Quality of Life Spotlight: Oak Hill – Reeve Foundation – Christopher Reeve Foundation
With today’s multitude of streaming options, video games have become a fun and engaging way to connect with others and build friendships. Players often develop problem-solving and social skills as they work together to form alliances and join cooperatively as teams.
Yet, while online gaming can be a great way for people with disabilities to connect with others, complications of the game settings and physical interactions with the game controllers can limit their ability to participate.
In 2021, the New England Assistive Technology (NEAT) Center, a program of Oak Hill, the largest disability services provider in Connecticut, received a $15,506 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to help make playing video games more accessible to the almost 58,000 they serve each year. The center offers technology evaluations and support to individuals, agencies, universities, and school districts throughout Connecticut.
“The NEAT Center focuses on empowering individuals of all ages and abilities to utilize assistive technology to increase their independence,” says Nicole Feeney, senior director of Oak Hill centers. “We work to eliminate barriers and give people access to whatever they need to be more successful, which includes access to leisure activities like gaming.”
The grant support enabled the NEAT Center to build a fully equipped, portable and accessible video game access station and provide free adaptive gaming assessments for gamers living with paralysis as part of the center’s newly launched Gaming Accessibility Services. The new department has created a lending library of devices and provides expertise, experience, information, and resources that enable the user to evaluate their options and make informed decision.
“Before receiving this grant, we had served only a small number of individuals because we lacked the adaptive devices and gaming accessories needed to test the best equipment to meet individual needs and goals,” says Feeney. “The grant allowed us to remove the financial barrier to gaming. We estimate that about 30% of the individuals who inquire about our services are not able to afford the cost of the assessment and their needed technology.”
To date, Gaming Accessibility Services has met with six people living with paralysis to give highly specific, customized recommendations that can include a device loan, helping identify funding to buy the device, and set-up support. Four of these assessments were conducted virtually with gamers logging in from Maine, Ohio, Maryland, and Connecticut.
“For example, two of NEAT’s assistive technology specialists met with a gamer living with paralysis who was not able to use enough fingers to operate a traditional gaming controller,” says Feeney. “They mailed the gamer a few gaming devices and connected him with a gaming laptop equipped with voice control software. Through a virtual follow-up, our team helped get him set up and playing.”
All the individuals who have participated in a gaming consultation reported it was a positive experience. One of the gamers who received support commented, “Having an adaptive controller turns me from a spectator to an active participant. I’ll no longer have to sit and watch everyone else play.”
Another said, “The play consultation allowed me to test out different set-ups to discover the one that works for me. It also helped me to understand how the set-up and the game’s settings can play off each other to give me the best gaming experience.”
The grant also funded the creation of a portable video game access station, a 10-foot by 10-foot space where up to four gamers can play video games together. The gaming …….