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A digital art exhibit about disability

Time lapse sculptural image of Mat Frasier kickboxing (Copyright Simon McKeown).
©Simon McKeown

On January 24, the Wolverhampton Art Gallery will exhibit a "moving digital sculpture" that will examine how disabled people move. The exhibit, created by disabled digital artist Simon McKeown, is called Motion Disabled and uses state-of-the-art digital motion-capture technology to animate five disabled people doing things like walking, using the phone, kickboxing, and chopping vegetables. The actors include web developer Steve Graham, mayor Frank Letch and Mat Fraser, an activist, actor, writer, musician and comedian. (He wrote, composed and starred in Thalidomide!! A Musical and co-hosts the BBC Ouch! Podcast).

While not about gaming per se—I don't know if this project's artist is the same Simon McKeown who worked for Reflections Interactive on Stuntman and the Driver series or not—Motion Disabled uses digital animation to pose some critical questions, as the artist points out: "[D]o we value difference? How do disabled people's bodies fit into current versions of normality? And, is physical disability about to become Virtual?" In an interview with Dr. Paul Darke for the Outside Centre's radio show, he said:

[T]he disabled people I grew up with—the disabled children that I grew up working with—were becoming a rarity, in effect. That the effects of screening at childbirth and the medical intervention if you like...in the future...you won't be able to see how a disabled person walks because they won't be in existence.

Game accessibility news roundup: 1/13/09

Yet another trilogy of news related to game accessibility:

Google engineer T.V. Raman

For the Blind, Technology Does What a Guide Dog Can't A profile in the New York Times of Google engineer T.V. Raman, who is blind and specializes in making technology accessible for people with disabilities. However, as Miguel Helft writes in the article: "Instead of asking how something should work if a person cannot see, he says he prefers to ask, "How should something work when the user is not looking at the screen?"

In Truly Innovative Controllers For Disabled Gamers, Stew Shearer of The Game Reviews interviews engineers like Mark Felling and writes about some interesting accessible controllers in history, including Nintendo's sip-and-puff Hands Free Controller from 1989.

Not a news story, but still neat: 7128 Software, which makes games for people with disabilities, hosts a color chart that can aid in developing software that's accessible to people who are color blind.

ADA Amendments Act: good for gamers with disabilities?

It's a new year, and the ADA Amendments Act is now in effect. These Amendments are a response to the Supreme Court's erosion of protections and rights in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 over the years (see Sutton et. al vs. United Air Lines, Inc, Murphy vs. United Parcel Service, Inc.. The Supreme Court argued that, if a person's condition is controlled with "mitigating measures"—medication for high blood pressure, for instance—the person does not have a disability...even if that person is fired or otherwise discriminated against because of their condition).

The Amendments spell out just what "disability" means, but what's most interesting is the wide variety of things the act defines as "major life activities". They "include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." They also involve "the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions."

What do these specifications mean for gamers? As Suzanne Robitaille writes in For the Disabled, More Power for Play, the Amendments "will also clarify that a major life activity doesn't just include work. The act expands this definition to include communicating, reading, and other activities of central importance -- such as plain old fun."

Game accessibility advocate running for GDC ambassador award

I subscribe to the IGDA's Game Accessibility Special Interest Group (SIG) mailing list, and found this e-mail from SIG chair (and one of Edge Magazine's 100 most influential women in the gaming industry) D. Michelle Hinn, who advocates for diversity in the gaming industry:

I am writing you today because one of the (if not the biggest) Game Developers Conferences is reducing diversity programming at an alarming level. So Diversity topics have REALLY been cheated out of GDC this year I feel. I got one tiny and VERY basic talk accepted but we nearly got knocked out completely -- this after getting our best talk scores and feedback ever last year. I've heard similar stories from others in other area of game diversity programming.

I've decided that I'm "running" for a GDC ambassador award [Ed: the ambassador award is at the bottom of the page] because GDC is really squashing out most disability (and diversity programming in general -- Chris Bateman, Noah Falstein, Ernest Adams and I have been frothing at the mouth about this...as I am sure you are as well!). For years I've been trying to get a "game accessibility" award in the Annual Game Developers Choice Awards...and we almost had it. Then things shifted with CMP (now ThinkServices, Jamil left CMP and went to EA, etc. And this year we only had one small proposal on the most basic accessibility information accepted, which I can already read the session feedback now..."Why don't you do the Accessibility Arcade or the more advanced/applied sessions anymore?" There is still need for the basics but if GDC wants to really present "the best of/state of the art" talks then some content control has to be given back to those of us who know what people are currently asking from us. But I digress...

