By Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy
Each year around the holidays, there seems to be a new ‘it’ toy or videogame that everyone is clambering for—and this year is no different, with Sony selling one million new PlayStation 4 consoles in the first 24 hours they were available. For the many Americans who identify themselves as gamers, or video game enthusiasts, this isn’t a surprise. But for many, the following statistic will be: of an estimated 200 million American gamers, approximately 40 million are gamers with disabilities.
For these gamers, and especially those confined to a hospital or rehabilitation setting, video games offer a unique opportunity to interact across physical locations and limitations. Given the right equipment, gamers of any ability can play nearly any game, compete against other gamers and become a part of the many thriving online communities. This leveling of the playing field can be very appealing, and is the motivation behind one of UCP’s new initiatives: making accessible video gaming available to people with disabilities through mobile, accessible video game stations. Spearheaded by our Life Labs team, a technology and grassroots-focused initiative, these Accessible Gaming Stations can be placed in hospitals or other settings, enabling anyone to play the latest games and interact with other gamers online— giving the gift of inclusion to many who thought they would never be able to play and interact with such a vibrant community. This kind of innovation shows how something as simple and as commercialized as a video game can open up a whole new world to someone.
These gaming systems will also offer an additional benefit to gamers with disabilities: they can be used for rehabilitative purposes, provide important social interactions and help to build self-confidence. Video games can also help improve memory, focus, spatial reasoning, critical thinking and reaction time, all important areas of development and especially critical for children and young adults. Beyond all of these immediate benefits, video games’ place in normal American life makes their accessibility an important matter of inclusion for all.
People with disabilities can spend a considerable amount of time in hospital or rehabilitation settings and, during these times, encounter difficulties playing video games stemming from caregiver or facility-related limitations. “Video games offer a way for these individuals to be engaged, learn and interact with others while having fun,” says Marc Irlandez, Director of UCP’s Life Labs. The Life Labs team is proposing to build an Accessible Gaming Station (AGS) prototype, a self-contained compilation of gaming equipment designed to address the physical, knowledge and time constraints that often prevent patients from playing video games. It is aimed at maximum accessibility, portability, safety and durability, and could be easily replicated. “This is the kind of project that Life Labs loves to work on— the AGS is a unique blend of technology and accessibility that could make a real difference in the life of someone with a disability,” says Irlandez.
So this holiday season, let’s rethink consider the commercialization of video games and systems in a more positive light, and recognize their potential for creating a broader and more inclusive society. These gaming stations would provide not only a variety of rehabilitative benefits, but also the opportunity to be part of a diverse and thriving online community—making them truly a gift of inclusion. This is an extraordinary opportunity make our mission of a life without limits for everyone a reality, and we are so excited about its potential.
The Accessible Gaming Station is just one of the many exciting projects we’re working on at UCP. Be sure to check out what else our Life Labs team is up to, and stay tuned to UCP for more exciting updates!