Press Start on Gaming Accessibility

The gaming industry has finally realising that making gaming accessible to every type of gamer is a vital component of any hardware or game. This is good news for disabled gamers however, as accessibility is in its infancy there is huge scope for improvement. The most important part of making a difference is changing industry thinking so dialogue between disabled gamers and the industry can ultimately improve the game experience for everybody. Just answer this question: Do you really want to lose $$$ and alienate gamers due to inaccessibility?

The XboxOne has the Co-pilot feature, which combines the input from 2 controllers to become 1 input so that 2 people can play as one. Co-pilot would really help me during gaming, as I always have a carer around so it would make it easier for me to direct them rather them having to reposition my arm after a button is pressed.

Microsoft seem to have more commitment to accessible gaming (compared to Sony) as they recently announced at #G4E Gaming & Disability Community Leads Tara Voelker (@LadieAuPair) & Brannon Zahand (@BrannonZ).

Gaming accessibility features that are innovative and Inclusive like co-pilot shouldn’t be console exclusive but a standard accessibility option across the board. In monetary terms, I am sure you’ll earn more $$$ from gamers with disabilities or parents who want to introduce their young child to gaming.

To see what is happening in the gaming industry regarding gaming accessibility The Develop Conference in Brighton on the 11-13 July is the right place. The heavyweights in the gaming industry Bryce Johnson (Xbox), Henry Hoffman (Fiddlesticks), Ian Hamilton (Accessibility Specialist) & Mark Friend (Sony) are on the panel speaking about current accessibility and discuss future practices from developer level though to broader industry initiatives.


Press Start!

How many Questions? 20 Questions

Okay today I’m (finally) answering Carrie’s 20 Questions! Click here to visit her wonderful website Life On The Slow Lane!

1. Morning or evening person?
I’m a morning person, I’ve always liked to start my day early as I have the most energy.

2. Night in or night out?
Night in or night out depending on which friend I’m with.

3. Lots of friends or a few close friends?
A few close friends, I like meaningful friendships with longevity. Besides, it’s time consuming! Haha.

4. Time to yourself or time spent with others?
I enjoy time to myself, as a child I’ve always been able to entertain myself. I relax by reading comic books or gaming so I like the quiet. However, I do enjoy spending time talking to people & having fun.

5. Holiday at home or abroad?
I’m more of a day-out person so I prefer organising activities.

6. Countryside, seaside or city?
Countryside! I know this sounds childish but I love driving past farmland

7. Hot climate or cold climate?
Neither, they both have their downfalls for me.

8. Books or films?
I’m a big reader, I always have a novel or comic on the go. I do watch series like Game of Thrones but I’m very picky on what to watch as it is a huge time commitment. That’s why I watch 22 minute cartoons like Samurai Jack or Star Wars Rebels.

9. Rice or pasta?
Pasta.

10. Tea or coffee or..?
Coffee, I need a cup every morning!

11. Cook, takeaway or eat out?
Option 4: None as I don’t eat meals!

12. Formal or casual?
Smart-Casual.

13. Dogs or cats?
Dogs.

14. Play it safe or be daring?
I am an adventurous person but I do understand my limits, it’s all about balance for me. Everybody is daring in some capacity.

15. Idealist or realist?
Realist, but idealism is such a great personal motivator. Without idealism Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela would not have had the power to change the ‘real’ world. Idealism is from the heart and Realism is from your mind, we need to join the two.

16. Lead or follow?
I have never really been a follower but I used to find it difficult to direct people. However through maturity I’ve learnt that being confidence in yourself and your needs makes it easier to create the life that you want.

17. Work or play?
Play.

18. Lennon or McCartney?
Lennon only due to the song Imagine.

19. Love or money?
Love, no doubt. Money is ultimately a man-made creation but love is priceless. Money is useful though, without it I wouldn’t have a wheelchair so thank you man-made creation!

20. Share your problems or keep them to yourself?

As a child I have always shared my problems with my Mum but I’m now slowly opening up to a few friends. Throughout my life Ive had long periods of being stuck in bed for months so I had plenty of time to work out my anger issues. That’s the reason I may appear a calm person.


I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know what you think.

The Future is ThisAbility

Yesterday, I (virtually) attended the first meeting of ThisAbility network in the creative industry, which was held at the D&AD studio in London.

ThisAbility (@ThisAbilityClub) is the invention of my good friend Sulaiman Khan @Kinectricity. Its purpose is to support #creatives who happen to have a disability, foster collaborations between influential people & importantly celebrate creative thinking.

