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Ability and Gaming: How Esports Allows for Accessibility

As competitive gaming continues to work on its shortcomings regarding gender and racial demographics, it’s also important to keep in mind the importance of accessibility for gamers who identify as disabled. Because competitive esports relies on skills and abilities beyond the physical prowess of competitors, more than any other competitive industry, esports has the potential to achieve unprecedented levels of inclusivity and equality.

Image Courtesy of CNET

Considering the fact that an approximate 10% of the global population identifies as disabled alongside the ever-increasing popularity of esports, one prudent question is just how gaming allows for accessibility. An article published by Esports Insider notes that esports programs in schools are a major entryway for disabled gamers to get involved in gaming. Schools generally have a number of accessibility policies covering a range of arenas in order to adhere to important accessibility laws. As schools develop their own esports clubs, many institutions are putting in the work to make sure that students interested in joining are able to participate no matter their ability. 

Part of this work centers on having controllers and set-ups available. Microsoft, for instance, makes an adaptive controller that works for both Windows 10 and XBox One, allowing for gaming on either PC or console. This controller features larger buttons and specific ports and jacks that allow for customization with other hardware such as one handed joysticks. Other controllers don’t require manual manipulation at all. The Tobii Eye Tracker uses eye movements, and some controllers can be operated with the chin, mouth, and more. When developers focus more on what disabled players can do as opposed to their perceived limitations, they are able to accommodate players of varied ability. 

With the doorway open for young players to participate in gaming through school programs, a whole plethora of possibilities are made available. With more and more colleges and universities developing varsity esporting programs, the potential for players with disabilities to earn scholarships is just as likely as it is for them as their peers without disabilities. 

While in traditional sports, competitors with disabilities often find themselves relegated to specific leagues, when it comes to esports, there’s no real need to segregate competitions based on ability.  A number of players with disabilities compete professionally, such as Soleil ‘FaZe Ewok’ Wheeler, Mike ”Brolylegs” Begum, and many others.

Image: Mike ”Brolylegs” Begum Courtesy of Dan Winters for ESPN

Wheeler, who was born deaf, uses sound visualization in Fortnite to spot her opponents and made news for being the first female gamer to be recruited by FaZe Clan. Begum went pro playing Chun-Li in Street Fighter V using a regular PS4 Dualshock controller manipulated by his tongue. Born with arthrogryposis and scoliosis, Begum has gone on to train other players in SFV

The success of players like Begum and Wheeler is important to take note of since it provides an example to younger players that physical ability doesn’t need to limit their potential. This lack of limitations is of vital importance, and not only for young players. For gamers who’ve developed their disabilities later in life, gaming and esports has opened doors once-thought closed. 

A profile of The Quad Gods, published on CNET, delves into the development of the group of quadrapalegic gamers who’ve paired the therapeutic use of gaming with a drive for competition. Military personnel who’ve been disabled in service use gaming as a means of recuperating. For many of these gamers, accessibility in gaming allows for them to access an element of what their lives were like before their disability and serves as a bridge to the new realities they face.

In a virtual realm, players with disabilities are able to operate with a level of agency that they may not typically have access to. Gaming allows for them to interact with their peers on a level playing field and potentially achieve the same levels of success. With the continued development of customizable controllers, there is no reason that esports should not embrace the gaming’s full potential when it comes to accessibility.

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