Nonprofit charityÂ AbleGamersÂ has been helping gamers with disabilities get the technology they need to play since 2004. Now, the organizationâ€™s newÂ AbleGamers Player PanelsÂ initiative wants to help games become even more accessibleâ€”from the inside.
AbleGamers and the University of York created Player Panels to connect gamers with disabilities with developers and researchers who want to tap into their expertise. The idea stemmed from frequent calls from game companies looking for testers with disabilities, and from conversations with Xbox and PlayStation officials about how to advance more accessible gaming, AbleGamers COO Steve Spohn told PCWorld in a Skype interview.
â€śItâ€™s not just about doing the right thing [for developers], itâ€™s about making sure that as many people as possible can enjoy the game you created and poured your blood, sweat, and tears into,â€ť Spohn says. â€śIn order to do that, they need to be able to test those games [for accessibility]â€¦Weâ€™re trying to bring two sides together to make a better gaming environment.â€ť
The only requirements for joining the Player Panels: You need to have some sort of disability, you need to love games, and you need toÂ fill out this form.
AbleGamers then acts as a go-between, connecting developers and researchers with gamers able to assist in accessibility testing and studies. Rather than being a middle-man, Spohn says the charity is more like a security guard, ensuring the process remains â€śsecure, safe, and happyâ€ť for everyone involved. AbleGamers doesnâ€™t receive any money from gamers or game developers for Player Panels, though itÂ doesÂ vet requests and make sure participants are compensated.
â€śWe wonâ€™t let our community be used, and we like to think weâ€™ve cultivated enough trust that they know we wonâ€™t let them be used,â€ť Spohn says. But that compensation wonâ€™t always be in the form of cashâ€”because itÂ canâ€™t.
â€śThere are someÂ veryÂ tricky things we have to navigate,â€ť Spohn says. â€śMost of the people in our core group of disabled gamers are on Social Security or the U.K. equivalent, and if you take money, that can put your insurance in jeopardy. Weâ€™re uniquely qualified to be able to navigate [those concerns].â€ť Gift cards to Best Buy and other popular stores could be one solution when accepting money becomes a concern for Player Panel members, Spohn says, â€śbut youÂ doÂ need to compensate them for their time.â€ť
Spohn wasnâ€™t willing to divulge which companies AbleGamers is working with for Player Panels to avoid potential controversy. (Fanboy wars start over silly things!) But his hope is for the panel process to fully in place by the end of summer or early fall, at which point the charity would start opening up more about the names and needs of companies itâ€™s working with. AbleGamers is already in touch with developers and researchers asking for gamers with specific disabilities, Spohn said.