On Perception and Authentic Disability Representation

Perception and Authentic Disability Representation. A woman with moths on her face, her eyes are blank and Perception is in braille

Perception is a horror exploration game attempting to bring forth a strong disabled protagonist with an original gameplay style. In this title made by the same developers of BioShock, you play as Cassie, a blind woman who taps her cane on surfaces to see, much like echolocation. When tapping Cassie’s cane, a blue wave emits and briefly shows the outline of the objects in your vicinity. If you tap your cane too much, an evil force is disturbed; you can take cover briefly in one of the hiding locations you come across, like in a wicker basket or under a bed. You also have access to Cassie’s cell phone, and can use it to take pictures of different texts, like prescription bottles or cards, and have the accessibility program on the phone read them aloud for you.

It’s rare to find a video game that realistically portrays disability, and abled developers and storytellers often rely on tropes to carry their narrative. With Perception, I was wary of the blind person with echolocation stereotype; but I thought if developers could show a disabled person using accessibility tools to navigate the world and solve mysteries, it would be a step toward normalizing disabled characters in video games. So even if the whole echolocation bit concerned me, I was willing to give it a shot. I backed the digital copy on Kickstarter and waited over a year to finally play it.

I want to point out that I am not blind or have low vision. My disability affects my strength, dexterity, and range-of-motion, so I am going to start with my initial thoughts and access barriers, then bring in the voices of actual blind/low-vision gamers to share their experiences. … Read more…

My Gimpy Feet: The Quest to Find Accessible Shoes

My Gimpy Feet: The Quest to Find Accessible shoes. My feet wearing Mary Jane style shoes, one shoe's fabric looks like a notebook cover and the other looks like lined paper

Finding shoes that work on my feet is a trial, for several reasons. Muscular Dystrophy makes my ankles contract and curve inward; this shape also makes my ankle bone protrude, leaving the sides of my feet extremely sensitive. And because they arch so heavily, they’re smaller than average, meaning I wear child-size shoes. Imagine me, age 33, trying to find sandals in the kid’s section that aren’t bedazzled with Frozen characters or excessive bows. But that isn’t the only trouble; my sensitivity issues mean I can’t slide my foot into most shoes – so sneakers and boots are out, and anything with a heel is impossible. … Read more…

Making Nintendo’s Switch Accessible through 3D Printing

Making Nintendo's Switch Accessible through 3D Printing. Image of a 3D printed joy con in background

While I haven’t been able to get my hands on a Switch, I am still following the accessibility reviews coming in from disabled gamers. One big issue is the Joy-Con controllers and the inability to remap their buttons in many games. When disabled programmer and designer A.J. Ryan emailed Nintendo about this access barrier, their response was anything but appropriate. An employee from Nintendo wrote: “I realize it can certainly be very frustrating to not be able to enjoy the same games as many others do due to having an unfortunate condition, and we sincerely empathize.”

Nintendo here is framing inaccessibility as a personal challenge to overcome rather than a design flaw that needs fixing. They are patronizing A.J. for wanting inclusive access rather than directly addressing the problem, and in the process, further stigmatizing disability in gaming. I’ve stated over and over again how accessibility cannot be an afterthought, and that it must be part of game development from the start. While disabled gamers wait for this tide to change, we make and rely on our hacks to play. We depend on the creativity and ingenuity of the disability community and non-disabled people working with us to partake in our favorite hobbies.

One such ingenious person is Julio Vazquez, a mechatronics engineer using the power of 3D printing to build accessories for disabled gamers; his latest project is a design for the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con. I was excited to interview him and learn more about this project.

A blue 3D printed case surrounding a printed, gray controller. There are two red buttons on top for the left and right controls.
Julio’s 3D-printed accessibility design for the Joy-Con

Read more…

Tabletop Game and Accessibility Review: Avenue

Tabletop Review: Avenue with a cartoon castle in the background and a blue sky

The Basics:

Avenue is a quick pen-and-paper game where each player draws directional lines on their 6×7 grid, connecting green and purple grapes to farms and castles. It was published in 2016 by Aporta Games, and was designed by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby. It’s for ages eight and up, supports one to ten players, and has an average game time of 15 minutes.

Rules:

At the start, a random farm card is picked and revealed to all players; there are six farms designated A through F. One player then flips over route cards depicting one of six different lines you can draw on your grid. After the fourth yellow card is shown (direction cards have gray or yellow backgrounds), the round ends, and you score based on how many grapes connect to the specified farm. You continue this for five rounds, then tally up your points and add bonuses for similarly-colored grapes connecting to the green and pink castles. The highest score wins! … Read more…

Losing Friends to Ableism

Losing Friends to Ableism. Little wooden meeples, one side they are all grouped up, other side is just one, lonely meeple

“I would’ve made sure it was accessible if we were closer friends.” An ex-friend said this after I expressed hurt over his party being held in an inaccessible venue. I wasn’t even mad at him initially since it was a surprise planned by his family; they knew I couldn’t get inside, and ignored guests offering alternate, accessible spaces. When this ex-friend told me of the event, all he said was “sorry you can’t come.” That was it.