It was great having the CEO of D&AD Tim Lindsay opening the session whilst supporting ThisAbility filling that niche of untapped potential in the Creative industry.

We had a large attendance of people like Michael McGrath (@MichaelMc_Grath) Founder of @MuscleWarrior, Caroline Pay & Mike Alhadeff from Grey, Laura Jordan-Bambach from Mr President and many other creative individuals that hopefully brings collaboration. A special thank you to Nadya Powell from Innovation Social (@NadsBads) for organising the virtual meeting without a hitch.

We discussed what the mission statement of ThisAbility should be:

  • Inclusivity rather than diversity
  • Change thinking practices as a community
  • Persistence in the future

Clarity of purpose is important to ThisAbility, Michael McGrath succinctly put it “Let’s not boil the ocean”. Membership should not exclude any disability so it needs to be pan-disability.

When visiting Sulaiman last week, he mentioning Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. That caused me to think of ThisAbility as a macro-neurone organizing the Creative Sector to form new connections with talented disabled creatives.

#Creativity #Inclusivity #Innovation is the #Future – ThisAbility is the #Route

E3 2017 – Disability Inclusion

PLEASE NOTE: I did not attend E3 2017 & all opinions are my own

The gaming industry recently had one of its biggest conferences: E3 2017. This year was full of positive surprises, new VR technology, disappointments & mind-blowing unveilings.

super-mario-odyssey

Nintendo unveiled the fantastic Mario Odyssey on the new console Nintendo Switch. Nintendo brought back the innovation it is known for whilst valuing the nostalgia of older gamers. Inclusivity is at the heart of Mario, as it allows free-form play, hidden secrets, interesting gameplay mechanics. The new character Cappy (Mario’s hat) enables you to transform into nearly anything in the game world by throwing him at it, thus subverting the idea of fighting enemies that we all grew up jumping on.

spiderman-screen-02-ps4-eu-14jun16

PlayStation presented incredible gameplay of Insomniac’s new Spiderman game. It has brought back the freedom of swinging around New York as a superhero webbing up the bad guys. The game has an original story so thankfully it will have a huge storytelling scope as it is not tied to MARVEL’s Spiderman: Homecoming.

the-lost-legacy-feat

Uncharted: the Lost Legacy was disappointing even though Naughty Dog chose diverse female protagonists Chloe Frazer and Nadine Wood. Yes, the story will be interesting as Chloe is after the mythological Tusk of Ganesh however; the gameplay lacks innovation. I love the Uncharted series but it is time to say goodbye.

I have campaigned for better disability representation in video games, especially in regards to playable disabled characters. I was expecting that this would occur in a narrative game, something like Life is Strange: Before the Storm or A Way Out or a VR game.

ROW_Wolfenstein_II_pc_frontcover-01_14968551162

Unbelievably the new game Wolfenstein 2: the New Colossus a First-person shooter (FPS) in which you usually play as a Superhuman shrugging off bullets. However, in the first level the protagonist injured in the previous game B.J Blazkowicz needs to use a wheelchair to escape. He moves slowly, it takes him longer to put up his gun on his lap, uses conveyer belts to navigate obstacles or stairs.

Of course B.J Blazkowicz ultimately gains an exoskeleton, which inevitably gives him the ability to walk & become superhuman, this fits the negative SuperCrip stereotype of disability. However starting a level through the perspective of a disabled person in a wheelchair makes disability less of a plot device so through gameplay the player forms a deeper connection to disability.

As a disabled gamer I welcome more inclusivity and diversity in every part of the gaming industry!

The SuperCrip Trap

The SuperCrip disability stereotype has recently appeared again in the game The Surge so I thought I should dissect the issue.

The Surge takes place in a future wrecked by climate change, a company called CREO is working to improve the atmosphere and meld humans with machines. The protagonist Warren is a wheelchair user and is recruited into CREO eager to walk again through CREO’s exo-suit device.

That is the only mention of Warren’s disability in the story, suggesting it was a plot device to quickly elicit emotional investment using incorrect disabled stereotypes. Also, not every disabled person is looking for a ‘fix’ or ‘cure’, it is surprising but we can actually live happy lives.

So, now Warren is the epitome of a SuperCrip, a superhuman with an extra super, better than the average person but still different. If you remove the disability part of The Surge’s story then you have a similar plot to Neill Blomkamp’s movie Elysium, only with a much better reason to warrant an exo-suit.