This is definitely not an ego trip thing -- I feel quite humble asking you for your support on this! Because this is not a Gamasutra Reader "voter" award and is instead chosen by an advisory board I am campaigning so every bit of support will help. I just am getting mad at how little attention (and it's dwindling) we (those of us in all areas of gaming diversity) get and I want accessibility to be recognized! And this is the only way I can think of to have an opportunity, if I happen to win, to say on record "next stop? Game accessibility award for GDC awards!" and give props to those who have always been supportive of the accessibility and diversity message.

I, along with members of the IGDA Game Accessibility SIG that I chair, give our blood sweat and tears to keep game accessibility (making sure games are playable by the disabled, the elderly, etc) in the minds of both academia and industry...and we don't get paid for it -- we do it because we believe so strongly in the topic. I've been involved in it for nearly ten years now (before I help start the SIG 7 years ago I did my own independent work on the topic). I've given talks the past 5 GDCs, SXSW, Develop, Montreal, Games for Health and many more industry conferences. Now that I'm finished with my Chapter for Chris Bateman's book I can get back to the SIG book on game accessibility! :)

[cut]

Michelle Hinn, Chair
Game Accessibility Special Interest Group
International Game Developers Association
Entertainment Consumers Association

Aibicom, a tool for creating a one-switch interface

Komodo OpenLab's Aibicom, or Asynchronous Interpreter of Binary Commands is a development library for making "binary control applications" that use a single button or switch. Aibicom can control two separate domains at once; thus, Michael Dzura could use Aibicom to play a game of Neverball using only one key:

A paper on Aibicom was published in the October 29, 2008 issue of the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

Take that, fog!

A cell-shaded Link, with blond hair and his green suit and cap, smiles and punches his fist into the air. Above his head, text reads: PWN! in big blue letters

I've been playing The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for forever—well, sort of. I got stuck and put the game down for a while, maybe a couple of months. But when I picked Phantom Hourglass back up again, I couldn't get unstuck. And I didn't even know why I was stuck in the first place.

Mighty Jill Off: Naughty fun for everyone

A cartoon woman clad in leather looks up at a castle high on a cliff. The castle has a red door, a heart-shaped window and smoke coming from the chimney.

Poor Jill. Her lover the queen has thrown her in the bottom floor of her tower. To get out, she'll have to beware of spikes, cross flaming pillars and dodge floating yellow spiders using only her wits and flea-like jumping skills. And that's just how she likes it.

Ode to joy(sticks)

You know what I miss? Joysticks.

Many years ago, a video game system snuck into my house disguised as a computer. While my Commodore Vic-20 had Gemsticka keyboard, many of its games—especially the "good" ones that came in cartridges you shoved into the back—used a Gemstik joystick. This joystick had one button and four directions, and I liked having something to grip as I snuck stolen gold bricks away from panthers or brought scorpion eggs to safety. Having to push and pull on something in order to move took more effort, made me feel like I was running for my life in ways my Nintendo Entertainment System's D-pad could not.

One could blame these feelings on simple nostalgia. The rose-colored glasses effect is probably part of it, but there's something else, too. Gripping the nunchuck attachment to my Wii remote reminds me that it's really nice to have tactile feedback in my weaker left hand; such feedback helps me be aware of where my hand is. Though I can play a lot of mainstream games with no or very minimal modifications, there's something particularly enjoyable—accessible, even—about the old-fashioned joystick.

Guitar Hero helps calibrate prosthetic arms

An article in the November 2008 issue of IEEE Spectrum Online describes how Guitar Hero is being used to help "train" artificial arms for amputees. It's part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics (RP) 2009 project, sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). One of the RP 2009 project's goals is that:

[i]n four years, DSO [the Defense Services Office] will deliver a prosthetic for clinical trials that has function almost identical to a natural limb in terms of motor control and dexterity, sensory feedback (including proprioception), weight, and environmental resilience. The four-year device will be directly controlled by neural signals.

The "Raving Rabbids" and mental illness

(Via Disability Studies, Temple U):

Penny L. Richards, scholar with UCLA's Center for the Study of Women and historian of disability and special education (among other things) asks about the game Raving Rabbids: TV Party (emphasis and bold in the original):

Crazy, wacky, raving, and rabid too... which all apparently mean screaming with wide open mouths and unfocused eyes, causing havoc, chaos, destruction? "Get ready for you and all your friends to go insane." Lovely.
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