For some with disabilities, gaming fills a basic need

AbleGamers supports gaming as a way to provide self-esteem and a sense of belonging to the disabled


Trying out accessibile gaming peripherals at the AbleGamers Accessibility Arcade in Chicago earlier this year

Source: AbleGamers

Many of us are lucky to live in a place where, for most people, the first two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are met. These consist of physiological needs, such as food and water, and safety needs, e.g., physical, economic, and health. These needs are usually met through personal resources or help from the government and charitable organizations. To meet the next two levels of need (friendship/belonging and self-esteem), however, more than half of the 60 million disabled people in the United States turn, at least partially, to the world of gaming.

“That’s where video gaming for people with disabilities becomes very important because you can free yourself from your disability through a video game, you can make friends, you can present yourself in a way that has less stigma around your disability,” says Mark Barlet, founder of AbleGamers, an eight year-old organization that is devoted to supporting gamers with disabilities. 

AbleGamers works to educate content producers as well as hardware and software developers on the development of accessible games, and to educate and support caregivers about the benefits of gaming for those with disabilities. They also host events such as their Accessibility Arcades to show disabled gamers and caregivers equipment and technology that already exists to help them enjoy video games like anyone else.

I recently spoke with Barlet about the role gaming plays in the lives of many disabled people and the current state of accessible gaming. I learned a number of interesting things, such as:

  • There are roughly 33 and a half million disabled gamers in the United States, mostly (two-thirds) male, with more of them over the age of 50 than under 18, which mimics the general population of gamers. Game developers, having been educated about the size of this market, have become very open to making their games accessible. Developers are “competing in a very big marketplace and are really looking to draw in as many people as they can. So, if they can add in 5 or 6 accessibility features to help make it more appealing to the mass audience then they’re going to,” said Barlet.
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