There are games such as Deus Ex that also fall into the SuperCrip trap however the theme is primarily focused on Transhumanism. The belief that the human race (Adam Jensen) can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations through technology.

The movie Mad Max: Fury Road presented a nuanced disabled character Furiosa (Charlize Theron); she has a prosthetic left forearm but it never phased her. Furiosa flipped the damsel-in-distress trope, protecting herself and as she seemed more integral to the plot than Max. For example, Furiosa hits Max with her stump & later on uses Max’s shoulder to stabilize her gun barrel, as an alternative to using two hands!

We need to create meaningful disability characters, no disability ‘fixing’ in the narrative, active members in combat, wheelchairs used & disability as part of a nuanced character.

Evolving the ‘Disabled’ Character

Since the Netflix or Amazon Prime world domination, we now have an endless stream of watchable content available to us. The era of the box set is upon us, as there’s more time to build deeper storylines & form multi-dimensional characters that is difficult to accomplish in a short movie timeframe.

Television has an important influence on society so where are the disabled characters with meaningful roles rather than the tired old stereotypes? Even in a fictional universe, disabled people seem marginalized.

Disabled characters are usually portrayed as:

  • Comic Relief – Sheldon (The Big Bang Theory) or Stevie (Malcolm In The Middle)
  • Evil – Norman Bates (Bates Motel) or Dexter
  • Needing Protection or Boring – Felicity Smoak (Arrow) or Artie (Glee)

These stereotypes hinder awareness by creating incorrect myths regarding regular disabled people and how ‘we’ live. The solution is quite simple we need more opportunities for disabled directors, producers, scriptwriters or actors to create Christopher Nolan levels of gritty, realism.

The TV shows I’ve mentioned above all have cast non-disabled actors to play disabled characters; I wouldn’t mind this occurring if there was progress towards hiring more actors with disabilities. It would give the TV/Movie world a new inclusive perspective, to reinvigorate us from the current reboot, sequel, prequel, spin-off and franchise story stagnation.

However, Breaking Bad was the first show I’ve seen that actually hired an actor with Cerebral Palsy (RJ Mitte) to play a character with Cerebral Palsy who still lived life like his able-bodied peers. Thank you, Vince Gilligan!

To create a multi-dimensional disabled character, show the human side we all share. We all have ups and downs and disability doesn’t mean that your life is terrible 24/7. Craft a rounded character, with memories, motives, interests and skills that are unique. A characters’ disability should not be their only focus but a part of them. I envision a ‘New Girl’ type series with a Jess who happens to be in a wheelchair and lives a regular life

Finally, we need characters portraying a wide range of physical or mental disabilities instead of the usual paralysis. Not all disability is due to a tragic world-changing accident or in need of showing pre-disability life just for emotional responses from viewers.

I will be exploring this topic in the future so To Be Continued…

MARVEL vs. Diversity

I’ve always been a fan of comic books; my teenage years were spent absorbing X-men, Spiderman, Hulk, Star Wars or (DC) Batman. I used them to escape thinking about my Duchenne and find a happier sanctuary.

ULlqdEa

Comics taught me about humanity, that being a superhero doesn’t mean, swinging on webs, throwing a shield or making the “snikt” sound but its the willpower to be altruistic even when you should give up or if you are part of a persecuted minority.

50985_comics_spider-man

Those MARVEL stories helped shape my personality, morals & imagination. However, most of the comic characters created were Caucasian heterosexual males and sales were relating to that same demographic.

The past few years MARVEL have created more diversity with these new characters:

  • HULK “Amadeus Cho” Korean-American
  • Female THOR “Jane Foster”
  • CAPTAIN MARVEL “Carol Danvers” written by Kelly Deconnick
  • CAPTAIN AMERICA “Sam Wilson” African-American
  • MS MARVEL “Kamala Khan” Muslim
  • SPIDERMAN “Miles Morales” Mixed Race
  • ICEMAN “Bobby Drake” Gay

miles6

Introducing new characters was a great step for diversity inclusivity for MARVEL however many fans disliked the changes to Core characters MARVEL have made. Marvel’s upcoming initiative Generations is a way to set people’s minds at ease that the core characters will continue. Nevertheless, this has coincided with MARVEL’s drop in sales.