I wouldn’t have been too upset if this person offered to visit for a mini celebration with mutual friends. I wouldn’t have been angry if he gave a sincere apology rather than defensiveness and silence. Making accessibility a privilege offered only to closest friends or family is horrifically ableist. This person was someone I hung out with regularly, so I assumed we were good friends. But even if we were acquaintances, what he said was dehumanizing. To make things worse, he spouted that quote above knowing I was going through an emotionally vulnerable time in my life. I’m glad I ended that friendship, especially after realizing he was toxic in other ways. … Read more…

LARPing While Disabled: My First Impression

LARPing while Disabled. Two Storm Troopers, one in a wheelchair being pushed by the other

It’s been a few weeks since I attended Dreamation, a tabletop and LARP convention in New Jersey. I’m more of a board gamer, and my only experience with RPGs has been online. I play-tested a LARP about disability at a previous convention, but beyond that, I’ve yet to break into the hobby. My boyfriend Michael is into LARP, so I decided to go out of my comfort zone and play a full game. At the least, I would get blog material; the worst outcome would be me spiraling into anxiety mode and quitting. I ended up playing two LARPs that weekend, taking away a new understanding of myself and the space I inhabit as a disabled woman at a convention.

The hotel hosting the event was ADA compliant, with elevators, smooth flooring, automatic doors, table seating near the bar, and spacious rooms. The folks running Dreamation also had a disability liaison on hand (the amazing Elsa), and attentive staff aware of potential access needs. Because organizers give attention to safety and accessibility, a lot of disabled people attend; not just physically disabled, but mentally and chronically ill gamers were in abundance. So I knew if I had a problem in-or-out of the game, Dreamation’s staff would support me and find a solution. Other conventions should follow this pattern for disabled attendees. … Read more…

Overwatch Developers, Don’t Ban Disabled Gamers

Overwatch Developers, Don't Ban Disabled Gamers text over an image of Sombra character page, a cartoon woman in neon clothes

These past three days, I’ve played Overwatch obsessively on PC, now understanding why many love this game. It took me a while to start playing, as I tend to avoid most competitive online experiences; they lean toward inaccessibility and obnoxious alpha players. While Overwatch can attract those sorts of gamers, I have yet to run into any in the teams I’ve played so far. I think it has a lot to do with the matchmaking system; it pairs you with those of similar skill levels. There are also practice modes to learn each character’s abilities and test them out before you jump into an online game. Overwatch is addicting, with beautiful graphics, smooth controls, and unlimited ammo. Each character has unique abilities and user interfaces that you can explore in detailed maps. When your team is victorious, there is a rush to try again, racking up your XP and hoping for an MVP vote from your comrades.

But what sets Overwatch apart from other first-person shooters is its accessibility.Read more…

Crip The Resistance: Thoughts and Resources for Accessible Protests

Crip The Resistance: Thoughts and Resources on Accessible Protest, black background and white text

What does protest mean for disabled people, and how can we contribute through our lived experience or active engagement? I can’t access in-person marches or similar events, and sometimes I must completely disconnect from current events to stay healthy. It’s hard to find solace when our rights and safety are threatened, so I write when things become too much. That’s how I channel my anxious energy, and it works for me.

There is no right way to protest – one method does not count more than another. Protest is about building each other up in resistance to crisis. It’s about those with privilege filling the gaps while amplifying marginalized voices. “You’re not doing enough” shames those who may be struggling to get through another day, or who don’t have the means to contribute more of their time or energy. We don’t all have to show up and hold signs and tweet to be in a political movement. For those who bear the weight of oppression, our lives and bodies are inherently political, and surviving is a form of protest. Surviving can be enough. … Read more…

The Accessibility of Mouse-Only Games, and Five Favorites

The Accessibility of Mouse-Only Games, and Five Favorites

As my disability progresses, I find it cumbersome to navigate a keyboard and mouse simultaneously in computer games. PlayStation or Xbox controllers are inaccessible for me right out of the box, so I’ve gravitated toward mouse-only games in the past few years as my primary source of computer entertainment. I can still enjoy the occasional first-person shooter if the keys are remappable, but even then, it’s hard to manage multiple buttons and engage in quick mouse reflexes. Even worse is when designers insist on using button mashing as a mechanic, like in the Telltale Walking Dead games (seriously, stop), which frustrates abled and disabled gamers alike. While mouse-only is a great alternative for disabled individuals, it also creates a streamlined user experience for those who don’t require accessibility hacks.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite mouse-only games I’ve played recently, all available on Steam. Let me know what you think of my picks, share your own in the comments below, or send a tweet to @geekygimp! … Read more…

Will the Nintendo Switch Be Accessible for Disabled Gamers?

I have fond memories of playing Mario Bros, Zelda, and Pokémon on a plethora of Nintendo consoles. The last time I picked up a Nintendo title was when Ocarina of Time came out; since then, the system became increasingly inaccessible, especially with the Wii. I felt like the company focused on getting people to move around, leaving many disabled people to look elsewhere for their entertainment. Motion-sensing games are not feasible for someone who can’t move their arms or hold up a bulky controller. The size of the N64 was cumbersome too, but my disability wasn’t as progressed at that time to render it completely inaccessible. Earlier systems, like the original Nintendo and the SNES, had smaller, lighter controllers with fewer buttons, but console designers moved away from that user experience. … Read more…