability to walk.

"Often times when you hear about video games in the news, it's in a negative light," says Steve Spohn, COO of a charity called AbleGamers, which helps make gaming accessible to people with disabilities. "What is not covered enough is how wonderful video games can be. Video games as a whole bring people together in a community kind of way. They allow you to have friends and family across the world that you might not otherwise have had access to."

Steve is a gamer who has a disability called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which causes his muscles to essentially waste away as he gets older, preventing him from using a traditional video game controller or keyboard.

I talked to Steve about what gaming means to him and how he and AbleGamers are able to come up with creative solutions that allow people living with disabilities to play video games:

Since everyone's abilities are different, AbleGamers begins with an assessment to help determine what technology or combination of technologies would best help a gamer to access their favorite games.

Steve utilizes a few different controller options, including a special device with infrared tracking that allows him to use his head motions to control his character.

He also showed me a device called a QuadStick, which utilizes a chin-operated joystick and special tubes that you can blow through to play a game using only your mouth.

Steve's Quadstick. The user can blow through each tube to correspond with a typical controller button. The joystick can be moved using your chin.

Not only do video games provide an outlet for people (disabled or otherwise) to have fun, they can also help people combat social isolation, which is a challenge for people with disabilities. Gamers can meet people from all corners of the world, or simply stay connected with old friends, contributing to their mental and emotional health.

To illustrate this, Steve told me a story about a young girl who found comfort in gaming, which I'll let him tell in his own words:

Steve's mission to bring gaming to everyone is personal for another reason: his condition is terminal. "I always say, you know, 'my clock is running above my head all the time,'" says Steve.

"My goal, really, is now to help as many people as I can with the time that I have left."

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life Changing Medicine.

How can you start something good?

The specialized controllers that AbleGamers provide are frequently expensive to make or adapt. To make a donation which helps ensure that these gamers have access to these devices at low or no cost, click here.

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