Recently MARVEL’s Senior Sales and Marketing Manager David Gabriel told industry website ICv2 that readers are “turning their noses up” at diversity and don’t “want female characters”. This statement is quite shocking, especially when the current climate is about inclusion and diversity. However, according to David MARVEL is all “about telling stories about the world. We are looking to tell stories that matter in this time. That’s the most important thing.”

kamala

Should diversity be a higher priority then storytelling? No, I like reading interesting stories and nuanced characterisation with just a natural amount of diversity that is not forced or patronising. Nevertheless, blaming the decreased sales figure solely on “too much” diversity is ridiculous. Event fatigue is a big factor, constantly changing characters, forcing people to buy different comics to get the full story.

Marvel-wallpaper-HD-desktop-poster

I want to finish by highlighting the complete lack of representation of disability in either MARVEL now that Charles Xavier is dead (other than Daredevil) or DC universes. It would have been amazing growing up to see disability on the page of a favourite comic book where amazing things can happen. It would be like a confirmation from a superhero.

The Comic industry needs to realise how powerful the written word and artwork is to the younger generation.

“With great power comes great responsibility”.

Exploration: Holiday (Part 1)

The holiday season is now upon us. The next step is to pick a destination, but where? Living with a disability like Duchenne does make this choice more difficult, so you need to be either creative or realistic. It’s Holiday week for DMD Pathfinders so please share your holiday experiences or future plans with us here.

My last holiday was 12 years ago to Portugal it was a fantastic trip. I travelled via Monarch airlines, it was the first time I had to take my electric wheelchair & couldn’t stand to either swivel or transfer to a seat. It was a difficult process with a few issues, which are common themes with many disabled travellers:

  • I was the last person to be boarded so other passengers were watching me through the whole awkward transfer process.
  • I had to be handled with extra care as I have Haemophilia so I couldn’t be twisted roughly. There was also no room for my Mum to stand in order to lift/slide me.
  • The seats reserved for disabled passengers did not have movable armrests so transferring to the window seat was impossible, however regular seats did.
  • Passengers behind me had to swap seats, which was embarrassing & stressful.
  • When receiving my wheelchair at Portugal, I discovered that my important leg & chest supports had been loosened during storage.

 

The villa I stayed at was very disabled friendly, big rooms and a mobile hoist. The landlord was great because he had the right tools to fix my loosened supports & made me a birthday cake.

The trip was an amazing experience as I got to swim with Dolphins for over an hour & had a special tour of the Marine Park. Having to put on a wet suit whilst sitting in a wheelchair was interestingly difficult. Thanks to my wheelchair recline function!

This experience did completely put me off flying anywhere, especially now that I have respiratory issues, require a ventilator or can’t sit unsupported. Since then I never considered travelling, it all seemed daunting to find & plan wheelchair accessible holidays alone without prior knowledge.

After working with the organisation Limitless Travel, I started to feel more confident that there are holiday options still open to me. Limitless Travel aim to remove the stress of disability travel by organizing everything from your Accommodations, Transport, Attractions, Tours, Package or Bespoke Holidays in the UK or Europe.

“I never thought that it would be possible for me to travel but now with relevant information and support from Limitless Travel, it can be.” – Vivek’s testimonial

I’m now booking a family holiday to Barcelona in July (20-24th); I’ll begin my travels using the Eurostar from St Pancras station to Paris Gare de Nord to Paris Gare du Lyon & finally to Barcelona.

I’ll keep a diary of the wonderful process…

DMD Pathfinders Accessible Gaming Webinar

On Saturday 25th February, DMD Pathfinders launched their first webinar series on accessible gaming; this is the story about perfect teamwork, facing challenges together & learning new skills.

DMD Pathfinders (created by Dr Jon Hastie & Mark Chapman) are making monumental steps in highlighting issues relevant to adults living with DMD, as it is user-led. Finally, it’s also the right medium to spread awareness through action by sharing future possibilities to the next DMD generation.

We created the webinar using the software Webinarjam, none of us had knowledge of the software so Nick Catlin from Decipha showed us the ropes. The technology looked promising allowing viewer interactivity as well as informative for us through chat, polls & offers.Our accessible gaming video content was brilliant, everybody had useful input: Me, Jon & Saul Catlin made videos focusing on different areas in gaming. Saul made a great piece showcasing the young DMD talent with ambitions in game development, studying a software development BTEC at college & providing useful tips in starting down the road of game design. Saul was such an inspiration showcasing how positive the future will be for DMD Pathfinders with people like Saul.

Jon & I collaborated using my old Blog post on accessible Gaming as the presentation I designed on accessible gaming however I’m not a PC Gamer like Jon so he added PC gaming information. We both created videos explaining our varying experiences with gaming and solutions we found. It was also a chance to spread awareness that there is help out there from charities like ReMap, Special Effect & AbleGamers if you are facing restrictions on gaming due to mobility issues. DMD Pathfinders is set up for this exact reason to share useful information, which at times seems hidden, gaming accessibility should be widely known as a majority of gamers have a disability.screenshot_2017-02-27-16-48-26_bibmgt

I won’t lie to you that having to film a section was daunting for me, I was worried about my breathing difficulties after speaking for long stretches or running out of useful things to say. However, I somehow managed t0 speak for 15mins, mind you with long pauses between breaths due to speaking wearing my ventilator.

Jon edited  & split the videos into smaller chunks. He did a brilliant job in such short notice. Daniel Baker was our lovely tech director, the important guy in background, battling with the technical quirks. The Webinarjam test on Friday was stressful as we had various of tech issues, mostly audio/webcam issues, crashes & login problems. (I think I unknowingly logged into Daniel’s Webinarjam account). The software seemed unintuitive, fiddly when needing to alter settings and had an unreliable video connection.screenshot_2017-02-27-16-56-53_q5kmj1

The Saturday LIVE webinar started brilliantly with no technical probs, it was running smoothly but halfway my audio failed, I couldn’t hear Jon so I was talking over him/repeating myself. Luckily, the viewers didn’t hear me only the team did because a scheduled video was playing. The viewers in the chat were great, we loved the support & appreciated the questions asked in the Live Q&A session afterwards. Funnily, because I couldn’t hear Jon, we both answered the question about if the Xbox Kinect could recognize facial movements. Mark was our moral support & webinar chat director.

We are going to contact Webinarjam’s technical support to see if they can address the issues we faced with video content stopping during our presentation (making pre-loaded webinars unreliable) otherwise we may have to ask for a refund.

In conclusion, DMD Pathfinders had an amazing Accessible Gaming Webinarjam pilot and our first real chance to see how we work together as a team on such a big project & we proved we had excellent teamwork. DMD Pathfinders have great leaders in Jon & Mark, thank you guys for your leadership.

ONWARDS and UPWARDS!

Backstage Pass: Duchenne Blogger

Welcome to a behind-the-scenes look at the difficulties of blogging or vlogging when you have Duchenne. Thanks to DMD Pathfinders, Muscle Owl & Limitless Travel for pushing me to reach my potential and more.

I’ve previously written  (Click Here) about the various accessibility tools I use when using my computer: a combination of an on-screen keyboard and dictation software help me type.

funnybrainwllpapers3

Okay this will sound ridiculously obvious but a brain is essential when writing interesting blogs, however using it is closely linked to my energy levels & respiratory function. This means that I have limited time (between 12-5PM) to be 100% productive for writing or research, as I get easily tired.

I recognise that my best ideas and coherent thinking occur when I use my CPAP ventilator, getting rid of the carbon dioxide in my bloodstream completely refreshes my mind. Reason #2 why my ventilator is useful is when I start dictating because speaking for a long time is fatiguing. I could not live without dictation software but I find it difficult speaking extensively however the ventilator solves that problem. Previous versions of dictation software never could recognise my voice when I wore my ventilator because I sounded like two different people.

A strange problem occasionally occurs when I try to type my ideas down physically type sometimes I completely forget what point I was making. I think it is due to the energy expended specifically to move my fingers taking precedence over short-term memory. Or it could be that I’m getting older?

My recent Vlog was an interesting experiment as I thought I’d never be able to speak for about five minutes. I realised that I’ve only been out of practice; I just need to relax, speak slowly & learn when to take breaths.

Accessing my iPhone whilst using my computer used to be impossible until I bought the switch control and phone holder. Being able to access them at the same time it enables me to still feel connected to society. I use my iPhone as an Email, Messenger, WhatsApp alert that I answer through apps on the computer, which is a real time saver.

img_4721

You may be wondering why I sound more intelligent in the written word but I find it difficult to correctly articulate the (amazing? terrible?) ideas in my mind verbally. In the future, I’ll be able to conquer this difficulty.

This process goes into writing my blogs:


  • Research on the topic

  • Pick out relevant information from research to make a point
  • Bullet point similar ideas
  • Create a paragraph framework
  • Write every paragraph
  • Check reading Flow & Edit
  • Proof read
  • Edit & Add images
  • Finish

I’m going to end by sharing my blogging secret: Make sure your blog has Flow.